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Title: The Man With The Eye-Glass
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100911.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2011
Date most recently updated: December 2011

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

Title: The Man With The Eye-Glass
Author: Fred M. White


*

Published in The Star, New Zealand, 16 September 1909, page 4

*


I

NIEL JOHNSON laid the book he was reading down for a moment,
and pulled at his pipe thoughtfully. He was, above all things, a theorist,
and he ws devoting the best part of his life to the problems which deal with
the intricate subject of crime. He was a solitary man, though by no means a
recluse, and he had few friends. Fortunately for himself, he had a sufficient
income to permit an indulgence of his favourite study. There was hardly an
authority on this subject with which he was not familiar; he had read them
all from start to finish, and the more he studied this subject, the more
surely convinced he was that the majority of crimes were based upon insanity.
There were exceptions to the rule, of course, but on the whole his experience
proved that this theory was correct.

From time to time he had investigated a great many mysteries which had
puzzled the police. He was fond of tracing these complicated tangles to a
practical conclusion; it was his habit to work them subsequently into a
narrative, and then to supply the whole to one of the leading daily papers.
In this way, the name of Niel Johnson wa becoming known to the public.

He liked to choose his own cases, of course, and the more apparently
mysterious the crime, the more attracted he was tp it. He was engaged upon a
case just now which had only come into his line of vision within the last few
hours. The gist of it lay within th few lines which he had cut recently from
an evening paper. He picked up the paragraph now, and read as
follows:

STRANGE DISCOVERY AT CHELSEA

"Early this atternoon two lightermen connected with a
Thames barge discovered the body of a woman half-hidden under some timber in
Chelsea Reach. The corpse proved to be thar of a middle-aged lady, and
apparently had been in the water for some days. The unfortunate woman was
exceedingly well-dressed, and she was wearing some remarkably handsome
jewellery, and a silver combined card-case ans purse containing a
considerable amount of money. There was nothing in the purse by which the
deceased could be identified, with the exception of an original pencil sketch
of an elderly man wearing an eye-glass. The mysterious affair is all the more
inexplicable seeing that the police have had no inquiries lately relating to
any missing person in the same walk of life as the lady in question."

Here was a case, then, after Johnson's own heart. There was nothing to
help him, no kind of clue to the problem, and very little encouragement as to
the way to proceed. Still, it possessed all the elements of attractiveness,
and, indeed, there was something quaintly fascinating in getting to the
bottom of a mystery like this, with no clue besides a clever caricature of an
elderly old dandy with an eye-glass- Johnson put on his hat presently, and
strolled off in the direction of Scotland Yard. He was well known there, and
always sure of a welcome. He found himself presently in the office of Chief
Inspector Chambers, whom he was informed had the case in hand. The inspector
motioned his visitor to a chair.

"I think I can guess what bring you here, Mr Johnson," he said. "You
have read the newspaper paragraph about that Chelsea business.

"That's right," Johnson said. "I did read it, and it rather appealed to
me. Have you heard anything in connection with it?"

"Not a word up to now," Chambers said, "Oh, yes, the unfortunate woman was
a lady right enough. There are no marks of violence upon the body and nothing
whatever to lead to identity. Her clothing not marked, either. I expect it
will turn out to be a case of suicide."

"Oh, that's possible enough," Johnson said. "And yet, I don't think so. I
am acting upon pure supposition, of course, but it is not often that my
instinct in these matters leads me astray. Besides, there's one thing you
seem to lose sight of. Here is a lady, undoubtedly of good position and of
ample means, who disappears for several days, and no inquiry is made by her
friends and relatives. Even if she had no friends, and happened to be living
alone, her landlady would be naturally anxious. We will put it on even more
material grounds than that if you like. It is pretty certain that the aubject
under discussion is comfortably off. It is, therefore, pretty certain that
she has relatives who would not be averse to stepping into her shoes. Then
why haven't some of them come forward and made inquiries?"

"That's plausible enough," Chambers said. "Yes, there's a good deal in
what you say, Mr Johnson. Even if you are oorrect and there has been foul
play here, somebody will certainly turn up sooner or later to ask
questions."

"That's inevitable," Johnson said, thoughtfully. "You know I have made a
careful study of these things. You know my views as to the connection between
crime and a certain form of insanity. If a criminal has been at work here, it
is fairly long odds that he will turn up himself and make inquiries. It is a
well-known fact that murderers of a certain sort find it almost impossible to
keep away from the neighbourhood in which the crime was committed. You see if
this doesn't happen in this case. Now, with your permission, I am going to
stay here for a few hours and study the people who come asking questions as
to missing relatives."

"That's all right," Chambers said, "but you will be wasting your time
here. What you want to do is to go down to Chelsea Police Station. You see,
the lady's body is lying in the mortuary there, and anybody who came here
would be referred to that station. You had better go down to Chelsea and see
Sergeant Farrant, who is in charge there. I think you know him."

A little time later, and Johnson was sitting at a desk in the Chelsea
station, much as if he were an official there engaged in his routine duties.
He waited doggedly and patiently for the best part of the day, but no one
came near the station who appeared to be in anxious search of missing
relatives. There had been one or two of those dreadful objects dragged from
the darkness of the river lately, but Johnson had no desire to see any of
these. It was getting towards seven o'clock before he had any sort of reward
for his patience. A half-drunken coster had come and gone, a distracted
mother looking for her daughter had gone tearfully away, and following these,
just before eight o'clock, there came an elderly-looking, dapper little man
with an easy, natural manner and a suggestion of briskness about him. In
appearance he was decidedly French, though there was no suggestion of accent
in his speech; he was well-dressed, apparently prosperous, and on good terms
with the world generally. He was exceedinglv sorry, so he remarked, to give
them this trouble, but he had a very unpleasant task to fulfil. It appeared
that a friend of his had lost a daughter, whose age was somewhere between
nineteen and twenty. The friend was so prostrated with grief and anxiety that
he was quite unable for the present to investigate for himself. Of course it
was possible that no real harm had happened to the girl, who was known to be
exceedingly romantic, and perhaps some love affair was at the bottom of the
disappearance. But, on the other hand, the girl might have met with foul
play. Of course it was a horrible thing to have to do, but might he be
permitted, the visitor asked, to view the bodies lying in the it
mortuary.

"The place is open for that purpose, sir," Farraht said. "Would you be so
good as to follow me this way?"

As the stranger moved forward Johnson rose from the table where he was
apparently busy and came forward with a book and a pen in his hand. He handed
these to the little man.

"Will you kindly write your name and address here, sir?" he said, with an
official air.

Just for a moment the stranger appeared to be startled. "Is that the usual
custom?" he asked.

"It certainly helps us," Johnson said. "You can quite see the advantage it
is to us—"

"Oh, certainly, certainly; that had not occurred to me before. If you will
give me the book I will sign with pleasure."

He took the pen, and, without hesitation, dashed off a name and address in
crisp handwriting. Johnson returned gravely to his desk, whilst Farrant
accompanied his visitor into the dark and unutterable beyond. As soon as his
back was turned Johnson reached for the London directory, and hastily scanned
its pages. He was not surprised to discover that the dapper little
gentleman's name and address were entirely false.

Here, then, was the first thread of the mystery ready to hand. He had felt
absolutely certain that sooner or later somebody would come to view the body,
and the conclusion had proved a correct. The little man came back presently;
he had lost a good deal of his jaunty manner, his face had turned to a
peculiar green. He shook hia head mournfully and sadly.

"I am very sorry to trouble you," he said. "The poor girl I am looking for
is certainly not here. I must go at once and see her father. I will probably
look round again in the morning."

The little man vanished, entirely ignorant of the fact that a moment later
he was being followed by a detective policeman, who had been told off at a
glance from Johnson for that special duty.

"Why did you want him followed?" Farrant asked.

"Oh, that for the present is a mere precaution," Johnson replied. "No,
that charming old gentleman was not telling the truth. He has no friend with
a missing daughter, and the girl in question does not exist. He struck me as
being altogether too plansible. As you saw, it occurred to me to ask him to
write down his name and address. He didn't like the suggestion, but he dashed
down the particulars without a moment's hesitation. When you were gone I
turned up Kelly and found, as I expected, that the address and the name did
not exist. Now that in itself is a suspicious circumstance. I am not going so
far as to say that this man is connected with the unfortunate lady who was
fished out of the Thames to-day, but, at the same time, you will admit that
it is possible. But in any case, you are bound to admit that the giving of a
false name and address is a little queer. Now, tell me, did anything
significant happen when our man was in the mortuary?"

"I didn't think so at the time," Farrant admitted, "but now I come to
think of it—well, yes. There were three bodies there; he hardly looked
at two of them, but he certainlv appeared to be interested in the third."

"Oh, yes; and I suppose the third happened to be the body of the
unfortunate woman who was picked up at Chelsea this morning?"

"Yes. that's quite correct," Farrant said. "He certainly was rather
agitated but, then, how many men unaccustomed to such sights would not be? He
stopped before that particular body and certainly had a long look at her
through his eye-glass."

"Oh, indeed." Johnson exclaimed. "Now, I looked at him very carefully, and
I failed to see any eye-glass."

"Ah, that's because he was wearing an overcoat. He fished it out from
inside his coat. It was a gold-rimmed single eye-glass on a cord. I noticed
it particularly."

"Oh, come, we're fitting on." Johnson said briskly. "The only solitary
clue to the identity of the dead woman is a clever pencil-sketch of a
smartly-dressed old gentleman wearing an eye-glass. A man answering precisely
to the description comes here with an obviously trumped-up story upon which
he gains admission to the mortuary. He gives us a false name and address, and
it is many odds that we shall not see him here again. It seems, to me that my
evening here has by no I means been wasted. That is why I am taking the
liberty of having him followed."

II

It was a strange house, that in Audley Lane to which Johnson contrived, in
course of time, to trace the little man with the eye-glass. It was a
dilapidated kind of a place, though no doubt at one time it had been a
fashionable residence. At the present moment it was smothered, more or less,
under the dust and litter caused by a large hotel which had been built close
by. At the back of the house was an untidy, neglected old garden which did
not appear to have had the least attention for a generation at least. But
this suited Johnson well enough. It was no difficult matter for him to find
his way into the garden and there, night by night, keep a close watch on the
house. He knew perfectly well now that he was on the right track; he knew
that the solution of the Chelsea mystery was only a matter of time.

As far as the inmates of the house were concerned, they consisted of the
dapper little gentleman, together with a maiden lady of uncertain age. There
was an old housekeeper too, but she was rarely in evidence, and it did not
take long to find out that she was both exceedingly deaf and exceedingly
stupid. For the most part, these people lived at the back of the house in
Audley Lane; the dining-room looked out onto the neglected garden, and here
Johnson did his watching night by night. I was just possible to get a glimpse
into the dining-room through the blind, which was worn in places, but Johnson
did not feel that he was getting on quite so rapidly as he had hoped. What he
wanted to do, and what he meant to do, was to get into the house.

The opportunity came at length, and that when he least expected it. He
wondered why he had never noticed the thing before. At any rate, he trod on
the edge of a grating outside the dining-room window, and the thing collapsed
with a hideous crash under his feet. A moment later, and the dapper little
gentleman burst through a French window carrying a candle in his hand.
Johnson, back in the darkness, saw that he was in evening dress. The little
man did not appear in the least suspicious either; he muttered something to
himself as to the necessity of having a carpenter to mend the broken grating.
Here was Johnson's opportunity. He slipped boldly into the house, and a
moment later found himself in the dining-room.

He could see the dinner was laid out—a cold dinner, save for one or
two dishes over spirit-lamps. There was a finely-painted screen in the corner
of the room, and Johnson hid himself behind it. He could see into the room
through the hinges of the screen, and it was but a moment later that he got
his first surprise—for it was not the dapper little gentleman in
evening dress that came into the room; it was somebody old and bent and
muffled who stood in his place. The stranger had a kind of respirator fitted
over nose and mouth; he seemed to have some difficulty in dragging his
palsied limbs up to the table. And yet Johnson was prepared to swear that
this was the same man. There was something in the carriage of the body that
told him so; and then Johnson saw a tall woman with a deathly white face and
a pair of gleaming eyes come mechanically into the room.

The woman took her seat at the table with the air of a well-drilled
automaton. Johnson saw that she shuddered at the sight of food, to which the
muffled man helped her from one of the silver-topped dishes.

"Must eat," he said, in muffled tones. "Must eat, dear Madge. If Lydia had
only eaten! Well, she might I have been here now."

The woman seemed to thrill as assuredly as did the spy behind the screen.
The muffled man made no show of eating; he gave Johnson the air of an invalid
who had previously despatched his bread and milk, and was merely observing
the conveniences. Johnson was quivering with the illumination of a great
discovery. He watched the woman slowly trying to force food down her throat.
The old man coughed and choked, and indicated the silver fountain on the
table with a gesture. Then the woman's shaking hand shot out, touched a tap,
and immediately a little spray of water trickled in the basin. Johnson could
see the fine spray dancing, rainbow-fashion, against the lights.

"That's better," the little muffled voice said, in tones of relief. "That
goes to the right place; that takes the pain from my heart. It makes me young
again. But you must eat, dear child; you must eat. If Lydia had only
eaten!"

"Lydia is dead," said the woman in her curious wooden way. "Lydia will
never come back; she could not bear the guilty secret of our house any
longer. But why did she not write as she promised?"

"She did write," the muffled voice whispered. "Oh, yes, I know, for I
addressed the letter. But the secret was too much for her, and she forgot to
post it. She died—"

"Oh, yes, yes. She threw herself into the river. At the spot that she
showed me when you first came to see us. The same spot where my mother died.
She could bear the guilty secret of our house no longer. Our mother was mad,
and our father was mad, and we are all afflicted. In the dark river at Kew,
where the tide sucks the body down, down, and it does not come to the surface
for days... The same with my mother, and Lydia, and me."

The woman suddenly broke off into a cackle of horrible laughter. The lines
disappeared like magic from her eyes; her trembling hands grew firm. She was
like the quivering drunkard revived by a long-desired draught of brandy. The
whole atmosphere of the room reeked of some trenchant spirit. Johnson was
feeling it himself; it was getting into his head. The room reeled round him;
it was certainly the feeling of intoxication. What diabolical business was
going on here, Johnson wondered.

Not that he was likely to know much about it if that infernal vertigo
continued. It was advanced intoxication beyond the shadow of a
doubt—Johnson could taste the fumes in his mouth. And, in spite of
everything, illumination was coming to him at last. He understood why the
figure at the end of the table was muffled; his imagination pierced beyond
that mask. The lights reflected the dancing yellow spray of the fountain.

Johnson turned up the collar of his pilot jacket, and crammed his
handkerchief to his mouth and nostrils. His head was still humming like a
hive, but the signs of intoxication grew no stronger. The woman at the end of
the table was laughing and chatting gaily now, but her babble had no meaning
in it. It struck Johnson as the forced gaiety of one who is very near to the
gallows. The muffled figure at the head of the table sat quietly enough now
he seemed to have performed his task. But Johnson ceased to be interested in
him any longer; he had made the discovery he was after, and the main thing
now was to get away.

It was just possible to creep away. The man at the table was adjusting the
shade on one of the candles as Johnson's white face peeked cautiously out. At
the same time the woman turned and screamed aloud.

"The face—the face she yelled. "The same face of my
dreams—Lydia's face, with the blood on it."

She fled headlong from the room. From the lips of the muffled figure came
one hasty curse. The muffled figure darted from the room with a vigour
surprising in that enfeebled frame. It was Johnson's chance, and he took it
without hesitation. He knew his way now; he could have found the garden
blindfold. He could hear the woman screaming as she flew through the rooms of
the silent house—how strange the well-appointed table looked in
contrast with it all. But there was no time for philosophy.

"Your time of release is at hand," Johnson muttered, as he made his way
cautiously along the tangled garden. Another hour or two and yonder rascal
will be in the hands of the police. Did ever a clever ruffian hit upon a more
ingenious scheme?"

Half an hour later and Johnson strolled into Scotland Yard. He had washed
and changed, and looked as if he had come casually to his evening's
occupation Chambers welcomed him eagerly. It was a very quiet night.

"Well!" the inspector exclaimed. "Have you got anything for us?"

"Got everything" Johnson said quietly. "I have solved the Chelsea mystery,
and a pretty gruesome tragedy it is. I've done some pretty good work for you,
but you never heard anything quite so gripping as this."

An hour later, and the inspector, had heard all that Johnson had to say
over a cigarette. Chambers looked just a little vague and Johnson smiled.

"You can't quite follow yet?" he said. Here is a well-dressed lady's body,
carefully nourished, no signs of violence, found in the Thames. Body has been
there for some days. And yet there has been no inquiry for the missing lady.
Suspicious to begin with. Evidently the man who knows-- there is always a man
who knows--in this case had his own reasons for not coming forward. Well, so
far so good. Here is your body and here is your pencil sketch of the
eye-glass man. As soon as I read the paragraphs I bolted off to the mortuary,
knowing that somebody would turn up sooner or later. As a matter of fact, the
man who knew turned up sooner. Little dapper old chap with an eye-glass. I
felt pretty sure of him as soon as I saw his face. When I, playing the part
of an official, asked him to write his address, I was certain. Then I had him
followed. My game was to get into the house, and I managed it at last, after
camping out in the deserted garden. I got into the dining-room and hid behind
a screen. But you know all about that. On the dining-table was a kind of
miniature fountain arrangement. The old man asked the woman to turn on the
water. At first I thought it was a sanitas, or a telephone, or something of
that kind, till saw the fine spray dancing like rainbows against the light,
and I tasted the heavy stuff at the root of my tongue, and then I knew
better. I was within an ace of falling off into a stupor of intoxication, and
I only saved myself by covering my nose and mouth. Chambers, don't you see
what the fiend was doing? He was masked against contamination himself, but he
was simply drenching that poor girl with a mixed spray of morphia and
brandy!"

"There's one thing that seems to have escaped you," Chambers said,
thoughtfully, after a pause. And that is, motive. It will be most
important."

"Well, I've got that also," Johnson replied. "Thanks to an adjacent
barber. I told you that a big hotel was making additions close to 7, Audley
Lane. Well, it appears that some of those additions are nearly finished on a
piece of ground that the hotel company bought, under the impression that the
strip was conveyed to them with another piece of land. That was a mistake, as
the strip I allude to belongs to the ladies at 7, Audley Lane. The old fox
there let the hotel company erect a fine now block of buildings there and
then discloses his hand. The new buildings must either be pulled down or
£10,000 handed over instead. It was no use to cry over spilt milk, and
the hotel people are going to pay the money. That money the old pentleman
means to have. But for my interference he would have got that money, and
directly it had passed into his possession the woman called Madge would have
died also. She would have committed suicide, and the old gentleman would have
been free to enjoy his ill-gotten gains."

"Excellent!" Chambers cried. Past eleven o'clock. Would you mind ringing
that bell for me? It's time we began to move in this matter."


THE END



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