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Title: The Mystery of Angelina Frood
Author: R Austin Freeman
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000121.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2010
Date most recently updated: February 2014

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Mystery of Angelina Frood
Author: R Austin Freeman


* * *

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I--THE DOPER'S WIFE
CHAPTER II--RE-ENTER "MR. JOHNSON"
CHAPTER III--ANGELINA FROOD
CHAPTER IV--DEALS WITH CHARITY AND ARCHAEOLOGY
CHAPTER V--JOHN THORNDYKE
CHAPTER VI--THE SHADOWS DEEPEN
CHAPTER VII--MRS. GILLOW SOUNDS THE ALARM
CHAPTER VIII--SERGEANT COBBLEDICK TAKES A HAND
CHAPTER IX--JETSAM
CHAPTER X--WHICH DEALS WITH ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND A BLUE BOAR
CHAPTER XI--THE MAN WITH THE MOLE
CHAPTER XII--THE PRINTS OF A VANISHED HAND
CHAPTER XIII--THE DISCOVERY IN BLACK BOY-LANE
CHAPTER XIV--SERGEANT COBBLEDICK IS ENLIGHTENED
CHAPTER XV--THE END OF THE TRAIL
CHAPTER XVI--THE INQUIRY AND A SURPRISE
CHAPTER XVII--THORNDYKE PUTS DOWN HIS PIECE
CHAPTER XVIII--THE UNCONTRITE PENITENT
CHAPTER XIX--EXPLANATIONS

*


CHAPTER I--THE DOPER'S WIFE


It takes a good deal to surprise a really seasoned medical practitioner,
and still more to arouse in him an abiding curiosity. But at the time
when I took charge of Dr. Humphrey's practice in Osnaburgh-street,
Regent's Park, I was far from being a seasoned practitioner, having, in
fact, been qualified little more than a year, in which short period I
had not yet developed the professional immunity from either of the above
mental states. Hence the singular experience which I am about to relate
not only made a deep impression on me at the time, but remained with me
for long after as a matter of curious speculation.

It was close upon midnight, indeed an adjacent church clock had already
struck the third quarter, when I laid aside my book and yawned
profoundly, without prejudice to the author who had kept me so long from
my bed. Then I rose and stretched myself, and was in the act of knocking
the long-extinct ashes out of my pipe when the bell rang. As the
servants had gone to bed, I went out to the door, congratulating myself
on having stayed up beyond my usual bedtime, but wishing the visitor at
the devil all the same. The opening of the door gave me a view of a wet
street with a drizzle of rain falling, a large closed car by the kerb,
and a tallish man on the doorstep, apparently about to renew his attack
on the bell.

"Dr. Pumphrey?" he asked; and by that token I gathered that he was a
stranger.

"No," I answered; "he is out of town, but I am looking after his
practice."

"Very well," he said, somewhat brusquely. "I want you to come and see a
lady who has been suddenly taken ill. She has had a rather severe
shock."

"Do you mean a mental or a physical shock?" I asked.

"Well, I should say mental," he replied, but so inconclusively that I
pressed him for more definite particulars.

"Has she sustained any injuries?" I inquired.

"No," he answered, but still indecisively. "No; that is, so far as I
know. I think not."

"No wound, for instance?"

"No," he replied, promptly and very definitely, from which I was
disposed to suspect that there was an injury of some other kind. But it
was of no use guessing. I hurried back into the surgery, and, having
snatched up the emergency bag and my stethoscope, rejoined my visitor,
who forthwith hustled me into the car. The door slammed, and the vehicle
moved off with the silent, easy motion of a powerful engine.

We started towards Marylebone-road and swept round into Albany-street,
but after that I lost my bearings: for the fine rain had settled on the
windows so that it was difficult to see through them, and I was not very
familiar with the neighbourhood. It seemed quite a short journey, but a
big car is very deceptive as to distance. At any rate, it occupied but a
few minutes, and during that time my companion and I exchanged hardly a
word. As the car slowed down I asked:

"What is this lady's name?"

"Her name," he replied, in a somewhat hesitating manner, "is--she is a
Mrs. Johnson."

The manner of the reply suggested a not very intimate acquaintance,
which seemed odd under the circumstances, and I reflected on it rapidly
as I got out of the car and followed my conductor. We seemed to be in a
quiet bystreet of the better class, but it was very dark, and I had but
a glimpse as I stepped from the car to the gate of the house. Of the
latter, all that I was able to note was that it appeared to be of a
decent, rather old-fashioned type, standing behind a small front garden,
that the windows were fitted with jalousie shutters, and that the number
on the door was 43.

As we ascended the steps the door opened, and a woman was dimly
discernible behind it. A lighted candle was on the hall table, and this
my conductor picked up, requesting me to follow him up the stairs. When
we arrived at the first floor landing, he halted and indicated a door
which was slightly ajar.

"That is the room," said he; and with that he turned and retired down
the stairs.

I stood for a few moments on the dark landing, deeply impressed by the
oddity of the whole affair, and sensible of a growing suspicion, which
was not lessened when, by the thin line of light from within the room, I
observed on the door-jamb one or two bruises as if the door had been
forced from without. However, this was none of my business, and thus
reflecting, I was about to knock at the door when four fingers appeared
round the edge of it and drew it further open, and a man's head became
visible in the opening.

The fingers and the head were alike such as instantly to rivet the
attention of a doctor. The former were of the kind known as "clubbed
fingers," fingers with bulbous ends, of which the nails curved over like
nut-shells. The head, in form like a great William pear, presented a
long, coffin-shaped face with high cheek-bones, deep-set eyes with
narrow, slanting eye-slits, and a lofty, square forehead surmounted by a
most singular mop of mouse-coloured hair which stood straight up like
the fur of a mole.

"I am the doctor," said I, having taken in these particulars in an
instantaneous glance, and having further noted that the man's eyes were
reddened and wet. He made no reply, but drew the door open and retired,
whereupon I entered the room, closing the door behind me, and thereby
becoming aware that there was something amiss with the latch.

The room was a bed-room, and on the bed lay a woman, fully clothed, and
apparently in evening dress, though the upper part of her person was
concealed by a cloak which was drawn up to her chin. She was a young
woman--about twenty-eight, I judged--comely, and, in fact, rather
handsome, but deadly pale. She was not, however, unconscious, for she
looked at me listlessly, though with a certain attention. In some slight
embarrassment, I approached the bed, and, as the man had subsided into a
chair in a corner of the room, I addressed myself to the patient.

"Good evening, Mrs. Johnson. I am sorry to see you looking so ill. What
is the matter? I understand that you have had some kind of shock."

As I addressed her, I seemed to detect a faint expression of surprise,
but she replied at once, in a weak voice that was little more than a
whisper: "Yes. I have had rather an upset. That is all. They need not
really have troubled you."

"Well, you don't look very flourishing," said I, taking the wrist that
was uncovered by her mantle, "and your hand is as cold as a fish."

I felt her pulse, checking it by my watch, and meanwhile looking her
over critically. And not her alone. For on the wall opposite me was a
mirror in which, by a little judicious adjustment of position, I was
able to observe the other occupant of the room while keeping my back
towards him; and what I observed was that he was sitting with his elbows
on his knees, and his face buried in his hands.

"Might one inquire," I asked, as I put away my watch, "what kind of
shock it is that you are suffering from?"

The faintest trace of a smile stole across her pale face as she
answered: "That isn't really a medical question, Doctor, is it?"

"Perhaps it isn't," I replied, though, of course, it was.

But I thought it best to waive the question, as there seemed to be some
reservation; and, noting this latter fact, I again considered her
attentively. Whatever her condition was, and whatever it might be due
to, I had to form my opinion unassisted, for I could see that no
information would be furnished; and the question that I had to settle
was whether her state was purely mental, or whether it was complicated
by any kind of physical injury. The waxen pallor of her face made me
uneasy, and I found it difficult to interpret the expression of the set
features. Some strong emotion had left its traces; but whether that
emotion was grief, horror, or fear, or whether the expression denoted
bodily pain, I could not determine. She had closed her eyes, and her
face was like a death mask, save that it lacked the serenity of a dead
face.

"Are you in any pain!" I asked, with my fingers still on the thready
pulse. But she merely shook her head wearily, without opening her eyes.

It was very unsatisfactory. Her appearance was consistent with all kinds
of unpleasant possibilities, as was also the strange atmosphere of
secrecy about the whole affair. Nor was the attitude of that
ill-favoured man whom I could see in the glass, still sitting hunched up
with his face buried in his hands, at all reassuring. And gradually my
attention began to focus itself upon the cloak which covered the woman's
body and was drawn around her neck up to her chin. Did that cloak
conceal anything? It seemed incredible, seeing that they had sent for a
doctor. But the behaviour of everybody concerned was incredibly
irrational. I produced my stethoscope, which was fitted with a diaphragm
that enabled one to hear through the clothing, and, drawing the cloak
partly aside, applied the chest-piece over the heart. On this the
patient opened her eyes and made a movement of her hand towards the
upper part of the cloak. I listened carefully to her heart--which was
organically sound, though a good deal disordered in action--and moved
the stethoscope once or twice, drawing aside the cloak by degrees.
Finally, with a somewhat quick movement, I turned it back completely.

"Why," I exclaimed, "what on earth have you been doing to your neck?"

"That mark?" she said in a half-whisper. "It is nothing. It was made by
a gold collar that I wore yesterday. It was rather tight."

"I see," said I, truthfully enough; for the explanation of her condition
was now pretty clear up to a certain point.

Of course, I did not believe her. I did not suppose that she expected me
to. But it was evidently useless to dispute her statement or make any
comment. The mark upon her neck was a livid bruise made by some cord or
band that had been drawn tight with considerable force; and it was not
more than an hour old. How or by whom the injury had been inflicted was
not, in a medical sense, my concern. But I was by no means clear that I
had not some responsibilities in the case other than the professional
ones.

At this moment the man in the corner uttered a deep groan and exclaimed
in low, intense tones, "My God! My God!" Then, to my extreme
embarrassment, he began to sob audibly.

It was excessively uncomfortable. I looked from the woman--into whose
ghastly face an expression of something like disgust and contempt had
stolen--to the huddled figure in the glass. And as I looked, the man
plunged one hand into his pocket and dragged out a handkerchief,
bringing with it a little paper packet that fell to the floor. Something
in the appearance of that packet, and especially in the hasty grab to
recover it and the quick, furtive glance towards me that accompanied the
action, made a new and sinister suggestion--a suggestion that the man's
emotional, almost hysterical state supported, and that lent a certain
unpleasant congruity to the otherwise inexplicable circumstances. That
packet, I had little doubt, contained cocaine. The question was how did
that fact--if it were a fact--bear on my patient's condition.

I inspected her afresh, and felt her pulse again. In the man's case the
appearances were distinctive enough. His nerves were in rags, and even
across the room I could see that the hand that held the handkerchief
shook as if with a palsy. But in the woman's condition there was no
positive suggestion of drugs; and something in her face--a strong,
resolute face despite its expression of suffering--and her quiet,
composed manner when she spoke, seemed to exclude the idea. However,
there was no use in speculating. I had got all the information I was
likely to get, and all that remained for me to do was to administer such
treatment as my imperfect understanding of the case indicated.
Accordingly I opened my emergency bag, and, taking out a couple of
little bottles and a measure-glass, went over to the washstand and mixed
a draught in the tumbler, diluting it from the water-bottle.

In crossing the room, I passed the fire-place, where, on and above the
mantelpiece, I observed a number of signed photographs, apparently of
actors and actresses, including two of my patient, both of which were in
character costume and unsigned. From which it seemed probable that my
patient was an actress; a probability that was strengthened by the hour
at which I had been summoned and by certain other appearances in the
room with which Dr. Pumphrey's largely theatrical practice had made me
familiar. But, as my patient would have remarked, this was not a medical
question.

"Now, Mrs. Johnson," I said, when I had prepared the draught--and as I
spoke she opened her eyes and looked at me with a slightly puzzled
expression--"I want you to drink this."

She allowed me to sit her up enough to enable her to swallow the
draught; and as her head was raised, I took the opportunity to glance at
the back of her neck, where I thought I could distinctly trace the
crossing of the cord or band that had been drawn round it. She sank back
with a sigh, but remained with her eyes open, looking at me as I
repacked my bag.

"I shall send you some medicine," I said, "which you must take
regularly. It is unnecessary for me to say," I added, addressing the
man, "that Mrs. Johnson must be kept very quiet, and in no way
agitated."

He bowed, but made no reply; and I then took my leave.

"Good night, Mrs. Johnson," I said, shaking her cold hand gently. "I
hope you will be very much better in an hour or two. I think you will if
you keep quite quiet and take your medicine."

She thanked me in a few softly spoken words and with a very sweet smile,
of which the sad wistfulness went to my heart. I was loath to leave her,
in her weak and helpless state, to the care of her unprepossessing
companion, encompassed by I knew not what perils. But I was only a
passing stranger, and could do no more than my professional office.

As I approached the door--with an inquisitive eye on its disordered lock
and loosened striking-box--the man rose, and made as if to let me out. I
wished him good-night, and he returned the salutation in a pleasant
voice, and with a distinctly refined accent, quite out of character with
his uncouth appearance. Feeling my way down the dark staircase, I
presently encountered my first acquaintance, who came to the foot of the
stairs with the candle.

'''Well,'' he said, in his brusque way, "how is she?"

"She is very weak and shaken," I replied. "I want to send her some
medicine. Shall I take the address, or are you driving me back?"

"I will take you back in the car," said he, "and you can give me the
medicine."

The car was waiting at the gate, and we went out together. As I turned
to close the gate after me, I cast a quick glance at the house and its
surroundings, searching for some distinctive feature in case recognition
of the place should be necessary later. But it was a dark night, though
the rain had now ceased, and I could see no more than that the adjoining
house seemed to have a sort of corner turret, crowned with a small
cupola, and surmounted by a weather-vane.

During the short journey home not a word was spoken, and when the car
drew up at Dr. Pumphrey's door and I let myself in with the key, my
companion silently followed me in. I prepared the medicine at once, and
handed it to him with a few brief instructions. He took it from me, and
then asked what my fee was.

"Do I understand that I am not required to continue the attendance?" I
asked.

"They will send for you, I suppose, if they want you," he replied. "But
I had better pay your fee for this visit as I came for you."

I named the fee, and, when he had paid it, I said: "You understand that
she will require very careful and tender treatment while she is so
weak?"

"I do," he answered; "but I am not a member of the household. Did you
make it clear to Mr.--her husband?"

I noted the significant hesitation, and replied: "I told him, but as to
making it clear to him, I can't say. His mental condition was none of
the most lucid. I hope she has someone more responsible to look after
her."

"She has," he replied; and then he asked: "You don't think she is in any
danger, I hope?"

"In a medical sense," I answered, "I think not. In other respects you
know better than I do."

He gave me a quick look, and nodded slightly. Then, with a curt
"good-night," he turned and went out to the car.

When he was gone, I made a brief record of the visit in the day-book,
and entered the fee in the cash column. In the case of the experienced
Dr. Pumphrey, this would have been the end of the transaction. But, new
as I was to medical practice, I was unable to take this matter-of-fact
view of its incidents. My mind still surged with surprise, curiosity,
and a deep concern for my fair patient. Filling my pipe, I sat down
before the gas fire to think over the mystery to which I had suddenly
become a party.

What was it that had happened in that house? Obviously, something
scandalous and sinister. The secrecy alone made that manifest. Not only
had the whereabouts of the house been withheld from me, but a false name
had been given. I realized that when my late visitor stumbled over the
name and substituted "her husband," He had forgotten what name it was
that he had given on the spur of the moment. I understood, too, the look
of surprise that my patient had given when I addressed her by that false
name. Clearly, something had happened which had to be hushed up if
possible.

What was it? The elements of the problem, and the material for solving
it, were the mark on the woman's neck, the condition of the door, and a
packet which I felt morally certain contained cocaine. I considered
these three factors separately and together.

The mark on the neck was quite recent. Its character was unmistakable. A
cord or band had been drawn tight and with considerable violence, either
by the woman herself, or by some other person: that is to say, it was a
case either of attempted suicide or attempted murder. To which of these
alternatives did the circumstances point?

There was the door. It had been broken in, and had therefore been locked
on the inside. That was consistent with suicide, but not inconsistent
with murder. Then, by whom had it been broken in? By a murderer to get
at his victim? Or by a rescuer? And if the latter, was it to avert
suicide or murder?

Again, there was the drug--assumed, but almost certain.

What was the bearing of that? Could these three persons be a party of
"dopers," and the tragedy the outcome of an orgy of drug-taking? I
rejected this possibility at once. It was not consistent with the
patient's condition nor with her appearance or manner; and the man who
had fetched me and brought me back was a robust, sane-looking man who
seemed quite beyond suspicion.

I next considered the persons. There were three of them: two men and a
woman. Of the men, one was a virile, fairly good-looking man of perhaps
forty; the other--the husband--was conspicuously unprepossessing,
physically degenerate and mentally, as I judged, a hysterical poltroon.
Here there seemed to be the making of trouble, especially when one
considered the personal attractiveness of the woman.

I recalled her appearance very vividly. A handsome woman, not, perhaps,
actually beautiful--though she might have been that if the roses of
youth and health had bloomed in those cheeks that I had seen blanched
with that ghastly pallor. But apart from mere comeliness, there was a
suggestion of a pleasing, gracious personality. I don't know how it had
been conveyed to me, excepting by the smile with which she had thanked
me and bidden me farewell: a smile that had imparted a singular
sweetness to her face. But I had received that impression, and also that
she was a woman of decided character and intelligence.

Her appearance was rather striking. She had a great mass of dark hair,
parted in the middle, and drawn down over the temples, nearly covering
the ears; darkish grey eyes, and unusually strong, black, level
eyebrows, that almost met above the straight, shapely nose. Perhaps it
was those eyebrows that gave the strength and intensity to her
expression, aided by the compressed lips--though this was probably a
passing condition due to her mental state.

My cogitations were prolonged well into the small hours, but they led to
nothing but an open verdict. At length I rose with a slight shiver, and,
dismissing the topic from my mind, crept up to bed.

But both the persons and the incident refused to accept their dismissal.
For many days afterwards I was haunted by two faces; the one, ugly,
coffin-shaped, surmounted by a shock of soft, furry, mouse-coloured
hair; the other, sweet, appealing, mutely eloquent of tragedy and
sorrow. Of course, I received no further summons; and the whereabouts of
the house of mystery remained a secret until almost the end of my stay
in Osnaburgh-street. Indeed, it was on the very day before Dr.
Pumphrey's return that I made the discovery.

I had been making a visit to a patient who lived near Regent's Park, and
on my way back had taken what I assumed to be a short cut. This led me
into a quiet, old fashioned residential street, of which the houses
stood back behind small front gardens. As I walked along the street I
seemed to be aware of a faint sense of familiarity which caused me to
observe the houses with more than usual attention. Presently I observed
a little way ahead on the opposite side a house with a corner turret
topped by a cupola, which bore above it a weather-vane. I crossed the
road as I approached it, and looked eagerly at the next house. Its
identity was unmistakable. My attention was immediately attracted by the
jalousies with which the windows were fitted, and on looking at the
front door I observed that the number was forty-three.

This, then, was the house of mystery, perhaps of crime.

But whatever that tragedy had been, its actors were there no longer. The
windows were curtainless and blank; an air of Spring-cleaning and
preparation pervaded the premises, and a bill on a little notice-board
announced a furnished house to let, and invited inquiries. For a moment,
I was tempted to accept that invitation. But I was restrained by a
feeling that it would be in a way a breach of confidence. The names of
those persons had been purposely withheld from me, doubtless for
excellent reasons, and professional ethics seemed to forbid any
unauthorized pryings into their private affairs. Wherefore, with a
valedictory glance at the first-floor window, which I assumed to be that
of the room that I had entered, I went on my way, telling myself that,
now, the incident was really closed, and that I had looked my last on
the persons who had enacted their parts in it.

In which, however, I was mistaken. The curtain was down on the first
act, but the play was not over. Only the succeeding acts were yet in the
unfathomed future. "Coming events cast their shadows before them"; but
who can interpret those shadows, until the shapes which cast them loom
up, plain and palpable, to mock at their own unheeded premonitions?



CHAPTER II--RE-ENTER "MR. JOHNSON"


It was a good many months before the curtain rose on the second act of
the drama of which this narrative is the record. Rather more than a year
had passed, and in that time certain changes had taken place in my
condition, of which I need refer only to the one that, indirectly,
operated as the cause of my becoming once more a party to the drama
aforesaid. I had come into a small property, just barely sufficient to
render me independent, and to enable me to live in idleness, if idleness
had been my hobby. As it was not, I betook myself to Adam-street,
Adelphi, to confer with my trusty medical agent, Mr. Turcival, and from
that conference was born my connexion with the strange events which will
be hereafter related.

Mr. Turcival had several practices to sell, but only one that he thought
quite suitable. "It is a death vacancy," said he, "at Rochester. A very
small practice, and you won't get much out of it, as the late incumbent
was an old man and you are a young man--and you look ten years younger
since you shaved off that fine beard and moustache. But it is going for
a song, and you can afford to wait; and you couldn't have a more
pleasant place to wait in than Rochester. Better go down and have a look
at it. I'll write to the local agents, Japp and Bundy, and they will
show you the house and effects. What do you say?"

I said "yes"; and so favourably was I impressed that the very next day
found me in a first-class compartment en route for Rochester, with a
substantial portmanteau in the guard's van.

At Dartford it became necessary to change, and as I sauntered on the
platform, waiting for the Rochester train, my attention was attracted to
a man who sat, somewhat wearily and dejectedly, on a bench, rolling a
cigarette. I was impressed by the swift dexterity with which he handled
the paper and tobacco, a dexterity that was explained by the colour of
his fingers, which were stained to the hue of mahogany. But my attention
was quickly diverted from the colour of the fingers to their shape. They
were clubbed fingers. At the moment when I observed the fact I was
looking over his shoulder from behind, and could not see his face. But I
could see that he had a large, pear-shaped head, surmounted by an
enormous cap, from beneath which a mass of mouse-coloured hair stuck out
like untidy thatch.

I suppose I must have halted unconsciously, for he suddenly looked
round, casting at me a curious, quick, furtive, suspicious glance. He
evidently did not recognize me--naturally, since my appearance was so
much changed; but I recognized him instantly. He was "Mr.--, her
husband." And his appearance was not improved since I had last seen him.
Inspecting him from the front, I observed that he was sordidly shabby
and none too clean, and that his large, rough boots were white with dust
as if from a long tramp on the chalky Kentish roads.

When the train came in, I watched him saunter to a compartment a few
doors from my own, rolling a fresh cigarette as he went: and at each
station when we stopped, I looked out of the window to see where he got
out. But he made no appearance until the train slowed down at Rochester
when I alighted quickly and strolled towards his compartment. It had
evidently been well filled, for a number of passengers emerged before he
appeared, contesting the narrow doorway with a stout workman. As he
squeezed past, the skirt of his coat caught and was drawn back,
revealing a sheath-knife of the kind known to seamen as "Green River,"
attached to a narrow leather belt. I did not like the look of that
knife. No landsman has any legitimate use for such a weapon. And the
fact that this man habitually carried about him the means of inflicting
lethal injuries--for it had no other purpose--threw a fresh light, if
any were needed, on the sinister events of that memorable night in the
quiet house near Regent's Park.

As I had to look after my luggage, I lost sight of him; and when having
deposited my portmanteau in the cloak room, I walked out across the
station approach and looked up and down the street, he was nowhere to be
seen. Dimly wondering what this man might be doing in Rochester, and
whether his handsome wife were here, too--assuming her to be still in
existence--I turned and began to saunter slowly westward. I had walked
but two or three hundred yards when the door of a tavern which I was
approaching opened, and a man emerged, licking his lips with uncommon
satisfaction, and rolling a cigarette. It was my late fellow-traveller.
He stood by the tavern door, looking about him, and glancing at the
people on the footway. Just as I was passing him, he approached me and
spoke.

"I wonder," said he, "if you happen to know a Mrs. Frood who lives
somewhere about here."

"I am afraid I don't," I replied, thankful to be able to tell the
truth--for I should have denied knowledge of her in any case. "I am a
stranger to the town at present."

He thanked me and turned away, and I walked on, but no longer at a
saunter, wondering who Mrs. Frood might be and keeping an eye on the
numbers of the houses on the opposite side of the street.

A few minutes walk brought into view the number I was seeking, painted
in the tympanum of a handsome Georgian portico appertaining to one of a
pair of pleasant old redbrick houses. I halted to inspect these
architectural twins before crossing the road. Old houses always interest
me, and these two were particularly engaging, as their owners apparently
realized, for they were in the pink of condition, and the harmony of the
quiet green woodwork and the sober red brick was no chance effect.
Moreover they were painted alike to carry out the intention of the
architect, who had evidently designed them to form a single composition;
to which end he had very effectively placed, between the twin porticoes,
a central door which gave access to a passage common to the two houses
and leading, no doubt, to the back premises.

Having noted these particulars, I crossed the road and approached the
twin which bore beside its doorway a brass plate, inscribed "Japp and
Bundy, Architects and Surveyors." In the adjoining bay window, in front
of a green curtain, was a list of houses to let; and as I paused for a
moment to glance at this, a face decorated with a pair of colossal
tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles, rose slowly above the curtain, and
then, catching my eye, popped down again with some suddenness.

I ascended the short flight of steps to the open street door, and
entering the hall, opened the office door and walked in. The owner of
the spectacles was perched on a high stool at a higher desk with his
back to me, writing in a large book. The other occupant of the office
was a small, spare, elderly man, with a pleasant wrinkly face and a
cockatoo-like crest of white hair, who confronted me across a large
table on which a plan was spread out. He looked up interrogatively as I
entered, and I proceeded at once to announce myself.

"I am Dr. Strangeways," said I, drawing a bundle of papers from my
pocket. "Mr. Turcival--the medical agent, you know--thought I had better
come down and settle things up on the spot. So here I am."

"Precisely," said my new acquaintance, motioning me to a chair--it was a
shield-back Heppelwhite, I noticed--"I agree with Mr. Turcival. It is
all quite plain sailing. The position is this: Old Dr. Partridge died
about three weeks ago, and the executor of his will, who lives in
Northumberland, has instructed us to realize his estate. We have valued
the furniture, fittings, and effects, have added a small amount to cover
the drugs and instruments and the goodwill of the practice, and this is
the premium. It is practically just the value of the effects."

"And the lease of the house?"

"Expired some years ago and we allowed Dr. Partridge to remain as a
yearly tenant, which he preferred. You could do the same or you could
have a lease, if you wished."

"Is the house your property?" I asked.

"No; but we manage it for the owner, a Mrs. Frood."

"Oh, it belongs to Mrs. Frood, does it?"

He looked up at me quickly, and I noticed that the gentleman at the desk
had stopped writing. "Do you know Mrs. Frood?" he asked.

"No; but it happens that a man who came down by my train asked me a few
minutes ago if I could give him her address. Fortunately I couldn't."

"Why fortunately?"

The question brought me, up short. My prejudice against the man was due
to my knowledge of his antecedents, which I was not prepared to
disclose. I therefore replied evasively:

"Well, I wasn't very favourably impressed by his appearance. He was a
shabby-looking customer. I suspected that he was a cadger of some kind."

"Indeed! Now, what sort of a person was he? Could you describe him?"

"He was a youngish man--from thirty-five to forty, I should
say--apparently well educated but very seedy and not particularly clean.
A queer-looking man, with a big, pear-shaped head and a mop of hair like
the fur of a Persian cat. His fingers are clubbed at the ends, and
stained with tobacco to the knuckles. Do you know him?"

"I rather suspect I do. What do you say, Bundy?"

Mr. Bundy grunted. "Hubby, I ween," said he.

"You don't mean Mrs. Frood's husband?" I exclaimed.

"I do. And it is, as you said, very fortunate that you were not able to
give him her address, as she is unable to live with him and is at
present unwilling to let him know her whereabouts. It is an unfortunate
affair. However, to return to your business; you had better go up and
have a look at the house and see what you think of it. You might just
walk up with Dr. Strangeways, Bundy."

Mr. Bundy swung round on his stool, and, taking off his spectacles,
stuck in his right eye a gold-rimmed monocle, through which he inspected
me critically. Then he hopped off the stool, and, lifting the lid of the
desk, took out a velour hat and a pair of chamois gloves, the former of
which he adjusted carefully on his head before a small mirror, and,
having taken down a labelled key from a key-board and provided himself
with a smart, silver-mounted cane, announced that he was ready.

As I walked along the picturesque old street at Mr. Bundy's side, I
reverted to my late fellow passenger and my prospective landlady.

"I gather," said I, "that Mrs. Frood's matrimonial affairs are somewhat
involved."

"So do I." said Bundy. "Seems to have made a regular mucker of it. I
don't know much about her, myself, but Japp knows the whole story. He's
some sort of relative of hers; uncle or second cousin or something of
the kind. But Japp is a bit like the sailor's parrot: he doesn't let on
unnecessarily."

"'What sort of a woman is Mrs. Frood?" I asked.

"Oh, quite a tidy sort of body. I've only seen her once or twice;
haven't been here long myself: tallish woman, lot of black hair; thick
eye-brows; rather squeaky voice. Not exactly my idea of a beauty, but
Frood seems quite keen on her."

"By the way, how comes it that he doesn't know her address? She's a
Rochester woman, isn't she?"

"No. I don't know where she comes from. London, I think. This property
was left to her by an aunt who lived here: a cousin of Japp's. Angelina
came down here a few weeks ago on the q.t. to get away from hubby, and I
fancy she's been keeping pretty close."

"She's living in lodgings, then, I suppose?"

"Yes; at least she lives in a set of offices that Japp furnished for
her, and the lady who rents the rest of the house looks after her. As a
matter of fact, the offices are next door to ours; but you had better
consider that information as confidential, at any rate while hubby is in
the neighbourhood. This is your shanty."

He halted at the door of a rather small, red brick house, and while I
was examining the half-obliterated inscription on the brass plate, he
thrust the key into the lock and made ineffectual efforts to turn it.
Suddenly there was a loud click from within, followed by the clanking of
a chain and the drawing of bolts. Then the door opened slowly, and a
long-faced, heavy-browed, elderly woman surveyed us with a gloomy stare.

"Why didn't you ring the bell?" she demanded, gruffly.

"Had a key," replied Bundy, extracting it, and flourishing it before her face.

"And what's the good of a key when the door was bolted and chained?"

"But, naturally, I couldn't see that the door was bolted and chained."

"I suppose you couldn't with that thing stuck in your eye. Well, what do
you want?"

"I have brought this gentleman, Dr. Strangeways, to see you. He has seen
your portraits in the shop windows and wished to be introduced. Also he
wants to look over the house. He thinks of taking the practice."

"Well, why couldn't you say that before?" she demanded.

"Before what?" he inquired blandly.

She made no reply other than a low growl, and Bundy continued:

"This lady, Dr. Strangeways, is the renowned Mrs. Dunk, more familiarly
known as La Giaconda, who administered the domestic affairs of the late
Dr. Partridge, and is at present functioning as custodian of the
premises." He concluded the presentation by a ceremonious bow and a
sweep of his hat, which Mrs. Dunk acknowledged by turning her back on
him and producing a large bunch of keys, with which she proceeded to
unlock the doors that opened on the hall.

"The upstairs rooms are unlocked," she said, adding: "If you want me you
can ring the bell," and with this she retired to the basement stairs and
vanished.

My examination of the rooms was rather perfunctory, for I had made up my
mind already. The premium was absurdly small, and I could see that the
house was furnished well enough for my immediate needs. As to the
practice, I had no particular expectations.

"Better have a look at the books," said Bundy when we went into the
little surgery, "though Mr. Turcival has been through them, and I
daresay he has told you all about the practice."

"Yes," I answered, "he told me that the practice was very small and that
I probably shouldn't get much of it, as Partridge was an old man and I
am a young one. Still, I may as well glance through the books."

Bundy laid the day book and ledger on the desk and placed a stool by the
latter, and I seated myself and began to turn over the leaves and note
down a few figures on a slip of paper, while my companion beguiled the
time by browsing round the surgery, taking down bottles and sniffing at
their contents, pulling out drawers and inspecting the instruments and
appliances. A very brief examination of the books served to confirm Mr.
Turcival's modest estimate of the practice, and when I had finished, I
closed them and turned round to report to Mr. Bundy, who was, at the
moment, engaged in "sounding" the surgery clock with the late Dr.
Partridge's stethoscope.

"I think it will do," said I. "The practice is negligible, but the
furniture and fittings are worth the money, and I daresay I shall get
some patients in time. At any rate, the premises are all in going
order."

"You are not dependent on the practice, then?" said he.

"No. I have enough just barely to exist on until the patients begin to
arrive. But what about the house?"

"You can have a lease if you like, or you can go on with the arrangement
that Partridge had. If I were you, I should take the house on a three
years' agreement with the option of a lease later if you find that the
venture turns out satisfactorily."

"Yes," I agreed, "that seems a good arrangement. And when could I have
possession?"

"You've got possession now if you agree to the terms. Say yes, and I'll
draft out the agreement when I get back. You and Mrs. Frood can sign it
this evening. You give us a cheque and we give you your copy of the
document, and the thing is d-u-n, done."

"And what about this old woman?"

"La Giaconda Dunkibus? I should keep her if I were you. She looks an old
devil, but she's a good servant. Partridge had a great opinion of her,
so Japp tells me, and you can see for yourself that the house is in
apple-pie order and as clean as a new pin."

"You think she would be willing to stay?"

Bundy grinned (he was a good deal given to grinning, and he certainly
had a magnificent set of teeth). "Willing?" he exclaimed. "She's going
to stay whether you want her or not. She has been here the best part of
her life and nothing short of a torpedo would shift her. You'll have to
take her with the fixtures, but I don't think you'll regret it."

As Bundy was speaking, I had been, half-unconsciously, looking him over,
interested in the queer contrast between his almost boyish appearance
and gay irresponsible manner on the one hand, and, on the other, his
shrewdness, his business capacity, and his quick, decisive, evidently
forceful character.

To look at, he was just a young "nut," small, spruce, dandified, and
apparently not displeased with himself. His age I judged to be about
twenty-five, his height about five feet six. In figure, he was slight,
but well set-up, and he seemed active and full of life and energy. He
was extraordinarily well turned-out. From his close-cropped head, with
the fore-lock "smarmed" back in the correct "nuttish" fashion, so that
his cranium resembled a large black-topped filbert, to his immaculately
polished and remarkably small shoes, there was not an inch of his person
that had not received the most careful attention. He was clean-shaved;
so clean that on the smooth skin nothing but the faint blue tinge on
cheek and chin remained to suggest the coarse and horrid possibilities
of whiskers. And his hands had evidently received the same careful
attention as his face; indeed, even as he was talking to me, he produced
from his pocket some kind of ridiculous little instrument with which he
proceeded to polish his finger-nails.

"Shall I ring the bell?" he asked after a short pause, "and call up the
spirit of the Dunklett from the vasty deep? May as well let her know her
luck."

As I assented he pressed the bell-push, and in less than a minute Mrs.
Dunk made her appearance and stood in the doorway, looking inquiringly
at Bundy, but uttering no sound.

"Dr. Strangeways is going to take the practice, Mrs. Dunk," said Bundy,
"inclusive of the house, furniture, and all effects, and he is also
prepared to take you at a valuation."

As the light of battle began to gleam in Mrs. Dunk's eyes, I thought it
best to intervene and conduct the negotiations myself.

"I understand from Mr. Bundy," said I, "that you were Dr. Partridge's
housekeeper for many years, and it occurred to me that you might be
willing to act in the same capacity for me. What do you say?"

"Very well," she replied. "When do you want to move in?"

"I propose to move in at once. My luggage is at the station."

"Have you checked the inventory?" she asked.

"No, I haven't, but I suppose nothing has been taken away?"

"No," she answered. "Everything is as it was when Dr. Partridge died."

"Then we can go over the inventory later. I will have my things sent up
from the station, and I shall come in during the afternoon to unpack."

She agreed concisely to this arrangement, and, when we had settled a few
minor details, I departed with Bundy to make my way to the station and
thereafter to go in search of lunch.

"You think," said I, as we halted opposite the station approach, "that
we can get everything completed today?"

"Yes," he replied, "I will get the agreement drawn up in the terms that
we have just settled on, and will make an appointment with Mrs. Frood.
You had better look in at the office about half-past six."

He turned away with a friendly nod and a flash of his white teeth, and
bustled off up the street, swinging his smart cane jauntily, and
looking, with his trim, well-cut clothes, his primrose-coloured gloves,
and his glistening shoes, the very type of cheerful, prosperous,
self-respecting and self-satisfied youth.



CHAPTER III--ANGELINA FROOD


Punctually at half-past six I presented myself at the office of Messrs.
Japp and Bundy. The senior partner was seated at a writing-table covered
with legal-looking documents, and, as I entered, he looked up with a
genial, wrinkly smile of recognition, and then turned to his junior.

"You've got Dr. Strangeways's agreement ready, haven't you, Bundy?" he
asked.

"Just finished it five minutes ago," was the reply. "Here you are."

Bundy swung round on his stool and held out the two copies. "Would you
mind going through it with Dr. Strangeways?" said Japp. "And then you
might go with him to Mrs. Frood's and witness the signatures. I told her
you were coming."

Bundy pulled out his watch, and glared at it through his great
spectacles.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I'm afraid I can't. There's old Baldwin, you
know. I've got to be there at a quarter to seven."

"So you have," said Japp, "I had forgotten that. You had better be off
now. I'll see to Dr. Strangeways, if he isn't in a hurry for a minute or
two."

"I'm not in a hurry at all," said I. "Don't put yourself out for me."

"Well, if you really are not," said Japp, "I'll just finish what I am
doing, and then I'll run in with you and get the agreement completed.
You might look through it while you are waiting and see that it is all
in order."

Bundy handed me the agreement, and, as I sat down to study it, he
removed his spectacles, stuck his eye-glass in his eye, hopped off his
perch, brought forth his hat, gloves, and stick, and, having presented
his teeth for my inspection, took his departure.

I read through the agreement carefully to ascertain that it embodied the
terms agreed on verbally and compared the two copies. Then, while Mr.
Japp continued to turn over the leaves of his documents, I let my
thoughts stray from the trim, orderly office to the house of mystery in
London and the strange events that had befallen there on that rainy
night more than a year ago. Once more I called up before the eyes of
memory the face of my mysterious patient, sweet and gracious in spite of
its deathly pallor. Many a time, in the months that had passed, had I
recalled it: so often that it seemed, in a way, to have become familiar.
In a few minutes I was going to look upon that face again--for there
could be no reasonable doubt that my prospective landlady was she. I
looked forward expectantly, almost with excitement, to the meeting.
Would she recognize me? I wondered. And if she did not, should I make
myself known? This was a difficult question, and I had come to no
decision upon it when I was aroused from my reverie by a movement on the
part of Mr. Japp, whose labours had apparently come to an end. Folding
up the documents and securing them in little bundles with red tape, he
deposited them in a cupboard with his notes, and from the same
receptacle took out his hat.

"Now," said he, "if you find the agreement in order, we will proceed to
execute it. Are you going to pay the premium now?"

"I have my cheque-book with me," I replied. "When we have signed the
agreement, I will settle up foreverything."

"Thank you," said he. "I have prepared a receipt which is, practically,
an assignment of the furniture and effects and of all rights in the
practice."

He held the door open and I passed out. We descended the steps, and
passing the central door common to the two houses, ascended to that of
the adjoining house, where Mr. Japp executed a flourish on a handsome
brass knocker. In a few moments the door was opened by a woman whom I
couldn't see very distinctly in the dim hall, especially as she turned
about and retired up the stairs. Mr. Japp advanced to the door of the
front room and rapped with his knuckles, whereupon a high, clear,
feminine voice bade him come in. He accordingly entered, and I followed.

The first glance disposed of any doubts that I might have had. The lady
who stood up to receive us was unquestionably my late patient, though
she looked taller than I had expected. But it was the well-remembered
face, less changed, indeed, than I could have wished, for it was still
pale, drawn, and weary, as I could see plainly enough in spite of the
rather dim light; for, although it was not yet quite dark, the curtains
were drawn and a lamp lighted on a small table, beside which was a low
easy-chair, on which some needlework had been thrown down.

Mr. Japp introduced me to my future landlady, who bowed, and having
invited us to be seated, took up her needlework and sat down in the
easy-chair.

"You are not looking quite up to the mark," Japp observed, regarding her
critically, as he turned over the papers.

"No," she admitted, "I think I am a little run down."

"H'm," said Japp. "Oughtn't to get run down at your age. Why, you are
only just wound up. However, you've got a doctor for a tenant, so you
will be able to take out some of the rent in medical advice. Let me see,
I told you what the terms of the agreement were, but you had better look
through it before you sign."

He handed her one of the documents, which she took from him, and,
dropping her needlework in her lap, leaned back in her chair to read it.
Meanwhile, I examined her with a good deal of interest and curiosity,
wondering how she had fared and what had happened to her in the months
that had elapsed since I had last seen her. The light was not very
favourable for a minute inspection, for the lamp on the table was the
sole luminary, and that was covered by a red silk shade. But I was
confirmed in my original impression of her. She was more than ordinarily
good-looking, and rather striking in appearance, and I judged that under
happier conditions she might have appeared even more attractive. As, it
was, the formally parted dark hair, the strongly marked, straight
eyebrows, the firm mouth, rather compressed and a little drawn down at
the corners, and the pale complexion imparted to her face a character
that was somewhat intense, sombre, and even troubled. But, for this I
could fully account from my knowledge of her circumstances, and I was
conscious of looking on her with a very sympathetic and friendly eye.

"This is quite satisfactory to me," she said at length, in the clear,
high-pitched voice to which Bundy had objected, "and if it is equally so
to Dr. Strangeways, I suppose I had better sign."

She laid the paper on the table, and, taking the fountain-pen that Japp
proffered, signed her name, Angelina Frood, in a bold, legible hand, and
then returned the pen to its owner; who forthwith affixed his signature
as witness and spread out the duplicate for me to sign. When this also
was completed, he handed me the copy signed by Mrs. Frood and the
receipt for the premium, and I drew a cheque for the amount and
delivered it to him.

"Many thanks," said he, slipping it into a wallet and pocketing it.
"That concludes our business and puts you finally in possession. I wish
you every success in your practice. By the way, I mentioned to Mrs.
Frood that you had seen her husband and that you know how she is placed;
and she agreed with me that it was best that you should understand the
position in case you should meet him again."

"Certainly," Mrs. Frood agreed. "There is no use in trying to make a
secret of it. He came down with you from London, Mr. Japp tells me."

"Not from London," said I. "He got in at Dartford." Here Mr. Japp rose
and stole towards the door. "Don't let me interrupt you," said he, "but
I must get back to the office and hear what Bundy has to report. Don't
get up. I can let myself out."

He made his exit quietly, shutting the door after him, and as soon as he
was gone Mrs. Frood asked:

"Do you mean that he changed into your train at Dartford?"

"No," I answered. "I think he came to Dartford on foot. He looked tired
and his boots were covered with white dust."

"You are very observant, Dr. Strangeways," she said.

"I wonder what made you notice him so particularly?"

"He is rather a noticeable man," I said, and then, deciding that it was
better to be quite frank, I added: "But the fact is I had seen him
before."

"Indeed!" said she. "Would you think me very inquisitive if I asked
where you had seen him?"

"Not at all," I answered. "It was a little more than a year ago, about
twelve o'clock at night, in a house near Regent's Park, to which I was
taken in a closed car to see a lady."

As I spoke she dropped her needlework and sat up, gazing at me with a
startled and rather puzzled expression. "But," she said, "you are not
the doctor who came to see me that night?"

"I am, indeed," said I.

"Now," she exclaimed, "isn't that an extraordinary thing? I had a
feeling that I had seen you somewhere before. I seemed to recognize your
voice. But you don't look the same. Hadn't you a beard then?"

"Yes, I am but the shaven and shorn remnant of my former self, but I am
your late medical attendant."

She looked at me with an odd, reflective, questioning expression, but
without making any further comment. Presently she said:

"You were very kind and sympathetic though you were so quiet. I wonder
what you thought of it all."

"I hadn't much to go on beyond the medical facts," I replied evasively.

"Oh, you needn't be so cautious," said she, "now that the cat is out of
the bag."

"Well," I said, "it was pretty obvious that there had been trouble of
some kind. The door had been broken open, there was one man in a state
of hysterics, another man considerably upset and rather angry, and a
woman with the mark on her neck of a cord or band--"

"It was a knitted silk neck-tie, to be accurate. But you put the matter
in a nut-shell very neatly; and I see that you diagnosed what novelists
call 'the eternal triangle.' And to a certain extent you were right;
only the triangle was imaginary. If you don't mind, I will tell you just
what did happen. The gentleman who came for you was a Mr. Fordyce, the
lessee of one or two provincial theatres--I was on the stage then; but
perhaps you guessed that."

"As a matter of fact, I did."

"Well, Mr. Fordyce had an idea of producing a play at one of his houses,
and was going to give me a leading part. He had been to our house once
or twice to talk the matter over with Nicholas (my husband) and me, and
we were more or less friendly. He was quite a nice, sober kind of man,
and perfectly proper and respectful. On this night he had been at the
theatre where I had an engagement, and, as it was a wet night, he drove
me home in his car, and was coming in to have a few words with us about
our business. He wanted to see a photograph of me in a particular
costume, and when we arrived home I ran upstairs to fetch it. There I
found Nicholas, who had seen our arrival from the window, and was in a
state of furious jealousy. Directly I entered the room, he locked the
door and flew at me like a wild beast. As to what followed, I think you
know as much as I do, for I fainted, and when I recovered Nicholas was
sobbing in a corner, and Mr. Fordyce was standing by the door, looking
as black as thunder."

"Had your husband been jealous of Mr. Fordyce previously?"

"Not a bit. But on this occasion he was in a very queer state. I think
he had been drinking, and taking some other things that were bad for
him--"

"Such as cocaine," I suggested.

"Yes. But, dear me! What a very noticing person you are, Dr.
Strangeways! But you are quite right. It was the cocaine that was the
cause of the trouble. He was always a difficult man; emotional,
excitable, eccentric, and not very temperate, but after he had acquired
the drug habit he went to the bad completely. He became slovenly, and
even dirty in his person, frightfully emotional, and gave up work of all
kind, so that but for my tiny income and my small earnings we should
have starved."

"So you actually supported him?"

"Latterly I did. And I daresay, if I had remained on the stage, we
should have done fairly well, as I was supposed to have some talent,
though I didn't like the life. But, of course, after this affair, I
didn't dare to live with him. He wasn't safe. I should have been
constantly in fear of my life."

"Had he ever been violent before'"

"Not seriously. He had often threatened horrible things, and I had
looked on his threats as mere vapourings, but this was a different
affair. I must have had a really narrow escape. So the very next day, I
went into lodgings. But that didn't answer. He wouldn't agree to the
separation, and was continually dogging me and making a disturbance. In
the end, I had to give up my engagement and go off, leaving no address."

"I suppose you went back to your people?"

"No," she replied. "As a matter of fact, I haven't any people. My mother
died when I was quite a child, and I lost my father when I was about
seventeen. He died on the Gold Coast, where he held an appointment as
District Commissioner."

"Ah," said I, "I thought you were in some way connected with West
Africa. I noticed the zodiac ring on your finger when you were signing
the agreement. When I was newly qualified I took a trip down the West
Coast as a ship's surgeon, and bought one of those rings at Cape Coast."

"They are quaint little things, aren't they?" she remarked, slipping the
ring off her finger and handing it to me. "I don't often wear it,
though. It is rather clumsy, and it doesn't fit very well; and I don't
care much for rings."

I turned the little trinket over in my hand and examined it with
reminiscent interest. It was a roughly wrought band of yellow native
gold, with the conventional signs of the zodiac worked round it in
raised figures. Inside I noticed that the letters A. C. had been
engraved.

"It was given to you before you were married, I presume," said I, as I
returned it to her.

"Yes," she replied, "those are the initials of my maiden name--Angelina
Carthew." She took the ring from me, but instead of replacing it on her
finger, dropped it into a little pouch-like purse with metal jaws, which
she had taken from her pocket.

"Your position is a very disagreeable one," said I, reverting to the
main topic. "I wonder that you haven't applied for a judicial
separation. There are ample grounds for making the application."

"I suppose there are. But it wouldn't help me really, even if it were
granted. I shouldn't get rid of him."

"You could apply to the police if he molested you."

"No doubt. But that doesn't sound very restful, does it?"

"I am afraid it doesn't. But it would be better than being constantly
molested without having any remedy or refuge."

"Perhaps it would," she agreed doubtfully, and then, with a faint smile,
she added: "I suppose you are wondering what on earth made me marry
him?"

"Well," I replied, "it appears to me that his good fortune was more
remarkable than his personal attractions."

"He wasn't always like he is now," said she. "I married him nearly ten
years ago, and he was fairly presentable then. His manners were quite
nice and he had certain accomplishments that rather appealed to a young
girl--I was only eighteen and rather impressionable. He was then getting
a living by writing magazine stories--love stories, they were, of a
highly emotional type--and occasional verses. They were second-rate
stuff, really, but to me he seemed a budding genius. It was not until
after we were married that the disillusionment came, and then only
gradually as his bad habits developed."

"By the way, what do you suppose he has come down here for? What does he
want? I suppose he wishes you to go back to him?"

"I suppose he does. But, primarily, I expect he wants money. It is a
horrible position," she added, with sudden passion. "I hate the idea of
hiding away from him when I suspect that the poor wretch has come down
to his last few shillings. After all, he is my husband; and I am not so
deadly poor now."

"He seemed to have the wherewith to provide a fair supply of tobacco, to
say nothing of the cocaine and a 'modest quencher' at the tavern," I
remarked drily. "At any rate, I hope he won't succeed in finding out
where you live."

"I hope not," said she. "If he does, I shall have to move on, as I have
had to do several times already, and I don't want to do that. I have
only been here a little over two months, and it has been very pleasant
and peaceful. But you see, Dr. Strangeways, that, if I am to follow Mr.
Japp's advice, I shall inflict on you a very unpromising patient. There
is no medical treatment for matrimonial troubles."

"No," I agreed, rising and taking up my hat, "but the physical effects
may be dealt with. If I am appointed your medical advisor, I shall send
you a tonic, and if I may look in now and again to see how you are
getting on, I may be able to help you over some of your difficulties."

"It is very kind of you," she said, rising and shaking my hand warmly;
and, accepting my suggestion that she had better not come to the street
door, she showed me out into the hall and dismissed me with a smile and
a little bow.

When I reached the bottom of the steps, I stood irresolutely for a few
moments and then, instead of making my way homeward, turned up the
street towards the cathedral and the bridge, walking slowly and
reflecting profoundly on the story I had just heard. It was a pitiful
story; and the quiet, restrained manner of the telling made it the more
impressive. All that was masculine in me rose in revolt against the
useless, inexcusable wrecking of this poor woman's life. As to the man,
he was, no doubt, to be pitied for being the miserable, degenerate
wretch that he was. But he was doomed beyond any hope of salvation. Such
wretches as he are condemned in the moment of their birth; they are born
to an inheritance of misery and dishonour. But it is infamous that in
their inevitable descent into the abyss--from which no one can save
them--they should have the power to drag down with them sane and healthy
human beings who were destined by nature to a life of happiness, of
usefulness, and honour. I thought of the woman I had just left--comely,
dignified, energetic, probably even talented. What was her future to be?
So far as I could see, the upas shadow of this drug-sodden wastrel had
fallen upon her, never to be lifted until merciful death should dissolve
the ill-omened union.

This last reflection gave my thoughts a new turn. What was this man's
purpose in pursuing her? Was he bent merely on extorting money or on
sharing her modest income? Or was there some more sinister motive? I
recalled his face; an evil, sly, vindictive face. I considered what I
knew of him; that he had undoubtedly made one attempt to murder this
woman, and that, to my knowledge, he carried about his person the means
of committing murder. For what purpose could he have provided himself
with that formidable weapon? It might be merely as a means of coercion,
or it might be as a means of revenge.

Thus meditating, I had proceeded some distance along the street when I
observed, on the opposite side, an old, three-gabled house which looked
like some kind of institution. A lamp above the doorway threw its light
on a stone tablet on which I could see an inscription of some length,
and, judging this to be an ancient almshouse, I crossed the road to
inspect it more closely. A glance at the tablet told me that this was
the famous rest-house established in the sixteenth century by worthy
Richard Watts, to give a night's lodging and entertainment to six poor
travellers, with the express proviso that the said travellers must be
neither rogues nor proctors. I had read through the quaint inscription
and was speculating, as many others have speculated, on the nature of
Richard Watts's grievance against proctors as a class, when the door
opened suddenly and a man rushed out with such impetuosity that he
nearly collided with me. I had moved out of his way when he halted and
addressed me excitedly.

"I say, governor, can you tell me where I can find a doctor?"

"You have found one," I replied. "I am a doctor. What is the matter?"

"There's a bloke in here throwing a fit," he answered, backing into the
doorway and holding the door open for me. I entered, and followed him
down a passage to a largish, barely furnished room, where I found four
men and a woman, who looked like a hospital nurse, standing around and
watching anxiously a man who lay on the floor.

"Here's a doctor, matron," said my conductor, as he ushered me in.

"Well, Simmonds," said the matron, "you haven't wasted much time."

"No, mum," replied Simmonds, "I struck it lucky. Caught him just
outside."

Meanwhile I had stepped up to the prostrate man, and at the first glance
I recognized him. He was Mrs. Frood's husband. And, whatever he might be
"throwing," it was not a fit--in the ordinary medical sense; that is to
say, it was not epilepsy or apoplexy; nor was it a fainting fit of an
orthodox kind. If the patient had been a woman one would have called it
a hysterical seizure, and I could give it no other name, though I was
not unmindful of the paper packet that I had seen on that former
occasion. But the emotional element was obvious. The man purported to be
insensible, and manifestly was not. The tightly closed eyes, the everted
lips--showing a row of blackened teeth--the clutching movements of the
clawlike hands--all were suggestive of at least half-conscious
simulation. I stood for a while, stooping over him and watching him
intently, and as I did so the bystanders watched me. Then I felt his
pulse, and found it, as I had expected, quick, feeble, and irregular;
and finally, producing my stethoscope, listened to his heart with as
little disturbance of his clothing as possible.

"Well, doctor," said the matron, "what do you think of him?"

"He is decidedly ill," I replied. "His heart is rather jumpy, and not
very strong. Too much tobacco, I fancy, and perhaps some other things
that are not very good, and possibly insufficient food."

"He told me, when he came in," said the matron, "that he was practically
destitute."

"Ah," murmured Simmonds, "I expect he's been blowing all his money on
Turkish baths," whereupon the other poor travellers sniggered softly,
and were immediately extinguished by a reproving glance from the matron.

"Do you know what brought this attack on?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied; "he had a little dispute with Simmonds, here, and
suddenly became violently excited, and then he fell down insensible, as
you see him. It was all about nothing."

"I jest arsked 'im," said Simmonds, "if 'e could give me the name of the
cove what done 'is 'air, 'cos I thought I'd like to 'ave mine done in
the same fashionable style. That seemed to give 'im the fair pip. 'E
jawed me something chronic, until I got shirty and told 'im if 'e didn't
shut 'is face I'd give 'im a wipe acrost the snout. Then blow me if 'e
didn't start to throw a fit."

While this lucid explanation was proceeding I noticed that the patient
was evidently listening intently, though he continued to twitch his
face, exhibit his unlovely teeth, and wriggle his fingers. He was
apparently waiting for my verdict with some anxiety.

"The question is," said the matron, "what is to be done with him? Do you
think he is in any danger?"

As she spoke, we drifted towards the door, and when we were in the
passage, out of earshot, I said:

"The best place for that man is the infirmary. There is nothing much the
matter with him but dope. He has been dosing himself with cocaine, and
he has probably got some more of the stuff about him. He is in no danger
now, but if he takes any more he may upset himself badly."

"It is rather late to send him to the infirmary," she said, "and I don't
quite like to do it. Poor fellow, he seems fearfully down on his luck,
and he is quite a superior kind of man. Do you think it would be safe
for him to stay here for the night if he had a little medicine of some
kind?"

"It would be safe enough," I replied, "if you could get possession of
his coat and waistcoat and lock them up until the morning."

"Oh, I'll manage that," said she; "and about the medicine?"

"Let Simmonds walk up with me--I have taken Dr. Partridge's
practice--and I will give it to him."

We re-entered the supper-room and found the conditions somewhat changed.
Whether it was that the word "infirmary" had been wafted to the
patient's attentive ears, I cannot say; but there were evident signs of
recovery. Our friend was sitting up, glaring wildly about him, and
inquiring where he was; to which questions Simmonds was furnishing
answers of a luridly inaccurate character. When I had taken another look
at the patient, and received a vacant stare of almost aggressive
unrecognition, I took possession of the facetious Simmonds, and, having
promised to look in in the morning, wished the matron good-night and
departed with my escort; who entertained me on the way home with
picturesque, unflattering, and remarkably shrewd comments on the
sufferer.

I had made up a stimulant mixture, and handed it to Simmonds when I
remembered Mrs. Frood and that Simmonds would pass her house on his way
back. For an instant, I thought of asking him to deliver her medicine
for me; and then, with quite a shock, I realized what a hideous blunder
it would have been. Evidently, the poor travellers gave their names, and
if the man, Frood, had given his correctly, the coincidence of the names
would have impressed Simmonds instantly, and then the murder would have
been out, and the fat would have been in the fire properly. It was a
narrow escape, and it made me realize how insecure was that unfortunate
lady's position with this man lurking in the town. And, realizing this,
I determined to trust the addressed bottle to nobody, but to leave it at
the house myself. Accordingly, having made up the medicine and wrapped
it neatly in paper, I thrust it into my pocket, and, calling out to Mrs.
Dunk that I should be back to supper in about half an hour, I set forth,
and in a few minutes arrived at the little Georgian doorway and plied
the elegant brass knocker. The door was opened--rather incautiously, I
thought--by Mrs. Frood herself.

"I am my own bottle-boy, you see, Mrs. Frood," said I, handing her the
medicine. "I thought it safer not to send an addressed packet under the
circumstances."

"But how good of you!" she exclaimed. "How kind and thoughtful! But you
shouldn't have troubled about it tonight."

"It was only a matter of five minutes' walk," said I, "and besides,
there was something that I thought you had better know," and hereupon I
proceeded to give her a brief account of my recent adventures and the
condition of her precious husband. "Is he subject to attacks of this
kind?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered. "When he is put out about anything in some ways he
is rather like a hysterical woman. But, you see, I was right. He is
penniless. And that--now I come to think of it--makes it rather odd that
he should be here. But won't you come in for a moment?"

I entered and shut the door. "Why is it odd?" I asked.

"Because he would be getting some money tomorrow. I make him a small
allowance; it is very little, but it is as much as I can possibly
manage; and it is paid monthly, on the fifteenth of the month. But he
has to apply for it personally at the bank or send an accredited
messenger with a receipt; and as tomorrow is the fifteenth, the question
is, why on earth is he down here now? I mean that it is odd that he
should not have waited to collect the allowance before coming to hunt me
up."

"If he is in communication with your banker," said I, "he could, I
suppose, get a letter forwarded to you?"

"No," she replied; "the banker who pays him is the London agent of Mr.
Japp's banker, and he doesn't know on whose behalf the payments are
made. I had to make that arrangement, or he would have bombarded me with
letters."

"Well," I said, "you had better keep close for a day or two. If his
search for you is unsuccessful, he may get discouraged and raise the
siege. I will let you know what his movements are, so far as I can."

She thanked me once more with most evident sincerity, and as I made my
way to the door, she let me out with a cordial and friendly shake of the
hand.



CHAPTER IV--DEALS WITH CHARITY AND ARCHAEOLOGY


Immediately after breakfast on the following morning I made my way to
Mr. Richard Watts's establishment, where I learned that all the poor
travellers had departed with the exception of my patient, who had been
allowed to stay pending my report on him.

"I shall be glad to see the back of him, poor fellow," said the matron,
"for, of course, we have no arrangements for dealing with sick men."

"Do you often get cases of illness here?" I asked.

"I really don't know," she answered. "You see, I am only doing temporary
duty here while the regular matron is away. But I should think not,
though little ailments are apt to occur in the case of a poor man who
has been on the road for a week or so."

"This man is on tramp, is he?" said I.

"Well, no," she replied. "It seems, from what he tells me, that his wife
has left him, and he had reason to believe that she was staying in this
town. So he came down here to try to find her. He supposed that
Rochester was a little place where everybody knew everybody else, and
that he would have no difficulty in discovering her whereabouts. But all
his inquiries have come to nothing. Nobody seems to have heard of her. I
suppose you don't happen to know the name--Frood?"

"I only came here yesterday, myself," was my evasive reply. "I am a
stranger to the town. But is he certain that she is here?"

"I don't think he is. At any rate, he seems inclined to give up the
search for the present, and he is very anxious to get back to London.
But I don't know how he is going to manage it. He isn't fit to walk."

"Well," I said, "if it is only the railway fare that stands in the way,
that difficulty can be got over. I will pay for his ticket; but I should
like to be sure that he really goes."

"Oh, I'll see to that," she said, with evident relief. "I will go with
him to the station, and get his ticket and see him into the train. But
you had better just have a look at him, and see that he is fit to go."

She conducted me to the supper-room, where our friend was sitting in a
Windsor armchair, looking the very picture of misery and dejection.

"Here is the doctor come to see you, Mr. Frood," the matron said
cheerfully, "and he is kind enough to say that, if you are well enough
to travel, he will pay your fare to London. So there's an end of your
difficulties."

The poor devil glanced at me for an instant, and then looked away; and,
to my intense discomfort, I saw that his eyes were filling.

"It is indeed good of you, Sir," he murmured, shakily, but in a very
pleasant voice and with a refined accent; "most good and kind to help a
lame dog over a stile in this way. I don't know how to thank you."

Here, as he showed a distinct tendency to weep, I replied hastily:

"Not at all. We've all got to help one another in this world. And how
are you feeling? Hand is still a little bit shaky, I see."

I put my finger on his wrist and then looked him over generally. He was
a miserable wreck, but I judged that he was as well as he was ever
likely to be.

"Well," I said, "you are not in first-class form, but you are up to a
short railway journey. I suppose you have somewhere to go to in London?"

"Yes," he replied, dismally, "I have a room. It isn't in the Albany, but
it is a shelter from the weather."

"Never mind," said I. "We must hope for better times. The matron is
going to see you safely to the station and comfortably settled in the
train--and"--here I handed her a ten shilling note--"you will get Mr.
Frood's ticket, matron, and you had better give him the change. He may
want a cab when he gets to town."

He glowered sulkily at this arrangement--I suspect he had run out of
cigarettes--but he thanked me again, and, when I had privately
ascertained the time of the train which was to bear him away, I wished
him adieu.

"I suppose," said I, "there is no likelihood of his hopping out at
Strood to get a drink and losing the train?"

The matron smiled knowingly. "He will start from Strood," said she. "I
shall take him over the bridge in the tram and put him into the London
express there. We don't want him back here tonight."

Much relieved by the good lady's evident grasp of the situation, I
turned away up the street and began to consider my next move. I had
nothing to do this morning, for at present there was not a single
patient on my books with the exception of Mrs. Frood; and it may have
been in accordance with the prevailing belief that to persons in my
condition, an individual, familiarly known as "the old gentleman,"
obligingly functions as employment agent, that my thoughts turned to
that solitary patient. At any rate they did. Suddenly, it was borne in
on me that I ought, without delay, to convey to her the glad tidings of
her husband's departure. Whether the necessity would have appeared as
urgent if her personal attractions had been less, I will not presume to
say; nor whether had I been more self-critical, I should not have looked
with some suspicion on this intense concern respecting the welfare of a
woman who was almost a stranger to me. As it was, it appeared to me that
I was but discharging a neighbourly duty when I executed an insinuating
rat-tat on the handsome brass knocker which was adorned--somewhat
inappropriately, under the circumstances--with a mask of Hypnos.

After a short interval, the door was opened by a spare, middle-aged
woman of melancholic aspect, with tow-coloured hair and a somewhat
anemic complexion, who regarded me inquiringly with a faded blue eye.

"Is Mrs. Frood at home?" I asked briskly.

"I am afraid she is not," was the reply, uttered in a dejected tone. "I
saw her go out some time ago, and I haven't heard her come back. But
I'll just see, if you will come in a moment."

I entered the hall and listened with an unaccountable feeling of
disappointment as she rapped on the door first of the front room, and
then of the back.

"She isn't in her rooms there," was the dispirited report, "but she may
be in the basement. I'll call out and ask."

She retired to the inner hall and gave utterance to a wail like that of
an afflicted sea-gull. But there was no response; and I began to feel
myself infected by her melancholy.

"I am sorry you have missed her, Sir," said she; and then she asked:
"Are you her doctor, Sir?"

I felt myself justified in affirming that I was, whereupon she
exclaimed:

"Ah, poor thing! It is a comfort to know that she has someone to look
after her. She has been looking very sadly of late. Very sadly, she
has."

I began to back cautiously towards the door, but she followed me up and
continued: "I am afraid she has had a deal of trouble; a deal of
trouble, poor dear. Not that she ever speaks of it to me. But I know. I
can see the lines of grief and sorrow--like a worm in the bud, so to
speak, Sir--and it makes my heart ache. It does, indeed."

I mumbled sympathetically and continued to back towards the door.

"I don't see very much of her," she continued in a plaintive tone. "She
keeps herself very close. Too close, I think. You see, she does for
herself entirely. Now and again, when she asks me, which is very seldom,
I put a bit of supper in her room. That is all. And I do think that it
isn't good for a young woman to live so solitary; and I do hope you'll
make her take a little more change."

"I suppose she goes out sometimes," said I, noting that she was out at
the present moment.

"Oh, yes," was the reply. "She goes out a good deal. But always alone.
She never has any society."

"And what time does she usually come in?" I asked, with a view to a
later call.

"About six; or between that and seven. Then she has her supper and puts
the things out on the hall table. And that is the last I usually see of
her."

By this time I had reached the door and softly unfastened the latch.

"If you should see her," I said, "you might tell her that I shall look
in this evening about half-past seven."

"Certainly, Sir," she replied. "I shall see her at lunch-time, and I
will give her your message."

I thanked her, and, having now got the door open, I wished her good
morning, and retreated down the steps.

As I was in the act of turning away, my eye lighted on the adjacent bay
window, appertaining to the office of Messrs. Japp and Bundy, and I then
perceived above the green curtain the upper half of a human face,
including a pair of tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles; an apparition which
informed me that Mr. Bundy had been--to use Sam Weller's
expression--"a-twigging of me." On catching my eye, the face rose
higher, disclosing a broad grin; whereupon, without any apparent reason,
I felt myself turning somewhat red. However, I mounted the official
steps, and, opening the office door, confronted the smiler and his more
sedate partner.

"Ha!" said the former, "you drew a blank, doctor. I saw the lovely
Angelina go out about an hour ago. Whom did you see?"

"The lady of the house, I presume; a pale, depressed female."

"I know," said Bundy. "Looks like an undertaker's widow. That's Mrs.
Gillow. Rhymes with willow--very appropriate, too," and he began to
chant in an absurd, Punch-like voice: "Oh, all round my hat I'll wear
the green--"

"Be quiet, Bundy," said Mr. Japp, regarding his partner with a wrinkly
and indulgent smile.

Bundy clapped his hand over his mouth and blew out his cheeks, and I
took the opportunity to explain: "I called on Mrs. Frood to let her know
that her husband is leaving the town."



"Leaving the town, is he?" said Mr. Japp, elevating his eyebrows and
thereby causing his forehead to resemble a small Venetian blind. "Do you
know when?"

"He goes this morning by the ten-thirty express to London."

"Hooray!" ejaculated Bundy, with a flourish of his arms that nearly
capsized his stool. He recovered himself with an effort, and then,
fixing his eyes on me, proceeded to whistle the opening bars of "O! Thou
that tellest good tidings to Zion!"

"That'll do, Bundy," said Mr. Japp. Then turning to me, he asked: "Where
did you learn these good tidings, Doctor?"

I gave them a brief account of the happenings of the previous night and
this morning's sequel, to which they listened with deep attention. When
I had finished Mr. Japp said: "You have done a very great kindness to my
friend Mrs. Frood. It will be an immense relief to her to know that she
can walk abroad without the danger of encountering this man. Besides, if
he had stayed here he would probably have found her out."

"He might even have found her at home," said Bundy, "and that would have
been worse. So I propose a vote of thanks to the doctor--with musical
honours. For-hor he's a jolly good fell--"

"There, that'll do, Bundy, that'll do," said Mr. Japp. "I never saw such
a fellow. You'll have the neighbours complaining."

Bundy leaned towards me confidentially and remarked in a stage whisper,
glancing at his partner: "Fidgetty old cove; regular old killjoy." Then,
with a sudden change of manner, he asked: "What about that wall job,
Japp? Are you going to have a look at them?"

"I can't go at present," said Japp. "Bulford will be coming in presently
and I must see him. Have you got anything special to do?"

"Only old Jeff'son's lease, and that can wait. Shall I trot over and see
what sort of mess they are making of things?"

"I wish you would," said Japp; whereupon Mr. Bundy removed his
spectacles, stuck in his eye-glass, extracted from the desk his hat and
gloves which he assumed with the aid of the looking-glass, and took his
stick from the corner. Then he looked at me reflectively and asked:

"Are you interested in archaeology, Doctor?"

"Somewhat," I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"Because we are putting some patches in the remains of the city wall. It
isn't much to look at, and there isn't a great deal of the original
Roman work left; but if you would care to have a look at it you might
walk up there with me."

I agreed readily, being, as I have said, somewhat at a loose end, and we
set forth together, Bundy babbling cheerfully as we went.

"I have often thought," said he, "that there must have been something
rather pleasant and restful about the old walled cities, particularly
after curfew when the gates were shut--that is, provided you were inside
at the time."

"Yes," said I. "An enclosed precinct has a certain agreeable quality of
seclusion that you can't get in an open town or village. When I was a
student, I lived for a time in chambers in Staple Inn, and it was, as
you say, rather pleasant, when one came home at night, and the porter
had let one in at the wicket, to enter and find the gates closed, the
courts all quiet and empty, and to know that all traffic was stopped and
all strangers shut out until the morning. But it doesn't appear to be in
accordance with modern taste, for those old Chancery Inns have nearly
all gone, and there is no tendency to replace them with anything
similar."

"No," Bundy agreed, stopping to look up at an old timber house, "taste
in regard to buildings, if there is any--Japp says there isn't--has
changed completely in the last hundred years or so. Look at this alley
we are in now. Every house has got a physiognomy of its own. But when we
rebuild it, we shall fill it up with houses that will look as if they
had been bought in packets like match-boxes."

Gossiping thus, we threaded our way through all sorts of queer little
alleys and passages. At length Bundy stopped at a wooden gate in a high
fence, and, pushing it open, motioned for me to enter; and as I did so
he drew out the key which was in the lock and put it in his pocket.

The place which we had entered was a space of waste land, littered with
the remains of some old houses that had been demolished and enclosed on
three sides by high fences. The fourth side was formed by a great mass
of crumbling rubble, patched in places with rough masonry and brickwork,
and showing in its lower part the remains of courses of Roman bricks. It
rose to a considerable height, and was evidently of enormous thickness,
as could be seen where large areas of the face had crumbled away,
exposing great cavities, in which wall-flowers, valerian and other
rock-haunting plants, had taken up their abode. On one of these a small
gang of men were at work, and it was evident that repairs on a
considerable scale were contemplated, for there were several large heaps
of rough stone and old bricks, and in a cart-shed in a corner of the
space were a large number of barrels of lime.

As we entered, the foreman came forward to meet us, and Bundy handed him
the key from the gate.

"Better keep it in your pocket," said he. "Mr. Japp is rather particular
about keys that he has charge of. He doesn't like them left in doors or
gates. How are the men getting on?"

"As well as you can expect of a lot of casuals like these," was the
reply. "There isn't a mason or a bricklayer among them, excepting that
old chap that's mixing the mortar. However, it's only a rough job."

We walked over to the part of the old wall where the men were at work,
and the appearances certainly justified the foreman's last remark. It
was a very rough job. The method appeared to consist in building up
outside the cavity a primitive wall of unhewn stone with plenty of
mortar, and, when it had risen a foot or two, filling up the cavity
inside with loose bricks, lumps of stone, shovelfuls of liquid mortar,
and chunks of lime.

I ventured to remark that it did not look a very secure method of
building, upon which Bundy turned his eyeglass on me and smiled
knowingly.

"My dear Doctor," said he, "you don't appear to appreciate the subtlety
of the method. The purpose of these activities is to create employment.
That has been clearly stated by the town council. But if you want to
create employment you build a wall that will tumble down and give
somebody else the job of putting it up again."

Here, as a man suddenly bore down on us with a bucket of mortar, Bundy
hopped back to avoid the unclean contact, and nearly sat down on a heap
of smoking lime.

"You had a narrow escape that time, mister," remarked the old gentleman
who presided over the mortar department, as Bundy carefully dusted his
delicate shoes with his handkerchief; "that stuff would 'ave made short
work of them fine clothes of yourn."

"Would it?" said Bundy, dusting his shoes yet more carefully and wiping
the soles on the turf.

"Ah," rejoined the old man; "terrible stuff is quicklime. Eats up
everything same as what fire does." He rested his hands on his shovel,
and, assuming a reminiscent air, continued: "There was a pal o' mine
what was skipper of a barge. A iron barge, she was, and he had to take
on a lading of lime from some kilns. The stuff was put aboard with a
shoot. Well, my pal, he gets 'is barge under the shoot and then 'e goes
off, leavin' 'is mate to see the lime shot into the hold. Well, it seems
the mate had been takin' some stuff aboard, too. Beer, or p'raps whisky.
At any rate, he'd got a skinful. Well, presently the skipper comes back,
and he sees 'em a-tippin' the trucks of lime on to the shoot, and he
sees the barge's hold beginning to fill, but 'e don't see 'is mate
nowhere. He goes aboard, down to the cabin, but there ain't no signs of
the mate there, nor yet anywheres else. Well, they gets the barge loaded
and the hatch-covers on, and everything ready for sea; and still there
ain't no signs of the mate. So my pal, rememberin' that the mate--his
name was Bill--rememberin' that Bill seemed a bit squiffy, supposed he
must 'ave gone overboard. So 'e takes on a fresh hand temporary and off
'e goes on 'is trip.

"Well, they makes their port all right and brings up alongside the
wharf, but owing to a strike among the transport men they can't unload
for about three weeks. However, when the strike is over, they rigs a
whip and a basket and begins to get the stuff out. All goes well until
they get down to the bottom tier. Then one of the men brings upa bone on
his shovel. 'Hallo!' says the skipper, 'what's bones a-doin' in a cargo
of fresh lime?' He rakes over the stuff on the floor and up comes a
skull with a hole in the top of it. 'Why, blow me,' says the skipper,
'if that don't look like Bill. He warn't as thin in the face as all
that, but I seem to know them teeth.' Just then one of the men finds a
clay pipe--a nigger's head, it was--and the skipper reckernizes it at
once. 'That there's Bill's pipe,' sez he, 'and them bones is Bill's
bones,' 'e sez. And so they were. They found 'is belt-buckle and 'is
knife, and 'is trouser buttons and the nails out of 'is boots. And
that's all there was left of Bill. He must have tumbled down into the
hold and cracked his nut, and then the first truckful of lime must 'ave
covered 'im up. So, if you sets any value on them 'andsome shoes o'
yourn, don't you go a-treadin' in quick lime."

Bundy looked down anxiously at his shoes, and, having given them an
additional wipe, he moved away from the dangerous neighbourhood of the
lime and we went together to examine the ancient wall.

"That was rather a tall yarn of the old man's," remarked Bundy. "Is it a
fact that lime is as corrosive as he made out?"

"I don't really know very much about it," I replied. "There is a general
belief that it will consume almost anything but metal. How true that is
I can't say, but I remember that at the Crippen trial one of the medical
experts--I think it was Pepper--said that if the body had been buried in
quicklime it would have been entirely consumed--excepting the bones, of
course. But it is difficult to believe that a body could disappear
completely in three weeks, or thereabouts, as our friend said. How fine
this old wall looks with those clumps of valerian and wallflowers
growing on it! I suppose it encircled the town completely at one time?"

"Yes," he replied, "and it is a pity there isn't more of it left, or at
least one or two of the gateways. A city gate is such a magnificent
adornment. Think of the gates of Canterbury and Rye, and especially at
Sandwich, where you actually enter the town through the barbican; and
think of what Rochester must have been before all the gates were pulled
down. But you must hear Japp on the subject. He's a regular
architectural Jeremiah. By the way, what did you think of Mrs. Frood?
You saw her last night, didn't you?"

"Yes. I was rather taken with her. She is very nice and friendly and
unaffected, and good-looking, too. I thought her distinctly handsome."

"She isn't bad-looking," Bundy admitted. "But I can't stand her voice.
It gets on my nerves. I hate a squeaky voice."

"I shouldn't call it squeaky," said I. "It is a high voice, and rather
sing-song; and it isn't, somehow, quite in keeping with her appearance
and manner."

"No," said Bundy, "that's what it is. She's too big for a voice like
that."

I laughed at the quaint expression. "People's voices," said I, "are not
like steamers' whistles, graduated in pitch according to their tonnage.
Besides, Mrs. Frood is not such a very big woman."

"She is a good size," said he. "I should call her rather tall. At any
rate, she is taller than I am. But I suppose you will say that she might
be that without competing with the late Mrs. Bates."

"Comparisons between the heights of men and women," I said cautiously,
"are rather misleading," and here I changed the subject, though I judged
that Bundy was not sensitive in regard to his stature, for while he was
cleaning the lime from his shoes I had noticed that he wore unusually
low heels. Nor need he have been, for though on a small scale, he was
quite an important-looking person.

"Don't you think," he asked, after a pause, "that it is rather queer
that the man Frood should have gone off so soon? He only came down
yesterday, and he can't have made much of a search for Madame."

"The queer thing is that he should have come down on that particular
day," I replied. "It seems that he draws a monthly allowance on the
fifteenth. That was what made him so anxious to get back; but it is odd
that he didn't put off his visit here until he had collected the money."

"If he had run his wife to earth, he could have collected it from her,"
said Bundy. "I wonder how he found out that she was here."

"He evidently hadn't very exact information," I said, "nor did he seem
quite certain that she really was here. And his failure to get any news
of her appears to have discouraged him considerably. It is just possible
that he has gone back to get more precise information if he can, when he
has drawn his allowance."

"That is very likely," Bundy agreed; "and it is probable that we haven't
seen the last of him yet."

"I have a strong suspicion that we haven't," said I.

"If he is sure she is here, and can get enough money together to come
and spend a week here, he will be pretty certain to discover her
whereabouts. It is a dreadful position for her. She ought to get a
judicial separation."

"I doubt if she could," said he. "You may be sure he would contest that
application pretty strongly, and what case would she have in support of
it? He is an unclean blighter; he doesn't work; he smokes and drinks too
much, and you say he takes drugs. But he doesn't seem to be violent or
dangerous or threatening, or to be on questionable terms with other
women--at least, I have never heard anything to that effect. Have you?"

"No," I answered--I had said nothing to him or Japp about the London
incident. "He seems to have married the only woman in the world who
would look at him."

Bundy grinned. "An unkind cut, that, Doctor," said he; "but I believe
you're right. And here we are, back at the official premises. Are you
coming in?"

I declined the invitation, and as he skipped up the steps I turned my
face homewards.



CHAPTER V--JOHN THORNDYKE


The sexual preferences or affinities of men and women have always
impressed me as very mysterious and inexplicable. I am referring to the
selective choice of individuals, not to the general attraction of the
sexes for one another. Why should a particular pair of human beings
single one another out from the mass of their fellows as preferable to
all others? Why to one particular man does one particular woman and no
other become the exciting cause of the emotion of love? It is not a
matter of mere physical beauty or mental excellence, for if it were men
and women would be simply classifiable into the attractive and the
non-attractive; whereas we find in practice that a woman who may be to
the majority of men an object of indifference, is to some one man an
object of passionate love; and vice-versa. Nor is love necessarily
accompanied by any delusions as to the worth of its object, for it will
persist in spite of the clear recognition of personal defects and in
conscious conflict with judgment and reason.

The above reflections, with others equally profound, occupied my mind as
I sat on a rather uncomfortable little rush-seated chair in the nave of
Rochester Cathedral; whither I had proceeded in obedience to orders from
Mrs. Dunk, to attend the choral afternoon service; and they were
occasioned by the sudden recognition--not without surprise--of the very
deep impression that had been made on me by my patient, Mrs. Frood. For
the intensity of that impression I could not satisfactorily account. It
is true that her circumstances were interesting and provocative of
sympathy. But that was no reason for the haunting of my thoughts by her,
of which I was conscious. She was not a really beautiful woman, though I
thought her more than commonly good-looking; and she had evidently made
no particular impression on Bundy. Yet, though I had seen her but three
times, including my first meeting with her a year ago, I had to
recognize that she had hardly been out of my thoughts since, and I was
aware of looking forward with ridiculous expectancy to my proposed visit
to her this evening.

Thus, speculations on the meaning of this preoccupation mingled
themselves with other speculations, as, for instance, on the abrupt
changes of intention suggested by half of an Early English arch clapped
up against a Norman pier; and as my thoughts rambled on, undisturbed by
a pleasant voice, intoning with soothing unintelligibility somewhere
beyond the stone screen, I watched with languid curiosity the strangers
who entered and stole on tiptoe to the nearest vacant chair. Presently,
however, as the intoning voice gave place to the deep, pervading hum of
the organ, a visitor entered who instantly attracted my attention.

He was obviously a personage--a real personage; not one of those who
have achieved greatness by the free use of their elbows, or have had it
thrust upon them by influential friends. This was an unmistakable
thoroughbred. He was a tall man, very erect and dignified in carriage,
and in spite of his iron-grey hair, evidently strong, active, and
athletic. But it was his face that specially riveted my attention: not
merely by reason that it was a handsome, symmetrical face, inclining to
the Greek type, with level brows, a fine, straight nose, and a shapely
mouth, but rather on account of its suggestion of commanding strength
and intelligence. It was a strangely calm--even immobile--face; but yet
it conveyed a feeling of attentiveness and concentration, and especially
of power.

I watched the stranger curiously as he stepped quietly to a seat not far
from me, noting how he seemed to stand out from the ordinary men who
surrounded him, and wondering who he was. But I was not left to wonder
very long. A few moments later another visitor arrived, but not a
stranger this time; for in this newcomer I recognized an old
acquaintance, a Dr. Jervis, whom I had known when I was a student and
when he had taken temporary charge of my uncle's practice. Since then,
as I had learned, he had qualified as a barrister and specialized in
legal medicine as the coadjutor of the famous medical jurist, Dr. John
Thorndyke.

For a few moments Jervis stood near the entrance looking about the nave,
as if in search of someone. Then, suddenly, his eye lighted on the
distinguished stranger, and he walked straight over to him and sat down
by his side; from which, and from the smile of recognition with which he
was greeted, I inferred that the stranger was none other than Dr.
Thorndyke himself.

Jervis had apparently not seen, or at least not recognized me, but, as I
observed that there was a vacant chair by his side, I determined to
renew our acquaintance and secure, if possible, a presentation to his
eminent colleague. Accordingly, I crossed the nave, and, taking the
vacant chair, introduced myself, and was greeted with a cordial
hand-shake.

The circumstances did not admit of conversation, but presently, when the
anthem appeared to be drawing to a close, Jervis glanced at his watch
and whispered to me: "I want to hear all your news, Strangeways, and to
introduce you to Thorndyke; and we must get some tea before we go to the
station. Shall we clear out now?"

As I assented he whispered to Thorndyke, and we all rose and filed
silently towards the door, our exit covered by the concluding strains of
the anthem. As soon as we were outside Jervis presented me to his
colleague, and suggested an immediate adjournment to some place of
refreshment. I proposed that they should come and have tea with me, but
Jervis replied: "I'm afraid we haven't time today. There is a very
comfortable teashop close to the Jasperian gate-house. You had better
come there and then perhaps you can walk to the station with us."

We adopted this plan, and when we had established ourselves on a settle
by the window of the ancient, low-ceiled room and given our orders to a
young lady in a becoming brown costume, Jervis proceeded to interrogate.

"And what might you be doing in Rochester, Strangeways?"

"Nominally," I replied, "I am engaged in medical practice. Actually, I
am a gentleman at large. I have taken a death vacancy here, and I
arrived yesterday morning."

"Any patients?" he inquired.

"Two at present," I answered. "One I brought down with me and returned
empty this morning. The other is his wife."

"Ha," said Jervis, "a concise statement, but obscure. It seems to
require amplification."

I accordingly proceeded to amplify, describing in detail my journey from
town and my subsequent dealings with my fellow-traveller. The
circumstances of Mrs. Frood, being matters of professional confidence, I
was at first disposed to suppress; but then, reflecting that my two
friends were in a position to give expert opinions and advice, I put
them in possession of all the facts that were known to me, excepting the
Regent's Park incident, which I felt hardly at liberty to disclose.

"Well," said Jervis, when I had finished, "if the rest of your practice
develops on similar lines, we shall have to set up a branch
establishment in your neighbourhood. There are all sorts of
possibilities in this case. Don't you think so, Thorndyke?"

"I should hardly say 'all sorts,'" was the reply. "The possibilities
seem to me to be principally of one sort; extremely disagreeable for the
poor lady. She has the alternatives of allowing herself to be associated
with this man--which seems to be impossible--or of spending the
remainder of her life in a perpetual effort to escape from him; which is
an appalling prospect for a young woman."

"Yes," agreed Jervis, "it is bad enough. But there seems to me worse
possibilities with a fellow of this kind; a drinking, drug-swallowing,
hysterical degenerate. You never know what a man of that type will do."

"You always hope that he will commit suicide," said Thorndyke; "and to
do him justice, he does fairly often show that much perception of his
proper place in nature. But, as you say, the actions of a mentally and
morally abnormal man are incalculable. He may kill himself or he may
kill somebody else, or he may join with other abnormals to commit
incomprehensible and apparently motiveless political crimes. But we will
hope that Mr. Frood will limit his activities to sponging on his wife."

The conversation now turned from my affairs to those of my friends, and
I ventured to inquire what had brought them to Rochester.

"We came down," said Jervis, "to watch an inquest for one of our
insurance clients. But after all it has had to be adjourned for a
fortnight. So we may have the pleasure of seeing you again."

"We won't leave it to chance," said I. "Let us settle that you come to
lunch with me, if that will be convenient. You can fix your own time."

My two friends consulted, and, having referred to their time-table,
accepted the invitation for one o'clock on that day fortnight; and when
I had "booked the appointment," we finished our tea and sallied forth,
making our way over the bridge to Strood Station, at the main entrance
to which I wished them adieu.

As I turned away from the station and sauntered slowly along the shore
before recrossing the bridge, I recalled the conversation of my two
colleagues with a certain vague discomfort. To both of them, it was
evident, the relations of my fair patient and her husband presented
sinister possibilities, although I had not informed them of the actual
murderous attack; and though the more cautious reticent Thorndyke had
seemed to minimize them, his remarks had expressed what was already in
my own mind, accentuated by what I knew. These nervy, abnormal men are
never safe to deal with. Their unstable emotions may be upset in a
moment and then no one can tell what will happen. It was quite possible
that Frood had come to Rochester with the perfectly peaceable intention
of inducing his wife to return to him. But this was far from certain,
and I shuddered to think of what might follow a refusal on her part. I
did not like that knife. I have a sane man's dislike of lethal weapons
of all kinds; but especially do I dislike them in the hands of those
whose self-control is liable to break down suddenly.

It was true that this man had not succeeded in finding his wife, and
even seemed to have given up the search. But I felt pretty certain that
he had not. Somehow, he had discovered that she was in the town, and
from the same source he might get further information; and, in any case,
I felt no doubt that he would renew the pursuit, and that, in the end,
he would find her. And then--but at this point I found myself opposite
the house and observed Mrs. Gillow standing on the doorstep, fumbling in
her pocket for the latch-key. She had just extracted it, and was in the
act of inserting it into the latch when I crossed the road and made my
presence known. She greeted me with a wan smile as I ascended the steps,
and, having by this time got the door open, admitted me to the hall.

"I gave Mrs. Frood your message at lunch-time, sir," said she, in a
depressed tone, "and I believe she has come in." Here, having closed the
street door, she rapped softly with her knuckles at that of the front
room, whereupon the voice to which Bundy objected so much called out:
"Come in, Mrs. Gillow."

The latter threw the door open. "It is the doctor, Madam," said she; and
on this announcement, I walked in.

"I didn't hear you knock," said Mrs. Frood, rising, and holding out her
hand.

"I didn't knock," I replied. "I sneaked in under cover of Mrs. Gillow."

"That was very secret and cautious of you," said she.

"You make me feel like a sort of feminine Prince Charlie, lying perdu in
the robbers' cavern; whereas, I have actually been taking my walks
abroad and brazenly looking in the shop windows. But I have kept a sharp
lookout, all the same."

"There really wasn't any need," said I. "The siege is raised."

"You don't mean that my husband has gone?" she exclaimed.

"I do, indeed," I answered; and I gave her a brief account of the events
of the morning, suppressing my unofficial part in the transaction.

"Do you think," she asked, "that the matron paid his fare out of her own
pocket?"

"I am sure she didn't," I answered hastily. "She touched some local
altruist for the amount; it was only a few shillings, you know."

"Still," she said, "I feel that I ought to refund those few shillings.
They were really expended for my benefit."

"Well, you can't," I said with some emphasis. "You couldn't do it
without disclosing your identity, and then you would have some
philanthropist trying to effect a reconciliation. Your cue is to keep
yourself to yourself for the present."

"For the present!" she echoed. "It seems to me that I have got to be a
fugitive for the rest of my natural life. It is a horrible position, to
have to live in a state of perpetual concealment, like a criminal, and
never dare to make an acquaintance."

"Don't you know anyone in Rochester?" I asked.

"Not a soul," she replied, "excepting Mr. Japp, who is a relative by
marriage--he was my aunt's brother-in-law--his partner, and Mrs. Gillow
and you. And you all know my position."

"Does Mrs. Gillow know the state of affairs?" I asked in some surprise.

"Yes," she answered, "I thought it best to tell her, in confidence, so
that she should understand that I want to live a quiet life."

"I suppose you haven't cut yourself off completely from all your
friends?" said I.

"Very nearly. I haven't many friends that I really care about much, but
I keep in touch with one or two of my old comrades. But I have had to
swear them to secrecy--though it looks as if the secret had leaked out
in some way. Of course they all know Nicholas--my husband."

"And I suppose you have been able to learn from them how your husband
views the separation?"

"Yes. Of course he thinks I have treated him abominably, and he
evidently suspects that I have some motive for leaving him other than
mere dislike of his unpleasant habits. The usual motive, in fact."

"What Sam Weller would call a 'priory attachment'?" I suggested.

"Yes. He is a jealous and suspicious man by nature. I had quite a lot of
trouble with him in that way before that final outbreak, though I have
always been most circumspect in my relations with other men. Still, a
woman doesn't complain of a little jealousy. Within reason, it is a
natural, masculine failing."

"I should consider a tendency to use a knitted silk necktie for purposes
which I need not specify as going rather beyond ordinary masculine
failings," I remarked drily; on which she laughed and admitted that
perhaps it was so. There was a short pause; then, turning to a fresh
subject, she asked: "Do you think you will get any of Dr. Partridge's
practice?"

"I suspect not, or at any rate very little; and that reminds me that I
have not yet inquired as to my patient's condition. Are you any better?"

As I asked the question, I looked at her attentively, and noted that she
was still rather pale and haggard, so far as I could judge by the
subdued light of the shaded lamp, and that the darkness under the eyes
remained undiminished.

"I am afraid I am not doing you much credit," she replied, with a faint
smile. "But you can't expect any improvement while these unsettled
conditions exist. If you could induce my respected husband to elope with
another woman you would effect an immediate cure."

"I am afraid," said I, "that is beyond my powers, to say nothing of the
inhumanity to the other woman. But we must persevere. You must let me
look in on you from time to time, just to keep an eye on you."

"I hope you will," she replied, energetically. "If it doesn't weary you
to listen to my complaints and gossip a little, please keep me on your
visiting list. With the exception of Mr. Japp, you are the only human
creature that I hold converse with. Mrs. Gillow is a dear, good
creature, but instinct warns me not to get on conversational terms with
her. She's rather lonely, too."

"Yes; you might find it difficult to turn the tap off. I am always very
cautious with housekeepers and landladies."

She darted a mischievous glance at me. "Even if your landlady happens to
be your patient?" she asked.

I chuckled as I remembered our dual relationship.

"That," said I "is an exceptional case. The landlady becomes merged in
the patient, and the patient tends to become a friend."

"The doctor," she retorted, "tends very strongly to become a friend, and
a very kind and helpful friend. I think you have been exceedingly good
to me--a mere waif who has drifted across your horizon."

"Well," I said, "if you think so, far be it from me to contradict you.
One may as well pick up gratefully a stray crumb of commendation that
one doesn't deserve to set off against the deserved credit that one
doesn't get. But I should like to think that all my good deeds in the
future will be as agreeable in the doing."

She gave me a prim little smile. "We are getting monstrously polite,"
she remarked, upon which we both laughed.

"However," said I, "the moral of it all is that you ought to have a
friendly medical eye kept on you, and, as mine is the eye that happens
to be available, and as you are kind enough to accept the optical
supervision, I shall give myself the pleasure of looking in on you from
time to time to see how you are and to hear how the world wags. What is
the best time to find you at home?"

"I am nearly always at home after seven o'clock, but perhaps that is not
very convenient for you. I don't know how you manage your practice."

"The fact is," said I, "that at present you are my practice, so I shall
adapt my visiting round to your circumstances, and make my call at, or
after, seven. I suppose you get some exercise?"

"Oh, yes. Quite a lot. I walk out in the country, and wander about
Chatham and Gillingham and out to Frindsbury. I have been along the
Watling Street as far as Cobham. Rochester itself I rather avoid for
fear of making acquaintances, though it is a pleasant old town in spite
of the improvements."

As she spoke of these solitary rambles the idea floated into my mind
that, later on, I might perchance offer to diminish their solitude. But
I quickly dismissed it. Her position was, in any case, one of some
delicacy--that of a young woman living apart from her husband. It would
be an act the very reverse of friendly to compromise her in any way; nor
would it tend at all to my own professional credit. A doctor's
reputation is nearly as tender as a woman's.

Our conversation had occupied nearly three quarters of an hour, and,
although I would willingly have lingered, it appeared to me that I had
made as long a visit as was permissible. I accordingly rose, and, having
given a few words of somewhat perfunctory professional advice, shook
hands with my patient and let myself out.



CHAPTER VI--THE SHADOWS DEEPEN


The coming events, whose premonitory shadows had been falling upon me
unnoted since I came to Rochester, were daily drawing nearer. Perhaps it
may have been that the deepening shadows began dimly to make themselves
felt; that some indistinct sense of instability and insecurity had begun
to steal into my consciousness. It may have been so. But, nevertheless,
looking back, I can see that when the catastrophe burst upon me it found
me all unsuspicious and unprepared.

Nearly a fortnight had passed since my meeting with my two friends in
the Cathedral, and I was looking forward with some eagerness to their
impending visit. During that fortnight little seemed to have happened,
though the trivial daily occurrences were beginning to acquire a
cumulative significance not entirely unperceived by me. My promise to
Mrs. Frood had been carried out very thoroughly: for at least every
alternate evening had found me seated by the little table with the
red-shaded lamp, making the best pretence I could of being there in a
professional capacity.

It was unquestionably indiscreet. The instant liking that I had taken to
this woman should have warned me that here was one of those
unaccountable "affinities" that are charged with such immense
potentialities of blessing or disaster. The first impression should have
made it clear to me that I could not safely spend much time in her
society. But unfortunately the very circumstance that should have warned
me to keep away was the magnet that drew me to her side.

However, there was one consoling fact: if the indiscretion was mine, so
by me alone were the consequences supported. Our relations were of the
most unexceptionable kind; indeed, she was not the sort of woman with
whom any man would have taken a liberty. As to my feelings towards her,
I could not pretend to deceive myself, but similarly, I had no delusions
as to her feelings towards me. She welcomed my visits with that frank
simplicity that is delightful to a friend and hopeless to a lover. It
was plain to me that the bare possibility of anything beyond
straightforward, honest friendship never entered her head. But this very
innocence and purity, while at once a rebuke and a reassurance, but
riveted my fetters the more firmly.

Such as our friendship was (and disregarding the secret reservation on
my side), it grew apace; indeed, it sprang into existence at our first
meeting. There was between us that ease and absence of reserve that
distinguishes the intercourse of those who like and understand one
another. I never had any fear of unwittingly giving offence. In our long
talks and discussions, we had no need of choosing our words or phrases
or of making allowances for possible prejudices. We could say plainly
what we meant with the perfect assurance that it would be neither
misunderstood nor resented. In short, if my feelings towards her could
only have been kept at the same level as hers towards me, our friendship
would have been perfect.

In the course of these long and pleasant gossiping visits, I observed my
patient somewhat closely, and, quite apart from the personal affinity, I
became more and more favourably impressed. She was a clever woman, quick
and alert in mind, and evidently well informed. She seemed to be kindly,
and was certainly amiable and even-tempered, though not in the least
weak or deficient in character. Probably, in happier circumstances, she
would have been more gay and vivacious, for, though she was habitually
rather grave and even sombre, there were occasional flashes of wit that
suggested a naturally lively temperament.

As to her appearance--to repeat in more detail what I have already
said--she was a rather large woman, very erect and somewhat stately in
bearing; distinctly good-looking (though of this I was not, perhaps, a
very good judge). Her features were regular, but not in any way
striking. Her expression was, as I have said, a little sombre and
severe, the mouth firmly set and slightly depressed at the corners, the
eyebrows black, straight, and unusually well-marked and nearly meeting
above the nose. She had an abundance of black, or nearly black, hair,
parted low on the forehead and drawn back loosely, covering the ears and
temples, and she wore a largish coil nearly on the top of the head; a
formal, matronly style that accentuated the gravity of her expression.

Such was Angelina Frood as I looked on her in those
never-to-be-forgotten evenings; as she rises before the eyes of memory
as I write, and as she will remain in my recollection so long as I live.

In this fortnight one really arresting incident had occurred. It was
just a week after my meeting with Dr. Thorndyke, when, returning from a
walk along the London Road as far as Gad's Hill, I stopped on Rochester
Bridge to watch a barge which had just passed under, and was rehoisting
her lowered mast. As I was leaning on the parapet, a man brushed past
me, and I turned my head idly to look at him. Then, in an instant, I
started up; for though the man's back was towards me, there was
something unmistakably familiar in the gaunt figure, the seedy clothes,
the great cloth cap, the shock of mouse-coloured hair, and the thick
oaken stick that he swung in his hand. But I was not going to leave
myself in any doubt on the subject. Cautiously I began to retrace my
steps, keeping him in view but avoiding overtaking him, until he reached
the western end of the bridge, when he halted and looked back. Then any
possible doubt was set at rest. The man was Nicholas Frood. I don't know
whether he saw me; he made no sign of recognition; and when he turned
and walked on, I continued to follow, determined to make sure of his
destination.

As I had hoped and expected, he took the road to the right, leading to
the river bank and the station. Still following him, I noted that he
walked at a fairly brisk pace and seemed to have recovered completely
from his debility--if that debility had not been entirely counterfeit.
Opposite the pier he turned into the station approach, and when from the
corner I had watched him enter the station, I gave up the pursuit,
assuming that he was returning to London.

But how long had he been in Rochester? What had he been doing, and what
success had he had in his search? These were the questions that I asked
myself as I walked back over the bridge. Probably he had come down for
the day; and since he was returning, it was reasonable to infer that he
had had no luck. As I entered the town and glanced up at the great clock
that hangs out across the street from the Corn Exchange, like a sort of
horological warming-pan, I saw that it was close upon eight. It was a
good deal after my usual time for calling on Mrs. Frood, but the
circumstances were exceptional and I felt that it was necessary to
ascertain whether anything untoward had occurred. I was still debating
what I should do when, as I came opposite the house, I saw Mrs. Gillow
coming out of the door. Immediately I crossed the road and accosted her.

"Have you seen Mrs. Frood this evening, Mrs. Gillow?" I asked, after
passing the usual compliments.

"Yes, sir," was the reply. "I left her only a few minutes ago working at
one of the drawings that she does for Mr. Japp. She seems better this
evening--brighter and more cheerful. I think your visits have done her
good, sir. It is a lonely life for a young woman--having no one to talk
to all through the long evenings. I'm always glad to hear your knock,
and so, I think, is she."

"I'm pleased to hear you say so, Mrs. Gillow," said I. "However, as it
is rather late, and she has something to occupy her, I don't think I
will call this evening."

With this I took my leave and went on my way in better spirits.
Evidently all was well so far. Nevertheless, the reappearance of this
man was an uncomfortable incident. It was clear that he had not given up
the pursuit, and, seeing that Rochester was only some thirty miles from
London, it would be quite easy for him to make periodical descents on
the place to continue the search. There was no denying that Mrs. Frood's
position was extremely insecure, and I could think of no plan for making
it less so, excepting that of leaving Rochester, for a time at least, a
solution which ought to have commended itself to me, but did not.

Perhaps it was this fact that decided me not to say anything about the
incident. The obvious thing was to have told her and put her on her
guard. But I persuaded myself that it would only make her anxious to no
purpose; that she could not prevent him from coming nor could she take
any further measures for concealment. And then there was the possibility
that he might never come again.

So far as I know, he never did. During the rest of the week I
perambulated the town hour after hour, looking into the shops, scanning
the faces of the wayfarers in the streets and even visiting the stations
at the times when the London trains were due; but never a glimpse did I
catch of that ill-omened figure.

And all the time, the shadows were deepening, and that which cast them
was drawing nearer.

It was nearly a week after my meeting with Nicholas Frood that an event
befell at which I looked askance at the time and which was, as it turned
out, the opening scene of a new act. It was on the Saturday. I am able
to fix the date by an incident, trivial enough in itself, but important
by reason of its forming thus a definite point of departure. My visitors
were due on the following Monday, and it had occurred to me that I had
better lay in a little stock of wine; and as Mr. Japp was an old
resident who knew everybody in the town, I decided to consult him as to
the choice of a wine merchant.

It was a little past mid-day when I arrived at the office, and as I
entered I observed that some kind of conference was in progress. A man,
whom I recognized as the foreman of the gang who were working on the old
wall, was standing sheepishly with his knuckles resting on the table;
Bundy had swung round on his stool and was glaring owlishly through his
great spectacles, while Mr. Japp was sitting bolt upright, his forehead
in a state of extreme corrugation and his eyes fixed severely on the
foreman.

"I suppose," said Bundy, "you left it in the gate?"

"I expect Evans did," replied the foreman. "You see, I had to call in at
the office, so I gave the key to Evans and told him to go on with the
other men and let them in. When I got there the gate was open and the
men were at work, and I forgot all about the key until it was time to
come away and lock up. Then I asked Evans for it, and he said he'd left
it in the gate. But when I went to look for it it wasn't there. Someone
must have took it out."

"Doesn't seem very likely," said Bundy. "However, I suppose it will turn
up. It had one of our wooden labels tied to it. Shall I give him the
duplicate to lock up the place?"

"You must, I suppose," said Japp; "but it must be brought straight back
and given to me. You understand, Smith? Bring it back at once, and
deliver it to me or to Mr. Bundy. And look here, Smith. I shall offer
ten shillings reward for that key; and if it is brought back and I have
to pay the reward you will have to make it up among you. You understand
that?"

Smith indicated grumpily that he understood; and when Bundy had handed
him the duplicate key, he took his departure in dudgeon.

When he had gone I stated my business, and Bundy pricked up his ears.

"Wine, hey?" said he, removing his spectacles and assuming his eyeglass.
"Tucker will be the man for him, won't he, Japp? Very superior wine
merchant is Tucker. Old and crusted; round and soft; rare and curious.
I'd better pop round with him and introduce him, hadn't I? You'll want
to taste a few samples, I presume, Doctor?"

"I'm not giving a wholesale order," said I, smiling at his enthusiasm.
"A dozen or so of claret and one or two bottles of port is all I want."

"Still," said Bundy, "you want to know what the stuff's like. Not going
to buy a pig in a poke. You'll have to taste it, of course. I'll help
you. Two heads are better than one. Come on. You said Tucker, didn't
you, Japp?"

"As a matter of fact," said Japp, wrinkling his face up into an
appreciative smile, "I didn't say anything. But Tucker will do; only he
won't let you taste anything until you have bought it."

"Won't he!" said Bundy. "We shall see. Come along, Doctor."

He dragged me out of the office and down the steps, and we set forth
towards the bridge; but we had not walked more than a couple of hundred
yards when he suddenly shot up a narrow alley and beckoned to me
mysteriously. I followed him up the alley, and as he halted I asked:

"What have you come here for?"

"I want you," he replied impressively, "to take a look at this wall."

I scrutinized the wall with minute attention but failed to discover any
noteworthy peculiarities in it.

"Well," I said, at length, "I don't see anything unusual about this
wall."

"Neither do I," he replied, looking furtively down the alley.

"Then, what the deuce--" I began.

"It's all right," said he. "She's gone. That damsel in the pink hat. I
just popped up here to let her pass. The fact is," he explained, as he
emerged cautiously into the High-street, glancing up and down like an
Indian on the war-path, "these women are the plague of my life; always
trying to hook me for teas or bazaars or garden fetes or some sort of
confounded foolishness; and that pink-hatted lady is a regular
sleuth-hound."

We walked quickly along the narrow pavement, Bundy looking about him
warily, until we reached the wine-merchant's premises, into which my
companion dived like a harlequin and forthwith proceeded to introduce me
and my requirements. Mr. Tucker was a small, elderly man; old and
crusted and as dry as his own Amontillado; but he was not proof against
Bundy's blandishments. Before I had had time to utter a protest, I found
myself in a dark cavern at the rear of the shop, watching Mr. Tucker
fill a couple of glasses from a mouldy-looking cask.

"Ha!" said Bundy, sipping the wine with a judicial air. "H'm. Yes. Not
so bad. Slightly corked, perhaps."

"Corked!" exclaimed Tucker, staring at Bundy in amazement. "How can it
be corked when it is just out of the cask?"

"Well, bunged, then," Bundy corrected.

"I never heard of wine being bunged," said Tucker. "There's no such
thing."

"Isn't there? Well, then, it can't be. Must be my fancy. What do you
think of it, Doctor?"

"It seems quite a sound claret," said I, inwardly wishing my volatile
friend at the devil, for I felt compelled, by way of soothing the wine
merchant's wounded feelings, to order twice the quantity that I had
intended. We had just completed the transaction, and were crossing the
outer shop when the doorway became occluded by two female figures, and
Bundy uttered a half-suppressed groan. I drew aside to make way for the
newcomers--two ladies whom polite persons would have described as
middle-aged, on the assumption that they contemplated a somewhat extreme
degree of longevity--and I was aware that Bundy was endeavouring to take
cover behind me. But it was of no use. One of them espied him instantly
and announced her discovery with a little squeak of ecstasy.

"Why, it's Mr. Bundy. I do declare! Now, where _have_ you been all this
long time? It's ages and ages and ages since you came to see us, isn't
it, Martha? Let me see, now, when was it?" She fixed a reflective eye on
her companion, while Bundy smiled a sickly smile and glanced wistfully
at the open door.

"I know," she exclaimed, triumphantly. "It was when we had the
feeble-minded children to tea, and Mr. Blote showed them the gold fish
trick--at least he tried to, but the glass bowl stuck in the bag under
his coat-tails and wouldn't come out; and when he tried to pull it out
it broke--"

"I think you are mistaken, Marian," the other lady interrupted. "It
wasn't the feeble-minded tea. It was after that, when we helped the
Jewbury-Browns to get up that rumble sale--"

"Jumble sale, you mean, dear," her companion corrected.

"I mean rummage sale," the lady called Martha insisted, severely. "If
you will try to recall the circumstances, you will remember that the
jumble sale took place after--"

"Not after," the other lady corrected. "It was before--several days
before, I should say, speaking from a somewhat imperfect memory. If you
will try to recollect, Martha, dear--"

"I recollect quite distinctly," the lady called Martha interposed, a
little haughtily. "There was the feeble-minded tea--that was on a
Tuesday--or was it a Thursday--no, it was a Tuesday, or at least--well,
at any rate, it was some days before the jum--rum--"

"Not at all," the other lady dissented emphatically. At this point,
catching the eye of the lady called Marian, I crept by slow degrees out
on the threshold and turned an expectant eye on Bundy. The rather broad
hint took immediate effect, for the lady said to her companion: "I am
afraid, Martha, dear, you are detaining Mr. Bundy and his friend.
_Good-bye,_ Mr. Bundy. Shall we see you next Friday evening? We are
giving a little entertainment to the barge-boys. We are inviting them to
come and bring their mouth-organs and get up a little informal concert.
_Do_ come if you can. We shall be _so_ delighted. _Good-bye_."

Bundy shook hands effusively with the two ladies and darted out after
me, seizing my arm and hurrying me along the pavement.

"Bit of luck for me, Doctor, having you with me. If I had been alone and
unprotected I shouldn't have escaped for half-an-hour; and I should have
been definitely booked for the barge-boys' pandemonium. Hallo! What's
Japp up to? Oh, I see. He's sticking up the notice about that key. I
ought to have done that. Japp writes a shocking fist. I must see if it
is possible to make it out."

As we approached the office I glanced at the sheet of paper which Mr.
Japp had just affixed to the window, and was able to read the rather
crabbed heading, "Ten Shillings Reward." The rest of the inscription
being of no interest to me, I wished Bundy adieu and went on my way,
leaving him engaged in a critical inspection of the notice. Happening to
look back a few moments later, I saw him still gazing earnestly at the
paper, all unconscious of a lady in a pink hat who was tripping lightly
across the road and bearing down on him with an alluring smile.

Threading my way among the foot-passengers who filled the narrow
pavements, I let my thoughts ramble idly from subject to subject; from
the expected visit of my two friends on the following Monday to the
alarming character of the local feminine population. But always they
tended to come back to my patient, Mrs. Frood. I had seen her on the
preceding night and had been very ill-satisfied with her appearance. She
had been paler than usual--more heavy-eyed and weary-looking; and she
had impressed me as being decidedly low-spirited. It seemed as though
the continual uncertainty and unrest, the abiding threat of some
intolerable action on the part of her worthless husband, were becoming
more than she could endure; and unwillingly I was beginning to recognize
that it was my duty, both as her doctor and as her friend, to advise her
to move, at least for a time, to some locality where she would be free
from the constant fear of molestation.

The question was: when should I broach the subject?

And that involved the further question: when should I make my next
visit? Inclination suggested the present evening, but discretion hinted
that I ought to allow a decent interval between my calls; and thus
oscillating between the two, I found myself in a state of indecision
which lasted for the rest of the day. Eventually discretion conquered,
and I decided to postpone the visit and the proposal until the following
evening.

The decision was reached about the time I should have been setting forth
to make the visit, and no sooner had that time definitely passed than I
began to regret my resolution and to be possessed by a causeless
anxiety. Restlessly I wandered from room to room; taking up books,
opening them and putting them down again, and generally displaying the
typical symptoms of an acute attack of fidgets until Mrs. Dunk proceeded
with a determined air to lay the supper, and drew my attention to it
with an emphasis which it was impossible to disregard.

I had just drawn the cork of a bottle of Mr. Tucker's claret when the
door-bell rang, an event without precedent in my experience. Silently I
replaced the newly-extracted cork and listened. Apparently it was a
patient, for I heard the street door close and footsteps proceed to the
consulting-room. A minute later Mrs. Dunk opened the dining-room door
and announced:

"Mrs. Frood to see you, sir."

With a slight thrill of anxiety at this unexpected visit, I strode out,
and, crossing the hall, entered the somewhat dingy and ill-lighted
consulting-room. Mrs. Frood was seated in the patients' chair, but she
rose as I entered and held out her hand; and as I grasped it, I noticed
how tall she looked in her outdoor clothes. But I also noticed that she
was looking even more pale and haggard than when I had seen her last.

"There is nothing the matter, I hope?" said I.

"No," she answered; "nothing much more than usual; but I have come to
present a petition."

I looked at her inquiringly, and she continued:

"I have been sleeping very badly, as you know. Last night I had
practically no sleep at all, and very little the night before; and I
feel that I really can't face the prospect of another sleepless night.
Would you think it very immoral if I were to ask you for something that
would give me a few hours' rest?"

"Certainly not," I answered, though with no great enthusiasm, for I am
disposed to take hypnotics somewhat seriously. "You can't go on without
sleep. I will give you one or two tablets to take before you go to bed.
They will secure you a decent night's rest, and then I hope you will
feel a little brighter."

"I hope so," she said, with a weary sigh.

I looked at her critically. She was, as I have said, pale and haggard;
but there seemed to be something more; a certain wildness in her eyes
and a suggestion or fear.

"You are not looking yourself at all to-night," I said. "What is it?"

"I don't know," she answered. "The same old thing, I suppose. But I do
feel rather miserable. I seem to have come to the end of my endurance.
I look into the future and it all seems dark. I am afraid of it. In
fact, I seem to have--you'll think me very silly, I know--but I have a
sort of presentiment of evil. Of course, it's all nonsense. But that is
what I feel."

"Is there any reason for this presentiment?" I asked uneasily; for my
thoughts flew at once to that ill-omened figure that I had seen on the
bridge. "Has anything happened to occasion these forebodings?"

"Oh, nothing in particular," she replied. But she spoke without looking
at me--an unusual thing for her to do--and I found in her answer
something ambiguous and rather evasive. Could it be that she had seen
her husband on that day when I had followed him? Or had he been in the
town again--this very day, perhaps? Or was there something yet more
significant, something even more menacing? That this deep depression of
spirits, these forebodings, were not without some exciting cause I felt
the strongest suspicion. But whatever the cause might be, she was
evidently unwilling to speak about it.

While I was speculating thus, I found myself looking her over with a
minute attention of which I was not conscious at the time; noting little
trivial details of her appearance and belongings with an odd exactness
of observation. My eyes travelled over the little hand-bag, stamped with
her initials, that rested on her lap; her dainty, high-heeled shoes with
their little oval buckles of darkened bronze; the small brooch at her
throat with the large opal in the middle and the surrounding circle of
little pearls, and even noted that one of the pearls was missing and
that the vacant place corresponded to the figure three on a clock-dial.
And then they would come back to her face; to the set mouth and the
downcast eyes with their expression of gloomy reverie.

I was profoundly uneasy and was on the point of opening the subject of
her leaving the town. Then I decided that I would see her on the morrow
and would go into the matter then. Accordingly I went into the surgery
and put a few tablets of sulphonal into a little box, and having stuck
one of Dr. Partridge's labels on it, wrote the directions and then
wrapped it up and sealed it.

"There," I said, giving it to her, "take a couple of those tablets and
go to bed early, and let me find you looking a little more cheerful
to-morrow."

She took the packet and dropped it into her bag. "It is very good of
you," she said warmly. "I know you don't like doing it, and that makes
it the more kind. But I will do as you tell me. I have just to go in to
Chatham, but when I get back I will go to bed quite early."

I walked with her to the door, and when I had opened it she stopped and
held out her hand. "Good night," she said, "and thank you so very much.
I expect you will find me a great deal better to-morrow." She pressed my
hand slightly, made me a little bow, smiled, and, turning away, passed
out; and I now noticed that the haze which had hung over the town all
the afternoon had thickened into a definite fog. I stepped out on to the
threshold and watched her as she walked quickly down the street,
following the erect, dignified figure wistfully with my eyes as it grew
more and more shadowy and unsubstantial until it faded into the fog and
vanished. Then I went in to my solitary supper, with an unwonted sense
of loneliness; and throughout the long evening I turned over again and
again our unsatisfying talk and wondered afresh whether that
presentiment of evil was but the product of insomnia and mental fatigue,
or whether behind it was some sinister reality.





CHAPTER VII--MRS. GILLOW SOUNDS THE ALARM


Nine o'clock on the following morning found me still seated at the
breakfast table, with the debris of the meal before me and the Sunday
paper propped up against the coffee-pot. It was a pleasant, sunny
morning at the end of April. The birds were twittering joyously in the
trees at the back of the house, a premature bluebottle perambulated the
window-pane, after an unsuccessful attempt to crawl under the
dish-cover, and somewhere in the town an optimistic bell-ringer was
endeavouring to lure unwary loiterers out of the sunshine into the
shadow of the sanctuary.

It was all very agreeable and soothing. The birds were delightful in the
exuberance of their spirits; even the bluebottle was a harbinger of
summer; and the solo of the bellringer, softened by distance, impinged
gently on the appreciative ear, awakening a grateful sense of immunity.
The sunshine and the placid sounds were favourable to reflection, which
the Sunday paper was powerless to disturb. As my eye roamed
inattentively down the inconsequent column of printers' errors, my mind
flitted, beelike, from topic to topic; from my vague professional
prospects to the visitors whom I was expecting on the morrow and from
them to the rather disturbing incident of the previous evening. But here
my thoughts had a tendency to stick; and I was just considering whether
the proprieties admitted of my making a morning call on Mrs. Frood, with
a view to clearing up the obscurity, when the street-door bell rang. The
unusual sound at such an unlikely time caused me to sit up and listen
with just a tinge of uneasy expectancy. A few moments later Mrs. Dunk
opened the door, and having stated concisely and impassively, "Mrs.
Gillow," retired, leaving the door ajar. I started up in something
approaching alarm, and hurried across to the consulting-room, where I
found Mrs. Gillow standing by the chair with anxiety writ large on her
melancholy face.

"There's nothing amiss, I hope, Mrs. Gillow?" said I.

"I am sorry to say there is, sir," she replied. "I hope you'll excuse me
for disturbing you on a Sunday morning, but I thought, as you were her
doctor, and a friend, too, and I may say--"

"But what has happened?" I interrupted impatiently.

"Why, sir, the fact is that she went out last night and she hasn't come
back."

"You are quite sure she hasn't come back?"

"Perfectly. I saw her just before she went out, and she said she was
coming to see you, to get something to make her sleep, and then she was
just going into Chatham, and that she would be back soon, so that she
could go to bed early. I sat up quite late listening for her, and before
I went to bed I went down and knocked at both her doors, and as I didn't
get any answer, I looked into both rooms. But she wasn't in either, and
her little supper was untouched on the table in the sitting-room. I
couldn't sleep a wink all night for worrying about her, and the first
thing this morning I went down, and, when I found the door unbolted and
unchained, I went into her rooms again. But there was no sign of her.
Her supper was still there, untouched, and her bed had not been slept
in."

"Did you look downstairs?" I asked.



"Yes. She usually kept the door of the basement stairs locked, I think,
but it was unlocked this morning, so I went down and searched all over
the basement; but she wasn't there."

"It is very extraordinary, Mrs. Gillow," I said, "and rather alarming. I
certainly understood that she was going home as soon as she had been to
Chatham. By the way, do you know what she was going to Chatham for?"

"I don't, sir. She might have been going there to do some shopping, but
it was rather late, though it was Saturday night."

"You don't know, I suppose, whether she took any things with her--though
she couldn't have taken much, as she had only a little handbag with her
when she came here."

"She hasn't taken any of her toilet things," said Mrs. Gillow, "because
I looked over her dressing-table, and all her brushes and things were
there; and, as you say, she couldn't have taken much in that little bag.
What do you think we had better do, sir?"

"I think," said I, "that, in the first place, I will go and see Mr.
Japp. He is a relative and knows more about her than we do, and, of
course, it will be for him to take any measures that may seem necessary.
At any rate, I will see him and hear what he says."

"Don't you think we ought to let the police know?" she asked.

"Well, Mrs. Gillow," I said, "we mustn't be too hasty. Mrs. Frood had
reasons for avoiding publicity. Perhaps we had better not busy ourselves
too much until we are quite certain that she has gone. She may possibly
return in the course of the day."

"I am sure I hope so," she replied despondently. "But I am very much
afraid she won't. I have a presentiment that something dreadful has
happened to her."

"Why do you say that?" I asked. "Have you any reason for thinking so?"

"I have no actual reason," she answered, "but I have always thought that
there was something behind her fear of meeting her husband."

Having no desire to discuss speculative opinions, I made no direct reply
to this. Apparently Mrs. Gillow had no more to tell, and as I was
anxious to see Mr. Japp and hear if he could throw any light on the
mystery, I adjourned the discussion on which she would have embarked and
piloted her persuasively towards the door. "I shall see you again later,
Mrs. Gillow," I said, "and will let you know if I hear anything.
Meanwhile, I think you had better not speak of the matter to anybody."

As soon as she was gone I made rapid preparations to go forth on my
errand, and a couple of minutes later was speeding down the street at a
pace dictated rather by the agitation of my mind than by any urgency of
purpose. Although, by an effort of will, I had preserved a quiet,
matter-of-fact demeanour while I was talking to Mrs. Gillow, her
alarming news had fallen on me like a thunderbolt; and even now, as I
strode forward swiftly, my thoughts seemed numbed by the suddenness of
the catastrophe. That something terrible had happened I had little more
doubt than had Mrs. Gillow, and a good deal more reason for my fears;
for that last interview with the missing woman, looked back upon by the
light of her unaccountable disappearance, now appeared full of dreadful
suggestions. I had thought that she looked frightened, and she admitted
to a presentiment of evil. Of whom or of what was she afraid? And what
did she mean by a presentiment? Reasonable people do not have gratuitous
presentiments; and I recalled her evasive reply when I asked if she had
any reasons for her foreboding of evil. Now, there was little doubt that
she had; that the shadow of some impending danger had fallen on her and
that she knew it.

As I approached the premises of Japp and Bundy, I was assailed by a
sudden doubt as to whether Mr. Japp lived there; and this doubt
increased when I had executed two loud knocks at the door without
eliciting any response. I was just raising my hand to make a third
attack when I became aware of Bundy's head rising above the curtain of
the office window; and even in my agitation I could not but notice its
extremely dishevelled state. His hair--usually "smarmed" back neatly
from the forehead and brushed over the crown of his head--now hung down
untidily over his face like a bunch of rat's tails, and the unusualness
of his appearance was increased by the fact that he wore neither
spectacles nor the indispensable eyeglass. The apparition, however, was
visible but for a moment, for even as I glanced at him he made a sign to
me to wait and forthwith vanished.

There followed an interval of about a minute, at the end of which the
door opened and I entered, discovering Bundy behind it in a
dressing-gown and pyjamas, but with his hair neatly brushed and his
eye-glass duly adjusted.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Doc." said he. "Fact is, your knock woke me.
The early bird catches the worm in his pyjamas."

"I apologize for disturbing your slumbers," said I, "but I wanted to see
Japp. Isn't he in?"

"Japp doesn't live here," said Bundy, motioning to me to follow him
upstairs. "He used to, but the house began to fill up with the business
stuff and we had to make a drawing office and a store-room, so he moved
off to a house on Boley Hill, and now I live here like Robinson Crusoe."

"Do you mean that you do your own cooking and housework?"

"Lord, no," he replied. "I get most of my meals at Japp's place. Prepare
my own breakfast sometimes--I'm going to now: and I make tea for us
both. Got a little gas-stove in the kitchen. And a charlady comes in
every day to wash up and do my rooms. If you are not in a hurry, I'll
walk round with you to Japp's house."

"I am in rather a hurry," said I; "at least--well, I don't know why I
should be; but I am rather upset. The fact is, a very alarming thing has
happened. I have just heard of it from Mrs. Gillow. It seems that Mrs.
Frood went out last evening and has not come back."

Bundy whistled. "She's done a bolt," said he. "I wonder why. Do you
think she can have run up against hubby in the town?"

"I don't believe for a moment that she has gone away voluntarily," said
I. "She came to see me last night to get a sedative because she couldn't
sleep, and she said that she was going home as soon as she had been to
Chatham, and that she was going to take her medicine and go to bed
early."

"That might have been a blind," suggested Bundy; "or she might have run
up against her husband in Chatham."

I shook my head impatiently. "That is all nonsense, Bundy. A woman
doesn't walk off into space in that fashion. Something has happened to
her, I feel sure. I only hope it isn't something horrible; one doesn't
dare to think of the possibilities that the circumstances suggest."

"No," said Bundy, "and it's better not to. Great mistake to let your
imagination run away with you. Don't you worry, Doc. She'll probably
turn up all right, or send Japp a line to say where she has gone to."

"Devil take it, Bundy!" I exclaimed irritably, "you are talking as if
she were just a cat that had strayed away. If you don't care a hang what
becomes of her, I do. I am extremely alarmed about her. How soon will
you be ready?"

"I'll run and get on my things at once," he replied, with a sudden
change of manner. "You must excuse me, old chap. I didn't realize that
you were so upset. I'll be with you in a few minutes and then we will
start. Japp will be able to give me some breakfast."

He bustled off--to the next room, as I gathered from the sound--and left
me to work off my impatience by gazing out of the window and pacing
restlessly up and down the barely-furnished sitting-room. But, impatient
as I was, the rapidity with which he made his toilet surprised me, for
in less than ten minutes he reappeared, spick and span, complete with
hat, gloves, and stick, and announced that he was ready.

"I am not usually such a sluggard," he said, as we walked quickly along
the street, "but yesterday evening I got a novel. I ought not to read
novels. When I do, I am apt to make a single mouthful of it; and that is
what I did last night. I started the book at nine and finished it at two
this morning; and the result is that I am as sleepy as an owl even now."

In illustration of this statement he gave a prodigious yawn and then
turned up the steep little thoroughfare, where be presently halted at
the door of a small, old-fashioned house and rang the bell. The door was
opened by a middle-aged servant, from whom he learned that Mr. Japp was
at home, and to whom Bundy communicated his needs in the matter of
breakfast. We found Mr. Japp seated by the dining-room window, studying
a newspaper with the aid of a large pipe, and Bundy proceeded to
introduce me and the occasion of my visit in a few crisp sentences.

Mr. Japp's reception of the news was very different from his partner's.
Starting up from his chair and taking his pipe from his mouth, he gazed
at me for some seconds in silent dismay.

"I suppose," he said at length, "there is no mistake. It is really
certain that she did not come back last night?"

"I am afraid there is no doubt of the fact," I replied, and I gave him
the details with which Mrs. Gillow had furnished me.

"Dear! dear!" he exclaimed. "I don't like the look of this at all. What
the deuce can have happened to her?"

Here Bundy repeated the suggestion that he had made to me, but Japp
shook his head. "She wouldn't have gone off without letting me or the
doctor know. Why should she? We are friends, and she knew she could
trust us. Besides, the thing isn't possible. A middle-class woman can't
set out like a tramp without any luggage or common necessaries. There's
only one possibility," he added after a pause. "She might have seen
Nicholas prowling about and gone straight to the station and taken a
train to London. One of her woman friends would have been able to put
her up for the night."

"Or," suggested Bundy, "she might even have gone up to town with Nick
himself if he met her and threatened to make a scene."

"Yes," said Japp doubtfully, "that is, I suppose, possible. But it isn't
in the least likely. For that matter, nothing is likely. It is a most
mysterious affair, and very disturbing, very disturbing, indeed."

"The question is," said I, "what is to be done? Do you think we ought to
communicate with the police?"

"Well, no," he replied; "not immediately. If we don't hear anything, say
to-morrow, I suppose we shall have to. But we had better not be
precipitate. If we go to the police, we shall have to tell them
everything. Let us give her time to communicate, in case she has had to
make a sudden retirement--a clear forty-eight hours, as it is a
week-end. But we had better make some cautious inquiries meanwhile. I
suggest that we walk up to the hospital. They know me pretty well there,
and I could just informally ascertain whether any accidents had been
admitted, without giving any detailed reasons for the inquiry. Are you
coming with us, Bundy?"

"Yes," replied Bundy, who, having been provided with a light breakfast,
was despatching it with lightning speed; "I shall be ready by the time
you have got your boots on."

A few minutes later we set forth together, and made our way straight to
the hospital. Bundy and I waited outside while Japp went in to make his
inquiries; and, as we walked up and down, my imagination busied itself
in picturing the hideous possibilities suggested by a somewhat extensive
experience of the casualty department of a general hospital. Presently
Japp emerged, shaking his head.

"She is not there," said he. "There were no casualties of any kind
admitted last night or since."

"Is there no other hospital?" I asked.

"None but the military hospital," he replied. "All the casualties from
the district would be brought here. So we seem to be at the end of our
resources, short of inquiring at the police-station; and even if that
were advisable, it would be useless, for if--anything had
happened--anything, I mean, that we hope has not happened--Mrs. Gillow
would have heard. She will be sure to have had something about her by
which she could have been identified."

"She had," said I. "The little box that I gave her had her name and my
address on it."

"Then," said Japp. "I don't see that we can do anything more. We can
only wait until to-morrow evening or Tuesday morning, and if we don't
get any news of her by then, notify the police."

Unwillingly I had to admit that this was so; and when I had walked back
with the partners to Mr. Japp's house, I left them and proceeded to
report to Mrs. Gillow and to ascertain whether, in the meantime, she had
received any tidings of her missing tenant.

It was with more of fear than hope that I plied the familiar knocker,
but the eager, expectant face that greeted me when the door opened,
while it relieved the one, banished the other. She had heard nothing,
and when I had communicated my own unsatisfactory report she groaned and
shook her head.

"You are quite sure," I said, after an interval of silence, "that she
did not return from Chatham?"

"I don't see how she could have done," was the reply.

"You see, it was like this: I was going to see my sister at Frindsbury,
and as I came down to the hall, Mrs. Frood opened her door and spoke to
me. She had her hat on then, and she told me she was coming to you, and
then going on to Chatham, but that she would be back pretty soon, and
was going to bed early. I went out, leaving her at her room door, and
took the tram to Frindsbury, and I got back home about a quarter to ten.
Her sitting-room door was open, and I could see that she hadn't gone to
bed, because her lamp was alight and her supper tray was on the table
and hadn't been touched. I knocked at her bedroom door, but there was no
answer, so I went upstairs and sat up listening for her, and before I
went to bed I went down again, as I told you."

"What time was it when you went out?" I asked.

"About a quarter past eight. I told her I was going to Frindsbury, and
that I should be home before ten, and I asked her not to bolt the door
if she came in before me."

"Then," said I, "she must have gone out directly after you, because it
was only a little after half-past eight when she called on me; and
presumably she went straight on to Chatham. If we only knew what she was
going there for we might be able to trace her. Did she know anybody at
Chatham?"

"So far as I know," replied Mrs. Gillow, "she didn't know anybody here
but you and Mr. Japp. I can't imagine what she could have been going to
Chatham for."

After a little further talk, I took my leave and walked homeward in a
very wretched frame of mind. Tormented as I was with a gnawing anxiety,
inaction was intolerable. Yet there was nothing to be done; nothing but
to wait in the feeble hope that the morning might bring some message of
relief, and with a heavy foreboding that the tidings, when they came,
would be evil tidings. But I found it impossible to wait passively at
home. At intervals during the day I went forth to wander up and down the
streets; and some impulse which I hardly dared to recognize directed my
steps again and again to the wharves and foreshore that lie by the bend
of the river between Rochester and Chatham.

On the following morning I betook myself as early as I decently could to
the office of Japp and Bundy. No letter had arrived by the early post,
nor, when I repeated my visit later, was there any news, either by post
or telegram, or from Mrs. Gillow. I paid a furtive visit to the
police-station and glanced nervously over the bills on the notice-board,
and I made another perambulation of the waterside districts, which
occupied me until it was time for me to repair to the station to meet
the train by which my friends were expected to arrive, and did, in fact,
arrive.

As we walked from the station to my house Jervis looked at me critically
from time to time. After one of these inspections he remarked:

"I don't know whether it is my fancy, Strangeways, but it seems to me
that the cares of medical practice are affecting your spirits. You look
worried."

"I am worried," I replied. "There has been a very disturbing development
of that case that I was telling you about."

"The doper, you mean?"

"His wife. She has disappeared. She went out on Saturday night and has
not been seen since."

"That sounds rather ominous," said Jervis. "I presume the
circumstances--if you know them--could be communicated without any
breach of confidence."

"They will have to be made fully public if she doesn't turn up by this
evening," I replied, "and I am only too glad of the chance to talk the
matter over with you," and forthwith I proceeded to give a
circumstantial account of the events connected with the disappearance,
not omitting any detail that seemed to have the slightest bearing. And I
now felt justified in relating my experience when I was acting for Dr.
Pumphrey. The narrative was interrupted by our arrival at my house, but
when we had taken our places at the table it was continued and listened
to with intense interest by my two friends.

"Well," said Jervis, when I had finished, "it has an ugly look,
especially when one considers it in connexion with that affair in
London. But there is something to be said for your friend Bundy's
suggestion. Don't you think so, Thorndyke?"

"Something, perhaps," Thorndyke agreed, "but not much; and if no letter
arrives to-night or to-morrow morning, I should say it is excluded. This
lady seems to have had complete confidence in Strangeways and in Mr.
Japp. She could depend on their secrecy if she had to move suddenly to a
fresh locality; and she seems to have been a responsible person who
would not unnecessarily expose them to anxiety about her safety.
Moreover, she would know that, if she kept them in the dark, they must
unavoidably put the police on her track, which would be the last thing
that she would wish."

"Can you make any suggestion as to what has probably happened?" I asked.

"It is not of much use to speculate," replied Thorndyke.

"If we exclude a voluntary disappearance, an accident or sudden illness,
as we apparently can, there seems to remain only the possibility of
crime. But to the theory of crime--of murder, to put it bluntly--there
is a manifest objection. So far as the circumstances are known to us, a
murder, if it had occurred, would have been an impromptu murder,
committed in a more or less public place. But the first indication of a
murder of that kind is usually--the discovery of the body. Here,
however, thirty-six hours have elapsed, and no body has come to light.
On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that there is a large, tidal
river skirting the town. Into that river the missing lady might have
fallen accidentally, or have been thrown, dead or alive. But it is not
very profitable to speculate. We can neither form any opinion nor take
any action until we have some further facts."

I must confess that, as I listened to Thorndyke thus calmly comparing
the horrible possibilities, I experienced a dreadful sinking of the
heart, but yet I realized that this passionless consideration of the
essential evidence was more to the point, and promised more result than
any amount of unskilful groping under the urge of emotion and personal
feeling. And, realizing this, I formed the bold resolution of enlisting
Thorndyke's aid in a regular, professional capacity, and began to cast
about for the means of introducing the rather delicate subject. But
while I was reflecting the opportunity, was gone, at least for the
present. Lunch had virtually come to an end, for Mrs. Dunk had silently
and with iron visage just placed the port and the coffee on the table
and retired, when, Jervis, who had observed her with evident interest,
inquired: "Does that old Sphinx do the cooking, Strangeways?"

"She does everything," I answered. "I have suggested that she should get
some help, but she just growled and ignored the suggestion."

"Well," said Jervis, "she doesn't give you much excuse for growling. She
has turned out a lunch that would have done credit to Delmonico's. Are
you coming to the inquest with us? We shall have to be starting in a few
minutes."

"I may as well," said I. "Then I can bring you back to tea. And I want
to make a proposal, which we can discuss as we go along. It is with
regard to the case of Mrs. Frood."

As my two friends looked at me inquiringly but made no remark, I poured
out the coffee and continued: "You see, Mrs. Frood was my patient, and,
in a way, my friend; in fact, with the exception of Japp, I was the only
friend she had in the place. Consequently I take it as my duty to
ascertain what has happened to her, and, if she has come to any harm, to
see that the wrongdoers are brought to account. Of course, I am not
competent to investigate the case myself, but I am in the position to
bear any costs that the investigation would entail."

"Lucky man," said Jervis. "And what is the proposal?"

"I was wondering," I replied, a little nervously, "whether I could
prevail on you to undertake the case."

Jervis glanced at his senior, and the latter replied:

"It is just a little premature to speak of a 'case.' The missing lady
may return or communicate with her friends. If she does not, the inquiry
will fall into the hands of the police; and there is no reason to
suppose that they will not be fully competent to deal with it. They have
more means and facilities than we have. But if the inquiry should become
necessary, and the police should be unsuccessful, Jervis and I would be
prepared to render you any assistance that we could."

"On professional terms," I stipulated.

Thorndyke smiled. "The financial aspects of the case," said he, "can be
considered when they arise. Now, I think, it is time for us to start."

As we walked down to the building where the inquest was to be held, we
pursued the topic, and Thorndyke pointed out my position in the case.

"You notice, Strangeways," said he, "that you are the principal witness.
You are the last person who saw Mrs. Frood before her disappearance, you
heard her state her intended movements, you knew her circumstances, you
saw and examined her husband, and you alone can give an exact
description of her as she was at the time when she disappeared. I would
suggest that, during the inquest, which will not interest you, you might
usefully try to reconstitute that last interview and make full notes in
writing of all that occurred with a very careful and detailed
description of the person, clothing, and belongings of the missing lady.
The police will want this information, and so shall I, if I am to give
any consideration to the case."

On this suggestion I proceeded to act as soon as we had taken our places
at the foot of the long table occupied by the coroner and the jury,
detaching myself as well as I could from the matter of the inquest; and
by the time that the deliberations were at an end and the verdict agreed
upon, I had drafted out a complete set of notes and made two copies, one
for the police and one for Thorndyke.

As soon as we were outside the court I presented the latter copy, which
Thorndyke read through.

"This is _admirable_, Strangeways," said he, as he placed it in his
note-case. "I must compliment you upon your powers of observation. The
description of the missing lady is remarkably clear and exhaustive. And
now I would suggest that you call in at Mr. Japp's office on our way
back, and ascertain whether any letter has been received. If there has
been no communication we shall have to regard the appearances as
suspicious, and calling for investigation."

Secretly gratified at the interest which Thorndyke seemed to be
developing in the mystery, I conducted my friends up the High-street
until we reached the office, which I entered, leaving my colleagues
outside. Mr. Japp looked up from a letter which he was writing, and
Bundy, who had been peeping over the curtain, revolved on his stool and
faced me.

"Any news?" I asked.

Japp shook his head gloomily. "Not a sign," said he.

"I shall wait until the first post is in to-morrow morning, and then, if
there are no tidings of her, I shall go across to the police station.
Perhaps you had better come with me, as you are able to give the
particulars that they will want."

"Very well," I said, "I will look in at half-past nine"; and with this I
was turning away when Bundy inquired: "Are those two toffs outside
friends of yours?" and, on my replying in the affirmative, he continued:
"They seem to be taking a deuce of an interest in Japp's proclamation.
You might tell them that if they happen to have found that key, the
money is quite safe. I will see that Japp pays up."

I promised to deliver the message, and, as Bundy craned up to make a
further inspection of my colleagues, I departed to join the latter.

"There is no news up to the present," I said, "but Japp proposes to wait
until to-morrow morning for a last chance before applying to the
police."

"Was that Japp who was inspecting us through that preposterous pair of
barnacles?" Jervis asked.

"No," I answered. "That was Bundy. He suspects you of having found that
key and of holding on to it until you are sure of the reward."

"What key is it?" asked Jervis. "The key of the strong-room? They seem
to be in a rare twitter about it."

"No; it is just a gate-key belonging to a piece of waste land where they
are doing some repairs to the old city wall. And, by the way, thereby
hangs a tale; a horrible and tragic tale of a convivial bargee, which
ought to have a special interest for a pair of medical jurists"--and
here I related to them the gruesome story that was told to Bundy and me
by the old mortar-mixer.

They both chuckled appreciatively at the denouement, and Jervis
remarked:

"It would seem that the late Bill was a rather inflammable gentleman.
The yarn recalls the tragic end of Mr. Krook in 'Bleak House,' only that
Krook went one better than Bill, for he managed to combust himself in an
hour or two without any lime at all."

The story and the comment brought us to my house, which we had no sooner
entered than Mrs. Dunk, who seemed to have been lying in wait for us,
made her appearance with the tea; and while we were disposing of this
refreshment Thorndyke reverted to the case of my missing patient.

"As I am to keep an eye on this case," said he, "I shall want to be kept
in touch with it. Of course, the actual investigation--if there has to
be one--will need to be conducted on the spot, which is not possible to
me. What I suggest is that you write out a detailed account of
everything that is known to you in connexion with it. Don't select your
facts. Put down everything in any way connected with the case and say
all you know about the person concerned--Mrs. Frood herself and
everybody who was acquainted with her. Send this statement to me and
keep a copy. Then, if any new fact becomes known, let me have it and
make a note of it for your own information. You are on the spot and I
shall look to you for the data; and if I want any of them amplified or
confirmed I shall communicate with you.

"There is one other matter. Do not confide to anyone that you have
consulted me or that I am interested in the case; neither to Mr. Japp,
to the police, nor to anybody else whatsoever; and I advise you to keep
your own interest in the mystery to yourself as far as possible."

"What is the need of this secrecy?" I asked, in some surprise.

"The point is," replied Thorndyke, "that when you are investigating a
crime you are playing against the criminal. But if the criminal is
unknown to you, you are playing against an unseen adversary. If you are
visible to him he can watch your moves and reply to them. Obviously your
policy is to keep out of sight and make your moves unseen. And remember
that as long as you do not know who the criminal is, you don't know who
he is not. Anyone may be the criminal, or may be his unconscious agent
or coadjutor. If you make confidences they may be innocently passed on
to the guilty parties. So keep your own counsel rigorously. If there has
been a crime, that crime has local connexions and probably a local
origin. The solution of the mystery will probably be discovered here.
And if you intend to take a hand in the solution let it be a lone hand;
and keep me informed of everything that you do or observe; and for my
part, I will give you all the help I can."

By the time we had finished our tea and our discussion the hour of my
friends' departure was drawing nigh. I walked with them to the station,
and when I bade them farewell I received a warm invitation to visit them
at their chambers in the Temple; an invitation of which I determined to
avail myself on the first favourable opportunity.



CHAPTER VIII--SERGEANT COBBLEDICK TAKES A HAND


Punctually at half-past nine on the following morning I presented myself
at the office, and, if I had indulged in any hopes of favourable
news--which I had not--they would have been dispelled by a glance at Mr.
Japp's troubled face.

"I suppose you have heard nothing?" I said, when we had exchanged brief
greetings.

He shook his head gloomily as he opened the cupboard and took out his
hat.

"No," he answered, "and I am afraid we never shall."

He sighed heavily, and, putting on his hat, walked slowly to the door.
"It is a dreadful affair," he continued, as we went out together. "How
she would have hated the idea of it, poor girl! All the horrid
publicity, the posters, the sensational newspaper paragraphs, the
descriptions of her person and belongings. And then, at the end of it
all, God knows what horror may come to light. It won't bear thinking
of."

He trudged along at my side with bent head and eyes cast down, and for
the remainder of the short journey neither of us spoke. On reaching the
police-station we made our way into a small, quiet office, the only
tenant of which was a benevolent-looking, bald-headed sergeant, who was
seated at a high desk, and, who presented that peculiar, decapitated
aspect that appertains to a police officer minus his helmet. As we
entered the sergeant laid down his pen and turned to us with a benign
smile.

"Good morning, Mr. Japp," said he. "What can I have the pleasure of
doing for you?"

"I am sorry to say, Sergeant," replied Japp, "that I have come here on
very unpleasant business," and he proceeded to give the officer a
concise summary of the facts, to which our friend listened with close
attention. When it was finished, the sergeant produced a sheet of blue
foolscap, and, having folded a wide margin on it, dipped his pen in the
ink and began his examination.

"I'd better take the doctor's statement first," said he. "The lady's
name is Angelina Frood, married, living apart from husband--I shall want
his address presently--last seen alive by--"

"John Strangeways, M.D.," said I, "of Maidstone-road, Rochester."

The sergeant wrote this down, and continued: "Last seen at about 8.30
P.M. on Saturday, 26th April, proceeding towards Chatham, on unknown
business. Can you give me a description of her?"

I described her person, assisted by Japp, and the sergeant, having
committed the particulars to writing, read them out:

"'Age 28, height 5 ft. 7 in., complexion medium, hazel eyes, abundant
dark brown hair, strongly marked black eyebrows, nearly meeting over
nose.'"

"No special marks that you know of?"

"No."

"Now, doctor, can you tell us how she was dressed?"

"She was wearing a snuff-brown coat and skirt," I replied, "and a straw
hat of the same colour with a broad, dull green band. The hat was fixed
on by two hat-pins with silver heads shaped like poppy-capsules. The
coat had six buttons, smallish, bronze buttons--about half an inch in
diameter--with a Tudor rose embossed on each. Brown suede gloves with
fasteners--no buttons--brown silk stockings, and brown suede shoes with
small, oval bronze buckles. She had a narrow silk scarf, dull green,
with three purple bands at each end--one broad band and two narrow--and
knotted fringe at the ends. She wore a small circular brooch with a
largish opal in the centre and a border of small pearls, of which one
was missing. The missing pearl was in the position of the figure three
on a clock dial. She carried a small morocco hand-bag with the initials
A. F. stamped on it, which contained a little cardboard box, in which
were six white tablets; the box was labelled with one of Dr. Partridge's
labels, on which her name was written, and it was wrapped in white paper
and sealed with sealing-wax. That is all I can say for certain. But she
always wore a wedding-ring, and occasionally an African Zodiac ring; but
sometimes she carried this ring in a small purse with metal jaws and a
ball fastening. I believe she always carried the purse."

As I gave this description, the sergeant wrote furiously, glancing at me
from time to time with an expression of surprise, while Japp sat and
stared at me open-mouthed.

"Well, doctor," said the sergeant, when he had taken down my statement
and read it out, "if I find myself ailing I'm going to pop along and
consult you. I reckon there isn't much that escapes your notice. With
regard to that African ring now, I daresay you can't tell us what it is
like."

I was, of course, able to describe it in detail, including the initials
A. C. inside, and even to give a rough sketch of some of the signs
embossed on it, upon which the sergeant chuckled admiringly and wagged
his head as he wrote down the description and pinned the sketch on the
margin of his paper. The rest of my statement dealt with the last
interview and the incidents connected with Nicholas Frood's visits to
Rochester, all of which the sergeant listened to with deep interest and
committed to writing.

Finally, I recounted the sinister incident--now more sinister than
ever--of the murderous assault in the house near Regent's Park, whereat
the sergeant looked uncommonly serious and took down the statement
verbatim.

"Did you know about this, Mr. Japp?" he asked.

"I knew that something unpleasant had happened," was the reply, "but I
didn't know that it was as bad as this."

"Well," said the sergeant, "it gives the present affair rather an ugly
look. We shall have to make some inquiries about that gentleman."

Having squeezed me dry, he turned his attention to Japp, from whom he
extracted a variety of information, including the address of the banker
who paid the allowance to Nicholas Frood, and that of a lady who had
formerly been a theatrical colleague of Mrs. Frood's, and with whom Mr.
Japp believed the latter had kept up a correspondence.

"You haven't a photograph of the missing lady, I suppose?" said the
sergeant.

With evident reluctance Japp drew from his pocket an envelope and
produced from it a cabinet photograph, which he looked at sadly for a
few moments and then handed to me.

"I brought this photograph with me," he said, "as I knew you would want
it, but I rather hope that you won't want to publish it."

"Now, why do you hope that?" the sergeant asked in a soothing and
persuasive tone. "You want this lady found--or, at any rate, traced. But
what better means can you suggest than publishing her portrait?"

"I suppose you are right," said Japp; "but it is a horrible thing to
think of the poor girl's face looking out from posters and newspaper
pages."

"It is," the sergeant agreed. "But, you see, if she is alive it is her
own doing, and if she is dead it won't affect her."

While they were talking I had been looking earnestly at the beloved
face, which I now felt I should never look upon again. It was an
excellent likeness, showing her just as I had known her, excepting that
it was free from the cloud of trouble that had saddened her expression
in these latter days. As the sergeant held out his hand for it, I turned
it over and read the photographer's name and address and the register
number, and, having made a mental note of them, I surrendered it with a
sigh.

Our business was now practically concluded. When we had each read over
the statements and added our respective signatures, the sergeant
attested them and, having added the date, placed the documents in his
desk and rose.

"I am much obliged to you, gentlemen," said he as he escorted us to the
door. "If I hear anything that will interest you I will let you know,
and if I should want any further information I shall take the liberty of
calling on you."

"Well," said Japp, as we turned to walk back, "the fat's in the fire
now. I mean to say," he added quickly, "that we've fairly committed
ourselves. I hope we haven't been too precipitate. We should catch it if
she came back and found that we had raised the hue and cry and set the
whole town agog."

"I am afraid there is no hope of that," said I. "At any rate, we had no
choice or discretion in the matter. A suspected crime is the business of
the police."

Mr. Japp agreed that this was so; and having by this time arrived at the
office, we separated, he to enter his premises and I to betake myself to
Chatham with no very defined purpose, but lured thither by a vague
attraction.

As I walked along the High-street, making occasional digressions into
narrow alleys to explore wharves and water-side premises, I turned over
the statements that had been given to the police and wondered what they
conveyed to our friend, the sergeant, with his presumably extensive
experience of obscure crime. To me they seemed to furnish no means
whatever of starting an investigation, excepting by inquiring as to the
movements of Nicholas Frood, by communicating with Angelina's late
colleague or by publishing the photograph. And here I halted to write
down in my notebook before I should forget them the name and address of
that lady--Miss Cumbers--and of the photographers, together with the
number of the photograph; for I had decided to obtain a copy of the
latter for myself, and it now occurred to me that I had better get one
also for Thorndyke. And this latter reflection reminded me that I had to
prepare my précis of the facts for him, and that I should do well to get
this done at once while the matter of the two statements was fresh in my
mind. Accordingly, as I paced the deck of the Sun Pier, looking up and
down the busy river, with its endless procession of barges, bawleys,
tugs, and cargo boats, striving ineffectually to banish the dreadful
thought that, perchance, somewhere, at this very moment there was
floating on its turbid waters the corpse of my dear, lost friend: I
tried to recall and write down the substance of Japp's statement, as I
had heard it made and had afterwards read it. At length, finding the
neighbourhood of the river too disturbing, I left the pier and took my
way homewards, calling in at a stationer's on the way to provide myself
with a packet of sermon paper on which to write out my summary.

When Thorndyke had given me my instructions, they had appeared to me a
little pedantic. The full narrative which he asked for of all the
events, without selection as to relevancy, and the account of what I
knew of all the persons concerned in the case, seemed an excessive
formality. But when I came to write the case out the excellence of his
method became apparent in two respects. In the first place, the ordered
narrative put the events in their proper sequence and exhibited their
connexions; and in the second, the endeavour to state all that I knew,
particularly of the persons, showed me how very little that was. Of the
persons in any way concerned in the case there were but five: Angelina
herself, her husband, Mrs. Gillow, Mr. Japp, and Bundy. Of the first two
I knew no more than what I had observed myself and what Angelina had
told me; of the last three I knew practically nothing. Not that this
appeared to me of the slightest importance, but I had my instructions,
and in compliance with them I determined to make such cautious inquiries
as would enable me to give Thorndyke at least a few particulars of them.
And this during the next few days I did; and I may as well set down here
the scanty and rather trivial information that my inquiries elicited,
and which I duly sent on to Thorndyke in a supplementary report.

Mrs. Gillow was the wife of a mariner who was the second mate of a
sailing ship that plied to Australia, who had now been away about four
months and was expected home shortly. She was a native of the locality
and had known Mr. Japp for several years. She occupied the part of the
house above the ground floor and kept no servant or dependent, living
quite alone when her husband was at sea. She had no children. Her
acquaintance with Angelina began when the latter became the tenant of
the ground floor and basement; it was but a slight acquaintance, and she
knew nothing of Angelina's antecedents or affairs excepting that she had
left her husband.

Mr. Japp was a native of Rochester and had lived in the town all his
life, having taken over his business establishment from his late
partner, a Mr. Borden. He was a bachelor and was related to Angelina by
marriage, his brother--now deceased--having married Angelina's aunt.

As to Bundy, he was hardly connected with the case at all, since he had
seen Angelina only once or twice and had scarcely exchanged a dozen
words with her. Moreover, he had but recently come to Rochester--about
six weeks ago, I gathered--having answered an advertisement of Japp's
for an assistant with a view to partnership; and the actual deed had not
yet been executed, though the two partners were evidently quite well
satisfied with one another.

That was all the information that I had to give Thorndyke; and with the
exception of the London incident it amounted to nothing. Nevertheless,
it was as well to have established the fact that if anyone were
concerned in Angelina's disappearance, that person would have to be
sought elsewhere than in Rochester.

Having sent off my summary and read over again and again the copy which
I had kept, I began to realize the justice of Thorndyke's observation
that the inquiry was essentially a matter for the police, who had both
the experience and the necessary facilities; for whenever I tried to
think of some plan for tracing my lost friend, I was brought up against
the facts that I had nothing whatever to go on and no idea how to make
a start. As to Thorndyke, he had no data but those that I had given him,
and I realized clearly that these were utterly insufficient to form the
basis of any investigation; and I found myself looking expectantly to
the police to produce some new facts that might throw at least a glimmer
of light on this dreadful and baffling mystery.

I had not very long to wait. On the Friday after our call on the
sergeant, I was sitting after lunch in my dining-room with a book in my
hand, while my thoughts strayed back to those memorable evenings of
pleasant converse with the sweet friend who, I felt, had gone from me
forever, when the door bell rang, and Mrs. Dunk presently announced:

"Sergeant Cobbledick."

"Show him in here, Mrs. Dunk," said I, laying aside my book, and rising
to receive my visitor; who proved to be, as I had expected, the officer
who had taken our statements. He entered with his helmet in his hand,
and greeted me with a smile of concentrated benevolence.

"Sit down, Sergeant," said I, offering him an easy chair. "I hope you
have some news for us."

"Yes," he replied, beaming on me. "I am glad to say we are getting on as
well as we can expect. We have made quite a nice little start."

He spoke as if he had something particularly gratifying to communicate,
and, having carefully placed his helmet on the table, he drew from his
pocket a small paper packet, which he opened with great deliberation,
extracting from it a small object, which he held out in the palm of his
hand.

"There, Doctor," said he, complacently; "what do you say to that?"

I looked at the object, and my heart seemed to stand still. It was
Angelina's brooch! I stared at it in speechless dismay for some moments.
At length I asked, huskily:

"Where did you get it?"

"I found it," said the sergeant, gazing fondly at the little trinket,
"where I hardly hoped to find it--in a pawnbroker's shop in Chatham."

"Did you discover who pawned it?" I asked.

"In a sense, yes," the sergeant replied with a bland smile.

"How do you mean--in a sense?" I inquired.

"I mean that his name was John Smith--only, of course, it wasn't; and
that his address was 26, Swoffer's-alley, Chatham--only he didn't live
there, because there is no such number. You see, Doctor, John Smith is
the name of nearly every man who gives a false description of himself;
and I went straight off to Swoffer's-alley--it was close by--and found
that there wasn't any number 26."

"Then you really don't know who pawned it?"

"We won't exactly say that," he replied. "I got a fair description of
the man from the pawnbroker's wife, who made out the ticket and says she
could swear to the man if she saw him. He was a seafaring man, dressed
in sailor's clothes--a peaked cap and pea-jacket--a shortish fellow,
rather sunburnt, with a small, stubby, dark moustache and dark hair, and
a mole or wart on the left side of his nose, near the tip. She asked him
where he had got the brooch, and he said it had belonged to his old
woman. I should say he probably picked it up."

"Why do you think so?" I asked.

"Well, if he had--er--got it in any other way, he would hardly have popped
it in Chatham forty-eight hours after the--after it was lost, with the
chance that the pawnbrokers had already been notified--he pawned it on
Monday night."

"Then," said I, "if he picked it up, he isn't of much importance; and in
any case you don't know who he is."

"Oh, but he is of a good deal of importance," said the sergeant. "I've
no doubt he picked it up, but that is only a guess. He may have got it
the other way. But at any rate, he had it in his possession and he will
have to give an account of how he obtained it. The importance of it is
this: taken with the disappearance, the finding of this brooch raises a
strong suspicion that a crime has been committed, and if we could find
out where it was picked up, we should have a clue to the place where the
affair took place. I want that man very badly, and I'm going to have a
good try to get him."

"I don't quite see how," said I. "You haven't much to go on."

"I've got his nose to go on," replied the sergeant.

"But there must be plenty of other men with moles on their noses."

"That's their look-out," he retorted. "If I come across a man who
answers the description, I shall hang on to him until Mrs. Pawnbroker
has had a look at him. Of course, if she says he's not the man, he'll be
released."

"But she won't," said I. "If he has a mole on his nose, she will be
perfectly certain that he is the man."

The sergeant smiled benignly. "There's something in that," he admitted.
"Ladies are a bit cock-sure when it comes to identification. But you can
generally check 'em by other evidence. And if this chap picked the
brooch up, he would be pretty certain to tell us all about it when he
heard where it came from. Still, we haven't got him yet."

For a while we sat, without speaking, each pursuing his own thoughts. To
me, this dreadful discovery, though it did but materialize the vague
fears that had been surging through my mind, had fallen like a
thunderbolt. For, behind those fears, I now realized that there had
lurked a hope that the mystery might presently be resolved by the return
of the lost one. Now that hope had suddenly become extinct. I knew that
she had gone out of my life forever. She was dead. This poor little
waif that had drifted back into our hands brought the unmistakable
message of her death, with horrible suggestions of hideous and sordid
tragedy. I shuddered at the thought; and in that moment, from the grief
and horror that possessed my soul, there was born a passion of hatred
for the wretch who had done this thing and a craving for revenge.

"There's another queer thing that has come to light," the sergeant
resumed at length. "There may be nothing in it, but it's a little queer.
About the husband, Nicholas Frood."

"What about him?" I asked, eagerly.

"Why, he seems to have disappeared, too. Of course, you understand,
Doctor, that what I'm telling you is confidential. We are not talking
about this affair outside, and we aren't telling the Press much, at
present."

"Naturally," said I. "You can trust me to keep my own counsel, and
yours, too."

"I'm sure I can. Well, about this man, Frood. It seems that last Friday
he went away from his lodgings for a couple of days; but he hasn't come
back, and nobody knows what has become of him. He was supposed to be
going to Brighton, where he has some relatives from whom he gets a
little assistance occasionally, but they have seen or heard nothing of
him. Quaint, isn't it? You said you saw him here on the Monday."

"Yes, and I haven't seen him since, though I have kept a look-out for
him. But he may have been here, all the same. It looks decidedly
suspicious."

"It is queer," the sergeant agreed, "but we've no evidence that he has
been in this neighbourhood."

"Have you made any other inquiries?" I asked.

"We looked up that lady, Miss Cumbers, but we got nothing out of her.
She had had a letter from Mrs. Frood on the 24th--yesterday week--quite
an ordinary letter, giving no hint of any intention to go away from
Rochester. So there you are. The mystery seems to be concerned entirely
with this neighbourhood, and I expect we shall have to solve it on the
spot."

This last observation impressed me strongly. The sergeant's view of the
case was the same as Thorndyke's, and expressed in almost the same
words.

"Have you any theory as to what has actually happened?" I asked.

The sergeant smiled in his benignant fashion. "It isn't much use
inventing theories," said he. "We've got to get the facts before we can
do anything. Still, looking at the case as we find it, there are two or
three things that hit us in the face. There is a strong suspicion of
murder, there is no trace of the body, and there is a big tidal river
close at hand. On Saturday night it was high water at half-past eleven,
so there wouldn't have been much of the shore uncovered at, say,
half-past nine, and there would have been plenty of water at any of the
piers or causeways."

"Then you think it probable that she was murdered and her body flung
into the river?"

"It is the likeliest thing, so far as we can judge. There is the river,
and there is no sign of the body on shore. But, as I say, it is no use
guessing. We've got people watching the river from Allington Lock to
Sheerness, and that's all we can do in that line. The body is pretty
certain to turn up, sooner or later. Of course, until it does, there is
no real criminal case; and even when we've got the body, we may not be
much nearer getting the murderer. Excepting the man Frood, there is no
one who seems to have had any motive for making away with her; and if it
was just a casual robbery with murder it is unlikely that we shall ever
spot the man at all."

Having given expression to this rather pessimistic view, the sergeant
rose, and, picking up his helmet, took his departure, after promising to
let me know of any further developments.

As soon as he was gone, I wrote down the substance of what he had said,
and then embodied it in a report for Thorndyke. While I was thus
occupied, the afternoon post was delivered, and included a packet from
the London photographer, to whom I had written, enclosing two copies of
the photograph of Angelina that Mr. Japp had handed to the sergeant. Of
these, I enclosed one copy in my communication to Thorndyke, on the bare
chance that it might be of some assistance to him, and, having closed up
the large envelope and stamped it, I went forth to drop it into the
post-box.



CHAPTER IX--JETSAM


That portion of Chatham High-street which lies adjacent to the River
Medway presents a feature that is characteristic of old riverside towns
in the multitude of communications between the street and the shore.
Some of these are undisguised entrances to wharves, some are courts or
small thoroughfares lined with houses and leading to landing-stages,
while others are mere passages or flights of steps, opening obscurely
and inconspicuously on the street by narrow apertures, unnoticed by the
ordinary wayfarer and suggesting the burrows of some kind of human
water-rat.

In the days that followed the sergeant's visit to me I made the
acquaintance of all of them. Now I would wander down the cobbled cartway
that led to a wharf, there to cast a searching eye over the muddy
fore-shore or scan the turbid water at high tide as it eddied between
the barges and around the piles. Or I would dive into the mouths of the
burrows, creeping down slimy steps and pursuing the tortuous passages
through a world of uncleanness until I came out upon the shore, where
the fresh smell of seaweed mingled with odours indescribable. I began to
be an object of curiosity--and perhaps of some suspicion--to the
denizens of the little, ruinous, timber houses that lined these alleys,
and of frank interest to the children who played around the rubbish
heaps or dabbled in the grey mud. But never did my roving eye light upon
that which it sought with such dreadful expectation.

One afternoon, about a week after the sergeant's visit, when I was
returning home from one of these explorations, I observed a man on my
doorstep as I approached the house. His appearance instantly aroused my
attention, for he was dressed in the amphibious style adopted by
waterside dwellers, and he held something in his hand at which he looked
from time to time. Before I reached the door it had opened and admitted
him, and when I arrived I found him in the hall nervously explaining his
business to Mrs. Dunk.

"Here is the doctor," said the latter; "you'd better tell him about
it."

The man turned to me and held out an amazingly dirty fist. "I've got
something here, sir," said he, "what belongs to you, I think." Here he
unclosed his hand and exhibited a little cardboard box bearing one of
Dr. Partridge's labels. It was smeared with mud and grime, but I
recognized it instantly; indeed, when I took it with trembling fingers
from his palm and looked at it closely, the name, "Mrs. Frood," was
still decipherable under the smears of dirt.

"Where did you find this?" I asked.

"I picked it up on the strand," he replied, "about halfway betwixt the
Sun Pier and the end of Ship Alley, and just below spring tide
high-water mark. Is it any good?"

"Yes," I answered; "it is very important. I will get you to walk along
with me to the police station."

"What for?" he demanded suspiciously. "I don't want no police stations.
If it's any good, give us what you think it's worth, and have done with
it."

I gave him half-a-crown to allay his suspicions, and then said: "You had
better come with me to the station. I expect the police will want you to
show them exactly where you found this box and help them to search the
place; and I will see that you are paid for your trouble."

"But look 'ere, mister," he objected; "what's the police got to do with
this 'ere box?"

I explained the position to him briefly, and then, suddenly, his face
lit up. "I know," he said excitedly. "I seen the bills stuck up on the
dead-'ouse door. And d'you mean to say as this 'ere box was 'ers? Cos if
it was it's worth more 'n 'arf-a-crown."

"Perhaps it is," said I. "We will hear what the sergeant thinks," and
with this I opened the door and went out, and my new acquaintance now
followed with the greatest alacrity, taking the opportunity, as we
walked along, to remind me of my promise and to offer tentative
suggestions as to the scale of remuneration for his services.

Our progress along the High-street was not unnoticed. Doubtless, we
appeared a somewhat ill-assorted pair, for I observed a good many
persons turn to look at us curiously, and when we passed the office, on
the opposite side of the road, I saw Bundy's face rise above the curtain
with an expression of undissembled curiosity.

On arriving at the station, I inquired for Sergeant Cobbledick, and was
fortunate enough to find him in his office. As I entered with my
companion, he bestowed on the latter a quick glance of professional
interest and then greeted me with a genial smile. It was hardly
necessary for me to state my business, for the single quick glance of
his experienced eye at my companion had furnished the diagnosis. I had
only to produce the box and indicate the finder.

"This looks like a lead," said he, reaching his helmet down from a peg.
"What's your name, sonny, and where do you live?"

Sonny affirmed, with apparent reluctance, that his name was Samuel
Hooper and that his abode was situated in Foul Anchor Alley; and when
these facts had been committed to writing by the sergeant, the latter
put on his helmet and invited the said Hooper to "come along," evidently
assuming that I was to form one of the party.

As we approached the office this time I saw Bundy from afar off; and by
the time we were abreast of the house he was joined by Japp, who must
have stood upon tip-toe to bring his eyes above the curtain. Both men
watched us with intense interest, and we had barely passed the house
when Bundy's head suddenly disappeared, and a few moments later its
owner emerged from the doorway and hurriedly crossed the road.

"What is in the wind, Doctor?" he asked, as he came up with us. "Japp is
in a rare twitter. Have they found the body?"

"No," I answered; "only the little box that was in her hand-bag. We are
going to have a look at the place where it was found."

"To see if the bag is there, too?" said he. "It probably is, unless it
has been picked up already. I think I'll come along with you, if you
don't object. Then I can give Japp all the news."

I did not object, nor did the sergeant--verbally; but his expression
conveyed to me that he would willingly have dispensed with Mr. Bundy's
society. However, he was a suave and tactful man, and he made the best
of the unwelcome addition to the party, even going so far as to offer
the box for Bundy's inspection.

"It is pretty dirty," the latter observed, holding it delicately in his
fingers. "Wasn't it wrapped in paper when you gave it to her, Doctor?"

"It was wrapped up in paper when I found it," said Hooper, "but I took
off the paper to see what was inside, and, yer see, my 'ands wasn't very
clean, a-grubbin' about in the mud." In conclusive confirmation of this
statement, he exhibited them to us, and then gave them a perfunctory
wipe on his trousers.

"What struck me," said Bundy, "was that it doesn't seem to have been in
the water."

"It hadn't," said Hooper. "The outside paper was quite clean when I
picked it up."

"It looks," observed the sergeant, "as if they had turned out the bag
and thrown away what they didn't want; and then they probably threw away
the bag, too. It is ten chances to one that it has been picked up, but
if it hasn't it will probably be somewhere along the high-water mark.
How are the tides, Hooper?"

"Just past the bottom of the nips," was the reply; and a few moments
later our guide added; "It's down here," and plunged into what looked
like an open doorway. We followed, one at a time, cautiously descending
a flight of very filthy stone steps and stooping to avoid knocking our
heads against the overhanging story of an ancient timber house. At the
bottom we proceeded, still in single file, along a narrow, crooked
passage between grimy walls and ruinous tarred fences until, after many
twistings and turnings, we came to a flight of rough wooden steps,
thickly coated with yellow mud and slimy sea-grass, which led down to
the shore.

"Now," said the sergeant, turning up the bottoms or his trousers, "show
us exactly where you picked the box up."

"It was just oppersight that there schooner," said our guide, taking his
way along the muddy streak between the two lines of jetsam that
corresponded to the springtide and neap-tide high-water marks; "betwixt
her and the wharf."

We followed him, picking our way daintly, and, having inspected the spot
that he indicated, squeezed in between the schooner's bilge and the
piles and raked over the rubbish that the tide had deposited on the
shore.

"Was you looking for anything in partickler?" Hooper asked.

"We are looking for a small leather handbag," replied the sergeant, "or
anything else we can find."

"A 'and-bag wouldn't 'ave been 'ere long," Hooper remarked. "Somebody
would 'ave twigged it pretty quick, unless it got hidden under something
big." He straightened himself up and gave a searching look up and down
the shore; and then suddenly he started off with an air of definite
purpose. Glancing in the direction towards which he was shaping his
course, I observed, in the corner of a stage that jutted out from the
quay, a heap of miscellaneous rubbish surmounted by the mortal remains
of a large hamper. It looked a likely spot and we all followed, though
not at his pace, being somewhat more fastidious as to where we stepped.
Consequently he arrived considerably before us, and having flung away
the hamper, began eagerly to grub among the underlying raffle. Just as
we had come within a dozen yards of him, anxiously making the perilous
passage over a stretch of peculiarly slimy mud, he stood up with a howl
of triumph, and we all stopped to look at him. His arm was raised above
his head, and from his hand hung by its handle a little morocco bag.

"There's no need to ask you to identify it, Doctor," said the sergeant,
as he despoiled the water-rat of his prize. "It fits your description to
a T."

Nevertheless, he handed it to me, drawing my attention to the initials
"A. F." stamped on the leather. I turned it over gloomily, noting that
it showed signs of having been in the water--though not, apparently, for
any considerable time--and that none of its contents remained excepting
a handkerchief tucked into an inner pocket, and returned it to him
without remark.

"Now, look here, Hooper," said he, "I want you to stay down here and
keep an eye on this shore until I send some of our men up, and then you
can stay and help them, if you like. And remember that anything that you
find--no matter what it is--you keep and hand over to me or my men; and
you will be paid the full value and a reward for finding it as well. Do
you understand that?"

"I do," replied Hooper. "That's a fair orfer, and you can depend on me
to do the square thing. I'll stay down here until your men come."

Thereupon we left him, pursuing our way along the shore and keeping an
attentive eye on all the rubbish and litter that we passed, until we
came to a set of rough wooden steps by the Ship Pier.

"I had no authority to offer to pay that chap," said the sergeant, as we
walked up Ship Alley, "but the superintendent has put me on to work at
this case, and I'm not going to lose any chances for the sake of a few
shillings. It is well to keep in with these waterside people."

"Have you published a list of things that are likely to turn up?" Bundy
asked.

"We've posted up a description of the missing woman with full details of
her dress and belongings," replied the sergeant. "But perhaps a list of
the things that might be washed up would be useful. People are such
fools. Yes, it's a good idea. I'll have a list printed of everything
that might get loose and be picked up, and stick it up on the wharves
and waterside premises. Then there will be nothing left to their
imagination."

At the top of Ship Alley he halted, and having thanked me warmly for my
prompt and timely information, turned towards Chatham Town, leaving me
and Bundy to retrace our steps westward.

"That was a bit of luck," the latter remarked, "finding that bag; and he
hardly deserved it. He ought to have had that piece of shore under
observation from the first. But he was wise to make an acceptable offer
to that bodysnatcher, Hooper. I expect he lives on the shore, watching
for derelict corpses and any unconsidered trifles that the river may
throw up. I see there is a reward of two pounds for the body."

"You have seen the bills, then?"

"Yes. We have got one to stick up in the office window. Rather gruesome,
isn't it?"

"Horrible," I said; and for a while we walked on in silence. Presently
Bundy exclaimed: "By Jove! I had nearly forgotten. I have a message for
you. It is from Japp. He is taking a distinguished American
archaeologist for a personally conducted tour round the town to show him
the antiquities, and he thought you might like to join the party."

"That is very good of him," said I. "It sounds as if it should be rather
interesting."

"It will be," said Bundy. "Japp is an enthusiast in regard to
architecture and ancient buildings, and he is quite an authority on the
antiquities of this town. You'd better come. The American--his name is
Willard--is going to charter a photographer to come round with us and
take records of all the objects of interest, and we shall be able to get
copies of any photographs that we want. What do you say?"

"When does the demonstration take place?"

"The day after tomorrow. We shall do the Cathedral in the morning and
the castle and the town in the afternoon. Shall I tell Japp you will
join the merry throng?"

"Yes, please; and convey my very warm thanks for the invitation."

"I will," said he, halting as we arrived at the office, "unless you
would like to come in and convey the joyful tidings yourself."

"No," he replied, "I won't come in now. I will get home and change my
boots."

"Yes, by Jingo!" Bundy agreed, with a rueful glance at his own delicate
shoes. "Mudlarking calls for a special outfit. And I clean my own shoes;
but I'd rather do that than face Mrs. Dunk."

With this he retired up the steps, and I turned homeward, deciding to
profit by his last remark and forestall unfavourable comment by shedding
my boots on the doormat.



CHAPTER X--WHICH DEALS WITH ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND A BLUE BOAR


On arriving home, I found awaiting me a letter from Dr. Thorndyke
suggesting--in response to a general invitation that I had given him
some time previously--that he should come down on Saturday to spend the
week-end with me. Of course, I adopted the suggestion with very great
pleasure, not a little flattered at receiving so distinguished a guest;
and now I was somewhat disposed to regret my engagement to attend Mr.
Japp's demonstration. However, as Thorndyke was not due until lunch
time, I should have an opportunity of modifying my arrangement, if
necessary.

But, as events turned out, I congratulated myself warmly on not having
missed the morning visit to the Cathedral. It was a really remarkable
experience; and not the least interesting part of it to me was the
revelation of the inner personality of my friend, Mr. Japp. That usually
dry and taciturn man of business was transfigured in the presence of the
things that he really loved. He glowed with enthusiasm; he exhaled the
very spirit of mediaeval romance; at every pore he exuded strange and
recondite knowledge. Obedient to his behest, the ancient building told
the vivid story of its venerable past, presented itself in its rude and
simple beginnings; exhibited the transformations that had marked the
passing centuries; peopled itself with the illustrious departed, whose
heirs we were and whose resting-places we looked upon; and became to us
a living thing whose birth and growth we could watch, whose vicissitudes
and changing conditions we could trace until they brought us to its
august old age. Under his guidance we looked down the long vista of the
past, from the time when simple masons scalloped the Norman capitals
within, while illustrious craftsmen fashioned the wonderful west
doorway, to that last upheaval that swept away the modern shoddy and
restored to the old fabric its modest comeliness.

Architectural antiquities, however, are not the especial concern of this
history, though they were not without a certain influence in its
unfolding. Accordingly, I shall not follow our progress--attended by the
indispensable photographic recording angel--through nave and aisles,
form choir to transepts, and from tower to undercroft. At the close of a
delightful morning I betook myself homeward, charged with new and varied
knowledge, and with a cordial invitation to my guest to join the
afternoon's expedition if he were archaeologically inclined.

Apparently he was, for when, shortly after his arrival, I conveyed the
invitation to him he accepted at once.

"I always take the opportunity," said he, "of getting what is
practically first-hand information. Your friend, Mr. Japp, is evidently
an enthusiast; he has expert technical knowledge, and he has apparently
filled in his detail by personal investigation. A man like that can tell
you more in an hour than guide-books could tell you in a lifetime. We
had better get a large-scale map of the town to enable us to follow the
description, unless you have one."

"I haven't," said I, "but we can get one on the way to the rendezvous.
You got my report, I suppose?"

"Yes," he replied, "I got it yesterday. That, in fact, was what
determined me to come down. The discovery of that bag upon the shore
dispels to some extent the ambiguity of our data. The finding of the
brooch did not enlighten us much. It might simply have been dropped and
picked up by some casual wayfarer. In fact, that is what the appearances
suggested, for it is manifestly improbable that a person who had
committed a crime would take the risk of pawning the product of robbery
with violence in the very neighbourhood where the crime had been
committed, and after an interval of time which would allow of the hue
and cry having already been raised. Your sergeant is probably right in
assuming that the man with the mole had nothing to do with the affair.
But the finding of this bag is a different matter. It connects that
disappearance with the river and it offers a strong suggestion of
crime."

"Don't you think it possible that she might have fallen into the river
accidentally?" I asked.

"It is possible," he admitted. "But that is where the significance of
the brooch comes in. If she had fallen into the river from some wharf or
pier, there does not seem to be any reason why the brooch should have
become detached and fallen on land--as it apparently did. The finding of
the bag where it had been thrown up by the river, and of the brooch on
shore, suggests a struggle on land previous to the fall into the water.
You don't happen, I suppose, to know what the bag contained?"

"I don't--excepting the packet of tablets that I gave her. When the bag
was found, it was empty; at least, it contained only the handkerchief,
as I mentioned in my report."

"Yes," he said reflectively. "By the way, I must compliment you on those
reports. They are excellent, and with regard to this one, there are two
or three rather curious circumstances. First, as to the packet of
tablets. You mention that it had not been unwrapped and that, when it
was found, the paper was quite clean. Therefore it had never been in the
water. Therefore it had been taken out of the bag--by somebody with
moderately clean hands--before the latter was dropped into the river;
and it must have been thrown away on the shore above highwater mark.
Incidentally, since the disappearance occurred--presumably--on the
evening of the 26th of April, and the packet was found on the 7th of
May, it had been lying on the shore for a full ten days. Perhaps there
is nothing very remarkable in that; but the point is that Mrs. Frood was
carrying the bag in her hand and she would almost certainly have dropped
it if there had been any struggle. How, then, did the bag come to be in
the river, and how came some of its contents to be found on the shore
clean and free from any traces of submersion?"

"We can only suppose," said I, with an inward shudder--for the
discussion of these hideous details made my very flesh creep--"that the
murderer picked up the bag when he had thrown the body into the river,
took out any articles of value, if there were any, and threw the rest on
the shore."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, a little doubtfully, "that would seem to be
what happened. And in that case, we should have to assume that the place
where the packet was found was, approximately, the place where the crime
was committed. For, as the packet was never immersed, it could not have
been carried to that place by the tide, and one cannot think of any
other agency by which it could have been moved. Its clean and unopened
condition seems to exclude human agency. The question then naturally
arises, Is the place where the packet was found, a place at, or near,
which the tragedy could conceivably have occurred? What do you say to
that?"

I considered for a few moments, recalling the intricate and obscure
approach of the shore and the absence of anything in the nature of a
public highway.

"I can only say," I replied at length, "that it seems perfectly
inconceivable that Mrs. Frood could have been at that place, or even
near it, unless she went there for some specific purpose--unless, for
instance, she were lured there in some way. It is a place that is, I
should say, unknown to any but the waterside people."

"We must go there and examine the place carefully," said he, "for if it
is, as you say, a place to which no one could imaginably have strayed by
chance, that fact has an important evidential bearing."

"Do you think it quite impossible that the package could have been
carried to that place and dropped there?"

"Not impossible, of course," he replied, "but I can think of no
reasonably probable way in which it could have happened, supposing the
murderer to have pocketed it, and afterwards to have thrown it away.
That would be a considered and deliberate act; and it is almost
inconceivable that he should not have opened the packet to see what was
inside, and that he should have dropped it on the dry beach when the
river was close at hand. Remember that the bag was found quite near, and
that it had been in the water."

"And assuming the crime to have been committed at that place, what would
it prove?"

"In the first place," he replied, "it would pretty definitely exclude
the theory of accidental death. Then it would suggest at least a certain
amount of premeditation, since the victim would have had, as you say, to
be enticed to that unlikely spot. And it would suggest that the murderer
was a person acquainted with the locality."

"One of the waterside people," said I. "They are a pretty shady lot, but
I don't see why any of them should want to murder her."

"It is not impossible," said he. "She was said to be shopping in
Chatham, and she might have had a well-filled purse and allowed it to be
seen. But that is mere speculation. The fact is that we have no data at
present. We know practically nothing about Mrs. Frood. We can't say if
she had any secret enemies, or if there was anyone who might have
profited by her death or have had any motive for making away with her."

"We know something about her husband," said I, "and that he has
disappeared in a rather mysterious fashion; and that his disappearance
coincides with that of his wife."

"Yes," Thorndyke agreed, "those are significant facts. But we mustn't
lose sight of the legal position. Until the body is recovered, there is
no evidence of death. Until the death is proved, no charge of murder can
be sustained. When the body is found it will probably furnish some
evidence as to bow the death occurred, if it is recovered within a
reasonable time. As a matter of fact, it is rather remarkable that it
has not yet been found. The death occurred--presumably--nearly a
fortnight ago. Considering how very much frequented this river is, it is
really rather unaccountable that the body has not come to light. But I
suppose it is time that we started for the rendezvous."

I looked at my watch and decided that it was, and we accordingly set
forth in the direction of the office, which was the appointed
meeting-place, calling at a stationer's to provide ourselves each with a
map. We chose the six inch town plan, which contained the whole urban
area, including the winding reaches of the river, folding them so as to
show at an opening the peninsula on which the city of Rochester is
built.

"A curious loop of the river, this," said Thorndyke, scanning the map as
we went along. "Rather like that of the Thames at the Isle of Dogs. You
notice that there are quite a number of creeks on the low shore at both
sides. Those will be places to watch. A floating body has rather a
tendency to get carried into shallow creeks and to stay there. But I
have no doubt the longshoremen are keeping an eye on them as a reward
has been offered. Perhaps we might be able to go down and have a look at
the shore when we have finished our perambulation of the town."

"I don't see why not," I replied, though, to tell the truth, I was not
very keen on this particular exploration. To Thorndyke this quest was
just an investigation to be pursued with passionless care and method. To
me it was a tragedy that would colour my whole life. To him, Angelina
was but a missing woman whose disappearance had to be explained by
patient inquiry. To me she was a beloved friend whose loss would leave
me with a life-long sorrow. Of course, he was not aware of this; he had
no suspicion of the shuddering horror that his calm, impersonal
examination of the evidential details produced in me. Nor did I intend
that he should. It was my duty and my privilege to give him what
assistance I could, and keep my emotions to myself.

"You will bear in mind," said he, as we approached the office, "that my
connexion with the case of Mrs. Frood is not to be referred to. I am
simply a friend staying with you for a day or two."

"I won't forget," said I, "though I don't quite see why it should
matter."

"It probably doesn't matter at all," he replied. "But one never knows.
Facts which might readily be spoken of before a presumably disinterested
person might be withheld from one who was known to be collecting
evidence for professional purposes. At any rate, I make it a rule to
keep out of sight as far as possible."

These observations brought us to the office, where we found our three
friends together with a young man, who was apparently acting as deputy
during the absence of the partners, and the photographer. I presented
Thorndyke to my friends, and when the introduction had been made Mr.
Japp picked up his hat, and turned to the deputy.

"You know where to find me, Stevens," he said, "if I should be really
wanted--really, you understand. But I don't particularly want to be
found. Shall we start now? I propose to begin at the bridge, follow the
Highstreet as far as Eastgate House, visit Restoration House, trace the
city wall on the southwest side, and look over the castle. By that time
we shall be ready for tea. After tea we can trace the north-east part of
the wall and the gates that opened through it, and that will finish our
tour of inspection."

Hereupon the procession started, Mr. Japp and his guest leading,
Thorndyke, Bundy, and I following, and the photographer bringing up the
rear.

"Let me see," said Bundy, looking up at Thorndyke with a sort of pert
shyness, "weren't you down here a week or two ago?"

"Yes," replied Thorndyke; "and I think I had the honour of being
inspected by you while I was reading your proclamation respecting a
certain lost key."

"You had," said Bundy; "in fact, I may say that you raised false hopes
in my partner and me. We thought you were going to find it."

"What, for ten shillings!" exclaimed Thorndyke.

"We would have raised the fee if you had made a firm offer," said Bundy,
removing his eyeglass to polish it with his handkerchief. "It was a
valuable key. Belonged to a gate that encloses part of the city wall."

"Indeed!" said Thorndyke. "I don't wonder you were anxious about it
considering what numbers of dishonest persons there are about. Ha! Here
is the bridge. Let us hear what Mr. Japp has to say about it."

Mr. Japp's observations were concise. Having cast a venomous glance at
the unlovely structure, he turned his back on it and remarked acidly:
"That is the new bridge. It is, as you see, composed of iron girders. It
is not an antiquity, and I hope it never will be. Let us forget it and
go on to the Guildhall." He strode forward doggedly and Bundy turned to
us with a grin.

"Poor old Japp," said he, "he does hate that bridge. He has an engraving
of the old stone one in his rooms, and I've seen him stand in front of
it and groan. And really you can't wonder. It is an awful come-down.
Just think what the town must have looked like from across the river
when that stone bridge was standing."

Here we halted opposite the Guildhall, and when we had read the
inscription, admired the magnificent ship weathercock--said to be a
model of the Rodney--and listened to Japp's observations on the
architectural features of the building, the photographer was instructed
to operate on its exterior while we entered to explore the Justice Room
and examine the portraits. From the Guildhall we passed on to the Corn
Exchange, the quaint and handsome overhanging clock of which had
evidently captured Mr. Willard's fancy.

"That clock," said he, "is a stroke of genius. It gives a character to
the whole street. But what in creation induced your City Fathers to
allow that charming little building to be turned into a picture
theatre?"

Japp shook his head and groaned. "You may well ask that," said he,
glaring viciously at the inane posters and the doorway, decorated in the
film taste. "If good Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who gave it to the town,
could rise from his grave and look at it, now he'd--bah! The crying
need of this age is some means of protecting historic buildings
from town councils. To these men an ancient building is just
old-fashioned--out-of-date; a thing to be pulled down and replaced by
something smart and up-to-date in the corrugated iron line." He snorted
fiercely, and as the photographer dismounted his camera, he turned and
led the way up the street. I lingered to help the photographer with his
repacking, and meanwhile Thorndyke and Bundy walked on together,
chatting amicably and suggesting to my fancy an amiable mastiff
accompanied by a particularly well-groomed fox terrier.

"Do you usually give your patients a week-end holiday?" Bundy was
inquiring as I overtook them.

"I haven't any patients," replied Thorndyke. "My medical practice is
conducted mostly in the Law Courts."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Bundy. "Do you mean that you live by
resuscitating moribund jurymen and fattening up murderers for execution,
and that sort of thing?"

"Not at all," replied Thorndyke. "Nothing so harmless. I am what is
known as a Medical Expert. I give opinions on medical questions that
affect legal issues."

"Then you are really a sort of lawyer?"

"Yes. A medico-legal hybrid; a sort of centaur or merman, with a
doctor's head and a lawyer's tail."

"Well," said Bundy, "there are some queer professions; I once
knew a chap in the furniture trade who described himself as a
'worm-eater'--drilled worm-holes in faked antiques, you know."

"And what," asked Thorndyke, "might be the analogy that you are
suggesting? You don't propose to associate me with the diet of worms, I
hope."

"Certainly not," said Bundy, "though I suppose your practice is
sometimes connected with exhumations. But I was thinking that you must
know quite a lot about crime."

"A good deal of my practice is concerned with criminal cases," Thorndyke
admitted.

"Then you will be rather interested in our local mystery. Has the doctor
told you about it?"

"You mean the mystery of the disappearing lady? But of what interest
should it be to me? I was not acquainted with her."

"I meant a professional interest. But I suppose you are not taking a
'bus-man's holiday': don't want to be bothered with mysteries that don't
concern you. Still, I should like to hear your expert opinion on the
case."

"You mistake my functions," said Thorndyke. "A common witness testifies
to facts known to himself. An expert witness interprets facts presented
to him by others. Present me your facts, and I will try to give you an
interpretation of them."

"But there are no facts. That is what constitutes the mystery."

"Then there is nothing to interpret. It is a case for the police, and
not for the scientific expert."

Here our conversation was interrupted by our arrival at the House of the
Six Poor Travellers, and by a learned disquisition by Japp on the
connotation of the word Proctor--which, it appeared, was sometimes used
in the Middle Ages in the sense of a cadger or swindler. Thence we
proceeded to Eastgate House, where Japp mounted his hobby and discoursed
impressively on the subject of ceilings, taking as his text a specimen
modelled _in situ_, and bearing the date 1590.

"The fellow who put up that ceiling," said he, "took his time about it,
no doubt. But his work has lasted three hundred and fifty years. That is
the best way to save time. Your modern plasterer will have his ceiling
up in a jiffy; and it will be down in a jiffy, and to do all over again.
And never worth looking at at all."

Mr. Willard nodded. "It is very true," said he. "What is striking me in
looking at all this old work is the great economy of time that is
effected by taking pains and using good material, to say nothing of the
beauty of the things created."

"If he goes on talking like that," whispered Bundy, "Japp'll kiss him.
We must get them out of this."

Mercifully--if such a catastrophe was imminent--the ceiling discourse
brought our inspection here to an end. From Eastgate House we went back
to the Maidstone-road, and when we had inspected Restoration House,
began to trace out the site of the city wall, which Thorndyke carefully
marked on his map, to Japp's intense gratification. This perambulation
brought us to the castle--which was dealt with rather summarily, as Mr.
Willard had already examined it--and we then returned to the office for
tea, which Bundy prepared and served with great success in his own
sitting-room, while Japp dotted in with red ink on Thorndyke's map the
entire city wall, including the part which we had yet to trace; and
ridiculously small the ancient city looked when thus marked out on the
modern town.

After tea we retraced our steps to the site of the East Gate, and,
having inspected a large fragment of the wall at the end of an alley,
traced its line across the Highstreet, and then proceeded down Free
School-lane to the fine angle-bastion at the northern corner of the
lane. Thence we followed the scanty indications as far as the site of
the North Gate, and thereafter through a confused and rather unlovely
neighbourhood until, on the edge of the marshes, we struck into a narrow
lane, enclosed by a dilapidated tarred fence, a short distance along
which we came to a closed gate, which I recognized as the one through
which I had passed with Bundy on the day when we were made acquainted
with the tragic history of Bill the Bargee. As Japp unlocked the gate
and admitted us to the space of waste land, Bundy remarked to Thorndyke:
"That is the gate that the missing key belonged to. You see there is no
harm done so far. The wall is still there."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "and not much improved in appearance by your
builders' attentions. Those patches suggest the first attempts of an
untalented dental student at conservation."

"They are rather a disfigurement," said Japp. "But the men had to have a
job found for them, and that is the result. Perhaps they won't show so
much in the photograph."

While the photographer was setting up his camera and making the
exposure, Japp explained the relation of this piece of wall to the North
Gate and the Gate that faced the bridge, and marked its position on
Thorndyke's map.

"And that," he continued, "concludes our perambulation. The photographer
is chartered by Mr. Willard, but I understand that we are at liberty to
secure copies of the photographs, if we want them. Is that not so, Mr.
Willard?"

"Surely," was the cordial reply; "only I stipulate that they shall be a
gift from me, and I shall ask a favour in return. If there is a plate
left, I should like to have a commemorative group taken, so that when I
recall this pleasant day, I can also recall the pleasant society in
which I spent it."

We all acknowledged the kindly compliment with a bow, and as the
photographer announced that he had a spare plate, we grouped ourselves
against a portion of undisfigured wall, removed our hats, and took up
easy and graceful postures on either side of Mr. Willard. When the
exposure had been made, and the photographer proceeded to pack up his
apparatus, Thorndyke tendered his very hearty thanks to Mr. Japp and his
friend for their hospitality.

"It has been a great privilege," said he, "to be allowed to share in the
products of so much study and research, and I assure you it is far from
being unappreciated. Whenever I revisit Rochester--which I hope to do
before long--I shall think of you gratefully, and of your very kind and
generous friend, Mr. Willard."

Our two hosts made suitable acknowledgments; and while these compliments
were passing, I turned to Bundy.

"Can we get down to the shore from here?" I asked. "Thorndyke was saying
that he would like to have a look at the river. If it is accessible from
here we might take it on the way home."

"It isn't difficult to get at," replied Bundy. "If he wants to get a
typical view of the river with the below-bridge traffic, by far the best
place is Blue Boar Pier. It isn't very far, and it is on your way
home-more or less. I'll show you the way there if you like. Japp is
dining with Willard, so he won't want me."

I accepted the offer gladly, and as the exchange of compliments seemed
to be completed and our party was moving towards the gate, I tendered my
thanks for the day's entertainment and bade my hosts farewell,
explaining that we were going riverwards. Accordingly we parted at the
gate, Japp and Willard turning towards the town, while Thorndyke, Bundy,
and I retraced our steps towards the marshes.

At the bottom of the lane Bundy paused to explain the topography. "That
path," said he, "leads to Gas House-road and the marshes by the North
Shore. But there isn't much to see there. If we take this other track we
shall strike Blue Boar-lane, which will take us to the pier. From there
we can get a view of the whole bend of the river right across to
Chatham."

Thorndyke followed the description closely with the aid of his map,
marking off our present position with a pencil. Then we struck into a
rough cart-track, with the wide stretch of the marshes on our left, and,
following this, we presently came out into the lower part of Blue
Boar-lane and turned our faces towards the river. We had not gone far
when I observed a man approaching whose appearance seemed to be
familiar. Bundy also observed him, for he exclaimed: "Why, that is old
Cobbledick! Out of uniform, too. Very irregular. I shall have to
remonstrate with him. I wonder what he has been up to. Prowling about
the river bank in search of clues, I expect. And he'll suspect us of
being on the same errand."

Bundy's surmise appeared to be correct, for as the sergeant drew nearer
and recognized us, his face took on an expression of shrewd inquiry. But
I noticed with some surprise that his curiosity seemed to be principally
concerned with Thorndyke, at whom he gazed with something more than
common attention. Under the circumstances I should have passed him with
a friendly greeting, but he stopped, and, having wished me "Good
evening," said: "Could I have a few words with you, Doctor?" upon which
I halted, and Thorndyke and Bundy walked on slowly. The sergeant looked
after them, and, turning his back to them, drew from his pocket with a
mysterious air a small dirty brown bundle, which he handed to me.

"I wanted you just to have a look at that," he said.

I opened out the bundle, though I had already tentatively recognized it.
But when it was unrolled it was unmistakable. It was poor Angelina's
scarf.

"I thought there couldn't be any doubt about it," the sergeant said
cheerfully when I had announced the identification. "Your description
was so clear and exact. Well, this gives us a pretty fair kick-off. You
can see that it has been in the water-some time, too. So we know where
to look for the body. The mysterious thing is, though, that we've still
got to look for it. It ought to have come up on the shore days ago. And
it hasn't. There isn't a longshoreman for miles up and down that isn't
on the look-out for it. You can see them prowling along the seawalls and
searching the creeks in their boats. I can't think how they can have
missed it. The thing is getting serious."

"Serious?" I repeated.

"Well," he explained, "there's no need for me to point out to a medical
gentleman like you that bodies don't last forever, especially in mild
weather such as we've been having, and in a river where the shore swarms
with rats and shore-crabs. Every day that passes is making the
identification more difficult."

The horrible suggestions that emerged from his explanation gave me a
sensation of physical sickness. I fidgeted uneasily, but still I managed
to rejoin huskily: "There's the clothing, you know."

"So there is," he agreed; "and very good means of identification in an
ordinary case--accidental drowning, for instance. But this is a criminal
case. I don't want to have to depend on the clothing."

"Was the scarf found floating?" I asked, a little anxious to change the
subject to one less gruesome.

"No," he replied. "It was on the shore by the small creek just below
Blue Boar Pier, under an empty fish-trunk. One of the Customs men from
the watch-house found it. He noticed the trunk lying out on the shore as
he was walking along and went out to see if there was anything in it.
Then, when he found it was empty, he turned it over, and there was the
scarf. He recognized it at once--there's a list of the articles stuck up
on the watch-house--and kept it to bring to me. But it happened that I
came down here--as I do every day--just after he'd found it. But I
mustn't keep you here talking, though I'm glad I met you and got your
confirmation about this scarf."

He smiled benignly and raised his hat, whereupon I wished him "Good
evening" and went on my way with a sigh of relief. He was a pleasant,
genial man, but his matter-of-fact way of looking at this tragedy that
had eaten so deeply into my peace of mind, was to me positively
harrowing. But, of course, he did not understand my position in the
case.

"Well," said Bundy, when I hurried up, "what's the news? Old Cobbledick
was looking mighty mysterious. And wasn't he interested in us? Why he's
gazing after us still. Has he had a bite? Because if he hasn't, I have.
Some beastly mosquito."

"Don't rub it." said Thorndyke, as Bundy clapped his hand to his cheek.
"Leave it alone. We'll put a spot of ammonia or iodine on it presently."

"Very well," replied Bundy, with a grimace expressive of resignation. "I
am in the hands of the Faculty. What sort of fish was it that Isaak
Walton Cobbledick had hooked? Or is it a secret?"

"I don't think there is any secrecy about it," said I. "One of the
Customs men has found Mrs. Frood's scarf," and I repeated what the
sergeant had told me as to the circumstances.

"It is a gruesome affair," said Bundy, "this search for these ghastly
relics. Look at those ghouls down on the shore there. I suppose that is
the fish-trunk."

As he spoke, we came out on the shore to the right of the pier and
halted to survey the rather unlovely prospect. Outside the stunted
sea-wall a level stretch of grey-green grass extended to the spring
high-water mark, beyond which a smooth sheet of mud--now dry and covered
with multitudinous cracks--spread out to the slimy domain of the
ordinary tides. At the edge of the dry mud lay a derelict fish-trunk
around which a group of bare-legged boys had gathered--and all along the
shore, on the faded grass, on the dry mud and wading in the soft slime,
the human water-rats were to be seen, turning over drift-rubbish, prying
under stranded boats or grubbing in the soft mud. Hard by, on the grass
near the sea-wall, an old ship's long-boat had been hauled up above
tide-marks to a permanent berth and turned into a habitation by the
erection in it of a small house. A short ladder gave access to it from
without and the resident had laid down a little causeway of flat stones
leading to the wall.

"Mr. Noah seems to be at home," observed Bundy, as we approached the
little amphibious residence to inspect it. He pointed to a thin wisp of
smoke that issued from the iron chimney; and, almost as he spoke, the
door opened and an old man came out into the open stern-sheets of the
boat with a steaming tin pannikin in his hand. His appearance fitted his
residence to a nicety; for whereas the latter appeared to have been
constructed chiefly from driftwood and wreckage, his costume suggested a
collection of assorted marine salvage, with a leaning towards oil-skin.

"Mr. Noah" cast a malevolent glance at the searchers; then, having
fortified himself with a pull at the pannikin, he turned a filmy blue
eye on us.

"Good evening," said Thorndyke. "There seems to be a lot of
business-doing here," and he indicated the fish-trunk and the eager
searchers.

The old man grunted contemptuously. "Parcel of fules," said he,
"a-busyin' theirselves with what don't concern 'em, and lookin' in the
wrong place at that."

"Still," said Bundy, "they have found something here."

"Yes," the old man admitted, "they have. And that's why they ain't goin'
to find anything more." He refreshed himself with a drink
of--presumably--tea, and continued: "But the things is a-beginning to
come up. It's about time she come up. But she won't come up here."

"Where do you suppose she will come up?" asked Bundy.

The old man regarded him with a cunning leer. "Never you mind where
she'll come up," said he. "It ain't no consarn o' yourn."

"But how do you know where she'll come up?" Bundy persisted.

"I knows," the old scarecrow replied conclusively, "becos I do. Becos I
gets my livin' along-shore, and it's my business for to know."

Having made this pronouncement, Mr. Noah looked inquiringly into the
pannikin, emptied it at a draught, and, turning abruptly, retired into
the ark, shutting the door after him with a care suited to its evident
physical infirmity.

"I wonder if he really does know," said Bundy, as we walked away past
the Customs watch-house.

"We can fairly take it that he doesn't," said Thorndyke, "seeing that
the matter is beyond human calculation. But I have no doubt that he
knows the places where bodies and other floating objects are most
commonly washed ashore, and we may assume that he is proposing to devote
his probably extensive leisure to the exploration of those places. It
wouldn't be amiss to put the sergeant in communication with him."

"Probably the sergeant knows him," said I, "but I will mention the
matter the next time I see him."

At the top of Blue Boar-lane Bundy halted and held out his hand to
Thorndyke. "This is the parting of the ways," said he.

"Oh, no, it isn't," replied Thorndyke. "You've got to have your
mosquito-bite treated. Never neglect an insect-bite, especially on the
face."

"As a matter of fact," said I, "you have got to come and have dinner
with us. We can't let you break up the party in this way."

"It's very nice of you to ask me," he began, hesitatingly, a little shy,
as I guessed, of intruding on me and my visitor; but I cut him short,
and, hooking my arm through his, led him off, an obviously willing
captive. And if his presence hindered me from discussing with Thorndyke
the problem that had occasioned his visit, that was of no consequence,
since we should have the following day to ourselves; and he certainly
contributed not a little to the cheerfulness of the proceedings. Indeed,
I seemed to find in his high spirits something a little pathetic; a
suggestion that the company or two live men--one of them a man of
outstanding intellect--was an unusual treat, and that his life with old
Japp and the predatory females might be a trifle dull. He took to
Thorndyke amazingly, treating him with a sort of respectful cheekiness,
like a schoolboy dining with a favourite head-master; while Thorndyke,
fully appreciative of his irresponsible gaiety, developed a quiet humour
and playfulness which rather took me by surprise. The solemn farce of
the diagnosis and treatment of the mosquito bite was an instance; when
Thorndyke, having seated the patient in the surgery chair and invested
him with a large towel, covered the table with an assortment of
preposterous instruments and bottles of reagents, and proceeded gravely
to examine the bite through a lens until Bundy was as nervous as a cat,
and then to apply the remedy with meticulous precision on the point of a
fine sable brush.

It was a pleasant evening, pervaded by a sense of frivolous gaiety that
was felt gratefully by the two elder revellers and was even viewed
indulgently by Mrs. Dunk. As to Bundy, his high spirits flowed
unceasingly--but, I may add, with faultless good manners--and when, at
length, he took his departure, he shook our hands with a warmth which,
again, I found slightly pathetic.

"I _have_ had a jolly evening!" he exclaimed, looking at me with a queer
sort of wistfulness. "It has been a red-letter day"; and with this he
turned abruptly and walked away.

We watched him from the threshold, bustling jauntily along the pavement;
and as I looked at him, there came unbidden to my mind the recollection
of that other figure that I had watched from this same threshold,
walking away in the fading light--walking into the fog that was to
swallow her up and hide her from my sight forever.

From these gloomy reflections I was recalled by Thorndyke's voice.

"A nice youngster, that, Strangeways. Gay and sprightly, but not in the
least shallow. I often think that there was a great deal of wisdom in
that observation of Spencer's, that happy people are the greatest
benefactors to mankind. Your friend, Bundy, has helped me to renew my
youth; and who could have done one a greater service?"





CHAPTER XI--THE MAN WITH THE MOLE


When I had seen my guest off by the last train on Saturday night, I
walked homeward slowly, cogitating on the results of his visit. It
seemed to me that they were very insignificant. In the morning we had
explored the piece of shore on which the bag and the box of tablets had
been found, making our way to it by the narrow and intricate alleys
which seemed to be the only approach; and we had reached the same
conclusion. It was an impossible place.

"If we assume," said Thorndyke, "as we must, on the apparent
probabilities, that the tragedy occurred here, we must assume that there
are some significant circumstances that are unknown to us. Mrs. Frood
could not have strayed here by chance. We can think of no business that
could have brought her here; and since she was neither a child nor a
fool, she could not have been enticed into such an obviously sinister
locality without some plausible pretext. There is evidently something
more than meets the eye."

"Something, you mean, connected with her past life and the people she
knew?"

"Exactly. I am having careful inquiries made on the subject in likely
quarters, including the various theatrical photographers. They form
quite a promising source of information, as they are not only able to
give addresses but they can furnish us with photographs of members of
the companies who would have been colleagues, and, at least,
acquaintances."

"If you come across any photographs of Mrs. Frood," I said, "I should
like to see them."

"You shall," he replied. "I shall certainly collect all I can get, on
the chance that they may help us with the identification of the body;
which may possibly present some difficulty."

Here I was reminded of Cobbledick's observations, and, distasteful as
they were, I repeated them to Thorndyke.

"The sergeant is quite right," said he. "This is apparently a criminal
case, involving a charge of wilful murder. To sustain that charge, the
prosecution will have to produce incontestable evidence as to the
identity of the deceased. Clothing alone would not be sufficient to
secure a conviction. The body would have to be identified. And the
sergeant's anxiety is quite justified. Have you had any experiences of
bodies recovered from the water?"

"Yes," I replied; "and I don't like to think of them." I shuddered as I
spoke, for his question had recalled to my memory the incidents of a
professional visit to Poplar Mortuary. There rose before my eyes the
picture of a long black, box with a small glass window in the lid, and
of a thing that appeared at that window; a huge, bloated, green and
purple thing, with groups or radiating wrinkles, and in the middle a
button-like object that looked like the tip of a nose. It was a
frightful picture; and yet I knew that when the river that we stood by
should give up its dead--

I put the thought away with a shiver and asked faintly: "About the man
Frood. Don't you think that his disappearance throws some light on the
mystery?"

"It doesn't throw much light," replied Thorndyke, "because nothing is
known about it. Obviously the coincidence in time of the disappearance,
added to the known character of the man and his relations with his wife,
make him an object of deep suspicion. His whereabouts will have to be
traced and his time accounted for. But I have ascertained that the
police know nothing about him, and my own inquiries have come to
nothing, so far. He seems to have disappeared without leaving a trace.
But I shall persevere. Your object--and mine--is to clear up the
mystery, and if a crime has been committed, to bring the criminal to
justice."

So that was how the matter stood; and it did not appear to me that much
progress had been made towards the elucidation of the mystery. As to the
perpetrator or that crime, he remained a totally unknown quantity,
unless the deed could be fixed on the missing man, Frood. And so matters
remained for some days. Then an event occurred which seemed to promise
some illumination of the darkness; a promise that it failed to fulfil.

It was about a week after Thorndyke's visit. I had gone out after lunch
to post off to him the set of photographs which had been delivered to me
by the photographer with my own set. I went into the post-office to
register the package, and here I found Bundy in the act of sending off a
parcel. When we had transacted our business we strolled out together,
and he asked: "What are you going to do now, Doctor?"

"I was going to walk down to Blue Boar Pier," said I, "to see if
anything further has been discovered."

"Should I be in the way if I walked there with you?" he asked. "I've got
nothing to do at the moment. But perhaps you would rather go alone.
You've had a good deal of my society lately."

"Not more than I wanted, Bundy," I answered. "You are my only chum here,
and you are not unappreciated, I can assure you."

"It's nice of you to say that," he rejoined, with some emotion. "I've
sometimes felt that I was rather thrusting my friendship on you."

"Then don't ever feel it again," said I. "It has been a bit of luck for
me to find a man here whom I could like and chum in with."

He murmured a few words of thanks, and we walked on for a while without
speaking. Presently, as we turned into the lane by the Blue Boar Inn, he
said, a little hesitatingly. "Don't you think, Doc, that it is rather a
mistake to let your mind run so much on this dreadful affair? It seems
to be always in your thoughts. And it isn't good for you to think so
much about it. I've noticed you quite a lot, and you haven't been the
same since--since it happened. You have looked worried and depressed."

"I haven't felt the same," said I. "It has been a great grief to me."

"But," he urged, "don't you think you should try to forget it? After
all, she was little more than an acquaintance."

"She was a great deal more than that, Bundy," said I. "While she was
alive, I would not admit even to myself that my feeling towards her was
anything more than ordinary friendship. But it was; and now that she is
gone, there can be no harm in recognizing the fact, or even in
confessing it to you, as we are friends."

"Do you mean, Doc," he said in a low voice, "that you were in love with
her?"

"That is what it comes to, I suppose," I answered. "She was the only
woman I had ever really cared for."

"And did she know it?" he asked.

"Of course she didn't," I replied indignantly. "She was a lady and a
woman of honour. Of course she never dreamed that I cared for her, or
she would never have let me visit her."

For a few moments he walked at my side in silence. Then he slipped his
arm through mine, and pressing it gently with his hand, said softly and
very earnestly: "I'm awfully sorry, Doc. It is frightfully hard luck for
you, though it couldn't have been much better even if--but it's no use
talking of that. I _am_ sorry, old chap. But still, you know, you ought
to try to put it away. _She_ wouldn't have wished you to make yourself
unhappy about her."

"I know," said I. "But I feel that the office belongs to me, who cared
most for her, to see that the mystery of her death is cleared up and
that whoever wronged her is brought to justice."

He made no reply to this but walked at my side with his arm linked in
mine, meditating with an air of unwonted gravity.

When we reached the head of the pier the place was deserted excepting
for one man; a sea-faring person, apparently, who was standing with his
back to us, studying intently the bills that were stuck on the wall of
the lookout. As we were passing, my eye caught the word "Wanted" on a
new bill, and pausing to read it over the man's shoulder, I found that
it was a description of the unknown man--"with a mole on the left side
of his nose"--who had pawned the opal brooch. Bundy read it, too, and as
we walked away he remarked: "They are rather late in putting out those
bills. I should think that gentleman will have left the locality long
ago, unless he was a local person"; an opinion with which I was disposed
to agree.

After a glance round the shore and at "the Ark"--which was closed but of
which the chimney emitted a cheerful smoke suggestive of culinary
activities on the part of "Mr. Noah"--we sauntered up past the head of
the creek, along the rough path by the foundry, and out upon the upper
shore.

"Well, I'm hanged!" exclaimed Bundy, glancing back at the watch-house,
"that chap is still reading that bill. He must be a mighty slow reader,
or he must find it more thrilling than I did. Perhaps he knows somebody
with a mole on his nose."

I looked back at the motionless figure; and at that moment another
figure appeared and advanced, as we had done, to look over the reader's
shoulder.

"Why, that looks like old Cobbledick--come to admire his own literary
productions. There's vanity for you. Hallo! What's up now?"

As Bundy spoke, the reader had turned to move away and had come face to
face with the sergeant. For a moment both men had stood stock still;
then there was a sudden, confused movement on both sides, with the final
result that the sergeant fell, or was knocked, down and that the
stranger raced off, apparently in our direction. He disappeared at once,
being hidden from us by the foundry buildings, and we advanced towards
the end of the fenced lane by which we had come, to intercept him,
waiting by the edge of a trench or dry ditch.

"Here he comes," said Bundy, a trifle nervously, as rapid footfalls
became audible in the narrow, crooked lane. Suddenly the man appeared,
running furiously, and as he caught sight of us, he whipped out a large
knife, and, flourishing it with a menacing air, charged straight at us.
I watched an opportunity to trip him up; but as he approached Bundy
pulled me back with such energy that he and I staggered on the brink of
the ditch, capsized, and rolled together to the bottom. By the time we
had managed to scramble up, the man had disappeared into the wilderness
of sheds, scrap-heaps, derelict boilers, and stray railway-waggons that
filled the area of land between the foundry and the coal-wharves and
jetties.

"Come on, Bundy," said I, as my companion stood tenderly rubbing various
projecting portions of his person; "we mustn't lose sight of him."

But Bundy showed no enthusiasm; and at this moment a rapid crescendo of
heavy foot-falls was followed by the emergence of the sergeant,
purple-faced and panting, from the end of the lane.

"Which way did he go?" gasped Cobbledick.

I indicated the wilderness, briefly explaining how the fugitive had
escaped us, whereupon the sergeant started forward at a lumbering trot
and we followed. But it was an unfavourable hunting-ground, for the
bulky litter--the heaps of coal-dust, the wagons, the cranes, the piles
of condemned machinery, mingled with clumps of bushes--gave the fugitive
every opportunity to disappear. And, in fact, he had disappeared without
leaving a trace. Presently we came out on a wharf beside which a
schooner was berthed; a trim-looking little craft with a white
under-body and black top-sides, bearing a single big yard on her
fore-mast and the name Anna on her counter. She was all ready for sea
and was apparently waiting for high water, for her deck was all clear
and a man on it was engaged in placidly coiling a rope on the battened
hatch while another watched him from the door of the deckhouse. On this
peaceful scene the sergeant burst suddenly and hailing the rope-coiler
demanded:

"Have you seen a man run past here?"

The mariner dropped the rope, and looking up drowsily, repeated: "Have I
seen a mahn?"

"Yes, a sea-faring man with a mole on his nose."

The mariner brightened up perceptibly. "Please?" said he.

"A sailor-man with a mole on his nose."

"Ach!" exclaimed the mariner. "Vos it tied on?"

"Tied on!" the sergeant snorted impatiently. "Of course it wasn't. It
grew there."

Here the second mariner apparently asked some question, for our friend
turned to him and replied: "_Ja. Maulwurf_"; on which I heard Bundy
snigger softly.

"No, no," I interposed; "not that sort of mole. A kind of wart, you
know. _Das Mal_."

On this the second mariner fell out of the deckhouse door, and the pair
burst into yells of laughter, rolling about the deck in agonies of
mirth, wiping their eyes, muttering _Maulwurf, Maulwurf_, and screeching
like demented hyenas.

"Well," Cobbledick demanded impatiently, "have you seen him '"

The mariner shook his head. "No," he replied, shakily. "I have not any
mahn seen."

"Well, why couldn't you say so at first," the sergeant growled.

"I vos zo zubbraised," the mariner explained, glancing at his shipmate;
and the pair burst out into fresh howls of laughter.

The sergant turned away with a sort of benevolent contempt and ran his
eye despairingly over the wilderness. "I suppose we had better search
this place," said he, "though he is pretty certain to have got away."

At his suggestion we separated and examined the possible hiding-places
systematically, but, of course, with no result. Once only I had a
momentary hope that we had not lost our quarry, when the sergeant
suddenly stooped and began cautiously to stalk an abandoned boiler
surrounded by a clump of bushes; but when the grinning countenance of
Bundy appeared at the opposite end and that reprobate crept out
stealthily and proceeded to stalk the sergeant, the last hope faded.

"I certainly thought I saw someone moving in those bushes," said
Cobbledick, with a disappointed air.

"So did Mr. Bundy," said I "You must have seen one another."

The sergeant glanced suspiciously at our colleague, but made no remark;
and we continued our rather perfunctory search. At length we gave it up
and slowly returned to the neighbourhood of the pier. By this time the
tide had turned, and a few loiterers were standing about watching the
procession of barges moving downstream on the ebb. Among them was a
grave-looking, sandy-haired man who leaned against the watch-house,
smoking reflectively as he surveyed the river. To this philosopher
Cobbledick addressed himself, explaining, as he was in plain clothes:

"Good afternoon. I am a police officer and I am looking for a man who is
described on that bill." Here he indicated the poster.

The philosopher turned a pale grey, and somewhat suspicious eye on him,
and having removed his pipe, expectorated thoughtfully but made no
comment on the statement.

"A sea-faring man," continued the sergeant, "with a mole on the left
side of his nose." He looked enquiringly at the philosopher, who replied
impassively:

"Nhm--nhm."

"Do you happen to have seen a man answering that description?"

"Nhm--nhm," was the slightly ambiguous reply.

"You _have_ seen him?" the sergeant asked, eagerly.

"Aye."

"Do you know if he belongs to any of the craft that trade here?"

"Nhm--nhm."

"Do you happen to know which particular vessel he belongs to?"

"Aye," was the answer, accompanied by a grave nod.

"Can you tell me," the sergeant asked patiently, "which vessel that is,
and where she is at present?"

Our friend replaced his pipe and took a long draw at it, gazing
meditatively at a schooner which was moving swiftly down the river under
the power of an auxiliary motor, and setting her sails as she went. I
had noticed her already, and observed that she had a white underbody and
black top-sides, and that she carried a single long yard on her
fore-mast. At length our friend removed his pipe, expectorated, and
nodded gravely at the schooner.

"Yon," said he, and replaced his pipe, as a precaution, I supposed,
against unnecessary loquacity.

Cobbledick gazed wistfully at the receding schooner. "Pity," said he. "I
should have liked to have a look at that fellow."

"You could get the schooner held up at Sheerness, couldn't you?" I
asked.

"Yes; I could send a 'phone message to Garrison Point Fort. But, you
see, she's a foreigner. Might make trouble. And he is probably not the
man we want. After all, it's only a matter of a mole."

"Maulwurf," murmured Bundy.

"Yes," said the sergeant, with a faint grin; "those beggars were
laughing at us. Well, it can't be helped."

We stood for a moment or two watching the schooner set one sail after
another. Presently Bundy observed:

"Methinks, Sergeant, that Mr. Noah is trying to attract your attention."

We glanced towards the Ark, the tenant of which was seated in the
stern-sheets, scrubbing a length of rusty chain. As he caught the
sergeant's eye, he beckoned mysteriously, whereupon we descended the
bank, and, picking our way across the muddy grass by his little causeway
of stepping-stones, approached the foot of the short ladder.

"Well, Israel," said the sergeant, resting his hands on the gunwale of
the old boat as he made a rapid survey of the interior, "giving the
family plate a bit of a polish, eh?"

"Plate!" exclaimed the old man, holding up the chain, which, as I now
saw, had a number of double hooks linked to it, "this ain't plate. 'Tis
what we calls a creeper."

"A creeper," repeated the sergeant, looking at it with renewed interest.
"Ha, yes, hm. A creeper, hey? Well, Israel, what's a-doing? Have you got
something to show us?"

The old man laid down the creeper and the scrubbing-brush--which had a
strong suggestion of salvage in its appearance--and moved towards the
door of the Ark. "Come along inside," said he.

Cobbledick mounted the ladder and motioned me to follow, which I did,
while Bundy discretely sauntered away and sat down on the bank. On
entering, I observed that the Ark followed closely the constructional
traditions. Like its classical prototype, it was "pitched with pitch,
within and without," and was furnished with a single small window, let
into the door and hermetically sealed.

Seeing that our host looked at me with some disfavour, the tactful
sergeant hastened to make us known to one another.

"This is Dr. Strangeways, Israel. He was Mrs. Frood's doctor, and he
knows all about this affair. This, Doctor, is Mr. Israel Bangs, the
eminent long-shoreman, a sort of hereditary Grand Duke of the Rochester
foreshore."

I bowed ceremoniously, and the Grand Duke acknowledged the introduction
with a sour grin. Then, lifting the greasy lid of a locker, he dived
into it and came to the surface, as it were, with a small shoe in his
hand.

"What do you say to that?" he demanded, holding the shoe under the
sergeant's nose. The sergeant said nothing, but looked at me; and I,
suddenly conscious of the familiar sickening sensation, could do no more
than nod in reply. Soiled, muddy and sodden as it was, the poor little
relic instantly and vividly recalled the occasion when I had last seen
it, then all trim and smart, peeping coyly beneath the hem of the neat
brown skirt.

"Where did you find it, Israel?" asked Cobbledick.

"Ah," said Bangs, with a sly leer, "that's tellin', that is. Never you
mind where I found it. There's the shoe."

"Don't be a fool, Israel," said the sergeant. "What use do you suppose
the shoe is to me if I don't know where you found it? I've got to put it
in evidence, you know."

"You can put it where you like, so long as you pays for it," the old
rascal replied, doggedly. "The findin' of it's my business."

There ensued a lengthy wrangle, but the sergeant, though patient and
polite, was firm. Eventually Israel gave way.

"Well," he said, "if you undertakes not to let on to Sam Hooper or any
of his lot, I'll tell you. I found it on the mud, side of the long crik
betwixt Blue Boar Head and Gas-'us Point."

The sergeant made a note of the locality, and, after having sworn not to
divulge the secret to Sam Hooper or any other of the shore-rat
fraternity, and having ascertained that Israel had no further
information to dispose of, rose to depart; and, I noticed that, as we
passed out towards the ladder, he seemed to bestow a glance of friendly
recognition on the creeper.

"Well," said Bundy, when we rejoined him, "what had Mr. Noah to say? I
hope you remembered me kindly to my old friends, Shem, Ham, and Japhet."

"He has found one of Mrs. Frood's shoes," answered the sergeant,
producing it from his pocket and offering it for inspection. Bundy
glanced at it indifferently, and then remarked: "It seems to answer the
description, but, for my part, I don't quite see the use of all this
searching and prying. It only proves what we all know. There's no doubt
that she fell into the river. The question is, how did she get there? It
is not likely that it was an accident, and, if it wasn't, it must have
been a crime. What we want to know is, who is the criminal?"

Cobbledick pocketed the shoe with an impatient gesture. "That's the way
they always talk," said he. "They will always begin at the wrong end.
The question, 'Who is the murderer?' does not arise until it is certain
that there has been a murder; and it can't be certain that there has
been a murder until it is certain that the missing person is dead. And
that certainty can hardly be established until the body is found. But,
in the meantime, these articles are evidence enough to justify us in
making other inquiries, and they may give us a hint where to look for
the body. They do, in fact. They suggest that the body is probably not
very far away, and more likely to be up-stream than down."

"I don't see how they do," said Bundy.

"I do," retorted the sergeant, "and that's enough for me."

Bundy, with his customary discretion, took this as closing the
discussion, and further--as I guessed--surmising that the sergeant might
wish to have a few words with me alone, took his leave of us when we
reached the vicinity of the office.

"That is not a bad idea of old Israel's," said Cobbledick, when Bundy
had gone. "The creeper, I mean."

"What about it?" I asked.

"You know what a creeper is used for, I suppose," said he. "In the old
days, the revenue boats used to trail them along over the bottom in
shallow water where they suspected that the smugglers had sunk their
tubs. You see they couldn't always get a chance to land the stuff. Then
they used to fill the spirits into a lot of little ankers or tubs, lash
them together into a sort of raft and sink the raft close in-shore, on a
dark night, in a marked place where their pals could go some other night
and fish them up. Well the revenue cutters knew most of those places and
used to go there and drift over them trailing creepers. Of course, if
there were any tubs there, the creepers hooked on to the lashings and up
they came."

"But what do you suppose is Israel's idea?" I asked.

"Why, as the body
ought to have come up long before this, and it hasn't, he thinks it has
been sunk. It might have been taken up the river in a boat, and sunk in
mid-stream with a weight of some sort. Or it might have got caught by a
lost anchor or on some old moorings. That would account for its not
coming up and for these oddments getting detached and drifting ashore.
So old Israel is going to get to work with a creeper. I expect he spends
his nights creeping over the likely spots, and that is what makes him so
deuced secret about the place where he found that shoe. He reckons that
the body is somewhere thereabouts."

I made no comment on this rather horrible communication. Of course, it
was necessary that the body should be searched for, since its discovery
was the indispensable condition of the search for the murderer. But I
did not want to hear more of the dreadful details than was absolutely
unavoidable.

When we reached the Guildhall, I halted and was about to take leave of
the sergeant when he said, somewhat hesitatingly:

"Do you remember, Doctor, when you met me last Saturday, you had a
gentleman with you?"

"I remember," said I.

"Now, I wonder if you would think I was taking a liberty if I were to
ask what that gentleman's name was. I had an idea that I knew his face."

"Of course it wouldn't be a liberty," I replied. "His name is Thorndyke;
Dr. John Thorndyke."

"Ah!" exclaimed Cobbledick, "I thought I couldn't be mistaken. It isn't
the sort of face that one would forget. I once heard him give evidence
at the Old Bailey. Wonderful evidence it was, too. Since then I've read
reports of his investigations from time to time. He's a marvellous man.
The way he has of raking up evidence from nowhere is perfectly
astonishing. Did you happen to talk to him about this case at all?"

"Well, you see, Sergeant," I answered, rather evasively, "he had come
down here for the week-end as my guest--"

"Exactly, exactly," Cobbledick interrupted, unconsciously helping me to
avoid answering his question, "he came down for a rest and a change, and
wouldn't want to be bothered with professional matters. Still, you know,
I think he would be interested in this case. It is quite in his own
line. It is a queer case; a very queer case in some respects."

"In what respects?" I asked.

It was Cobbledick's turn to be evasive. He had apparently said more than
he had intended, and now drew in his horns perceptibly.

"Why," he replied, "when you come to think of--of the--er--the character
of the lady, for instance. Why should anyone want to do her any harm?
And then there is the mystery as to how it happened, and the place,
and--in fact, there are a number of things that are difficult to
understand. But I mustn't keep you standing here. If you should happen
to see Dr. Thorndyke again, it might be as well to tell him about the
case. It would be sure to interest him; and if he should, by any chance,
want to know anything that you are not in a position to tell him, why,
you know where I am to be found. I shouldn't want to make any secrets
with him. And he might spot something that we haven't noticed."

I promised to follow the sergeant's advice, and, having bid him adieu,
turned back, and walked slowly homeward. As I went I reflected
profoundly on my conversation with Cobbledick; from which, as it seemed
to me, two conclusions emerged. First, there were elements in this
mystery that were unknown to me. I had supposed that the essence of the
mystery was the mere absence of data. But it now appeared from the
sergeant's utterances, and still more from his evasions, that he saw
farther into the affair than I did; either because he had more facts, or
because, by reason of his greater experience, the facts meant more to
him than they did to me. The second conclusion was that he was in some
way in difficulties; that he was conscious of an inability to interpret
satisfactorily the facts that were known to him. His evident eagerness
to get into touch with Thorndyke made this pretty clear; and the two
conclusions together suggested a further question. How much did
Thorndyke know? Did he know all that the sergeant knew? Did he perchance
know more? From the scanty data with which I had supplied him, might he
possibly have drawn some illuminating inferences that had carried his
understanding of the case beyond either mine or Cobbledick's? It was
quite possible. Thorndyke's great reputation rested upon his
extraordinary power of inference and constructive reasoning from
apparently unilluminating facts. The facts in this case seemed
unilluminating enough. But they might not be so to him. And again I
recalled how both he and the sergeant seemed to look to the finding of
the body as probably furnishing the solution of the mystery.



CHAPTER XII--THE PRINTS OF A VANISHED HAND


Mr. Bundy's opinion that no particular significance attached to the
finding of further relics of the missing woman was one that I was myself
disposed to adopt. The disappearance of poor Angelina was an undeniable
fact, and there seemed to be no doubt that her body had fallen, or been
cast, into the river. On these facts, the recovery of further articles
belonging to her, and presumably detached from the body, shed no
additional light. From the body itself, whenever it should be
surrendered by the river, one hoped that something fresh might be
learned. But all that anyone could say was that Angelina Frood had
disappeared, that her disappearance was almost certainly connected with
a crime, and that the agents of that crime and their motives for
committing it were alike an impenetrable mystery, a mystery that the
finding of further detached articles tended in no way to solve.

I shall, therefore, pass somewhat lightly over the incidents of the
succeeding discoveries, notwithstanding the keen interest in them
displayed by Sergeant Cobbledick and even by Thorndyke. On Monday, the
25th of May, the second shoe was found (to Israel Bangs' unspeakable
indignation) by Samuel Hooper of Foul Anchor Alley, who discovered it
shortly after high-water, lying on the gridiron close to Gas-house
Point, and brought it in triumph to the police station.

After this, there followed a long interval, occupied by a feverish
contest between Israel Bangs and Samuel Hooper. But the luck fell to the
experienced Israel. On Saturday, the 20th of June, that investigator,
having grounded his boat below a wharf between Gas-house Point and the
bridge, discovered a silver-headed hat-pin lying on the shore between
two of the piles of the wharf. Its identity was unmistakable. The silver
poppy-head that crowned the pin was no trade production that might have
had thousands of indistinguishable fellows. It was an individual work
wrought by an artist in metal, and excepting its fellow, there was
probably not another like it in the world.

The discovery of this object roused a positive frenzy of search. The
stretch of muddy shore between Gas-house Point and the bridge literally
swarmed with human shore-rats, male and female, adult and juvenile.
Every day, and all the day, excepting at high-water, Israel Bangs
hovered in his oozy little basket of a boat on the extreme edge of the
mud, scanning every inch of slime, and glowering fiercely at the
poachers ashore who were raking over his preserves. But nothing came of
it. Day after day passed. The black and odorous mud was churned up by
countless feet; the pebbles were sorted out severally by innumerable
filthy hands; every derelict pot, pan, box, or meat-tin was picked up
again and again, and explored to its inmost recesses. But in vain. Not a
single relic of any kind was brought to light by all those searchings
and grubbings in the mud. Presently the searchers began to grow
discouraged. Some of them gave up the search; others migrated to the
shore beyond the bridge, and were to be seen wading in the mud below the
Esplanade, the cricket-ground, or the boat-building yards. So the month
of June ran out, and the third month began. And still there was no sign
of the body.

Meanwhile I watched the two professional investigators, and noted a
certain similarity in their outlook and methods. Both were keenly
interested in the discoveries; and both, I observed, personally examined
the localities of the finds. The sergeant conducted me to each spot in
turn, making appropriate, but not very illuminating, comments; and I
perceived that he was keeping a careful account of time and place. So,
too, with Thorndyke, who had now taken to coming down regularly each
week-end. He visited each spot where anything had been found, marking it
carefully on his map, together with a reference number, and inquiring
minutely as to the character of the object, its condition, and the state
of the tide and the hour of the day when it was discovered; all of which
particulars he entered in his note-book under the appropriate reference
number.

Both of my friends, too, expressed increasing surprise and uneasiness at
the non-appearance of the body. The sergeant was really worried, and he
expressed his sentiments in a tone of complaint as if he felt that he
was not being fairly treated.

"It's getting very serious, Doctor," he protested.

"Nearly three months gone--three summer months, mind you--and not a sign
of it. I don't like the look of things at all. This case means a lot to
me. It's my chance. It's a detective-inspector's job, and if I bring it
off it'll be a big feather in my cap. I want to get a conviction, and so
far I haven't got the material for a coroner's verdict. I've half a mind
to do a bit of creeping myself."

Thorndyke's observations on the case were much to the same effect.
Discussing it one Saturday afternoon at the beginning of July, when I
had met him at Strood Station and was walking with him into Rochester,
he said:

"My feeling is that the crux of this case is going to be the question of
identity--if the body ever comes to light. Of course, if it doesn't,
there is no case: it is simply an unexplained disappearance. But if the
body is found and is unrecognizable excepting by clothing and other
extrinsic evidence, it will be hard to get a conviction even if the
unrecognizable corpse should give some clue to the circumstances of
death."

"I suppose," said I, "the police are searching for Nicholas Frood."

"I doubt it," he replied. "They are not likely to be wasting efforts to
find a murderer when there is no evidence that a murder has been
committed. What could they do if they did find him? The woman was not in
his custody or even living with him. And his previous conduct is not
relevant in the absence of evidence of his wife's death."

"You said you were making some inquiries yourself."

"So I am. And I am not without hopes of picking up his tracks. But that
is a secondary matter. What we have to settle beyond the shadow of a
doubt is the question, 'What has become of Angelina Frood?' Is she dead?
And, if she is, what was the cause and what were the circumstances of
her death?' The evidence in our possession points to the conclusion that
she is dead, and that she met her death by foul means. That is the
belief that the known facts produce. But we have got to turn that belief
into certainty. Then it will be time to inquire as to the identity of
the criminal."

"Do you suppose the body would be unrecognizable now?"

"I feel no doubt that it would be quite unrecognizable by ordinary means
if it has been in the water all this time. But it would still be
identifiable in the scientific sense, if we could only obtain the
necessary data. It could, for instance, be tested by the Bertillon
measurements, if we had them; and it would probably yield finger-prints,
clear enough to recognize, long after the disappearance of all facial
character or bodily traits."

"Would it really?" I exclaimed.

"Certainly," he replied. "Even if the whole outer skin of the hand had
come off bodily, like a glove, as it commonly does in long-submerged
bodies, that glove-like cast would yield fairly clear finger-prints if
property treated--with dilute formalin, for instance. And then the
fingers from which the outer skin had become detached would still yield
recognizable finger-prints, if similarly treated; for you must remember
that the papillary ridges which form the finger-print pattern, are in
the true skin. The outer skin is merely moulded on them. But,
unfortunately, the question is one of merely academic interest to us as
we have no original finger-prints of Mrs. Frood's by which to test the
body. The only method of scientific identification that seems to be
available is that of anthropometric measurements, as employed by
Bertillon."

"But," I objected, "the Bertillon system is based on the existence of a
record of the measurements of the person to be identified. We have no
record of the measurements of Mrs. Frood."

"True," he agreed. "But you may remember that Dr. George Bertillon was
accustomed to apply his system, not only to suspected persons who had
been arrested, but also to stray garments, hat, gloves, shoes, and so
forth, that came into the possession of the police. But it is clear
that, if such garments can be compared with a table of recorded
measurements, they can be used as standards of comparison to determine
the identity of a dead body. Of course, the measurements would have to
be taken, both of the garments and of the body, by someone having an
expert knowledge of anthropometrical methods."

"Of course," I agreed. "But it seems a sound method. I must mention it
to Cobbledick. He has the undoubted shoes, and I have no doubt that he
could get a supply of worn garments from Mrs. Gillow."

"Yes," said Thorndyke. "And, speaking of Mrs. Gillow reminds me of
another point that I have been intending to inquire into. You mentioned
to me that Mrs. Gillow told you, at the time of the disappearance, that
she had been expecting a tragedy of some kind. She must have had some
grounds for that expectation."

"She said it was nothing but a vague, general impression."

"Still, there must have been something that gave her that impression.
Don't you think it would be well to question her a little more closely?"

"Perhaps it might," said I, not very enthusiastically. "We are close to
the house now. We can call in and see her, if you like."

"I think we ought to leave no stone unturned," said he; and a minute or
two later, when we arrived opposite the office, he remarked, looking
across attentively at the two houses: "I don't see our friend Bundy's
face at the window."

"No," I replied, "he is playing tennis somewhere up at the Vines. But
here is Mrs. Gillow, herself, all dressed up and evidently going out
visiting."

The landlady had appeared at the door just as we were crossing the road.
Perceiving that we were bearing down on her, she paused, holding the
door ajar. I ran up the steps, and having wished her "good afternoon"
asked if she had time to answer one or two questions.

"Certainly," she replied, "though I mustn't stay long because I have
promised to go to tea with my sister at Frinsbury. I usually go there on
a Saturday. Perhaps we had better go into poor Mrs. Frood's room."

She opened the door of the sitting-room, and we all went in and sat
down.

"I have been talking over this mysterious affair, Mrs. Gillow," said I,
"with my friend, Dr. Thorndyke, who is a lawyer, and he suggested that
you might be able to throw some light on it. You remember that you had
had some forebodings of some sort of trouble or disaster."

"I had," she replied, dismally, "but that was only because she always
seemed so worried and depressed, poor dear. And, of course, I knew about
that good-for-nothing husband of hers. That was all. Sergeant Cobbledick
asked me the same question, but I had nothing to tell him."

"Did the sergeant examine the rooms?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes, he looked over the place, and he opened her little davenport--it
isn't locked--and read through one or two letters that he found there,
but he didn't take them away. All he took with him was a few torn-up
letters that he found in the waste-paper basket."

"If those other letters are still in the davenport," said Thorndyke, "I
think it would be well for us to look through them carefully, if you
don't mind, Mrs. Gillow."

"I don't see that there could be any harm in it," she replied. "I've
never touched anything in her rooms, myself, since she went away. I
thought it better not to. I haven't even washed up her tea-things. There
they are, just as she left them, poor lamb. But if you are going to look
through those letters, I will ask you to excuse me, or I shall keep my
sister waiting for tea."

"Certainly, Mrs. Gillow," said I. "Don't let us detain you. And, by the
way," I added, as I walked with her to the door, "it would be as well
not to say anything to anybody about my having come here with my
friend."

"Very well, sir," she replied. "I think you are right. The least said,
the soonest mended"; and with this profound generalization she went out
and I shut the street door after her.

When I returned to the sitting-room I found Thorndyke engaged in a
minute examination of the tea-things, and in particular of the spoon. I
proceeded at once to the davenport, and, finding it unlocked, lifted the
desk-lid and peered into the interior. It contained a supply of papers
and envelopes, neatly stacked, and one or two letters, which I took out.
They all appeared to be from the same person--the Miss Cumbers, of whom
I had heard--and a rapid glance at the contents showed that they were of
no use as a source of information. I passed them to Thorndyke--who had
laid down the spoon and was now looking inquisitively about the
room--who scanned them rapidly and returned them to me.

"There is nothing in them," said he. "Possibly the contents of the
waste-paper basket were more illuminating. But I suspect not, as the
sergeant appears to be as much in the dark as we are. Shall we have a
look at the bedroom before we go?"

I saw no particular reason for doing so, but, assuming that he knew
best, I made no objection. Going out into the hall, we entered the
deserted bed-room, the door of which was locked, though the key had not
been removed. At the threshold Thorndyke paused and stood for nearly
half a minute looking about the room in the same queer, inquisitive way
that I had noticed in the other room, as if he were trying to fix a
mental picture of it. Meanwhile, full of the Bertillon system, I had
walked across to the wardrobe to see what garments were available for
measurement. I had my hand on the knob of the door when my glance fell
on two objects on the dressing-table; an empty tumbler and a small
water-bottle, half-full. There was nothing very remarkable about these
objects, taken by themselves, but, even from where I stood, I could see
that both bore a number of finger-marks which stood out conspicuously on
the plain glass.

"By Jove!" I exclaimed. "Here is the very thing that you were speaking
of. Do you see what it is?"

Apparently he had, for he had already taken his gloves out of his pocket
and was putting them on.

"Don't touch them, Strangeways," said he, as I was approaching to
inspect them more closely. "If these are Mrs. Frood's finger-prints they
may be invaluable. We mustn't confuse them by adding our own."

"Whose else could they be?" I asked.

"They might be Sergeant Cobbledick's," he replied. "The sergeant has
been in here." He drew a chair up to the table, and, taking a lens from
his pocket, began systematically to examine the markings.

"They are a remarkably fine set," he remarked, "and a complete set--the
whole ten digits. Whoever made them held the bottle in the right hand
and the tumbler in the left. And I don't think they are the sergeant's.
They are too small and too clear and delicate."

"No," I agreed, "and the probabilities are against their being his.
There is no reason why he should have wanted to take a drink of water
during the few minutes that he spent here. It would have been different
if it had been a beer bottle. But it would have been quite natural for
Mrs. Frood to drink a glass of water while she was dressing or before
she started out."

"Yes," said he. "Those are the obvious probabilities. But we must turn
them into certainties if we can. Probabilities are not good data to work
from. But the question is now, what are we to do? I have a small camera
with me, but it would not be very convenient to take the photographs
here, and it would occupy a good deal of time. On the other hand, these
things would be difficult to pack without smearing the finger-prints. We
want a couple of small boxes."

"Perhaps," said I, "we may find something that will do if we take a look
round."

"Yes," he agreed, "we must explore the place. Meanwhile, I think I will
develop up these prints for our immediate information, as we have to try
to find some others to verify them."

He went back to the sitting-room, where he had put down the two cases
that he always brought with him: a small suit-case that contained his
toilet necessaries and a similar-sized case covered with green canvas
which had been rather a mystery to me. I had never seen it open, and had
occasionally speculated on the nature of its contents. My curiosity was
now to be satisfied, for, when he returned with it in his hand he
explained: "This is what I call my research-case. It contains the
materials and appliances for nearly every kind of medico-legal
investigation, and I hardly ever travel without it."

He placed it on a chair and opened it, when I saw that it formed a
complete portable laboratory, containing, among other things a
diminutive microscope, a little folding camera, and an insufflator, or
powder-spray. The latter he now took from its compartment, and, lifting
the tumbler with his gloved hand, stood it on a corner of the
mantelpiece and blew over it with the insufflator a cloud of impalpably
fine white powder, which settled evenly on the surface of the glass. He
then tapped the tumbler gently once or twice with a lead pencil, when
most of the powder coating either jarred off or crept down the surface.
Finally, he blew at it lightly, which removed the rest of the powder,
leaving the finger-prints standing out on the clear glass as if they had
been painted on with Chinese white.

While he was operating in the same manner on the water-bottle--having
first emptied it into the ewer--I examined the tumbler with the aid of
his lens. The markings were amazingly clear and distinct. Through the
lens I could see, not only the whole of the curious, complicated
ridge-pattern, but even the rows of little round spots that marked the
orifices of the sweat glands. For the first time, I realized what a
perfect means of identification these remarkable imprints furnished.

"Now," said Thorndyke, when he had finished with the bottle, "the two
questions are, where shall we look for confirmatory finger-prints, and
where are we to get the boxes that we want for packing these things? You
said that Mrs. Frood had a kitchen."

"Yes. But won't you try the furniture here; the wardrobe door, for
instance. The dark, polished mahogany ought to give good prints."

"An excellent suggestion, Strangeways," said he. "We might even find the
sergeant's finger-prints, as he has probably had the wardrobe open."

He sprayed the three doors of the wardrobe, and when he had tapped them
and blown away the surplus powder, there appeared near the edge of each
a number of finger-marks, mostly rather indistinct, and none of them
nearly so clear as those on the glass.

"This is very satisfactory," said Thorndyke. "They are poor prints, but
you can see quite plainly that there are two pairs of hands, one pair
much larger than the other; and the prints of the larger hands are
evidently not the same pattern as those on the glass, whereas those of
the smaller ones are quite recognizable as the same, in spite of their
indistinctness. As the large ones are almost certainly Cobbledick's, the
small ones are pretty certainly Mrs. Frood's. But we mustn't take
anything for granted. Let us go down to the kitchen. We shall have a
better chance there."

The door of the basement staircase was still unlocked, as Mrs. Gillow
had described it. I threw it open, and we descended together, I carrying
the insufflator and he bearing the tumbler and bottle in his gloved
hands. When he had put the two articles down on the kitchen table, he
proceeded to powder first the kitchen door and then the side-door that
gave on to the passage between the two houses. Both of them were painted
a dark green and both yielded obvious finger-marks, and though these
were mere oval smudges, devoid of any trace of pattern, their size and
their groupings showed clearly enough that they appertained to a small
hand. But we got more conclusive confirmation from a small aluminium
frying-pan that had been left on the gas stove; for, on powdering the
handle, Thorndyke brought into view a remarkably clear thumbprint, which
was obviously identical with that on the water-bottle.

"I think," said he, "that settles the question. If Mrs. Gillow has not
touched anything in these premises--as she assures us that she has
not--then we can safely assume that these are Mrs. Frood's
finger-prints."

"Are you going to annex the frying-pan to produce in evidence?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "This verification is for our own information: to
secure us against the chance of producing Cobbledick's finger-prints to
identify the body. I propose, for the present, to say nothing to anyone
as to our possessing this knowledge. When the time comes we can tell
what we know. Until then we shall keep our own counsel."

Once more I found myself dimly surprised at my friend's apparently
unnecessary secrecy, but, assuming that he knew best, I made no comment,
but watched with somewhat puzzled curiosity his further proceedings. His
interest in the place was extraordinary. In a queer, catlike fashion he
prowled about the premises, examining the most trivial objects with
almost ludicrous attention. He went carefully through the cooking
appliances and the glass and china; he peered into cupboards,
particularly into a large, deep cupboard in which spare crockery was
stored, and which was, oddly enough, provided with a Yale lock; he
sorted out the meagre contents of the refuse-bin, and incidentally
salved from it a couple of cardboard boxes that had originally contained
groceries, and he explored the now somewhat unsavoury, larder.

"I suppose," he said reflectively, "the dustman must have used the side
door. Do you happen to know?"

"I don't," said I, inwardly wondering what the deuce the dustman had to
do with the case. "I understand that the door of the passage was not
used."

"But she couldn't have had the dust-bin carried up the stairs and out at
the front door," he objected.

"I should think not," said I. "Perhaps we could judge better if we had a
look at the passage."

He adopted the suggestion and we opened the side-door--which had a Yale
night-latch--and went out into the covered passage that was common to
the two houses. The door that opened on to the street was bolted on the
inside, but the bolts were in good working order, as we ascertained by
drawing them gently; so this gave no evidence one way or the other. Then
Thorndyke carefully examined the hard gravel floor of the passage,
apparently searching for dropped fragments, or the dustman's
foot-prints; but though there were traces suggesting that the side-doors
had been used, there were no perceptible tracks leading to the street or
in any way specifically suggestive of dustmen.

"Japp seems fond of Yale locks," observed Thorndyke, indicating the
second side-door, which was also fitted with one. "I wonder where he
keeps his dust-bin."

"Would it be worth while to ask him?" said I, more and more mystified by
this extraordinary investigation.

"No," he replied, very definitely. "A question often gives more
information than it elicits."

"It might easily do that in my case," I remarked with a grin; upon which
he laughed softly and led the way back into the house. There I gathered
up the two boxes and the insufflator and made my way up to the bed-room,
he following with the tumbler and the water-bottle. Then came the
critical business of packing these two precious objects in the boxes in
such a way as to protect the finger-prints from contact with the sides;
which was accomplished very neatly with the aid of a number of balls or
plasticine from the inexhaustible research-case.

"This is a little disappointing," said Thorndyke, looking at the
hair-brush and comb as he took off his gloves. "I had hoped to collect a
useful sample of hair. But her excessive tidiness defeats us. There
seems to be only one or two short hairs and one full length. However, we
may as well have them. They won't be of much use for comparison with the
naked eye, but even a single hair can be used as a colour control under
the microscope."

He combed the brush until the last hair was extracted from it, and then
drew the little collection from the comb and arranged it on a sheet of
paper. There were six short hairs, from two to four inches long, and one
long hair, which seemed to have been broken off, as it had no bulb.

"Many ladies keep a combing-bag," he remarked, as; he bestowed the
collection in a seed-envelope from the research-case; "but I gather
from your description that Mrs. Frood's hair was luxuriant enough to
render that economy unnecessary. At any rate, there doesn't seem to be
such a bag. And now I think we have finished, and we haven't done so
badly."

"We have certainly got an excellent set of fingerprints," said I. "But
it seems rather doubtful whether there will ever be an opportunity of
using them; and if there isn't, we shan't be much more forward for our
exploration. Of course, there is the hair."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "there is the hair. That may be quite valuable.
And perhaps there are some other matters--but time will show."

With this somewhat cryptic conclusion he proceeded with great care to
pack the two boxes in his suit-case, wedging them with his pyjamas so
that they should not get shaken in transit.

As we walked home I reflected on Thorndyke's last remark. It seemed to
contain a suggestion that the mystery of Angelina's death was not so
complete to him as it was to me. For my own part, I could see no glimmer
of light in any direction. She seemed to have vanished without leaving a
trace excepting those few derelict objects which had been washed ashore
and which told us nothing. But was it possible that those objects bore
some significance that I had overlooked? That they were charged with
some message that I had failed to decipher? I recalled a certain
reticence on the part of Cobbledick which had made me suspect him of
concealing from me some knowledge that he held or some inferences that
he had drawn; and now there was this cryptic remark of Thorndyke's,
offering the same suggestion. Might it possibly be that the profound
obscurity was only in my own mind, the product of my inexperience, and
that to these skilled investigators the problem presented a more
intelligible aspect? It might easily be. I determined cautiously to
approach the question.

"You seemed," said I, "to imply, just now, that there are certain data
for forming hypotheses as to the solution of this mystery that envelops
the disappearance of Mrs. Frood. But I am not aware of any such data.
Are you?"

"Your question, Strangeways," he replied, "turns on the meaning of the
word 'aware.' If two men, one literate and the other illiterate, look at
a page of a printed book, both may be said to be aware of it; that is to
say that in both it produces a retinal image which makes them conscious
of it as a visible object having certain optical properties. In the case
of the illiterate man the perception of the optical properties is the
total effect. But the literate man has something in his consciousness
already, and this something combines, as it were, with the optical
perception, and makes him aware of certain secondary properties of the
printed characters. To both, the page yields a visual impression; but to
one only does it yield what we may call a psychical impression. Are they
both aware of the page?"

"I appreciate your point," said I, with a sour smile, "and I seem to be
aware of a rather skilful evasion of my question."

He smiled in his turn and rejoined: "Your question was a little
indirect. Shall we have it in a more direct form?"

"What I wanted to know," said I, "though I suppose I have no right to
ask, is whether there appears to you to be any prospect whatever of
finding any solution of the mystery of Mrs. Frood's death."

"The answer to that question," he replied, "is furnished by my own
proceedings. I am not a communicative man, as you may have noticed, but
I will say this much: that I have taken, and am taking, a good deal of
trouble with this case, and am prepared to take more, and that I do not
usually waste my efforts on problems that appear to be unsolvable. I am
not disposed to say more than that, excepting to refer you again to the
instance of the printed page and to remind you that whatever I know I
have either learned from you or from the observation, in your company,
of objects equally visible to both of us."

This reply, if not very illuminating, at least answered my question, as
it conveyed to me that I was not likely to get much more information out
of my secretive friend. Nevertheless, I asked: "About the man Frood: you
were saying that you had some hopes of running him to earth."

"Yes, I have made a start. I have ascertained that he did apparently set
out for Brighton the day before Mrs. Frood's disappearance, but he never
arrived there. That is all I know at present. He was seen getting into
the Brighton train, but he did not appear at the Brighton barrier--my
informant had the curiosity to watch all the passengers go through--and
he never made the visit which was the ostensible object of his journey.
So he must have got out at an intermediate station. It may be difficult
to trace him, but I am not without hope of succeeding eventually.
Obviously, his whereabouts on the fatal day is a matter that has to be
settled. At present he is the obvious suspect; but if an alibi should be
proved in his case, a search would have to be initiated in some other
direction."

This conversation brought us to my house in time to relieve Mrs. Dunk's
anxieties on the subject of dinner; and as the daylight was already
gone, the photographic operations were postponed until the following
morning. Indeed, Thorndyke had thought of taking the objects to his
chambers, where a more efficient outfit was available, but, on
reflection, he decided to take the photographs in my presence so that I
could, if necessary, attest their genuineness on oath. Accordingly, on
the following morning, we very carefully extracted the tumbler and the
bottle from their respective boxes and set them up, with a black coat of
mine for a background, at the end of a table. Then Thorndyke produced
his small folding camera--which pulled out to a surprising length--and,
having fitted it with a short-focus objective, made the exposures, and
developed the plates in a dark cupboard by the light of a little red
lamp from the research case. When the plates were dry we inspected them
through a lens, and found them microscopically sharp. Finally, at
Thorndyke's suggestion, I scratched my initials with a needle in the
corner of each plate.

"Well," I said, when he had finished, "you have got the evidence that
you wanted, and in a very complete form. It remains to be seen now
whether you will ever get an opportunity to use it."

"Don't be pessimistic, Strangeways," said he. "We have had exceptional
luck in getting this splendid series of finger-prints. Let us hope that
Fortune will not desert us after making us these gifts."

"What is to be done with the originals?" I asked.

"Shall I put them back where we found them?"

"I think not," he replied. "If you have a safe or a secure lock-up
cupboard, where they could be put away, out of sight, and from whence
they could be produced if necessary, I will ask you to take charge of
them."

There was a cupboard with a good lock in the old bureau that I had found
in my bedroom, and to this I conveyed the precious objects and locked
them in. And so ended--at least, for the present--the episode of our
raid on poor Angelina's abode.



CHAPTER XIII--THE DISCOVERY IN BLACK BOY-LANE


On a fine, sunny afternoon, about ten days after our raid on Angelina's
rooms (it was Tuesday, the 14th of July, to be exact), I was sitting in
my dining-room, from which the traces of lunch had just been removed,
idly glancing over the paper, and considering the advisability of taking
a walk, when I heard the door-bell ring. There was a short interval;
then the door was opened, and the sounds of strife and wrangling that
followed this phenomenon informed me that the visitor was Mr. Bundy,
between whom and Mrs. Dunk there existed a state of chronic warfare.
Presently the dining-room door opened--in time for me to catch a
concluding growl of defiance from Mrs. Dunk--and that lady announced
gruffly: "Mr. Bundy."

My visitor tripped in smilingly, "all teeth and eyeglass," as his
inveterate enemy had once expressed it, holding a Panama hat, which had
temporarily superseded the velour.

"Well, John," said he, "coming out to play?" He had lately taken to
calling me John; in fact, a very close and pleasant intimacy had sprung
up between us. It dated from the occasion when I had confided to him my
unfortunate passion for poor Angelina. That confidence he had evidently
taken as a great compliment, and the matter of it had struck a
sympathetic chord in his kindly nature. From that moment there had been
a sensible change in his manner towards me. Beneath his habitual
flippancy there was an undertone of gentleness and sympathy, and even of
affection. Nor had I been unresponsive. Like Thorndyke, I found in his
sunny temperament, his invariable cheerfulness and high spirits, a
communicable quality that took effect on my own state of mind. And then
I had early recognized that, in spite of his apparent giddiness, Bundy
was a man of excellent intelligence and considerable strength of
character. So the friendship had ripened naturally enough.

I rose from my chair and, dropping the paper, stretched myself. "You are
an idle young dog," said I. "Why aren't you at work?"

"Nothing doing at the office except some specifications. Japp is doing
them. Come out and have a roll round."

"Well, Jimmy," said I. "Your name is Jimmy, isn't it?"

"No, it is not," he replied with dignity. "I am called Peter--like the
Bishop of Rumtifoo, and, by a curious coincidence, for the very same
reason."

"Let me see," said I, falling instantly into the trap, "what was that
reason?"

"Why, you see," he replied impressively, "the Bishop was called Peter
because that was his name."

"Look here, young fellow my lad," said I, "you'll get yourself into
trouble if you come up here pulling your elder's legs."

"It was only a gentle tweak, old chap," said he. "Besides, you aren't so
blooming senile, after all. You are only cutting your first crop of
whiskers. Are you coming out? I saw old Cobbledick just now, turning
down Blue Boar Lane and looking as miserable as a wet cat."

"What was he looking miserable about?"

"The slump in relics, I expect. He is making no headway with his
investigation. I fancy he had reckoned on getting an inspectorship out
of this case, whereas, if he doesn't reach some sort of conclusion, he
is likely to get his rapples knucked, as old Miss Barman would say. I
suspect he was on his way to the Ark to confer with Mr. Noah. What do
you say to a stroll in the direction of Mount Ararat?"

It was a cunning suggestion on the part of Bundy, for it drew me
instantly. Repulsive as old Israel's activities were to me, the presence
of those finger-prints, securely locked up in my bureau, had created in
me a fresh anxiety to see the first state of the investigation completed
so that the search for the murderer could be commenced in earnest. Not
that my presence would help the sergeant, but that I was eager to hear
the tidings of any new discovery.

Bundy's inference had been quite correct. We arrived at the head of the
Blue Boar pier just in time to see the sergeant slowly descending the
ladder, watched gloomily by Israel Bangs. As the former reached terra
firma he turned round and then observed us.

"Any news, Sergeant?" I asked, as he approached across the grass.

He shook his head discontentedly. "No," he replied, "not a sign; not a
vestige. It's a most mysterious affair. The things seemed to be coming
up quite regularly until that hat-pin was found. Then everything came to
an end. Not a trace of anything for nigh upon a month. And what, in the
name of Fortune, can have become of the body? That's what I can't make
out. If this goes on much longer, there won't be any body: and then we
shall be done. The case will have to be dropped."

He took off his hat (he was in plain clothes as usual) and wiped his
forehead, looking blankly first at me and then at Bundy. The latter also
took off his hat and whisked out his handkerchief, bringing with it a
little telescope which fell to the ground and was immediately picked up
by the sergeant. "Neat little glass, this," he remarked, dusting it with
his handkerchief. "It's lucky it fell on the turf." He took off the cap,
and pulling out the tubes, peered vaguely through it up and down the
river. Presently he handed it to me. "Look at those craft down below the
dockyard," said he.

I took the little instrument from him and pointed it at the group of
small, cutter-rigged vessels that he had indicated, of which the
telescope, small as it was, gave a brilliantly sharp picture.

"What are they?" I asked. "Oyster dredgers?"

"No," he replied. "They are bawleys with their shrimp-trawls down. But
there are plenty of oyster dredgers in the lower river and out in the
estuary, and what beats me is why none of them ever brings up anything
in the trawls or dredges--anything in our line, I mean."

"What did you expect them to bring up?" Bundy asked.

"Well, there are the things that have washed ashore, and there are the
other things that haven't washed ashore yet. And then there is the
body."

"Mr. Noah would have something to say if they brought that up," said
Bundy. "By the way, what had he got to say when you called on him?"

"Old Bangs? Why he is getting a bit shirty. Wants me to pay him for all
the time he has lost on creeping and searching. Of course, I can't do
that, I didn't employ him."

"Did he find the hat-pin that you spoke of?" Bundy asked.

"Yes; and he has been grubbing round the place where he found it ever
since, as if he thought hat-pins grew there."

"Still," said Bundy, "it is not so unreasonable. A hat-pin couldn't have
floated ashore. If the hat came off, the two hat-pins must have fallen
out at pretty much the same time and place."

"Yes," the sergeant agreed, reflectively, "that seems to be common
sense; and, if it is, the other hat-pin ought to be lying somewhere
close by. I must go and have a look there myself." He again reflected
for a few moments and then asked: "Would you like to see the place where
Israel found the pin?"

As I had seen the place already and had shown it to Thorndyke, I left
Bundy to answer.

"Why not?" he assented, rather, I suspected, to humour the sergeant than
because he felt any particular interest in the place. Thereupon
Cobbledick, whose enthusiasm appeared to have been revived by Bundy's
remark, led the way briskly towards the wilderness by the coal-wharves,
through that desolate region and along a cart-track that skirted the
marshes until we came out into a sort of lesser wilderness to the west
of Gas-House Road. Here the sergeant slipped through a large hole in a
corrugated iron fence which gave access to a wharf littered with the
unpresentable debris resulting from the activities of a firm of
ship-knackers. Advancing to the edge of the wharf, Cobbledick stood for
a while looking down wistfully at the expanse of unspeakable mud that
the receding tide had uncovered.

"I suppose it is too dirty to go down," he said in a regretful tone.

Bundy's assent to this proposition was most emphatic and unqualified,
and the sergeant had to content himself with a bird's-eye view. But he
made a very thorough inspection, walking along the edge of the wharf,
scrutinizing its base, pile by pile, and giving separate attention to
each pot, tin, or scrap of driftwood on the slimy surface. He even
borrowed Bundy's telescope to enable him to examine the more distant
parts of the mud, until the owner of the instrument was reduced to the
necessity of standing behind him, for politeness' sake, to get a
comfortable yawn.

"Well," said Cobbledick, at long last, handing back the telescope, "I
suppose we must give it up. But it's disappointing."

"I don't quite see why," said Bundy. "You have found enough to prove
that the body is in the river, and no number of further relics would
prove any more."

"No, there's some truth in that," Cobbledick agreed. "But I don't like
the way that everything seems to have come to a stop." He crawled
dejectedly through the hole in the fence and walked on for a minute or
two without speaking. Presently he halted and looked about him. "I
suppose Black Boy-lane will be our best way," he remarked.

"Which is Black Boy-lane?" I asked.

"It is the lane we came down after we left Japp and Willard that day,"
Bundy explained.

"I remember," said I, "but I didn't know it had a name."

"It was named after a little inn that used to stand somewhere near the
top; but it was pulled down years ago. Here's the lane."

We entered the little, tortuous alley that wound between the high,
tarred fences, and as it was too narrow for us to walk abreast, Bundy
dropped behind. A little way up the lane I noticed an old hat lying on
the high grass at the foot of the fence. Bundy apparently noticed it,
too, for just after we had passed it I heard the sound of a kick, and
the hat flew over my shoulder. At the same moment, and impelled by the
same kick, a small object, which I at first thought to be a pebble,
hopped swiftly along the ground in front of us, then rolled a little
way, and finally came to rest, when I saw that it was a button. I should
probably have passed it without further notice, having no use for stray
buttons. But the more thrifty sergeant stooped and picked it up; and the
instant that he looked at it he stopped dead.

"My God! Doctor," he exclaimed, holding it out towards me. "Look at
this!"

I took it from him, though I had recognized it at a glance. It was a
small bronze button with a Tudor Rose embossed on it.

"This is a most amazing thing," said Cobbledick.

"There can't be any doubt as to what it is."

"Not the slightest," I agreed. "It is certainly one of the buttons from
Mrs. Frood's coat. The question is, how on earth did it get here?"

"Yes," said the sergeant, "that is the question; and a very difficult
question, too."

"Aren't you taking rather a lot for granted?" suggested Bundy, to whom I
had passed the little object for inspection. "It doesn't do to jump at
conclusions too much. Mrs. Frood isn't likely to have had her buttons
made to order. She must have bought them somewhere. She might even have
bought them in Rochester. In any case, there must be thousands of others
like them."

"I suppose there must be," I admitted, "though I have never seen any
buttons like them."

"Neither have I," said Cobbledick, "and I am going to stick to the
obvious probabilities. The missing woman wore buttons like this, and I
shall assume that this is one of her buttons unless someone can prove
that it isn't."

"But how do you account for one of her buttons being here?" Bundy
objected.

"I don't account for it," retorted Cobbledick. "It's a regular puzzle.
Of course, someone--a child, for instance--might have picked it up on
the shore and dropped it here. But that is a mere guess, and not a very
likely one. The obvious thing to do is to search this lane thoroughly
and see if there are any other traces; and that is what I am going to do
now. But don't let me detain you two gentlemen if you had rather not
stay."

"I shall certainly stay and help you, Sergeant," said I; and Bundy,
assuming the virtue of enthusiasm, if he had it not, elected also to
stay and join in the search.

"We had better go back to the bottom of the lane," said Cobbledick, "and
go through the grass at the foot of the fence from end to end. I will
take the right hand side and you take the left."

We retraced our steps to the bottom of the lane and began a systematic
search, turning over the grass and weeds and exposing the earth inch by
inch. It was a slow process and would have appeared a singular
proceeding had any wayfarer passed through and observed us, but
fortunately it was an unfrequented place, and no one came to spy upon
us. We had traversed nearly half the lane when Bundy stood up and
stretched himself. "I don't know what your back is made of, John," said
he. "Mine feels as if it was made of broken bottles. How much more have
we got to do?"

"We haven't done half yet," I replied, also standing up and rubbing my
lumbar region; and at this moment the sergeant, who was a few yards
ahead, hailed us with a triumphant shout. We both turned quickly and
beheld him standing with one arm raised aloft and the hand grasping a
silver-topped hat-pin.

"What do you say to that, Mr. Bundy?" he demanded as we hurried forward
to examine the new 'find.' "Shall we be jumping at conclusions if we say
that this hat-pin is Mrs. Frood's?"

"No," Bundy admitted after a glance at the silver poppy-head. "This
seems quite distinctive, and, of course, it confirms the button. But I
don't understand it in the least. How can they have come here?"

"We won't go into that," said the sergeant, in a tone of suppressed
excitement that showed me pretty clearly that he had already gone into
it. "They are here. And now the question arises, what became of the hat?
It couldn't have dropped off down at the wharf, or this hat-pin wouldn't
be here; but it must have fallen off when both hat-pins were gone. Now
what can have become of it?"

"It might have been picked up and taken possession of by some woman," I
suggested. "It was a good hat, and if the body was brought here soon
after the crime, as it must have been, it wouldn't have been much
damaged. But why trouble about the hat? Appearances suggest that the
body was either brought up or taken down this lane. That is the new and
astonishing fact that needs explaining."

"We don't want to do any explaining now," said Cobbledick. "We are here
to collect facts. If we can find out what became of the hat, that may
help us when we come to consider the explanations."

"Well, it obviously isn't here," said I.

"No," he agreed, "and it wouldn't have been left here. A murderer
mightn't have noticed the button, or even the hat-pin, on a dark, foggy
night. But he'd have noticed the hat; and he wouldn't have left it where
it must have been seen, and probably led to inquiries. He might have
taken it with him, or he might have got rid of it. I should say he would
have got rid of it. What is on the other side of these fences?"

We all hitched ourselves up the respective fences far enough to look
over. On the one side was a space of bare, gravelly ground with thin
patches of grass and numerous heaps of cinder; on the other was an area
of old waste land thickly covered with thistles, ragwort, and other
weeds. The sergeant elected to begin with the latter, as the less
frequented and therefore more probably undisturbed. Setting his foot on
the buttress of a post, he went over the fence with surprising agility,
considering his figure, and was lost to view; but we could hear him
raking about among the herbage close to the fence, and from time to time
I stood on the buttress and was able to witness his proceedings. First
he went to the bottom of the lane and from that point returned by the
fence, searching eagerly among the high weeds. I saw him thus proceed,
apparently to the top of the lane in the neighbourhood of the remains of
the city wall. Thence he came back, but now at a greater distance from
the fence, and as he was still eagerly peering and probing amongst the
weeds, it was evident that he had had no success. Suddenly, when he was
but a few yards away, he uttered an exclamation and ran forward. Then I
saw him stoop, and the next moment he fairly ran towards me holding the
unmistakable brown straw hat with the dull green ribbon.

"That tells us what we wanted to know," he said breathlessly, handing
the hat to me as he climbed over the fence; "at least, I think it does.
I'll tell you what I mean--but not now," he added in a lower tone,
though not unheard by Bundy, as I inferred later.

"I suppose we need hardly go on with the search any further?" I
suggested, having had enough of groping amongst the grass.

"Well, no," he replied. "I shall go over it again later on, but we've
got enough to think about for the present. By the way, Mr. Bundy, I've
found something belonging to you. Isn't this your property?"

He produced from his pocket a largish key, to which was attached a
wooden label legibly inscribed "Japp and Bundy, High-street, Rochester."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Bundy, "it is Japp's precious key! Where on earth
did you find it, Sergeant?"

"Right up at the top," was the reply. "Close to the old wall."

"Now, I wonder how the deuce it got there," said Bundy. "Some fool must
have thrown it over the fence from pure mischief. However, here it is.
You know there was a reward of ten shillings for finding it, Sergeant. I
had better settle up at once. You needn't make any difficulties about
it," he added, as the sergeant seemed disposed to decline the payment.
"It won't come out of my pocket. It is the firm's business."

On this understanding Cobbledick pocketed the proffered note and we
walked on up the lane, the sergeant slightly embarrassed, as we
approached the town, by the palpably unconcealable hat. Very little was
said by any of us, for these new discoveries, with the amazing
inferences that they suggested, gave us all abundant material for
thought. The sergeant walked with eyes bent on the ground, evidently
cogitating profoundly; my mind surged with new speculations and
hypotheses, while Bundy, if not similarly preoccupied, refrained from
breaking in on our meditations.

When, at length, by devious ways, we reached the Highstreet in the
neighbourhood of the Corn Exchange, we halted, and the sergeant looked
at me as if framing a question. Bundy glanced up at the quaint old
clock, and remarked:

"It is about time I got back to the office. Mustn't leave poor old Japp
to do all the work, though he never grumbles. So I will leave you here."

I realized that this was only a polite excuse to enable the sergeant to
have a few words with me alone, and I accepted it as such.

"Good-bye, then," said I, "if you must be off, and in case I don't see
you before, I shall expect you to dinner on Saturday if you've got the
evening free. Dr. Thorndyke is coming down for the week-end, and I know
you enjoy ragging him."

"He is pretty difficult to get a rise out of, all the same," said Bundy,
brightening up perceptibly at the invitation. "But I shall turn up with
very great pleasure." He bestowed a mock ceremonious salute on me and
the sergeant, and, turning away, bustled off in the direction of the
office. As soon as he was out of earshot Cobbledick opened the subject
of the new discoveries.

"This is an extraordinary development of our case, Doctor," said he. "I
didn't want to discuss it before Mr. Bundy, though he is really quite a
discreet gentleman, and pretty much on the spot, too. But he isn't a
party to the case, and it is better not to talk too freely. You see the
points that these fresh finds raise?"

"I see that they put a new complexion on the affair, but to me they only
make the mystery deeper and more incomprehensible."

"In a way they do," Cobbledick agreed, "but, on the other hand, they put
the case on a more satisfactory footing. For instance, we understand now
why the body has never come to light. It was never in the river at all.
Then as to the perpetrator; he was a local man--or, at least, there was
a local man in it; a man who knew the town and the waterside
neighbourhood thoroughly. No stranger would have found Black Boy-lane.
Very few Rochester people know it."

"But," I asked, "what does the finding of these things suggest to you?"

"Well," he replied, "it suggests several questions. Let me just put
these things away in my office, and then we can talk the matter over."
He went into his office, and shortly returned relieved--very much
relieved--of the conspicuous hat. We turned towards the bridge, and he
resumed: "The first question and the most important one is, which way
was the body travelling? It is obvious that it was carried through Black
Boy-lane. But in which direction? Towards the town or towards the river?
When you think of the circumstances; when you recall that it was a foggy
night when she disappeared; it seems at first more probable that the
crime might have been committed in, or near, the lane, and the body
carried down to the river. But when you consider all the facts, that
doesn't seem possible. There is that box of tablets, picked up dry and
clean on Chatham Hard. That seems to fix the locality where the crime
occurred."

"And there is the brooch," said I.

"I don't attach much importance to that," he replied. "It might have
been picked up anywhere. But the box of tablets couldn't have got from
Black Boy-lane to Chatham except by the river, and it hadn't been in the
river. But the hat seems to me to settle the question. You see, one
hat-pin was found on the shore and the other in the lane near the hat.
Now, one hat-pin might have dropped out and left the hat still fixed on
the head. But when the hat came off, the pins must have come off with
it. The hat came off near the top of the lane. If both the pins had been
in it they would both have come out there.

"But one pin was found on the shore; therefore when the body was at the
shore the hat must have been still on the head, though it had probably
got loosened by all the dragging about in the boat and in landing the
body. You agree to that, Doctor?"

"Yes, it seems undeniable," I answered.

"Very well," said he. "Then the body was being carried up the lane. The
next question is: was it being carried by one person or by more than
one? Well, I think you will agree with me, Doctor, that it could hardly
have been done by one man. It is quite a considerable distance from the
shore to the top of the lane. She was a goodsized woman, and a dead body
is a mighty awkward thing to carry at the best of times. I should say
there must have been at least two men."

"It certainly does seem probable," I admitted.

"I think so," said he. "Then we come to another question. Was it really
a dead body? Or might the woman have been merely insensible?"

"Good God, Sergeant!" I exclaimed. "You don't think it possible that it
could have been a case of forcible abduction, and that Mrs. Frood is
still alive?"

"I wouldn't say it was impossible," he replied, "but I certainly don't
think it is the case. You see, nearly three months have passed and there
is no sign of her. But in modern England you can't hide a full-grown,
able-bodied woman who has got all her wits about her. No, Doctor, I am
afraid we must take the view that the woman who was carried up Black
Boy-lane was a dead woman. All I want to point out is that the other
view is a bare possibility, and that we mustn't forget it."

"But," I urged, "don't you think that the fact that she was being
carried towards the town strongly suggests that she was alive? Why on
earth should a murderer bring a body, at great risk of discovery, from
the river, where it could easily have been disposed of, up into the
town? It seems incredible."

"It does," he agreed. "It's a regular facer. But, on the other hand,
suppose she was alive. What could they have done with her? How could
they have kept her out of sight all this time? And why should they have
done it?"

"As to the motive," said I, "that is incomprehensible in any case. But
what do you suppose actually happened?"

"My theory of it is," he replied, "that two men, at least, did the job.
Both may have been local waterside men, or there may have been a
stranger with a water-rat in his pay. I imagine the crime was committed
at Chatham, somewhere near the Sun Pier, and that the body was put in a
boat and brought up here. It was a densely foggy night, you remember, so
there would have been no great difficulty; and there wouldn't be many
people about. The part of it that beats me is what they meant to do with
the body. They seem to have brought it deliberately from Chatham right
up into Rochester Town; and they have got rid of it somehow. They must
have had some place ready to stow it in, but what that place can have
been, I can't form the ghost of a guess. It's a fair knock-out."

"You don't suppose old Israel Bangs knows anything about it?" I
suggested.

The sergeant shook his head. "I've no reason to suppose he does," he
replied. "And it is a bad plan to make guesses and name names."

We walked up and down the Esplanade for nearly an hour, discussing
various possibilities; but we could make nothing of the incredible thing
that seemed to have happened in spite of its incredibility. At last we
gave it up and returned to the Guildhall, where, as we parted, he said a
little hesitatingly: "I heard you tell Mr. Bundy that Dr. Thorndyke was
coming down for the week-end. It wouldn't be amiss if you were to put
the facts of the case before him. It's quite in his line, and I think he
would be interested to hear about it; and he might see something that I
have missed. But, of course, it must be in strict confidence."

I promised to try to find an opportunity to get Thorndyke's opinion on
the case, and with this we separated, the sergeant retiring to his
office and I making my way homeward to prepare a report for dispatch by
the last post.



CHAPTER XIV--SERGEANT COBBLEDICK IS ENLIGHTENED


The custom which had grown upon my part of meeting Thorndyke at the
station on the occasion of his visits was duly honoured on the present
occasion, for the surprising discoveries in Black Boy-lane, which I had
described in my report to him, made me eager to hear his comments.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, he had come down by an unusually late
train, and the opportunity for discussion was limited to the time
occupied by the short walk from Rochester Station to my house. For it
was close upon dinner time, and I rather expected to find Bundy awaiting
us.

"Your report was quite a thrilling document," he remarked, as we came
out of the station approach. "These new discoveries seem to launch us on
a fresh phase of the investigation."

"Do they seem to you to offer any intelligible suggestions?" I asked.

"There is no lack of suggestions," he replied. "To a person of ordinary
powers of imagination, a number of hypotheses must present themselves.
But, of course, the first thing to consider is not what might have
happened, but what did happen, and what we can safely infer from those
happenings. We can apparently take it as proved that the body was
carried through the lane; and everything goes to show that it was
carried from the river towards the town. The first clear inference is
that we can completely exclude accident, pure and simple. The
body--living or dead--may be assumed to have been carried by some person
or persons. We can dismiss the idea that the woman walked up the lane.
But if someone carried the body, someone is definitely implicated. The
affair comes unquestionably into the category of crime."

"That doesn't carry us very far," I said, with a sense of
disappointment.

"It carries us a stage farther than our previous data did, for it
excludes accident, which they did not. Then it suggests not only
premeditation, but arrangement. If the body was brought up from the
river, there must have been some place known to, and probably prepared
by, those who brought it, in which it could be deposited; and that place
must have been more secure than the river from which it was brought. But
the river, itself, was a very secure hiding-place, especially if the
body had been sunk with weights. Now, this is all very remarkable. If
you consider the extraordinary procedure; the seizure of the victim at
Chatham; the conveyance of the body from thence to this considerable
distance; the landing of it at the wharf; the conveyance of it by an
apparently selected route--at enormous risk of discovery, in spite of
the fog to an appointed destination: I say, Strangeways, that if you
consider this astounding procedure, you cannot fail to be convinced that
there was some definite purpose behind it."

"Yes," I agreed, "that seems to be so. But what could the purpose be? It
appears perfectly incomprehensible. It only makes the mystery more
unsolvable than ever."

"Not at all," he rejoined. "There is nothing so hopeless to investigate
as the perfectly obvious and commonplace. As soon as an apparently
incomprehensible motive appears, we are within sight of a solution.
There may be innumerable explanations of a common-place action; but an
outrageously unreasonable action; pursued with definite and considered
purpose, can admit of but one or two. The action, with its underlying
purpose, must be adjusted to some unusual conditions. We have only to
consider to what conditions it could be adjusted, and which, if any, of
those conditions actually exist, and the explanation of the apparently
incomprehensible action comes into view. But here we are at our
destination, and there is our friend, Bundy, standing on the doorstep.
By the way, I have brought one or two photographs of Mrs. Frood for you
to look at."

We arrived in time to intervene and put an end to a preliminary skirmish
between the irrepressible Bundy and Mrs. Dunk, and when greetings had
been exchanged, Thorndyke went up to his room to wash and deposit his
luggage.

"Well, John," said Bundy, when he had hung up his hat, "it is very
pleasant to see my old friend after this long separation. Very good of
him, too, to invite an insignificant outsider like me to meet his
distinguished colleague. You are a benefactor to me, John."

"Don't talk nonsense, Peterkin," said I. "You know we are always glad to
see you. I invite you for my own pleasure and Thorndyke's, not for
yours."

Bundy gave my arm a grateful squeeze. "Good old John," said he. "Nothing
like doing it handsomely. But here is the great man himself," he added,
as Thorndyke entered the dining-room, carrying a cardboard box, "with
instruments of magic. He's going to do a conjuring trick."

Thorndyke opened the box and delicately picked out four photographs, all
mounted and all of cabinet size, which he stood up in a row on the
mantelpiece. Two of them were from the same negative, one being printed
in red carbon, the other in sepia. The remaining two were ordinary
silver prints of the conventional trade type.

Bundy looked at the collection with not unnatural surprise.

"Where did these, things come from?" he asked.

"They came from London," replied Thorndyke, "where things of this kind
grow. Strangeways asked me to get him some samples. How do you like
them? My own preference is for the carbons, and of the two I think I
like the red chalk print the better."

I ran my eye along the row and found myself in strong agreement with
Thorndyke. It was not only that the carbon prints had the advantage of
the finer medium. The treatment was altogether more artistic, and the
likeness seemed better, in spite of a rather over-strong top-lighting.

"Yes," I said, "the carbons are infinitely superior to the silver
prints, and of the two I think the red is the better because it
emphasises the shadows less."

"Is the likeness as good as in the silver prints?" Thorndyke asked.

"Better, I think. The expression is more natural and spontaneous. What
do you say, Peter?"

As I spoke I looked at him, not for the first time, for I had already
been struck by the intense concentration with which he had been
examining the two carbons. And it was not only concentration. There was
a curious expression of surprise, as if something in the appearance of
the portraits puzzled him.

He looked up with a perplexed frown. "As to the likeness," said he, "I
don't know that I am a particularly good judge. I only saw her once or
twice. But, as far as I remember, it seems to be quite a good likeness,
and there can be no question as to the superiority, in an artistic
sense, of the carbons. And I agree with you that the shadows are less
harsh in the red than in the sepia. Who is the photographer?"

He picked up the red print and, turning it over, looked at the back.
Then, finding that the back of the card was blank, he picked up the
sepia print and inspected it in the same way, but with the same result.
There was no photographer's name either on the back or front.

"I have an impression," said Thorndyke, "that the carbons were done a
City photographer. But my man will know. He got them for me."

Bundy set the two photographs back in their places, still, as it seemed
to me, with the air of a man who is trying vainly to remember something.
But, at this moment, Mrs. Dunk entered with the soup tureen, and we
forthwith took our places at the table.

We had finished our soup, and I was proceeding to effect the
dismemberment of an enormous sole, when Bundy, having fortified himself
with a sip of Chablis, cast a malignant glance at Thorndyke.

"I have got some bad news for you, Doctor," said he.

"Which doctor are you addressing?" Thorndyke asked. "There's only one
now," replied Bundy. "T'other one has been degraded to the rank of
John."

"That happens to be my rank, too," observed Thorndyke.

"Oh, but I couldn't think of taking such a liberty," Bundy protested,
"though it is very gracious and condescending of you to suggest it. No,
your rank and tine will continue to be that of doctor."

"And what is your bad news??'

"It is a case of a lost opportunity," said Bundy. "'Of all the sad words
of tongue or pen,' and so on. It might have been ten shillings. But it
never will now. Cobbledick has got your ten bob."

"Do you mean that Cobbledick has found the missing key?"

"Even so, alackaday! The chance is gone forever."

"Where did he find it?" Thorndyke asked.

"Ah!" exclaimed Bundy. "There it is again. The tragedy of it! He wasn't
looking for it at all. He just fell over it in a field where he was
searching for relics of Mrs. Frood."

"Your description," said Thorndyke "is deficient in geographical
exactitude. Could you bring your ideas of locality to a somewhat sharper
focus? There are probably several fields in the neighbourhood of
Rochester."

"So there are," said Bundy. "Quite a lot. But this particular field lies
on the right, or starboard, side of a small thoroughfare called Black
Boy-lane."

"Let me see," said Thorndyke. "Isn't that the lane that we went down
after leaving our friends on the day of the Great Perambulation?"

"Yes," replied Bundy, looking at him in astonishment, "but how did you
know its name?" (He was, of course, not aware of my report to Thorndyke
describing the discoveries and the place.)

"That," said Thorndyke "is an irrelevant question. Now when you say 'the
right-hand side'--"

"I mean the right-hand side looking towards the town, of course. As a
matter of fact, Cobbledick found the key among the thistles near to the
fence, and quite close to the outside of the city wall."

"How do you suppose it got there?" Thorndyke asked.

"I've no idea. Someone must have taken it out of the gate and thrown it
over the fence. That is obvious. But who could have done it I can't
imagine. Of course, you suspect Cobbledick, but that is only jealousy."

The exchange of schoolboy repartee continued without a sensible pause on
either side. But yet I seemed to detect in Thorndyke's manner a certain
reflectiveness underlying the levity of his verbal conflict with Bundy;
a reflectiveness that seemed to have had its origin in the "news" that
the latter had communicated. Of course, I had said nothing, in my
report, about the finding of the key. Why _should_ I? Those reports
referred exclusively to matters connected with the disappearance of poor
Angelina. The loss and the recovery of the key were items of mere local
gossip with which Thorndyke could have no concern excepting in connexion
with Bundy's facetious fiction. And yet it had seemed to me that
Thorndyke showed quite a serious interest in the announcement. However,
he made no further reference to the matter, and the conversation drifted
to other topics.

It was almost inevitable that, sooner or later, some reference should be
made to the discoveries in the lane. It was Bundy, of course, who
introduced the subject; and I was amazed by the adroit way in which
Thorndyke conveyed the impression of complete ignorance, without making
any statement, and the patient manner in which he listened to the
account of the adventure, and even elicited amplified details by
judicious questions. But he eluded all Bundy's efforts to extract an
opinion on the significance of the discoveries.

"But," the latter protested, "you said that if I would give you the
facts, you would give me the explanation."

"The explanation is obvious," said Thorndyke. "If you found these
objects in the lane, they must have been dropped there."

"Well, of course they must," said Bundy. "That is quite obvious."

"Exactly," agreed Thorndyke. "That is what I am pointing out."

"But why was the body being carried up the lane? And where was it being
carried to?"

"Ah," protested Thorndyke, "but now you are going beyond your facts. You
haven't proved that there was any body there at all."

"But there must have been, or the things couldn't have dropped off it."

"But you haven't proved that they did drop off it. They may have, or
they may not. That is a question of fact; and as I impressed on you on a
previous occasion, evidence as to fact is the function of the common
witness. The expert witness explains the significance of facts furnished
by others. I have explained the facts that you have produced, and now
you ask me to explain something that isn't a fact at all. But that is
not my function. I am an expert."

"I see," said Bundy; "and now I understand why judges are so down on
expert witnesses. It is my belief that they are a parcel of impostors.
Wasn't Captain Bunsby an expert witness? Or was he only an oracle?"

"It is a distinction without a difference," replied Thorndyke. "Captain
Bunsby is the classical instance of oracular safety. It was impossible
to dispute the correctness of his pronouncements."

"Principally," said I, "because no one could make head or tail of them."

"But that was the subtlety of the method," said Thorndyke. "A statement
cannot be contested until it is understood. From which it follows that
if you would deliver a judgment that cannot be disputed, you must take
proper precautions against the risk of being understood."

Bundy adjusted his eye-glass and fixed on Thorndyke a glare of
counterfeit defiance. "I am going to take an early opportunity of seeing
you in the witness-box," said he. "It will be the treat of my life."

"I must try to give you that treat," replied Thorndyke. "I am sure you
will be highly entertained, but I don't think you will be able to
dispute my evidence."

"I don't suppose I shall," Bundy retorted with a grin, "if it is of the
same brand as the sample that I have heard."

Here the arrival of Mrs. Dunk with the coffee ushered in a truce between
the disputants, and when I had filled the cups Thorndyke changed the
subject by recalling the incidents of our perambulation with Japp and
Mr. Willard; and Bundy, apparently considering that enough chaff had
been cut for one evening, entered into a discussion on the conditions of
life in mediaeval Rochester with a zest and earnestness that came as a
refreshing change, after so much frivolity. So the evening passed
pleasantly away until ten o'clock, when Bundy rose to depart.

"Shall we see him home, Thorndyke?" said I. "We can do with a walk after
our pow-wow."

"Somebody ought to see him home," said Thorndyke. "He looks
comparatively sober now, but wait till he gets out into the air."
(Bundy's almost ascetic abstemiousness in respect of wine, I should
explain, had become a mild joke between us.) "But I think I won't join
the bacchanalian procession. I have a letter to write, and I can get it
done and posted by the time you come back."

As we walked towards the office arm-in-arm--Bundy keeping up the fiction
of a slight unsteadiness of gait--my guest once more expressed enjoyment
of our little festivals.

"I suppose," said he, "Dr. Thorndyke is really quite a big bug in his
way."

"Yes," I replied; "he is in the very front rank; in fact, I should say
that he is the greatest living authority on his subject."

"Yes," said Bundy, thoughtfully, "one feels that he is a great man,
although he is so friendly and so perfectly free from side. I hope I
don't cheek him too much."

"He doesn't seem to resent it," I answered, "and he certainly doesn't
object to your society. He expressly said, when he wrote last, that he
hoped to see something of you."

"That was awfully nice of him," Bundy said with very evident
gratification; and he added, after a pause: "Lord! John, what a windfall
it was for me when you came down with that letter from old Turcival. It
has made life a different thing for me."

"I am glad to hear it, Peter," said I; "but you haven't got all the
benefit. It was a bit of luck for me to strike a live bishop in my new
habitat, and a Rumtifoozlish one at that. But here we are at the
episcopal palace. Shall I assist your lordship up the steps?"

We carried out the farce to its foolish end, staggering together up the
steps, at the top of which I propped him securely against the door and
rang the bell, with the comfortable certainty that there was no one in
the house to disturb.

"Good night, John, old chap," he said cordially, as I retired.

"Good night, Peter, my child," I responded; and so took my way homeward
to my other guest.

I arrived at my house in time to meet Thorndyke returning from the
adjacent pillar-box, and we went in together.

"Well," said he, "I suppose we had better turn in, according to what is,
I believe, the custom of this household, and turn out betimes in the
morning, for a visit, perhaps, to Black Boy-lane."

"Yes," I replied, "we may as well turn in now. You are not going to
leave these photographs there, are you?"

"They are your photographs," he replied; "that is, if you care to have
them. I brought them down for you."

I thanked him very warmly for the gift, and gathered up the portraits
carefully, replacing them, for the present, in their box. Then we turned
out the lights and made our way up to our respective bedrooms.

At breakfast on the following morning Thorndyke opened the subject of
our investigation by cross-examining me on the matter of my report, and
the more detailed account that Bundy had given.

"What does Sergeant Cobbledick think of the new developments?" he asked,
when I had given him all the detail that I could.

"In a way he is encouraged. He is glad to get something more definite to
work on. But for the present he seems to be high and dry. He gave me
quite a learned exposition of the possibilities of the case, but he had
to admit when he had finished that he was still in the dark so far as
any final conclusion was concerned. He even suggested that I should put
the facts before you--he recognized you when we met him on the road near
Blue Boar Pier--and ask if you could make any suggestion."

"Can you recall the sergeant's exposition of the case?"

"I think so. It made rather an impression on me at the time," and here I
repeated, as well as I could remember them, the various inferences that
Cobbledick had drawn from the presence in the lane of the things that we
had found. Thorndyke listened with deep attention, nodding his head
approvingly as each point was made.

"A very admirable analysis, Strangeways," he said when I had finished.
"It does the sergeant great credit. So far as it goes, it is an
excellent interpretation of the facts that are in his possession. There
are, perhaps, one or two points that he has overlooked."

"If there are," said I, "it would be a great kindness to draw his
attention to them. He is naturally anxious to get on with the case, and
he has taken endless trouble over it."

"I shall be very glad to give him a hint or two," said Thorndyke. "After
breakfast I should like to go over the ground with you, and then we
might go along to the station and see if he is in his office."

I agreed to this program, and as soon as we had finished our breakfast
we went forth, making our way by Free School-lane and The Common to the
marshes west of Gas House-road. From there we entered Black Boy-lane at
the lower end, and slowly followed its windings, Thorndyke looking about
him attentively, and occasionally peering over the fences, which his
stature enabled him to do without climbing. At the top of the lane,
where it opened into a paved thoroughfare, we observed no less a
personage than Sergeant Cobbledick, standing on the pavement and looking
at the few adjacent houses with an expression of profound speculation.
His speculative attitude changed suddenly to one of eager interest when
he saw us; and on my presenting him to Thorndyke, he stood stiffly at
"attention" and raised his hat with an air that I can only describe as
reverent.

"Dr. Strangeways was telling me, just now," said Thorndyke, "of your
very interesting observations on these new developments. He also said
that you would like to talk the matter over with me."

"I should, indeed, sir," the sergeant said, earnestly; "and if I might
suggest it, my office will be very quiet, being Sunday, and I could show
you the things that have been found, if you would like to see them."

"As to the things that have been found," said Thorndyke, "I am prepared
to take them as read. They have been properly identified. But we could
certainly talk more conveniently in your office."

In a few minutes we turned into a narrow street which brought us to the
side of the Guildhall, and the sergeant, having shown us into his office
and given some instructions to a constable, entered and locked the door.

"Now, Sergeant," said Thorndyke, "tell us what your difficulty is."

"I've got several difficulties, Sir," replied Cobbledick. "In the first
place, here is a body being carried up the lane. You agree with me, Sir,
that it was going up and not down?"

"Yes; your reasons seem quite conclusive."

"Well, then, Sir, the next question is, was this a dead body, or was the
woman drugged or insensible? The fact that she was being taken from the
river towards the town suggests that she was alive and being taken to
some house where she could be hidden; but, of course, a dead body might
be taken to a house to be destroyed by burning or to be dismembered or
even buried, say under the cellar. I must say my own feeling is that it
was a dead body."

"The reasons you gave Dr. Strangeways for thinking so seem to be quite
sound. Let us proceed on the assumption that it was a dead body."

"Well, Sir," said Cobble dick, gloomily, "there you are. That's all. We
have got a body brought up from the river. We can trace it up to near
the top of the lane. But there we lose it. It seems to have vanished
into smoke. It was being taken up into the town; but where? There's
nothing to show. We come out into the paved streets, and, of course,
there isn't a trace. We seem to have come to the end of our clues; and I
am very much afraid that we shan't get any more."

"There," said Thorndyke, "I am inclined to agree with you, Sergeant. You
won't get any more clues for the simple reason that you have got them
all."

"Got them all!" exclaimed Cobbledick, staring in amazement at Thorndyke.

"Yes," was the calm reply; "at least, that is how it appears to me. Your
business now is not to search for more clues but to extract the meaning
from the facts that you possess. Come, now, Sergeant," he continued,
"let us take a bird's-eye view of the case, as it were, reconstructing
the investigation in a sort of synopsis. I will read the entries from my
note-book."

"On Saturday, the 26th of April, Mrs. Frood disappeared. On the 1st of
May the brooch was found at the pawn-brokers. On the 7th of May the box
of tablets and the bag were found on the shore at Chatham, apparently
fixing the place of the crime. On the 9th of May the scarf was found at
Blue Boar Head. On the 15th of May a shoe was found in the creek between
Blue Boar Head and Gas House Point. On the 25th of May the second shoe
was found on the gridiron near Gas House Point. On the 20th of June a
hat-pin was found on the shore a little west of the last spot; always
creeping steadily up the river, you notice."

"Yes," said Cobbledick, "I noticed that, and I'm hanged if I can account
for it in any way."

"Never mind," said Thorndyke. "Just note the fact. Then on the 14th of
July four articles were found; near the bottom of the lane a button;
near the middle of the lane a hat-pin, and, abreast of it in the field,
the hat, itself. Finally, at the top of the lane, in the field, you
found the missing key."

"I don't see what the key has got to do with it," said the sergeant. "It
don't seem to me to be in the picture."

"Doesn't it?" said Thorndyke. "Just consider a moment, Sergeant. But
perhaps you have forgotten the date on which the key disappeared?"

"I don't know that I ever noticed when it was lost."

"It wasn't lost," said Thorndyke. "It was taken away--probably out of
the gate--and afterwards thrown over the fence. But I daresay Dr.
Strangeways can give you the date."

I reflected for a few moments. "Let me see," said I. "It was a good
while ago, and I remember that it was a Saturday, because the men who
were filling the holes in the city wall had knocked off at noon for a
week-end. Now when was it? I went to the wine merchant's that day,
and--". I paused with a sudden shock of recollection. "Why!" I
exclaimed. "It was _the_ Saturday; the day Mrs. Frood disappeared!"

Cobbledick seemed to stiffen in his chair as he suddenly turned a
startled look at Thorndyke.

"Yes," agreed the latter; "the key disappeared during the morning of the
26th of April and Mrs. Frood disappeared on the evening of the same day.
That is a coincidence in time. And if you consider what gate it was that
this key unlocked; that it gave entrance--and also excluded entrance--to
an isolated, enclosed area of waste land in which excavations and
fillings-in are actually taking place; I think you will agree that there
is matter for investigation."

As Thorndyke was speaking Cobbledick's eyes opened wider and wider, and
his mouth exhibited a like change.

"Good Lord, Sir!" he exclaimed at length, "you mean to say--"

"No, I don't," Thorndyke interrupted with a smile. "I am merely drawing
your attention to certain facts which seem to have escaped it. You said
that there was no hint of a place to which the body could have been
conveyed. I point out a hint which you have overlooked. That is all."

"It is a pretty broad hint, too," said Cobbledick, "and I am going to
lose no time in acting on it. Do you happen to know, Doctor, who
employed the workmen?"

"I gathered that Japp and Bundy had the contract to repair the wall. At
any rate, they were supervising the work, and they will be able to tell
you where to find the foreman. Probably they have a complete record of
the progress of the work. You know Mr. Japp's address on Boley Hill, I
suppose, and Mr. Bundy lives over the office."

"I'll call on him at once," said Cobbledick, "and see if he can give me
the particulars, and I'll get him to lend me the key. I suppose you two
gentlemen wouldn't care to come and have a look at the place with me?"

"I don't see why not," said Thorndyke. "But I particularly wish not to
appear in connexion with the case, so I will ask you to say nothing to
anyone of your having spoken to me about it, and, of course, we go to
the place alone."

"Certainly," the sergeant agreed emphatically. "We don't want any
outsiders with us. Then if you will wait for me here I will get back as
quickly as I can. I hope Mr. Bundy is at home."

He snatched up his hat and darted out of the office, full of hope and
high spirits. Thorndyke's suggestion had rejuvenated him.

"It seems to me," I said, when he had gone, "a rather remarkable thing
that you should have remembered all the circumstances of the loss of
this key."

"It isn't really remarkable at all," he replied. "I heard of it after
the woman had disappeared. But as soon as she had disappeared, the loss
of this particular key at this particular time became a fact of possible
evidential importance. It was a fact that had to be noted and
remembered. The connexion of the tragedy with the river seemed to
exclude it for a time; but the discoveries in the lane at once revived
its importance. The fundamental rule, Strangeways, of all criminal
investigation is to note everything, relevant or irrelevant, and forget
nothing."

"It is an excellent rule," said I, "but it must be a mighty difficult
one to carry out"; and for a while we sat, each immersed in his own
reflections.

The sergeant returned in an incredibly short space of time, and he burst
into the office with a beaming face, flourishing the key. "I found him
at home," said he, "and I've got all the necessary particulars, so we
can take a preliminary look round." He held the door open, and when we
had passed out, he led the way down the little street at a pace that
would have done credit to a sporting lamp-lighter. A very few minutes
brought us to the gate, and when he had opened it and locked it behind
us, he stood looking round the weed-grown enclosure as if doubtful where
to begin.

"Which patch in the wall is the one they were working at when the key
disappeared?" Thorndyke asked.

"The last but one to the left," was the reply.

"Then we had better have a look at that, first," said Thorndyke. "It was
a ready-made excavation."

We advanced towards the ragged patch in the wall, and as we drew near I
looked at it with a tumult of emotions that swamped mere anxiety and
expectation. I could see what Thorndyke thought, and that perception
amounted almost to conviction. Meanwhile, my colleague and the sergeant
stepped close up to the patch and minutely examined the rough and
slovenly joints of the stonework.

"There is no trace of its having been opened," said Thorndyke. "But
there wouldn't be. I think we had better scrape up the earth at the foot
of the wall. Something might easily have been dropped and trodden in in
the darkness." He looked towards the shed, in which a couple of empty
lime barrels still remained, and, perceiving there a decrepit shovel, he
went and fetched it. Returning with it, he proceeded to turn up the
surface of the ground at the foot of the wall, depositing each shovelful
of earth on a bare spot, and spreading it out carefully. For some time
there was no result, but he continued methodically, working from one end
of the patch towards the other. Suddenly Cobbledick uttered an
exclamation and stooped over a freshly deposited shovelful.

"By the Lord!" he ejaculated, "it is a true bill! You were quite right,
sir." He stood up, holding out between his finger and thumb a small
bronze button bearing an embossed Tudor Rose. Thorndyke glanced at me as
I took the button from the sergeant and examined it.

"Yes," I said, "it is unquestionably one of her buttons."

"Then," said he, "we have got our answer. The solution of the mystery is
contained in that patch of new rubble."

The sergeant's delight and gratitude were quite pathetic. Again and
again he reiterated his thanks, regardless of Thorndyke's disclaimers
and commendations of the officer's own skilful and patient
investigation.

"All the same," said Cobbledick, as he locked the gate and pocketed the
key, "we haven't solved the whole problem. We may say that we have found
the body; but the problem of the crime and the criminal remains. I
suppose, sir, you don't see any glimmer of light in that direction?"

"A glimmer, perhaps," replied Thorndyke, "but it may turn out to be but
a mirage. Let us see the body. It may have a clearer message for us than
we expect."

Beyond this rather cryptic suggestion he refused to commit himself; nor,
when we had parted from the sergeant, could I get anything more definite
out of him.

"It is useless to speculate," he said, by way of closing the subject.
"We think that we know what is inside that wall. We may be right, but we
may possibly be wrong. A few hours will settle our doubts. If the body
is there, it may tell us all that we want to know."

This last observation left me more puzzled than ever.

The condition of the body might, and probably would, reveal the cause of
death and the nature of the crime; but it was difficult to see how it
could point out the identity of the murderer. However, the subject was
closed for the time being, and Thorndyke resolutely refused to reopen it
until the fresh data were available.



CHAPTER XV--THE END OF THE TRAIL


Shortly after breakfast on the following morning Sergeant Cobbledick
made his appearance at my house. I found him in the consulting-room,
walking about on tip-toe with his hat balanced in his hands, and
evidently in a state of extreme nervous tension.

"I have got everything in train, Doctor," said he, declining a seat. "I
dug up the foreman yesterday evening and he dug up one of his mates to
give him a hand, if necessary; and I have the authority to open the
wall. So we are all ready to begin. The two men have gone down to the
place with their tools, and Mr. Bundy has gone with them to let them in.
He didn't much want to go, but I thought it best that either he or Mr.
Japp should be present. It is their wall, so to speak. I suppose you are
coming to see the job done."

"Is there any need for me to be there?" I asked. Cobbledick looked at me
in surprise. He had evidently assumed that I should be eager to see what
happened.

"Well," he replied, "you are the principal witness to the
identity of the remains. You saw her last, you know. What is your
objection, Doctor?"

I was not in a position to answer this question. I could not tell him
what this last and most horrible search meant to me; and apart from my
personal feelings in regard to poor Angelina, there was no objection at
all, but, on the contrary, every reason why I should be present.

"It isn't a very pleasant affair," I replied, "seeing that I knew the
lady rather well. However, if you think I had better be there, I will
come down with you."

"I certainly think your presence would be a help," said he. "We don't
know what may turn up, and you know more about her than anybody else."

Accordingly, I walked down with him, and when he had admitted me with
his key--Bundy had presumably used the duplicate--he closed the gate and
locked it from within. The actual operations had not yet commenced, but
the foreman and his mate were standing by the wall, conversing affably
with Bundy, who looked nervous and uncomfortable, evidently relishing
his position no more than I did mine.

"This is a gruesome affair, John, isn't it?" he said in a low voice. "I
don't see why old Cobbledick wanted to drag us into it. It will be an
awful moment when they uncover her, if she is really there. I'm
frightfully sorry for you, old chap."

"I should have had to see the body in any case," said I; "and this is
less horrible than the river."

Here my attention was attracted by the foreman, who had just drawn a
long, horizontal chalk line across the patch of new rubble, a little
below the middle.

"That's about the place where we left off that Saturday, so far as I
remember," he said. "We had built up the outer case, and we filled in
the hollow with loose bricks and stones, but we didn't put any mortar to
them until Monday morning. Then we mixed up a lot of mortar, quite thin,
so that it would run, and poured it on top of the loose stuff."

"Rum way of building a wall isn't it?" observed Cobbledick.

The foreman grinned. "It ain't what you'd call the highest class of
masonry," he admitted. "But what can you expect to do with a gang of
corner-boys who've never done a job of real work in their lives?"

"No, that's true," said the Sergeant. "But you made a soft job for the
grave-diggers, didn't you? Why they'd only got to pick out the loose
stuff and then dump it back on top when they'd put the body in. Then you
came along on Monday morning and finished the job for them with one or
two bucketsful of liquid mortar. How long would it have taken to pick
out that loose stuff?"

"Lord bless yer," was the answer, "one man who meant business could have
picked the whole lot out by hand in an hour; and he could have chucked
it back in less. As you say, Sergeant, it was a soft job."

While they had been talking, the foreman's familiar demon had been
making a tentative attack on the outer casing with a great, chisel-ended
steel bar and a mason's hammer. The foreman now came to his aid with a
sledge hammer, the first stroke of which caused the shoddy masonry to
crack in all directions like pie-crust. Then the fractured pieces of the
outer shell were prised off, revealing the "loose stuff" within. And
uncommonly loose it was; so loose that the unjoined bricks and stones,
with their adherent gouts of mortar, came away at the lightest touch of
the great crow-bar.

As soon as a breach had been made at the top of the patch, the labourer
climbed up and began flinging out the separated bricks and stones. Then
he attacked a fresh course of the outer shell with a pick, and so
exposed a fresh layer of the loose filling.

"There'll be a fresh job for the unemployed to build this up again," the
sergeant observed with a sardonic smile.

"Ah," replied the foreman, "there generally is a fresh job when you take
on a crowd of casuals. Wonderful provident men are casuals. Don't they
take no thought for the morrow! What O!"

At this moment the labourer stood upright on his perch and laid down his
pick. "Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed. "This is a rum go, this is."

"What's a rum go?" demanded the foreman.

"Why, here's a whole bed of dry quick-lime," was the reply.

"Ha!" exclaimed the sergeant, knitting his brows anxiously.

The foreman scrambled up, and after a brief inspection confirmed the
man's statement. "Quick-lime it is, sure enough. Just hand me up that
shovel, Sergeant."

"Be careful," Cobbledick admonished, as he passed the shovel up. "Don't
forget what there probably is underneath."

The foreman took the shovel and began very cautiously to scrape away the
surface, flinging the scrapings of lime out on to the ground, where they
were eagerly scrutinized by the sergeant, while the labourer picked out
the larger lumps and cast them down. Thus the work went on for about a
quarter of an hour, without any result beyond the accumulation on the
ground below of a small heap of lime. At length I noticed the foreman
pause and look attentively at the lime that he had just scraped up in
his shovel.

"Here's something that I don't fancy any of our men put in," he said,
picking the object out and handing it down to the Sergeant. The latter
took it from him and held it out for me to see. It was another of
Angelina's coat buttons.

In the course of the next few minutes two more buttons came to light,
and almost immediately afterwards I saw the labourer stoop suddenly and
stare down at the lime with an expression that made my flesh creep, as
he pointed something out to the foreman.

"Ah!" the latter exclaimed. "Here she is! But, my word! There ain't much
left of her. Look at this, Sergeant."

Very gingerly, and with an air of shuddering distaste, he picked
something out of the lime and held it up; and even at that distance I
could see that it was a human ulna. Cobbledick took it from him with the
same distasteful and almost fearful manner, and held it towards me for
inspection. I glanced at it and looked away. "Yes," I said. "It is a
human arm bone."

On this, Cobbledick beckoned for the labourer to come down, and, taking
out his official note-book, wrote something in pencil and tore out the
leaf.

"Take this down to the station and give it to Sergeant Brown. He will
tell you what else to do." He gave the paper to the man, and having let
him out of the gate, came back and climbed up to the exposed surface of
the excavation, where I saw him draw on a pair of gloves and then stoop
and begin to pick over the lime.

"This is a horrid business, isn't it?" said Bundy. "Why the deuce
couldn't Cobbledick carry on by himself? I don't see that it is our
affair. Do you think we need stay?"

"I don't see why you need. You have finished your part of the business.
You have seen the wall opened. I am afraid I must stay a little longer,
as Cobbledick may want me to identify some of the other objects that may
be found. But I shan't stay very long. There is really no question of
the identity of the body, and there is no doubt now that the body is
there. Detailed identification is a matter for the coroner."

As we were speaking, we walked slowly away from the wall among the
mounds of rubbish, now beginning to be hidden under a dense growth of
nettles, ragwort and thistles. It was a desolate, neglected place,
sordid of aspect and contrasting unpleasantly in its modern squalor with
the dignified decay of the ancient wall. We had reached the further
fence and were just turning about, when the sergeant hailed me with a
note of excitement in his voice. I hurried across and found him standing
up with his eyes fixed on something that lay in the palm of his gloved
hand.

"This seems to be the ring that you described to me, Doctor," said he.
"Will you just take a look at it?"

He reached down and I received in my hand the little trinket of
deep-toned, yellow gold that I remembered so well. I turned it over in
my palm, and as I looked on its mystical signs, its crude, barbaric
workmanship and the initials "A. C." scratched inside, the scene in that
dimly lighted room--years ago, it seemed to me now--rose before me like
a vision. I saw the gracious figure in the red glow of the lamp and
heard the voice that was never again to sound in my ears, telling the
story of the little bauble, and for a few moments, the dreadful present
faded into the irredeemable past.

"There isn't any doubt about it, is there, Doctor?" the sergeant asked
anxiously.

"None, whatever," I replied. "It is unquestionably Mrs. Frood's ring."

"That's a mercy," said Cobbledick; "because we shall want every atom of
identification that we can get. The body isn't going to help us much.
This lime has done its work to a finish. There's nothing left, so far as
I can see, but the skeleton and the bits of metal belonging to the
clothing. Would you like to come up and have a look, Doctor? There isn't
much to see yet, but I have uncovered some of the bones."

"I don't think I will come up, Sergeant, thank you," said I. "When you
have finished, I shall have to look over what has been found, as I shall
have to give evidence at the inquest. And I think I need hardly stay any
longer. There is no doubt now about the identity, so far as we are
concerned, at any rate."

"No," he agreed. "There is no doubt in my mind, so I need not keep you
any longer if you want to be off. But, before you go, there is one
little matter that I should like to speak to you about." He climbed down
to the ground, and, walking away with me a little distance, continued:

"You see, Doctor, some medical man will have to examine the remains, so
as to give evidence before the coroner. If it is impossible to identify
them as the remains of Mrs. Frood, it will have to be given in evidence
that they are the remains of a person who might have been Mrs. Frood;
that they are the remains of a woman of about her size and age, I mean.
Of course, the choice of the medical witness doesn't rest with the
police, but if you would care to take on the job, our recommendation
would have weight with the coroner. You see, you are the most suitable
person to make the examination, as you actually knew her."

I shook my head emphatically. "For that very reason, Sergeant, I
couldn't possibly undertake the duty. Even doctors have feelings, you
know. Just imagine how you would feel, yourself, pawing over the bones
of a woman who had once been your friend."

Cobbledick looked disappointed. "Yes," he admitted, "I suppose there is
something in what you say. But I didn't think doctors troubled about
such things very much; and you have got such an eye for detail--and such
a memory. However, if you'd rather not, there is an end of the matter."

He climbed back regretfully to the opening in the wall, and I rejoined
Bundy. "I have finished here now," said I. "That was a ring of hers that
Cobbledick had found. Are you staying any longer?"

"Not if you are going away," he replied. "I am not wanted now, and I
can't stick this charnel-house atmosphere; it is getting on my nerves.
Let us clear out."

We walked towards the entrance with a feeling of relief at escaping from
the gruesome place, and had arrived within a few yards of it when there
came a loud knocking at the gate, at which Bundy started visibly.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, "it's like Macbeth. Here, take my key and let
the beggars in, whoever they are."

I unlocked the gate and threw it open, when I saw, standing in the lane,
two men, bearing on their shoulders a rough, unpainted coffin, and
accompanied by the labourer, who carried a large sieve. I stood aside to
let them pass in, and when they had entered, Bundy and I walked out,
shutting and locking the gate after us. We made our way up the lane in
silence, for there was little to say but much to think about; indeed, I
would sooner have been alone, but the gruesome atmosphere of the place
we had come from seemed to have affected Bundy's spirits so much that I
thought it only kind to ask him to come back to lunch with me; an
invitation that he accepted with avidity.

During lunch we discussed the tragic discovery, and Bundy, now that he
had escaped from physical contact with the relics of mortality, showed
his usual shrewd common sense.

"Well;" he said, "the mystery of poor Angelina Frood is solved at
last--at least, so far as it is ever likely to be."

"I hope not," I replied, "for the essential point of the mystery is not
solved at all. It has only just been completely propounded. We now know
beyond a doubt that she was murdered, and that the murder was a
deliberate crime, planned in advance. What we want to know--at least,
what I want to know, and shall never rest until I do know--is, who
committed this diabolical crime?"

"I am afraid you never will know, John," said he. "There doesn't seem to
be the faintest clue."

"What do you mean?" I demanded. "You seem to have forgotten Nicholas
Frood."

Bundy shook his head. "You are deluding yourself, John. Nicholas seems,
from your account of him, to be quite capable of having murdered his
wife. But is there anything to connect him with the crime? If there is,
you have never told me of it. And the law demands positive evidence. You
can't charge a man with murder because he seems a likely person and you
don't know of anybody else. What have you got against him in connexion
with this present affair?"

"Well, for instance, I know that he was prowling about this town, and
that he was trying to find out where she lived."

"But why not?" demanded Bundy. "She was a runaway wife, and he was her
husband."

"Then I happen to have noticed that he carried a sheath-knife."

"But do you know that she was killed with a sheath-knife?"

"No, I don't," I answered savagely. "But I say again that I shall never
rest until the price of her death has been paid. There must be some
clue. The murder could not have been committed without a motive, and it
must be possible to discover what that motive was. Somebody must have
stood to benefit in some way by her death; and I am going to find that
person, or those persons, if I give up the rest of my life to the
search."

"I am sorry to hear you say that, John," he said as he rose to depart.
"It sounds as if you were prepared to spend the rest of your life
chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. But we are premature. The inquest may bring
to light some new evidence that will put the police on the murderer's
track. You must remember that they have been engaged in tracing the body
up to now. When the inquest has been held and the facts are known they
will be able to begin the search for the murderers. And I wish them and
you good luck."

I was rather glad when he was gone, for his dispassionate estimate of
the difficulties of the case only served to confirm my own secret
hopelessness. For I could not deny that these wretches seemed to have
covered up their tracks completely. In the three months that had passed
no whisper of any suspicious circumstance had been heard.

From the moment when poor Angelina had faded from my sight into the fog
to that of her dreadful reappearance in the old wall, no human eye
seemed to have seen her. And now that she had come back, what had she to
tell us of the events of that awful night? The very body, on which
Thorndyke had relied for evidence, at least, of the manner of the crime,
had dwindled to a mere skeleton such as might have been exhumed from
some ancient tomb. The cunning of the murderer had outwitted even
Thorndyke.

The thought of my friend reminded me that I had to report to him the
results of the opening of the wall; results very different from what he
had anticipated when he had given the sergeant the too-fruitful hint. I
accordingly wrote out a detailed report, so far as my information went;
but I held it back until the last post in case anything further should
come to my knowledge. And it was just as well that I did; for about
eight o'clock, Cobbledick called to give me the latest tidings.

"Well, Doctor," he said, with a smile of concentrated benevolence, "I
have got everything in going order. I have seen the coroner and made out
a list of witnesses. You are one of them, of course; in fact, you are
the star witness. You were the last person to see her alive, and you
were present at the exhumation. Dr. Baines--he's rather a scientific
gentleman--is to make the post-mortem examination, and tell us the cause
of death, if he can. He won't have much to go on. The lime has eaten up
everything--it would, naturally, after three months--but the bones look
quite uninjured, so far as I could judge."

"When does the inquest open?" I asked.

"The day after to-morrow. I've got your summons with me, and I may as
well give it to you now."

I looked at the little blue paper and put it in my pocketbook. "Do you
think the coroner will get through the case in one day?" I asked.

"No, I am sure he won't," replied Cobbledick. "It is an important case,
and there will be a lot of witnesses. There will be the evidence as to
the building of the wall; then the opening of it and the description of
what we found in it; then the identification of the remains--that is
you, principally; and then there will be all the other evidence, the
pawnbroker, Israel Bangs, Hooper, and the others. And then, of course,
there will be the question as to the guilty parties. That is the most
important of all."

"I didn't know you had any evidence on that subject," said I.

"I haven't much," he replied. "From the time when she disappeared nobody
saw her alive or dead, and, of course, nothing has ever been heard of
any occurrence that might indicate a crime. All we have to go on--and it
is mighty little--is the fact that she was hiding from her husband, and
that he was trying to find her. Also that he had made one attempt on her
life. That is where your evidence will come in, and that of the matron
at the 'Poor Travellers.' I've had a talk with her."

"Do you know anything of Frood's movements about the time of the
disappearance?"

"Practically nothing, excepting that he went away from his lodgings the
day before. You see, we were not in a position to start tracing possible
criminals. We had no real evidence of any crime. We knew that the woman
had disappeared, and she appeared to have got into the river. But there
was nothing to show how. It looked suspicious, but it wasn't a case. So
long as no body was forthcoming there was no evidence of death, and
nobody could have been charged. Even if we had found the body in the
river, unless there had been distinct traces of violence, it would have
been merely a case of 'found dead,' or 'found drowned.' But now the
affair is on a different footing entirely. The body has been discovered
under conditions which furnish prima facie evidence of murder, whatever
the cause of death may turn out to have been. There is sure to be a
verdict of wilful murder--not that the police are dependent on the
coroner's verdict. So now we can get a move on and look for the
murderer."

"What chance do you think there is of finding him?" I asked.

"Well," said Cobbledick with a benevolent smile, "we mustn't be too
cock-sure. But, leaving the husband out of the question and taking the
broad facts, it doesn't look so unpromising. This wasn't a casual
crime--fortunately. There's nothing so hopeless as a casual crime, done
for mere petty robbery. But this crime was thought out. The place of
burial was selected in advance. The key of the place was obtained, so
that the murderer could not only get in but could lock himself--or more
probably themselves--in and work secure from chance disturbance. And the
time seems to have been selected; a week-end, with two whole nights to
do the job in. All this points to very definite premeditation; and that
points to a very definite motive. The person who planned this crime had
something considerable to gain by Mrs. Frood's death; it may have been
profit or it may have been the satisfaction of revenge.

"Well, that is a pretty good start. When we know what property she had,
who comes into it at her death, if any of it is missing, and if so, what
has become of it; we can judge concerning the first case. And if we find
that she had any enemies besides her husband; anyone whom she had
injured or who owed her a grudge; then we can judge of the second case.

"Then there is another set of facts. This murderer couldn't have been a
complete stranger to the place. He knew about the wall and what was
going on there. He knew the river and he possessed, or had command of, a
boat. He knew the waterside premises and he knew his way--or had someone
to show him the way--across the marshes and up Black Boy-lane. One, at
least, of the persons concerned in this affair was a local man who knew
the place well. So you see, Doctor, we have got something to go on,
after all."

I listened to the sergeant's exposition with deep interest and no little
revival of my drooping hopes. It was a most able summary of the case,
and I felt that I should have liked Thorndyke to hear it; in fact, I
determined to embody it in the amplification of my report. With the
facts thus fully and lucidly collated, it did really seem as though the
perpetrator of this foul crime must inevitably fall into our hands.
Having refreshed the sergeant with a couple of glasses of port, I shook
his hand warmly and wished him the best of success in the investigation
that he was conducting with so much ability.

When he had gone I wrote a full account of our interview to add to my
previous report, and expressed the hope that Thorndyke would be able to
be present at the inquest, when I myself should "be and appear" at the
appointed place to give evidence on the day after the morrow.



CHAPTER XVI--THE INQUIRY AND A SURPRISE


On the morning of the inquest I started from my house well in advance of
time, and in a distinctly uncomfortable frame of mind. Perhaps it was
that the formal inquiry brought home to me with extra vividness the
certainty that my beloved friend was gone from me forever, and that she
had died in circumstances of tragedy and horror. Not that I had ever had
any doubt, but now the realization was more intense. Again, I should
have to give evidence. I should have to reconstitute for the information
of strangers scenes and events that had for me a certain sacred
intimacy. And then, above all, I should have to view--and that not
cursorily--the decayed remains of the woman who had been so much to me.
That would be naturally expected from a medical man and no one would
guess at what it would cost me to bring myself to this last dreadful
meeting.

Walking down the High-street thus wrapped in gloomy reflections, it was
with mixed feelings that I observed Bundy advancing slowly towards me,
having evidently awaited my arrival. In some respects I would sooner
have been alone, and yet his kindly, sympathetic companionship was not
altogether unwelcome.

"Good morning, John," said he. "I hope I am not _de trop_. It is a
melancholy errand for you, poor old chap, and I can't do much to make it
less so, but I thought we might walk down together. You know how sorry I
am for you, John."

"Yes, I know and appreciate, and I am always glad to see you, Peter. But
why are you going there! Have you had a summons?"

"No, I have no information to give. But I am interested in the case, of
course, so I am going to attend as a spectator. So is Japp, though he is
really a legitimately interested party. In fact, I am rather surprised
they didn't summon him as a witness."

"So am I. He really knows more about the poor girl than I do. But, of
course, he knows nothing of the circumstances of her death."

By this time we had arrived at the Guildhall, and here we encountered
Sergeant Cobbledick, who was evidently on the look-out for me.

"I am glad you came early, Doctor," said he. "I want you just to pop
round to the mortuary. You know the way. There's a tray by the side of
the coffin with all her belongings on it. I'll get you to take a careful
look at them, so that you can tell the jury that they are really her
things. And you had better run your eye over the remains. You might be
able to spot something of importance. At any rate, they will expect you
to have viewed the body, as you are the principal witness to its
identity. I've told the constable on duty to let you in. And, of course,
you can go in, too, Mr. Bundy, if you want to."

"I don't think I do, thank you," replied Bundy. But he walked round with
me to the mortuary, where the constable unlocked the door as he saw us
approaching. I mentioned my name to the officer, but he knew me by
sight, and now held the door open and followed me in, while Bundy halted
at the threshold, and stood, rather pale and awe-stricken, looking in at
the long table and its gruesome burden.

The tray of which Cobbledick had spoken was covered with a white
table-cloth, and on this the various objects were arranged symmetrically
like the exhibits in a museum. At the top was the hat, flanked on either
side by a silver-headed hat-pin. The carefully smoothed scarf was spread
across horizontally, the six coat-buttons were arranged in a straight
vertical line, and the two shoes were placed at the bottom centre. At
one side was the hand-bag, and at the other, to balance it, the
handkerchief with its neatly embroidered initials; and on this were
placed the Zodiac ring, the wedding ring, the box of tablets, and the
brooch. On the lateral spaces the various other objects were arranged
with the same meticulous care for symmetrical effect: a neat row of hair
pins, a row of hooks and eyes, one or two rows of buttons from the dress
and under garments, the little metal jaws of the purse, two rows of
coins, silver and bronze, a pair of glove-fasteners with scorched
fragments of leather adhering, a little pearl handled knife, a number of
metal clasps and fastenings and other small metallic objects derived
from the various garments, and a few fragments of textiles, scorched as
if by fire; a couple of brown shreds, apparently from the stockings, a
cindery fragment of the brown coat, and a few charred and brittle
tatters of linen.

I looked over the pitiful collection while the constable stood near the
door and probably watched me. There was something unspeakably pathetic
in the spectacle of these poor fragments of wreckage, thus laid out, and
seeming, in the almost grotesque symmetry of their disposal, to make a
mute appeal for remembrance and justice. This was all that was left of
her; this and what was in the coffin.

So moved was I by the sight of these relics, thus assembled and
presented in a sort of tragic synopsis, that it was some time before I
could summon the resolution to look upon her very self, or at least upon
such vestiges of her as had survived the touch of "decay's effacing
fingers." But the time was passing, and it had to be. At last I turned
to the coffin, and, lifting the unfastened lid, looked in.

It could have been no different from what I had expected; but yet the
shock of its appearance seemed to strike me a palpable blow. Someone had
arranged the bones in their anatomical order; and there the skeleton lay
on the bottom of the coffin, dry, dusty, whitened with the powder of
lime, such a relic as might have been brought to light by the spade of
some excavator in an ancient barrow or prehistoric tomb. And yet this
thing was she--Angelina! That grisly skull had once been clothed by her
rich, abundant hair! That grinning range of long white teeth had once
sustained the sweet, pensive mouth that I remembered so well. It was
incredible. It was horrible. And yet it was true.

For some moments I stood as if petrified, holding up the coffin lid and
gazing at the fearful shape in a trance of horror. And then suddenly I
felt, as it were, a clutching at my throat and the vision faded into a
blur as my eyes filled. Hastily I clapped down the coffin lid and strode
towards the door with the tears streaming down my face.

Vaguely I was aware of Bundy taking my arm and pressing it to his side,
of his voice as he murmured shakily, "Poor old John!" Passively I
allowed him to lead me to a quiet corner above a flight of steps leading
down to the river, where I halted to wipe my eyes, faintly surprised to
note that he was wiping his eyes too; and that his face was pale and
troubled. But if I was surprised, I was grateful, too; and never had my
heart inclined more affectionately towards him than in this moment of
trial that had been lightened by his unobtrusive sympathy and perfect
understanding.

We stayed for a few minutes, looking down on the river and talking of
the dead woman and the sad and troubled life from which this hideous
crime had snatched her; then, as the appointed time approached, we made
our way to the room in which the inquiry was to be held. As we entered,
a pleasant-looking, shrewd-faced man, who looked like a barrister and
who had been standing by a constable, approached and accosted me.

"Dr. Strangeways? My name is Anstey. I do most of the court work in
connexion with Thorndyke's cases, and I am representing him here to-day.
He had hoped to come down, himself, but he had to go into the country on
some important business, so I have to come to keep the nest warm--to
watch the proceedings and make a summary of the evidence. You mentioned
to him that the case would take more than one day."

"Yes," I answered, "that is what I understand. Will Dr. Thorndyke be
here to-morrow?"

"Yes; he has arranged definitely to attend to-morrow. And I think he
expects by then to have some information of importance to communicate."

"Indeed!" I said eagerly. "Do you happen to know the nature of it?"

Anstey laughed. "My dear Doctor," said he, "you have met Thorndyke, and
you must know by now that he is about as communicative as a Whitstable
native. No one ever knows what cards he holds."

"Yes," I agreed, "he is extraordinarily secretive. Unnecessarily so, it
has seemed to me."

Anstey shook his head. "He is perfectly right, Doctor. He knows his own
peculiar job to a finish. He is, in a way, like some highly-specialized
animal, such as the three-toed sloth, for instance, which seems an
abnormal sort of beast until you see it doing, with unapproachable
perfection, the thing that nature intended it to do. Thorndyke is a case
of perfect adaptation to a special environment."

"Still," I objected, "I don't see the use of such extreme secrecy."

"You would if you followed his cases. A secret move is a move against
which the other player--if there is one--can make no provision or
defence or counter-move. Thorndyke plays with a wooden face and without
speaking. No one knows what his next move will be. But when it comes, he
puts down his piece and says 'check'; and you'll find it is mate."

"But," I still objected, "you are talking of an adversary and of
counter-moves. Is there any adversary in this case?"

"Well, isn't there?" said he. "There has been a crime committed. Someone
has committed it; and that someone is not advertising his identity. But
you can take it that he has been keeping a watchful eye on his pursuers,
ready, if necessary, to give them a lead in the wrong direction. But it
is time for us to take our places. I see the jury have come back from
viewing the body."

We took our places at the long table, one side of which was allocated to
the jury and the other to witnesses in waiting, the police officers, the
press-men, and other persons interested in the case. A few minutes
later, the coroner opened the proceedings by giving a very brief
statement of the circumstances which had occasioned the inquiry, and
then proceeded to call the witnesses.

The first witness was Sergeant Cobbledick, whose evidence took the form
of a statement covering the whole history of the case, beginning with
Mr. Japp's notification of the disappearance of Mrs. Frood and ending
with the opening of the wall and the discovery of the remains. The
latter part of the evidence was given in minute detail and included a
complete list of the objects found with the remains.

"Does any juryman wish to ask the witness any questions?" the Coroner
inquired when the lengthy statement was concluded. He looked from one to
the other, and when nobody answered he called the next witness. This was
Dr. Baines, a somewhat dry-looking gentleman, who gave his evidence
clearly, concisely, and with due scientific caution.

"You have examined the remains which form the subject of this inquiry?"
the coroner asked.

"Yes. I have examined the skeleton which is now lying in the mortuary.
It is that of a rather strongly-built woman, five feet seven inches in
height, and about thirty years of age."

"Were you able to form any opinion as to the cause of death?"

"No; there were no signs of any injury nor of disease."

"Are we to understand," asked one of the jurymen, "that you consider
deceased to have died a natural death?"

"I have no means of forming any opinion on the subject."

"But if she died from violence, wouldn't there be some signs of it?"

"That would depend on the nature of the violence."

"Supposing she had been shot with a revolver."

"In that case there might be a fracture of one or more bones, but there
might be no fracture at all. Of course, there would be a bullet."

"Did you find a bullet?"

"No. I did not see the bones until they had been brought to the
mortuary."

"There has been no mention of a bullet having been found," the coroner
interposed, "and you heard Sergeant Cobbledick say that the lime had all
been sifted through a fine sieve. We must take it that there was no
bullet. But," he continued, addressing the witness, "the conditions that
you found would not exclude violence, I presume?"

"Not at all. Only violence that would cause injury to the bones."

"What kinds of violence would be unaccompanied by injury to the bones?"

"Drowning, hanging, strangling, suffocation, stabbing; and, of course,
poisoning usually leaves no traces on the bones."

"Can you give us no suggestion as to the cause of death?"

"None whatever," was the firm reply.

"You have heard the description of the missing woman, Mrs. Frood. Do
these remains correspond with that description?"

"They are the remains of a woman of similar stature and age to Mrs.
Frood, so far as I can judge. I can't say more than that. The
description of Mrs. Frood was only approximate; and the estimate of the
stature, and especially the age, of a skeleton can only be approximate."

This being all that could be got out of the witness, who was concerned
only with the skeleton, and naturally refused to budge from that
position, the coroner glanced at his list and then called my name. I
rose and took my place at the top corner of the table, when I was duly
sworn, and gave my name and description.

"You heard Sergeant Cobbledick's description of the articles which have
been found, and which are now lying in the mortuary?" the coroner began.

I replied "Yes," and he continued: "Have you examined those articles,
and, if so, can you tell us anything about them?"

"I have examined the articles in the mortuary, and I recognized them as
things I know to have been the property of Mrs. Angelina Frood."

Here I described the articles in detail, and stated when and where I had
seen them in her possession.

"You have inspected the remains of deceased in the mortuary. Can you
identify them as the remains of any particular person?"

"No. They are quite unrecognizable."

"Have you any doubt as to whose remains they are?" asked the juryman who
had spoken before.

"That question, Mr. Pilley," said the coroner "is not quite in order.
The witness has said that he was not able to identify the remains.
Inferences as to the identity of deceased, drawn from the evidence, are
for the jury. We must not ask witnesses to interpret the evidence. When
did you last see Mrs. Frood alive, Doctor?"

"On the 26th of April," I replied; and here I described that last
interview, recalling our conversation almost verbatim. When I came to
her expressions of uneasiness and foreboding, the attention of the
listeners became more and more intense, and it was evident that they
were deeply impressed. Particularly attentive was the foreman of the
jury, a keen-faced, alert-looking man, who kept his eyes riveted on me,
and, when I had finished this part of my evidence, asked: "So far as you
know, Doctor, had Mrs. Frood any enemies? Was there anyone whom she had
reason to be afraid of?"

This was a rather awkward question. It is one thing to entertain a
suspicion privately, but quite another thing to give public expression
to it. Besides, I was giving sworn evidence as to facts actually within
my knowledge.

"I can't say, positively," I replied after some hesitation, "that I know
of any enemy or anyone whom she had reason to fear."

The coroner saw the difficulty, and interposed with a discreet question.

"What do you know of her domestic affairs, of her relations with her
husband, for instance?"

This put the matter on the basis of fact, and I was able to state what I
knew of her unhappy married life in Rochester and previously in London;
and further questions elicited my personal observations as to the
character and personality of her husband. My meeting with him at
Dartford Station, the incidents in the Poor Travellers' rest-house, the
meeting with him on the bridge; all were given in full detail and
devoured eagerly by the jury. And from their questions and their
demeanour it became clear to me that they were in full cry after
Nicholas Frood.

The conclusion of my evidence brought us to the luncheon hour. I had, of
course, to take Mr. Anstey back to lunch with me, and a certain
wistfulness in Bundy's face made me feel that I ought to ask him, too. I
accordingly presented them to one another and issued the invitation.

"I am delighted to meet you, Mr. Bundy," Anstey said heartily. "I have
heard of you from my friend Thorndyke, who regards you with respectful
admiration."

"Does he?" said Bundy, blushing with pleasure, but looking somewhat
surprised. "I can't imagine why. But are you an expert, too?"

"Bless you, no," laughed Anstey. "I am a mere lawyer, and, on this
occasion, what is known technically as a devil--technically, you
understand. I am watching this case for Thorndyke."

"But I didn't know that Dr. Thorndyke was interested in the case," said
Bundy, in evident perplexity.

"He is interested in everything of a criminal and horrid nature,"
replied Anstey. "He never lets a really juicy crime mystery pass without
getting all the details, if possible. You see, they are his stock in
trade."

"But he never would discuss this case--not seriously," objected Bundy.

"Probably not," said Anstey. "Perhaps there wasn't much to discuss. But
wait till the case is finished. Then he will tell you all about it."

"I see," said Bundy. "He is one of those prophets who predict after the
event."

"And the proper time, too," retorted Anstey. "It is no use being
premature."

The conversation proceeded on this plane of playful repartee until we
arrived at my house, where Mrs. Dunk, having bestowed a wooden glance of
curiosity at Anstey and a glare of defiance at Bundy, handed me a
telegram addressed to R. Anstey, K.C., care of Dr. Strangeways. I passed
it to Anstey, who opened it and glanced through it.

"What shall I say in answer?" he asked, placing it in my hand.

I read the message and was not a little puzzled by it.

"Ask Strangeways come back with you to-night. Very urgent. Reply time
and place."

"What do you suppose he wants me for?" I asked.

"I never suppose in regard to Thorndyke," he replied.

"But if he says it is urgent, it is urgent. Can you come up with me?"

"Yes, if it is necessary."

"It is. Then I'll say yes. And you had better arrange to stay the
night--there is a spare bedroom at his chambers--and come down with him
in the morning. Can you manage that?"

"Yes," I replied; "and you can say that we shall be at Charing Cross by
seven-fifteen."

I could see that this transaction was as surprising to Bundy as it was
to me. But, of course, he asked no questions, nor could I have answered
them if he had. Moreover, there was not much time for discussion as we
had to be back in the court room by two o'clock, and what talk there was
consisted mainly of humorous comments by Anstey on the witnesses and the
jury.

Having sent off the telegram on our way down, we took our places once
more, and the proceedings were resumed punctually by the calling of the
foreman of the repairing gang; who deposed to the date on which the
particular patch of rubble was commenced and finished and its condition
when the men knocked off work on Saturday, the 26th of April. He also
mentioned the loss of the key, but could give no particulars. The
cross-examination elicited the facts that he had communicated to
Cobbledick and me as to the state of the loose filling.

"How many men," the coroner asked, "would it have taken to bury the body
in the way in which it was buried; and how long?"

"One man could have done it easily in one night, if he could have got
the body there. The stuff in the wall was all loose, and it was small
stuff, easy to handle. No building had to be done. It was just a matter
of shovelling the lime in and then chucking the loose stuff in on top.
And the lime was handy to get at in the shed, and one of the barrels was
open."

"Can you say certainly when the body was buried?"

"It must have been buried on the night of the 26th of April or on the
27th, because on Monday morning, the 28th, we ran the mortar in, and by
that evening we had got the patch finished."

The next witness was the labourer, Thomas Evans, who had lost the key.
His account of the affair was as follows:

"On the morning of Saturday, the 26th of April, the foreman gave me the
key, because he had to go to the office. I took the key and opened the
gate, and I left the key in the lock for him to take when he came. Then
I forgot all about it, and I suppose he did, too, because he didn't say
anything about it until we had knocked off work and were going out. Then
he asks me where the key was, and I said it was in the gate. Then he
went and looked but it wasn't there. So we searched about a bit in the
grounds and out in the lane; but we couldn't see nothing of it nowhere."

"When you let yourself in, did you leave the gate open or shut it?"

"I shut the gate, but, of course, it was unlocked. The key was outside."

"So that anyone passing up the lane could have taken it out without your
noticing?"

"Yes. We was working the other side of the grounds, so we shouldn't have
heard anything if anybody had took it."

That completed the evidence as to the key, and when Evans was dismissed
the matron of the Poor Travellers was called. As she took her place, a
general straightening of backs and air of expectancy on the part of the
jury suggested that her evidence was looked forward to with more than
common interest. And so it turned out to be. Her admirably clear and
vivid presentment of the man, Nicholas Frood; his quarrelsome, emotional
temperament, his shabby condition, his abnormal appearance, the
evidences of his addiction to drink and drugs, his apparently destitute
state, and, above all, the formidable sheath-knife that he wore under
his coat; were listened to with breathless attention, and followed by a
fusilade of eager, and often highly improper, questions. But the coroner
was a wise and tactful man, and he unobtrusively intervened to prevent
any irregularities; as, for instance, "It is not permissible," he
observed, blandly, "to ask a witness if a certain individual seemed to
be a likely person to commit a crime. And a coroner's court is not a
criminal court. It is not our function to establish any person's guilt,
but to ascertain how deceased met with her death. If the evidence shows
that she was murdered, we shall say so in our verdict. If the evidence
points clearly to a particular person as the murderer, we shall name
that person in the verdict. But we are not primarily investigating a
crime; we are investigating a death. The criminal investigation is for
the police."

This reminder cooled the ardour of the criminal investigators somewhat,
but there were signs of a fresh outbreak when Mrs. Gillow gave her
evidence, for that lady having a somewhat more lively imagination than
the matron, tended to lure enterprising jurymen on to fresh
indiscretions. She certainly enjoyed herself amazingly, and occupied a
most unnecessary amount of time before she at length retired, dejected
but triumphant, to the manifest relief of the coroner.

This brought the day's proceedings to a close. There were a few more
witnesses on the list, and the coroner hoped to take their evidence and
complete the inquiry on the following day. As soon as the court rose,
Anstey and I with Bundy proceeded to a tea-shop hard by and, having
refreshed ourselves with a light tea, set forth to catch our train at
Strood Station. Thither Bundy accompanied us at my invitation, but
though I suspected that he was bursting with curiosity as to the object
of my mysterious journey, he made no reference to it, nor did I or
Anstey.

At the barrier at Charing Cross we found Thorndyke awaiting us, and
Anstey, having delivered me into his custody and seen us into a taxi-cab
that had already been chartered, wished us success and took his leave.
Then the driver, who apparently had his instructions, started and moved
out of the station.

"I don't know," said I, "whether I may now ask what I am wanted for."

"I should rather not go into particulars," he replied. "I want your
opinion on something that I am going to show you, and I especially want
it to be an impromptu opinion. Previous consideration might create a
bias which would detract from the conclusiveness of your decision.
However, you have only a few minutes to wait."

In those few minutes I could not refrain from cudgelling my brains, even
at the risk of creating a bias, and was still doing so--quite
unproductively--when the cab approached the hospital of St. Barnabas and
gave me a hint. But it swept past the main, entrance, and, turning up a
side street, slowed down and stopped opposite the entrance of the
medical school. Here we got out, and, leaving the cab waiting, entered
the hall, where Thorndyke inquired for a person of the name of Farrow.
In a minute or two this individual made his appearance in the form of a
somewhat frowsy, elderly man, whom, from the multitude of warts on his
hands, I inferred to be the post-mortem porter or dissecting-room
attendant. He appeared to be a taciturn man, and he, too, evidently had
his instructions, for he merely looked at us and then walked away
slowly, leaving us to follow. Thus silently he conducted us down a long
corridor, across a quadrangle beyond which rose the conical roof of a
theatre, along a curved passage which followed the wall of the circular
building and down a flight of stone steps which let into a dim,
cement-floored basement, lighted by sparse electric bulbs and pervaded
by a faint, distinctive odour that memory associated with the science of
anatomy. From the main basement room Farrow turned into a short passage,
where he stopped at a door, and, having unlocked it, threw it open and
switched on the light, when we entered and I looked around. It was a
large, cellar-like room, lighted by a single powerful electric bulb
fitted with a basin-like metal reflector and attached to a long, movable
arm. The activities usually carried on in it were evident from the great
tins of red lead on the shelves, from a large brass syringe fitted with
a stop-cock and smeared with red paint, and from a range of oblong slate
tanks or coffers furnished with massive wooden lids.

Still without uttering a word, the taciturn Farrow swung the powerful
lamp over one of the coffers, and then drew off the lid. I stepped
forward and looked in. The coffer was occupied by the body of a man,
evidently--from the shaven head and the traces of red paint--prepared as
an anatomical "subject." I looked at it curiously, thinking how unhuman,
how artificial it seemed; how like to a somewhat dingy waxwork figure.
But as I looked I was dimly conscious of some sense of familiarity
stealing into my mind. Some chord of memory seemed to be touched. I
stooped and looked more closely; and then, suddenly, I started up.

"Good God!" I exclaimed. "It is Nicholas Frood!"

"Are you sure?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes, quite," I answered. "It was the shaved head that put me off: the
absence of that mop of hair. I have no doubt at all. Still--let us have
a look at the hands."

Farrow lifted up the hands one after the other; and then, if there could
have been any doubt, it was set at rest. The mahogany-coloured stain was
still visible; but much more conclusive were the bulbous finger-tips and
the misshapen, nutshell-like nails. There could be no possible doubt.

"This is certainly the man I saw at Rochester," said I. "I am fully
prepared to swear to that. But oughtn't he to have been identified by
somebody who knew him better?"

"The body has been identified this afternoon by his late landlady,"
replied Thorndyke, "but I wanted your confirmation, and I wanted you as
a witness at the inquest. The identification is important in relation to
the inquiry and the possible verdict."

"Yes, by Jove!" I agreed, with a vivid recollection of the questions put
to Mrs. Gillow. "This will come as a thunder-bolt to the jury. But how,
in the name of Fortune, did he come here?"

"I'll tell you about that presently," replied Thorndyke.

He tendered a fee to the exhibitor, and when the latter had replaced the
lid of the coffer, he conducted us back to our starting-point, and saw
us into the waiting cab.

"5A, King's Bench Walk," Thorndyke instructed the driver, and as the cab
started, he began his explanation.

"This has been a long and weary search, with a stroke of unexpected good
luck at the end. We have had to go through endless records of hospitals,
police-courts, poorhouses, infirmaries, and inquests. It was the records
of an inquest that put us at last on the track; an inquest on an unknown
man, supposed to be a tramp. Roughly, the history of the affair is this:

"Frood seems to have started for Brighton on the 25th of April, but for
some unexplained reason, he broke his journey and got out at Horwell.
What happened to him there is not clear. He may have over-dosed himself
with cocaine; but at any rate, he was found dead in a meadow, close to a
hedge, on the morning of the 26th. He was therefore dead before his wife
disappeared. The body was taken to the mortuary and there carefully
examined. But there was not the faintest clue to his identity. His
pockets were searched, but there was not a vestige of property of any
kind about him, not even the knife of which you have spoken. The
probability is that he had been robbed by some tramp of everything that
he had about him, either while he was insensible or after he was dead.
In any case he appeared to be completely destitute, and this fact,
together with his decidedly dirty and neglected condition, led naturally
to the conclusion that he was a tramp. An inquest was held, but of
course, no expensive and troublesome measures were taken to trace his
identity. Examinations showed that he had not died from the effects of
violence, so it was assumed that he had died from exposure, and a
verdict to that effect was returned. He was about to be given a pauper's
funeral when Providence intervened on our behalf. It happened that the
Demonstrator of Anatomy at St. Barnabas resides at Horwell; and it
happened that the presence of an unclaimed body in the mortuary came to
his knowledge. Thereupon he applied to the authorities, on behalf of his
school, for the use of it as an anatomical subject. His application was
granted and the body was conveyed to St. Barnabas, where it was at once
embalmed and prepared and then put aside for use during the next winter
session."

"Was that quite in order--legally, I mean?"

"That is not for us to ask," he replied. "It was not in any way contrary
to public policy, and it has been our salvation in respect of our
particular inquiry."

"I suppose it has," I said, not, however, quite seeing it in that light.
"Of course, it disposes of the question of his guilt."

"It does a good deal more than that as matters have turned out," said
he. "However, here we are in the precincts of the Temple. Let us dismiss
Nicholas Frood from our minds for the time being, and turn our attention
to the more attractive subject of dinner."

The cab stopped opposite a tall house with a fine carved-brick portico,
and, when Thorndyke had paid the driver, we ascended the steps and made
our way up a couple of flights of oaken stairs to the first floor. Here,
at the door of my friend's chambers, we encountered a small,
clerical-looking gentleman with an extremely wrinkly, smiling face, who
reminded me somewhat of Mr. Japp. "This is Mr. Polton, Strangeways,"
said Thorndyke, presenting him to me, "who relieves me of all the
physical labour of laboratory work. He is a specialist in everything,
including cookery, and if my nose does not mislead me--ha! Does it,
Polton?"

"That depends, sir, on which way you follow it," replied Polton, with a
smile of labyrinthine wrinkliness. "But you will want to wash, and Dr.
Strangeways's room is ready for him."

On this hint, Thorndyke conducted me to an upper floor, and to a
pleasant bedroom with an outlook on plane trees and ancient, red-tiled
roofs, where I washed and brushed up, and from whence I presently
descended to the sitting-room, whither Thorndyke's nose had already led
him--and to good purpose, too.

"Mr. Polton has missed his vocation," I remarked, as I attacked his
productions with appreciative gusto. "He ought to have been the manager
of a West End club or a high-class restaurant."

Thorndyke regarded me severely. "I am shocked at you, Strangeways," he
said. "Do you suggest that a man who can make anything from an
astronomical clock to a microscope objective, who is an expert in every
branch of photographic technique, a fair analytical chemist, a
microscopist, and general handicraftsman, should be degraded to the
office of a mere superintendent cook? It is a dreadful thought!"

"I didn't understand that he was a man of so many talents and
accomplishments," I said apologetically.

"He is a most remarkable man," said Thorndyke, "and I take it as a great
condescension that he is willing to prepare my meals. It is his own
choice--an expression of personal devotion. He doesn't like me to take
my food at restaurants or clubs. And, of course, he does it well because
he is incapable of doing anything otherwise than well. You must come up
and see the laboratories and workshop after dinner."

We went up when we had finished our meal and discovered Polton in the
act of cutting transverse sections of hairs and mounting them to add to
the great collection of microscopic objects that Thorndyke had
accumulated. He left this occupation to show me the great standing
camera for copying, enlarging, reducing and microphotography, to
demonstrate the capabilities of a fine back-geared lathe and to exhibit
the elaborate outfit for analysis and assay work.

"I had no idea," said I, as we returned to the sitting room, "that
medico-legal practice involved the use of all these complicated
appliances."

"The truth is," Thorndyke replied, "that Medical Jurisprudence is not a
single subject, concerned with one order of knowledge. It represents the
application of every kind of knowledge to the solution of an infinite
variety of legal problems. And that reminds me that I haven't yet looked
through Anstey's abstract of the evidence at the inquest, which I saw
that he had left for me. Shall we go through it now? It won't take us
very long. Then we can have a stroll round the Temple or on the
Embankment before we turn in."

"You are coming down to Rochester to-morrow?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. "The facts concerning Nicholas Frood will have to be
communicated to the coroner; and it is possible that some other points
may arise."

"Now that Frood is definitely out of the picture," said I, "do you see
any possibility of solving the mystery of this crime? I mean as to the
identity of the guilty parties?"

He reflected awhile. "I am inclined to think," he replied, at length,
"that I may be able to offer a suggestion. But, of course, I have not
yet seen the remains."

"There isn't much to be gleaned from them, I am afraid," said I.

"Perhaps not," he answered. "But we shall be able to judge better when
we have read the evidence of the medical witness."

"He wasn't able to offer any opinion as to the cause of death," I said.

"Then," he replied, "we may take it that there are no obvious signs.
However, it is useless to speculate. We must suspend our judgment until
to-morrow"; and with this he opened Anstey's summary, and read through
it rapidly, asking me a question now and again to amplify some point.
When he had finished the abstract--which appeared to be very brief and
condensed--he put it in his pocket and suggested that we should start
for our proposed walk; and, though I made one or two attempts to reopen
the subject of the inquiry, he was not to be drawn into any further
statements. Apparently there was some point that he hoped to clear up by
personal observation, and meanwhile he held his judgment in suspense.



CHAPTER XVII--THORNDYKE PUTS DOWN HIS PIECE


The journey down to Rochester would have been more agreeable and
interesting under different circumstances. Thorndyke kept up a flow of
lively conversation to which I should ordinarily have listened with the
keenest pleasure. But he persistently avoided any reference to the
object of our journey; and as this was the subject that engrossed my
thoughts and from which I was unable to detach them, his conversational
efforts were expended on somewhat inattentive ears. In common politeness
I tried to make a show of listening and even of some sort of response;
but the instant a pause occurred, my thoughts flew back to the
engrossing subject and the round of fruitless speculation begun again.

What was it that Thorndyke had in his mind? He was not making this
journey to inform the coroner of Frood's death. That could have been
done by letter; and, moreover, I was the actual witness to the dead
man's identity. There was some point that he expected to be able to
elucidate; some evidence that had been overlooked. And that evidence
seemed to be connected with that dreadful, pitiful thing that lay in the
coffin--crying out, indeed, to Heaven for retribution, but crying in a
voice all inarticulate. But would it be inarticulate to him? He had
seemed to imply an expectation of being able to infer from the
appearance of those mouldering bones the cause and manner of death, and
even--so it had appeared to me--the very identity of the murderer. But
how could this be possible? Dr. Baines had said that the bones showed no
signs of injury. The soft structures of the body had disappeared
utterly. What suggestion as to the cause of death could the bones offer?
Chronic mineral poisoning might be ascertainable from examination of the
skeleton, but not from a mere ocular inspection; and the question of
chronic poisoning did not arise. Angelina was alive on the Saturday
evening; before the Monday morning her body was in the wall. Again and
again I dismissed the problem as an impenetrable mystery; and still it
presented itself afresh for consideration.

A few words of explanation to the constable on duty at the mortuary
secured our admission, or, rather Thorndyke's; for I did not go in, but
stood in the doorway, watching him inquisitively. He looked over the
objects set out on the tray and seemed to be mentally checking them.
Then he put on a pair of pince-nez and examined some of them more
closely. From the tray he presently turned to the coffin, and, lifting
off the lid, stood for a while, with his pince-nez in his hand, looking
intently at the awful relics of the dead woman. From his face I could
gather nothing. It was at all times a rather immobile face, in
accordance with his calm, even temperament. Now it expressed nothing but
interest and close attention. He inspected the whole skeleton
methodically, as I could see by the way his eyes travelled slowly from
the head to the foot of the coffin. Then, once more, he put on his
reading-glasses, and stooped to examine more I closely something in the
upper part of the coffin--I judged it to be the skull. At length he
stood up, put away his I glasses, replaced the coffin-lid, and rejoined
me.


"Has the sitting of the Court begun yet?" he asked the constable.

"They began about five minutes ago, sir," was the reply; on which we
made our way to the court-room, where Thorndyke, having secured a place
at the table, beckoned to the coroner's officer.

"Will you hand that to the coroner, please?" said he, producing from his
pocket a note in an official-looking blue envelope. The officer took the
note and laid it down before the coroner, who glanced at it and nodded
and then looked with sudden interest at Thorndyke. The witness who was
being examined at the moment was the pawnbroker's daughter, and her
account of the mysterious man with the mole on his nose was engaging the
attention of the jury. While the examination was proceeding, the coroner
glanced from time to time at the note. Presently he took it up and
opened the envelope, and in a pause in the evidence, took out the note
and turned it over to look at the signature. Then he ran his eyes over
the contents, and I saw his eyebrows go up. But at that moment one of
the jurymen asked a question and the note was laid down while the answer
was entered in the depositions. At length the evidence of this witness
was completed, and the witness dismissed, when the coroner took up the
note and read it through carefully.

"Before we take the evidence of Israel Bangs, gentlemen," said he, "we
had better consider some new facts which I think you will regard as
highly important. I have just received a communication from Dr. John
Thorndyke, who is a very eminent authority on medico-legal evidence. He
informs me that the husband of the deceased, Nicholas Frood, is dead. It
appears that he died about three months ago, but his body was not
identified until yesterday, when it was seen by Frood's landlady and by
Dr. Strangeways, who is here and can give evidence as to the identity. I
propose that we first recall Dr. Strangeways and then ask Dr. Thorndyke,
who is also present, to give us the further particulars."

The jury agreed warmly to the suggestion, and I was at once recalled,
and as I took my place at the coroner's left hand I felt that I was
fully justifying Cobbledick's description of me as the "star witness,"
for not only was I the object of eager interest on the part of the jury
and the sergeant himself, but also of Bundy, whose eyes were riveted on
me with devouring curiosity.

There is no need for me to repeat my evidence. It was quite short. I
just briefly described the body and its situation. As to how it came to
the hospital, I had no personal knowledge, but I affirmed that it was
undoubtedly the body of Nicholas Frood. Of that I was quite certain.

No questions were asked. There was a good deal of whispered comment, and
one indiscreet juryman remarked audibly that "this fellow seemed to have
cheated the hangman." Then the coroner deferentially requested Thorndyke
to give the Court any information that was available, and my friend
advanced to the head of the table, where the coroner's officer placed a
chair for him, and took the oath.

"What a perfectly awful thing this is about poor old Nicholas!"
whispered Bundy, who had crept into the chair that Thorndyke had just
vacated. "It makes one's flesh creep to think of it."

"It _was_ rather horrible," I agreed, noting that my description of the
scene had evidently made _his_ flesh creep, for he was as pale as a
ghost. But there was no time to discuss the matter further, for
Thorndyke, having been sworn, and started by a general question from the
coroner, now began to give his evidence, in the form of a narrative
similar to that which I had heard from him, and accompanied by the
production of documents relating to the inquest and the transfer of the
body of the unknown deceased to the medical school.

"There is no doubt, I suppose, as to the date of this man's death?" the
coroner asked.

"Practically none. He was seen alive on the 25th of April, and he was
found dead on the morning of the 26th. I have put in a copy of the
depositions at the inquest, which give the date and time of the finding
of the body."

"Then, as his death occurred before the disappearance of his wife, this
inquiry is not concerned with him any further."

Here the foreman of the jury interposed with a question. "It seems that
Dr. Thorndyke took a great deal of trouble to trace this man, Frood. Was
he acting for the police?"

"I don't know that that is strictly our concern," said the coroner,
looking at Thorndyke, nevertheless, with a somewhat inquiring
expression.

"I was acting," said Thorndyke, "in pursuance of instructions from a
private client to investigate the circumstances of Mrs. Frood's
disappearance, to ascertain whether a crime had been committed and, if
so, to endeavour to find the guilty party or parties."

"He never told us that," murmured Bundy; "at least--did you know, John?"

"I did, as a matter of fact, but I was sworn to secrecy." Bundy looked
at me a little reproachfully, I thought, and I caught a queer glance
from Cobbledick. But just then the coroner spoke again.

"Have you seen the evidence that was given yesterday?"

"Yes, I have a summary of it, which I have read."

"Can you, from your investigations, tell us anything that was not
disclosed by that evidence?"

"Yes. I have just examined the remains of the deceased and the articles
which have been found from time to time. I think I can give some
additional information concerning them."

"From your examination of the remains," the coroner said somewhat
eagerly, "can you give any opinion as to the cause of death?"

"No," replied Thorndyke. "My examination had reference chiefly to the
identity of the remains."

The coroner looked disappointed. "The identity of the remains," said he,
"is not in question. They have been clearly identified as those of
Angelina Frood."

"Then," said Thorndyke, "they have been wrongly identified. I can swear
positively that they are not the remains of Angelina Frood."

At this statement a sudden hush fell on the Court, broken incongruously
by an audible whistle from Sergeant Cobbledick. On me the declaration
fell like a thunderbolt, and, on looking round at Bundy, I could see
that he was petrified with astonishment. There was a silence of some
seconds' duration. Then the coroner said, with a distinctly puzzled air:
"This is a very remarkable statement, Dr. Thorndyke. It seems to be
quite at variance with all the facts: and it appears almost incredible
that you should be able to speak with such certainty, having regard to
the condition of the remains and in spite of the extraordinary effect of
the lime."

"It is on account of the effect of the lime that I am able to speak with
so much certainty and confidence," Thorndyke replied.

"I don't quite follow that," said the coroner. "Would you kindly tell us
how you were able to determine that these remains are not those of
Angelina Frood?"

"It is a matter of simple inference," replied Thorndyke. "On the 26th of
April last Mrs. Frood is known to have been alive. It has been assumed
that on that night or the next her body was built up in the wall. If
that had really happened, when the wall was opened on the 20th of July,
the body would have been found intact and perfectly recognizable!"

"You are not overlooking the circumstance that it was buried in a bed of
quick-lime?" said the coroner.

"No," replied Thorndyke; "in fact that is the circumstance that makes it
quite certain that these remains are not those of Angelina Frood. There
is," he continued, "a widely prevalent belief that quick-lime has the
property of completely consuming and destroying organic substances such
as a dead human body. But that belief is quite erroneous. Quick-lime has
no such properties. On the contrary, it has a strongly preservative
effect on organic matter. Putrefaction is a change in organic matter
which occurs only when that matter is more or less moist. If such matter
is completely dried, putrefaction is prevented or arrested, and such
dried, or mummified, matter will remain undecomposed almost
indefinitely, as we see in the case of Egyptian mummies. But quick-lime
has the property of abstracting the water from organic substances with
which it is in contact; of rendering them completely dry. It thus acts
as a very efficient preservative. If Mrs. Frood's body had been buried,
when recently dead, three months ago in fresh quick-lime, it would by
now have been reduced more or less to the condition of a mummy. It would
not have been even partially destroyed, and it would have been easily
recognizable."

To this statement everyone present listened with profound attention and
equally profound surprise; and a glance at the faces of the jurymen was
sufficient to show that it had failed utterly to produce conviction.
Even the coroner was evidently not satisfied, and, after a few moments'
reflection with knitted brows, he stated his objection.

"The belief in the destructive properties of lime," he said, "can hardly
be accepted as a mere popular error. In the Crippen trial, you may
remember that the question was raised, and one of the expert
witnesses--no less an authority than Professor Pepper--gave it as his
considered opinion that quick-lime has these destructive properties, and
that if a body were buried in a sufficient quantity of quick-lime, that
body would be entirely destroyed. You will agree, I think, that great
weight attaches to the opinion of a man of Professor Pepper's great
reputation."

"Undoubtedly," Thorndyke agreed. "He was one of our greatest
medico-legal authorities, though, on this subject, I think, his views
differed from those generally held by medical jurists. But the point is
that this was an opinion, and that no undeniable facts were then
available. But since that time, the matter has been put to the test of
actual experiment, and the results of those experiments are definite
facts. It is no longer a matter of opinion but one of incontestable
fact."

"What are the experiments that you refer to'"

"The first practical investigation was carried out by Mr. A. Lucas, the
Director of the Government Analytical Laboratory and Assay Office at
Cairo. He felt that the question was one of great medico-legal
importance, and that it ought to be settled definitely. He accordingly
carried out a number of experiments, of which he published the
particulars in his treatise on 'Forensic Chemistry.' I produce a copy of
this book, with your permission."

"Is this evidence admissible?" the foreman asked. "The witness can't
swear to another man's experiments."

"It is admissible in a coroner's court," was the reply.

"We are not bound as rigidly by the rules of evidence as a criminal
court, for instance. It is relevant to the inquiry, and I think we had
better hear it."

"I may say," said Thorndyke, "that I have repeated and confirmed these
experiments; but I suggest that, as the published cases are the
recognized authority, I be allowed to quote them before describing my
confirmatory experiments."

The coroner having agreed to this course, he continued: "The tests were
made with the fresh bodies of young pigeons, which were plucked but not
opened, and which were buried in boxes with loosely-fitted covers,
filled respectively with dry earth, slaked lime, chlorinated lime,
quick-lime, and quick-lime suddenly slaked with water. These bodies were
left thus buried for six months, the boxes being placed on the
laboratory roof at Cairo. At the end of that period the bodies were
disinterred and examined with the following results: The body which had
been buried in dry earth was found to be in a very bad condition. There
was a considerable smell of putrefaction and a large part of the flesh
had disappeared. The body which had been buried in quick-lime was found
to be in good condition; it was dry and hard, the skin was unbroken, but
the body was naturally shrunken. The other three bodies do not concern
us, but I may say that none of them was as completely preserved as the
one that was buried in quick-lime.

"On reading the account of these experiments I decided to repeat them,
partly for confirmation and partly to enable me to give direct evidence
as to the effect of lime on dead bodies. I used freshly-killed rabbits
from which the fur was removed by shaving, and buried them in roomy
boxes in the same materials as were used in the published experiments.
They were left undisturbed during the six summer months, and were then
exhumed and examined. The rabbit which had been buried in dry earth was
in an advanced stage of putrefaction; the one which had been buried in
quick-lime was free from any odour of decomposition, the skin was
intact, and the body unaltered excepting that it was dry and rather
shrivelled--mummified, in fact. It was more completely preserved than
any of the others."

The conclusion of this statement was followed by a slightly
uncomfortable silence. The coroner stroked his chin reflectively, and
the jurymen looked at one another with obvious doubt and distrust. At
length Mr. Pilley gave voice to the collective sentiments.

"It's all very well, sir, for this learned gentleman to explain to us
that the lime couldn't have eaten up the body of the deceased. But it
has. We've seen the bare bones with our own eyes. What's the use of
saying a thing is impossible when it has happened?"

Here Thorndyke produced from his pocket a sheet of notepaper and a
fountain pen, and began to write rapidly, noting down, as I supposed,
the jurymen's objections; which, however, the coroner proceeded to
answer.

"Dr. Thorndyke's statement was that these bones are not the bones of
Angelina Frood. That the body was not her body."

"Still," said the foreman, "it was somebody's body, you know. And the
lime seems to have eaten it up pretty clean, possible or impossible."

"Exactly," said the coroner. "The destruction of this particular body
appears to be an undeniable fact; and we may assume that one body is
very much like another--in a chemical sense, at least. What do you say,
doctor?"

"My statement," replied Thorndyke, "had reference to Angelina Frood, who
is known to have been alive on a certain date. Of the condition of the
unknown body that was buried in the wall, I can give no opinion."

Again there was an uncomfortable silence, during which Thorndyke, having
finished writing, folded the sheet of notepaper, tucked the end in
securely, and wrote an address on the back. Then he handed it to his
neighbour, who passed it on until it reached me. I was on the point of
opening it when I observed with astonishment that it was addressed to
Peter Bundy, Esq., to whom I immediately handed it. But my astonishment
was nothing to Bundy's. He seemed positively thunderstruck. Indeed, his
aspect was so extraordinary as he sat gazing wildly at the opened note,
that I forgot my manners and frankly stared at him. First he turned
scarlet; then he grew deathly pale; and then he turned scarlet again.
And, for the first and only time in my life, I saw him look really
angry. But this was only a passing manifestation. For a few moments his
eyes flashed and his mouth set hard. Then, quite suddenly, the wrath
faded from his face and gave place to a whimsical smile. He tore off the
fly-leaf of the note, and, scribbling a few words on it, folded it up
small, addressed it to Dr. Thorndyke, and handed it to me for
transmission by the return route.

When it reached Thorndyke, he opened it, and, having read the brief
message, nodded gravely to Bundy, and once more turned his attention to
the foreman, who was addressing the coroner at greater length.

"The jury wish to say, sir, that this evidence is not satisfactory. It
can't be reconciled with the other evidence. The facts before the jury
are these: On the 26th of April Angelina Frood disappeared, and was
never afterwards seen alive. On the night that she disappeared, or on
the next night, a dead body was buried in the wall. Three months later
that body was found in the wall, packed in quick-lime, and eaten away to
a skeleton. That skeleton has been examined by an expert, and found to
be that of a woman of similar size and age to Angelina Frood. With that
skeleton were found articles of clothing, jewellery, and ornaments which
have been proved to have been the clothing and property of Angelina
Frood. Other articles of clothing have been recovered from the river;
and those articles were missing from the body when it was found in the
wall. On these facts, the jury feel that it is impossible to doubt that
the remains found in the wall are the remains of Angelina Frood."

As the foreman concluded the coroner turned to Thorndyke with a slightly
puzzled smile. "Of course, Doctor," said he, "you have considered those
facts that the foreman has summarized so admirably. What do you say to
his conclusion?"

"I must still contest it," replied Thorndyke. "The foreman's summary of
the evidence, masterly as it was, furnishes no answer to the
objection--based on established chemical facts--that the condition of
the remains when found is irreconcilable with the alleged circumstances
of the burial."

The coroner raised his eyebrows and pursed up his lips.

"I appreciate your point, Doctor," said he. "But we are on the horns of
a dilemma. We are between the Devil of observed fact and the Deep Sea of
scientific demonstration. Can you suggest any way out of the
difficulty?"

"I think," said Thorndyke, "that if you were to call Mr. Bundy, he might
be able to help you out of your dilemma."

"Mr. Bundy!" exclaimed the coroner. "I didn't know he was concerned in
the case. Can you give us any information, Mr. Bundy?"

"Yes," replied Bundy, looking somewhat shy and nervous. "I think I could
throw a little light on the case."

"I wish to goodness you had said so before. However, better late than
never. We will take your evidence at once."

On this Thorndyke returned to his seat at the table and Bundy took his
place, standing by the chair which Thorndyke had resigned.

"Let me see, Mr. Bundy," said the coroner, "your Christian name is--"

"The witness has not been sworn," interrupted Thorndyke.

The coroner smiled. "We are in the hands of the regular practitioners,"
he chuckled. "We must mind our p's and q's. Still you are quite right,
Doctor. The name is part of the evidence."

The witness was accordingly sworn, and the coroner then proceeded,
smilingly: "Now, Mr. Bundy, be very careful. You are making a sworn
statement, remember. What is your Christian name?"

"Angelina," was the astounding reply.

"Angelina!" bawled Pilley. "It can't be. Why, it's a woman's name."

"We must presume that the witness knows his own name," said the coroner,
writing it down. "Angelina Bundy."

"No, Sir," said the witness. "Angelina Frood."

The coroner suddenly stiffened with the upraised pen poised in the air;
and so everyone in the room, including myself, underwent an
instantaneous arrest of movement as if we had been turned into stone;
and I noticed that the process of petrifaction had caught us all with
our mouths open. But whereas the fixed faces on which I looked,
expressed amazement qualified by incredulity, my own astonishment was
coupled with conviction. Astounding as the statement was, the moment
that it was made I knew that it was true. In spite of the discrepancies
of appearance, I realized in a flash of enlightenment, the nature of
that subtle influence that had drawn me to Bundy with a tenderness
hardly congruous with mere male friendship. Outwardly I had been
deceived, but my sub-conscious self had recognized Angelina all the
time.

The interval of breathless silence, during which the witness calmly
surveyed the court through his--or rather her--eyeglass, was at length
broken by the coroner, who asked gravely: "This is not a joke? You
affirm seriously that you are Angelina Frood?"

"Yes; I am Angelina Frood," was the reply.

Here Mr. Pilley recovered himself and demanded excitedly: "Do we
understand this gentleman to say that he is the deceased?"

"Well," replied the coroner, "he is obviously not deceased, and he
states that he is not a gentleman. He has declared that he is a lady."

"But," protested Pilley, "he says that she--at least she says that he--"

"You are getting mixed, Pilley," interrupted the foreman. "This appears
to be a woman masquerading as a man and playing practical jokes on a
coroner's jury. I suggest, sir, that we ought to have evidence of
identity."

"I agree with you, emphatically," said the coroner.

"The identification is indispensable. Is there anyone present who can
swear to the identity of this--er--person! Mr. Japp, for instance?"

"I'd rather you didn't bring Mr. Japp into it," said Angelina, hastily.
"It isn't really necessary. If you will allow me to run home and change
my clothes, Mrs. Gillow and Dr. Strangeways will be able to identify me.
And I can bring some photographs to show the jury."

"That seems quite a good suggestion," said the coroner. "Don't you think
so, gentlemen?"

"It is a very proper suggestion," said the foreman, severely. "Let her
go away and clothe herself decently. How long will she be gone?"

"I shall be back in less than half an hour,'" said Angelina; and on this
understanding she was given permission to retire. I watched her with a
tumult of mixed emotions as she took up her hat, gloves, and stick, and
strolled jauntily towards the door. There she paused for an instant and
shot at me a single, swift, whimsical glance through her monocle. Then
she went out; and with her disappeared forever the familiar figure of
Peter Bundy.



CHAPTER XVIII--THE UNCONTRITE PENITENT


As the door closed on Angelina, a buzz of excited talk broke out. The
astonished jurymen put their heads together and eagerly discussed the
new turn of events, while the coroner sat with a deeply cogitative
expression, evidently thinking hard and casting an occasional
speculative glance in Thorndyke's direction. Meanwhile Cobbledick edged
up to my side and presented his views in a soft undertone.

"This is a facer, Doctor, isn't it? Regular do. My word! Just think of
the artfulness of that young woman, toting us round and helping us to
find the things that she had just popped down for us to find. I call it
a masterpiece." He chuckled admiringly, and added in a lower tone, "I
hope she hasn't got herself into any kind of mess."

I looked at Cobbledick with renewed appreciation. I had always liked the
sergeant. He was a capable man and a kindly one; and now he was showing
a largeness of soul that won my respect and my gratitude, too. A small
man would have been furious with Angelina, but Cobbledick took her
performances in a proper sporting spirit. He was only amused and
admiring. Not for nothing had Nature imprinted on his face that
benevolent smile.

Presently Mr. Pilley, who seemed to have a special gift for the
expression of erroneous opinions, addressed himself to the coroner.

"Well, Mr. Chairman," he said cheerfully, "I suppose we can consider the
inquest practically over."

"Over!" exclaimed the astonished coroner.

"Yes. We were inquiring into the death of Angelina Frood. But if Mrs.
Frood is alive after all, why, there's an end to the matter."

"What about the body in the mortuary?" demanded the foreman.

"Oh, ah," said Pilley. "I had forgotten about that." He looked owlishly
at the coroner and then exclaimed:

"But that is the body of Mrs. Frood!"

"It can't be if Mrs. Frood is alive," the coroner reminded him.

"But it must be," persisted Pilley. "It has been identified as her, and
it had her clothes and ring on. Mr. Bundy must have been pulling our
legs."

"There is certainly something very mysterious about that body," said the
coroner. "It was dressed in Mrs. Frood's clothes, as Mr. Pilley points
out, and it appears that Mrs. Frood must be in some way connected with
it."

"There's no doubt about that," agreed the foreman.

"She must know who that dead person is and how the body came to be in
the place where it was found, and she will have to give an account of
it."

"Yes," said the coroner. "But it is a mysterious affair. I wonder if Dr.
Thorndyke could enlighten us. He seems to know more about the matter
than anybody else."

But Thorndyke was not to be drawn into any statement.

"It would be merely a conjecture on my part," he said. "Presumably Mrs.
Frood knows how the remains got into the wall, and I must leave her to
give the necessary explanations."

"I don't see what explanations she can give," said the foreman. "It
looks like a clear case of wilful murder. And it is against her."

To this view the coroner gave a guarded assent; and indeed it was the
obvious view. There was the body, in Angelina's clothing, and everything
pointed clearly to Angelina's complicity in the crime, if there had
really been a crime committed. And what other explanation was possible?

As I reflected on the foreman's ominous words, I was sensible of a
growing alarm. What if Angelina had been, as it were, snatched from the
grave only to be placed in the dock on a charge of murder? That she
could possibly be guilty of a crime did not enter my mind. But there was
evidently some sort of criminal entanglement from which she might find
it hard to escape. The appearances were sinister in the extreme; her
simulated disappearance, her disguise, her suspicious silence during the
inquiry; to any eye but mine they were conclusive evidence of her guilt.
And the more I thought about it, the more deadly did the sum of that
evidence appear, until, as the time ran on, I became positively sick
with terror.

The opening of a door and a sudden murmur of surprise caused me to turn;
and there was Angelina herself. But not quite the Angelina that I
remembered. Gone were the pallid complexion, the weary, dark-circled
eyes, the down-cast mouth, the sad and pensive countenance, the dark,
strong eye-brows. Rosy-cheeked, smiling, confident, and looking
strangely tall and imposing, she stepped composedly over to the head of
the table, and stood there gazing with calm self-possession, and the
trace of a smile at the stupefied jurymen.

"Your name is--?" said the coroner, gazing at her in astonishment.

"Angelina Frood," was the quiet reply; and the voice was Bundy's voice.

Here Pilley rose, bubbling with excitement. "This isn't the same
person!" he exclaimed. "Why, he was a little man, and she's a tall
woman. And his hair was short, and just look at hers! You can't grow a
head of hair like that in twenty minutes."

"No," Angelina agreed, suavely. "I wish you could."

"The objection is not relevant, Mr. Pilley," said the coroner,
suppressing a smile. "We are not concerned with the identity of Mr.
Bundy but with that of Angelina Frood. Can anyone identify this lady?"

"I can," said I. "I swear that she is Angelina Frood."

"And Mrs. Gillow?"

Mrs. Gillow could and did identify her late lodger, and furthermore,
burst into tears and filled the court-room with "yoops" of hysterical
joy. When she had been pacified and gently restrained by the coroner's
officer from an attempt to embrace the witness, the coroner proceeded:

"Now, Mrs. Frood, the jury require certain explanations from you, in
regard to the body of a woman which is at present lying in the mortuary
and which was found buried in the city wall with certain articles of
clothing and jewellery which have been identified as your property. Did
you know that that body had been buried in the wall?"

"Yes," replied Angelina.

"Do you know how it came to be in the wall?"

"Yes. I put it there."

"You put it there!" roared Pilley, amidst a chorus of exclamations from
the jurymen. The coroner held up his hand to enjoin silence and asked,
as he gazed in astonishment at Angelina.

"Can you tell us who this deceased person was?"

"I'm afraid I can't," Angelina replied, apologetically. "I don't think
her name was known."

"But--er--" the astounded coroner inquired, "how did she come by her
death?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you that either," replied Angelina. "The fact
is, I never asked."

"You never asked!" the coroner repeated, in a tone of bewilderment.
"But--er--are we to understand that in short, did you or did you not cause
the death of this person by your own act? Of course," he added hastily,
"you are not bound to answer that question."

Angelina smiled at him engagingly. "I will answer with pleasure. I did
not cause the death of this person."

"Then are we to understand that she was already dead when you found
her?"

"I didn't find her. I bought her; at a shop in Great St. Andrew-street.
I gave four pounds, fourteen and three-pence for her, including two and
three-pence to Carter Paterson's. I've brought the bill with me."

She produced the bill from her pocket and handed it to the coroner, who
read it with a portentous frown and a perceptible twitching at the
corners of his mouth.

"I will read this document to you, gentlemen," he said in a slightly
unsteady voice. "It is dated the 19th of April, and reads: 'Bought of
Oscar Hammerstein, Dealer in Human and Comparative Osteology, Great St.
Andrew-street, London, W. C., one complete set superfine human
osteology, disarticulated and unbleached (female), as selected by
purchaser, four pounds eight shillings and sixpence. Replacing and
cementing missing teeth, one shilling and sixpence. Packing case, two
shillings. Carriage, two and three pence. Total, four pounds, fourteen
and three-pence. Received with thanks, O. Hammerstein.' Perhaps you
would like to see the bill, yourselves, gentlemen."

He passed it to the foreman, taking a quick glance out of the corners of
his eyes at the bland and impassive Angelina, and the jury studied it in
a deep silence, which was broken only by a soft, gurgling sound, from
somewhere behind me, which, I discovered, on looking round, to proceed
from Sergeant Cobbledick, whose crimsoned face was partly hidden by a
large handkerchief and whose shoulders moved convulsively.

Presently the coroner addressed Thorndyke. "In continuation of your
evidence, Doctor, does Mrs. Frood's explanation agree with any
conclusions that you had arrived at from your inspection of the
remains?"

"It agrees with them completely," Thorndyke replied with a grim smile.

The coroner entered the answer in the depositions, and then turned once
more to Angelina.

"With regard to the objects that were found with the skeleton; did you
put them there?"

"Yes. I put in the metal things and a few pieces of scorched rag to give
a realistic effect--on account of the lime, you know."

"And the articles that were recovered from the river, too, I suppose?"

"Yes, I put them down--with proper precautions, of course."

"What do you mean by proper precautions?"

"Well, I couldn't afford to waste any of the things, so I used to keep a
lookout with a telescope, and then, when I saw a likely person coming
along, I put one of the things down where it could be seen."

"And were they always seen?"

"No. Some people are very unobservant. In that case I picked it up when
the coast was clear and saved it for another time."

The coroner chuckled. "It was all very ingenious and complete. But now,
Mrs. Frood, we have to ask you what was the object of these
extraordinary proceedings. It was not a joke, I presume?"

"Oh, not at all," replied Angelina. "It was a perfectly serious affair.
You have heard what sort of husband I had. I couldn't possibly live with
him. I made several attempts to get away and live by myself, but he
always followed me and found me out. So I determined to disappear
altogether."

"You could have applied for a separation," said the coroner.

"I shouldn't have got it," replied Angelina, "and even if I had, of what
use would it have been? I should have been bound to him for life. I
couldn't have married anyone else. My whole life would have been spoilt.
So I decided to disappear completely and for good, and start life afresh
in a new place and under a new name. And in order that there should be
no mistake about it, I thought I would leave the--er--the material for a
coroner's inquest and a will directing that a suitable monument should
be put up over my grave. Then, if I had ever married again, there would
have been no danger of a charge of bigamy. If anyone had made any such
suggestion, I could have referred them to the registrar of deaths and to
the tombstone of Angelina Frood in Rochester churchyard."

"And as to a birth certificate under your new name?" the coroner asked
with a twinkle of his eye.

Angelina smiled a prim little smile. "I think that could have been
managed," she said.

"Well," said the coroner, "it was an ingenious scheme. But apparently
Dr. Thorndyke knew who Mr. Bundy was. How do you suppose he discovered
your identity?"

"That is just what I should like to know," she replied.

"So should I," said the coroner, with a broad smile; "but, of course, it
isn't my affair or that of the jury. We are concerned with this skeleton
that you have planted on us. I suppose you can give us no idea as to
where it came from originally?"

"The dealer said it had been found in a barrow--not a wheel-barrow, you
know; an ancient burial-place. Of course, I don't know whether he was
speaking the truth."

"What do you think, Dr. Thorndyke?" the coroner asked.

"I think it is an ancient skeleton, though very well preserved. Some of
the teeth--the original ones--show more wear than one expects to find in
a modern skull. But I only made a cursory inspection."

"I think the evidence is sufficient for our purpose," said the coroner;
"and that really concludes the case, so we need not detain you any
longer, Mrs. Frood. I don't know exactly what your legal position is;
whether you have committed any legal offence. If you have, it is not our
business; and I think I am expressing the sentiments of the jury if I
say that I hope that the authorities will not make it their business. No
one has been injured, and no action seems to be called for."

With these sentiments the jury concurred warmly, as also did Sergeant
Cobbledick, who was heard, very audibly and regardless of the
proprieties, to murmur "Hear, hear." We waited to learn the nature of
the verdict, and when this had been pronounced (to the effect that the
skeleton was that of an unknown woman, concerning the circumstances of
whose death no evidence was available), the court rose and we prepared
to depart.

"You are coming back to lunch with us, Angelina?" said I.

"I should love to," she replied, "but there is Mr. Japp. Do you think
you could ask him, too?"

"Of course," I replied, with a sudden perception of the advantage of
even numbers. "We shouldn't be complete without him."

Japp accepted with enthusiasm, and, after a hasty farewell to
Cobbledick, we went forth into the High-street, by no means unobserved
of the populace. As we approached the neighbourhood of the office
Angelina said:

"I must run into my rooms for a few moments just to tidy myself up a
little. It was such a very hurried toilette. I won't be more than a few
minutes. You needn't wait for me."

"I suggest," said Thorndyke, "that Mr. Japp and I go on and break the
news to Mrs. Dunk that there is a lady guest, and that Strangeways
remains behind to escort the prisoner."

I fell in readily with this admirable suggestion, and as the two men
walked on, I followed Angelina up the steps and waited while she plied
her latch-key. We entered the hall together and then went into the
sitting-room, where she stood for a moment, looking round with deep
satisfaction.

"It's nice to be home again," she said, "and to feel that all that fuss
is over."

"I daresay it is," said I. "But now that you are home, what have you got
to say for yourself? You are a nice little baggage, aren't you?"

"I am a little beast, John," she replied. "I've been a perfect pig to
you. But I didn't mean to be, and I really couldn't help it. You'll try
to forgive me, won't you?"

"The fact is, Angelina," I said, "I am afraid I am in love with you."

"Oh, I hope to goodness you are, John," she exclaimed. "If I thought you
weren't I should wish myself a skeleton again. Do you think you really
are?"

She crept closer to me with such a sweet, wheedlesome air that I
suddenly caught her in my arms and kissed her.

"It does seem as if you were," she admitted with a roguish smile; and
then--such unaccountable creatures are women--she laid her head on my
shoulder and began to sob. But this was only a passing shower. Another
kiss brought back the sunshine and then she tripped away to spread fresh
entanglements for the masculine heart.

In a few minutes she returned, further adorned and looking to my eyes
the very picture of womanly sweetness and grace. When I had given
confirmatory evidence of my sentiments towards her, we went out, just in
time to encounter Mrs. Gillow and acquaint her with the program.

"I suppose," said Angelina, glancing furtively at a little party of
women who were glancing, not at all furtively, at her, "one should be
gratified at the interest shown by one's fellow towns-people; but don't
you think the back streets would be preferable to the High-street?"

"It is no use, my dear," I replied. "We've got to face it. Take no
notice. Regard these bipeds that infest the footways as mere samples of
the local fauna. Let them stare and ignore them. For my part, I rather
like them. They impress on me the admirable bargain that I have made in
swapping Peter Bundy for a beautiful lady."

"Poor Peter," she said, pensively. "He was a sad boy sometimes when he
looked at his big, handsome John and thought that mere friendship was
all that he could hope for when his poor little heart was starving for
love. Your deal isn't the only successful one, John, so you needn't be
so conceited. But here we are home--really home, this time, for this has
been my real home, John, dear. And there--Oh! Moses I--there is Mrs.
Dunk, waiting to receive us!"

"What used you to do to Mrs. Dunk," I asked, "to make her so furious?"

"I only used to inquire after her health," Angelina replied plaintively.
"But mum's the word. She'll spot my voice as soon as I speak."

Mrs. Dunk held the door open ceremoniously and curtsied as we entered.
She was a gruff old woman, but she had a deep respect for "gentlefolk,"
as is apt to be the way with old servants. Angelina acknowledged her
salutation with a gracious smile and followed her meekly up the stairs
to the room that Mrs. Dunk had allotted to her.

I found Thorndyke and Japp established in the library--Dr. Partridge had
dispensed with a drawing-room and I followed his excellent example--and
here presently Angelina joined us, sailing majestically into the room
and marching up to Thorndyke with an air at once hostile and defiant.

"Serpent," said Angelina.

"Not at all," Thorndyke dissented with a smile. "You should be grateful
to me for having rescued you from your own barbed-wire entanglements."

"Serpent, I repeat," persisted Angelina. "To let me sit in that
court-room watching all the innocents walking into my trap one after
another, and then, just as I thought they were all inside, to hand me a
thing like that!" and she produced, dramatically, a small sheet of
paper, which I recognized as the remainder of Thorndyke's note. I took
it from her, and read: "You see whither the evidence is leading. The
deception cannot be maintained, nor is there any need, now that your
husband is dead. Explanations must be given either by you or by me. For
your own sake I urge you to explain everything and clear yourself. Let
me know what you will do."

"This is an extraordinary document," I said, passing it to Japp. "How in
the name of Fortune did you know that Bundy was Angelina?"

"Yes, how did you?" the latter demanded. "It is for you to give an
explanation now."

"We will have the explanations after lunch," said he; "mutual
explanations. I want to hear how far I was correct in details."

"Very well," agreed Angelina, "we will both explain. But you will have
the first innings. You are not going to listen to my explanation and
then say you knew all about it. And that reminds me, John, that you had
better tell Mrs. Dunk. She is sure to recognize my voice."

I quite agreed with Angelina and hurried away to intercept Mrs. Dunk and
let her know the position. She was at first decidedly shocked, but a
vivid and detailed description of the late Mr. Frood produced a complete
revulsion; so complete, in fact, as to lead me to speculate on the
personal characteristics of the late Mr. Dunk. But her curiosity was
aroused to such an extent that, while waiting at table, she hardly
removed her eyes from Angelina, until the latter, finding the scrutiny
unbearable, suddenly produced the hated eye-glass, and, sticking it in
her eye, directed a stern glance at the old woman, who instantly backed
towards the door with a growl of alarm, and then sniggered hoarsely.

It was a festive occasion, for we were all in exuberant spirits,
including Mr. Japp, who, if he said little, made up the deficiency in
smiles of forty-wrinkle power, which, together with his upstanding tuft
of white hair, made him look like a convivial cockatoo.

"Do you remember our last meeting at this table?" said Angelina, "when I
jeered at the famous expert and pulled his reverend leg, thinking what a
smart young fellow I was, and how beautifully I was bamboozling him? And
all the while he knew! He knew! And 'Not a word said the hard-boiled
egg.' Oh, serpent! serpent!"

Thorndyke chuckled. "You didn't leave the hardboiled egg much to say,"
he observed.

"No. But why were you so secret? Why didn't you let on, just a little,
to give poor Bundy a hint as to where he was plunging?"

"My dear Mrs. Frood--"

"Oh, call me Angelina," she interrupted.

"Thank you," said he. "Well, my dear Angelina, you are forgetting that I
didn't know what was in the wall."

"My goodness!" she exclaimed. "I had overlooked that. Of course, it might
have been--Good gracious! How awful!" She paused with her eyes fixed on
Thorndyke, and then asked: "Supposing it had been?"

"I refuse to suppose anything of the kind," he replied. "My explanations
will deal with the actual, not with the hypothetical."

There was silence for a minute or two. Like Angelina, I was speculating
on what Thorndyke would have done if the remains had been real
remains--and those of a man. He had evidently sympathized warmly with
the hunted wife; but if her defence had taken the form of a crime, would
he have exposed her? It was useless to ask him. I have often thought
about it since, but have never reached a conclusion.

"You will have to answer questions better than that presently," said
Angelina; "but I won't ask you any more now. You shall finish your lunch
in peace, and then--into the witness-box you go. I am going to have
satisfaction for that note."

The little festival went on, unhurried, with an abundance of cheerful
and rather frivolous talk. But at last, like all fugitive things, it
came to an end. The table was cleared, and garnished with the port
decanter and the coffee service, and Mrs. Dunk, with a final glower,
half-defiant and half-admiring, at Angelina, took her departure.

"Now," said Angelina, as I poured out the coffee, "the time has come to
talk of many things, but especially of expert investigations into the
identity of Peter Bundy. Your lead, Sir."



CHAPTER XIX--EXPLANATIONS


"The investigation of this case," Thorndyke began, "falls naturally into
two separate inquiries: that relating to the crime and that which is
concerned with what we may conveniently call the personation. They make
certain contacts, but they are best considered separately. Let us begin
with the crime.

"Now, to a person having experience of real crime, there was, in this
case, from the very beginning, something rather abnormal. A woman of
good social position had disappeared. There was a suggestion that she
had been murdered; and the murder had apparently been committed in some
public place, that is to say, not in a house. But in such cases,
normally, the first evidence of the crime is furnished by the discovery
of the body. It is true that, in this case, there was a suggestion that
the body had been flung into the river, and this, at first, masked the
abnormality to some extent. But even then there was the discrepancy that
the brooch, which was attached to the person, appeared to have been
found on land, while the bag, which was not attached to the person, was
picked up at the water's edge. The bag itself, and the box which had
been in it, presented several inconsistencies.

"They had apparently been lying unnoticed for eleven days on a piece of
shore that was crowded with small craft and frequently by numbers of
seamen and labourers, and that formed a play-ground for the waterside
children. The clean state of the box when found showed that it had
neither been handled nor immersed, and as the wrapping-paper was intact,
the person who had taken it out of the bag must have thrown it away
without opening it to see what it contained. The bag was found under
some light rubbish. That rubbish had not been thrown on it by the water,
or the bag would have been soaked; and no one could have thrown the
rubbish on it without seeing the bag, which was an article of some
value. Again, the bag had not been carried to this place by the water,
as was proved by its condition.

"Therefore, either this was the place where the crime had been
committed, or someone had brought the bag to this place and thrown it
away. But neither supposition was reasonably probable. It was
inconceivable that a person like Mrs. Frood should have been in this
remote, inaccessible, disreputable place at such an hour. The bag could
not have been brought here by an innocent person, for no such person
would have thrown it away. It was quite a valuable bag. And a guilty
person would have thrown it in the river, and probably put a stone in it
to sink it. So you see that these first clues were strikingly abnormal.
They prepared one to consider the possibility of false tracks. Even the
brooch incident had a faint suggestion of the same kind when considered
with the other clues. The man who pawned the brooch had a mole on his
nose. Such an adornment can be easily produced artificially. It is
highly distinctive of the person who possesses it, and it is equally
distinctive--negatively--of the person who does not possess it. Then
there was the character of the person who had disappeared. She was a
woman who was seeking to escape from her husband; and hitherto she had
not succeeded because she had not hidden herself securely enough. She
was a person of a somewhat disappearing tendency. She had an
understandable motive for disappearing.

"From the very beginning, therefore, the possibility of voluntary
disappearance had to be borne in mind. And when it was, each new clue
seemed to support it. There was the scarf, for instance. It was found
under a fish-trunk; an unlikely place for it to have got by chance, but
an excellent one for a 'plant.' The scarf was not baldly exposed, but
someone was sure to turn the trunk over and find it. And at this point
another peculiarity began to develop. There was a noticeable tendency
for the successive 'finds' to creep up the river from Chatham towards
Rochester Bridge. It was not yet very remarkable, but I noticed it, as I
entered each find on my map. The brooch was associated with Chatham, the
bag and box with the Chatham shore a little farther up, the scarf with
the Rochester shore at Blue Boar Head. As I say, it attracted my
attention; and when the first shoe was found above Blue Boar Head, the
second shoe farther up still, and the hat-pin yet farther up towards the
bridge, it became impossible to ignore it. There was no natural
explanation. Whether the body were floating or stationary, the constancy
of direction was inexplicable; for the tide sweeps up and down twice
daily, and objects detached from the body would be carried up or down
stream, according to the direction of the tide when they became
detached. This regular order was a most suspicious circumstance. Later,
when the objects were found in Black Boy-lane, it became absurd. It was
a mere paper-chase. Just look at my map."

He exhibited the large-scale map, on which each "find" was marked by a
small circle. The series of circles, joined by a connecting line,
proceeded directly from near Sun Pier, Chatham, along the shore, and up
Black Boy-lane to the gate of the waste ground, and across it to the
wall.

Angelina giggled. "You can't say I didn't make it as easy as I could for
poor old Cobbledick," she said. "Of course, I never reckoned on anyone
bringing up the heavy guns. By the way, I wonder who your private client
was. Do you know, John?" she added, with a sudden glance of suspicion;
and, as I grinned sheepishly, she exclaimed: "Well! I wouldn't have
believed it. It was a regular conspiracy. But I am interrupting the
expert. Proceed, my lord."

"Well," Thorndyke resumed, "we have considered the aspect of the crime
problem taken by itself, as it appeared to an experienced investigator.
From the first there was a suspicion that the clues were counterfeit,
and with each new clue this suspicion deepened. And you will notice an
important corollary. If the case was a fraud, that fraud was being
worked by someone on the spot. Keep that point in mind, for it has a
most significant bearing on the other problem, that of the personation,
to which we will now turn our attention. But before we go into details,
there are certain general considerations that we ought to note, in order
that we may understand more clearly how the deception became possible.

"The subject of personation and disguise is often misunderstood. It is
apt to be supposed that a disguise effects a complete transformation
resulting in a complete resemblance to the individual personated--or, as
in this case, a complete disappearance of the identity of the disguised
person. But no such transformation is possible. All disguise is a form
of bluff. It acts by suggestion. And the suggestion is effected by a set
of misleading circumstances which produce in the dupe a state of mind in
which a very imperfect disguise serves to produce conviction. That is
the psychology of personation, and I can only express my admiration of
the way in which Angelina had grasped it. Her conduct of this delicate
deception was really masterly. Let us consider it in more detail.

"Mr. Bundy was ostensibly a man. But if he had been put in a room with a
dozen moderately intelligent persons, and those persons had been asked,
'Is this individual a man? or is he a woman with short hair and dressed
in man's clothing?' they would probably have decided unanimously that he
was a woman. But the question never was asked. The issue was never
raised. He was Mr. Bundy. One doesn't look at young men to see if they
are women in disguise.

"Then consider the position of Strangeways--the chosen victim. He comes
to a strange town to transact business with a firm of land agents. He
goes into the office, and finds the partners--whose names are on the
plate outside, and to whom he has been sent by his London agent--engaged
in their normal avocations. He transacts his business with them in a
normal way, and Mr. Bundy seems to be an ordinary, capable young man. He
goes back later and interviews Mr. Bundy, who is just on the point of
taking him to introduce him to Mrs. Frood, when he is called away. Then,
within a few minutes, he is taken to Mrs. Frood's house, where he finds
that lady calmly engaged in needlework. Supposing Mrs. Frood had been
extremely like Bundy, could it possibly have entered Strangeways's head
that they might be one and the same person? Remember that he had left
Bundy in another place only a few minutes before; and here was Mrs.
Frood in her own apartments, with the appearance of having been there
for hours. Obviously no such thought could have occurred to any man.
There was nothing to suggest it.

"But, in fact, Angelina was not perceptibly like Bundy on cursory
inspection. They were markedly different in size. A woman always looks
bigger than a man of the same height. Bundy was a little man and looked
smaller than he was by reason of his very low heels; Angelina was a
biggish woman and looked taller than she was by reason of her high heels
and her hair. Disregarding her hair, she was fully two inches taller
than Bundy.

"Then the facial resemblance must have been slight. Angelina had a mass
of hair and wore it low down on her brows and temples; Bundy's hair was
short and was brushed back from his forehead. Angelina had strong, black
eyebrows; Bundy's eyebrows were thin, or rather, cut off short. Angelina
was pale, careworn, dark under the eyes, with drooping mouth, melancholy
expression and depressed in manner; Bundy was fresh-coloured, smiling,
gay and sprightly in manner and he wore an eye-glass--which has a
surprising effect on facial expression. Their voices and intonation were
strikingly different. Finally, Strangeways never saw Angelina excepting
in a very subdued light in which any small resemblances in features
would be unnoticeable.

"And now observe another effect of suggestion. Strangeways had made the
acquaintance of Mr. Bundy. Then he had made the acquaintance of Mrs.
Frood. They were two separate persons; they were practically strangers
to one another; they belonged to different sets of surroundings. He
would never think of them in connexion with one another. They were two
of his friends, mutually unacquainted. In this condition of separateness
they would become established in his mind, and the conception of them as
different persons would become confirmed by habit. It would be a
permanent suggestion that would offer an obstacle to any future
suggestion that they were the same. That was the advantage of
introducing Bundy first, for if he had appeared only after Angelina had
disappeared, there would have been no such opposing suggestion. The
resemblances might have been noticed, and he might have been detected.

"In passing I may remark upon the tact and judgment that were shown in
the disguise. The troublesome makeup, the wig, the false eyebrows, the
grease-paint, the false voice, all were concentrated on the temporary
Mrs. Frood, who was to disappear. Bundy was not disguised at all,
excepting for the eye-glass. He was simply Angelina with her hair cut
short and dressed as a man. He hadn't even an assumed voice; for as
Angelina is a contralto, and habitually speaks in the lower register,
her voice would pass quite well as a light tenor, so long as she kept
off the 'head notes.'

"So much for the general aspects of the case. And now as to my own
position. As I had never seen Angelina, I naturally should not perceive
any resemblance to her in Bundy; but, equally with Strangeways, I was
subject to the suggestion that Bundy was a man. The personal equation,
however, was different. It is my professional habit to reject all mental
suggestion so far as is possible; to sift out the facts and consider
them with an open mind regardless of what they appear to suggest. And
then you are to remember that when I first met Mr. Bundy, there was
already in my mind a faint suspicion that this was not a genuine crime;
that things were not quite what they appeared; and that if this were the
case, the clues were being manipulated by somebody on the spot.

"When I met Mr. Bundy, I looked him over as I look over every person
whom I meet for the first time; and that inspection yielded one or two
rather remarkable facts. I noticed that he wore exceptionally low heels
and that he had several physical characteristics that were distinctively
feminine. The very low heels puzzled me somewhat. If they had been
exceptionally high there would have been nothing in it. But why should a
noticeably short man wear almost abnormally low heels? I could think of
no reason, unless he wore them for greater comfort, but I noted the fact
and reserved it for further consideration.

"Of his physical peculiarities, the first that attracted my attention
was the shape of his hands. They were quite of the feminine type. Of
course, hands vary, but still it was a fact to be noted, and the
observation caused me to look him over a little more critically; and
then I discovered a number of other feminine characteristics.

"Perhaps it may be useful to consider briefly the less obvious
differences between the sexes--the more obvious ones would, of course,
be provided for by the disguise. There are two principal groups of such
differences; the one has reference to the distribution of bulk, the
other to the direction of certain lines. Let us take the distribution of
bulk. This exhibits opposite tendencies in the two sexes. In the female,
the great mass is central--the hip region; and from this the form
diminishes in both directions. The whole figure, including the arms, is
contained in an elongated ellipse. And the tendency affects the
individual members. The limbs are bulky where they join the trunk, they
taper pretty regularly towards the extremities, and they terminate in
relatively small hands and feet. The hands themselves taper as a whole,
and the individual fingers taper markedly from a comparatively thick
base to a pointed tip.

"In the male figure the opposite condition prevails; it tends to be
acromegalous. The central mass is relatively small, the peripheral
masses is relatively large. The hip region is narrow, and there is a
great widening towards the shoulders. The limbs taper much less towards
the extremities, and they terminate in relatively large hands and feet.
So, too, with the hands; they tend to be square in shape, and the
individual fingers--excepting the index finger--are nearly as broad at
the tips as at the base.

"Of the second group of differences we need consider only one or two
instances. The general rule is that certain contour lines tend in the
male to be vertical or horizontal in direction and in the female to be
oblique. A man's neck, at the back, is nearly straight and vertical; a
woman's shows a sweeping oblique curve. The angle of a man's lower jaw
is nearly a right angle; there is a vertical and a horizontal ramus. A
woman's lower jaw has an open angle and its contour forms an oblique
line from the ear to the chin. But the most distinctive difference is in
the ear itself. A man's ear has its long diameter vertical; a woman's
has the long diameter oblique; and the obliquity is usually very marked.

"Bearing these differences in mind, and remembering that they are
subject to variation in individual cases, let us now return to Mr.
Bundy. His hands, as I have said, had the feminine character. His feet
were small even for a small man; his ears were set obliquely and the
line of his jaw was oblique with an open angle. His shoulders had
evidently been made up by the tailor, and he seemed rather wide across
the hips for a man. In short, all those bodily characteristics which
were not concealed or disguised by the clothing were feminine. It was a
rather remarkable fact; so much so that I began to ask myself if it were
possible that he might actually be a woman in disguise.

"I watched him narrowly. There was nothing distinctive in his walk, but
there was in the movements of the arms. He flourished his stick jauntily
enough, but he had not that 'nice conduct of a clouded cane' that is as
much a social cachet in our day as it was in the days of good Queen
Anne. It needs a skill born of years of practice to manage a stick
properly, as one realizes when one sees the working man taking his
Malacca for its Sunday morning walk. Mr. Bundy had not that skill. His
stick was a thing consciously carried; it was not a part of himself.
Then the movement of the free arm was feminine. When a woman swings her
arm she swings it through a large arc, especially in the backward
direction--probably to avoid her hip--and the palm of the hand tends to
be turned backward. A man's free arm either hangs motionless or swings
slightly, unless he is walking very fast; it swings principally
forward, and the palm of his hand inclines inwards. These are small
matters, but their cumulative significance is great.

"Further, there was the mental habit. Bundy was jocose and playfully
ironic. But a gentleman of twenty-five doesn't 'pull the leg' of a
gentleman of fifty whom he knows but slightly; whereas a lady of
twenty-five does. And very properly," he added, seeing that Angelina had
turned rather pink. "That is a compliment in a young lady which would be
an impertinence in a young man. No doubt, when the equality of the sexes
is an accomplished fact, things will be different."

"It will never be an accomplished fact;" said Angelina. "The equality of
the sexes is like the equality of the classes. The people who roar for
social equality are the under-dogs; and the women who shout for sex
equality are the under-cats. Normal women are satisfied with things as
they are."

"Hearken unto the wisdom of Angelina," said Thorndyke, with a smile.
"But perhaps she is right. It may be that the women who are so eager to
compete with men are those who can't compete with women. I can't say. I
have never been a woman: whereas Angelina has the advantage of being
able to view the question from both sides.

"The _prima facie_ evidence, then, suggested that Mr. Bundy was a woman.
But as this was a _prima facie_ improbability, the matter had to be gone
into further. On Mr. Bundy's cheeks and chin was a faint blue
colouration, suggestive of such a growth of whiskers and beard as would
be appropriate to his age. Now if those whiskers and that beard were
genuine, the other signs were fallacious. Mr. Bundy must be a man. But
his cheeks looked perfectly smooth and clean; and it was about seven
o'clock in the evening. My own cheeks and Strangeways' were by this time
visibly prickly; and as he had been with us all day, Mr. Bundy could not
have shaved since the morning. I tried vainly to get a closer view, and
was considering how it could be managed when Providence intervened."

"I know," said Angelina; "It was that beastly mosquito."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke. "But even then I could not get a chance to look
at the skin closely. But when we got Mr. Bundy into the surgery, and
examined the bite through a lens, the murder was out."

"You could see there were no whiskers?" said Angelina.

"It wasn't that," replied Thorndyke. "It was something much more
conclusive. You may know that the whole of the human body excepting the
palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and the eyelids, is covered
with a fine down, technically called the lanugo. It consists of minute,
nearly colourless hairs set quite closely together, and may be seen as a
sort of halo on the face of a woman or child when the edge of the
contour is against the light. On the face of a clean-shaved man it is,
of course, absent, as it is shaved off with the whiskers. Now on Mr.
Bundy's face the lanugo was intact all over the blue area. It followed
that he had never been shaved. It further followed that the blue
colouration was an artificial stain. But this made it practically a
certainty that Mr. Bundy was a woman.

"The question now was: If Mr. Bundy was a woman, what woman was he? The
obvious answer seemed to be, Angelina Frood. She was missing; but if the
disappearance was an imposture, someone on the spot was planting the
clues. That someone would most probably be Mrs. Frood, herself. But if
she were lurking in the neighbourhood, she must be disguised; and here
was a disguised woman. Nevertheless, obvious as the suggestion was, the
thing suggested seemed to be impossible. Strangeways knew both Angelina
and Bundy and he had not recognized the latter; and I had a vague
impression that he had seen them together, which, of course, would
absolutely exclude their identity. A little judicious conversation with
him, however, showed that neither objection had any weight. He had never
seen them both at one time; and his description of Mrs. Frood made it
clear that she had appeared to him totally unlike Bundy.

"The next thing was to ascertain definitely if this woman really was
Mrs. Frood, and fortunately I had the means of making a very simple
test. Strangeways had given me a photograph of Angelina bearing the
address of a theatrical photographer, and from him I obtained seven
different photographs in various poses. Then I received from Strangeways
the group-photograph that was taken of us by the city wall, which
contained an excellent portrait of Mr. Bundy. Out of this photograph I
cut a small square containing Bundy's head, soaked it in oil of
bergamot, and mounted it in Canada balsam on a glass plate. This made
the paper quite transparent, so I now had a transparent positive. I
selected from the photographs of Angelina one that was in a pose exactly
similar to the portrait, of Bundy--practically full face--and treated it
in the same way. Then I handed the two transparencies to my assistant,
and he, by means of our big copying camera, produced two life-sized
negatives, exactly alike in dimensions. With prints from these negatives
we were able to perform some experiments. From Angelina's portrait I
carefully cut out the face, leaving the hair and neck, and slipped
Bundy's portrait behind it, so that his face appeared through the hole.
We could now see how Bundy looked with Angelina's hair, and, on putting
it beside an untouched portrait of Angelina, it was obvious, in spite of
the eye-glass, that it was the same face. For you must remember that the
Angelina that we had was the real person, not the made-up Angelina whom
Strangeways had seen.

"This success encouraged us to take a little more trouble. My man,
Polton, made some black paper masks, with the aid of which he produced
two composite photographs, one of which had Bundy's face and Angelina's
hair, neck, and bust, while the other had Angelina's face and Bundy's
hair, forehead, neck, and bust. The eye-glass was the disturbing factor,
though it showed very little, and Bundy managed it so skilfully that it
hardly affected the shape of the eye and the set of the brow. Still, it
was necessary to eliminate it, and as painting was out of our province,
we invoked the aid of Mrs. Anstey, who is a very talented portrait
painter and miniaturist. She touched out the joins in the composites,
painted out the eye-glass in the one and painted an eye-glass into the
other. And now the identity was complete. The Bundy-Angelina portrait
was identical with the photographer's portrait, and the Angelina-Bundy
photograph was Mr. Bundy to the life.

"However, we made a final test. Polton reduced the Bundy-Angelina
portrait to cabinet size, and made a couple of carbon prints, which I
brought down here and exhibited; and as Strangeways accepted them as
portraits of Angelina, I considered the proof complete."

Here Angelina interrupted: "But what about that brooch? I never had a
brooch like that."

Thorndyke smiled a grim smile. "I asked Mrs. Anstey to paint in a brooch
of a characteristic design."

"What for?" asked Angelina.

"Ah!" said Thorndyke, "thereby hangs a tale."

"Oh! a serpent's tail, I suppose," said Angelina.

"You will be able to judge presently," he replied. "The brooch had its
uses. Well, to continue: The identity of Mr. Bundy was now established
as a moral certainty. But it was not certain enough for legal purposes.
I wanted conclusive evidence; and I wanted to ascertain exactly how the
transformation effects were worked. I had noted that Bundy and Angelina
occupied adjoining houses which were virtually the two moieties of a
double house with a common covered passageway. I assumed that the two
houses communicated, but it was necessary to ascertain if they really
did. The only way to establish the facts was to inspect the house in
which Angelina had lived, and this I determined to do, in the very faint
hope that I might be able, at the same time, to get one or more of
Angelina's finger-prints. I made a pretext for visiting the house with
Strangeways, and we had the extraordinary good luck to find Mrs. Gillow
just going out, so we had the house to ourselves. But this was not the
only piece of luck, for we found that Angelina had taken a drink from
the bedroom tumbler and water-bottle before going out, and had left on
them a complete set of beautiful fingerprints, of which I secured a
number of admirable photographs.

"Examination of the basement showed that I was right as to the
communication. Both houses had a side door opening into the passage-way,
and both doors were fitted with Yale latches which looked as if they
were opened with the same key. The passage was little used, but the
gravel between the two doors was a good deal trodden, and there were
numerous finger-prints on Angelina's side-door. In the kitchen was a
large cupboard fitted with a Yale lock on the door and pegs inside. I
assumed that when Angelina was at home that cupboard contained a suit of
Mr. Bundy's clothes, and that when Mr. Bundy was in the office it
contained a wig and a dress and a pair of lady's shoes.

"Well, that made the evidence fairly complete with one exception. We had
to get a set of Bundy's finger-prints to compare with Angelina's. That
was where the brooch came in. I knew that when Mr. Bundy saw a portrait
of his former self with a brooch that he had never possessed, his
curiosity would be aroused, and he would examine that portrait closely.
And so he did. And on my asking him to compare the two prints, he took
the opportunity to pick them both up, one in each hand, to scrutinize
them more minutely, and find out who the photographer was. When he put
them down, they bore a complete, though invisible, set of his
finger-prints. Later, Mr. Bundy went home, escorted by Strangeways. As
soon as they were gone, I took the photographs up to my room, developed
up the finger-prints with powder, and compared them minutely, line by
line, with the photographs of those on the tumbler and bottle. They were
identical. The finger-prints of Bundy were the finger-prints of Angelina
Frood.

"That completed the case; and if I had known what Angelina's intentions
were I should have notified Bundy that 'the game was up.' But I was in
the dark. I could do nothing until I knew whether she was going to
produce a body, and if so, whose body it would be. The City wall was in
my mind as a possibility, since I had noted the curious disappearance of
the gate-key on that significant date and I had heard of the story of
Bill the bargee and knew that Bundy had heard it, and apparently taken
it seriously. But one can't act on conjecture. I could only watch
Angelina play her game and try to follow the moves. When the paper-chase
turned up Black Boy-lane, I knew that the wall-burial was intended to be
discovered. But I didn't know what was in the wall, and I may say that I
was rather alarmed. For if Angelina had taken the story of Bill as a
reliable precedent and had buried a real body in quicklime, there was
going to be a catastrophe. It was an immense relief to me when I got
Strangeways' report that only a skeleton had been found; for I knew then
that only a skeleton had been buried and that no crime had been
committed. That is all I have to tell; and now it is Angelina's turn to
enter the confessional."

"You haven't left me much to tell," said Angelina. "I feel as if I had
been doing the thimble and pea trick with glass thimbles. However, I
will fill in a few details. This scheme first occurred to me when I came
down here to take over the property that had been left to me. I put it
confidentially to Uncle Japp, but he was so shocked that he has never
been able to get his hair to lie down since. He wouldn't hear of it. So
I asked him to lunch with poor Nicholas; and after that he was ready to
agree to anything. Accordingly I made my preparations. I got a
theatrical wig-maker to cut off my hair and make it into a wig (I told
him I had a man's part and it was expected to be a long run), got a suit
made by a theatrical costumier, and down I came as Mr. Bundy. Uncle J.
had already had the new plate put up. The next door offices and basement
were empty, so we got them furnished for Angelina, and as soon as the
wig was ready, down she came and took possession.

"Up to this time the third act was a bit sketchy. I had arranged the
disappearance, and the recovery of the clues from the river, and I had a
plan of buying a mummy, dressing it in my clothes, and burying it in the
marshes close to the shore, where I could discover it when it had
matured sufficiently. But I didn't much like the plan. I didn't know
enough about mummies, and some other people might know too much. It
looked as if I should have to do without a body, and leave my death to
mere rumour; which would be unsatisfactory. I did want a tombstone.

"About this time an angel of the name of Turcival--he lives in Adam and
Eve-street, Adelphi, bless him!--sent a Dr. Strangeways down here. He
was a regular windfall--a new doctor--and I gave him my entire
attention. I took him to his own proposed premises, and kept him in
conversation, to let my personality soak well in. That evening I
interviewed him in the office, and let him suppose that I was going to
take him to Mrs. Frood's house and introduce him to her. Then, when I
suddenly remembered an engagement elsewhere, I went out, and as soon as
the office door was shut, down I darted into our basement, out at the
side door, in at the other side door, and into Mrs. Frood's kitchen.
There I did a lightning change; slipped on my dress and wig, stuck on my
eyebrows, and made up my complexion; flew up the stairs, lighted the
lamp in the sitting-room, and spread myself out with my needle-work. But
I hadn't been settled more than two or three minutes when Uncle Japp
arrived, leading the lamb to the slaughter.

"Then it turned out that I had struck a bit of luck that I hadn't
bargained for. John had attended me in London and knew something of my
affairs; so I appointed him my physician in ordinary on the spot. It was
rare sport. The concern poor old John showed for my grease-paint was
quite touching. I sat there squeaking complaints to him and receiving
his sympathy until I was ready to screech with laughter. But I felt
rather a pig all the same, for John was so sweet, and he was such a man
and such a gentleman. However, I had to go on when once I had begun.

"But it was a troublesome business, worse than any stage job I ever had,
to keep these two people going. I had to rush through from the office
into the kitchen and cook things that I didn't want, just to make a
noise and a smell of cooking, and listen to Mrs. Gillow so that I could
pop up the stairs at the psychological moment and remind her that I
lived there; and then to fly down and change and dart through into the
office, so that people could see that I was occupied there. It was
frightfully hard work, and anxious, too. I can tell you, it was a relief
when I heard from Miss Cumbers that Nicholas was starting for Brighton,
and that I could disappear without implicating him. However, there is no
need for me to go into any more details. Your imaginations can fill
those in."

"The man with the mole, I take it," said Thorndyke, "was--"

"Yes. I got a suit of slops in the Minories. The mole, of course, was
built up, with toupee-paste."

"By the way," said Thorndyke, "was there any necessity for Bundy at
all?"

"Well, I had to be somebody, you know, and I had to stay on the spot to
work the clues and keep an eye on the developments. I couldn't be a
woman because that would have required a heavy make-up that would almost
certainly have been spotted, and would have been an intolerable bore;
whereas Bundy, as you have pointed out, was not a disguise at all. When
once I had got my hair cut and had provided myself with the clothes and
eye-glass, there was no further trouble. I could have lived comfortably
as Bundy for the rest of my life.

"So that is my story," Angelina concluded. "And," she added, with a
sudden change of manner, "I am your grateful debtor forever. You have
done far more for me even than you know. Only this morning, poor Peter
Bundy was a forlorn little wretch, miserably anxious about the present
and looking to a future that had nothing but empty freedom to offer. And
now I am the happiest of women--for I should be a hypocrite if I
pretended to have any regrets for poor Nicholas. I will say good-bye to
him in his coffin and give him a decent funeral, and try to think of him
as he was before he sank into the depths. But I am frankly glad that he
is gone out of his own miserable life and out of mine. And his going,
which would never have been known but for the wisdom of the benevolent
serpent, has left me free, With a promise of a happiness that even he
does not guess."

"I am not so sure of that," said Thorndyke, with a sly smile.

"Well, neither am I, now you come to mention it," said she, smiling at
him in return. "He is an inquiring and observant serpent, with a way of
nosing out all sorts of things that he is not supposed to be aware of.
And, after all, perhaps he has a right to know. It is proper that the
giver should have the satisfaction of realizing the preciousness of that
which he has given."

Here endeth the Mystery of Angelina Frood. And yet it is not quite the
end. Indeed, the end is not yet; for the blessed consequences still
continue to develop like the growth of a fair tree. The story has
dwindled to a legend, whose harmless whispers call but a mischievous
smile to that face that, like the dial in our garden, acknowledges only
the sunshine. Mrs. Dunk, it is true, still wages public war, but it is
tempered by private adoration; and almost daily baskets of flowers, and
even tomatoes and summer cabbages, arrive at our house accompanied by
the beaming smile and portly person of Inspector Cobbledick.



THE END



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