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Title: The Adventures Of Tyler Tatlock, Private Detective Author: James Edward Muddock (writing as Dick Donovan) * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1501081h.html Language: English Date first posted: Oct 2015 Most recent update: Feb 2019 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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SOME years ago a series of remarkable house burglaries took place during the winter months in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh's most beautiful suburb, Queensferry. Several of the large houses there had been entered in a mysterious manner, and a great amount of valuable property, consisting principally of plate and jewellery, was carried off. As may be supposed, something like consternation spread through the district, and very strong complaints were made to the police, without producing material results, however. Of course, steps were at once taken to try and spot the gang, for it was believed to be a gang, who were working their 'trade' so successfully; but no arrest was made, and no explanations of the robberies were forthcoming. And more than that, notwithstanding these inquiries, watchings, and waitings, they did not even put a stop to the depredations. A Mr. M'Gowan, the occupant of 'The Rowans,' complained that his house had been entered and nearly a hundred pounds' worth of miscellaneous jewellery carried off; Mrs. Gorst, a widow lady, living at Islandview Lodge,' reported the loss of some very valuable old silver which had been in her family for generations; Mrs. Wilfred Read, of 'The Retreat,' was the poorer by a diamond necklet valued at a hundred and fifty pounds; while Mr. John Nairn, of 'The Rookery,' missed a presentation gold chronometer watch and a pearl and diamond scarfpin.
These are mere samples of the numerous reports that reached the police, and they serve to show how very serious the matter was. In some cases windows or doors were forced, but this was rather the exception than the rule, for things disappeared as if by magic, and there was often no trace of any forcible entry into the premises from whence the property had been taken.
Having regard to all the circumstances, it was perhaps in accordance with a natural police law that the culprits, it was expected, would be found among the ranks of the domestics in the various houses; but though the usual methods adopted by the police when servants are suspected were put into force, they failed to obtain even the shadow of a clue.
At last a crisis was reached when a Mrs. Bertha Wylie made a great outcry about the loss of a very valuable gold bracelet set with diamonds and rubies—present from her father on the morning of her marriage. It appeared that Mrs. Wylie had been attending an 'At Home' at the house of a neighbour, where her bracelet was the admiration of all. When she left she drove in a cab to her own residence, and immediately went upstairs to her bedroom, where she took off her bracelet and laid it on the dressing-table while she washed her hands preparatory to joining her husband at dinner. She was rather late, and he being a-hungered was not in the best of tempers at having to wait, particularly as he had brought a friend home to dine with him, so having hastily arranged her hair and performed other little toilet details dear to the heart of every woman she rushed downstairs to the dining-room, forgetting all about the bracelet. Nor did she remember it until the following morning when she rose. But a search on the toilet table, on the floor, in her jewel case, and in possible and impossible places did not bring the missing trinket to light. It had gone, disappeared, vanished completely. Full of a great grief, and with heavy heart, the lady made known her loss, and in discussing the matter with a friend she said—
'You know, dear, valuable as the bracelet is, it is not so much the mere value that affects me as the fact that dear papa gave it to me the morning I married Tom.'
Mrs. Wylie was loud in her lamentations, and through the medium of the newspapers, as well as by handbills exhibited in the shop windows, she offered a reward of twenty pounds for the recovery of the missing article.
This last robbery, so mysterious and audacious, aroused the whole community, and the male representatives met together in the house of a Mr. Scott, an Edinburgh lawyer, to discuss the situation and see if something couldn't be done to bring the guilt home to someone. The police had been baffled entirely, and the law-abiding subjects felt that the time had come when they should take the matter into their own hands. But notwithstanding that a good many of Mr. Scott's cigars were smoked and a fair quantity of his excellent whisky drunk, nothing practically was arrived at until the host himself, who had remained unusually silent during the discussion, on the principle, probably, that 'he who speaks last speaks well,' put a suggestion before the meeting.
'Some time ago,' he said, 'I had to do with a very peculiar will case, in which I was associated with the well-known London legal firm of Fleming, Steel, & Griffin, of Chancery Lane, and it became necessary for us to engage the services of Tyler Tatlock.'
'Who is Tyler Tatlock?' asked somebody.
'Well, he is a very remarkable man who carries on a private detective agency in London, and I was informed that he was considered to be without a rival.'
'Never heard of him,' remarked two or three persons together.
'Possibly not, but he has earned a reputation. At any rate, in the will case I instance he rendered invaluable service, and he made a very deep impression upon me.
'What sort of a man is he?' asked some one.
'Do you mean mentally, physically, or what?'
'Well, physically he is below medium height, but lithe as a snake and tough as nails. He doesn't impress you at first sight. He has a clean-shaven face. His features are rather small, and his eyes are so small and deep-set that sometimes when he frowns you would think he had no eyes at all. But I have never met a man yet who saw so much with his eyes as Tatlock. He would discern a microbe on the end of your nose.'
'I suppose what you are driving at, Scott,' said one of his guests, 'is that we should get this marvel down here?'
'At whose cost?'
'Our own. I propose that we should make a whip round for his fee, whatever it is. Those who have lost things will surely not begrudge to give it. There is a chance of their property being restored to them.'
'Well, I shall be willing to do my bit,' said one gentleman.
'And so will I.'
So the proposal was agreed to, it being understood that the matter should be kept secret.
About a week later there entered Mr. Scott's office in Edinburgh a little, somewhat sallow-faced man, with small black beady eyes, somewhat scant black hair, a clean-shaven face that seemed to wear an habitual expression of good humour, and a smooth, dulcet voice that might have been taken for a woman's. He was neatly, but not ostentatiously, dressed. This person was Tyler Tatlock, who would have passed unnoticed in a crowd by the casual observer. But no man who had the power to penetrate a little beneath the surface of the human mask could have been in Tatlock's presence very long before discovering that he was dealing with no ordinary person. The mobility of the face, to begin with, was simply marvellous; and then there was a strange, absolutely inexplicable magnetic influence about him that, in spite of yourself, made you feel you could at once take the little man into your confidence and tell him the innermost secrets of your heart. He was so quiet, his voice was so soft and insinuating, his manner so pleasant that he drew you out against your will.
Tatlock had originally intended to become an analytical chemist, and spent many years studying the science, when suddenly the true bent of his mind was developed by some analytical work he was doing in connection with a case of murder by poison. He thereupon abandoned chemistry as a profession and became a detective, but not without much study and preparation. He visited every capital in Europe, made himself thoroughly conversant with the various police systems; travelled extensively through India, China, Japan, and other countries, including Brazil. During his wanderings he acquired a wonderful knowledge of poisons, and at last returned home fully equipped for the walk in life he elected to follow.
Mr. Scott, with lawyer-like precision, gave Tatlock a full account of the Queensferry robberies. Tatlock listened attentively, his small eyes seemingly hidden by a frown, the index finger of his right hand on his temple, the elbow supported by the left hand; a favourite attitude when he was absorbed.
'Of course,' said Mr. Scott, when he had finished his recital, 'no one save a few gentlemen in the Ferry knows that you are here.'
'I am glad of that. A man has a much better chance of getting at the bottom of an apparent mystery if no one suspects that he is prowling about.'
A little later Tyler Tatlock went down to Queensferry to study the lay of the land, and spent some hours in wandering about. He strolled into a spirit merchant's shop for a dram in the course of the afternoon, and had a chat with the man who served the drink, and incidentally touched on the burning question of the hour in that neighbourhood—the robberies.
'I suppose you've heard a' aboot the thefts,' remarked the publican.
'Well, I've heard something, but one never knows what to believe.'
'Well, I'm of opinion that the servants in the different hooses are at the bottom of the whole business.'
'I can't think that.'
'Weel noo' tak' the case o' Mistress Wylie, a bonnie young woman but newly marrit. She pits her bracelet on her dressing-table after making a call on some friends. She forgets a' aboot it when she gangs tae her dinner, and the next day there's nae signs o' it.'
'But was the house not broken into?'
'Well, on the face of it it does look as though the servants had had something to do with that robbery. How many does she keep?'
'Twa, I think.'
'Has she lived here long?'
'Na, aboot sax months.'
'Where does she come from?'
I've heard say she was born here in the Ferry, but went south with her parents when she was a wee lassie. Her husband's an Edinburgh man, but I understand he has been living in France or somewhere on the Continent.'
'What does he do?'
'I'm no sure that lie has any trade. Any way I've not heard that he does anything. I'm perfectly sure he doesna gang to Edinburgh every day like most of the folk hereabouts.'
At this point the loquacious publican was called off to serve and pass the time of day with some other customer. So Tatlock finished his liquor and went out, and returned to Edinburgh.
Two or three days later a curious-looking little old country woman called at Mrs. Wylie's house at Queensferry, and asked to see Mrs. Wylie herself. She was requested to state her business, but declined, simply saying she wished to see the mistress on a very important matter. Presently she was invited to enter the breakfast-room, and having been kept waiting nearly half-an-hour Mrs. Wylie put in an appearance.
A very pretty little blonde woman with golden hair, blue eyes, and a sweet, baby face, but somewhat fussy manner.
'What do you want with me, my good woman?'
I've heard tell that you're offering a reward of twenty pounds for the recovery of a bracelet that was stolen from you.
'Yes, that is right.'
'I suppose there is no fear but the money would be paid if you got information?'
'Why, of course it would be paid.'
'Is the master in?'
'Could I see him?'
'No, I don't think you can. He's not up yet. He didn't go to bed till very late. But what do you want to see him for?'
'Well, mistress, you see I'm a woman, and—don't be angry with me—but I've no great faith in my own sex when it comes to a matter of business.'
'You are certainly not complimentary,' remarked Mrs. Wylie sharply.
'I hope I haven't offended you, Mistress Wylie,' said the woman apologetically.
'But you have.'
'I'm sorry for it, but I thought it would be more satisfaction to me if your husband would just give me a bit paper promising to pay the twenty pounds if the bracelet is found.'
'Oh, you can trust me,' said the lady haughtily, 'but I don't believe you know anything about the bracelet.'
'What makes you think that?'
'Two or three things. Can you describe it now?'
'The funny little old woman fumbled about her clothes, and at last produced from an inner pocket one of the hand-bills offering the reward and describing the article.
'I get my description from that,' she said.
'Oh, that's all right; but where have you seen the bracelet?'
'I didn't say I had seen it.'
'But you evidently know something about it.'
'No, I've only heard some folk talking.'
Mrs. Wylie laughed heartily as she said:
'Well, you are a comical sort of person, upon my word. What's the use of you coining here unless you can help me to recover my property?'
'You see, m'm, I'm a poor body, and twenty pounds would be a fortune to me; so I thought I would come and tell you what I've heard.'
'What have you heard?'
'I heard a neighbour of mine say she was in a pawn-shop on Saturday night getting out her man's duds for the Sabbath, when a man came in and offered a bracelet in pawn, and my neighbour vows from what she could see of it it was your bracelet.'
'And was it pawned?' asked the lady quickly.
'Well, you see, it could hardly be mine, because every pawnbroker in Scotland has had a description of the bracelet, so no one would be likely to lend money on it.'
The country woman looked rather chapfallen as she remarked:
'Ma certes! I didn't think of that. Ah, well, just forgive me for calling on you. I was keen to get that twenty pounds, and I thought I'd give you the information.'
The old woman took herself off, and in the course of the day Mrs. Bertha Wylie, elegantly dressed, wearing a real sealskin jacket and carrying a sealskin muff, called on a lady friend, a Mrs. Smith, who resided in the Ferry, and over the tea and cakes she told her about the old woman calling on her.
'Well, to be sure, what a stupid creature!' exclaimed Mrs. Smith. 'Whatever could have been her object!'
'I suppose she thought I should give her something; but I wasn't quite such a fool as she fancied I was.'
'I wonder,' remarked Mrs. Smith thoughtfully, 'if she is connected in any way with the mysterious thieves who have been committing all these robberies?'
'I wonder,' echoed the pretty little blonde lady, arranging the dainty mass of flimsy tulle that encircled her white throat as she stood before the mirror over the drawing-room mantelpiece.
'I shouldn't think you are ever likely to get the bracelet back,' pursued Mrs. Smith.
'No, I don't think there's the slightest chance; but there's no use crying over spilt milk. Tom must buy me another bracelet; that's all.'
'You are more philosophical than I should be,' remarked Mrs. Smith with considerable emphasis.
'It's a good thing to be philosophical, dear.'
'Perhaps it is, but I hope I shan't be called upon to exercise my philosophy for the same cause as you.'
'I hope not, but one never knows. It may be your turn next. The thieves—whoever they are—seem to be pretty impartial, and apparently all's fish that comes to their net.'
The subject having been exhausted, the ladies turned to a more agreeable one, and discussed dress. Mrs. Smith admired her friend's sealskin jacket, and, with a woman's privilege, inquired what was the cost of it.
'Oh, not very much,' answered the wearer. 'About a hundred and fifty pounds I think Tom gave for it.'
Mrs. Smith sighed as she confessed sadly that her lord and master was not likely to indulge her in such a piece of extravagance. The pleasant little interview having terminated, the ladies kissed each other lovingly and parted, as Mrs. Wylie had another social call to make previous to returning home.
About a week from that date Mr. and Mrs. Smith went up to Edinburgh to the theatre, leaving their two children, their nurse, a cook, and housemaid at home, though the cook had permission to go out for a couple of hours. Mr. Smith was a jeweller in Edinburgh, and carried on a large business. He had three shops, the principal one being in Princes Street. He and his wife gave orders to the servants to see that all the doors were locked and everything safe before they went to bed.
The cook left the house a little before eight, soon after her master and mistress had gone, and she was to be back not later than ten, the housemaid and nurse undertaking to sit up for her. During her absence the two young women, having seen all the doors secured below, went upstairs to the nursery, where a cheerful fire blazed, and it was only when they heard the bell ring, announcing the cook's return, that they descended together—brave women as they were—and let her in. The three of them partook of supper in the kitchen, and retired to bed almost on the stroke of eleven. An hour later Mr. and Mrs. Smith returned home, had a hasty supper, and retired also, the lady glancing in at the nursery to see that her pets were snug and comfortable in bed.
The following morning Mr. Smith went off, as usual, to his business at half-past eight, and later in the forenoon Mrs. Smith made the alarming discovery that nearly all her jewellery had disappeared, together with about fifty silver spoons, forks, and two small silver dishes. Without making her loss known to the household, she hastily attired herself, and rushed off to Edinburgh to inform her husband. Now, it chanced that Mr. Smith was one of the gentlemen who had on a recent occasion assembled at Mr. Scott's when it was decided to secure the services of Tyler Tatlock; but, in accordance with the arrangement then come to, he had not told his wife, nor did he do so now. He merely requested her to make out a list, and give information at the Central Police Station, and ask them to send one of their men down to investigate the matter. He said he was not able to get away himself then, as he was very busy, but he would be home as soon as possible. An hour after his wife had left him Mr. Smith made his way to Mr. Scott's office.
'I say, what's that man of yours about?' he asked in a tone that indicated he was by no means pleased.
'Why, the brilliant detective who was to do such wonders for us.'
'I really don't know. I haven't seen him for some days.'
'Well, shunt him.'
'Why, what's wrong?'
'You don't mean to say you've been robbed?'
'Last night. Mrs. Smith and I came up to the theatre, and during our absence there's been a fine haul made.' Here Mr. Smith laid a list of the missing articles before his legal friend. 'Now look at that. What do you think of it? A nice state of matters, isn't it?'
'It's most remarkable,' said the lawyer, musingly.
'Yes, but what I want to say is that that fellow Tatlock is no good.'
'I shouldn't be too hasty in condemning him. Let's put him on his defence first,' suggested Mr. Scott.
'But he condemns himself. The fellow's been here getting on for a fortnight, and has done nothing. What is more, the mysterious thief has committed a robbery under his very nose, so to speak, and yet he can't see him. Why, I'd do better myself as a detective.'
Soon after Mr. Smith had taken his departure Mr. Scott sent a note over to Philp's Cockburn Hotel, asking Tatlock to come across and see him; but word was brought back that Mr. Tatlock had been absent for two days, and when he went off did not leave word when he would be back.
The next morning Tyler Tatlock put in an appearance at Mr. Scott's office soon after that gentleman arrived.
'I'm sorry I was away yesterday when you sent your note across.'
'You've been enjoying yourself,' suggested the lawyer with a smile.
'Yes, very much. A little recreation at times does no one any harm, does it?'
'No, certainly not. But to be serious now, have you got hold of any clue?'
'I would rather not answer that question at present.'
'Good. I am a lawyer and appreciate your caution. Probably you will not have heard yet of the robbery at the private residence of Mr. Smith, the jeweller, who lives at Queensferry?'
'Oh, yes, I have,' he said.
Mr. Scott smiled also. It was a smile of self-satisfaction. He felt absolutely convinced now that he was not mistaken in his estimate of Tatlock.
'I don't want to force your hand,' he remarked, 'but your smile is significant. It is a smile of meaning. You are not without some clue, I fancy.'
Tatlock smiled again, and turned the conversation.
'Now for a little announcement,' said he. 'I am leaving Edinburgh to-night. How long I shall be absent I really cannot tell, but I shall return, and when I do I shall probably be able to supply you with reliable and valuable information.'
'That satisfies me,' answered the lawyer; and on this the two men parted, and in the course of the evening he saw some of his neighbours who were in the secret about Tatlock, and to them he said, in order to reassure them:
'I think Tatlock's all right. He has left Edinburgh, but will be back again before very long, I expect, and when he again appears on the scene he may have something to tell you.'
That night a tall, handsome man, wearing a costly, fur-lined coat and dainty kid gloves, entered the refreshment room at the Waverley Station, Edinburgh, in company with a lady, young and pretty. They partook of some refreshment, then went on to the platform, which was swept by a fierce snow-laden wind, for it was a bitter night, with all the sting of winter in it. The gentleman kissed the lady affectionately, and they parted. She went one way, and he hurried to the Great Northern London train, which in another few minutes would be speeding on its way to the South. At the door of a first-class compartment stood an obsequious porter. He had already deposited two hand-bags belonging to the gentleman in the rack of the compartment, and, as he of the fur-lined coat appeared, the porter touched his cap.
'I've pit a' your things in, sir, and there's a guid hot footpan for ye.'
'Thank you,' answered the gentleman curtly, as he dropped a silver coin into the eager, outstretched palm, and entered the compartment, exchanged his highly polished silk hat for a travelling cap, ensconced himself comfortably in a corner, and enveloped the lower part of his body in a handsome rug, drew off his dainty gloves, selected a cigar from his case, and lit it—it was a smoking compartment. Then the guard's shrill whistle sounded, there was a snort, puff, and jerk, and the night mail began its journey.
There was only one other passenger in the compartment, a little old man, wearing a skull cap over his snow-white hair. He was warmly clad, and had a heavy rug across his knees.
'It's a bitter night,' he remarked to his fellow passenger.
'Yes, awful. Are you travelling far?'
'To London. And you?'
'To London also.'
'We had better give the guard a wink at the next stopping-place, and ask him to keep the compartment for us, and we shall be able to stretch out; not that I think there is much fear of being overcrowded on a night like this.'
'No, I fancy not. It's a pretty empty train as it is. Do you smoke?' asked the young man.
'Allow me to offer you a cigar. I can recommend those. They're a favourite brand with the Rothschilds.'
'Thank you, they look good, and smell good. I have matches, thanks. Yes! your recommendation is justified. It's an excellent smoke. I suppose you've seen the papers?'
'Do you care to look at the 'Times'?'
'No, thank you. The light's not good enough.'
Thus these fellow-travellers on that winter night exchanged the commonplace civilities peculiar to the situation until the inevitable drowsiness which night travelling superinduces lulled them to silence, which lasted until Carlisle was reached.
'Well, I think we can settle down for the night now,' remarked the tall gentleman, as the train began to move out of the station on its long run to York.
The old man agreed with this, and each prepared a comfortable bed with rugs and wraps on the seats, and then stretched himself out for sleep, the shade over the lamp and the curtains at the windows having been drawn. The compartment was cosy and warm, outside snow was falling heavily. The train thundered on through the night. The travellers slept. Nearly an hour passed. The train was flying through the darkness at the rate of fifty miles an hour. Presently the little old man raised his head very cautiously, and glanced towards his fellow-passenger, who was lying on his back, his lips slightly apart, and testifying by nasal evidence that he slept. The little old man gradually and silently sat bolt upright, and drew from his pocket a tiny metal flask, with about three inches of india-rubber tubing and hollow ball attached. He advanced the flask close to the sleeper's mouth and nostrils, gently squeezed the ball, and, without the slightest hissing or noise of any kind, there issued from the tiny nozzle a thin, bluish vapour. With the first inhalation of this vapour the sleeper gave a start and a gasp, then he became perfectly still, and lay rigid like a marble statue. Having assured himself that his fellow-traveller was fully under the influence of the vapour, the old man lifted the traveller's bags from the rack, and deliberately proceeded to open them with keys he drew from his pocket. He carefully examined the contents of the bags, but took nothing out. Having satisfied his curiosity, he closed the bags again, and restored them to the rack. He next felt the pulse of the sleeper, and, being apparently satisfied that all was well, he rolled himself in his rugs again, and went to sleep.
The tall gentleman awoke just as the train reached York. He seemed all right, and exactly like a man who awakens from a sound, refreshing, and health-giving sleep. He glanced at his fellow-traveller, who was buried in his rugs and motionless. He really was asleep. The gentleman rose and stretched himself as the guard opened the door, and announced there were twenty minutes allowed at York. Snow was falling heavily. The temperature was low enough to freeze one's marrow. The gentleman, who was suffering from a vacuum, buttoned up his fur coat, hurried to the refreshment-room, and made a substantial meal of cold ham and chicken and hot coffee. He returned to his carriage refreshed and strengthened, and lit up another of his excellent cigars.
The little old man still slept.
The rest of the journey passed without incident.
London was reached in gloom, fog, and snow. Our two travellers began to gather up their traps a few minutes before the train drew up in King's Cross Station.
'May I inquire if you are going to stay at an hotel? asked the little old man in the blandest possible manner, as he exchanged his skull-cap for a silk hat, and wound a muffler about his throat.
'Yes; at the Holborn Viaduct.'
'Can you recommend it?'
'Most thoroughly. I always stay there, as I generally have business in Paris, and it's so handy for the Chatham and Dover train, you know.'
'Are you going to Paris to-night?'
No; to-morrow night.'
'I don't know that I envy you your journey this weather.'
'Oh, I'm used to it.'
'Well, we may meet again, as on your recommendation I shall put up at the Viaduct. Good-morning.'
The following day the tall, handsome gentleman who had travelled up from Edinburgh on the previous night sat at breakfast in the well-lighted, well-warmed breakfast-room of his hotel. He had the appearance of one who had no care on his mind, and was at peace with all the world. His fair moustache was daintily trimmed, his hair well brushed, his hands were white and beringed, his nails polished and faultless. He finished his breakfast, tossed aside the 'Times' with which he had beguiled himself during the meal, glanced admiringly at himself in the mirror, and went out. When he reached the lobby two men were standing there. One touched him on the shoulder, and spoke something in his ear which caused him to start and turn deadly pale. As he seemed disposed to try conclusions with the two men, the other seized him and very adroitly and dexterously clapped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists.
'This outrage will cost you dear,' he said between his set, gleaming teeth.
The two men did not seem to be disturbed by the menace. One said You had better not make a scene, Mr. Jordon.'
'Remove these signs of infamy, then,' said the gentleman addressed as Jordon, and indicating the handcuffs.
'No. We can't do that. We know your desperate character.'
Mr. Jordon smiled bitterly, but made no answer. In obedience to the request of his captors he walked quietly down the stairs, a man on either side of him. A waiter was ordered to go to the gentleman's room and bring his hat for him. While that was being done a four-wheeler was summoned, and a few minutes later Mr. Jordon, white-faced and savage-looking, was being driven to Bow Street.
Three days after that peculiarly dramatic little scene at the Holborn Viaduct Hotel a scene scarcely less dramatic was being enacted in Edinburgh. A cab drew up at the door of Mr. Wylie's house at Queensferry. There were two men in the cab. One alighted, knocked at the door, and was admitted by a servant, the other man remaining in the cab. Fully three-quarters of an hour passed before the man who had entered the house reappeared. He was accompanied by pretty little Mrs. Wylie, who wore a thick veil over her face. She entered the cab, followed by the man, and the cab at once drove off to Edinburgh, where the two men—plain-clothes policemen—delivered their capture, pretty, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mrs. Wylie, to the police authorities.
That afternoon Tyler Tatlock entered Mr. Scott's office. 'Well,' he said carelessly, as he toyed with a cigar he was smoking, 'there'll be no more robberies at the Ferry—at least, for some time.'
'Oh! What, have you made a capture?'
'Who are they?'
'One is Mr. Joseph Jordon, ex-convict, alias Samuel Turner, alias Richard Graham, alias Tom Wylie, and his charming little fair-haired wife.'
Mr. Scott fell back in his chair with amazement.
'What! Tom Wylie and his wife the thieves?'
'Yes; funny, isn't it?'
'How did you ferret the business out?'
'By instinct. Inquiry led me to suspect Mrs. Wylie as the jackal. I visited her to inquire about the reward she had offered for the bracelet she averred she had lost. Of course, she never lost it. She made the announcement to throw people off the scent. My interview with her convinced me she was guilty. I watched her husband. When I disappeared for a few days, to the annoyance of your friends, I had followed him to Glasgow, where he had put up at the St. Enoch's Hotel, and met a man from London, whom I happened to know was one of the cleverest forgers in London, and an expert swell-mobsman. I found out—never mind how—that is my affair—that the two were in partnership of some kind, and had an agency in Paris for the disposal of stolen property. The swell was going north on business, but, as I was not concerned with him, I gave the police a hint, returned to Edinburgh with Wylie, and a day or two later travelled with him to London, opened his bags, and found them stuffed with the proceeds of the Ferry robberies, which he was conveying to Paris. Of course, I stopped his little game.'
'Well—you—do amaze me!' exclaimed Mr. Scott. 'But how on earth were the robberies managed?'
'On a very simple plan. Mrs. Wylie, charming little woman she is, but as dangerous as they make 'em, won the confidence of her victims—studied their houses, ascertained where the valuables were kept, knew when the heads of the household were likely to be absent; and, having performed all this scouting work with skill and adroitness, carried the information to her husband. There is hardly a door or window that man cannot open without leaving any trace behind. This, of course, at once threw suspicion on servants. Artful, wasn't it?'
'But who is this Wylie?'
'Joseph Jordon, only son of the late Joseph John Jordon, colliery proprietor and iron master, of Stockton-on-Tees. He left his son, who had been highly educated, a fortune. The son made ducks and drakes of it on the Turf. Then he associated himself with swell-mobsmen and blacklegs. He was arrested in connection with a forgery, and put in five years at Dartmoor. On his release he married a Miss Jennie Gramont, who had been keeping body and soul together by teaching. Jordon is one of the most plausible and polished scoundrels in the business, and he soon educated his wife up to his own business. However, we have them by the heels. Funny little story, isn't it? Very human, though. The police-court proceedings will be interesting. Jordon, of course, will be brought north. It is to be hoped your judges won't err on the side of leniency. Well, ta-ta; look me up when you are in London. I must leave Edinburgh to-night, as I have pressing business demanding my attention.'
NOTE.—Any chemist reading the foregoing story will know the nature of the vapour used by Mr. Tatlock in the railway carriage to ensure Jordon sleeping long enough to enable the bags to be examined, This vapour produces a sort of stupor which may last from fifteen minutes to an hour. Its administration is not unattended with risk, though when the sleeper awakes he feels refreshed and lively, but some time afterwards violent headache is apt to ensue, though it speedily passes off under ordinary circumstances. It must be remembered that Mr. Tatlock was a chemist, and thoroughly understood the use and nature of drugs.
I HAD occasion one morning to call on Tatlock at his chambers on a matter of business in which we were jointly engaged. Having spent an hour with him, and discussed the subject of my visit, I was about to take my departure, when he pushed a box of cigars towards me, inviting me to help myself, and as he lit his he remarked:
'By the way, that's rather a curious case at Flaxton, isn't it?'
'What case is that?' I asked, not knowing what he referred to.
'Oh, haven't you heard of it. Here, read that,' and he tossed a copy of the 'Standard' to me, in which he had marked with a blue pencil the following paragraph:
MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MR. GEORGE GRAVELING—SUPPOSED SUICIDE.
Early on Friday morning last a gamekeeper in the service of Sir John Sterling of Flaxton was crossing the wild moorland which stretches between that place and Hutton, on the line of railway between York and Scarborough, when he came across the dead body of a well-dressed man lying in a little hollow that was partly concealed by heather and bracken. The gamekeeper's attention was attracted by a flock of crows hovering over the spot, and evidently greatly excited about something. Thinking there might be a disabled sheep lying there, he approached the spot, and to his horror saw the body of a man lying on its back at the bottom of a basin-like depression. Having satisfied himself that the man was dead, the gamekeeper hurried back to Flaxton, a distance of four miles, and informed his master, Sir John Sterling, of what he had seen. Sir John lost no time in giving information to the police, and in company with a small body of the rural constabulary he drove over to the place where the gamekeeper had seen the body lying. They took a country cart with them, with a layer of straw at the bottom. On this the body was laid, and conveyed to Flaxton, where the identity of the deceased was at once established by means of letters and cards in his pocket. The body proved to be that of Mr. George Graveling, the well-known bookmaker, of Glasgow and London. A considerable amount of valuable property was found in the pockets, including a gold watch and chain, a massive gold pencil case, nearly fifteen pounds in gold, and about twenty pounds in Scotch bank-notes. It appears that Mr. Graveling had travelled from Glasgow to York to attend the York races two days previously to his body being discovered on the moor. He was apparently in the best of health and spirits, and he was known to have won a very large sum of money at the York meeting. He was supposed to have returned to Glasgow the same night, and how he came to his death in the lonely spot where his body was found is at present a mystery, which no doubt the coroner's inquest will be able to clear up.
'Yes,' I remarked, as I finished reading the item of news, 'yes, it's rather a curious business.'
'I am going down to the inquest,' said Tatlock, in the apparently unconcerned way in which he usually spoke. 'Sir John Sterling has wired to me asking me to attend.'
'Don't know,' answered Tatlock, shrugging his shoulders, and puffing out a great volume of smoke from his mouth. 'Foul play suspected, I suppose.'
'When do you go?'
'To-night. The inquest is to be held to-morrow.'
The foregoing is the prologue, so to speak, to as remarkable a crime as the annals of evil-doing can furnish us with, and the particulars of the case I now give from Tatlock's own notes and papers.
The external medical examination of the body failed to reveal any cause of death, but an autopsy made it clear that the deceased had died from poison, and that poison diluted oxalic acid, although there were traces of laudanum detected. The evidence given at the inquest brought out the following facts: Mr. Graveling was a wealthy man, and greatly respected. He was noted for his generous liberality and kindly disposition. He was in the habit of attending most of the great race meetings throughout the country. He left Glasgow on the Wednesday night preceding his death, travelled to York, and was present at the races. He dined with some friends at an hotel in York, but left them early, saying he was going to make a call in the town, and intended to get the down train to Glasgow. From that hour to the discovery of his body on the moor the following morning his movements were shrouded in mystery. The spot where he was found was about eight miles from York and two from Flaxton, a station on the direct line of railway between York and Scarborough. It was obvious, therefore, that he could not have travelled by the Scottish train. Had it not been for the mere chance of Sir John Sterling's gamekeeper crossing the moor, and having his curiosity aroused by the crows, the body might have lain undiscovered for months, possibly years.
Had his money and other property been taken from him a motive for crime would have been established, but though several of those who were at the races with him declared that he had a very large sum in his possession when he left the course, no evidence was forthcoming to show, if that was the case, what he had done with it. He did not keep a banking account in York.
There was one other item found amongst the effects in his pocket, and a very significant item it was, being nothing more nor less than a glass-stoppered two-ounce phial, which had contained oxalic acid. It was in the breast pocket of his coat.
As may be supposed, the most exhaustive inquiries were made with a view to determining the source from whence the poison had been obtained, and for this purpose the inquest was adjourned from week to week for three weeks. But the mystery could not be cleared up. In the end there seem to have been divided opinions as to how the deceased came by his death, and this verdict was returned:
That the deceased, George Graveling, met his death from a dose of oxalic acid, but there was no evidence to show whether the fatal dose was administered by his own hand, or the hand of another person.'
This, of course, was practically an open verdict, and its tendency was to make the mystery more mysterious. It should be mentioned that amongst the general public there were not many who did not favour the suicide theory. In the minority, however, were numbered a few old and staunch friends of the deceased, who, feeling convinced that George Graveling was not the man to have taken his own life, instructed Tyler Tatlock to try and solve the problem. To these friends the circumstances of the tragedy called for a deeper and more crucial examination than the coroner's inquest had afforded. Tatlock himself had declined to express any open opinion at the time; but in a private letter he wrote to me after the verdict he referred casually to it in these words:
By the way, the verdict in the Graveling case couldn't have been other than it was, though I hear that the coroner himself and some of the jury favoured suicide. But Graveling did not commit suicide. He was murdered.'
It appeared that when Tatlock arrived in Flaxton, the village where the inquest was held, he lost no time in proceeding to the spot where the body was found. It was a wild, lonely, desolate region. If Graveling wanted to kill himself why did he go to such an out-of-the-way place? It was proved by the medical evidence that he could not have taken the poison first, and have walked to the pit afterwards, inasmuch as the effects of the dose would be to almost immediately paralyse the heart and brain.
Tatlock did not find much to help him, but an examination of the dead man's clothes, which he was permitted to make, revealed the fact that the soles of the boots worn by Graveling were clean; that is, they bore no trace of the black, loamy soil of the moor. Strangely enough, neither coroner, jury, nor witnesses attached much, if any, importance to this remarkable fact; but Tatlock did. The back of the deceased's coat was much stained with the boggy earth, but the front part of the clothes were not soiled in any way. Had he drunk the poison first, and staggered to the pit, he would in all human probability have pitched on to his face or knees, but there was no sign of his having done this. Another peculiar feature was that Tatlock could discover no trace of the deceased's footprints anywhere about the pit where he was found.
Tatlock did not visit the moor again until after the coroner's verdict. His second visit was unpremeditated. He had had some drawings made of the footprints, and he wished to verify some minor point. He descended into the hollow where the body had been found, without, as he himself says, any particular reason for so doing. When about to leave the place his attention was attracted to some-thing with a metallic lustre, half hidden in a tuft of heather. He picked it up, and to his astonishment found it was a small silver cream-jug, very much tarnished and discoloured, while the inside and the spout bore signs of having been corroded by acid. Had it not been for the established fact that the deceased had died from oxalic acid poison, this corrosion of the jug might have passed almost unnoticed, but under the circumstances it was a natural conclusion to come to that the jug had contained some or all of the fiery acid which had found its way into Mr. Graveling's stomach.
Needless to say, Tatlock considered this discovery as of great importance, and as likely to afford him a clue to the unravelling of the mystery. The jug, which was 'hall-marked' as silver, weighed about four ounces, and was of a very ordinary pattern. On the bottom the initials 'S. H.' had been roughly scratched—with the point of a knife probably.
For three months, in spite of many other calls upon his time and attention, Tatlock did not relax his vigilance or cease to exercise his talents in the Graveling case. He had all the tenacity of a barnacle. He clung to what he attached himself to, and could not be easily shaken off Nor did his vigilance in this case go unrewarded, for he made an important and startling discovery.
In one of the byeways of the city of York there was situated a shop where a fairly flourishing business was carried on in second-hand goods of a miscellaneous character. The interior of the shop was stuffed full of assorted lumber in keeping with the display in the window. Over the door a signboard set forth that the proprietrix of the shop was Selina Howells. One afternoon a man entered this shop—a seedy-looking little man, with a general woebegone, down-at-the-heel, empty-pocket appearance about him. He carried a bundle with him. A woman was busy behind the counter ticketing some goods that were to go into the window.
'What can I do for you, my man?' she asked, looking up as the stranger entered.
'I've got summat to sell, missus,' he answered as he produced an accordion.
'Anything else?' A few well-worn white shirts were displayed, and some electro-plated spoons and forks the worse for wear, and lastly a metal cream jug. The woman's attention was arrested by the latter article. She took it up quickly, carried it to the window, where there was a better light, flipped it with her finger-nail, examined it carefully inside and out, and, turning at last to the man, remarked—
'This is silver.'
'Is it?' he said in astonishment.
'Yes. What did you think it was?'
'Where did you get it from?' she asked, eyeing him curiously.
'Where did you find it?'
'On Flaxton Moor.'
The woman walked to the end of the shop, carrying the silver jug with her, opened a half-glazed door, and disappeared into a room, where a man was sitting smoking a pipe. She was absent quite ten minutes. When she returned to the shop she told the customer she would give him two pounds for the things.
'No, mum,' he answered decisively. 'If that jug's worth two pound to you it's worth that to me, and maybe more, and so I'll keep it.'
'Well, you're a fool; that's all I've got to say,' snapped the woman angrily, as she banged the article down on the counter before him. 'Why, it's not worth five shillings. It's been burnt inside with something, for one thing.'
'Missus,' said the man, eyeing her keenly as he took the jug up, 'if I can't get more'n that for it somewhere else I'll come back to you and you shall have it,' and with a brusque 'Good day' walked out of the shop.
About a week after this little incident two men entered Mrs. Selina Howells' shop, bent on much more serious business than that of either selling or buying. They inquired if her husband was at home, and on being answered in the affirmative they expressed a desire to see him. The lady was naturally curious to know what their errand was, and on their declining to enlighten her she said that under these circumstances they could not see him. On that one of the men went to the shop door and called in a third man, who was ordered to remain in the shop while the other two searched the house. Mrs. Howells stormed and raved, and seemed very indignant, describing the conduct of the men as an outrage, and demanding to know what it meant. She was told she would know in good time, and thereupon the two men went into the back room, and thence upstairs, the hour being eleven o'clock in the morning. They found Mr. Howells in bed, and they at once declared themselves as police officers, and showed him a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of his being concerned in the death of George Graveling, and they bade him dress himself.
Richard Howells was an enormous man between thirty and forty years of age. He stood six feet three, and had the muscles and power of a Hercules. When he recognised that he was trapped he sprang out of bed, and his whole manner seemed to indicate mischief, but one of the officers whipped a revolver from his pocket and said quietly—
'You had better dress yourself quickly, Mr. Howells.'
Mr. Howells thought better of his resolve, whatever it was, and sullenly and silently donned his clothes and made his toilet. It was very embarrassing to have to do so in the presence of strangers, but under the circumstances there was no avoiding it. As soon as he had finished one of the officers very adroitly handcuffed Mr. Howells, who looked furious, but who was helpless in spite of his great strength. He was then conducted downstairs to the shop, and Mrs. Howells was arrested on a warrant and on the same charge. Two servants, a cook and maid-of-all-work, named Jane Holcraft and Mary Prendergast respectively, were told to leave the premises at once, and the third man was temporarily placed in charge. The two officers and their prisoners then got into a four-wheeled cab which had been waiting in the street, and they were driven to the jail. Needless to say, perhaps, that the arrest of these people was due to Tyler Tatlock, and the way in which he tracked them down is a story in itself.
The initial point which gave Tatlock his clue was the clean soles of the dead man's boots. It was clear—at least, to Tatlock it seemed so—that the man never walked to the spot where his dead body was found. If such was the case, it followed that he must have been carried there, and who-ever carried him there necessarily had a strong motive for concealing his death. That was, so to speak, link number one.
Now for link number two. Mr. Graveling was well known. He was a conspicuous man, horsy in appearance, and carrying about with him the unmistakable air of his calling. Now, on the evening that he left his friends at the hotel in York on the plea that he had an appointment to keep previously to starting for the North, it was evident to such a mind as Tatlock's that the man was going to meet somebody outside of his particular ring of acquaintances, and that somebody in all probability was not of the masculine gender. Acting on this idea, Tatlock did search for the woman in York, but failed to find her.
Then as to link third. There are very, very few men indeed who have not some pages in their book of life they would like to tear out and destroy for ever and ever. But though that cannot be done, every care is taken to keep these pages from the eyes of the world. Tatlock therefore turned his attention to Graveling's past history, with the result that he learnt some curious facts. Years before, in a certain public-house in Glasgow patronised and frequented by betting men, was a very showy barmaid known as Agnes Lyal. She had an almost perfect figure, a good complexion, fair hair. For the rest, she was uneducated but intelligent, consumed with vanity, conceited and cheeky. Her employer considered her a great attraction to his place, and paid her well. Her admirers were numbered by dozens, from the stupid shop-lad to the hardened old Turfite. But Miss Agnes Lyal knew her game, and played it well. Amongst the frequenters of the place was one who looked with very admiring eyes on this bar Hebe, but from all his acquaintances he concealed his admiration, and while others fawned on her and flattered her, and she fooled them to the top of their bent, he silently and insidiously worked to win her, and he succeeded. A Scotch marriage took place, but he had his own reasons for concealing it, and for some time after-wards she continued her duties as barmaid. Then at her husband's request she took up her residence in Belfast, where he paid her periodical visits. It needed no prophet to predict that such an ill-assorted marriage could have but one ending. He was a man of considerable culture and refined tastes. She was coarse, uncultured, loud in her dress, fast in her manner. Within two years they mutually agreed to separate. Nevertheless, he recognised his obligation as the woman's husband, and made her a good allowance until on the most justifiable grounds he stopped it. It might be said that from that moment she became his implacable enemy.
The name of the man who married Agnes Lyal was George Graveling. By the way, Agnes Lyal was only an assumed name. Her real name was Selina Smith. At the time of her marriage her father was a convict, working out a long term of penal servitude at Dartmoor. Subsequently she allied herself with one Richard Howells, a powerful brute who had at one time been a prize-fighter, and ultimately they set up a second-hand store within the precincts of the city of York. On that fatal day when George Graveling disappeared from the ken of his friends, to be subsequently found stark and dead on Flaxton Moor, he had received an urgent message from his former wife, asking him for some reason or other to see her, and as he was still under her spell to some extent he went to her.
Step by step, cleverly and patiently, Tyler Tatlock traced the careers of Selina Smith and George Graveling down to that point. It was in Belfast he picked up the information that Selina was residing in York as Selina Howells. On the silver cream-jug he found on Flaxton Moor the initials S. H. were scratched on the bottom of the jug. They might have stood for lots of names be-ginning with S. and H., but, having regard to all the facts he had gathered up, he thought the jug might have belonged to Selina Howells, and so he visited her shop, and amongst other things offered the jug for sale. His deep-set eyes watched her the while, and he read her face like a book, and felt perfectly sure that she knew the secret of Graveling's death. Anyway, he laid such information before the police that they were enabled to procure a warrant for the arrest of the man and woman.
Firstly, it was absolutely certain that on the night of his death Graveling was at the Howells' house.
Secondly, it was no less certain he had died from the effects of oxalic acid.
Thirdly, oxalic acid was largely used by the Howells in their business for cleaning tarnished metals and other things.
Here at once was a chain of presumptive evidence which justified the warrant. The next step was to get up evidence to secure a conviction; and the evidence as given at the magisterial inquiry can be focussed thus:
Jane Holcraft had been in the service of the Howells for a little over a year as cook. On the date mentioned she remembered a gentleman coming to her master's house about eight o'clock at night. She did not see the gentleman herself, but she was ordered to cook some fish for supper, which she served at ten o'clock. She believed a good deal of drink was consumed, including champagne. She recognised the silver jug produced. It was one of a number of silver things belonging to her mistress. She had the cleaning of the silver, and had often cleaned the jug. She knew that oxalic acid was kept in the house, but she herself never used it.
Jerry Coghlan was a groom in the service of the Howells. He had two horses to look after and two traps, a dogcart, and a small waggonette. He had been with the Howells for a little over a year. On the date in question his master drove out in the dogcart, but returned about four o'clock. It was the day of the races. It had been raining, and the roads were very muddy. He washed the trap, groomed the horses, and bedded them both down before he left for the night. He did not sleep on the premises, as there was no accommodation, but lodged in the neighbourhood. He went to a music-hall that night with his young woman. The next morning when he went to the stables he was surprised to find that one of the horses had been out in the waggonette. The trap was very dirty, and so was the horse; in fact, it was covered with mud, which had caked on it. He noticed that in the apron of the waggonette there was a large hole. It had the appearance of having been corroded or burnt with some fluid. There was a similar burn and stain on one of the cushions of the trap. As he did not want to be blamed for this damage, he at once called his master's attention to it. Mr. Howells said that he had driven a friend to the station on the previous night, but he did not know what had caused the damage.
Mr. Andrew Weardale kept the Bell Inn at Market Weighton. He attended races all over the country, and was very well acquainted with Mr. George Graveling. On the day in question he was at the York races, and had several business transactions with Graveling, the result being that he gave him a cheque for twenty-nine pounds. It was a crossed cheque, payable to the order of George Graveling, and was drawn on the York branch of a Darlington bank. That cheque had never been cashed. He recognised the cheque now produced as the one he had given to Mr. Graveling.
This last piece of evidence added a powerful link to the chain of evidence. The cheque had been found amongst Howells' papers in his writing-desk.
The foregoing evidence was more than amply sufficient to justify both prisoners being committed for trial at the Assizes, and during the time that intervened more evidence was accumulated which left little doubt that on the night of Graveling's death the two prisoners drove in the waggonette towards Flaxton. There was a man with them, but he was either dead drunk or asleep.
At the trial the prisoners were powerfully defended, but the defence could not break down the prosecution, and both of the accused were condemned to death. The man remained a hardened ruffian; the woman broke down and became repentant, and the day before her execution she made a written confession. In it she stated she had written to Graveling asking him to see her. She had always retained a considerable amount of influence over him. It was Howells who suggested that he should be drugged and robbed. They plied him first with drink. Then they gave him a large dose of laudanum, after that they became frightened, as he looked so strange, and seemed to be dying. The consequence was that Howells put the horse to the waggonette. The insensible man was placed in it. Howells also took a phial of oxalic acid which was on the dining-room mantelpiece, and just as they were going out he snatched up the silver cream-jug from the sideboard, so as to get some water when they got to the moor, which Howells knew very well. He said that by mixing the acid with water the effect would be more rapid. As they drove along Howells took the phial from his pocket to see how much it contained, and in the dark, thinking he had made a mistake and brought a phial of spirits of wine, which was also on the sideboard, he took out the stopper to spell, and in doing so he spilt some of the acid on the apron and the cushion of the vehicle. On reaching the moor, Howells carried the semi-insensible man, who was then beginning to show signs of recovery, to the spot where he was found. He got some water in the jug, put the acid into it, and poured it down Graveling's throat. The victim was too dazed then to know what it was he was drinking. To lead to the belief that the man had committed suicide, in case his body should be found, the phial that had contained the poison was placed in his pocket. It was also decided to leave the Scotch bank-notes and the watch and chain upon him. The loose gold, however, was left by an oversight. In their excitement they forgot it.
Thus ended this remarkable tragedy, and it was due entirely to the sagacity, skill, and patience of Tyler Tatlock that the cruel murder of Mr. George Graveling was avenged.
As most people are aware, every civilised country in the world expends a large sum annually on what is known as 'Secret Service,' but not many know to what extent every capital of Europe swarms with spies, who are paid out of the Secret Service funds. It is the business of each Government to find out all it possibly can as to what is being done by other Governments. It is a matter of almost absolute impossibility for any Government to preserve military or naval secrets from the prying eyes of the ubiquitous spy. This spy system is universal, and in the 'Service' are to be found men and women of exceptional cleverness, who might in any other walk in life, probably, if they so desired, become very prominent members of society. But as spies they must ever remain unknown to the outside world, and, no matter to what extent they distinguish themselves in their calling, they receive no public recognition. Secrecy is the guiding principle of the spy's existence. His life is a mystery and a puzzle; and even those who are closest and dearest to him are probably in ignorance of how he earns his bread. Spies are almost invariably educated people, excellent linguists, unemotional by nature, and gifted with the power of being able to conceal their thoughts. Moreover, they should be adepts in the art of disguise, and capable of deceiving their own parents. For obvious reasons it is important that spies should not be known even to each other, though it is not easy to guard against this. It is the duty of the spy to transmit to his Government, as secretly as possible, every scrap of information likely to be of value; and, as may be supposed, in order to get his facts the spy not infrequently has to try and corrupt somebody in a position to give the information required. Now and again the public hear of a traitor who may have been in the army, the navy, the dockyards or elsewhere; but as a rule when a traitor is detected a discreet silence is preserved. He is dismissed from the service, of course, and for ever afterwards becomes a marked man in his own country.
England, perhaps, spends less than any other European nation in Secret Service, with the result—proved over and over again—that we are often profoundly ignorant when we ought to be well informed. The South African War, however, has opened the eyes of the Government to its parsimony, and the Secret Service vote for this year of grace is double what it has been for many years.
These brief remarks are quite a propos to the remarkable story that follows, and will serve to render the incidents more intelligible.
YEARS ago, when it seemed as if this country and Russia would become embroiled in a life-and-death struggle for supremacy in the East, Tyler Tatlock was suddenly summoned to the War Office. It was during a time of public excitement, and we were within an ace of breaking off diplomatic relations with the 'Colossus of the North.' How near we were to war the public did not know. Russia, with the aggressiveness and self-assertiveness which have characterised her 'expansion policy' for centuries, disputed our claim to certain boundary lines in connection with our Indian frontier; and we were compelled to put our foot down, as the saying is, and exclaim in no ambiguous language to the Northern Bully—'Thus far and no farther.'
Some of our frontier defences, if not all, had been allowed foolishly to fall into such a state of ruin that feverish activity prevailed in order to be prepared for emergencies. It was at the most critical stage of the negotiations that the Government learnt by some means that Russia was being kept fully informed of our plans and operations by a traitor or traitors; and at the War Office a startling discovery was made. Copies of certain drawings of the utmost importance were missing from the department where much of the drawing was done, and there was every reason to suppose they had been stolen with a view to selling them to Russia.
Efforts had been made to unearth the delinquent, but so far without success, and there was a consensus of opinion amongst the officials that it was desirable that an entire stranger should be employed to ferret out this traitor, as the detectives employed by the War Office permanently were more or less well known to the clerks and others of the various departments—consequently Tatlock was selected for the work. He bore a high reputation in Government circles as a man of exceptional ability in his line, and he had previously distinguished himself in carrying out Government work.
Tatlock's interview was with General Sir George ——, who in guarded language explained the situation.
'You will understand,' he said, after much talk, 'what an uneasy feeling there is in the department alluded to, since every man connected with it feels that to a greater or less extent he is under suspicion. In a case of this kind the black sheep is at especial pains to appear white, and, the documents having disappeared, it may be very difficult to spot the thief. And yet it is of the highest importance that he should be spotted, and weeded out root and branch.'
Tatlock assented to the proposition involved in the foregoing remark, and urged that the problem submitted to him for solution was beset with so many difficulties that he was by no means hopeful of success.
'For instance,' he said, running his eye down a list of about forty names the General had placed before him, 'there are gentlemen mentioned here whom to suspect seems almost to border upon the ridiculous.'
Well—no,' replied the General. 'You see, every man in the department is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a gentleman. By that I mean, apart from the necessary qualifications of education, he is a man of honour; a man incapable of a base action, and nothing can be baser than crime. It is not pleasant, therefore, to have to raise one's finger and say A or B may be guilty, when investigation would reveal that C or D was the actual culprit. You follow me?'
'Perfectly well, and I appreciate your delicacy of feeling. Nevertheless, what you say only serves to make my difficulty more apparent.'
'In a sense yes; in reality perhaps no. You see, the considerations which weigh with me can hardly influence you. You can, for the purposes of your inquiry, place every one of these men on a common level, and at the initial stage you need not discriminate between Dick and Harry.'
The result of the interview was that Tatlock undertook to try to unearth the culprit, stipulating for a perfectly free hand, which the General assured him he should have.
The seriousness of the crime which Tatlock was called upon to fix on the guilty person can hardly be realised by the casual reader. But it will be best expressed by stating that owing to the abstraction of the drawings, which it was logically concluded had been stolen for the purpose of supplying Russia with information, instructions had to be telegraphed out to India to make certain modifications in the defence scheme. This meant an expenditure of several thousand pounds. When Tatlock took up the work in earnest he found that the laws of probability necessitated the focussing of the suspicion on a section comprising twelve men, and closer investigation reduced the twelve to six. It is perhaps necessary to mention that while the various officials of the department in question had been in conference with the chiefs of the War Office, no definite steps had been taken with regard to the subordinates, and the engagement of the services of Tyler Tatlock was kept a profound secret.
The task that devolved upon Tatlock was one requiring the exercise of skill, tact, and judgment. But he was equal to it, and he set about his work with the deliberate caution that characterised him. A full consideration of the duties, and the conditions under which they were performed, of the six men Tatlock had selected forced him to the conclusion that the traitor would be found amongst them, and he proceeded to make himself acquainted with the habits and non-official lives of this little group. Three were married and had families; one was married, but without family; two were bachelors.
Now, it chanced that at this period there lived in London, and moved in the best society, a lady whom we'll designate as the Countess X. She was said to be a Pole, but was an open advocate of Russia. She was handsome, brilliant, rich; and her frequent letters to the Times, in which by astute arguments she endeavoured to prove that all our suspicions of Russia were absolutely unjustifiable, had made her name known throughout the length and breadth of the land; while her splendid receptions and entertainments at her mansion in Park Lane had given her a conspicuous position in society. Nevertheless, she was regarded with suspicion by some people, as it was believed she was a spy in the pay of Russia. She was about forty-five years of age, and whether she had a husband living or not was a matter about which she did not choose to enlighten the public. She had a daughter named Olga, a singularly handsome girl of twenty or thereabouts, who was reputed to be able to speak and write six or seven languages fluently, to be highly educated, and to possess all her mother's cleverness and brilliancy. The joint attractions of mother and daughter drew to the hospitable Park Lane mansion hosts of people, a large percentage of whom were young men, who vied with each other in paying Olga flattering attention.
About a fortnight after Tyler Tatlock had seriously set to work in his investigation of the War Office mystery he entered a very foreign-looking cafe restaurant in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square. He seated himself at an unoccupied table, and, speaking in French to one of the waiters, ordered coffee a la verre and a cheroot. He had not entered the place because it had any particular attraction for him, but because he was interested in two young men who had preceded him, and were joined at a table in a corner almost immediately by a very foreign and very Jewish-looking individual, 'who might have been a Rooshian, a German, or a Prooshian, but was not an Englishman.'
The two young men whom Tatlock had under his observation were employed at the War Office. One, named Terence Trapmore, was a draughtsman's copyist; the other, Paul Redmond, was a second-class clerk. It was evident they had gone to the cafe for the purpose of meeting the foreign gentleman, and by appointment. He greeted them effusively, and for some time they engaged in earnest conversation. The foreign gentleman gesticulated much, and shrugged his shoulders with an impressiveness that conveyed a good deal of meaning. Tatlock was too far removed from the trio to catch any of their conversation, which, as a matter of fact, was carried on sotto voce, but from his little, half-closed eyes he watched them, and the gesticulations and shoulder-shrugs were signs to him of a dumb language not altogether lost upon him. At last a little incident occurred which was destined to afford him the clue for which he had been searching so diligently. Terence Trapmore, clearly in reply to something said by the foreign gentleman, pulled an envelope from his pocket, took a letter from the envelope, placed the envelope on the marble-top table, and handed the letter to the foreigner, who read it with every manifestation of deep interest, and an elevating of the eye-brows. Tatlock would have given a great deal to have been able to have glanced over that letter, but that was out of the question. He never did anything rash; he knew how to wait and watch, and he had a saying to the effect that 'the patient watcher was bound to sec many things.' Well, he saw the foreigner fold the letter up and hand it back to Trapmore, who mechanically placed it in his pocket, unmindful of the envelope on the table, and by-and-by all unknowingly he swept the envelope off the table with his elbow, and it fell to the sanded floor.
Tatlock watched and waited. And he continued to watch and wait for fully an hour, when he was comforted by seeing the three men rise and depart. When they had gone he moved quietly to where they had been sitting, rapidly picked up the envelope, which had been trampled upon and was much dirtied, and slipped it into his pocket. He went back to his own table, gave a repeat order for coffee, and in an unconcerned way, and as if prompted by the merest curiosity, he inquired of the waiter who the foreign gentleman with the black beard might be who had just gone out.
The waiter, suspecting nothing, answered that the gentleman was known as Mr. Peter Petrovitch. He was staying in the house, and had been there about five weeks. He was supposed to have some business at the Russian Consulate, but what his business was the waiter did not know.
In due time Tatlock sauntered out, and later on examined the dirty envelope. In a cramped and unmistakably foreign hand it was addressed to 'Terence Trapmore, Esq.,' at his private residence. Of course, there was not much in that, but on the flap, stamped in black and gold, was a peculiar crest. So the detective put that envelope very carefully away in his pocket-hook. Though he did not suspect it then, it was to prove the key to the somewhat complex problem he had been called upon to solve. The following day he presented himself at the Heralds' College, and showing the envelope asked whose crest it was. After some little research he was informed it was one that was used by the Countess X.
'Oh, oh,' thought Tatlock, this is getting interesting.'
The fact of an envelope bearing the crest of the Countess being addressed to Terence Trapmore proved conclusively that Mr. Trapmore was in communication with a lady who, rightly or wrongly, was supposed to be an agent in the pay of Russia. His meeting Peter Petrovitch at the Leicester Square cafe was also suspicious, and altogether it seemed as if a pretty little plot was being worked to the detriment of Great Britain.
Tatlock was now convinced he had got hold of certain threads which, if followed up, would lead to important results. It was necessary, of course, to act with caution, and apart from detecting the traitor it was of the highest importance that the stolen drawings should be recovered if possible. Any precipitancy would in all probability frustrate the object aimed at. At that stage an open accusation of Trapmore would serve no purpose; it was Tatlock's business to get behind the scenes, and find out what was going on. And he found out this much, that two nights after the cafe incident Terence Trapmore and Paul Redmond were guests at the Countess X.'s house.
A week later he received an intimation from the War Office that, in spite of the precautions taken, it was believed an unauthorised copy had been made of certain frontier out-posts in Northern India. Up to this stage of the unravelment Tatlock had kept his suspicions to himself. But he now laid such information as he had gathered before Sir George ——, and was informed in return that three days before Trapmore and Redmond had commenced their annual holiday, and would not return to their duties for a month.
Tatlock now felt that, in a sense, his two men had scored a point against him. Whoever had come into possession of the stolen drawings would personally convey them out of the country owing to the tremendous risks of sending them through the post, for, of course, the postal authorities had been notified, and unusual vigilance was being exercised. Under these circumstances Sir George —— was in favour of an immediate arrest, which he felt was quite justified by the suspicious movements of the two men. Tatlock concurred with this, but he was quite prepared to find that the birds had flown, and with the long start they had got they might yet win in the desperate game they were playing.
Trapmore and Redmond were both bachelors. The former lived in apartments in the house of a widow lady and her daughter in South Kensington, the latter with his mother and sisters in the same neighbourhood. He had gone with his people to Eastbourne for the holidays, and Tatlock felt that for the time being he need not concern himself any more about him. All his attention was given to the presumed chief conspirator. Trapmore had left his lodgings, but his landlady had no idea where he had gone to. He had simply said he was off to Brighton for two days, and after that he did not know where he would be, but anyway he would not return for at least three weeks. The day after he left she sent on a parcel which came after his departure, and which he was expecting. She addressed it to the Grand Hotel, Brighton.
To Brighton, therefore, Tatlock went. He found that Trapmore and Petrovitch had both been there. Petrovitch had been staying for some time, but he and Trapmore had both left together and gone to London. Tatlock tried the cafe in Leicester Square, but ascertained that Petrovitch had left some time ago, and they had almost forgotten all about him. From this point then the trace was lost, but Tatlock was not the man to remain long baffled. His resourcefulness was almost inexhaustible, and his deductions led him to surmise that if anyone was likely to know of Trapmore's whereabouts it was the Countess X. But he was not foolish enough to suppose that that clever lady of intrigue would give the desired information for the mere asking. Trapmore, there was every reason to believe, was one of her creatures, and she would have to be met by the same cunning which she so skilfully exercised herself when dealing with others. So one morning a French gentleman called at her residence and sent his card, marked 'pressing,' up to her. The name on the card was M. de la Fosse, Rue Fontenelle 18, Paris.
Monsieur de la Fosse was a little man, dark to swarthiness, with a waxed moustache and a fussy, self-assertive manner. Madame la Comtesse graciously consented to receive him, although she did not know him, and he was shown into a charming little morning room, where she soon followed.
Monsieur bowed very low as the lady entered, and laid his hand on his heart in token of the profound sentiments of his utmost devotion to one so charming, and he apologised profusely for his inability to speak any language but his own. It was very stupid of him, very ignorant, but alas! it was the force of circumstances. He hoped the Countess understood French. Of course the Countess did.
'Ah!' then Monsieur de la Fosse was so happy, so very happy, and once more he bowed and laid his hand on his breast. Monsieur de la Fosse had allowed himself the supreme honour of calling on the Countess to ask her for some information about his dear friend, his more than brother, Terence Trapmore, who, as he understood, had the felicity of knowing the Countess intimately. So much he had learnt from his dear friend and more than brother Terence.
The lady's wonderfully mobile and singularly handsome face evinced the astonishment she felt, and her keen eyes searched the little Frenchman.
She confessed that she had some acquaintance with Monsieur Trapmore, but she thought he had been guilty of some liberty in talking about her to his friend, however intimate the friend was.
Monsieur de la Fosse begged of her to compose herself. His dear friend Trapmore was his more than brother. They had sentiments, tastes, and feelings in common. Moreover he—Monsieur de la Fosse—was a wonderful draughtsman. He had been in the service of the French government as a draughtsman. He knew that his dear friend and more than brother wanted him to assist him in making some drawings of fortifications. He—Monsieur de la Fosse—had come over to London on purpose, but when he called at his dear friend and more than brother's apartments he found, to his inexpressible astonishment, that the dear friend had gone away, and only left a message to the effect that he would not be back for three weeks. Happily Monsieur de la Fosse, as he assured the Countess, was a man of peace and so fond of his dear friend, or he would have been angry, so angry. As it was, he allowed himself the liberty of calling on Madame la Comtesse, thinking she might be able to tell him where he could find Monsieur Trapmore, with whom he had much business of grave importance.
Madame la Comtesse looked scornful, suspicious, half-angry. 'Really,' she said, 'I am not interested in Trap-more, and know nothing of his movements.'
'Alas, alas!' moaned the Frenchman, 'I have made a grave mistake in my friend! He has played me false. He told me he wanted to see me in London about some drawings. Now, when I come to this great city I learn he is not your friend, and he has gone away. It is shameful! It makes me very unhappy. Madame, I take my leave, and beg you to accept the sentiments of my most distinguished consideration. Madame, I am your very humble and obedient servant.'
The Countess smiled again, and the whole expression of her face indicated that she was suspicious of her visitor. As he was about to depart she said with irony:
'If your friend is so devoted to you it is curious he should have asked you to come to London, knowing full well that he was going to Paris.'
Ah, he has gone to Paris. Mon Dieu, est-ce possible? and I will swear he has gone with that Peter Petrovitch. Ma foi, what ill luck for me!'
'You know Peter Petrovitch?' asked the lady, lifting her eyebrows.
'Madame, I know that Peter Petrovitch.' Once more he bowed; once more he laid his hand on his heart.
'Well, I believe they are both in Paris,' remarked the lady, with a wave of her white jewelled hand, as if she meant to convey that the discussion was closed, and she dismissed the subject and her unwelcome visitor at the same time. Monsieur de la Fosse was not dense, so with many bows and florid and perfervid expressions of devotion he took his leave, and when he had left the house behind him a little smile of triumph lurked in the corners of his mouth, for De la Fosse was none other than Tyler Tatlock, the detective. His visit had convinced him of three things—firstly, Madame was the spy she was reputed to be; secondly, she and Trapmore were in league; thirdly, Petrovitch was a Russian agent, and between him and Trapmore was some bond, a bond of treason as far as Trapmore was concerned.
Tatlock's remark to the Countess about Petrovitch was a lucky shot. It was fired quite at random, but hit its mark. Madame knew Petrovitch; she knew Trapmore; and she gave herself away when she disclosed that she knew they had gone to Paris. Tatlock had made a great stride. The problem was now less abstruse.
After an interview with General Sir George at the War Office, Tatlock started for Paris. He did not know the address of the man he was seeking, but in Paris it is infinitely less difficult to trace a foreigner than in London. The compulsory system of registration, and the lists of strangers kept at the Bureau de Police, enables anyone who has a legitimate purpose in so doing to find a person he may be looking for. Within a few hours, therefore, Tatlock learned that Trapmore and Petrovitch had put up at the Hotel du Nord; but both had gone. It was believed that the English gentleman had departed for Vienna, and the Russian for London.
Vienna was within easy distance of the Russian frontier. If, as was reasonable to suppose, he was conveying the stolen drawings with him, the object of his journey to Vienna became apparent. At any rate Tatlock acted on the supposition, and acted quickly, for if he could only succeed in coming up with his man before he reached Russian territory he could foil him in his little game, as he was provided with the necessary official documents to enable him to secure his arrest almost anywhere save in Russia.
Tatlock travelled through to Vienna without break of journey. He had no certain knowledge that Trapmore had gone to Vienna, but there were strong probabilities that he had done so. Anyway Tatlock found himself in the beautiful Austrian capital, and, scarcely pausing to draw his breath when he alighted from the train, he handed in his credentials at the chief Police Bureau, and secured the cooperation of the officials. Next to Russia, Austria has the most perfect system of espionage of any country in the world.
In the 'Register of Arrivals,' kept at the Central Bureau, Tatlock read a very full description of the man he was after—Terence Trapmore, and learned that he was staying at the Hôtel Prada.
To the Hôtel Prada, a first-class house, Tatlock went. And that evening he saw Terence Trapmore at the table d'hôte with a young lady of striking beauty, to whom he seemed devoted. She was handsomely dressed, and wore much jewellery. She was known in the hotel as Fraulein Metrinkska. In reality she was Olga, daughter of Countess X. The police books furnished Tatlock with the following:
'Name—Fraulein Metrinkska, assumed. Real name, Olga, daughter of Countess X., resident in London. Nationality, Polish or Russian. Arrived from Dresden on the 1st. Receives much correspondence from Russia and England. Believed to be a spy in the interests of Russia.'
The following day a visit of inspection and interrogation was paid by the police agents to the Hotel Prada at the instigation of Tatlock. They were armed with an authority to search the baggage of Terence Trapmore and Olga, otherwise Fraulein Metrinkska, for suspected incriminating documents. The visit was like a thunderbolt to the young people. They protested; they argued; they threatened; but it was all useless. It was like banging their heads against an adamantine wall. Their keys were demanded, and ultimately produced, and in Olga's trunk was found a parcel of elaborate tracings and drawings of various parts of the Indian frontier. The discovery told its own tale. Olga had bewitched Trapmore. She had caused him to sully his honour and become a traitor. She had waited in Vienna for his coming with the all-important drawings, which she was going to convey to Russia. The papers were confiscated, as she could not prove any legitimate claim to them. Thus the little plot was frustrated. She was furious. She stormed and raved. She even threatened that the hosts of the Czar would swoop down and wipe Austria off the map. The police agents smiled. Of course, they would prefer no charge against her. She was free to remain or go as she liked.
Terence Trapmore was stricken into dumbness as he realised that his treachery was known. The light went out of his eyes, and a look of blank despair filled them. Pending an answer to a telegraph message Tatlock had despatched to London, asking for instructions, Trapmore was placed under surveillance, which meant that he could not leave the city without official permission.
That night was fair and beautiful. There was scarcely a cloud in the star-gemmed heavens, and the moon shone with an effulgence which filled the city with a sheen of silver, and trembled in rippling wavelets of weird and solemn light on the rolling Danube, into whose blue waters a broken-hearted and desperate man hurled himself and his shame, and passed with a despairing wail to the mystic beyond. Terence Trapmore had dreamed a dream, and Olga was his vision. He awakened to reality, and death beckoned him. Some eyes broke into tears, no doubt, when his end was known, but Olga's didn't. What cared she? Terence Trapmore, the common-place War Office drudge, was to her a mere man, to be used and trifled with, and flung away when done with. She was glad when she heard he was dead; the poor fool who had dared to suppose that he had the power to win her love, she who was so radiantly beautiful. No; she had her idol, but it wasn't Terence Trapmore. Two days later she pursued her journey to Russia, smiling and radiant.
Tyler Tatlock's mission finished when he handed the stolen plans back to the War Office, and thus checkmated Russia's designs as far as these plans were concerned.
Nothing definite was actually proved against Paul Redmond, the second-class clerk, though it was morally certain that he had aided and abetted Trapmore, but the War Office authorities did not deem it advisable to institute public proceedings. For obvious reasons it was better to hush these things up; but Redmond was discharged, and knowing that henceforth he would be a marked man he went abroad. What the Countess X.'s feelings were when she heard of her dupe's death it is not easy to tell, but it is significant that shortly afterwards her effects in Park Lane were sold by auction, and she departed for the Continent. She knew that her mission in London had finished, and that she had been outwitted.
It was a summer evening. Time, between seven and eight o'clock. The scene, Waverley Station, Edinburgh. The train from London had just come in, and the passengers were numerous and miscellaneous. The platform was thronged with an excited, jabbering crowd, made up of passengers and porters, friends and loiterers. It was an animated, bustling scene, full of life, movement, and noise.
A few moments after the train had come to a standstill at the platform, a tall, gentlemanly-looking man, dressed in the height of fashion, and wearing patent leather boots and canary-coloured kid gloves, descended from a first-class compartment and greeted another man who awaited him on the platform. The passenger appeared so dainty and fresh that he did not give one the impression of having travelled the whole of the hot and dusty journey from London. But such was the case. The friend who met him was a burly individual, whose general appearance suggested the flourishing tradesman. His hair was close-cropped. He had bushy red whiskers and moustache, and clean-shaven chin. The two men shook hands warmly, and stood chatting for some few minutes until a porter came up, touched his hat, and inquired of the passenger if he had any luggage.
'Yes, a leather portmanteau, marked in front with a blue cross, and on the top the initials R. B. painted white. You can't mistake it.'
'Where's it from, sir?'
'Shall I get you a cab?'
'No, I have already got one,' answered the friend. 'It's standing over there, see, by the main entrance.'
'Right, sir. I'll bring the luggage to you,' answered the porter, as he went off to where a crowd was surging round the luggage van, which was being rapidly unloaded by a band of perspiring, grimy men.
The two friends continued their conversation for a little while. The new arrival carried over his arm a handsome rug, and in his hand a brown leather handbag. At last they moved slowly through the swirling human stream, and made their way to the vehicle which had already been engaged by the friend. In this the passenger deposited his rug and bag, and the two men fell to chatting again, lighting up cigars drawn from the passenger's handsome case, which he produced from his pocket.
At last the porter, labouring under the weight of a bulky portmanteau, which he bore on his shoulder, appeared, and the luggage having been deposited on the top of the vehicle the driver was ordered to proceed to a certain fashionable hotel in Princes Street, and the porter having been fee'd—evidently, by the expression on his face, to his entire satisfaction—the two gentlemen were driven away.
These two gentlemen had, all unknown to themselves, evidently been an object of peculiar interest to a little, dark-eyed, sharp-looking fellow, who came by the London train, and alighted at the same time that the handsomely-dressed traveller descended from the first-class carriage. From that moment the little man did not lose sight of him and the friend who met him, until they drove off to the hotel. Then the inquisitive and curious little stranger sauntered leisurely along the platform, claimed a portmanteau from the luggage van, and engaged the services of an outside porter to carry it to an hotel within a biscuit throw of the station, and lighting a cigarette he strolled after him.
Mr. John Rennie was the manager of the Scottish Finance Corporation, Limited. It was a big concern with many ramifications. They had branches in most of the principal towns of Scotland, and their operations embraced a very wide field. Chiefly they were concerned in lending money on mortgage, and in the purchasing and re-selling of estates. Mr. Rennie had occupied the important position of manager for a good many years, and was considered to be an exceedingly shrewd and clever man.
To him there came one morning a fashionably-dressed gentlemanly man, whose visiting-card bore the legend:
Col. John E. Pritchard.
'The Gables,' Richmond.
Army and Navy Club.
Colonel Pritchard had, apparently, important business to transact. He was desirous of raising a first mortgage on what was known as the Strathmain estate, situated in Perthshire. The estate included an old-fashioned and somewhat dilapidated mansion, containing about fifty rooms, with ample stabling, and about three thousand acres of land, only a small portion of which was under cultivation. The chief value of the property lay in its game, which consisted of fish and feather. As was well known, the property had been somewhat neglected owing to family disputes. A brother of the Colonel's, a Mr. Wilfrid Pritchard, who was reputed to have been a 'rapscallion' and ne'er-do-weel, had caused a good deal of bother, but at last he had sold his interests to the Colonel, and betaken himself to 'the wilds of Siberia on a shooting expedition'—at least, so it was reported by the Colonel, who apparently was displaying a laudable desire to retrieve the family fortunes and restore the good name, which, as the Colonel declared, had been so shamefully bespattered by Wilfrid Pritchard. Mr. Rennie received his visitor very courteously. He knew the Strathmain estate well by repute. Its neglected condition had afforded the gossips food for tattle for a long time; and there had been much speculation as to what would be the fate of the property ultimately. It was capable of almost any amount of development, and its value could be trebled.
'I want to explain,' said Colonel Pritchard blandly, 'that my object in raising a mortgage is with a view to developments.'
'What is the present rent-roll?' asked Mr. Rennie.
'Well, there are three farms, but the total amount realised from them is only about six hundred and twenty pounds. They are very much under-rented.'
'And the shootings, what do they realise?'
'Something under a thousand, but there again there has been gross mismanagement.'
'What amount of money are you proposing to raise?' 'I want at least twenty thousand pounds.'
'Is there any charge of any kind on the property at present?'
'It is absolutely free?'
The result of this interview was that Mr. Rennie, on behalf of his company, undertook to have the estate surveyed and valued, and, as the Colonel represented the matter as being urgent, it was arranged that the business should be conducted with all despatch, and a week was named as the limit in which a decision might be looked for.
On this undertaking the Colonel went away, seemingly very happy and contented, and Mr. Rennie was of opinion that he had an opportunity of doing a good stroke of business for the Scottish Finance Corporation, Limited, of which he was the managing director, and an exceedingly enterprising one in the interests of his company.
On the evening of the day on which Colonel John E. Pritchard called upon Mr. Rennie with reference to the raising of a loan on the Strathmain estate, the passenger from London was entertaining three gentlemen in a private sitting-room of the hotel in which he was staying. Each man was enjoying the flavour of an excellent cigar from a box that stood on the table. And that the meeting was not a Temperance one was verified by the fact that whisky and brandy were also on the table, and before each gentleman was a glass, which was frequently raised to the lips of the gentle-man, and its liquid contents seemed to be much appreciated.
One of the gentlemen was the same person who had met the passenger from London on his arrival, and was addressed as 'Sandeman.' The other was a little squat man, with clean-shaven face, a somewhat bulbous nose of a vermilion hue, and a general suggestiveness that he loved the flesh-pots of Egypt a good deal more than he loved hard work. He answered to the name of Blagdon. The passenger was familiarly referred to as 'Jack.' The fourth man of the group answered to the name of Nick. He was a man of powerful build and horsy—decidedly horsy—as to his appearance.
These gentlemen smoked a good deal, and consumed liquor freely. The one with the vermilion nose patronised the brandy, but the whisky was evidently to the taste of the others. The business in which they were engaged seemed to be of an important character. Pens, ink, and paper were on the table. And 'Jack,' having filled a sheet of paper with writing, handed it to Sandeman, who perused it carefully, and passed it to Blagdon, who read it thoughtfully with the air, of a professional man, and marked several passages with pencil, and then gave it to Nick, who silently and with grave mien went through it, and having spent ten minutes or a quarter of an hour in mastering its contents said:
'This will have to be altered. It's not clear enough.'
'That's my opinion,' remarked Blagdon. 'Its terms are too vague, and the passages I have underlined in pencil are capable of various legal interpretations.'
'Ay, precisely,' put in Sandeman, speaking slowly and decisively. 'Oor friend Jock's a fine lad, but he's no equal to drawing up an agreement of this kind, except in so far as he would keep the oyster to himself, and gie us the shells.'
There was a little laugh at this sally, though Jack didn't join in it. The expression on his face rather indicated that he resented the soft impeachment. But he betrayed no anger in his voice, as, turning to Blagdon, he said:
Set your great legal brain to work, then, and produce something better.'
This suggestion met with the hearty approval of Sande-man and Nick, so Blagdon recharged his glass as a necessary preparation for the important work. He also threw away the remainder of the cigar he had been smoking, and lit a fresh one. Then, taking a sheet of foolscap paper, he doubled it up at the edge so as to form a margin, and, after this preliminary, he began to write, taking Jack's document as a basis for his own. He was quite an hour before he had completed his task, during which the conversation was general and desultory, though Blagdon worked quietly and in a perfectly absorbed way, so that he seemed quite oblivious of his surroundings. At last he finished. He read over what he had written, made one or two corrections, then with a self-satisfied air he handed it to Jack, with the remark—
'There; I think that meets the case.'
Jack read and frowned, but said nothing. He passed the paper to Sandeman, who expressed his approval by exclaiming—
'Capital, capital,' and he handed the document to Nick, who dwelt upon its contents until at last he also declared that it was all right.
'Very well,' said Jack, 'since you all approve of it, I've no objection to raise. As you are a good writer, Sandeman, make three more copies of this, so that we can each have one.'
Fresh cigars were lighted, more drink poured out, and then Sandeman set to work. It took him a good two hours to accomplish it. Then, the papers having been read, each appended his signature to all four; each folded up his copy and put it into his pocket, and the business of the meeting having been thus satisfactorily arranged, the gentlemen rose, shook and stretched themselves, and, as the hour was nearly eight o'clock, Blagdon expressed an opinion that it was time for the inner man to be attended to, and he suggested that Jack should order dinner; so the door was unlocked—it was strange they should have kept the door locked, but so it was—the bell rung, and when the waiter appeared he was told that the four gentlemen wished to dine; and the next move was for the four gentlemen to adjourn to Jack's bedroom to have a wash and brush up. No sooner had they left than a door at the end of the room opened. It was the door of a cupboard, and there stepped from the dark recess of the cupboard the little sharp-eyed man who had travelled from London in the same train as the 'Passenger.' He went downstairs, had a word or two with the landlord in the entrance hall, and about an hour later he left Edinburgh by the night mail for London.
A week passed, and in accordance with the arrangement previously made Colonel John E. Pritchard called upon Mr. Rennie to know what decision had been arrived at with reference to the mortgage.
'Well,' began Rennie, 'I have had the Strathmain estate carefully surveyed, and the report presented to me would not justify me in recommending my company to advance you twenty thousand pounds.'
'Indeed, how is that?' cried the Colonel, looking somewhat crestfallen.
'Because in its present condition the value of the security would not, in our opinion, sufficiently cover us against contingencies.'
'But I have always understood that the marketable value of the estate was between forty and fifty thousand pounds,' the Colonel said, with obvious anxiety and disappointment in his tone.
Mr. Rennie smiled as he replied softly:
'I am afraid you have been misinformed. There is no doubt the property is capable of much improvement, but it will take a long time and necessitate considerable outlay.'
'Well, what is the best you can do?'
'I have gone carefully into the matter, and don't think we could advance more than fifteen thousand pounds.'
'The deuce!' exclaimed the Colonel, biting his lip.
'I am sorry, but of course we have to look to the possibility of having to foreclose.'
The Colonel seemed terribly put out. He sucked his moustache and drummed irritably on the table with his fingers, until at last, brusquely and suddenly, he said:
'Make it sixteen.'
'I'm afraid I can't do that.'
'Then I'm hanged if I don't try some other firm,' cried the Colonel, as he jumped up with the air of a person who was annoyed and out of temper.
At that moment there was a knock at the door, and, in reply to Mr. Rennie's 'Come in,' a clerk entered, and handed the manager a slip of paper. Rennie glanced at it, and, turning to his visitor, said—'Excuse me for a few minutes, I will not keep you long.'
The Colonel sat down again, and Rennie left the room. He was absent about ten minutes, and when he re-entered he was followed by two tall, powerful men, one of whom approached the Colonel and said—'You are Colonel John E. Pritchard, I believe?'
The Colonel, who had jumped up, looked ill at ease, and stammered out—
'What has it got to do with you?' Then, suddenly changing his manner and tone, he added, 'Yes, that is my name. What do you want with me?'
'I hold a warrant for your arrest on a charge of conspiracy, fraud, and forgery.'
The Colonel's face grew deadly pale, and with a nervous, jerky movement he thrust his hand into his coat pocket, but the two men fell upon him, dragged his hand out, and with it a nickel-plated revolver, which dropped on to the floor, and one of the barrels exploded, but fortunately without damaging anyone. The carpet, however, was burned, and a hole drilled in the wall by the bullet. Very adroitly and rapidly the Colonel was handcuffed. Then, with a ghastly smile, he asked—Upon whose information is this absurd charge preferred?'
'Upon the information sworn to by one Tyler Tatlock, a private detective, of London, and your brother Wilfrid Pritchard.'
'My brother!' gasped the prisoner, as he reeled and seemed as if he would fall, but the men caught him, and supported him. He shook himself free, and with an effort recovered his self-possession.
'I shall have a full and complete answer to this monstrous charge,' he said.
Many a long day had passed since the newspapers had been able to furnish their readers with such sensational reading as that they printed on the morning following Colonel Pritchard's arrest. The story had in it all the elements of a thrilling romance. It appeared that John and Wilfrid Pritchard were the sons of a gentleman who had made a fortune in trade. Wilfrid was the elder brother, and inherited a considerable amount of property, including Strathmain. John had held a commission in the Militia, but had been compelled to resign it on account of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Since then he had lived on his wits, and had associated himself with a disreputable barrister, named Blagdon, who had been struck oft the rolls; a Walter Sandeman, who had once kept a public-house in Glasgow, but for a long time had also lived by his wits; and one Harvey Nicolson, a racing tout. This quartette of unprincipled rascals had resorted to many schemes for keeping themselves supplied with coin of the realm, and at last the fertile brain of John E. Pritchard conceived a daring and desperate plan for raising the wind.
His brother Wilfrid Pritchard was a dipsomaniac, and sadly neglected his affairs. John, in connivance with the other three rascals, induced him to accompany him to Paris. There, by means of corruption and bribery, they got him shut up in a private lunatic asylum; and the road being thus cleared, the barrister Blagdon, with the aid of Sandeman and Nicolson, forged a transfer of the property to John, it being arranged that a mortgage should be raised, and the money shared in varying proportions. It was Sandeman who met Pritchard at the Waverley Station the night he arrived from London, and it was Sandeman who had arranged that the Finance Corporation should be applied to for a mortgage.
It chanced, however, that an aunt of the Pritchards, who disliked John very much, but had a strong regard for Wilfrid in spite of his faults, and had tried to reform him, became alarmed and suspicious by his sudden disappearance, and fearing that there had been foul play she enlisted the services of Tyler Tatlock, who shadowed John, followed him to Edinburgh, concealed himself in the cupboard in the room of the hotel, and overheard all that took place when the quartette met and drew up an agreement as to the amount each was to receive for his share in the villainy. Then he hurried south to report the whereabouts of Wilfrid, so that his friends could take steps to ensure his release, and he returned to Edinburgh in time to make his dramatic coup while John was conducting his negotiations with Rennie.
The four wretches had considered themselves so secure that their sudden arrest was like a bolt from the blue, and as the evidence accumulated and the net was tightened around them they felt that their doom was sealed.
The trial that followed in due course was something more than a nine days' wonder, and the result was inevitable from the first. The offence with which they were charged was an exceedingly serious one, and the punishment commensurate with so grave a crime. The sentence that was pronounced made it certain that Society would be in no further danger from the machinations of these accomplished scoundrels for a very long time.
It is perhaps needless to say that Tatlock was highly complimented on his skill in nipping this great conspiracy in the bud, and one more triumph was added to the many that had served to make his name famous as an unraveller of criminal mysteries.
ONE of the most peculiar cases of duplicity that Tatlock was ever called upon to investigate was that which came to be known as 'the Gyde Abduction Case.' It was peculiar in many respects, more particularly in the cunning, the artfulness, and cruelty displayed. Indeed, there are few parallels to it, and it furnishes us with one more powerful example of the depths to which human wickedness is capable of reaching. If the story were the invention of the romance-writer, the superlatively clever people who write the reviews for the papers would pooh-pooh it as absurdly improbable; but one need only go to real life to find the groundwork for comedies and tragedies which make invention seem ridiculous. The everyday life of almost any large community is marked by sensations which out-romance all the romances ever evolved from clever brains. The story here told needs no florid hyperbole to make it attractive. It can be set down in plain, straightforward, narrative form, with the certainty of exercising a fascination over those who take an interest in human problems.
Miss Margaret Farnell was about twenty years or age. She was petite, unsophisticated, very pretty, and of a gentle and confiding disposition. She fell in love with Gilbert Gyde, who was about eight years her senior; by profession a barrister, by inclination a dilettante. He was the son of a wealthy man, who, however, was not very liberal; and as Gilbert was a third son, it seemed as if his prospects were not particularly bright. On the other hand, however, he was clever, and, while he loved not law, he wooed literature, and a facile pen found ready employment by the magazines and big weeklies. A striking feature of this case is that Gilbert's eldest brother, John, reputable heir to a snug estate roughly valued at four thousand a year, was the first wooer of Margaret. For reasons, however, which she, in her woman's way, could no doubt have justified, Margaret gave up John Gyde, and accepted the attentions of Gilbert. This led to family differences on both sides. John was of a vindictive, unforgiving nature, and it was an open secret that he had declared he would never recognise his brother Gilbert again.
James Farnell, Margaret's father, falls to be described as 'a decayed gentleman,' a somewhat vague description truly, and with a certain objectionable suggestiveness about it. Put into plain language, James was the son of a man who had distinguished himself at Oxford, but nowhere else. He succeeded to a fortune, sat in Parliament as representative of a small borough, had a somewhat disreputable connection with a lady of title, squandered his fortune, was compelled by force of circumstances to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds—in other words, resign his seat in Parliament—and afterwards became private secretary to Lord Tintern, with whose youngest daughter he contracted a secret marriage. When this became known to her father he disowned her, and she and her husband had to struggle to live. They had a family of four children, one girl—Margaret—and three boys. Mr. Farnell was clever, well educated, and well connected, but he lacked stability of purpose, and spent his time and energy in railing against Fate instead of exerting himself in trying to improve his position.
Margaret Farnell and Gilbert Gyde were married, not amidst rejoicing, and with the clashing of marriage bells shivering in the air, and flowers and gay dresses lending light, colour, and picturesqueness to the scene. Their marriage took place in a gloomy, mouldy church, on a drizzling, slushy, sloppy day, and with only the gouty old verger and the asthmatical old female pew-cleaner and a cousin of the bride and a friend of the bridegroom present. Nothing could have been more depressing, more sombre, more unorthodox, in the conventional and social sense, than this wedding. Nor was the ceremony followed by congratulations, luncheon, the drinking of health and happiness, and the merrymaking usually associated with marriage in a respectable walk in life. The young couple drove in a musty-smelling common four-wheeler from the church to Euston Station, whence they got the train to Edinburgh, where they intended to spend a week and then go on to Inverness and Loch Maree. Four days after the wedding, however, Tyler Tatlock, the detective, at the urgent solicitation of the distracted bride-groom, was searching for the bride, who had been mysteriously spirited away. The circumstances were curious enough, and pointed, obviously, to a conspiracy. All that could be gathered at the time was this:
Mr. and Mrs. Gyde were staying at the Balmoral Hotel. They had dined as usual at half-past six. Then Mr. Gyde had betaken himself to the smoking-room to indulge in a cigar, while his wife went upstairs to her bedroom to attire herself to attend a swell concert for which her husband had procured tickets. Mr. Gyde sipped his coffee, smoked his cigar leisurely, and glanced over the London papers, as the concert was not to begin until half-past eight.
At a quarter-past eight he went upstairs to see if his wife was ready, but she was not in the bedroom. Her fan, opera-glasses, a pocket scent-bottle, her gloves, and a cambric handkerchief were on the dressing-table, suggesting thereby that she had temporarily gone out of the room. So Mr. Gyde washed his hands, brushed his hair, and put on his hat. It was then half-past eight, and his wife had not come back. Then he noticed for the first time that her hat and cloak were gone. He rang the bell, and inquired of the chambermaid if she knew where his wife was. The maid could give no information, so Gyde went downstairs. He looked in the reading-room, the drawing-room, but failed to find his wife. He sauntered to the door, thinking she might have run out to some neighbouring shop for some trifle necessary for her toilet.
A quarter to nine chimed by the Tron clock. The concert commenced at half-past eight, but still there was no sign of Mrs. Gyde. Gilbert went upstairs again. On the dressing-table there were still the fan, opera-glasses, and other odds and ends, which the lady had evidently placed there. The husband was puzzled, but not alarmed. He felt satisfied that his wife had run out for something she wanted and had had to go farther afield than she anticipated. He would chide her playfully when she came back for keeping him waiting and missing the commencement of the concert. Nine o'clock boomed from the Tron.
Somehow or other the sound of the bell as it struck the hour begot in him the first symptoms of alarm. It emphasised the remarkable fact that his bride of a few days was three-quarters of an hour late for the concert—they ought to have left the hotel at a quarter-past eight. So he hurried downstairs and made inquiries. The head waiter knew nothing, and another waiter to whom he addressed himself knew nothing. He therefore appealed to the young lady bookkeeper in the office in the entrance hall.
'Have you seen my wife, Miss?'
'You don't know if she's gone out?'
'No, I don't. But Archie, the hall porter, brought a note to me addressed to her, and I sent it up to her room by James, the waiter.'
This item of information literally astounded Gyde. Who could possibly have sent a note to his wife? The hall porter was appealed to. A youth came into the hall and inquired if Mrs. Gyde was staying there, and he handed a note to the porter, with a request that it be delivered immediately to Mrs. Gyde. The porter took the note to the bookkeeper; the bookkeeper sent it upstairs to Room 47—Mrs. Gyde's room—by James, the waiter. A short time afterwards the lady came downstairs in a great hurry. She'd her hat and cloak on, and went out, so said the porter.
Mr. Gyde was more deeply puzzled, and his alarm grew. What could it possibly mean? Neither he nor his wife had ever been to Edinburgh before, and they knew nobody in the place—that is, no one in the least likely to send a note by hand to his wife, the contents of which had evidently caused her to leave the hotel hurriedly. The circumstance was mystifying and disquieting. The poor fellow went out into Princes Street, and walked a little way in one direction, then turned back and went in the opposite direction, hoping all the time, of course, that he would meet his wife, but he didn't.
Once again the brazen bell of the Tron gave tongue, and announced that half of the tenth hour had expired.
Gyde literally ran back to the hotel. Had Mrs. Gyde come in? The hall porter hadn't seen her. The anxious husband rushed upstairs to his room. There still lay his wife's fan, opera-glasses, scent-bottle, &c., on the dressing-table. The mystery was more mysterious. The poor fellow was at his wit's end what to do, until a fearful thought that something tragic had happened came over him, and ten minutes later he was at the head Police Office telling of his woe and beseeching that information be circulated all over the city, without a moment's loss of time, that the lady was missing.
Ten, half-past, eleven, and then midnight chimed, but there was never a sign of his wife's return. Gyde passed a night of maddening suspense. What he suffered cannot be adequately described by mere words. He spent those awful laggard hours in going backwards and forwards between the hotel and the police station. With the urbanity for which the Edinburgh police are noted, they did all they could to calm the distracted husband. One of their detectives who had earned a reputation for cleverness exerted himself to the uttermost, but failed to get any trace of the missing young lady.
It was June, and the dawn of the summer morning found Gyde blear-eyed, haggard, and forlorn. He had quite exhausted his brain in trying to work out some plausible theory to account for his young wife's mysterious disappearance. But the more he struggled with the problem the more puzzled he became. That she had not premeditated flight seemed evident on the face of it, by the fact that her jewellery, which was of some value—in fact, everything except what she stood upright in—she had left behind. Therefore, if her flight had been planned, she had displayed a vast amount of artful cunning to throw him off the scent. But when an unworthy thought tried to fasten upon poor Gyde, he freed himself from it. He would not, could not, think anything unworthy of the dear little woman who, but a few days previously, had linked her destiny with his.
Suddenly it occurred to him to telegraph to Tyler Tatlock. He was not unacquainted with him, having in his capacity as a journalist met him on several occasions. He knew Tatlock to be very clever, though he was not gifted with the all but supernatural powers which the public were inclined to ascribe to him. But Tatlock had over and over again succeeded where many men of vaunted ability had failed. So the sorrowing husband wired to him; a very urgent message it was, and it chanced that when he got it Tatlock was enabled so to arrange his affairs that he left that very night for the north.
When the two men met, Tatlock listened patiently, as was his wont, to the story as told by Gyde. For a moment, truly it was not more than a moment, Tatlock deemed it probable there was another lover in the case. But he dismissed that thought as soon as born. A rapid mental survey of the facts as recorded served to convince him that the young woman had not gone away as a consenting party. He arrived at this conclusion probably more by some subtle, indescribable instinct, than by any process of reasoning. And yet, of course, he did reason. Equally of course, it was indispensable to his task that he should make numerous inquiries about Margaret's acquaintances and position before her marriage. And on this point Gyde afforded all the information he possibly could.
Two very trying and torturing days to Gyde passed, and then Tatlock advised him to return to London. As may be supposed the young man was very averse to do that. He was crushed and broken, but he preferred to linger in the place where he had spent the early hours of his married life. He was argued out of this idea, however, by Tatlock, who said—
'Here you are lonely and desolate. In London you will be amongst your friends. They can give you the consolation that strangers cannot do. Besides, your wife is not in Edinburgh.'
'What! Not in Edinburgh?'
'How do you know that?'
'I guess it.'
'Then can you not guess where she is?'
'Not at present. But take my advice. Go south. Wait patiently. Be hopeful; trust in Providence.'
Gyde recognised the futility of questioning Tatlock at that stage. He was like the Sphinx—solemn, imperturbable, mysterious when occasion required; and no amount of questioning would make him speak if he felt that he had nothing to say. So Gyde wisely refrained from seeking to draw him; and with heavy heart and oppressed spirits he turned his back on beautiful Edinburgh, feeling in so doing as if he were leaving all that held him to life, and that hence-forth he must plod on his way, dragging for ever with him the corpse of his dead hopes.
Amongst his own relatives he found that curiosity was more conspicuous than sympathy. His brother John said some very unkind things to members of the family about Margaret, things in which there was only a half-concealed suggestion that the pretty but fickle Margaret had repented of her marriage, and had thrown herself into the arms of some old lover. This, coming to Gilbert's ears, rendered him furious, and seeking out John he threatened him with personal chastisement—a threat that doubtless would have taken practical shape but for the interference of other members of the family.
Gyde had been back in London a week when Tyler Tatlock called upon him at his chambers.
'What news?' cried the young man with a nervous, feverish anxiety.
'None at present.'
Gyde's heart turned cold again.
'Is there no hope, then, of solving this mystery?' he asked in faltering accents.
'Oh, I don't take such a pessimistic view of the case as that. We shall probably recover your wife shortly. But now I want you to write a letter to my dictation. Don't ask me any questions, don't seek to know to whom you are writing, but do exactly as I desire you to do.'
Gyde had far too strong a faith in Tatlock to set himself in opposition to him, and in a few minutes he had penned, from Tatlock's dictation, the following note:
In reply to yours I undertake to comply with all the conditions you lay down, and will be at the place you indicate at seven o'clock next Wednesday evening.
Gyde signed this brief epistle, and handed it to the detective, who put it in an envelope, sealed it up, and told Gyde to address it to—
34 Edgware Road,
As may be supposed, Gyde's curiosity was aroused to such an extent that he found it very hard to refrain from plying the detective with questions. But he did refrain, for he had given his promise to do so; moreover, he was sure that Tatlock had got a clue, and it was better to let him go to work in his own way.
On the following Wednesday Tatlock turned up again, and instructed Gyde to proceed to a sailors' slop-shop situated in Ratcliffe Highway, and kept by a Chinaman named Woong Sing. He was to enter the shop at seven o'clock precisely, and say to the Chinaman: 'Keys.'
The Chinaman would answer—'Locks.'
The Chinaman would then lead him to a room, where he would very likely meet another man. What would happen then Tatlock did not pretend to know, but every-thing was to be left in his hands. It was all mystifying and strange, but Gyde consented to be thus led, blindfolded as it were, feeling sure that his guide knew what he was about.
'By the way,' said Tatlock, as he was about to take his departure, 'can you fire a pistol?'
'Yes. I think so.'
'Then take this. And for God's sake be careful, for it's loaded. And, mark you, as you value your life conceal the weapon about your person, and under no circumstances produce it unless it be to defend your own life.'
The situation was now thrilling, in addition to being mysterious, but Gyde resolved to play the part sketched out for him to the letter.
Woong Sing's slop-shop was one of many to be found in the unsavoury neighbourhood where Jack Tars fall an easy prey to the land-sharks that swarm there, ever on the look-out for them. It was a stuffy, little, dirty den, the stock-in-trade being oilskins, sou'westers, sea-boots, jack-knives, flannel shirts, and the like. A tall, yellow-skinned, blear-eyed Mongolian stood behind the little counter. It was Woong Sing. To him entered Gilbert Gyde as a neighbouring church clock was striking seven.
'Keys,' said Gyde.
'Locks,' answered the Chinaman, who, motioning his visitor to follow him, led the way up a narrow, dark stair-way, every board of which creaked dreadfully when trodden on, as if in pain. A second flight, no less narrow and no less dark and creaky, was ascended, and Gyde found himself in a small, low-ceilinged, foul-smelling room. Such furniture as there was seemed tumbling to pieces. Without speaking a word the Chinaman, having shown his visitor in, departed. In the centre of the room was a small table with a petroleum lamp burning on it. There was a mouldering couch at one end; a tiny bedstead covered with a filthy counterpane stood in a recess; a few rickety chairs, and a cheap wardrobe that was falling to pieces, completed the furniture.
Wondering what the next act would be in this funny and mysterious little drama, Gyde waited, almost in breath-less expectancy, with his hand in his coat-pocket, clasping the pistol. Presently the door opened, and a dissipated, hard-featured, seedy-looking individual entered. He scrutinised Gyde very closely, who scrutinised him in turn.
Have you brought the money?' asked the seedy one abruptly, in a raspy, rusty voice in keeping with his appearance.
'What money?' asked Gyde, getting more and more mystified.
'What money!' echoed the blear-eyed man. 'Do you mean to say?'
Before he could finish the sentence a third actor appeared on the scene in the person of Tyler Tatlock. The man started, and his blotchy face grew pale. Looking rapidly from Tatlock to Gyde, he asked, addressing the latter:
'What does this mean?'
'It means that you are trapped like a rat, my fine fellow,' answered Gyde. The man drew a revolver quickly. Whether he really meant to use it or not, or he merely intended it as a menace, it is difficult to say, for Tatlock with wonderful agility knocked the weapon out of his hand, and as it fell on the floor he put his foot on it, and said:
'Don't try any tricks, my man, or you'll repent it. Mr. Gyde, have you got a pistol?' Gyde produced his weapon. 'Cover this rascal, please.' Tatlock then stooped and picked up the revolver, glanced at the chambers, and saw they were loaded. 'Now then, my beauty,' he continued, addressing the man, 'you will fully realise that you are trapped. My name is Tyler Tatlock. Perhaps you have heard of me! Ah! your face tells a tale. I am not unknown to you, evidently. Now, then, it may tell in your favour—for, unless I am mistaken, you are only a tool—if you are frank, and answer my questions quickly. What is your name?'
The man looked distressed and unhappy. There wasn't much of the lion at bay about him; he was rather suggestive of a whipped hound whose one yearning desire was to sneak off; but though Tatlock was small of stature, his determined air and fiery eyes told too surely that he was not a man to be trifled with. Besides, there was Gyde with a pistol in his hand also.
'My name is Jerry Worboys,' answered the man.
'And what's your occupation, Mr. Worboys?'
'I've been a coachman in a gentleman's family.'
'The third question. Where is Mrs. Gyde?'
Jerry Worboys hesitated, but a glance at Tatlock was sufficient to make him hesitate no longer.
'She's at her father's house,' growled Jerry.
Gyde fairly staggered, and Tatlock could not suppress his surprise.
'Then you are in league with her father?' suggested Tatlock.
Worboys admitted that he was, and began to whine for mercy. Gyde positively felt faint and ill as he now realised that his own father-in-law was at the bottom of the business. Tatlock opened the door, went to the top of the stairs, and bawled out, 'Woong Sing, Woong Sing.' The Chinaman came upstairs in response to the call. 'Have you a key to this room?' he asked.
'Yes, me have key.'
Then lock this man in. And look here, my Chinese friend, I hold you responsible for him. I am Tyler Tatlock, the detective, and if you let him escape I will ruin you. You understand.'
'Me welly understand. Me no wantee be ruined. Me keepee him all welly secure.'
'How long am I to remain here?' asked Worboys in alarm.
'Until I choose to release you.'
'Woong Sing turned the key in the door, and handed it to Tatlock. They all went downstairs, and Tatlock and Gyde into the street. Both were glad to get out of the evil-smelling den.
'This is a pitiable business,' said Tatlock, 'and, presumably, if you recover your wife, you would prefer to hush the matter up to avoid publicity and scandal.'
'It is a terrible business,' gasped Gyde, mopping his forehead. 'And as my father-in-law seems to be a prime mover in it, there must be no publicity if it can be avoided. But how did you solve the mystery?'
In the fireplace of the bedroom you occupied in Edinburgh I found an envelope addressed to your wife. It was evidently the envelope that had contained the note which had induced her to go out on the night she disappeared. A day or two after you left Edinburgh a letter was delivered at the Balmoral for you by a messenger. I heard of this, and asked the people to let me see the letter. The superscription was the same as the handwriting on the envelope addressed to your wife. I took the liberty of opening the letter. It bore no address, no date, no signature. The writer said he could restore your wife to you, but would only do so on condition that you paid five hundred pounds, which, he suggested, under the circumstances, you could get from your father. In the event of your consenting to do that, the meeting between you and the anonymous writer was to take place at Woong Sing's shop. Your answer was to be addressed to "Peter," 34, Edgware Road. You were also particularly requested to note that when you entered the Chinaman's shop you were to say "Keys" and he would answer "Locks." My first move was to go to Ratcliffe Highway and learn something about Woong Sing. I found he had kept his shop for about ten years. I interviewed him, but he vowed and declared he knew nothing about "Peter." A man whom he had never seen before went there and made arrangements for the meeting. Woong Sing was told that on Wednesday night, precisely at seven o'clock, a stranger would enter, say "Keys," to which Woong was to reply "Locks," then show his visitor upstairs. For this service he was to receive five pounds.
Gyde hurried to Mr. Farnell's house, accompanied by Tatlock, and it was soon disclosed that the missing bride was imprisoned there. Being in desperate straits for money, Farnell had resorted to this extraordinary and dastardly crime to obtain some, believing that Gyde's father would advance the sum demanded. His confederate was a fellow named Peter Johnston, who years before had been a coachman in Farnell's employ. Peter kept a public-house in Chelsea, which was a great resort for betting-men. Farnell frequented the house and kept in touch with the ex-coachman. When he conceived the dastardly scheme of abducting his own daughter, Farnell took Peter into his confidence, knowing that he, too, was pressed for money. Peter had a brother who kept a little grocery shop in Ratcliffe Highway, two or three doors from Woong Sing, and through the brother he became acquainted with the Chinaman. Mrs. Gyde had been lured from the hotel by a very artful trick. Her father went down to Edinburgh and penned the following note:—
My Dear Margaret,
I have been overtaken by a terrible misfortune; ruin and imprisonment stare me in the face. My only hope of salvation is in your husband, but the unhappy differences between him and me prevent my appealing direct to him—at least, until I have had an interview with you. I am sending this by hand. The moment you get it, come out and see me. I will be waiting close to the Sir Walter Scott Monument. I will not detain you five minutes. However astonishing it may seem to you that I should be in Edinburgh, and however strange my request may be, comply with it, otherwise my death will lie at your door.
This note, though it distressed Margaret and put her into a flutter, fulfilled its purpose, for nothing her father did surprised her, and so, without waiting to think, she threw on her hat and cloak and hurried out. When she met her father he appeared to her to be suffering from such mental excitement that he was half mad, and, yielding to his pressing solicitations, she accompanied him to the Waverley Station. They went into the waiting-room, where he had some brandy and water, and she drank a bottle of lemonade. There is no doubt her wretched parent drugged this lemonade, for she remembered very little afterwards until she found herself lying on the seat of a first-class railway carriage, and her father was seated opposite her. When she had recollected her scattered senses, she demanded to know what it all meant. Farnell told her he was taking her to London, and, producing a revolver, he threatened to kill her and himself if she betrayed him. Fairly believing that he had gone mad, she was horrified into silence and a compliance with his wishes.
Arrived at Euston, he compelled her to get into a cab with him, and he took her home and actually imprisoned her in one of the bedrooms. The suffering she endured may be far better imagined than described. In their happy reunion, however, husband and wife forgot their woes, and it was decided to take no action against either Farnell or his accomplice. A few weeks later Farnell did really show signs of mental aberration, and it ultimately became necessary to confine him in an asylum, where he died in the course of the year.
'THE entrance was effected by that side window, and two men at least must have been engaged in the affair.'
Thus spoke Miss Mary Gleeve to Tyler Tatlock in the drawing-room of the 'Old Manor' at Clepperton-on-Rill, Yorkshire.
Clepperton was a quiet out-of-the-world place, beautifully situated in the heart of a purely rural district, and the Old Manor was an ancient mansion somewhat modernised internally to suit present-day requirements. It was a detached, irregularly-built house, standing far back from the road, and surrounded with charming grounds.
Tatlock had been sent for to investigate a rather uncommon burglary, and at the same moment there lay up-stairs in a semi-darkened room, silent and marble-like, the mortal remains of a lady who had turned the allotted span of life. She had long been ill, and had passed away after suffering and a long period of partial coma, from which all the skill of her physicians had been powerless to arouse her. This was Lady Gleeve, relict of Sir Henry Gleeve, a wealthy tradesman, who had been Mayor for five consecutive years of the borough of Clepperton, and had received knighthood during the distribution of Birthday honours in the last year of his mayoralty. He did not live long to enjoy his well-earned distinction and repose. He had but one child, a daughter, who was ten years old at the time of her father's death. Sir Henry left everything he died possessed of to his widow for her sole and absolute use, unless she should marry again, in which event two-thirds of the property were to be held in trust for the benefit of his daughter when she came of age.
Helen Gleeve was a very pretty and strong-minded girl, who did not get on very well with her mother, who was an imperious, unreasoning kind of woman of very humble origin. Sir Henry Gleeve had commenced life in a lowly position, and while still a struggling young man met and fell in love with a young woman who occupied the position of upper housemaid in a gentleman's family. Gleeve married her, and she was destined to become Lady Gleeve. Her husband had never lost his affection for her, and had the greatest faith in her judgment and, as he was fond of thinking, her 'good common sense.'
Unfortunately, the views of Helen Gleeve and her mother did not coincide, and when the girl was still lacking a few months of being nineteen she took her fate in her hands and married Reginald Scott, a well-educated but poor young man, a son of an old East Indian officer, who had had a big family, small income, and years of hard struggling to make both ends meet. Nevertheless, he had managed to give his children a good education, and Reginald had been three years at Cambridge, where he took his M.A. degree. Strangely enough, this young man was Lady Gleeve's pet aversion. She made no secret of the fact that 'she couldn't bear him.' He was forbidden her house, and warned what the pains and penalties would be if he dared to persist in making love to pretty Helen. In spite of this he did dare, and one day Helen went off with him, and they became man and wife. It was romantic, of course, but they were destined to know many hard, bitter days of struggle against poverty and misfortune.
Lady Gleeve vowed she would never forgive her daughter. 'She has gone from my house,' she said, 'and I will tear her out of my heart,' and the amiable lady did. But, having done that, there was a void, a waste, a hollow; she felt her loneliness, she yearned for companionship, so she advertised for a young lady as 'a companion,' and got one. It ended in her adopting this young woman legally. She drew up a will herself, cancelling all former wills, had it properly attested, and stowed it away in a strong box, which was kept in a sort of lumber-room. She did not like lawyers, and never had anything to do with them if she could help it. Hence the reason she made her own will and kept it herself. A previous will which had been prepared by a lawyer left everything to her daughter Helen. When Lady Gleeve made her second will she did not destroy the first, and the two kept each other company in the strong box in the lumber-room at the Old Manor.
Lady Gleeve lay dying, not yet physically dead, but with a dead mind. And one night when she was in this state, and a drowsy nurse watched, and the night light flickered, a burglary was committed at the house. The lumber-room was entered, the strong box opened, and Lady Gleeve's second will carried off, together with an old-fashioned gold repeater watch and some rather valuable antique silver spoons. These things were in the box with the wills, and the burglar or burglars did not go to any other part of the house, but confined themselves to that particular room. Lady Gleeve, of course, knew nothing of the robbery, and thirty-six hours later the undertaker was measuring her for her coffin.
Miss Mary Gleeve, the adopted daughter, had thus to bear a double blow; and it does not necessarily imply that she was not concerned about her foster-mother's death because she betrayed keen anxiety about the robbery; for, if that second will could not be recovered, how was she going to substantiate her claim to the beautiful old Manor House property and a snug fortune? There was the first will, which had been legally prepared, still in existence, whereby all the property passed to Helen Gleeve, and the second will, which cancelled that, and had been drawn up by Lady Gleeve herself, was gone—perhaps destroyed.
The situation was a heartrending one, and Miss Mary Gleeve, by the advice of a gentleman who was paying his addresses to her, placed herself in communication with the renowned Tyler Tatlock. And he, in compliance with a pressing request, sped from London by the fastest train of the day, and had a long interview with the adopted girl.
As already stated, the Old Manor was a large, rambling, detached house. The so-called lumber-room, which as a matter of fact was a well-furnished chamber, was filled with a good deal of superfluous but valuable furniture, nick-nacks, pictures, some bronzes, a rather good statuette or two, bric-à-brac of all kinds, articles de vertu, &c. Except as a treasure store-place the room was not otherwise used. It was lighted by two windows, one at the side overlooking an orchard, the other at one end, which commanded a wide panoramic sweep of country of great beauty. It should be mentioned that the room was situated in the angle of a wing. The burglars had effected an entrance by means of the side window; and they had reached the window by rearing a heavy, cumbersome ladder underneath. This ladder had been lugged from the stable-yard at the back of the house. Strangely enough, a large mastiff was kept in this yard, but he had evidently been an accessory to the crime, for though he had not been tampered with in any way he held his peace.
Having listened to all the details that were to be gathered about the burglary, Tatlock went over certain features in the case that were too obvious to be overlooked. Firstly, the burglar or burglars must have had a pretty intimate knowledge of the house; and, secondly, their primary object was to steal the second will, which gave Miss Mary Gleeve the property. It was this aspect of the case which removed it from commonplaceness and pointed to something very much like a conspiracy.
Tatlock interviewed James, the groom—a very ordinary specimen of his kind; while 'Thetis,' the noble mastiff, was a very extraordinary specimen of his kind. He was a magnificent brute, of immense weight and strength, with enormous jaws. The stable-yard was at the back of the house, and enclosed by a high wall. 'Thetis' was allowed to run loose in this yard all night. The ladder which had been used for the burglary was taken from the yard, where it was kept hanging horizontally underneath a shed. James the groom slept over the stables. The coachman slept in the house. James heard nothing in the night. The dog made no noise. Yet the burglar had got over the wall—for the stable-yard door was kept locked at night—had taken down the ladder, passed it over the wall, and all the time the dog remained silent. James averred that when he came down at six o'clock the animal was as lively as ever, and showed not the slightest symptoms of having been drugged. How was it, then, that such a formidable watch-dog refrained from doing his duty? There was but one explanation of this, according to Tatlock's way of looking at it, and that was: the burglar and 'Thetis' were old chums. That was a point of probability which Tatlock made the most of. At first sight circumstances suggested that James the groom might have had a finger in the pie, but after his interview with him Tatlock felt convinced that the fellow was perfectly innocent. His intelligence was not of a very high order. He was a country bumpkin—too stupid to have concealed all traces of his guilt had he been guilty.
Another point on which Tatlock formed a decided opinion was that of the robbery of the watch and spoons. His idea was that the room was entered for one purpose, and one purpose only—namely, to steal the will; but the cupidity of the burglar was aroused by the sight of the spoons and watch, and he took them. A very critical examination of the ground, which was soft owing to recent rains, led Tatlock to another conclusion; namely, only one man had committed the burglary. On the lawn, where the ladder was lying underneath the window, where there was a flower-bed, and right up to the wall of the stable-yard were very distinct traces of hob-nailed shoes. The footprints were distinctive, inasmuch as from one of the soles several nails were missing. The prints indicated a large boot—a large boot suggested a big man—a big man would have muscular strength, and could have managed to have carried the ladder unaided. This feat would have been impossible to a little, weak man, but certainly not beyond the powers of a powerful one.
Having mentally argued out these various points, Tatlock set to work practically. His chief aim, of course, was the recovery of the lost will, whereby Miss Mary Gleeve was the heiress. Failing that, there was nothing to prevent Mrs. Reginald Scott laying claim to her late mother's property under the original will. Tatlock's first step was to deter-mine by actual experiment if a strong man by his unaided efforts could get the ladder over the stable-yard wall, rear it against the side of the house, and then, having done with it, lay it down on the lawn. To this end the services of a navvy working on a branch railway, ten miles off, were secured. He stood six feet high in his stockings, measured forty-two inches round the chest, and weighed a little over thirteen stones. He was a powerful man, and he succeeded in carrying out the experiment with comparative ease. This was one point proved.
The next step was that James the groom received instructions to creep up to the stable-yard after dark, mount on to the wall stealthily, and as soon as he heard Thetis, the dog, move, to speak softly to him, and then, if the dog did not declare for war, to lower himself down into the yard. James did not readily lend himself to this little service. Although perfectly familiar with the dog, he was not quite sure if Thetis would consider he was justified in allowing even James to enter the stable-yard at night by getting over the wall. Another fear that troubled him was that if he succeeded he might be accused of the robbery. On that score Tatlock reassured him, and the test was carried out, while Tatlock remained at the safe side of the wall. When James reached the top the huge dog sniffed, then uttered a low, deep, menacing growl. A word from the familiar voice, however, and Thetis showed every manifestation of delight, offering no opposition whatever to James's descent into the yard; but as soon as the door was opened, and Tatlock took a few steps forward, there was a rumpus, and had James not interfered, and interfered forcibly too, Tyler Tatlock might have provided a job for an undertaker and a tombstone merchant. Thus were two points settled, and the lines to run upon were pretty clearly indicated.
Clepperton itself was a town of some importance, and municipally it embraced Clepperton-on-Rill, Upper Clepperton, and Marsh Clepperton, which was a very small hamlet, with not more than a couple of hundred inhabitants. Clepperton-on-Rill was of much greater importance. It had a parish church, and numbered about four thousand inhabitants. The majority of them were engaged in agricultural pursuits. A paper mill on the Rill gave employment to nearly a hundred, and there was a very good percentage of country gentry. It need scarcely be said, perhaps, that out of four thousand people there was a residue of loafers, though, with some exceptions, the worst crime that could be charged against them was an undue love of beer, and a constitutional laziness which caused them to prefer idleness to honest work.
Amongst the exceptions was a notorious character named Joseph Waruble, but locally referred to as 'Ginger Joe,' the sobriquet having been conferred upon him on account of his possessing a mop-like head of fiery red hair. He was a big, hulking, powerful fellow, a native of the village, but who had been a thorn in its side nearly the whole of his thirty-five years of life. Poaching had an irresistible fascination for him, and he had suffered various terms of imprisonment, and had done one stretch of two years' hard labour for having severely bashed a gamekeeper who suddenly came upon him as he was setting a trap for partridge. By trade Joe was a bricklayer, and a good one when he liked to work; and as he had periodical fits of virtue, he did work now and again. Curiously enough, Lady Gleeve had interested herself much in the man, who had a wife, a wee, delicate little creature, about half his weight, and it was a redeeming feature in Ginger Joe's character that he treated his wife with extraordinary tenderness, and evinced an unchanging fondness for her. She was clever with her needle, and went occasionally to the houses of the gentry to do sewing. She was frequently employed at the Rectory, and more frequently at the Old Manor. Lady Gleeve had also given Joe a good deal of work. He had practically rebuilt the stables for her, had bricked the stable-yard, put down drain-pipes on her land, and did various jobs of that kind.
Very naturally Ginger Joe came under Tyler Tatlock's observation. He fitted in somehow with the detective's theory of the kind of man likely to have committed the robbery. He had prodigious strength, he knew the Old Manor well, and, what was even more to the point, he and Thetis, the big mastiff; were churns. Practical evidence was furnished of this. By Tatlock's advice Miss Gleeve sent for Joe to come and take up a drain in the stable-yard, which was stopped up. During the operation Tatlock watched him, and noticed that Thetis displayed great affection for him, and the man seemed just as fond of the dog.
Some days later Tatlock, in company with the head constable, waited on Ginger Joe, and demanded to know where he was on the night of September 18. That was the night of the robbery.
Joe tried to shirk the question—he prevaricated, he dodged, he shuffled, and endeavoured by every means within the grasp of his intellect to keep out of the net which was being spread for him. At last he declared that he had been at the 'Dun Cow' pub. until closing time, and then had gone straight home and to bed, as he had partaken of more beer than he could comfortably carry. Unfortunately for his story it was soon proved that on that particular night he had not been at the 'Dun Cow' at all. Being thus discredited, he was promptly arrested on suspicion of having been concerned in the burglary at the Old Manor. Having got him in custody, a search was made at his cottage, and resulted in the discovery of a heavy pair of hob-nailed boots. From the sole of one of these boots several nails were missing. It corresponded exactly with the footprints in the garden and on the flower-bed of the Old Manor.
The finding of the boots stimulated the searchers to increased effort, and places that had not been dreamed of before were now examined, as it was thought probable the silver spoons might be somewhere about, and sure, enough, in a hole under the eaves of the thatch there were the stolen spoons and the gold watch, enveloped in a piece of an old mackintosh, which was covered with a strip of dirty canvas.
The chances against the things being discovered were a thousand to one, nor would they have been save for the fatal boots.
With such clear evidence against him, it was impossible for Ginger Joe to wriggle out of the net that had been cast about for his taking, and now occurred an astounding thing. He was pressed to tell where the stolen will was, but for a time preserved a dogged silence. There were things working in his mind, however, for, ludicrous as it may seem, Joe was mightily hurt at being considered a thief. To snare part-ridges and pheasants, hares and rabbits, was not wrong in his opinion. Nor did he think it was much to his discredit to bash a gamekeeper now and again; but when it came to a question of being accused of house-breaking, of being a common thief, his pride was hurt, his 'honour' wounded, and, unable to restrain himself, he charged the Rev. William Arles with having prompted him to, and bribed him to, commit the deed; but he confessed he was only commissioned to steal the will. But, yielding to a sudden weakness, he snapped up the gold watch and spoons. The temptation overcame him. Immediately after, however, he regretted it, and intended some day when the affair had blown over to return the watch and spoons anonymously.
At first it was thought that his accusation of the Rev. Mr. Arles was the result of a distraught mind. The Rev. William Arles was the curate at the parish church, a position he had held for three years. He was a young man of melancholy temperament, but much respected. He had written a volume of really charming poetry, and was also responsible for some very popular hymns. It seemed, indeed, like madness to suppose that he could have been guilty of prompting a burglary. The story was preposterous; it was the invention of a lunatic's brain. But in a few days con-science smote the Rev. Mr. Arles, and, with brain on fire and heart breaking, he made a confession, which in substance was as follows:
He had been at Cambridge with Reginald Scott, and the two young men had become attached friends. At a later period Arles met and fell desperately in love with pretty Helen Gleeve. She was a dream to him—his star. He wrote poetry about her; he worshipped the very ground she walked upon, but though he knew he could get her mother's sanction to his wooing he lacked the courage to make his passion known. Then he discovered that his college friend Scott was courting Helen, so he buried his secret in his heart, shut his sorrow up, and resolved that no living woman should ever blur the image of Helen as far as he was concerned. Being a constant visitor at the Old Manor, and a friend of Lady Gleeve, who regarded him as her spiritual comforter, he knew the family affairs—knew about the wills, and the strange animosity the mother cherished against her own daughter. And he knew also that his idol, Mrs. Scott, was living with her husband in poverty, while a usurper was to get that which by every moral right was hers. At last the unforgiving mother lay a-dying; then it was he conceived the strange, mad idea of bribing Ginger Joe to steal the second will in order that Helen—the woman he had worshipped—and the friend he honoured should be benefited. It was a curious, quixotic thing to do; but, whatever wickedness there was in the act, no one could say it arose from sordid motives.
For many and many a day the sad, true story was the sensation of Clepperton, and few there were who were not filled with a great sympathy for the miserable young man who had loved and lost, and committed a crime—not to benefit himself, but the woman who could never be aught to him, and would know nothing of his deed. So strong was the sympathy that when the curate was put on trial at the sessions for his offence a very light sentence indeed was given; but to such a sensitive mind the disgrace was fatal, and he passed to a madhouse. Ginger Joe also had his sympathisers, and had it not been for the watch and spoons he would have been let down easily. As it was, he had to submit to twelve months' hard labour.
Of course the will was restored, and the adopted daughter entered into possession of that which the law allowed her under the will. It is to her credit that she offered to settle a by no means inconsiderable sum on Mrs. Scott, but it was refused.
IN one of Glasgow's best suburbs dwelt Mr. Leslie Muir-head, on a charming little estate of which he was the happy possessor. He had made a fortune, and was still nominally in business at the time of the incidents about to be narrated. His warehouse was in Glasgow, and for nearly half a century he had given close and untiring attention to his business, although his personal inclinations were for a studious and scientific life. He had two hobbies to which he devoted all his spare time. One was botany, the other astronomy. When his position was assured, and he purchased the property alluded to, he devoted himself less and less to his business, and more and more to his favourite pursuits. He turned his charming home into a little paradise. The grounds were magnificently laid out, and were, so to speak, a shrine to which botanical devotees made pilgrimages, and were always warmly welcomed by the owner.
Mr. Muirhead did not marry until he was a good deal over thirty, and, much to the disappointment of himself and his life partner, it remained a childless union. The result was he ultimately adopted a niece and nephew, the children of his deceased sister—his only sister, who made an unfortunate marriage. Her husband was a member of a good family, but of dissolute, abandoned habits, with an unconquerable passion for gambling and horse-racing. His name was Crossley, and his wife—who led a very unhappy life—bore him two children, Mary and Ernest, the girl being the firstborn. When they were in their early teens their father was killed by being thrown while riding in a steeplechase. His widow, who was suffering from cancer, survived him only six months. Mary was then about sixteen, Ernest fourteen, and, as their father had left nothing but an evil reputation behind him, their uncle, Leslie Muirhead, took them. The education of both had been neglected, so Mr. Muirhead engaged a first-class resident governess for the girl and sent Ernest to a good school near Edinburgh for a couple of years, and then to France, that he might learn French. It was his uncle's intention to take him into his business, and, as he had a considerable trade connection with France, he thought it would be a good thing for the young man to have a knowledge of the French language. Ernest completed his studies abroad, returned home, and took up a position at once in the Glasgow business, the management of which to a large extent was left in the hands of David Guthrie, who had been in Muirhead's employ for a great many years; indeed, ever since he was a boy.
Long after Muirhead had settled in his new home, and given himself up almost entirely to his favourite pursuits, an incident occurred which caused him the greatest amount of concern and unhappiness. One day, quite early in a new year, when looking over his bank pass-book, he was surprised to find on the debit side the following entry:
'September 25th, cheque, £500,' and this cheque had been payable to bearer.
He taxed his memory, but could not recall any transaction in which he had paid away five hundred pounds. Besides, it wasn't in the least likely he would have drawn a cheque for so considerable an amount payable to bearer. He referred to the counterfoil of his cheque-book. There it was, sure enough: 'Sept. 25th, bearer, 500l.' The cancelled cheque—which, being payable to bearer, required no endorsement—was the same. It was his handwriting, his signature.
He was puzzled as well as concerned. Surely, he thought, he could never have been so absent-minded as to have done such a thing as that. If so, then it was pretty clear that his hobbies were exercising such an influence over his mental powers that his will and his reasoning were subordinated, and that meant mania. To a hitherto clear-headed, straight-dealing man such a thought as this was not pleasant, and let it be stated at once that he was honourable and fair-dealing, sensitive to a fault, singularly punctilious, and entirely free from suspicion, which is generally the result of a grasping, ill-balanced mind.
The discovery was startling in more ways than one. He had been giving an immense amount of attention to his hobbies of late. Not only had he engaged himself in a singularly abstruse astronomical problem, but he had been working at an experiment whereby he hoped ultimately to succeed in producing a crimson lily, which had long been the dream of floriculturists. What he now feared was that his mental health had suffered to some extent, but he resolved to learn more about that five hundred pound cheque, for he could not recall a single incident in connection with it, and he was greatly troubled.
A few days later he went up to Glasgow, and called at his banker's. Though not wishing to make a feature of that cheque, he said incidentally to the manager, after discussing other things—
'Oh, by the way, I seem to have drawn a cheque to bearer for five hundred pounds on the 25th of September last. I suppose you don't happen to know who presented it?'
'Well, Mr. Muirhead, it was so unlike you to draw a cheque like that that when it was presented the cashier brought it to me. But as there was not the slightest reason to doubt your handwriting or signature, the cheque was of course paid, but I told the clerk to take note of the person who presented it. The presentee was a well-dressed woman.'
'Yes. I hope the transaction was all right,' remarked the manager anxiously.
'Oh, yes; well, as far as I know.'
'As far as you know,' exclaimed the manager, as he looked at his customer in surprise, for this was so unlike Mr. Muirhead.
'Yes. The fact is, I suppose I drew the cheque, but upon my word, for the life of me I can't recall having done so, and haven't the remotest idea what it was for.'
'Really, Mr. Muirhead, excuse me, but—but don't you think you are allowing your hobbies to run away with you a bit?'
The manager was sufficiently well acquainted with Mr. Muirhead to venture this remark.
'That is precisely what I do think,' answered Muirhead, then having an aversion to any further discussion on the subject he passed on to something else.
A few days later, acting on the advice of his wife, who, however, knew nothing of the cheque incident, he was in London with his niece, Mary Crossley, on his way to the Continent for a holiday. He intended to go to Florence, thence to Rome for Easter.
His niece was also needing change, although she had not said so. But she had been looking careworn of late, and unusually pale. He wanted her to consult a doctor, but she had resolutely declined, and as she was a young woman with a will he did not press the subject.
Mr. Muirhead and his niece enjoyed their trip. They spent three pleasant weeks in Florence, then went on to Rome and witnessed the Easter carnival, and from there the programme included a visit to Naples; but Muirhead received a letter from his manager in Glasgow, David Guthrie, that startled him in a way that the mystery about the five hundred pound cheque had quite failed to do. It was a long letter, and after dealing with many business matters it proceeded as follows:
It is my painful duty to inform you now that I have brought to light some very serious discrepancies in the accounts, and various sums, aggregating something like four thousand pounds, cannot be satisfactorily accounted for. I have not made a critical investigation yet, but it is certain there is something wrong, and while I am reluctant to worry you while you are on your holiday I should have been wanting in duty had I failed to bring the matter under your notice. I await your instructions.'
This letter was like the bursting of a bomb-shell at his feet, and it seemed to throw some light on the affair of the cheque. For long years he had carried on business smoothly and pleasantly, and had prided himself on the honesty and uprightness of everyone in his employ. Now there was a traitor in the camp, and it was not altogether unnatural that his suspicions should dwell upon his own nephew. He tried to persuade himself that this was a preposterous thought, but it was no use. He remembered the career of the young man's father, and he felt it was like father like son.
He did not say anything to Mary about the letter he had received, but wrote off immediately to his manager, marked the letter 'strictly private and confidential,' and gave Guthrie peremptory orders to take no steps until he returned, and under no circumstances breathe a syllable to living soul. Mr. Muirhead was a proud man, and if perchance his suspicions were well founded the loss of the money would be as nothing compared with the blow to his pride if it became known that his sister's son was a thief. That son lived with his uncle. He was accorded perfect freedom in the house. He used his uncle's library, and it seemed a perfectly justifiable suspicion that he had got hold of the cheque-book and forged that cheque for five hundred pounds, for Mr. Muirhead felt perfectly certain now that he himself had never drawn the cheque.
On arriving back in Glasgow, Mr. Muirhead lost no time in investigating the discrepancies of the books, and he found that his manager's estimate was understated rather than exaggerated. It was a terribly serious matter, and it affected him as nothing else in the whole course of his life had done, with the exception of his sister's unhappy marriage. It was true that there was no proof that his nephew was the guilty person, but from the position he held the opportunity was afforded him of robbing his uncle. The defalcations were spread over a considerable period, beginning about six months after Ernest Crossley had entered the business, and the frauds had been carried out so ingeniously that the risk of discovery—for a time, at any rate—was reduced to a minimum.
Mr. Muirhead recognised the facts, and he braced him-self up for an ordeal. He told his nephew one evening after dinner that he had something to say to him, and they adjourned to the library. If Ernest had any forethought of what was coming he conducted himself with wonderful composure. He lit his post-prandial cigar, and remarked cheerily:
'Well, uncle, what's the business? Nothing serious, I hope?'
Mr. Muirhead was astonished at his nephew's coolness and composure, for he himself was terribly upset, and betrayed it.
'Yes, I'm grieved to say it is very serious.'
'Oh! I am sorry to hear that.'
'Do you know anything of this cheque?' asked his uncle, as he placed the five hundred pound cancelled cheque before him and scanned his face narrowly.
Still smoking composedly, Ernest took the cheque up, and turned it round about. Then, as he put it on the table again, said with perfect self-possession—Nothing whatever. What about it?'
Mr. Muirhead was dumbfounded. If this young man was guilty, then his power of self-control was absolutely marvellous.
'Well, there is this about it,' said Mr. Muirhead, stumbling in his speech, and painfully betraying his agitation, 'I don't think I drew that cheque myself.'
'But it's your signature,' exclaimed the young man, showing more animation as he examined the cheque again.
'It looks like it,' faltered Muirhead, 'but—but I don't think it is.'
'Don't think it is!' echoed the nephew, now displaying astonishment and keen interest. Then, after a pause, he added, with significance: 'Uncle, don't you think it would be advisable to take a longer holiday?'
Mr. Muirhead felt as if a knife had gone through him, and he really began to think that his mental faculties had become impaired.
He made some excuse to his nephew, said he thought he would go away again soon, and got rid of Ernest, who was going to the house of a neighbour to play a game of billiards.
Muirhead passed a very wretched night. He breathed no word of his distress to his wife, who regarded Ernest as her own son, and loved him as such, and her husband, who was not only just but generous, was willing to bear any amount of suffering himself rather than pain his wife. The more he dwelt upon the matter, however, the clearer it became to him that an investigation was necessary, and he resolved at all hazards to get at the bottom of the mystery. For several reasons he did not feel competent to do this himself, and so he sent for Tyler Tatlock, whom he knew through a friend of his who had availed himself of the detective's services.
At their first interview Mr. Muirhead, in substance, detailed the foregoing particulars to Tatlock. 'As it is certain, Mr. Tatlock,' he went on, 'that a guilty hand and brain have been at work, the necessity for discovering the hand and brain is imperative. For my nephew to rest under suspicion, if that suspicion is not well founded, would be intolerable. But if the lad is innocent, then we are confronted, I venture to think, with a more serious aspect of the case.'
Tatlock saw clearly the lights and shades of the peculiar matter he was called upon to investigate. While family scruples had to be respected, he was asked to unravel a complicated case of crime—crime of a magnitude that seemed to indicate the brain of a practised criminal. And yet there was one point that struck him as peculiar, inasmuch as it was clumsily amateurish in one sense, while in another it was suggestive of deep cunning. The point was the drawing of the cheque for five hundred pounds payable to bearer. It was clumsily amateurish, because it might so very, very easily have led to detection. If the manager at the bank, for instance, whose suspicions seemed to have been slightly aroused, had only allowed them to so far take shape as to put a question or two to the presentee, the whole fraud would probably have been at once exposed. It was artfully cunning, because whoever drew the cheque relied upon the probability, if sufficient time elapsed, of Mr. Muirhead not being able to determine whether he did or did not sign the cheque. This argued, of course, a thorough knowledge of Mr. Muirhead's peculiar temperament, and of his absorption in his hobbies. It was necessarily a rotten reed to bear upon, but the forger's cunning told him that the reed might prove equal to the occasion. He chanced, and temporarily triumphed. On the face of it, every circumstance seemed to fix the guilt on Ernest Crossley. He had access to his uncle's cheque-book. He knew his uncle's affairs, and knew that his uncle's standing at the bank, and his reputation for enthusiasm for his botany and astronomy, would reduce the probability of his eccentric act in drawing a cheque in such a way arousing suspicion. And yet in spite of this very strong circumstantial evidence—many a man has been hanged on evidence no stronger—Tatlock thought that Ernest Crossley did not draw that cheque.
Tatlock's first effort in the task of unravelling was not so much to determine if any one else was implicated as to prove conclusively Ernest Crossley's guilt or innocence. That was necessary to his uncle's peace of mind. If guilty, the sooner the truth was known and the wearying suspense ended the better. If innocent, not a moment should be lost in establishing his innocence. In broad principle, that was the line upon which Mr. Muirhead was anxious Tatlock should proceed.
In the initial stage of this inquiry in the Muirhead affair, Tatlock subjected the forged cheque to a crucial examination, and he compared the writing on it with various specimens of Crossley's handwriting. He maintained, and no doubt correctly so, that a person who forged another person's handwriting, however cleverly it was done, must betray his own handwriting by some minute signs.
This examination enabled him to determine to his own satisfaction that Crossley did not forge that cheque. It need scarcely be said that young Crossley hadn't the remotest idea he was being shadowed, yet for a period of nearly three weeks his movements were closely watched. The places he frequented, the companions whom he associated with, his goings and comings, were all noted, and known to the man with the small eyes, for Tatlock's small eyes were almost able to look into or read the thoughts passing through a person's brain.
Those weeks were weary ones to Mr. Muirhead. He possessed himself with such patience as he could; but it was terribly trying to know that one in whom he had reposed trust and confidence, and upon whom he had lavished affection and tender solicitude, was lying under the suspicion of being a traitor, a forger, a thief.
Let it not be supposed that, while Tatlock was watching a certain thing, he had not an eye to possibilities elsewhere. Your trained hunter does not keep his gaze fixed on one spot, for he knows that if his prey be not in front it may be behind, and so it came to pass that Tatlock struck a trail that seemed to promise a startling development.
Adjoining the grounds in which Mr. Muirhead's house stood was a miniature glen, through which a tiny stream babbled its way to the Clyde. Sometimes on summer evenings young couples, to whom the world was very beautiful, and love an ecstatic dream, lingered there, and talked the soft nonsense which has been talked since the human story began. One evening a man and woman stood beneath a tree in the glen. They were engaged in deep and earnest conversation, and certain movements on the part of the woman seemed to indicate that she was much distressed, her distress arising, as indicated by the man's movement, by some argument on his part urged with a not too tender regard for her feelings. They were not exactly quarrelling, but were agitated rather by difference of opinion. This difference, however, was strong enough to bring the tears to the woman's eyes, as evidenced by her pressing her handkerchief to her face. And the man grew impatient. He thrust his hands into his pockets, and walked away a few yards irritably, only to return almost immediately, and resume the argument, until suddenly the woman threw her arms about his neck, as if in passionate appeal, and he held her and kissed her, and she sobbed audibly. Presently they separated. The woman moved rapidly up the glen, turning occasionally to wave her handkerchief to the man, who lingered and gazed after her, until she was lost in the darkness.
Then he lit a cigar, and by the light of the match revealed his face, and in a few moments he strolled away in a direction opposite to that taken by the woman.
That same night, but later, a well-dressed man sat in a private room of a fashionable restaurant in Glasgow, together with several other men, and a similar number of women, some of them elegantly dressed. The party had been indulging in oysters and champagne. The man referred to was evidently the entertainer—the host. He was addressed by his companions as 'Alec.' He was probably a little under thirty. His face was not altogether pleasant to look upon. It was sensual, and bore unmistakable signs of late hours, and of burning the candle at both ends. His eyes, which were brown, were restless, and he had a habit of glancing furtively about him. His lips were overhung by a well-trimmed moustache, and he had good teeth. His face in repose was harsh; it was the face of a selfish, vain, and cruel man. But he had a strongly fascinating voice. It was soft and silvery. He was called upon for a song, and he rendered a Scottish ballad sweetly, tenderly, and with feeling. He was evidently a force in that little circle. His companions were deferential to him. The women seemed to vie with each other for his attention. Without exception, the women were actresses. One or two of the men were actors, one was a popular music-hall singer, the others were not so easily classed. Alec, the host, if one judged him by his clothes, his rings, his heavy watch-chain, might have been taken for a well-to-do man about town. This Alec was the man who that same evening had talked to the woman in the glen. Tatlock had watched him in the glen, and was watching him now.
Adjoining the room in which the party were assembled was another and smaller room. At the top of the partition that separated the two was a window. That window afforded the watcher a post of observation.
Now, Alec—or, to give him his full name, Mr. Alexander Finlayson—was the lessee and manager of a certain music-hall which made up for in popularity what it lacked in respectability. This Finlayson was a mystery. He had entered into the music-hall business only a year previous to this period, and he conducted it with such lavish expenditure that in spite of its popularity people wondered how it paid. He had a passion for the company of actors and actresses, and music-hall people generally, and to them he was a most liberal entertainer. Although a bachelor, he occupied a swell house in the West End, and kept half a dozen servants. Moreover, he had a yacht on the Clyde, and a house at the coast, to which he was in the habit of taking his friends on Sundays and holidays. He was essentially a night-bird, and those he associated with were night-birds, and little was known of his doings in the day, though it was vaguely rumoured amongst his circle that he had a profitable engagement to attend to during the hours of daylight.
At last the time came when Tyler Tatlock, having faithfully and cleverly carried out his mission, felt he could present a reliable report to Mr. Muirhead, and one day he and Muirhead sat together in the latter's library. Tatlock was grave, Muirhead anxious and excited. The detective had already led up to the main point by some preliminary conversation, and Mr. Muirhead, allowing his impatience to overcome him, exclaimed:
'Well, well, but what about my nephew?'
'Your nephew is absolutely innocent.'
'Thank God! thank God!' cried Muirhead with a fervency which clearly indicated the depth of his feelings, though, alas! the little ray of sunshine was soon to be blotted out by a heavier cloud. Tatlock would fain have spared his patron, but the truth had to be told.
'I am sorry,' he went on, 'that while I am able to exonerate your nephew, I have some very startling information to give you.'
'What is it? Don't keep me in suspense. Let me know the worst.'
'Very well, sir. Although your nephew is innocent your niece is not, for it was she who forged that cheque for five hundred pounds.'
'My niece!' gasped Muirhead, as if he were choking. Then he covered his face with his hands and sobbed. To a man of his high-strung nervous organisation, his artistic temperament, his uprightness, and gentleness of disposition, the revelation was a shock that stunned him.
His niece a thief, a forger! It seemed impossible, and yet it was true, and what Tatlock had learnt may be epitomised in the following particulars:
Reference has been made to his comparison of the writing on the cheque with young Crossley's handwriting, and his conclusion that Crossley was not the forger. Now, there were two persons in Muirhead's house besides himself who had access to his private room. It is not necessary to take Mrs. Muirhead into the calculation. The two persons were Mary and Ernest Crossley; therefore, Ernest being innocent, he turned his attention to Mary. Mr. Muirhead was very much attached to his niece, and, having the most perfect faith in her, he not only accorded her perfect liberty, but she did a good deal of secretarial work for him. She was exceedingly clever with the pen, and a close study of her writing led Tatlock to believe that she had committed the forgery. But, if so, why did she do it? The cheque was presented by, and the money paid to, a woman—that woman was not Mary Crossley, for she was well known at the bank, having transacted a good deal of business there for her uncle. It was impossible, therefore, to avoid the deduction that a second person was implicated; and this led to another question. Was there any connection between the forged cheque and the defalcations at Mr. Muirhead's warehouse? To the solving of this part of the problem Tatlock brought all his energies and ability to bear, and as a consequence he ascertained that Mary had a secret lover, a man named Alexander Finlayson. As soon as Tatlock gained this knowledge he saw that the key was in his possession.
Finlayson was a ledger clerk in Mr. Muirhead's employ. He had been in the service for over fifteen years, and full confidence was placed in him. He was exceedingly clever at figures, and in his own particular department he had supreme control. His salary was four pounds a week. Nevertheless, he was the proprietor of a music-hall, had a swell west-end house, a house at the coast, a yacht on the Clyde, and kept several servants. How was it done? Not, surely, on his salary of four pounds a week. And, despite the fact that he was leading a fast and shameless life, he was meeting Mary Crossley secretly in the little glen adjoining her uncle's property, and Tatlock had seen them meet.
In view of the double life he was leading, and the large income required to keep up his false position as 'a man about town,' and a wealthy one, his books at the warehouse were subjected to expert examination, which brought to light a most ingenious and complicated system of fraud, whereby he had robbed his employer of thousands.
When the truth was revealed and the wickedness exposed, Mary Muirhead was taken to task by her uncle in the presence of Tatlock, and, though at first sullen and defiant, she broke down and confessed the part she had played. She had known Finlayson for more than a year. Mr. Muirhead had given a garden party in his grounds to the people in his employ. At that party Mary and Finlay-son became acquainted. He paid much attention to her, and she fell entirely under his influence.
They corresponded; occasionally she met him in Glasgow, and more frequently at night in the glen adjoining her uncle's place. So completely was she fascinated that when one day he pleaded to her to get him ten pounds, she did it by manipulating her uncle's accounts. That was the beginning. After that he was constantly asking her to obtain money for him. As she had control of her uncle's accounts, she was enabled to do this by presenting him with duplicate bills and by other means. Finlayson also induced her to practise her uncle's handwriting and signature, so that she could copy them. And with what success she did this was proved by the cheque for five hundred pounds which she gave to Finlayson, and he sent one of his actress friends to cash it at the bank.
On the night when Tatlock saw him meet Mary in the glen he endeavoured to persuade his dupe to forge a cheque in her uncle's name for a thousand pounds. At first she refused; but he overcame her scruples, and she consented to do it, but was unable to carry the forgery out, as she found that her uncle now kept his cheque-book locked up in his safe, and she was sure he had become suspicious, and this frightened her.
It was a very sad story of a weak woman, who had inherited some of her father's evil ways, falling into the hands of an unscrupulous villain, who, discerning the flaw in her nature, preyed upon it.
It need scarcely be said that Mr. Muirhead was very greatly affected. The hopes he had built upon his niece were destroyed, his faith broken, and he bowed like a reed in a storm of wind. Nor did he ever entirely recover. He was never the same man again. He sent his niece to Melbourne, where she had a cousin married to a clergyman, but a very short time afterwards she disappeared, and went, as was believed, to America. What became of her is not known.
Much against his will, but from a sense that it was a duty he owed to society, Mr. Muirhead determined to prosecute his fraudulent clerk, Alexander Finlayson, for falsifying the accounts at the warehouse; but the fellow, when he found the game was up, had the grace to put an end to his shameless career by poisoning himself as soon as he learnt that his infamy was known.
Mr. and Mrs. Muirhead have long been in their graves, and Ernest Crossley died of consumption about ten years ago; there is, therefore, no longer any reason for concealing the facts of this little drama of fraud and frailty and misplaced affection.
FOR true romance one must search the pages of real life, not the volumes of fiction. Tyler Tatlock was able to furnish much evidence of this truth, but in no case that he ever had to do with was it exemplified in a more startling manner than in that of Dick Reesland. The Reeslands are an old family. The name appears in Doomsday Book as Reese-de-land. The branch of the family with which this record deals had long been resident in a country district in Yorkshire. Mr. Richard Reesland at one time held an appointment in the Old East India Company's service, but was forced to retire early owing to his health breaking down. He returned home and married a Miss Bindloss, who had a small property. The union resulted in the birth of a son and two daughters. Mr. Reesland died while his children were still very young, but their mother was a sensible and devoted woman, and by studying economy she was enabled to give them a good education.
From his earliest years Dick, the son, displayed a restless, discontented, roving spirit, and, being an only boy, he was a good deal spoilt by his mother. He was a great reader, but beyond that had no inclination for anything, and as he grew in years he chafed at the dull, uneventful life he was compelled to lead; before he was fifteen he displayed such a masterful and determined spirit that he caused his family much distress, and there were not wanting signs that he was getting quite out-of-hand, as the saying is.
One lady, who was very intimate with Dick's mother, and who, in her own estimation, was wondrous wise, declared that she was perfectly sure the boy would do evil things and come to grief if not controlled with a strictness which his mother—according to this philanthropic lady—was incapable of displaying. Now, it was a curious and most fortunate circumstance—so thought the lady—that her 'dear brother' was a clergyman, a worthy, estimable, and truly pious man, and 'so clever too,' and so fond of children, and so successful in managing wayward boys, and so many other things, that really the lady could not enumerate them. But she was successful in persuading Mrs. Reesland to send her boy to her dear brother, who was such an encyclopaedia of all the virtues. The first week that Dick was under his control he took a dislike to him. In a month he had come to hate him with a hatred passing words, for the dear brother was one of those incompetent, arrogant, self-opinionated, dogmatic tyrants, who break the spirit and ruin the dispositions of nearly every child they have to deal with. Dick pleaded to his mother to remove him from the influence of this objectionable teacher, but, thinking it was to the boy's interest that he should remain, she declined, with the inevitable result in such cases—Dick removed himself; and when his people had passed many agonising months of suspense and fear, a letter came from him.
He was in Australia, and was working on some gold diggings at a place called Naraga in the Braidwood district. He was going to make a rapid fortune, he said, and then he would return home. But five years drifted away. His fortune had not been made; he did not return home. At fairly regular intervals he wrote, but seldom twice from the same place. His letters came from China, Japan, India, some of the South Sea Islands, New Zealand, California; and the last one from Australia again. He was then in Melbourne, and said he was going up country. His letters were always bald and brief, and seldom contained anything about himself beyond that he had been somewhere and was going somewhere else.
Years passed, and nothing more was heard of him; then, by the death of an uncle, he succeeded to a large property, which, failing him, would pass to another branch of the family altogether. Now, as may be supposed, his mother—then growing an old woman—apart from her natural desire to once more clasp her long-absent son to her bosom before she laid down the burden of life, was anxious that he should take possession of the property to which he was legally en-titled. It was important, also, in the interest of all concerned, that, if dead, indisputable proof of his death should be forthcoming. Strangely enough, however, his mother firmly believed that he was still living; and when repeated advertising failed to bring forth any information, she resolved on the bold step of enlisting the services of Tyler Tatlock. It was a bold step, because if Tatlock had to go forth and hunt for the trail of the wanderer, it would necessarily be costly, and might be long. As a matter of fact, the task occupied Tatlock a good deal over a year. The great interests that were at stake, however, justified all the expense incurred and the time employed.
Tatlock journeyed direct from England to Melbourne, that being the last place from which Dick had communicated with his friends. He had given an address in Collins Street. It proved to be a lodging-house kept by very respectable people. Dick had stayed there several times. The landlady seemed to think he was peculiar.
He had stated before leaving Melbourne that he was going to Sydney, and, as he was expecting some letters, he gave his address, which turned out to be a lodging-house in Elizabeth Street. When Tatlock arrived his man had gone, his destination being Brisbane. He had incidentally mentioned to a fellow-boarder in Sydney that he was going north from Brisbane. To go north from there meant either to foot it or to travel by one of the coasting steamers, many of which went to Torres Straits, while some crossed the Straits to New Guinea. To Brisbane Tatlock went, only to find that he was a day too late again, and that a stern chase was a long chase. He ascertained, however, that Dick Reesland had taken passage in a coasting tramp, and booked to Cook-town, which is in the Cape York Peninsula. Tatlock had to kick his heels for a fortnight before he could get a steamer bound north, as there was only a monthly service in those days; and to his intense annoyance, while going into Rockhampton, the vessel ran on to a reef. She floated off again with the rising tide, but sustained such damage that ten days were occupied in repairing it. Bad weather had set in when the journey was resumed, and the passage north was long and stormy. Cooktown was reached at last. It was a wild place, far removed from civilisation. Gold in considerable quantities had been found in the neighbourhood, and there was a sparse population, consisting for the most part of gold-diggers. The climate is tropical, the country wild and barren.
Tatlock learned that Dick, who was well known, was a partner with three other men in a quartz reef fifty to sixty miles inland. Out to the reef Tatlock journeyed, only to find that once more he was a day too late; his man had moved on, nor did it seem likely that he would be able to follow him further, for his movements were evidently shrouded in mystery. His partners were reticent, and were not to be drawn, while the statement that their chum had come into a fortune seemed rather to annoy them than otherwise. Indeed, they did not disguise the fact that they resented Tatlock's presence, and it became evident to him that in that wild and lawless region a bullet might put an end to his further usefulness, since he was regarded as an intruder, and the rough characters who were fossicking around had a summary manner of dealing with intruders. To be shot like a dog and buried like a dog could serve no purpose, but Tatlock was not the man to be easily beaten. He might not be a match for the brute force which appeared to be the only law there, but he was infinitely more than a match when it came to a question of diplomacy, and so he deter-mined to retire, for a time at any rate, to Cooktown, and to watch and wait.
The youngest of Dick's three partners was a Chinaman known as Loo Foo. This placid-faced Celestial could have given points to Bret Harte's 'Heathen Chinee.' He was as sly as they are made, and what he did not know in the way of wickedness was scarcely worth considering. It was obvious that the two white men with whom he worked did not love him too well, but Loo not only knew how to hold his own but he was in his way a little despot, and was possessed of some knowledge which gave him a certain power over his white mates. To the observant Tatlock this was plain, and he came to the conclusion that he might learn a good deal by watching Loo Foo.
The small settlement at Cooktown was in close touch with the diggings, as it was at Cooktown the stores were purchased and the gold shipped. The chief store in the settlement was in the hands of a Chinaman, Wing Lo by name, who sold most things required, and, unless he was much maligned, stole things whenever he got the chance. He also called himself a 'shipping agent, importer, exporter, contractor,' and Heaven knows what else. A smug-faced, wily demon was Wing Lo, and with his small eyes Tyler Tatlock saw there was something mysterious going on between Wing and Loo and the other partners of Dick Reesland.
One day three heavily-laden bullock drays entered the settlement from inland, and rounded up with a creak and a groan at Wing Lo's store. There were sacks filled with something, roughly made and heavy cases, and irregularly-shaped bundles. To a non-observant person these little details would have had no meaning. To Tatlock they were significant. 'Inland' was a wilderness. Men had recently brought gold to light, but beyond that Nature had remained undisturbed through the ages. A bee-line through this wilderness from Cooktown for about three hundred miles in length would strike a desolate spot on the eastern shores of the great Gulf of Carpentaria. Now, the question that naturally occurred to Tatlock's mind was—What did these queer-looking packages contain, and where had they come from? Save for the rough diggers and prospectors scattered about inland there was no population. The packages could not be filled with gold; what then were their contents? There was something suspicious about the whole affair, and the suspicion was not allayed when within an hour of the arrival of the drays came Loo Foo and his two white companions on horseback, and during the days that followed they and Wing Lo were very busy. A week later a coasting steamer from the north, and bound to Sydney, came in, and Wing Lo shipped the goods that had come from the interior, and consigned them to an agent in Sydney.
Tatlock had an instinctive feeling that those mysterious packages which were swung on board the steamer contained the key to the mystery, and he resolved to follow the packages, so he quietly slipped on board an hour or so before the vessel resumed her voyage, and in due course reached Sydney once more. He discovered that the goods were consigned to a Chinese firm in Sydney—'Shen, Yen, and Co., exporters and general dealers,' and that the mysterious bales and cases were filled with gold and silver articles, ivory goods, great quantities of silk, boxes of tea, bags of rice, and many other Chinese products. Now Tatlock knew quite well that silk, tea, rice, and the like were not grown on the Cape York peninsula, and the matter therefore required further investigation, so back he went to Cooktown, as being a convenient point of observation, but this time he went as somebody else.
During his stay he had learnt much; he was an apt pupil and quick to gather up ideas, and when he returned it was as a 'fossicker,' prospector, gold-digger. His capacity for assimilating himself to the character he adopted was simply marvellous. He was not only a born actor, but an exceptionally clever mimic. So when he once more appeared at Cooktown he had unkempt hair, wore mole-skin trousers tucked into Wellington boots, a blue flannel shirt, a soft felt slouched hat. On his back he carried his swag, which, besides the inevitable red blanket and 'billy,' included pickaxe, shovel, hammer, &c. And he talked digger language, and bounced and hinted at the rich claims he had been on, but an irresistible desire to rove prevented his staying long anywhere. He hired a Chinese loafer who hung about the wharf always on the look-out for a job he hoped would never come. But for three dollars a week and his grub he condescended to become Jack Coney's 'boy.' Jack Coney, otherwise Tyler Tatlock, next invested in a dray, a couple of horses, a tent, and other necessary paraphernalia for a life in the wilderness, then he set forth towards the interior with his Chinese attendant, Woon. When he arrived at the reef where Loo Foo and his white companions were at work, he fraternised, he talked in digger language, and appeared learned as regards quartz and alluvial cradling and washing, crushing and separating.
Loo Foo and his mates thought Jack Coney a bit of a gasser, but he knew a thing or two, and though he wasn't very big he was slippery, and could handle the shooting-irons. He was a bit too curious and inquisitive for their liking, and poked his nose where he had no business to do. They didn't admit his right to inquire what the old packing cases lying about were there for, nor why they kept a wooden shanty at their claims so carefully guarded and locked. However, all's well that ends well. The gassy little chap announced his intention of moving on. So they liquored up, said 'So long,' and 'Jack' and his 'boy' moved off west. He was surprised to find there was a good track, and this seemed to confirm certain suspicions he had in his mind. He followed the track, and in due time came to the southern end of the Gulf of Carpentaria. He was not surprised to find a long, low, rough log building and three or four pigtails loafing about. He had got on very good terms with his 'boy' Woon, who was a rascal, but useful. He didn't like work, so 'Jack Coney' took good care that he should have little to do, and he did like dollars, and Jack was liberal in that respect. You see, he had to use Woon as eyes and cars, and it was astonishing how much he saw and heard through that medium. Jack shifted his tent almost daily. He was supposed to be prospecting, but he slept with one eye open, as the saying is.
When he had been in the neighbourhood a fortnight, he one morning saw a rakish-looking brig with a sharp prow and a low freeboard standing in towards the shore under a pressure of canvas. Her hull was painted slate colour, very unusual, and there was something about her which suggested that she was not altogether a peaceful trader. She made signals to the shore, and the signals were answered by the pigtails. She was very smartly handled, and her crew evidently knew their business. When within a mile and a half of the shore, her sails having previously been clewed up, she let go her anchor, and afterwards a boat was lowered and manned, and the skipper, a bronzed, bearded, rough, determined-looking fellow, sat in the stern, and was rowed to the shore. There he had a conference with the guardian pigtails, and soon the brig's boats were busy conveying a very miscellaneous lot of goods to the shore, and as they arrived they were quickly stored in the log cabin.
The following day 'Jack Coney' appeared upon the scene, and requested to have a word with the skipper, who was a white man, as was his chief mate, while the rest of the crew were Chinamen. The captain was known to his crew as 'Bill,' and Bill only—'Captain Bill.' It was quite enough for them. But 'Tyler Tatlock when alone with him said:
'Unless I am very much mistaken, I am addressing Dick Reesland.'
Captain Bill looked savage, and exclaimed hotly, 'No, you are not.'
Tatlock smiled as he answered: 'I am certain of it now.'
'And in the name of the fiend who are you?' demanded the skipper, as he twisted his fingers about the butt of a revolver.
Tatlock smiled again. 'An emissary who brings you good news. I have come from England on purpose to find you, and I've had a long search.'
'And what's the good news?' asked the skipper eagerly.
'Ah, then you are Dick Reesland?'
'Oh, well, since you seem to know me—Yes. Now, then, what's your business?'
It did not take Tatlock long to make known the tidings of which he was the bearer, and the sea-smitten, sun-parched salt, Captain Dick Reesland, seemed much troubled, and for some time he remained thoughtful. At last he spoke.
'As you are a detective, and have so cleverly found me out, I suppose you know pretty well what I am. I'm part owner of yonder brig. I'm a ruffian, and my co-partners are ruffians; my crew are devils. We are not legitimate traders, but pirates. Yes, sir, pirates; and we scour these Eastern seas; but we find our victims mostly amongst Chinese coasting vessels, and we get some rich hauls. I do not follow the calling for the sake of the pelf; but the life, the risk, the danger, the excitement appeal to me. Now, the fortune you have come to tell me about does not tempt me, and were it for that alone I do not think I would leave this fascinating calling of mine; but I owe my dear mother something. For her sake I will return. You go back to Cooktown, where I will rejoin you.'
'Can I depend upon your doing that?'
'Sir, if you think my honour is worth anything, I will pledge my honour.'
'I accept the pledge. Give me your hand. I will wait in Cooktown for you.'
'Of course, it may be weeks before we meet, for I have many arrangements to make.'
'I quite understand that.'
So they parted, and 'Jack Coney,' with Woon his boy, slowly made his way back to Cooktown, where he let it be known that his prospecting had not resulted in much. But he thought he would have another try, and go further north. He was in no hurry, however, and people came to the conclusion that he certainly was not, for the weeks slipped by and stretched into months, and still he lingered in the little town. He himself began to think that Dick had played false in spite of his pledged honour. Then a rumour ran that there had been a murder in the interior. Some Chinese diggers had murdered a white man. So said the rumour. A day or two afterwards this was modified. The white man had been shot, but was still living. And yet another version of the story was put in circulation. The white man had not been shot at all, but had shot several Chinamen, and had escaped into the bush, and nobody knew what had become of him.
These contradictory reports will serve to show the difficulty there was in obtaining reliable information from the interior. That there was foundation, however, for the rumours was proved one day by Skipper Bill, or Dick Reesland, coming into the town in a bad way. There was a feverish anxiety to learn news, but Skipper Bill was exasperating beyond endurance. He smiled a ghastly smile when plied with questions, and said he had nothing to tell.
Privately to Tatlock he gasped, 'Yes, the fiends tried to murder me when they heard I was going. Exasperation and a fear that I might betray them drove them wild, and they peppered me. I'm tough, and take a lot of killing, like a cat. But I've got a bullet in my left lung, and I fancy the last chapter is nearly written. Get me down to Sydney as soon as you can. Possibly the hospital people there will be able to fish the bullet out.'
Two days after this Dick Reesland and Tyler Tatlock sailed away in a southern-bound steamer. It was evident that Dick was in a very bad way indeed, and Tatlock was afraid he would not even live to get to Sydney. When they had left Cooktown well behind, Dick told his companion that it was Loo Foo who had shot him. Loo was a deeply-dyed villain, and had a large interest in the pirate business, as well as in the quartz reef. He had established agencies for the sale of the pirates' cargoes in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. When Dick told him he was going away Foo feared that his profitable trade would be gone. A quarrel ensued, and Foo winged his man.
'And what did you do?' asked Tatlock.
'Killed him,' answered Dick, with a wan smile.
'A pleasant state of things,' remarked Tatlock reflectively.
'Oh, that's the beauty of a free life, where the only law you recognise is the law of powder and shot. It's the only life worth living. The sky above you, the desert or wilderness around you, or the salt spray of the great ocean saturating every pore in your body. I am returning to the commonplaceness of civilisation simply because my mother's voice has spoken. But—ah, yes; you bet it won't be long before I return to freedom.'
Dick talked hopefully, but it was clear to Tatlock that he was drifting out, and it seemed doubtful if he would last until Sydney was reached. As he himself had said, however, he was tough, and took a lot of killing. Ninety-nine per cent. of men wounded as he was must have succumbed long ago, but he lingered, and, though suffering great agony, he uttered no groan.
Sydney was reached at last; he was carried ashore and to the hospital, and the doctors at once pronounced the case hopeless, as he was too low for an operation to be attempted, but it was marvellous how tough he really proved. For three weeks after arriving in Sydney he wrestled with death. He was cheerful and communicative, and piece by piece, chapter by chapter, as it were, Tatlock gathered from his own lips the following strange story of his life:
He had been cowboy in America; lumberman in Canada. He had served before the mast, and sailed in every sea. In Texas he had fought a lassoo fight with a human scourge, who bore the reputation of having committed a score of murders, and Dick killed his man, for which he was presented with an address and a purse of gold. In Mexico he married a Mexican beauty, in spite of the threats of a rival. Three months later the rival carried off the bride, and left the husband for dead, with a knife sticking in him. But Dick was walking about again, sound and well, a month later. In Cuba he placed himself at the head of a band of insurgents five hundred strong, and he held a village for a fortnight against thousands of Spanish soldiers. A price was set upon his head, but a Cuban belle had fallen in love with him, and guided him for nights and days through swamps and jungles, and nursed him for weeks through the delirium of fever. Finally they escaped, and got to Jamaica, in the West Indies, where the devoted preserver of his life died.
For a short time he was manager of a West Indian cotton plantation, and again came within an ace of losing his life. He was one day bitten in the arm by one of the most deadly snakes in the West Indies—the fer-de-lance. But he had a flask of gunpowder in his pocket. Without a moment's hesitation he poured a quantity of the powder on the wound and fired it. It was a heroic remedy. It made him very ill, but saved his life. After that he turned his back on the West Indies, and sailed to Boston. There he shipped in a South Sea whaler, and put in two years, but cleared out at Honolulu, as the skipper was a tyrant. He next turned up in New Zealand, and went prospecting in the 'Snowy Range,' and discovered a gold mine, which he sold to a syndicate, and moved on.
Melbourne knew him next, but the hot and dusty town had no charms for him, so he organised a small expedition, numbering twenty all told, to go prospecting in New Guinea, and they chartered a schooner to take them to their destination. They were wrecked on a reef, however. They lost everything, as well as half their number, who were drowned. He returned to Melbourne, and shortly afterwards got a passage in a steamer going to Shanghai, where he fell ill with cholera, but pulled through all right, and a rebellion being in full blast he joined the rebel ranks, and had a glorious time for something like six months, until he was captured by the Imperialists and sent to Amoy, where he was to be decapitated. But General Gordon came to his rescue, and on the grounds that he was an Englishman secured his release. For some time after that he wandered about China with no very definite purpose, only he liked to be moving about. One day he found himself at Pekin, went down to Tientsin on the coast, and secured a passage in a Chinese boat going to Shanghai, but fell in with pirates, who killed the crew, but took him prisoner, he being a white man, and they expected that his friends would ransom him. They carried him inland, and when he declined to give the address of any of his friends they tortured him. He managed to escape, and made his way to Hong Kong, where he shipped in a trader for the Philippines, but once again was wrecked. He spent eight days in an open boat in a tropical sea, with five others, and endured the most terrible sufferings. He and one other, the sole survivors of the crew, were picked up by a passing steamer, and carried to Borneo.
For a short time he became a sort of overseer on a guttapercha estate. But it was too monotonous, and he wanted to move on again. He got a passage in a native trader going to New Guinea for a cargo of cocoanuts and native pottery. He spent two months in that wonderful island; was one day captured by cannibals, and was about to be speared for the pot, when he seized a native club from one of his captors, ran amuck amongst them, got down to the coast, and was taken aboard a beche de mer fishing vessel, which transferred him to a pearler that subsequently landed him at Cooktown. A great many Chinamen had flocked there, owing to rumours of gold in the interior. He went out prospecting with Loo Foo and two other white men. They were not very successful; then it occurred to the ingenious mind of Loo Foo that there was good business to be done by preying on Chinese coasters. He proposed it to Dick, who fell in with the idea, for it would keep him moving and afford him the excitement he craved for. They scraped enough money together to buy a small brig, and Loo Foo, who was a born administrator, set about organising the business. Dick knew nothing about business. He hated it, but he could navigate a vessel with any one, and fighting was as the breath of his nostrils.
For a long time the business flourished. By bringing the plunder into the Gulf of Carpentaria, and taking it across the peninsula to Cooktown, where Foo had his spies and agents, they managed to escape detection, which would have been certain had they sailed their vessel into any regular port. How long this state of matters would have gone on it is difficult to say had Tatlock not appeared upon the scene. Sooner or later no doubt the authorities must have become suspicious. As it was, Loo Foo brought about the climax. Naturally when he heard that Dick was going he was furious, for Dick was an essential link in the chain. When persuasion, argument, and even threats failed, he began to fear for his own skin, and on the principle that dead men tell no tales he tried to quieten Dick. He succeeded in putting a bullet into his lung, but got one through his own brain in return, which stretched him low at once. Dick's marvellous vitality enabled him to stave off the inevitable for weeks, but he was conquered at last, and one night, as the darkness was giving place to dawn, he passed.
Tatlock returned to England. His mission was fulfilled; and though he did not restore the wandering and erring son to the anxious and yearning mother, he carried with him a will which the dying man had legally executed, and which prevented the greater portion of the property from passing out of his branch of the family. Moreover, Tatlock learned one of the strangest human stories that have ever been told; while as a feat in the art of detection the way in which he traced the wanderer is perhaps unparalleled.
'GENTLEMEN, I have no hesitation in saying that in all probability our property will prove of unparalleled richness, and those who hold shares in this company will have cause to congratulate themselves. You have heard the report of our engineer at the works. Nothing could be more satisfactory, and, though we have only been incorporated a little over four months, everything points to the prospects of speedy dividends. Necessarily to me it is a source of deep gratification, as your chairman, that I am able to place before you such glowing accounts—accounts which, from personal knowledge, I think I may venture to say are in every way justified. And now I have another pleasurable duty to perform, and one that I hope will meet with your approbation. I have secured the refusal for two months of about two hundred and fifty acres of land immediately adjoining our present property. Beneath this land there are possibly tons of gold waiting our energy and enterprise to bring from the darkness, in which it has lain since the beginning of time, to the light of day. This land belonged to a Mexican, who sold it recently to a small syndicate. This syndicate, however, is practically in the Bankruptcy Court, but they have given me the option of their property. Now, gentlemen, I have paid a deposit on this property, and I propose to at once form a new company to take it over and exploit it, and I am of opinion that we shall prove it to be as rich or even richer than our present possession. Before the shares are offered in the new company to the general public, I think it but right that you should have the privilege of subscribing, and with that end in view I have arranged that everyone present can, before he leaves the room, sign a provisional document pledging himself as many shares as he thinks proper, subject to the company being formed.
It now remains for me to congratulate you on the rosy prospects of our enterprise; and I express the hope that when I next have the pleasure of meeting you I shall be able to announce a substantial dividend on our first year's working. (Loud and prolonged cheering.)
'A vote of thanks terminated the proceedings, which throughout were most harmonious, and the general feeling was that the company had acquired a very substantial property. We understand that the shares are already at a premium. A large proportion of the capital for the purchase of the adjoining property referred to by the chairman in his speech was promised before the shareholders left the room.'
The above is an extract from a report in a financial paper of the statutory meeting of the shareholders in the 'Great Golden Reefs Mines and Land Exploration Company, Limited,' whose registered capital was half a million of money, the whole of which had been subscribed. The property was situated somewhere in California, and the chairman and managing director was a gentleman bearing the picturesque name of Josiah Woodfield Bell Flowers. This gentleman, whose appearance was as picturesque as his name, had burst upon London like a meteor. What his origin was, where the came from, what his connections were, nobody seemed to know, and nobody seemed disposed to ask. Tall, handsome, well-proportioned, and of an age when a man—not a born fool—is supposed to have acquired wisdom, and in addition possessed of a beautiful voice, an insinuating and apparently frank, artless man, Mr. Flowers speedily won the favour of all with whom he came in contact. Ladies vowed he was 'charming,' and 'such a nice man,' with strong emphasis on the adjective, while men declared him to be 'a jolly good fellow.'
Mr. Bell Flowers had come over to begrimed, fog-sodden, and benighted London from the rich, glowing, sun-baked lands of California, and the tales he had to tell of the potential wealth of certain regions he had explored, and in which he had acquired proprietarial and mining rights, set the silly Cockneys agape; and when, with true American philanthropy, he offered his properties for the public benefit subject to the condition that the trifle of half a million pounds sterling was subscribed in shares, of which he as vendor would accept the nominal sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and with the American aptitude for tall talk he spoke of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, the grateful public flocked to him like sheep, and baaed in chorus—'Give us of your shares. Here are our purses and cheque-books.' Widows and parsons struggling to live respectably on a bare pittance felt that their chance had come at last, and figuratively they threw their money at the head of Mr. Josiah Woodfield Bell Flowers, who was 'such a nice man.'
Mr. Bell Flowers, as such a noble-minded benefactor had a right to do, set himself up a superb mansion in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park, and his palatial residence was ordered in a way that befitted a financial king. Here he gave superb entertainments, and here Mammon worshippers, My Lord This and My Lady That, with an army of their followers, assembled and did honour to their god.
The additional company to which Mr. Bell Flowers referred at the above-mentioned meeting was duly floated, with a capital of three hundred thousand pounds. It was known as 'The Golden Reefs Mines Extension.' Mr. Flowers received a handsome proportion of this, and was elected chairman by an obedient board of guinea-pigs.
Mr. Bell Flowers, being rich, handsome, and still on the right side of the hill of life, and a bachelor to boot, was, as may well be supposed, an object of intense interest to mammas who had unmarried daughters on their hands. These dames hovered around him like flies around a sugar-tub. Mr. Bell Flowers showed that he was susceptible to female charms, for he said pretty things to all of the young ladies, and he gave them lollipops and trinkets, and set many a foolish heart throbbing wildly. But at last it leaked out that this golden god had deigned to smile sweetly on pretty little Sophie Clarges, the only daughter of Mr. 'Jack' Clarges, who was reputed to have made an enormous fortune by Stock Exchange speculations. At any rate, he lived in a very snug little house in fashionable Park Lane, and his wife entertained in a princely way.
Sophie was young—about two-and-twenty—and, while not exactly a beauty, she was passably fair. But anything she lacked physically was more than amply compensated for by the fortune her father had promised to settle upon her, and which was reputed to be the goodly sum of a million pounds. Mr. Jack Clarges' beginnings had been very humble, according to accounts. His father had worked in a coal mine, and so did Jack in his youth, but he was of an ambitious turn of mind, and, leaving the mines, had worked his way up, and finally made his pile on the Stock Exchange.
Mr. Bell Flowers and Mr. Jack Clarges became familiar, and while Jack was not particularly anxious for his daughter to marry anyone, thought it might not be a bad thing if she became the wife of Flowers. However, he did not urge it, nor did he oppose it. He was a good, easy-going sort of fellow, who liked good company and good living, and was not disposed to trouble or concern himself much about anything. His wife, however, was a lady of a very different stamp. Being somewhat coarse, a little vulgar, and somewhat indifferent about the use of the letter 'h,' she found herself—in spite of her wealth—shut off from that exclusive section of society which prides itself on its blue blood, and which shudders at the mere thought of mingling this blue blood with the red of the mere plebeian. She was designing, however, and saw that the dashing, tactful, and pushing Bell Flowers was enabled to pass the gate at which she, like the Peri at the gate of Paradise, could only sit and sigh. So she resolved that her Sophie should become Mrs. Bell Flowers.
Sophie was a dutiful daughter enough, greatly attached to her father, and tolerant of her mother. She had given her heart to a worthy young gentleman of the name of Robert Lacy Eccles, son of a gentleman who had distinguished himself as an officer in the army, but had died wretchedly poor, and left his family—a large one—utterly unprovided for. Robert, who had been educated at one of the great public schools, took to journalism, and had written a couple of novels, one of which had brought him a certain amount of fame. But Bob was poor, was without influence, and, as it seemed to Mrs. Clarges, never likely to gain a footing within that magic circle for which she yearned. So Mrs. Clarges said unto her daughter:
'Sophie, let us have no more nonsense with that vulgar and penniless fellow, Eccles. Ugh! Only to think he should ever have had the audacity to suppose for a moment I should sanction his courting you. I can't imagine how your father ever encouraged him to come to the house. But, there, your father always was stupid, and he seems to think that because Robert holds some obscure position on the "Daily Snarler" he might be of use. It makes me angry to think your father is so low in his tastes. I wish he'd some of my pride, I'm sure. However, Robert shall not come here any more. I have higher aims for you, and you will give every encouragement to dear Mr. Flowers. A nicer gentleman I am sure I wouldn't wish to meet. He's so rich, too, and then he has such influence in society.'
'But, ma,' pleaded her daughter meekly, 'how do you know that Mr. Flowers thinks anything about me?'
'How do I know? Well, upon my soul, child, you would make a saint swear. How do I know, indeed? What do you think I am? Do you think I am so blind that I cannot see? It would be a clever man, my dear, that would deceive me, I can tell you. Why, I can read Mr. Flowers as if he were an open book. He is just breaking his heart about you, and you've only got to play your cards right to secure him.'
Sophie sighed 'heigho,' silently. She had never opposed her own wishes to those of her parents, and she hadn't the moral courage to do so in this instance. Of course, there had been nothing like an engagement between her and Robert, but she liked him ever so much, and she was perfectly well aware that he was just breaking his heart about her.
It was not many days after that conversation with her mother that she and Bob met. When he treated her with the familiarity of old, and showed in a thousand little ways how precious she was in his sight, she gave him to understand—not without an effort—that their 'flirtation,' as she called it, must end. They parted, and many weeks passed. Bob had been very foolish during those weeks. He sought for Lethe where men with sorrows often seek it, when one night in a billiard-room an intimate suddenly exclaimed:
'Oh, by the way, Bob, I heard to-day that the girl you used to spoon, Sophie Clarges, is going to marry Bell Flowers, the millionaire.'
'Oh,' was all that Bob said, but in it he expressed a great volume of feeling.
Some days later he was in the City, and he dropped into Mr. Clarges' office. Clarges liked him, and was always glad to see him.
'I suppose,' said Bob, 'I must congratulate you.'
'Well, I hear that your daughter is engaged to Mr. Bell Flowers.'
'Oh, yes. Well, these things get fixed up somehow. Women folk, you know, are kittle cattle. I suppose my missus has had a finger in that pie.'
'But do you mean to say Sophie is only going to marry him because her mother wishes it?'
'My dear Eccles, do you suppose that Sophie would be likely to marry a man she didn't care about? No, she's not built that way, my friend. Though I haven't been consulted in the matter, I shall throw no obstacle in the girl's way. She's plenty of common sense, and I've all along resolved that I would never try to influence her choice. I used to think at one time she'd rather a sneaking regard for you, but I suppose I was wrong.'
Eccles wilted, as it were, at this remark, and he asked in a manner which seemed to imply that the subject had no interest for him:
'If that had proved to have been the case what would you have said?'
'I've just told you, my boy, I should never stand in the way of the girl's happiness. If she wanted you, and you wanted her, you should have her as far as I am concerned. But, you see, she wants Flowers; so there's an end of the matter. It will be a marriage after my wife's own heart, for I believe she has set her mind on Flowers.'
Robert Eccles gulped down a rising sob, and as he was shaking his friend's hand preparatory to going, he said:
'I suppose Mr. Bell Flowers is all right?'
Robert didn't know himself what induced him to make that remark. It slipped out. It rose in his mind suddenly, and it was uttered as it came. Perhaps it was the mere expression of some vague and shapeless thought which had haunted him. Bell Flowers' name had been before the public for a year or two. He was a much-talked-about man, and, of course, like all men who make themselves conspicuous by success, he had his enemies, for envy and jealousy are powerful factors in the human sum, and malice had shown itself, and some people had dared to hint that the rosy things which had been said about Mr. Flowers' mining properties were not justified.
Mr. Flowers' prospective father-in-law looked at the questioner in a puzzled way at first, then angrily, and he said with unusual warmth:
'What the deuce do you mean?'
Bob apologised, but Mr. Clarges was not satisfied. 'Do you know anything against Flowers?'
'Have you heard anything?'
'Then what's the drift of your remark?'
'Now, look here, young Eccles, don't you play with me. I'm a plain, blunt man, as you know, and I'm straight, I am. Now, if Bell Flowers isn't straight I would rather put Sophie into her coffin than she should marry him; so, if you know anything, be frank.'
'Upon my honour, I don't, Mr. Clarges.'
'Then what the deuce do you mean, sir, by your cowardly insinuation?'
It was no insinuation. I—I—'
'I consider it a beastly low action for one man to try and besmirch another out of pure spite. I had no idea you were a fellow of that sort. You've shown yourself in a new light, and you will be good enough to avoid my house and my people in the future. Good day to you.'
Robert Eccles never quite knew how he got out of that office, but he found himself in the street, being hurried along by the human tide. His head was in a whirl; he was sick at heart. He had eaten of Dead Sea fruit, and there was an exceeding bitterness within him. He had loved Sophie and lost her, and now he had offended his best friend.
Mr. Clarges' anger was not appeased for some time. Although a plain and blunt man he had pride, and his pride was wounded. When he went home he could not rest until he had told his wife what had passed between him and Robert. She was furious. She said some very harsh and bitter things about young Eccles. He was a 'sneak,' 'a deceitful, nasty fellow,' that's what he was. And according to her estimate Mr. Flowers was perfect, a gentleman with a great and goodly mind, and when he became her son-in-law she would feel that her cup of happiness was full.
His wife's strength of language somehow jarred on Mr. Clarges' nerves. He was silent, and he asked himself: 'Is Bell Flowers all right?'
The question reminded him that he knew absolutely nothing of Flowers' origin, and he had heard expressions in the City far from complimentary to Mr. Flowers, owing to his very roseate description of the 'Great Golden Reefs' property not having been justified. In fact, now that Mr. Clarges came to think of it, there seemed to be a great deal of mystery about the Golden Reefs. No reports were forth-coming. Nothing had been earned, and as far as could be ascertained not an ounce of gold had been abstracted.
In the meantime the subject of Mr. Clarges' meditations continued to flourish, but as the days passed Clarges could not help having the feeling that he had been somewhat lax in his duty. Although he tried to deafen himself to them, those words of Robert Eccles rang in his ears: 'I suppose Mr. Bell Flowers is all right?' And other questions rose in his own mind. 'Who was Mr. Bell Flowers? Where did he come from? Who were his people? Was there any absolute proof that the properties he sold for such an enormous sum were worth a five-pound note?'
Mr. Clarges had shown strong anger to Bob Eccles, and had severed the friendly connection between them; but, after all, wasn't Bob's remark a perfectly justifiable one, for Bell Flowers was a mystery. The result of these cogitations on Mr. Clarges' part was that, impelled by something he could not quite understand, and influenced by a feeling he could not resist, he went down one morning to the office of Tyler Tatlock, and sought a private interview with the famous detective. He made himself known, and the detective intimated that by repute his visitor was no stranger to him.
'You will appreciate my position, then,' continued Clarges, 'and still more so when I tell you that my only daughter, who is as the apple of my eye, is about to be married to a very well-known gentleman; but, but—the fact is—well—you see it's this way, I—I sus—No, I won't say that, but my prospective son-in-law is rather a reticent man, and never talks about his past. I—I—'
Understanding his visitor's embarrassment, the detective came to his assistance with the remark:
'You wish me to learn something about him?'
'Where does he hail from?'
'The United States, I believe; and he has been a good deal in California.'
'All, some queer people come over here from the States,' remarked Tatlock reflectively. 'But what is the name of the gentleman?' asked Tatlock.
'Mr. Josiah Woodfield Bell Flowers.'
'Bell Flowers; the name seems familiar to me,' mused the detective.
'Very likely. He's well known in the City in connection with the Great Gold Reefs Mines and Land Exploration Company, Limited,' rejoined Clarges.
'Oh, ah! now I remember. A gigantic scheme for making the fortune of somebody, but not the share-holders'.'
'Do you know anything?' asked Clarges anxiously.
'Oh dear no—I only suspect.'
'That the glowing reports issued at the time the company was formed were coloured and spiced to attract the unwary.'
Mr. Clarges had lapsed into silence and thoughtfulness. He seemed much distressed, and passing his hand over his forehead said 'Well, look here, Mr. Tatlock, will you slip away quietly to California; learn what you can about the property and Mr. Flowers, and report to me at the earliest possible moment? My wife is very anxious to hurry the marriage on, but as I intend giving my daughter a large fortune, it is but right I should have some assurance that the man who is to be her husband is worthy of her.'
'I agree with you, sir. I will accept your commission, and, if I may venture to do so, I strongly advise you not to allow this marriage to take place until I have been abroad. A young lady with a large fortune should be carefully guarded. If all is right, you and I will be the only two people who will know that any inquiries have been made, and you may console yourself with the reflection that you have done nothing more than your duty. If all is not right—well, then you will be able to congratulate yourself that you have saved your child from becoming the victim of an adventurer.'
Mr. Clarges acquiesced in the soundness of the proposition, and took his leave in a somewhat relieved frame of mind.
The weeks that ensued from that memorable interview with Tyler Tatlock were anxious ones to Mr. Clarges, for Mr. Bell Flowers urged that the marriage might be allowed to take place at once, and in this he was backed up by Mrs. Clarges, who could not understand why there should be any delay. But her husband insisted that the ceremony should be delayed until Sophie's twenty-second birthday, which was four months off, and in spite of entreaty on the part of his would-be son-in-law, and of a little storming on the part of Mrs. Clarges, he carried his point, and in this he was supported by his daughter, who was by no means in a desperate hurry to take upon herself the cares and responsibilities of wifedom. And, indeed, to tell the truth, she had not quite got over the wrench of severing herself from Robert Eccles. Had she searched her heart, she might have had to confess that she had not ceased to love him—for love him she certainly did at one time—and though she was engaged to Bell Flowers, he was not quite the same in her sight that Bob had been.
At length the long and trying period of suspense for Mr. Clarges ended. Tyler Tatlock returned from his visit to the States, and at once notified Clarges of the fact. The stockbroker did not allow many hours to elapse before he called at Tatlock's office.
'Well, what news?' he exclaimed in his eagerness. Nothing, I'm afraid, that is likely to cause you any gratification.'
Mr. Clarges' countenance fell, and he had many far from agreeable reflections, the while Tatlock unlocked a large safe and took therefrom a bundle of papers, which he proceeded to spread out on his desk, at which he seated himself with the air of one who was conscious of the grave responsibility resting on him.
'In accordance with your instructions,' he commenced, as he sorted his documents and unfolded a sheet of blue foolscap closely covered with writing, 'I proceeded direct to California, and not without considerable difficulty and some risk did I reach the region in which the Great Gold Reefs property is located. Perhaps you could not find in the whole world another such arid, desolate, sun-scorched, snake-haunted wilderness.'
'But are there no mines?' cried the troubled Clarges.
'Of a kind, yes. Long and long ago some mines were worked there and abandoned. Some goldless quartz had been got out of one comparatively recently, and there was a quantity of primitive wooden machinery, and a small stamping engine near the shaft. But the wood had shrivelled up in the fierce sun and fallen in ruins, and the stamping engine was half buried in sand. In a log house in a gully close by dwelt an old negro with his wife and family. He was in charge of the property, such as it was. He was an intelligent fellow, and very communicative. He had been placed there by the person you know as Mr. Flowers, but whom he referred to as Sam Jedling.'
'But how do you know that Jedling and Flowers are the same?'
'Because I showed the old negro the portrait of Mr. Flowers you furnished me with. The old negro grinned from ear to ear, displaying his perfect teeth, and exclaimed, "Yes, yes, that's Massa Sam." Now, I further gathered that a gang of negroes, with two or three white men, one of whom was called "The Boss," worked for a few months at the mines. Every drop of water required, and every scrap of provisions, had to be brought across the desert from a long distance. Two of the white men and several of the niggers died. One of the white men died from sunstroke and two of the blacks from the bite of rattlesnakes, which swarm in that part of the country. The 'Boss,' who was an engineer of the name of Lawson, was unable to continue working owing to being shorthanded. But he hung on for some time, and was joined by Jedling, and the two spent some days in examining the stone that had been brought up, but only a speck of gold here and there could be discovered. At last they finished their inspection, discharged the workmen, placed the old negro as caretaker, undertaking to keep him supplied with provisions, and went off. Lawson returned two or three times, on each occasion with two or three white men, but Jedling never went back.'
Clarges groaned. It began to dawn upon him that a huge swindle had been perpetrated.
'Does the story end there?' he asked with a gasp.
'By no means. I have traced the history to some extent of both Jedling and Lawson. The latter was regarded as an engineer of considerable ability, and a mining expert of long experience. I think myself there is little doubt he was corrupted by Jedling, who from all accounts is a swindler of the deepest dye. He appears to be well known in California, and particularly in San Francisco, where he suffered imprisonment for forging a bill. In the time at my disposal I was unable to learn much about his early career, but you may accept the statement as one of fact that he is an unmitigated scoundrel.
'To sum up, the person you know as Josiah Woodfield Bell Flowers has in conjunction with others committed a gigantic fraud on the British public, and you have narrowly escaped giving your daughter and your money into his clutches, for which escape you may thank God.'
Mr. Clarges bowed his head. He almost felt heart-broken. Yet he was deeply, prayerfully thankful his daughter had not been sacrificed. When Mrs. Clarges learnt the truth she went into hysterics, and was ill for several weeks. Sophie sighed; perhaps in her heart she was not altogether sorry things had turned out as they had. Mindful of the unintentional wrong he had done Robert Eccles, her father sent for him and told him everything, and he made but a feeble attempt to disguise that he was not averse to the young couple billing and cooing if they wished to do so. Needless to say, the young couple availed themselves fully of the unexpected opportunity which had occurred for the renewal of the erstwhile pleasant acquaintanceship, an acquaintanceship that speedily ripened, and culminated in the fulness of time in marriage. But long before then punishment swift and sure fell upon Josiah Woodfield Bell Flowers, otherwise Sam Jedling, which probably was not his legitimate name after all. It was impossible, of course, for Mr. Clarges to hush the fraud up. To make it known was a duty he owed to himself as an honest man, to his position as a stockbroker, and to the public at large. So he swore an information which led to a warrant being issued, and an officer and two men were sent down to Mr. Flowers' splendid house to execute it. It chanced that he was entertaining a party of friends, but when he learned that his short-lived glory had passed, and the bubble was pricked, he bowed his head and said he would resign himself without a struggle to the inevitable.
He was allowed, accompanied by the officer, to retire to his bedroom to change his evening dress for a more suitable costume. While there he unlocked a small drawer in a cabinet, took therefrom a phial, and drawing the cork, poured the contents of the phial down his throat before he could be stopped. The phial contained prussic acid. For an appreciable time he stood bolt upright, a ghastly pallor overspreading his handsome face. Then he made an effort to speak, but Death gripped him, and he fell face forward on the rich pile carpet that covered the floor.
He had lived his life; he had played his part; the glamour of greatness had lured him; but, alas! it was but for an hour of passing glory, and the end—unchristian burial and a dishonoured grave.
A LONG and picturesque valley, with rounded heather-clad hills on either side; here and there a patch of woodland, or a tiny ravine running into the hills, green and cool, with ferns in their season, and moist and misty with some trickling stream. If you mounted to the hill-top and turned your eyes south you observed an extensive panorama of the fair English country, while northward was the line of the Cheviots, guarding, sentinel-like, the land of mountain and flood. It was a lonely valley, sparsely populated, and in one of the loneliest parts of it stood the Gravel Pits Farm, in the occupation, at the period of this story, of two brothers, George and David Sandeman. George was the elder. He was about forty; David not more than thirty-five. They had lived on the farm for about twelve years. It was not a very productive place, but the Sandemans managed to live fairly comfortably, although they were at times hard pressed to make ends meet. They had a long lease of the farm, which at one time they were very anxious to dispose of, but they were advised to hold on, for it was certain that sooner or later a branch railway would be pushed through the valley, and the Sandemans had been assured that whenever the railway did come, it must, in the natural order of things, sweep over the Gravel Pits Farm lands, and bowl the farm itself over. And so they hung on.
And one day men appeared with dumpy levels, theodolites, chains, and poles. And later the brothers got an intimation that their farm and land would be required; and, later still, came a party of gentlemen—they were surveyors—to value the farm; and finally, after some haggling, the Sandemans agreed to accept a price which had been fixed by a board of arbitrators, and they were told that they must clear out in four months. During those four months David Sandeman mysteriously disappeared. George had been away in Scotland. When he returned to his home he was informed that a week before David had gone up the valley in search of a stray pony, but had not come back.
George searched high, and he searched low. He advertised. He offered a reward. He communicated with the police, but not a sign nor trace of the missing man was obtained. He had gone, and no one could say why he had gone, nor what his fate was. When the 'compensation for disturbance' had been settled by the railway company, and the brothers had accepted it, each made a will by which, in the event of the death of either, the survivor was to inherit the deceased's property. It should be mentioned that the brothers were bachelors, and there was a clause in the wills to the effect that marriage on the part of either should render the will null and void. At the expiration of the four months allowed by the board of arbitrators George Sandeman quitted the Gravel Pits Farm, and went to a farm in Perthshire.
For a whole year after that the Gravel Pits Farm remained desolate, forlorn, and owl-haunted. At last one morning a little party of engineers engaged on the new line of railway made the farm their quarters. A few weeks later a band of stalwart navvies, armed with spade, pick, and crowbar, began to demolish the buildings. In the course of their work they made a very startling discovery. They had begun to pull down a barn, over which was a small granary. In this granary was an old box which had been used as a bean bin. One of the navvies struck off the lid with his pick, and the box seemed to be packed full of turf. A great deal of bog turf was cut on the hillsides by the valley dwellers and used as fuel for their fires. The navvy began to prise the sides of the box out with a crowbar, and to scatter the turf, when suddenly he started back with an exclamation of alarm, and called out to a mate near:
'I say, Jim, blowed if there ain't a dead 'un 'ere.'
Yes, sure enough, there was the dead body of a man, and the turf had preserved it to such an extent that, save that the flesh was brown and shrivelled, it did not seem to be decayed. The foreman was called, and he in turn communicated with the superintendent, who gave orders that the work of demolition should be suspended until the police and the coroner had been notified. Necessarily an inquest was ordered, and a medical man was instructed, in the interests of justice, to examine the body. This he did, and he found a hole in the skull and a bullet in the brain. The body was identified beyond all question of doubt as that of David Sandeman. And it was equally certain that David had been murdered.
George Sandeman came from Perthshire to give evidence at the inquest, but he could throw no light on the mystery. The verdict of the coroner's jury was murder—there could be no other—but by whom the murder was done it was impossible at that stage to say.
There were circumstances in connection with this Gravel Pits Farm tragedy which removed it somewhat out of the common, and aroused an extraordinary amount of public interest on account of the elements of romance and mystery surrounding it.
Now, there was one curious fact in connection with this tragedy, which served, as a natural consequence, to heighten the mystery. The bullet extracted from the dead man's brain was an old-fashioned round bullet, and on a rafter in the granary where the body had lain so many months a pistol, rusty and dust-covered, was found. It was a single-barrelled, flint-lock weapon, such as was in use at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was a superior weapon of its class, for the barrel was damascened and the stock was inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The bullet exactly fitted the barrel. It therefore seemed pretty certain that it was with that pistol the crime had been committed, and the granary itself was probably the scene of the crime. When, how, by whom, and why was the murder done? Those four points made up a pretty complex problem, and so keen became the public desire to have it solved that it was submitted to Tyler Tatlock, and an order was given that the demolition of the farm buildings was not to be proceeded with until a full and exhaustive inquiry had been made.
The first thing Tatlock did when he set to work in the matter was to determine the constitution of the household at the period when David disappeared. When it became evident that the property would be acquired by the railway company, the brothers reduced their establishment to the lowest possible limits, and for months before and at the time of the crime it was made up as follows. An old woman named Margaret Westcroft, who occupied the position of housekeeper; a dairy-maid, known as Sarah Giles, a smart, well-figured, good-looking lass of twenty-five; a boy of about fourteen or fifteen named Jimmy Martin. He may be described as a boy-of-all-work. For a pound or two a year and his 'grub' he made himself generally useful. These three persons slept in the farm itself. Of the outside hands there were Ronald Macfarlane, the herdsman, a middle-aged man, who had been in the service of the brothers for some years; a ploughman, Walter Hislop, who had been engaged six months before at the hiring fair in Carlisle; and a waggoner, Peter Grubb, also engaged at the hiring fair at the same time. These three men occupied a little cottage at the rear of the farm, and about fifty yards from the main building. All the people had been discharged, and had scattered about the country at least a year before the discovery of the body in the granary. Margaret Westcroft and Jimmy Martin were examined at the inquest, but could throw no light whatever on the occurrence, if we except a statement that before George Sandeman went away he and his brother had a quarrel, and on the day of his disappearance David seemed very restless and strange in his manner. By dint of perseverance, and not without some trouble, Tatlock interviewed the others, with the exception of Sarah Giles. They did not furnish a scrap of information likely to be of use. Ronald Macfarlane, in fact, had been sent to Carlisle by David with some pigs three days before the crime. When he returned David had been missing for two days. Sarah Giles belonged to Hereford-shire, where her mother, a brother, and a sister lived; but she had quarrelled with her people, and held no communication with them. Consequently they did not know where she had gone to.
Tatlock's opinion was that every one he had seen who went to make up the Sandeman household at the time of the murder had taken no part in, and had no knowledge of; the murder. On this point he differed from the chief constable of the county. This gentleman's view was that George Sandeman had paid one of his servants to kill David, and his going away during the commission of the crime was a blind. The constable urged in support of his view that it was elicited in evidence before the coroner that George—it was noted at the time—when he returned and was informed of his brother's disappearance, did not seem at all surprised, and betrayed no concern at the continued absence of David, nor did he, so it was alleged, make any strenuous efforts to discover him. The constable was very firm in his view, and was anxious to arrest George, but, in the absence of any legal evidence to support such a step, could not do so.
Tatlock's theory was altogether different, and did not in any way incriminate George Sandeman, notwithstanding that there was a very strong public feeling against him. But according to the theory the motive was not desire for gain, but revenge.
It had been stated that on the day of his death David seemed restless and strange in his manner, and that he went up the valley in search of a stray pony and was seen no more. The latter part of the statement, however, was inaccurate, as Margaret Westcroft said her master came in at tea-time, and told her he had not found the pony. At that time Sarah Giles was in the dairy making some butter, and all the men were out on various duties. David was silent and moody. He swallowed down some tea, and, putting on his hat, told his housekeeper he was going into the barn to get some rope which was stored there, and which he wanted. Mrs. Westcroft was bread-baking at the time, and she went on with her duties, thinking no more of David until the hands assembled for their supper, when she inquired where Mr. David was, but nobody could answer the question. He was expected to put in an appearance shortly, but he didn't. This caused no uneasiness, because it was deemed probable he had gone to smoke a pipe with a neighbour who lived lower down the valley, about a couple of miles away, where he was in the habit of spending a good deal of his time.
Tatlock's theory was that David did go into the barn on that fatal evening; that he was murdered in the barn, carried up to the granary, thrown into the bean chest, and covered over at once with the handy turf, the winter stock of which was kept there. Here, again, the idea of revenge stood out prominently, and the deduction was that the murderer was well acquainted with the premises. The barn stood detached from the main building. All the farm-hands being out in the fields, the criminal had no fear of disturbance in his deadly work. Having committed the crime, he could easily slip off and decamp over the hills. One of the most curious and suggestive points in the whole of the case was the fact of the criminal having used such an antiquated weapon wherewith to commit the crime.
Having worked out his theory in his own way, Tatlock proceeded to act upon it. Firstly, the motive of the crime was—revenge. Secondly, the criminal must have been well acquainted with the place. Thirdly, he had carried out his fiendish work by means of an obsolete weapon, such as could only be met with in an old curiosity shop or a museum.
Having determined the constitution of the Sandeman household at the time of the crime, Tatlock next proceeded to learn something of it antecedent to that event, and his inquiries brought to light that about a year before David was slain the brothers had had in their employ, as a sort of overseer, a man named Pierre Verne. He was believed to be a native of France, but had been the greater part of his life in England or Scotland, and had occupied himself with agriculture. It was known that he used to receive letters from France. He was clever in his way, but was singularly taciturn and reserved, and never talked of himself or his past. He and David did not get on very well together, and he was discharged. This was significant on the face of it, though it did not necessarily follow that Pierre Verne was the murderer. But Tatlock certainly deemed it his duty to try and track him. In the course of an interview Tatlock had with George Sandeman in Perth, the latter made a remark to the effect that he believed there had been some love-making between Verne and Sarah Giles. As previously stated, Giles was a good-looking young woman. She was regarded as a coquette—giddy, flighty, vain. She was fond of going to Carlisle—the nearest town—whenever she got the chance, and it was remembered that when she was away Verne frequently went away too. From this there was but one inference to be drawn—Giles and Verne were lovers. In this little fact Tatlock discerned certain potentialities.
'Search for the woman,' say the French, 'whenever there is mischief'; and wiseacres are never tired of declaring that a woman is at the bottom of all mischief. Poor woman! Many sins are laid at her door, but as woman inspires men with sentiments of love, and love is very jealous, such crime as that of the Gravel Pits Farm might have been the result entirely of jealousy. But jealousy of whom? According to the theory, the crime was the result of revenge. Jealousy often prompts revenge. If it did so in this case, was it not allowable to suppose that David Sandeman sought to insinuate himself between the passionate Frenchman, Pierre Verne, and the pretty, giddy Giles?
Turning his attention to Carlisle, Tatlock discovered in the most populous part of the town a tea and cake and sweetie shop, kept by an old lady, Margaret Janwick by name, and her daughter, Harriet. It was a small shop, but did a thriving business, and Mrs. Janwick and her daughter made a comfortable living. Well, Sarah Giles and Harriet Janwick—they were about the same age—had been great chums. It was to the Janwicks that Miss Giles always went when in town; and, as Harriet was a pretty girl, like her friend, fond of a little flirtation and amusement, the two young women went about a good deal. So much did Tatlock unearth, and through it he unearthed a good deal more.
Harriet Janwick possessed a photograph of Sarah Giles and Pierre Verne. They had been taken together during one of their visits to the town.
Here, then, was direct evidence that they had sweet-hearted. They were standing arm-in-arm, Sarah decked out in her Sunday best, Pierre wearing kid gloves, and holding a stick and his hat in his hand. On the back of the photograph was written 'To dear Harriet, from Sarah.' Pierre was a somewhat striking-looking man, but with rather a saturnine expression. He had a good forehead, and an intelligent face, which was decidedly French in its type.
Although Verne and Sarah were ostensibly sweethearts, Miss Janwick did not think her friend cared very much for him. He was absurdly jealous, and grew angry if she even looked at another man. Nevertheless, on one occasion, when they had had a serious quarrel, Sarah wept fit to break her heart.
Miss Janwick confessed that she could never quite make Sarah out. At one time she seemed very serious; and at others she was so flighty and giddy that it was impossible to get her to rivet her attention on anybody or anything. But some little time before Gravel Pits Farm was vacated, Sarah seemed to entirely change in her nature. She grew more thoughtful, more sedate; lost interest in the things that before had pleased her, and appeared to be suffering from dejection. Harriet Janwick had never been able to get a satisfactory explanation of this, though she thought it was due to Pierre Verne having gone away. After his departure Sarah rarely spoke about him, but she did impart to her friend the information that he had gone to Bordeaux, his native town, where he had obtained a situation in some wine merchant's office.
After he had gone away Sarah's visits to Carlisle became less and less. The very last time that she went, that is so far as Miss Janwick knew, was then David Sandeman's strange disappearance was causing a good deal of talk. She visited her friend that afternoon, and stayed to tea. She seemed unusually depressed and nervous, and once or twice burst into tears. When Harriet pressed her for the cause of this, she exclaimed petulantly:
'Oh, nothing. I'm ill, that's all.'
Harriet had never seen her in such a strange mood, and naturally felt much distressed. She was going to visit a cousin, and asked her friend to accompany her, but Sarah replied:
'No. I must get back to that horrid farm; but I wish I hadn't to go, for I hate the place.'
'Why, you used to say you liked being there,' said her friend.
'Yes, so I did one time; but those were happy times.'
'In what way have they changed?' asked Miss Janwick.
'Oh, lors!' exclaimed Sarah half angrily, 'there's no need to ask that. The farm's going to be given up, as you know, and we've all got to clear out. That's one reason. And then Pierre's gone, and David Sandeman's disappeared. Everything's changed.'
Harriet accepted that explanation as a good and sufficient reason for her friend's unhappiness, and, sympathising and condoling with her, she and her mother persuaded her to stay with them all night. She yielded to the persuasion, and later on the two girls and a young man, an acquaintance of Harriet's, went to see a travelling theatrical company.
The piece in which the company appeared was the sensational melodrama of 'Maria Martin,' based upon a well-known case many years ago, in which a young girl was foully murdered in a barn by a man named Martin. During the performance, much to the alarm of her friends, Sarah Giles fainted, and, as Harriet said, 'Sarah seemed about the last girl in the world to faint'; for she had always seemed so strong, so sturdy, with robust, country health. Nevertheless, she went off on that particular night, and had to be carried out into the open air, where brandy was administered to her. When she recovered she said she thought the heat had overcome her. She and Harriet went straight home, and all night Sarah seemed so uneasy and restless that her friend was much concerned about her. The next morning, as the two girls lay in bed talking, the conversation turned upon the mysterious disappearance of Mr. David Sandeman, and she incidentally mentioned that he had made love to her.
'I wonder what has become of him,' remarked Harriet.
'The Lord knows,' answered Sarah with a sigh.
'Perhaps he's been murdered,' suggested Harriet.
This suggestion caused Sarah Giles to cover her face with her hands and burst into tears; and when her friend wished to caress and soothe her, she pushed her away with her elbow, and in sobbing tones said:
'Oh, what a horrible thing you are! Whatever put such an idea as that into your head?'
Miss Janwick tried to justify the suggestions she had thrown out by saying that the valley was so lonely, and referring to a local tradition that a farmer had been murdered in that very valley by a tramp some thirty years before. The end of it all was Sarah Giles sprang out of bed and began to dress herself, and, in the performance of her toilet, she seemed to brighten up and become more like her old self, while during the breakfast she was quite merry. She parted from her friends at noon, and left the town with the country carrier, who was going part of the way, and had offered to give her a lift as far as he went. She promised the Janwicks she would come in the following week on market day, and visit them. Whether she came or not they did not know. Anyway she did not visit them, and they had never set eyes upon her since, nor had she even condescended to write. Both mother and daughter referred to her in somewhat bitter terms, considering she had been ungrateful, as they had shown her much kindness and hospitality.
These new facts which Tatlock had elicited set him pondering. They certainly seemed to throw some light on hitherto dark places. Sarah Giles's conduct and changes of mood, as described by the Janwicks, was full of significance, and her fainting during the performance of Maria Martin' was particularly so. It was like a handwriting on the wall, and yet it was not quite easy to interpret it. It was difficult to suppose that she committed the murder herself. Nevertheless, her behaviour in Carlisle subsequent to the murder indicated apparently some guilty knowledge.
Although Tatlock had managed to put together several parts of the puzzle, the key pieces were still wanting, and he deemed it his duty to betake himself to Bordeaux, armed with that photograph with the inscription on the back:'To dear Harriet, from Sarah.' Of course, the first thing he did was to present himself at the head police quarters, where he was supplied with some information which was almost a story in itself.
Pierre Verne was in the employment of a large firm of wine growers. His duties lay out of doors in connection with the cultivation of the vines. Some time after he had held this position he was joined by a young woman from England who did not speak French, and she was understood to be his wife. They lived together in a small cottage just on the outskirts of Bordeaux. Within a very few weeks of her arrival a baby was brought into the world prematurely, and made all haste to get out of it, for it died within a week of bronchitis. Soon after that event it became known to the workpeople on the estate that Pierre Verne and his English wife were leading a cat-and-dog sort of life. The young woman seemed very unhappy, and it was believed that Pierre was in the habit of beating her. Their cottage was situated in a lonely spot at the edge of a wood. One day Pierre went about inquiring for his wife. He said she had taken herself off, and he wanted to bring her back. But nobody could give him any information. Nobody had seen her. In a few days he ceased to talk about her, and for a time the people forgot the circumstance, until one evening Verne beat a boy who was working in the vineyard mercilessly for some petty fault. The women who were weeding were furious, and one exclaimed:
'I believe now you murdered your poor wife.'
Perhaps as far as she was concerned it was only a meaningless taunt, but it suited the incident and the occasion; it was taken up and repeated by others. He was jeered and hooted, and the suggestiveness of the taunt appealed so forcibly to the people that they talked about it until it seemed to them it must be true. It came to the ears of the police, and they called upon Pierre Verne for some explanation about his wife's sudden disappearance.
His answers were considered so unsatisfactory that he was arrested. Then the murder idea strengthened. It became a sort of phantom that lashed people into a fury against the prisoner. The man was examined according to French procedure. A Judge of Instruction (Juge d'Instruction) examined him, interrogated him pitilessly again and again and again, but throughout the ordeal the man maintained his innocence. The police made the most determined and exhaustive efforts to get evidence. For a long time they were baffled, until at last Verne's nerves gave way. He could stand the torture no longer. The living death he had endured during these months of incarceration maddened him, and, sending for the judge, he laid bare his soul.
Yes, he had killed Sarah, and her body was buried in the wood above his cottage. Sure enough, there it was found. He had strangled her with a silk handkerchief, which was still round her throat. From that moment he lapsed into silence. They could get nothing further from him. Through the awful ordeal of trial he passed silently and apparently indifferent. He heard his doom pronounced unmoved. He endured the suspense and terror of the weeks that intervened between the sentence and the fall of the knife without a murmur or complaint, and when suddenly in the grey dawn of morning he was awakened from his sleep, and told to have courage, he preserved his stoicism. It was only when he went forth and heard the roar of the rabble, and glancing upward saw the gleaming steel blood-red in the light of the dawning day, that he betrayed his human nature. He shuddered and fretted, and sobbed out twice:
'I loved her, I loved her!'
An instant later there was a spurting of hot blood, a mighty shout from the surging mob, and a severed head lay in a basket of sawdust. Justice had smitten! The tragedy was done!
That Pierre Verne slew poor, misguided Sarah Giles there was not the shadow of a doubt. But did he slay David Sandeman? it will be asked.
Well, here are two little items that Tatlock brought to light. From a museum in Bordeaux a flintlock pistol, said to have belonged to Napoleon the First, had been stolen. How, by whom, and when it was not known.
At the time of the crime at the Gravel Pits Farm, Pierre Verne was absent from Bordeaux. He had obtained leave of absence to go to England, where he said he had some business to settle.
The flintlock pistol with the damascened barrel and inlaid stock was identified by the museum people, and returned to them by Tatlock. Circumstantial evidence, then, convicts Pierre Verne of having killed David Sandeman. Sarah Giles in all probability was a party to the crime. At any rate, she knew of it.
Why did Verne kill Sandeman?
Because he was jealous; because Sandeman was his rival; because he desired to be revenged. Why did he kill Sarah Giles? To this question the reader can supply the answer. 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.' Through the instrumentality of man the Lord had avenged the double crime.
IT was towards the end of autumn that Mr. John Duff; representative of a very large and well-known Scottish house, trading principally in woollen goods and plaids, left Edinburgh on a periodical business visit to London. Mr. Duff was a commercial traveller of great sagacity and high repute, who had been on the road for the same firm for about twenty years. He was still young, not over forty, and after business was as fond of enjoying himself as most men. In business he was punctilious and attentive. He put up, as usual, at a very quiet but central hotel of a highly respectable character.
On the evening of his arrival Mr. Duff, having dined well, adjourned to the smoking-room to enjoy his cigar, and there he made the acquaintance of a fair-spoken, pleasant, affable gentleman of American nationality, as evidenced by his twang. Some commonplace remark on the part of the American struck the keynote, and he was so pleasant, so full of information, and so desirous, as he said, of forming some friendships in London, which he was visiting for the first time, that Mr. Duff quite took to him, and having exchanged cigars and stood drinks for each other, the American informed his new acquaintance that he bore the somewhat curious and quaint name of Risdom Tillstone. He expressed himself as delighted to know Mr. Duff, and said it was on his programme to visit Scotland.
The acquaintanceship thus begun speedily ripened, so that in the course of two or three days strangers might have supposed the two men had known each other for years. Risdom Tillstone, who was between thirty and forty, was insinuating, self-assertive, and persevering, but withal exceedingly gentlemanly and polished. About the third evening after the beginning of the acquaintance—which was to lead to such extraordinary results—had begun, Mr. Duff had gone to Tillstone's bedroom by his request to look at some American photographs which Tillstone was desirous of showing him. In lifting these photographs from his trunk he inadvertently pulled out a small yellow star attached to a morsel of blue ribbon, and it fell to the floor. Duff stooped, picked it up, and handed it to his new-found friend. The star was evidently made of metal—probably silver, yellowed in some way. As Tillstone held out his hand to receive it a strange expression came into his face. It was a mixed expression of confusion and alarm. He took the ornament, or whatever it was, and thrust it into his pocket, without any comment. The incident was so trifling in itself that Mr. Duff attached no importance to it, but casually remarked:
'Is that a foreign decoration?'
'Yes,' answered Tillstone curtly; and, with the obvious intention of preventing any further questions on the subject, he began to talk of the photographs.
Naturally Mr. Duff was a little curious to know Mr. Tillstone's calling, and with Scottish bluntness asked him point blank:
'What business are you in?'
Tillstone smiled sweetly and blandly as he replied, with a certain significance of intonation:
'I am living the life of a gentleman.'
'But you have been in business, I suppose?'
'Oh, well, yes, a little, I guess. My father, the Judge, farmed somewhat in the State of Nebraska, and I helped him. I guess I had an elegant time.'
It was clear that this was another subject Mr. Tillstone wished tabooed, as he quickly began to talk about something else. For a moment or two Mr. Duff had some thoughts that the American was 'a bit fishy,' but he came to the conclusion, on reflection, that he was a type of a very large class of Yankees, who, having made a 'pile,' come over to 'do Europe.' They generally give themselves airs, and talk 'big,' about their 'people,' and so forth, and seem to have a soul above trade. Duff, however, on the whole, had a high opinion of Tillstone.
Of course, Mr. Duff; having to attend to his business, did not see much of his friend during the day, but their evenings were generally spent together, and, as the Yankee phrased it, they 'had a good time.' A week after the acquaintance began Mr. Risdom Tillstone expressed a strong wish to go to a bal masque advertised to take place at Covent Garden Theatre in a few days, and he asked Mr. Duff to accompany him. It was to be an exceptionally grand ball, and not only a very large but a very select attendance was expected, as the tickets were fixed at two guineas for gentlemen and a guinea for ladies. Mr. Duff somewhat demurred at the price, but his friend offered to pay for him. Duff of course would not permit that, and decided to go. When the night arrived and they were dressed and waiting in the entrance of the hotel while a cab was being whistled up, Duff noticed that his companion had the yellow star pinned to his breast. Possibly it would not have attracted his attention had it not been for the little incident in the bed-room when the star fell on the floor, for it was an insignificant-looking thing, and not conspicuous.
'I see you are wearing that order,' he remarked.
'Yes,' answered Tillstone sententiously, and he jerked his cloak over it, as though he did not wish it to be seen. And in the way in which he uttered the 'yes' there was a suggestion of annoyance.
Nothing daunted, Duff asked: 'What order is it?'
'Oh, nothing of any consequence. But come on, here's the cab.'
This reply set Duff pondering. If it was an order of merit, why was the American so chary of talking about it? He could hardly be accused of undue modesty. And as he did not like to talk about it, why did he wear it? This was a pretty little problem, which, shrewd as he was, Mr. Duff could not solve, and the arrival at the theatre put the matter out of his mind for the time being.
A dance had just finished, and the revellers were promenading the stately ballroom. Duff and his American acquaintance were sauntering slowly amongst the gay and chattering throng, when they came upon a gentleman in conversation with a lady in a domino. Of course, there was nothing in that to attract attention, but the gentleman wore on his breast a small yellow star attached to a piece of blue ribbon. It was a facsimile of the star which Duff had seen fall on the floor in the bedroom of the hotel and again that evening pinned on the breast of his companion. But for that fact he would not have noticed it. But what followed was still more curious; each man wearing the star put his right hand up to his forehead as if making a military salute, and it was done so rapidly it would have escaped the observation of most people. Then the left hand was placed over the breast with equal rapidity. These were evidently signs.
'Excuse me for a few minutes,' said Tillstone, 'I fancy I see a countryman of mine over there,' and he walked quickly away, and in a few moments the strange man followed him.
Duff was amazed, and he watched them, saw them come together, converse for a few minutes, then separate, and Tillstone returned to his friend, who was on the point of asking for some explanation, but checked himself, restrained his curiosity, and remained silent. Necessarily the tiny yellow star with its morsel of blue ribbon now interested Duff very much, and he resolved to try and find out, if possible, at some more opportune moment, what the mystery was.
Two mornings later, while partaking of his breakfast—the American was still abed—he never put in an appearance until midday—Mr. Duff was glancing through a daily paper, as was his wont, when, by the merest chance imaginable, his eye lighted on the following mysterious announcement in the agony column:
Yellow Star. The Ditch. 27. 10.
Mr. Duff, having got yellow star on the brain, was peculiarly interested in the conundrum embodied in this advertisement, but he could make nothing of it. He cut the advertisement out, however, and put it into his pocket-book. A day or two later, his business in London completed for the time being, he prepared to take his departure. Mr. Tillstone was very effusive when it came to saying good-bye, and promised to look him up in Edinburgh in a week or two.
Mr. Duff had been back in Edinburgh a couple of days when his attention was drawn to the following paragraph in the daily paper:
It may be remembered that some time ago it was announced that the daughter of a Mrs. Leslie, residing in one of the suburbs of London, had apparently been spirited away. Miss Alice Leslie, who was fourteen years of age, used to go daily to a young ladies' school in the neighbourhood. One afternoon she failed to return home as usual, and, in spite of every inquiry, no trace of her could be found. The distracted mother made repeated appeals through the press, and offered a reward of one hundred pounds for the girl's recovery. It has now been allowed to leak out that Mrs. Leslie received an anonymous letter saying that her daughter was safe and sound, and would be restored to her home on the mother consenting to pay a thousand pounds. The writer went on to say that if she failed to pay the money she would never hear of her child again, and if she made the contents of the letter known to anyone it would be the signal for her daughter being put to death. If she was willing to pay the money, she was to be at a certain spot at an hour named, with a cheque in her pocket payable to bearer, and in exchange for that cheque she would receive her daughter.
Mrs. Leslie, who is a wealthy lady—a fact evidently known to the miscreants concerned in the abduction—was so distressed at the threat contained in the letter, that, without consulting anyone, she wrote a cheque to bearer, and went to the rendezvous, a secluded spot in the public park. After waiting some little time she was accosted by a well-dressed woman, closely veiled, who inquired if she was Mrs. Leslie. On receiving answer in the affirmative, the woman demanded to see the cheque, and, the demand being complied with, the woman conducted her to another part of the park, where a man and another woman were waiting with the girl. By this time it was quite dark, and Mrs. Leslie was so overjoyed at meeting her daughter again that she readily parted with the cheque, and failed to take any means to identify the wretches who had taken part in the dastardly conspiracy, and they all disappeared. The cheque was presented the next morning as soon as the bank opened, and the money was paid in gold. This extraordinary story seems incredible, but we have taken steps to verify its accuracy. It appears that Mrs. Leslie, two or three weeks after the recovery of her daughter, mentioned the circumstance to a friend, who strongly persuaded her to communicate with the police. This was done, and every means have been taken to trace the wretches concerned, but so far without result. As it turns out that there have been several cases of the kind during the last year or two in various parts of the country, we understand that Mr. Tyler Tatlock, the well-known detective, has been commissioned to try and bring the guilty parties to book.
According to Miss Leslie's account, while on her way from school she was accosted by a lady-like woman, who inquired if she was Miss Leslie. The woman then said that Mrs. Leslie had been taken suddenly ill, and was anxious that her daughter should hurry home. With great kindness, as it seemed, the woman volunteered to drive her there, and, strangely enough, a cab was waiting close by. Into this cab the distressed girl and the woman got, but instead of being driven home the girl was taken to a house some five miles away. When she began to get anxious, on realising that she was not going in the direction of her home, the woman told her it was all right, and opening a satchel she carried she took out a small scent-bottle, containing a white fluid, which she poured on a hand-kerchief, and she suddenly placed the handkerchief over the girl's mouth and nostrils. Miss Leslie after that became insensible, and remembered nothing more until she found herself lying on a strange bed with the woman sitting beside her. The whole story is so remarkable that we deemed it our duty to thoroughly investigate it before giving it publicity, and we can now vouch for the facts as we have detailed them.'
The foregoing sensational story emanated from one of the well-known press agencies, which gave it an importance that otherwise would have been lacking. Mr. Duff read it with an interest begotten by the unusual features of the case, and yet, despite the authority of the agency in question, he was rather disposed to believe it was the emanation of some enterprising liner on the look-out for good copy. Anyway, Mr. Duff's interest was only of a passing nature, and soon he had forgotten all about it.
In due course, and in accordance with promise, Mr. Risdom Tillstone arrived in Edinburgh, and was welcomed by his friend. He put up at one of the best hotels, and Mr. Duff devoted his evenings to him. At the end of a week they parted, as Duff had to journey to Manchester, so he wished his friend good-bye, and left him in Edinburgh. As he travelled south and opened his daily paper he came across the following advertisement:
But for what had gone before this would have had neither meaning nor interest for him, but to his mind 'Yellow Star' had some deep significance, and for the first time he began to think seriously that Tillstone was an adventurer. This opinion was strengthened when he heard that a lady staying in the hotel in Edinburgh where Tillstone had stayed had lost a jewel case containing over two thousand pounds worth of jewels, chiefly diamonds. The report said that the case had evidently been taken from her room one afternoon while she was absent shopping with some friends. A Mr. Risdom Tillstone, an American gentleman who was staying in the hotel, also complained that he had lost a valuable pair of sleeve-links and three diamond shirt-studs. No arrests had been made, and the police seemed baffled. The name of the lady who had been robbed of her jewels was given as Mrs. Combe Phillips, wife of the Mayor of an English provincial town. Her son was studying for the medical profession at the college in Edinburgh, and she had gone there to see him.
After considerable reflection Duff wrote to this lady, and suggested that she should engage the services of Tyler Tatlock, who would recover her jewels if anyone could. He also wrote to Tatlock, mentioning his suspicions to him, and told him what he knew about Tillstone. Adopting Duff's advice, Mrs. Phillips communicated with Tatlock, who saw in that yellow star a sign, as he believed, of deep significance. On commencing his investigations Tatlock found that Risdom Tillstone had departed from Edinburgh and left no address behind him. Nor had he done so at the hotel where he stayed in London. The detective had a long interview with Duff, who frankly confessed that he had been very much attracted at first by Tillstone, whose plausibility was marvellous, while his power of questioning, with a view to eliciting information likely to be of use to him, he had brought to a fine art. Duff could no longer doubt that he had been made a tool of, and had been induced to tell the Yankee a good many things likely to be of use to him in his nefarious transactions.
Tatlock had not long been engaged in this particular business before he established pretty conclusively that the American who called himself Risdom Tillstone had been directly or indirectly connected with the abduction of Miss Leslie, for the girl stated positively that during the time she was kept a prisoner, a little man, whom she took to be an Italian, came to her room and had a long talk with the woman who was practically her keeper in a foreign language the girl did not understand. And once while the man was gesticulating a good deal, and lifted up his arms, she noticed that he had a small yellow star attached to a morsel of blue ribbon pinned inside of his coat. There were now strong indications of the existence of a widespread conspiracy, with ramifications all over the country, while the badge of the conspirators was apparently a yellow star. In addition, the members were able to make themselves known to each other by signs, which fortunately Duff had observed when Tillstone met another yellow star man at Covent Garden Theatre during the bal masque. Inquiry further revealed the fact that on that very night at the theatre a gentleman was deprived of a very valuable gold lever watch and a purse containing nearly ten pounds, while a lady lost a gold hair-pin with a diamond stud. The inference was that this was the work of either Tillstone or his co-conspirator.
Altogether it was a pretty puzzle that Tatlock was asked to solve, and though with his usual caution he refrained from expressing any opinion, he was quite sanguine of being able to clear up the mystery, and he set himself to try and find a key to the advertisements which Duff had observed.
The Scottish advertisement carried its own meaning. There was nothing cryptic about it. But the London one stood in another category. To those for whom it was intended it was no doubt clear enough. To the outsider it was mystery, and yet the more Tatlock studied it the more he was convinced that it was an intimation of some kind couched in pretty plain language. All that was wanted was the key, but that key was, of course, everything. After much puzzling he decided that the numerals '27' and '10' had distinct meanings; that is, '27' represented a date, and '10' the hour of the day. The paper in which the advertisement appeared was dated the 24th of the month; 27 therefore meant the third day from that, and 10 either ten o'clock in the morning or ten o'clock at night.
So much seemed clear, and also that more than two were interested—a number, in fact—and they were scattered, and it was necessary to reach them through a medium which by common consent they had agreed to use for intimations, and the intimation was to the effect that there would be a meeting of the Yellow Star League. Such were Tatlock's deductions. It now remained to determine the place of the meeting.
'I've got it,' mentally exclaimed Tatlock at last. 'Shoreditch.' It was a common thing for Londoners in the East End to refer to Shoreditch as 'The Ditch' when it was more of a market thoroughfare than it is now, and on certain nights the channels of the street were occupied by costermongers' stalls with their flaring naphtha lamps.
Tatlock, then, had so far solved the problem. On the 27th of the month, at ten o'clock (probably at ten o'clock at night), there was to be a meeting somewhere in Shore-ditch. 'Somewhere,' however, was vague. It was a long thoroughfare of all sorts and conditions of buildings, from the huckster's shop to the warehouse. As it was not likely the Yellow Stars would hold their meetings in the open street, their place of assembly must necessarily be in a house. To determine the house was next to impossible without a clue. To get a clue was the task he set himself, and he re-solved on a bold expedient. It was nothing more nor less than the insertion of the following advertisement in the agony columns of all the daily papers:
Yellow Star. The Ditch. 14. 10.
If this carried the meaning which he thought it would the Yellow Stars would read it thus:—At Shoreditch, on the 14th inst., there was to be a meeting. So far so good, but something more was wanted. If Tatlock's surmises were correct, those who responded to the announcement would have to be spotted. How was that to be done? Shoreditch was not like a country road. A stream of humanity constantly flowed through it. How were the Yellow Stars who mingled in this stream to be distinguished? It was not to be expected they would proclaim themselves. Tatlock had wonderful eyes, and saw much that escaped others, but he couldn't be in two places at once. He couldn't see everything. He therefore secured the services of four trained men from Scotland Yard, and instructed them to observe closely anyone who seemed strange to the neighbourhood.
Although he took these precautions and made his arrangements, let it not be supposed that he relied too much on the possibility of the Yellow Stars walking openly into the trap he had set for them. If, as it seemed, they were an organised body, somebody would be in authority, and that somebody would hardly let his followers be misled by the announcement. So he set another trap, and a very artfully contrived trap it was. He had ascertained that when the Yellow Stars advertised the advertisement was sent to the respective offices by post, the cost being enclosed by means of postage stamps, and no address ever given. This, of course, argued great caution on the part of the band.
Now, it was highly probable that the leader or organiser—whatever he was—would see Tatlock's announcement, and would hasten at once to counteract its effect. He therefore arranged with the publishers, and in the interests of Justice, that if an advertisement was sent it was not to be inserted. The chances then were in favour of somebody calling or writing to know why the announcement had been left out.
Tatlock's surmise proved to be correct. Two days after his advertisement appeared the following was sent to each office:
Yellow Star. The Ditch. 14. 10. No. Beware.
In accordance with the arrangement it did not appear, and after the lapse of a day or two a letter, of which the following is a copy, was sent to each publisher:
137, Crampton Street, Pimlico, S.V.
Please inform me why my advertisement for agony column as follows:—'Yellow Star. 14. 10. No. Beware,' sent to you on 8th inst., with stamps to cover cost, has not been inserted. If amount sent was not sufficient, or whatever the cause of non-insertion, please let me know at once. Stamped addressed envelope enclosed.
(Mrs.) Maria Hutton.
The address given proved to be a little huckster's shop, and the proprietor made a trifle occasionally by allowing people to have letters addressed there. When a sufficient time had elapsed for a reply to be sent, a woman called at the shop and asked for Maria Hutton's letters. She was watched and followed to a very respectable-looking house in the Buckingham Palace Road, which was found to be in the occupation of a man known to the landlord as William Priestly. He had lived there a little over a year, paid his rent very regularly, and was supposed to be a commercial traveller, as he was very frequently away.
Needless to say Mr. William Priestly—all unknown to himself, of course—was very closely shadowed; as the French would say, 'placed under surveillance.' It was understood by the tradespeople in the neighbourhood that he was a married man. Anyway, a lady-like woman, who gave her name as Mrs. Priestly, was an exceedingly good customer. Butcher, grocer, baker, and others were patronised by her, and she paid cash for everything she got. Visitors to the house were numerous. They were of both sexes, and a good deal of eating and drinking went on.
It should be stated here that the reply sent to 'Maria Hutton,' which, of course, was a fictitious name, from the newspaper offices was to the effect that the stamps which had been received were insufficient to defray the charge. More were at once remitted, and by Tatlock's instructions the advertisement was inserted, as he was now confident he had got on the trail of the Yellow Stars. Almost immediately after their announcement appeared, the man who was known as William Priestly—a tall, well-dressed, gentlemanly sort of man—left London by the night train for Edinburgh. He proceeded to a self-contained house close to the Castle, where he was evidently well known, and where he put up. The house had been occupied for about a year by a Mr. and Mrs. Piper, who were supposed to be Americans. They received a good many visitors, and they often went away for days at a time. They kept no servants, and as they were regarded as being 'well-to-do people,' this fact was thought to be rather remarkable. A middle-aged woman, however, also an American, lived with them, and looked after the household affairs, and once a week a charwoman went to the house to clean up, but, strangely enough, there were two rooms she was never allowed to enter. Like Blue Beard's wives she was dying with curiosity to look into those rooms, but unlike Blue Beard's wives she was never afforded the opportunity, for whenever she was in the house the doors were locked and the key taken away.
Now it chanced that while Mr. Priestly was staying in the northern city there was another hotel robbery. It was not at the same hotel where Mrs. Combe Phillips was staying at the time she was robbed, but a well-known and deservedly popular commercial house. The sufferer on this occasion was the representative of a Birmingham whole-sale firm of jewellers, silversmiths, and electro-platers. His name was Reynolds, and a box of very valuable samples, worth over a thousand pounds, was carried off from his room during his temporary absence. He was only away an hour, and he had adopted the usual precaution of locking his door and leaving the key with the hall porter, but the door must have been opened with a duplicate key. It was the busy season, and the house was full. Of course, a police investigation took place immediately, but no results followed. The thief had carried out his work very cleverly, and left never a trace behind him. It appeared that for close on a year hotel robberies had been very frequent in Edinburgh, and though the police had made unusual efforts to try and discover the perpetrators they were in every case baffled. Servants and certain visitors in the different hotels had been suspected, but not an atom of evidence to justify an arrest could be got. Naturally there was a good deal of feeling amongst the hotel proprietors themselves, who thought the police were at fault, and the loss by the commercial traveller of his samples caused a very bitter outcry.
Now it chanced that at the time of this robbery Tyler Tatlock was in Edinburgh, and the reason it so chanced was that he was acquainted with a certain fact that was to lead to great results. The day following Priestly's arrival from the south he paid a visit to the Commercial Hotel to see a visitor there of the name of George Clark, described as 'of London.' When the robbery became known, Tatlock called upon the chief of police, and had a long interview with him. Within a very short time of his leaving the chief's office two arrests were made quietly and without fuss. The men arrested were Mr. George Clark and Mr. William Priestly, who, as may be supposed, were more than astonished. An hour after they were in safe keeping four police officers arrived at the house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Piper, armed with legal authority to look into those secret chambers which had so aroused the curiosity of the industrious charwoman, and into any other part of the establishment that they had a mind to. Mr. and Mrs. Piper waxed furious. They protested that they were highly respectable. They declared that if their privacy was outraged in such a way they would make somebody suffer for it. Such a thing as the proposed search of the house of such eminently respectable people could not be tolerated in a free country, and as citizens of the United States they guessed they would make the American Eagle screech to such a tune that the British Lion would hide his head and put his tail between his legs. Yes, there would be a fine old rumpus if the police dared to take such a liberty. In spite of all these awful threats, the police had the audacity to dare, for a magistrate's warrant is a powerful instrument, and the outcome of the daring was a marvellous revelation, and the 'respectable' Mr. and Mrs. Piper went to keep Messrs. Clark and Priestly company, and the following day the newspaper press had some splendid copy, and there was more to follow.
To begin with, in those jealously-guarded rooms of the Piper mansions the commercial traveller's jewels were found. But they only represented a trifle of what was there. They were like the lost luggage rooms of a railway station. The contents were numerous and varied, and there wasn't a shadow of doubt that Piper and his lady had no legal claim of any kind to that vast and ill-assorted collection of valuable property.
From Edinburgh that night Tyler Tatlock went forth with a feeling of elation, and travelled as fast as the night express would take him to the British metropolis, and with the energy that characterised him when he had business on hand he soon secured the necessary warrant to justify a police visit to Mr. William Priestly's London house, where discoveries were made which made it certain that the clever detective had let in the light on one of the most gigantic and remarkable conspiracies of modern times. A league, known as 'The League of the Yellow Star,' had been called into existence. The members of it, men and women, were bound together by a remarkable oath, and they were governed by rules and regulations which everyone had to submit to. The ramifications of this infamous League spread out, not only through Great Britain, but over the Continent and through America. All the different branches were in touch with each other. The objects of the League were plunder. The punishment inflicted by the League for any betrayal of its secrets was—Death; and more than one mysterious murder, as was subsequently proved, was due to this astounding organisation. The meeting-place of the League—that is, the London branch of it—was, as Tatlock had so shrewdly guessed, situated in Shoreditch, where they had a warehouse where was found stored thousands of pounds worth of property, as miscellaneous in character as that taken from' the secret rooms of the Pipers' Edinburgh house. Every member of the League was bound to give up all he stole to the chiefs of the organisation, and in return he had a fixed income paid to him, together with a pro rata percentage on the proceeds of the sales of the articles he stole, or on the money he procured.
In addition, he was provided with clothes, with medical aid and comforts if he fell sick, and legal assistance should he unfortunately find himself face to face with a magistrate; and if he were imprisoned his wife and children, if he had any, or any relatives or dependents he liked to name, were supported during his absence. The abduction of Miss Leslie was traced to the League, as well as numerous other abductions and robberies. The gentleman known as Mr. Risdom Tillstone, whose acquaintance Mr. Duff had made in London, was not captured; but there is little doubt that it was he who stole Mrs. Combe Phillips' jewels in Edinburgh. Every member of the League had a small yellow silver star which he could wear at his discretion. This was the badge and sign. If two members met, and were unknown to each other, they could prove themselves true Leaguers by certain signs, consisting of a sort of military salute with the right hand, and the placing of the left hand over the heart, and drawing the right thumb down the breast. Not the least remarkable part of this remarkable organisation was the fact that its members were men and women of more or less culture. In its ranks in London were broken-down lawyers, seedy barristers, a disgraced clergyman, a doctor or two, and many other men and women who had once occupied respectable stations in life.
Those who are interested in knowing what the result of the trials of the prisoners was against whom crime was proved are referred to the records of the period. Tyler Tatlock's duties, as far as the League was concerned, ended with its exposure, but he received thanks and substantial acknowledgments from various quarters; and he was highly complimented on the skill and ability he brought to bear in unravelling the mystery of the Yellow Star.
THE sun of a summer morning streamed through the open window of a London house, and lighted up a sombrely furnished room. It was an unusually large room; the walls were lined with a wooden panelling, and there was a large old-fashioned fireplace, with a carved wooden mantel-piece, on which stood some trumpery ornaments, but over it was suspended a small oval-shaped sixteenth-century mirror. In striking contrast to this some cheap and vulgar coloured prints were hung on the walls. Nor was this the only incongruity, for old and modern furniture were mixed without any regard for taste or art.
In a spacious chair, in an attitude of profound thought, sat a man, his left elbow leaning on the arm of the chair, his index finger laid upon his temples. His eyes, scarcely visible, seemed fixed on space.
The sunlight streaming in fell upon a ponderous mahogany wardrobe, the door of which stood open. On the floor of the wardrobe was a large blotch as of spilled liquor, of a reddish-brown tint, and in the immediate front of the wardrobe the carpet bore a similar stain, although not so easily detected as that in the wardrobe. And the stain was the stain of blood—of human blood. It had soaked into the carpet and was not yet properly dry, and if the hand had touched that part it would have been reddened. There were two windows in the room. Opposite the one that was not opened stood a quaint four-post bedstead. The bedclothes were turned down. The bed had evidently been occupied recently, and the undersheet was a ghastly sight, for it was stained with a huge patch, irregular and uneven. The stain was also a stain of blood—human blood. The pillows were splashed, and on one could clearly be traced the impress of blood-wetted fingers.
The house was one of the large old-fashioned residences which are still to be found in the neighbourhood of the British Museum, and were the town abodes of fashion during the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century. But nowadays they are for the most part occupied by indigent people, who eke out their existence by letting apartments. Not a few of these noble houses have been the scenes of strange comedies of real life, and of grim tragedy, but no grimmer tragedy had surely ever been enacted than that which had produced those bloodstains in the sunlit room.
Yes, a tragedy! A woman, only four days agone, had been foully and cruelly slain as—there was no doubt about it—she lay in bed. And when life had ebbed away, or it might have been before it had gone, her body had been thrust into the wardrobe, where the blood continued to ooze before rigor mortis set in. Her age was guessed at about thirty-five. She was exceedingly well developed, well nourished, good-looking, with a great quantity of very dark, almost jet-black hair. It was a case of murder, and even at that moment when the sun filled the room with a brilliant light the coroner's jury was holding the necessary legal inquiry, and the mortal remains of the victim were lying stark and stiff in the parish mortuary.
Exactly a fortnight before the ghastly discovery of the woman's doubled-up body in the wardrobe, a 'gentleman' of fair speech and manners, and sartorially respectable, called in company with a lady, whom he represented as his wife, to inquire about apartments. The tenants of the house, a Mr. and Mrs. Ravel, took in boarding lodgers. The lady and gentleman were foreigners. They gave their names as Luchessi, which is Italian, but they spoke English well, though with an accent. They wanted two bedrooms and a sitting-room. The reason for two bedrooms was, as the gentleman explained, his sister was to arrive that night or the next morning. They were on a visit of pleasure to the British metropolis, and expected to remain for three or four weeks. The best bedroom in the house—the room in which the tragedy was enacted—was vacant, and a smaller one on the other side of the passage, and a small sitting-room on the first floor. 'Nothing,' said the gentleman, could suit them better.' The only meal they would take in the house, probably, would be breakfast. When asked for a reference or a deposit, the gentleman readily pulled out a well-filled purse, and paid a whole month in advance. Nothing could have been more satisfactory to the landlady, who was only concerned in getting her rent. Lodgers came and went. Hers was the class of house where people did not stay long. To her they were mere passing shadows, in whom she took no interest beyond the amount of rent they stipulated to pay during their temporary sojourn under her roof. The gentleman incidentally, as it seemed, remarked that he and his wife had little luggage with them, as, being merely on a flying visit, they had not burdened themselves with anything beyond what was absolutely essential.
Having settled the preliminaries, Mr. and Mrs. Luchessi went away, saying they would return in the evening. Accordingly, about seven o'clock, they drove up in a four-wheeled cab with a third person, a young woman, who was represented as the husband's sister, and whose name was given as 'Miss Bella Luchessi.' They had with them a small portmanteau, a couple of handbags, and a bundle of rugs. Having deposited their things in their respective rooms, they went out almost immediately, and did not return until midnight.
As the day went on, the landlady felt very satisfied with her new guests, although she thought they were perhaps a little eccentric and unduly reserved. They never associated with anyone else in the house. They were quiet, apparently shy, and gave no trouble. They seldom rose before midday. Then they partook of breakfast, which invariably consisted of coffee and bread. After that they went out, and generally returned late. So much and little more did the landlady know of her foreign visitors when the household was stunned by the discovery of the crime. At noon on the day of the discovery the Luchessis had not appeared. Nor were there any signs of them at one o'clock. A chambermaid named Alice Worthington thereupon tapped on Mr. and Mrs. Luchessi's door, and, getting no response, she returned in about a quarter of an hour with the same result. Something induced her to turn the handle. The door, to her surprise, was not locked. She peeped into the room. It was empty. The bed was disarranged, and there was some confusion of portions of the furniture. The girl's attention was drawn to the pillows, which seemed stained in a suspicious manner. She turned the upper clothes down, and started back with horror as she saw that the sheet was saturated with blood. Scarcely able to repress a scream, she tore down breathlessly to her mistress and made known what she had seen. Upstairs went Mr. and Mrs. Ravel to verify the statement, followed by the girl. Yes; it was true enough. The sheet was wet with blood, which had soaked through to the mattress. The landlady ran off to Miss Luchessi's room. That was empty too, but there was no blood there. A scream rang through the house. She rushed back to the big bedroom, to find that her servant had fallen to the floor in a fainting fit, while her husband stood almost spellbound. He had, not knowing what he was going to reveal, opened the wardrobe door, and there, doubled up, was the body of Mrs. Luchessi.
'Murder; my God, murder!' seemed to thrill through the air and fall on the ears of all, and there was an instinctive shrinking back and a general shuddering.
It is an ugly word, no matter when and where uttered. But when, as in this case, it is the exclamatory outburst of horror begotten by the sight of the victim and the victim's blood, its ugliness is intensified. Mr. Ravel recovered his presence of mind.
'Run quickly and get hold of a policeman,' was his order; and the servants, as if only too glad to hurry away from that now accursed room, went pell-mell down the stairs. Then the man picked up Alice Worthington, bore her to a sofa in another room, and bade his wife attend to her, and he himself went down to the street door, where he awaited the arrival of a constable, to whom he quickly imparted the startling news. The two went upstairs, and in a few minutes a doctor, who lived close by, and had been summoned by one of the alarmed servants, followed them. He did not disturb the body, but satisfied himself that life was absolutely extinct. The three retired. Nothing in the room was disturbed. The door was locked, and an intimation of the occurrence conveyed without loss of time to the proper authorities, and in a very short time the telegraph wires were flashing the news of the crime to every seaport, every railway station in London, and every town of importance in the kingdom. From the first it was seen that the murder was one of a somewhat unusual character, and it was deemed probable that the suspected parties, being foreigners, would get out of the country with the least possible delay. Tyler Tatlock was communicated with, and he was urgently requested to try and get on the track of the fugitives.
The man referred to at the opening of this narrative as sitting in a thoughtful attitude in the room where the crime had been committed was Tyler Tatlock himself. He was endeavouring to work out a rational theory for the crime. To him it seemed clear that the murder was a deliberate and deeply-planned one. Three foreigners arrived with very little luggage—nothing but what they could conveniently carry about with them. That in itself was a suspicious circumstance when considered in connection with other things. The woman who passed as Bella Luchessi was, as seemed pretty evident, in league with the man, and if she did not actually kill the other woman she was an accessory to the crime. The object in placing the dead body in the wardrobe was not quite clear, except on one hypothesis. When the body was discovered life had been extinct, according to the medical report, about eight or nine hours. It was two o'clock when the discovery was made.
She had, therefore, probably been killed about six or even before. Anyway, the criminals had gone off without anyone in the house hearing them.
The victim had been stabbed to death as she lay in bed, and possibly while she was asleep. There were indications that the murderer was nervous, and his or her hand unsteady. The woman had been struck in the first instance on the right side, but the knife was turned by the ribs. Another blow had then been aimed full at the bosom, and the weapon had come in contact with the breast bone, the tip of the blade being broken off, and subsequently recovered during the post mortem examination. Notwithstanding that the weapon was now pointless it had been driven with great force into the left breast, and perforated the pericardium. There must have been a tremendous flow of blood from the three wounds, and Tatlock's deduction was that the body had been removed and placed in the wardrobe to prevent the blood soaking through the bed on to the floor, and so through to the ceiling of the room underneath.
Another deduction of his was this. The first and second blow was struck by a woman's hand—Bella Luchessi's. The third and fatal blow, in which great force must have been exerted, by the man. The weapon used was one common in Italy, Spain, and Portugal—a fine blade, about six inches long, shutting up in a handle like a clasp-knife. By touching a spring the blade can be made to fly out, and the knife then forms a dagger of a very formidable kind. This knife, very much bloodstained, had been picked up on the floor between the bed and the wall, showing pretty conclusively that the criminals had become confused, and had lost their heads. There was further evidence of this in a scent-bottle which had been capsized on the dressing-table. The glass stopper of the bottle had come out, rolled to the floor, and the contents of the bottle had been spilled. The scent was frangipanni, a perfume much affected by Continental women.
When the crime was committed the man was not dressed. He had drawn on his trousers afterwards, while his mind was confused and his nerves unstrung. Tatlock came to this conclusion from the fact that round about and beneath a cane-bottom chair at the foot of the bed several English coins were picked up. In drawing on his trousers the contents of a pocket had tumbled out, and he must have been so preoccupied that he did not observe that the coins had fallen. Amongst the money were two sovereigns, a half-sovereign, some silver and coppers. Now, unless a man had been suffering from great mental excitement, he would hardly have left this money scattered about the floor. But what was still stronger evidence of the condition of his mind was that with the coins was a small gold plate with three artificial teeth—front teeth—attached. Tatlock regarded that as of great importance as a clue, and he advised the authorities in describing the man to say that it was probable three of his front teeth were missing. Nothing else was left behind by the fugitives, except a hair-brush, found in the room occupied by Bella Luchessi, and an old travelling-rug. Both of these articles were of foreign make, as was the murdered woman's clothing, which was lying on a couch. The corsets, linen, and other articles were of good quality, and all foreign. The corsets bore the name of a Milan maker. The stockings were English, and had been worn for the first time. And a pair of almost new shoes had the name of a Bond Street shoemaker inside.
This man remembered the shoes being bought a week previous to the murder. A man and two ladies entered his shop, and one of the two ladies asked to see some shoes. She and her companions conversed with each other in a foreign tongue. The lady was very hard to please, and tried on many pairs of shoes before deciding. She was so long about the business that the patience of her companions became exhausted, and they went away, nor did they return. The lady remained in the shop nearly twenty minutes after they had gone. She paid for her purchase with a brand-new five-pound Bank of England note. As soon as this note came into his possession the tradesman, as was his wont in such cases, entered the number of it in a book kept for the purpose.
Such luggage as the fugitives had with them, they could possibly carry. They must have gone off at an early hour, before anyone was about except the servants, who at that time would be occupied in the kitchen and the breakfast-room.
In constructing his theory Tatlock decided that the probabilities were strongly in favour of the criminals having made their way at once to one of the railway stations from which trains started in the morning for the Continent. Now, there were no fewer than seven stations from which a morning 'boat train' left. The question was—Which one of those seven did they go to? The distance from the scene of the crime to the nearest station was relatively considerable, having regard to the fact that the Luchessis were carrying a bundle of rugs and wraps, a couple of hand-bags, and some odds and ends. Probably, therefore, they would go to the nearest cab-stand or hire a passing vehicle. Tatlock also decided in favour of Luchessi being the right name of the people, and for this reason. Assuming that the murdered woman had been deliberately and by preconcerted plan brought to England to be killed, if she had been asked to go under an assumed name her suspicions would have been aroused. There was also the likelihood of the younger woman really being the sister of the man, though, of course, there was something to be said against that theory.
Mr. and Mrs. Ravel testified that the victim always wore a profusion of jewellery. She had numerous rings on her fingers, rings in her ears, a costly gold watch and chain, brooches, and a string of valuable pearls which she used to wear in her hair when she went to a theatre. The landlady had been struck with the beauty of these pearls. But pearls, rings, brooches, everything had gone. Absolutely nothing was left in the victim's pockets. A wedding-ring was on her finger—it fitted too tightly to be removed. The one thing that Tatlock felt a difficulty in deciding was the motive of the crime, but a careful study of all the aspects of the affair left him no alternative but to decide that plunder was at the bottom of it.
Four days had passed, but never a trace of the fugitives had been obtained, and yet not for a long time had such a hue-and-cry been raised. Every paper, even the ultra-respectable ones which affected a pious horror of the sensational, made good copy out of the minutest detail they could lay hold of. And where nothing authentic could be obtained the wildest rumours were published. The public were morbidly eager for information, while the proprietors of the papers were eager for the public's pennies, and so the 'Tragedy in Blank Street' was served up every day ad nauseam.
The five-pound note which had been paid to the Bond Street shoemaker was the first thing to which Tatlock directed his attention. Inquiry at the Bank of England revealed the fact that the note was one of a number paid to the London branch of a French bank, having its head-quarters in Paris. Inquiry at this branch resulted in very important information. The day before the murder a lady entered the bank and presented three letters of credit, aggregating two thousand seven hundred and eighty-four pounds. The letters had been issued by a Milan bank in favour of one Signora Valetta Luchessi. The lady was alone, and, of course, she was asked if she was the Valetta Luchessi alluded to. She stated she was, and furnished satisfactory proofs of her identity. With the exception of ten five-pound notes, the whole of the money was, by her own request, paid to her in gold. She had brought with her a large wash-leather bag to receive it. As the bag was heavy, she requested the bank porter to carry it for her to a cab, which was waiting. The man did this, and he noted that seated in the cab were a lady and gentleman. As he opened the door and placed the bag on the seat, the gentleman said something to Mrs. Luchessi in a foreign language which the porter did not understand.
Tatlock had not much difficulty in finding the driver of this cab—a four-wheeler. But all the man could tell was that on the day in question he was waiting with his cab on the Bloomsbury stand, when a gentleman, accompanied by two ladies, hired him, and he drove them to the bank, and thence to the house where the murder was committed.
The Milan bank was communicated with by telegraph. But all they knew was that they had issued the letters of credit to Signora Valetta Luchessi, who had paid the money chiefly by Italian notes. They knew nothing of the lady, but she had incidentally mentioned that she was going on a pleasure trip with her husband to England. This induced the clerk who transacted the business for her to venture the remark that the sum of money she was taking with her was an unusually large one for such a journey. Whereupon she exclaimed:
'Oh, you don't suppose I'm going to spend all that, do you? I'm putting it in letters of credit by my husband's advice for safety. He says it's just as though I deposited the amount with a banker.'
The clerk was much struck by this remark, and thought the woman very simple. It was in his mind to suggest to her that it would be far wiser and safer to place the greater part of the money to a deposit account in her name, and have a cheque-book; but he refrained from giving expression to his thoughts, as, after all, it was no business of his.
The information thus furnished from Milan on the face of it corroborated Tatlock's theory that the murder was the result of a deep and organised plan, and his deductions now carried him several steps further. The clerk of the Milan bank considered the woman a simpleton. Tatlock came to the conclusion that she had been but recently married, and was entirely under the sway and influence of her husband. He had first of all persuaded her to purchase letters of credit. Then he took her to London that he might murder her, having first influenced her to reconvert her letters of credit into hard cash. A question that may here be asked can be anticipated. If he had so much influence over her, why murder her in order to gain possession of that which he could have had without taking her life? To answer this, Tatlock found it necessary to modify one of his conclusions, namely, that Bella Luchessi really was the supposed husband's sister. If the victim had been old and ugly, it would have furnished a reason for the man wishing to get rid of her; but she was a woman of considerable beauty, with an exceptionally fine figure, and Mrs. Ravel, the landlady of the house, said she had a charming personality. The servants also spoke very highly of her. What, then, induced the man to kill her?
Tatlock had now proved that the party had come from Milan, though it did not follow that they belonged to that city. And he felt pretty sure that Luchessi and his supposed sister would not venture to return to their own country, where they would run great risk of detection. At this stage of the proceedings an Italian who kept a restaurant in the Waterloo Road volunteered the information that one morning—the morning of the crime, as he believed—a man and a woman, Italians, arrived at his place very hot and exhausted, just as he was taking his shutters down. They had several packages and bundles with them, and they said they wanted some breakfast as soon as possible. He supplied their wants, and the man paid for what they had with a five-pound note, which the restaurant keeper had some difficulty in getting changed. His customers went away a little before eight. He had ventured to ask if they had been living in London long or if they had just arrived, but they showed not the slightest disposition to be communicative, although they were his compatriots.
For the information of those who are unacquainted with London, it may be stated that Waterloo Road is on the south side of the Thames, and in this road is now situated the terminus of the South-Western Railway. It at once occurred to Tatlock that their object in going to Waterloo was to take train for Southampton, whence they could get a steamer to Brest, Havre, Cherbourg, the Channel Islands, or to the West Indies, Brazil, or North America. He found a porter at the station who remembered having taken charge of some baggage for two foreigners, a man and woman, on, as he believed, the date of the murder, and his impression was, though he could not be sure, they left by the 9.30 Southampton train. Tatlock did not think it in the least degree likely that the fugitives would make for the Channel Islands, as it would be putting their own necks in a noose, and he rejected all the French ports in favour of America. He ascertained that a steamer left for New York the day following that on which the fugitives presumably arrived in Southampton, and inquiry at the office of the agents elicited the fact that on the day of their arrival a man and a woman booked two steerage passages by the vessel, in the name of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, but the description of them tallied with the description of the couple which Tatlock was so anxious to become acquainted with.
The telegraph cable had not at that time been laid across the bed of the Atlantic. But Tatlock found that by hurrying to Liverpool he could get the National Company's steamer Helvetia, which was timed to sail for New York that week. Her date of sailing only left him twenty-four hours in which to do the journey from Southampton to Liverpool, and make such hurried preparations as were necessary. He managed it, however, and feeling convinced that Mr. and Mrs. Brown were Luchessi and his 'sister' he steamed away in the Helvetia, which, not being a very fast boat, took nine days in which to accomplish the passage. The fugitives, therefore, had a good start, but the pursuer was confident of being able to trace them.
Mention has been made of two artificial teeth picked up with some coins from the floor of the room where the crime was committed.
Those teeth were front ones, and presumably Luchessi's. Apart from the inconvenience he would suffer from their loss, he could hardly fail to remember that their absence would make him conspicuous. His hurried flight from England left him no time to get new ones, and the chances were in favour of his going to a dentist in New York. Any way, Tatlock acted on that assumption, and he took steps to bring the matter under the notice of every dentist in the city, with the result that he ascertained that a Mr. Jabez Choate, practising as a dentist in the Broadway, received a visit from a foreigner who wanted two front teeth made quickly. He gave his name as Alfred Breda, and his address at an hotel in West Street. The teeth were made and paid for, and the transaction closed as far as the dentist was concerned. The payment was made in American money. At the West Street hotel a 'Mr. and Mrs. Breda' stayed for a few days, and the man inquired of the landlord where he could get a considerable amount of English gold and some bank notes exchanged for American currency. The landlord, in response, gave him an introduction to a New York money changer. Having completed their business, the couple left for Chicago by the night train. When they arrived they had not much luggage, but they made considerable purchases in the town, and amongst other things a large Saratoga trunk, which was checked through to Porkopolis.
To Chicago Tatlock sped in the track of the criminals. The American system of checking baggage made it easy to discover the fugitives, because the railway companies deliver it at the place where the owner is going to stay. In this instance it was forwarded to a hotel largely patronised by foreigners, and there the detective found 'Mr. and Mrs. Breda,' but neither answered to the description he carried with him. The woman was described as being very dark, the man as having a clean-shaven face. But Mrs. Breda was a blonde, fair hair and eyebrows. Mr. Breda had a full beard and moustache. This change in their appearance might have stood them in good stead had Tatlock not been at their heels. But one evening in company with two Chicago detectives he entered the billiard-room, where Breda was engaged in a game of billiards. Watching his opportunity, Tatlock suddenly butted against him, nearly knocking him down. Breda was indignant, and asked him what he meant by that. Tatlock roughly told him he should not have got in his way. Breda, who was much the more powerful man of the two, threatened to thrash him. Thereupon Tatlock seized him by the beard, tugging at it forcibly, and, as he anticipated, it came away in his hand. Breda made a dive for his hip pocket, where he had a revolver, but the other two detectives were on the alert, and seized him. He was quickly handcuffed, and he knew then he had been run to earth. The woman was next arrested, and the two were at once conveyed to the police station. An examination disclosed the two artificial teeth in the man's mouth, and the woman's hair was found to have been dyed. These two facts were sufficient to establish their identity, but when their baggage was searched the most ample corroboration was forthcoming. When Luchessi found that he was trapped, he became taciturn and moody; but the woman gave way to passionate and hysterical weeping, and she exhibited such nervous excitement that it was necessary to confine her in a strait jacket.
Several weeks elapsed before Tatlock was able to get the extradition warrant, and in the meantime Luchessi exhausted every form of law available to him to prevent his extradition; but at last the prisoners were handed over to Tatlock, and he conveyed them to New York, where he secured passages in a Liverpool-bound steamer. The woman was very ill, and became worse during the passage. The doctor told Tatlock that he did not think she would live to reach England. Her dangerous condition was made known to her, and with the fear of death upon her she made the following confession:
Luchessi was her lawful husband. He had been a courier for many years, and had made some money, with which he opened a restaurant business in his native town of Milan; but the business was not successful, and he failed. He had formed an acquaintance with a young woman of the name of Rosa Torrino, who had a little property. He suggested to his wife that he should pay court to this young woman, go through a mock marriage, get her to realise her property, take her to England, and there murder her. Mrs. Luchessi, being entirely under her husband's influence, lent herself to this dastardly plot, and agreed to pass as his sister. On the night of the crime poor Rosa Torrino was drugged, and Luchessi insisted on his wife committing the murder. She lost her nerve, and bungled, and he, seizing the broken knife from her hand, plunged it with great force into Rosa's heart. Torrino had formerly lived in England as a lady's maid, and spoke English well. Luchessi acquired great influence over Rosa, and induced her to convert her letters of credit into cash by telling her that they would all go to America and start a business of some kind. He persuaded her that it was better to take hard cash with them to the States, as in converting it into American currency a large profit could be made. The poor woman believed this, and played into the villain's hands.
After this confession Mrs. Luchessi rallied, but died about three weeks later in London.
Inquiry in Milan fully corroborated the wretched woman's story, and after a long and sensational trial, during which Luchessi was most ably defended by one of the foremost criminal counsel of the day, he was condemned, and sentenced to be executed. The sentence was duly carried out at the Old Bailey, and thus ended one of the most remarkable of modern romances of crime.
BY an extraordinary chance I was travelling one summer night from Marseilles to Paris by the 'Rapide,' when a blood-curdling crime was committed in the train.
From Avignon, seventy-five miles to the north of Marseilles, there is a long run of over seventy miles to Saint-Etienne: at least, that was the arrangement at the period I speak of. The time occupied was nearly two hours. At Saint-Etienne a ghastly discovery was made by some of the company's servants. In a first class compartment a well-preserved and even handsome woman of about fifty was found dead. She had been stabbed in the breast on the left side. She was elegantly dressed, and her things were soaked with blood. It was obvious that death must have been almost instantaneous, for she was still sitting in the corner of the compartment, her head leaning against the cushions.
In the same compartment was a man who seemed dazed and stupefied. His face was covered with blood which had trickled from a wound in his head and had saturated his shirt-front. The excitement necessarily caused by the discovery had attracted my attention and, I need scarcely say, aroused my interest, and, on making myself known to the officials, I was accorded the privilege of being allowed to see a little more than most of the other passengers, who crowded the platform, but were kept at a respectful distance from the blood-soaked carriage by a cordon of gendarmes.
The wounded man, having been stimulated with some brandy, gave the following account of the affair: The lady was a somewhat eccentric Englishwoman known as Mrs. Flora Pennell. The man was travelling with her as her courier. He was an Italian, by name Joseph Stradvari. He had travelled a good deal about Europe with her on various occasions. On this, her last earthly journey, they had been to Monte Carlo, and had remained there for three months. Mrs. Pennell was believed to be wealthy, but had a passion for gambling, and had several times visited Monte Carlo in order that she might enjoy the excitement of the tables. She was generally very fortunate, and during this visit had won something like one hundred thousand francs. She and her courier had travelled from Nice to Marseilles with two gentlemen whose passing acquaintance she had made at the Monte Carlo Casino. At Marseilles, just be-fore the Paris train started, the same two men got into Mrs. Pennell's compartment, and made themselves very agreeable; but, soon after leaving Avignon, the courier was suddenly stunned by a blow on the head. One of the two men had struck him with what he believed was a life-preserver. But whatever it was he was deprived of his senses, and remembered nothing more until he was revived at Saint-Etienne, and he learnt to his unspeakable horror that his mistress had been murdered.
He was able to give a detailed description of the two men, and the telegraph was at once called into requisition. A small leather case belonging to the lady was missing. The courier said that the case contained her jewellery and about five thousand pounds, he believed, in French notes principally. It was her intention on reaching Paris to convert her French money into a draft on her London bankers. They were to spend a week or so in Paris, and then proceed to London, where the lady had a house in Mayfair.
These details I gathered up during the forty minutes' wait at Saint-Etienne. The carriage in which the crime had been committed was taken off the train, and the courier was sent to the local hospital to have his wound dressed. I took my seat again in my own compartment, and the train was once more speeding north towards Paris.
An incident that comes under one's own personal observation appeals to one more forcibly than it otherwise would do. And so it was, I suppose, that I so far interested myself in the matter that I followed the particulars of the French investigations as they were given in the French papers; and when I read in some of the London morning journals a very inaccurate account of the affair, I sent a communication over my own name to the respective editors giving a plain, unvarnished statement of the facts so far as they had come under my own observation.
When three or four weeks had passed, I gathered that the French police had been unsuccessful in their endeavours to trace the criminals, but they proved pretty conclusively that the unfortunate lady had been robbed of even a larger amount than that given by Joseph Stradvari.
One morning, to my astonishment, I received a letter asking me to call at the house in Mayfair which, I learnt on the night of the crime, was the late Mrs. Pennell's London residence. The letter was signed 'Bertha Pennell.' As a matter of course I complied with the written request, and duly presented myself at the address named.
Miss Bertha Pennell was about thirty—an attractive, interesting-looking woman, dressed in deep mourning, and with a settled sadness of face that was pathetic.
I gathered from your letter in the papers, 'she began,' that you were travelling to Paris by the same train in which my poor mother was murdered, and so I thought I should like to see you. I don't know whether you are aware of it, but the French police have quite failed to throw any light on the crime. In compliance with their request I have been over to France three times to give them such information as I could about my mother. But, while they have made a great fuss and a show of doing something, I don't believe that they have given themselves very much trouble, possibly because the murdered person was a foreigner. Then, again, as there have been several robberies and murders on that line, there seems to be a desire to hush the whole affair up. Now, I want to know if you can help me in any way?'
'But you forget, Miss Pennell, I have no locus standi,' I answered. 'This crime was committed in a foreign country.'
'True. But, while you have no right to interfere, you are surely free to conduct an independent inquiry.' Presumably I am.'
'It is probable,' she went on, that the murderer will never be brought to justice in this world. But amongst the property stolen from my mother were a medallion portrait of my paternal grandfather, Admiral Sir John Pennell, and a massive gold repeater watch, which was personally presented to him by George III. My father set great store upon these things, and, as family heirlooms, they have a value beyond price for me. The portrait was painted on ivory, and set in smoked pearls and diamonds. I would give anything if I could recover these two articles.'
I gave Miss Pennell to understand that I was willing to make an attempt to realise her wishes, and, as soon as my arrangements permitted, I went over to France, and had an interview with the police officials at Saint-Etienne. At first they did not seem inclined to be very communicative, but I managed to win their confidence, and I was informed of what had been done. They had utterly failed to trace the two men who were alleged to have travelled with Madame Pennell from Monte Carlo to Marseilles, and subsequently, at the last moment, to have joined the Paris train, and to have got into the same compartment as Mrs. Pennell and her courier. Although the train was not a particularly crowded one on the night of the tragedy, nothing could be learnt about these two men. Neither the conductor of the train nor the ticket-collectors had any recollection of two men passengers being with Mrs. Pennell when the train left Marseilles. Joseph Stradvari had furnished a full description of them, but neither at Monte Carlo nor Nice could they be identified from the description, and yet Stradvari averred that they were in Monte Carlo all the time that he and his mistress were there.
This failure to trace the men seemed to me very remarkable, and another remarkable circumstance was that the railway company were able to account for every ticket issued at Marseilles for the Paris express on the night of the crime. Therefore, if the two men were in the train, they must have been without tickets. Needless to say that the weapon with which the murder was committed had remained undiscovered. Mrs. Pennell had been stabbed with a very long-bladed knife or dagger, which had gone clean through the heart. Great force had evidently been used. Now there was no doubt that the crime was committed after the train left Avignon, because the conductor swore that he saw Mrs. Pennell and her courier on the platform at that station. Between there and Saint-Etienne there was no stop, and as Mrs. Pennell, when discovered at Saint-Etienne, had been dead for more than an hour, the crime must have been committed almost immediately after leaving Avignon.
Having got all the information I could, I went on to Avignon, which is a town of some importance, with a population of something like fifty thousand. There, in a quiet and unostentatious way, I pursued my inquiries. The trains on leaving there, going north, do not get up any speed at first, as there is a big climb up a hill to a little place called Orange. It seemed to me, therefore, that the crime was committed before reaching Orange, as after that the speed at which the train would travel would make alighting from it a matter of such extreme risk that few would care to venture it. Now, the theory was that there were two men concerned in the outrage, and both these men had to effect their escape. That would have been comparatively easy before Orange was reached; afterwards very difficult. I therefore inclined to the belief that the woman was murdered after leaving Avignon and before reaching Orange. If two men escaped from the train, they would in all probability return to Avignon, for Orange was only a small place, and, as strangers, they would have been conspicuous there, and some information concerning them ought to have been forthcoming. But the French police had made exhaustive inquiries, and learnt nothing. For my own part, the more I pursued my investigations the more and more shadowy did these two men become. The description of the men as given by Stradvari had been very widely circulated, but had resulted in nothing. From Avignon I went on to Monte Carlo.
Mrs. Pennell had stayed at the Hotel de France, where she was well known. She lived well, was considered to be very rich, and was looked upon as a representative type of a certain class of eccentric English people whom foreigners regard somewhat with contempt. But Mrs. Pennell's eccentricities—which appeared to be nothing more serious than a masterful and independent disposition—were easily tolerated, for she had plenty of money, and spent it liberally. She entertained a good deal at her hotel, but I could not find anyone who could even vaguely identify the mysterious men who were supposed to have done the deed. Nor was she given, according to the French police theory, to associating with anyone who would accept her hospitality. On the contrary, she stood a great deal upon her dignity, and resented any attempts of mere adventurers to get on terms of familiarity with her. She kept Joseph Stradvari in his place, and always treated him as an inferior and a menial. Nevertheless, she fully availed herself of his services in every way. He wrote her business letters, he did her commissions, paid her bills, and kept her accounts. He was clever in his way, as he spoke four or five languages, was a good accountant, and a capable manager, but he was by no means a favourite. These small details represent the amount of information I picked up; and, having spent three weeks in a useless endeavour to strike a distinct trail, I returned to London with a certain idea taking definite shape in my mind.
Joseph Stradvari was resident in London. I learnt that from the French police. He was a native of Genoa, where his people lived, but he preferred to make his temporary home in London, as he said he was more likely to meet with employment in the British Metropolis.
Soon after my return I made it my business to call upon him, as I wished to hear a recital of the tragic story from his own lips. I found him occupying apartments in the house of a widow lady in a quiet street near Westminster Abbey, and a young Italian woman, represented as his wife, was living with him. The French police made no mention to me of his being married.
When I first called at his residence he was out, but Mrs. Stradvari came to inquire my business. That was my first introduction to her. She was of medium height, and, like most of her countrywomen, intensely dark, with black, fiery, passionate eyes. She spoke English indifferently, but French well, and one thing that struck me as singular was she evinced almost feverish anxiety to know my business.
I fenced her questions, and occasionally got one in of my own, and drew an answer. By this means I learnt that she had only been in England for a short time. She did not like London. The climate was awful. The smoke choked her. The absence of blue sky and sunshine made life unbearable; and then the people were so heavy, so morose. Everything and everybody was so sad, so colourless. Ugh! it made her shiver when she thought of it all. But, grace a Dieu, she and Joseph were going to South America.
What were they going to South America for?
Oh, well, Joseph was tired of roaming about, and was going to take a farm in Southern America, and rear cattle. They were both very fond of country life.
It was not until three days after this interview with Mrs. Stradvari that I saw Joseph. I recognised him again immediately, although when I first met him it was under peculiar circumstances. For reasons of my own I did not tell him that I was in the train when his mistress was murdered, nor did I tell him who I was. I said I had been asked by a relative of the late Mrs. Pennell to call and see him with a view to eliciting some particulars about her affairs. He expressed his willingness to answer anything he could, but prefaced his remarks with a shudder, and by saying it was a horrible, ghastly affair, and he should be glad to forget it all. I began by asking if he could tell me approximately how much money she had spent during the time she had stayed in Monte Carlo. He didn't know exactly, but a good deal. She was extravagant.
'She entertained liberally, did she not?'
'What class of people were they?'
'Oh, generally a good class, but sometimes there were adventurers of both sexes. If you have never been to Monte Carlo, you don't know what a very mixed and very peculiar society one meets there. One has to be very careful.'
'Mrs. Pennell was perhaps not as careful as she ought to have been?'
'I was always telling her that.'
'Have you formed any theory to account for her murder yourself?'
'What theory should I form? It is all too terrible, too plain. The murderers, they travel with us. When I am dozing they knock me on the head. Then when I recover I find my dear Madame dead. Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! it is awful!'
'And having committed the crime, they jumped from the carriage?'
'How else would they escape, Monsieur?'
'Have you any idea where the train was when you were attacked?'
'It was soon after we had left Avignon.'
'Before you came to Orange?'
'Yes, without doubt.'
Why are you so confident on that point?'
'I have often travelled there. We had not left Avignon more than ten minutes, and because of a hill the train goes slowly.'
I suppose Madame's death is a great loss to you?'
This question seemed to affect him deeply, and when he answered his voice was husky.
'I am not the same man,' he said; 'she was so good. She pay me so well. I weep for her always.'
'But, of course, a man of your standing will have no difficulty in obtaining an appointment?'
'I seek no more to be a courier.'
'I—I—am tired. I am sick here, Monsieur'—he placed his hand over his heart.
'Have you made enough money that you can afford to retire from your profession?'
'I am going abroad, Monsieur.'
'Yes; I go to South America. There I buy a farm.' Then you have made some money?'
'A trifle—a mere trifle. If I have not enough, perhaps I can borrow some. I don't know. Anyway, I go to America.'
This practically closed my interview with Stradvari, and, as I had no purpose to serve in prolonging it, I took my departure, firmly convinced in my own mind that I should ultimately succeed in clearing away the mystery surrounding Mrs. Pennell's death.
The day following the conversation I have recorded as taking place between myself and Joseph Stradvari I crossed over to France once more, and went direct to Saint-Etienne. The chief of the police there was a somewhat pompous and self-opinionated gentleman of the name of Souste. I approached him now with a good deal of deference, and gave him to understand that I was charged with a mission on behalf of the daughter of Mrs. Pennell, and therefore was interested in the case, and was anxious to assist him in solving the mystery, and, if possible, bringing the guilty parties to justice.
He hastened to assure me that his agents had so exhausted the subject that he didn't think a stranger and a foreigner was likely to succeed where they had failed.
'But suppose your agents have been pursuing phantoms?' I ventured to ask.
He was not altogether pleased by the question, and demanded with a certain sharpness of tone to know what I meant, and the following little colloquy ensued:
'You believe in the story of two men having got into the same compartment with Madame and her courier at Marseilles?'
'The murder was committed after leaving Avignon?'
'Of that there is no doubt.'
'And before Orange was reached?'
'You have ascertained the speed at which the train was travelling at that time, I presume?'
'Yes, about twenty-two kilometres an hour.'
And you think that two men could escape by jumping off the train while going at such a speed?'
'The risk would be great, but it could be done.'
'If your theory is correct, it was done, Monsieur Souste. Remember, the night was very dark.'
'And the murderers would be labouring under excitement.'
'That is true.'
'For them suddenly to plunge into space from a train moving at the rate of twenty-two kilometres an hour, under such conditions as I have named, would be to run a risk so tremendous that I should set their chances of freedom from injury as fifty thousand to one. In the case of two men the chance of injury to one or other of them would be many times increased.'
'I fail, sir, to see the point of your argument,' remarked Monsieur Souste, with just a trifle of irritability in his tone.
'My point is this. The night being dark, the men being excited, the likelihood of jumping from a rapidly moving train without meeting with serious injury is so small that we may dismiss it as an untenable theory.'
'But perhaps they were injured.'
'Sir, having regard to the exhaustive inquiries you have made, do you think it probable you would have failed to have heard of it if one or both of those men had been injured? Let us assume one was hurt. His companion would make for the nearest village to seek for assistance. At that hour his errand would have attracted great attention, and when the murder became known somebody would surely have come forward with information, or, failing that, your men would have heard of the incident.'
'Then what is your theory?' asked Monsieur Souste, displaying increased interest.
'My theory is that the two men are phantoms.'
'I don't quite follow you,' said Souste, with a puzzled expression on his face that was quite comical.
'What I mean is this. Two men did not get into the carriage at Marseilles or elsewhere.'
'Then who killed Madame Pennell?'
Monsieur Souste gasped. The colour left his face. He drew forth his handkerchief, and mopped his forehead. He seemed to be labouring under suppressed excitement that was choking him. The suddenness with which I had sprung my theory upon him had taken his breath away, and for the time rendered him speechless. But at last he re-covered sufficiently to blurt out—
It took M. Souste some time to recover from the shock I had given him, but when he did he admitted that I had probability on my side, and it was ultimately agreed that an accredited French detective should return with me to London, and that we should lay such information before a Magistrate as would justify the issuing of a warrant to search Stradvari's baggage. The discovery of any of the late Mrs. Pennell's property amongst his things would secure us a warrant for his arrest on a charge of murder.
This plan was carried out, and in the courier's possession there were found the gold repeater watch, the medallion portrait, many other items of jewellery, and upwards of £4,000 in French notes, which were known to have been in the possession of the unfortunate lady at the time of her death. Stradvari had been too artful to attempt to part with any of the property while the hue and cry was hot. But he had made all preparations for going out to Buenos Ayres. There he would have little difficulty in realising on his ill-gotten gains. His arrest was promptly effected, as also that of the woman with him, and after the usual formalities they were extradited and conveyed to France. In order to save her own head the woman, under the pressure and torture of French methods of judicial interrogation, turned traitor to her partner and revealed the whole plot. She had long been acquainted with Stradvari, and she had once lived in Avignon as maid to a French lady. She had a brother, a ne'er-do-weel, who had been in the French navy, but was discharged in disgrace, after long imprisonment for severely injuring a superior officer. She and her brother, who were sorely pressed for money, urged Stradvari to kill his mistress. The crime was to be committed after leaving Avignon, and the woman and the brother were to be waiting at a certain spot agreed upon as the train passed, and they would carry a small lamp as a signal that they were there. Having secured the property, Stradvari was to toss it out of the window to his waiting confederates, and then slightly injure himself, and stick to the story of the two men having joined the train at Marseilles.
It was a clever and artfully conceived plot, and carried out without a hitch. The woman and her brother walked back to Avignon, whence they got train in a few hours to Marseilles. From there they journeyed to Paris, where the man remained while the woman proceeded to London with the stolen property to wait for Stradvari. The brother's share of the plunder was a thousand pounds, which he very soon commenced to get rid of in riotous living in the French capital, where, after his sister's confession, he was arrested. He had been drinking so heavily, and was so saturated with absinthe, that he was a physical and mental wreck.
The trial that ensued was one of the most sensational that had occurred in France for a long time, and it is satisfactory to know that the criminals met their deserts. Stradvari was guillotined, the brother was sentenced to imprisonment for life, and the woman to fifteen years'.
AT a well-known commercial and family hotel, almost in the heart of grimy, busy Manchester, a gentleman arrived one evening by cab from Victoria Station. He had a foreign appearance, spoke with a foreign accent, but lacked that distinctive something in his bearing which so unmistakably proclaims the 'commercial.' In age he was under forty. He had a dark swarthy complexion, dark hair, dark eyes. He was very cheerful, and seemed to be in perfect health. He had no luggage with him, with the exception of a tolerably large handbag. The porter who carried it up to the gentleman's bedroom noted that it was extraordinarily heavy for so relatively small a bag, and the man mentioned the fact to the manager, who did not attach any importance to it, but, not knowing the stranger and in the absence of larger luggage, he requested him to pay for his room in advance, which he did cheerfully. He gave his name as Karl Reinhardt, and said he was from Dresden, but did not mention if he represented any firm. He intimated that he was expecting letters and telegrams, and that a lady would probably call upon him between seven and eight, and would dine with him. No letters or telegrams came, but the lady did. She was well dressed, and about Reinhardt's own age. They had dinner served to them at a private table, and drank a bottle of German white wine and a bottle of champagne. After dinner they both smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and cognac, and about nine o'clock drove in a cab to the Theatre Royal.
It was long past midnight when the man returned. He came in a cab, and alone. He was somewhat under the influence of liquor, but quiet and orderly, although not very steady on his legs. In handing him his bedroom candle, the porter offered to help him upstairs, but he politely declined the man's proffered aid, put a shilling into his hand, wished him good-night, and mounted to the second floor by himself. Mr. Reinhardt did not put in an appearance during the following morning, but that aroused no suspicion. He had left no request the previous night to be called, and so no one thought of going to his room to disturb him.
When two o'clock had struck and Mr. Reinhardt had not been seen, the manager sent a servant up to ask if he required anything. His boots were still on the mat outside of his door. The servant knocked and knocked and knocked again, but got no response. So she turned the handle; the door wasn't locked, which surprised her. She peeped in and what she saw caused her to rush downstairs to the manager, who at once went to Reinhardt's room.
Reinhardt had taken off his boots and his coat, but nothing else, and he was found lying across the bed quite dead. He had been dead for hours, and was stiff and cold. In the fireplace some papers had been burnt. His bag was open and perfectly empty. There was nothing in his pockets, neither purse, money, pocket-book, nor watch. Not a letter or card of any kind likely to lead to identification. Some name had evidently been marked on his linen, but it was cut out.
As a matter of form, a doctor was of course sent for. The man was dead enough, but the doctor could not say how he had died. There was no wound anywhere, and the calm, placid appearance of the features and the absence of any indication of pain or struggle seemed to negative the suggestion of poison, at any rate of poison the doctor was familiar with.
Necessarily, the usual proceedings in such cases were followed. The coroner was notified, a post-mortem was ordered, and steps taken with a view to try and establish the dead man's identity. These steps resulted in nothing. The post-mortem examination made it clear that the deceased had met his death by chloroform; not taken internally, but by inhalation. There was reason to suppose a very large quantity had been inhaled, and, of course, the question that naturally arose to the mind of all who were interested in the case was, 'Is it murder or suicide?'
If murder, then it was one in which the clement of romance and mystery was very strong. If suicide, then it stood out as being without parallel, as there was no record case of a person having taken his own life by inhaling chloroform. In the dead man's room a careful search was made as soon after the notification of the death as possible. The faint characteristic odour of chloroform was detected on some of the bedclothes, on a sponge on the washstand, and on a towel that lay on the floor; but no bottle or vessel of any kind that had contained the fluid could be found.
The legal investigation brought nothing fresh to light. The result was that an open verdict was returned. Every effort was made to find the lady who accompanied the deceased to the theatre, but without success. The wide publicity given to the case could hardly have escaped her notice, and yet she did not come forward. And so the stranger—no money having been found on his person, and no one claiming his poor remains—was buried as a pauper, and in less than a week after probably the general public had forgotten him.
As may be supposed, the police were not altogether satisfied with the turn matters had taken. The failure to get any evidence of consequence to present to the coroner was very disappointing, and as the open verdict left them free to pursue their inquiries an intimation was sent to Tyler Tatlock to the effect that if he could make it convenient to journey to Manchester he might have the opportunity of exercising his talents on a case after his own heart. He accepted the invitation, and nine days after Reinhardt's body had been discovered in the hotel bedroom he was journeying to Cottonopolis, and as he hurried north by a strange coincidence Manchester was provided with another sensation. A daring and dastardly attempt was made to blow up the jail in Strangeways. An infernal machine of some kind had been placed against the wall of one of the wings, and fired by clockwork. Although considerable damage of a kind was done, there was no great structural injury to the building, but the moral effect on the citizens was tremendous. There had been a good deal of Fenian agitation going on for some time, and many sinister threats uttered, but nobody believed these threats would result in anything.
When Tatlock reached the city it was in a state of red-hot excitement, and leather-lunged newsvendors were yelling 'Houtrage at Strangeways Jail! Hawful explosion!' Tatlock bought a paper, and read the first crude particulars of the outrage; but, of course, his business was with the case of the dead Reinhardt, and at a long interview with the chief of the police he was furnished with full details, and the following day he set to work, and as he studied the mystery he deemed it probable that between Reinhardt's death and the explosion at the Strangeways Jail there was some connection, but he kept that idea to himself. He turned his attention, first of all, to endeavouring to discover what were the chances of someone in the hotel having killed Reinhardt, and these inquiries elicited the following remarkable facts, which, singularly enough, no one had thought it worth while to mention before.
Two days prior to Reinhardt's arrival another traveller, supposed to be an Irishman by his brogue, came to the hotel, and gave the name of James Bingham. His luggage consisted of a leather portmanteau. He was a very quiet, reserved man, and associated with no one in the house. The only meal he took in the hotel was breakfast. After that he went out, and did not reappear until late at night. Three days after Reinhardt's mysterious death Bingham paid his bill, and took his departure. It was known that he drove in a cab with his portmanteau to London Road Station. But that was all that was known. To Tatlock it occurred that it might be advisable to refer to Bingham later on. In the meantime the inquisitive detective pottered about in the bedroom lately occupied by James Bingham. It was a very ordinary room. There was a fireplace with the flue closed down, as is always the case, presumably with a view to preventing hotel guests from breathing too much air. The fireplace itself was screened by a fancy arrangement of tissue paper of divers colours. This fireplace was examined, but yielded nothing. Then there was the ordinary dressing-table, with a swing glass that wouldn't swing; the more than ordinary washstand, and the ditto chest of drawers. Into these drawers the prying Tatlock glanced, and fished from one of them a half-pint label-less bottle which had undoubtedly contained chloroform, and beside it was a large coloured handkerchief which as certainly had had chloroform upon it. It was roughly folded up. When unfolded, Tat-lock detected the faint, sweetish odour of the potent drug. It was much stained, too, especially the blue colour. Now, this was a startling discovery. The chambermaid whose duty it was to attend that particular room had not looked into the drawers. She knew that, as a rule, passing travellers, especially men, seldom used the drawers they found in their bedrooms at hotels.
The syllogism Tatlock propounded to himself when he started on this Manchester case was: First, Reinhardt had been murdered. Second, he had been murdered by someone in the hotel. The conclusion he drew from these premises was that Reinhardt was one of a band of conspirators; he had probably been suspected of being weak-kneed or treacherous, and so had been sacrificed. The bag which he had brought with him to the hotel, and the weight of which had attracted the attention of the porter, had contained something perhaps more deadly than wearing apparel—such, for example, as an infernal machine or machines.
Tatlock examined all the arguments for and against this line of theory, and concluded that if Reinhardt was murdered the murderer was either concealed in the room or came to the room after the arrival of Reinhardt. This justified the belief that the murderer was an occupant of the hotel. No one passed out of the hotel between midnight and the opening hour in the morning. A night porter was on duty all night.
Now, James Bingham occupied a room only three doors removed from Reinhardt's room, and on the same landing. For three days after the crime Bingham remained on. Then he paid his bill, and left. A subsequent search in the room he had occupied brings to light a bottle that had contained chloroform, and a doubled-up coloured handkerchief reeking and stained with the same chemical production. If Bingham was the murderer, the question next suggested itself—why had he left these evidences of his crime behind him? In solving this question Tatlock reasoned thus: The crime completed, what was the most probable thing Bingham would do with the empty bottle and the saturated hand-kerchief? Thrust them into his pocket while he emptied the pockets and bag of his victim. That done, he would get back to his own room as soon as possible. Conscious of the instruments of death being in his pocket, he would pull them out. He would not put them amongst his clothes in his portmanteau, for there was the possibility that they might impart an odour to his things, so he placed them in the empty drawer, intending to take an early opportunity of destroying them, but from that moment they were effaced from the tablets of his memory. The sensational reports in the papers would absorb his attention, and no doubt also he had numerous other things to attend to of pressing urgency, so that when the time came for him to slip away he was too eagerly intent on his purpose to have a spare thought for such trivial items as the empty bottle and the stained handkerchief. And there they were, like handwriting on the wall for those who could read, and Tyler Tatlock read it.
The next stage he took up in his endeavour to get a second link was to ascertain, if possible, what connection there was between Reinhardt and the mysterious woman who dined with him at the hotel and then went to the theatre with him. She surely must have had some guilty knowledge, otherwise why did she not come forward and state what she knew? The press beseeched her to declare herself, and placards had been posted all over Manchester and Salford. But the woman spoke not, nor did she give a sign. That was ominous. She dare not speak, dare not show herself—that was the only logical conclusion one could come to. The cabman who drove her and Reinhardt to the theatre was found, but he had nothing to tell beyond that he had set them down at the door of the theatre, was paid his fare, and drove away. They occupied seats in the dress circle. The performance had commenced some time when they arrived. Being such late comers the money-taker observed them more closely than he would have done otherwise; so did the natty damsel who sold them a pro-gramme, and showed them to the seats they were entitled to occupy, which were at the back of the circle, as there was a pretty full house and the best places were taken.
A sharp-eyed barmaid in the saloon spotted them. They went in to refresh themselves between the acts, and sat at a little table in a corner, and both smoked cigarettes. The fact of the woman smoking was what first attracted the barmaid's attention. She could not gather anything they said, as they conversed in a foreign language, and they continued to sit there long after the act had commenced, so that the barmaid had exceptional opportunity of observing them. From their gestures and facial expression, the young lady came to the conclusion that they were having a heated discussion, and there were indications that the female was somewhat wroth and disgusted with her companion. Her manners and actions suggested that she was urging him to do something which was repugnant to him, and because he refused she reproached him. Of course, all this was conjecture. The barmaid could only base her opinion on looks and actions, but the conjecture was no doubt pretty near the truth. Where they went to when they left the theatre it was impossible to say.
There was yet one other channel in which Tatlock could push inquiries. It has been stated that when Reinhardt had been dead for three days, James Bingham took his departure. He had with him as luggage a pretty large leather portmanteau, which was made conspicuous by having a red band painted round it. He engaged a cab from the hotel door, and was driven to the London Road railway station. All trace of this man would probably have been lost from that moment but for one fact—he placed his portmanteau in the left luggage office. The porter in charge gave him a ticket of receipt. The portmanteau was not reclaimed personally; but three days later a letter was received enclosing the receipt, and asking that the portmanteau should be sent off immediately, addressed to 'James Bingham, left luggage office, Lime Street station, Liverpool.' This was done, and both the attendant in charge of the office at London Road and the porter who conveyed the portmanteau to the Liverpool train were struck by the red band. A cross, a square, a diamond, a star, or flag was no uncommon distinguishing mark on a portmanteau, but it was not often a band was painted right round it.
At the Lime Street Station depot they remembered the receipt of the portmanteau, which was claimed the same day by a man who said he was James Bingham. The portmanteau was, by the owner's request, put on a four-wheeled cab. The porter who carried it out of the station noted that the number of the cab was 1313. The reason why he noticed it was a peculiar one—he was a very superstitious man, and had a horror of the number 13, and in this combination of figures there were two thirteens, a circumstance which fixed in his memory the fact of the peculiarly marked bag having been taken away on it. The cab was easily discovered, and the cabman related that on the day in question he took up a fare at the Lime Street station, and a portmanteau with a red band round it was placed on the top of his cab. He was ordered to drive to the landing-stage on the Mersey. On the way the wheels of his cab got into the points of one of the crossings of the dock railway, and was overturned. The portmanteau was hurled from the top of the cab, and, to the amazement of those who witnessed the accident, there was a loud explosion, and a volume of smoke issued from the portmanteau. The traveller scrambled out of the overturned cab. He looked confused and frightened, and swore roundly at cabby for the mishap. The portmanteau was partially wrecked, and while Bingham guarded his damaged property he sent the cabman to a ship's chandler close by to obtain a box of some sort. He returned with a small packing-case, into which the remains of the portmanteau were stuffed. By this time the crowd had restored the cab, which was but little damaged, to its proper position. The case was hoisted to the roof, and the traveller, bidding cabby drive as fast as possible, got inside once more. He reached the landing-stage without further mishap, and went on hoard of a tender with his luggage, and was taken out with numerous other passengers to the Pennsylvania, which was on the point of starting for New York. Half an hour later she steamed down the Mersey, carrying the mysterious Bingham and his exploding portmanteau with her.
This incident was not known until it was too late to stop him, and unfortunately the Atlantic cable had not yet come into existence. As soon as possible, however, an intimation was sent to the New York police that it might be advisable to take charge of Mr. Bingham and subject him to an examination. But he had got a good start, and, alarmed no doubt by the explosion, he tarried not, and all trace of him was lost. It was much to be regretted that he was thus able to elude the attentions of those who were so anxious to be more intimately acquainted with him, but circumstances had played into his hands; fortune, luck, or chance, whatever one likes to call it, had favoured him, and he was enabled to hide himself in the great crowd. The man known as Reinhardt remained in his pauper's grave. In spite of the world-wide publicity given to the case by the press, no one deemed it his business or duty to come forward and throw light where there was so much darkness. No man can achieve the impossible, but Tyler Tatlock did all that man can do, and by his skill and cleverness he was enabled to lift one little corner of the veil which shrouded the mystery. The glimpse thus obtained made it tolerably certain that Reinhardt was a conspirator, and that he fell a victim to the jealousy or suspicion of his co-conspirators, and that between his death and the explosion at the jail there was some connection. Many years have passed, but to the present day that Manchester mystery remains a mystery still.
STANDING back from the high road that runs between Edinburgh and Berwick, and within a mile or so of the latter town, there stood up to a few years ago an old house known as 'Scotter's Farm.' There is a story in connection with that farm; which for ghastly weirdness would be hard to beat. It will be necessary at a later stage of the narrative to enter into some description of the house and its surroundings. But now it is meet that we should record the truly remarkable and even appalling circumstance that brought a curse, as it were, upon Scotter's Farm, until, being shunned by all men as a ghost-haunted spot, it was razed to the ground and the land knew it no more. Years before that came about a young Scot named David Robb went forth from his native country to seek his fortune, as many thousands have done before him. We are not concerned with the early history of this young man, who was destined to become the central figure of a tragic drama.
Briefly, he went first to New Zealand. He did not remain very long there, and seems to have shifted his ground to Australia, and is known to have worked for some time on the Ballarat gold diggings. For a good many years afterwards he appears to have led a nomadic life, shifting his ground and turning up unexpectedly in out-of-the-way quarters. But what we are now interested with is his doings in his later stages. He comes into prominence in Birmingham, England, after long drifting about the world and leading a strange life of adventurous ups and downs. At this period he was in partnership with a Jew named Israel Behrens, and nominally their business was that of electro-platers and needle manufacturers. Indeed, they seem to have gone in for all sorts of things, and amongst others they engaged in the disreputable trade of producing spurious antiquities. Notwithstanding the very miscellaneous character of their enterprise, it is extremely doubtful if they were as successful pecuniarily as they no doubt desired to be.
It is evident that both men were somewhat eccentric, and of miserly habits. They did not, as far as was known, associate themselves with womankind, but lived together in a small house in a somewhat lonely situation in the suburbs. Three times a week an old woman went to their place to clean up and put things in order, but with that exception no stranger ever entered their dwelling. They generally went out together in the morning to their place of business in the town. They took a mid-day meal together in a cheap eating-house, and returned together to their lonely miserable home in the evening.
In the conduct of their business they seem to have been shrewd and even clever; hard bargain-drivers, keen traders. They had a small manufactory in rather a squalid part of the town, and they gave employment to about fifty workpeople of both sexes. They treated their employees fairly, although somewhat hard taskmasters, for they insisted on having their pound of flesh. They went on in this manner for years. No one actually knew whether they were making money or not, though there was a general belief that they were doing well and hoarding their gold. They kept a banking account in their joint names purely for trading purposes. Their business liabilities were always promptly met, and, as was subsequently disclosed, their banking transactions were only arranged to embrace the affairs of their trade. The margin over and beyond these requirements was very narrow indeed. Of course, this state of matters could not long be kept secret, and in business centres where Robb and Behrens were known much wonder and curiosity were expressed by the hard-headed Birmingham money-spinners.
One morning David Robb appeared at his place of business alone. The clerks and workpeople marvelled, because week in and week out for years Robb and Behrens had arrived together and departed together, so that it had come to be said secretly amongst the toilers that the two heads were suspicious of each other, and one was afraid to trust the other out of his sight.
The unusual circumstance of Robb appearing first on the occasion in question so affected the curiosity of the chief clerk that he could not resist the temptation to inquire of Robb if Mr. Behrens was ill.
'No,' answered Robb. 'He came into the town with me as usual, but had to make a call.'
Noon came, bringing the dinner-hour, and the workpeople suspended their labours. Robb, as was his wont, went to his cheap eating-house and fed. And there again surprise was expressed that he was alone. He returned to his factory with the rigid punctuality that marked his coming and going. The bell that recalled the workpeople to their toil was still ringing.
'Hasn't Mr. Behrens turned up?' he asked of his clerk.
'No,' was the answer.
'It's very strange,' muttered Robb, with seeming concern.
The day wore itself out. The toil ceased. Robb locked up and went home.
The following day on his way to the factory he called in at the head police station, and to the superintendent he made the following statement:
'My partner, Mr. Israel Behrens, left home with me yesterday morning. We parted in the town, as he said he wanted to make a call. On getting back to my house last night I found that he had returned during my absence, cleared out all the money that he could lay his hands on, and has disappeared, leaving no trace behind him. You must capture him; return my money or I am ruined.'
The superintendent asked numerous questions, as he was bound to do, and he got a full and detailed description of the absconder. Twenty-four hours later all Birmingham knew of the disappearance of Behrens, for placards were freely posted about offering a reward of fifty pounds for the capture of the Jew, while particulars were sent to every police station in the kingdom.
A week went by. Behrens had not been heard of. He had carried off, according to Robb, upwards of ten thousand pounds and some valuable business papers. Robb manifested great distress, and became moody and sullen. He called frequently at the police station to know if his missing partner had been heard of. The same answer met him each time: 'No.'
Then he went down to his factory, transacted his affairs, and returned at night to his lonely abode. Those who knew him noted a marvellous change in the few days. His iron-grey hair seemed to grow whiter, the wrinkles in his face deepened, his whole appearance was suggestive of one who was bowed and broken beneath an insupportable burden. This did not cause any great surprise, for it was taken as a matter of course that the loss of such a large sum was bound to very seriously affect a man of his penurious and miserly habits.
The chief superintendent of the police of Birmingham, having failed to get any clue, placed himself in communication with Tyler Tatlock, whom he knew very well, and requested him, in the interest of justice, and with a view to upholding the majesty of the law, to try and strike Behrens' spoor. So Tatlock went down to the great Midland town and took up the running. It was in the order of things that he should seek an interview with Robb. When he made himself known and stated his errand, Robb, as Tatlock records, seemed by no means pleased.
'I was content,' he growled, 'to leave this matter in the hands of the Birmingham police. I don't know what they wanted to go outside of their own province for. It seems to me in the nature of a confession of incompetency and incapacity to bring you on the scene.'
Tatlock suggested that his presence did not indicate either incompetency or incapacity on the part of the Birmingham authorities, and that it was quite in accordance with custom for an expert to be called in in cases which presented more than ordinary difficulties.
Robb seemed to give an unwilling assent to this, and after a time showed more disposition to discuss the matter and supply the detective with the information he asked for. Tatlock probed deeply, as was his wont. A knowledge of the habits and character of a man enabled him to form some idea of what that man would be likely to do in certain circumstances. From what he was told on this occasion he came to the conclusion that Behrens was hardly likely to betray his whereabouts by lavish expenditure. Needless to say, Robb did not endeavour to find any extenuating circumstances for his late partner. Indeed, he spoke with such bitter invective, such ill-concealed contempt and hatred, that Tatlock was surprised, and came to the conclusion that there was some long-standing feud between them.
'It seems to me,' he remarked, 'that you and your partner did not get on very well together.'
'No, we did not,' Robb answered, with a touch of fierceness in his tone.
'Because he was selfish, grasping, and deceptive.'
'And yet you lived under the same roof, and walked very closely in the same path. In fact, you were companions held together by a common interest, a common desire.'
'Not quite,' growled Robb. 'That is only what outsiders thought.'
'In what way did you differ?'
'He was untrustworthy.'
'Why, then, did you not take greater precautions to insure yourself against becoming his victim?'
Robb displayed much irritation under this questioning, and said angrily: 'Look here, I don't know that it is part of your business to lay bare the whole of my dealings with my late partner. You've been asked, not with my consent, to find him. All I've got to say is, find him, and get my money back if you can.'
Tatlock did not enter into any further argument. He saw the futility of it, but he formed an opinion of Robb by no means favourable to him. For some time he devoted his energies to trying to get trace of Behrens, but failed. Of course the quest was rendered harder by the isolated life the Jew had led. He had formed no friendships. He had few acquaintances, and those few could tell but little about him, beyond saying he was very quiet, very reserved, very secretive.
In the course of a few weeks the disappearance of Behrens had passed out of public memory. Tatlock had failed to find him, and when six months had gone David Robb had gone too, and Birmingham knew him no more. He was at pains to let it be known that the loss he had sustained through his partner's rascality had ruined him. So he sold the business and his household effects.
About three years from this time the disappearance of Israel Behrens became a subject of conversation once more in the needle town, owing to the arrival of a man named Samuel Behrens. He was the brother of Israel, but had not seen him for a very long period. Occasionally at long intervals letters had passed between them. Samuel had been in Australia. He had made some money, and resolved to visit England and find out why his brother had remained silent for such an unusually long time. When he heard the story of his brother vanishing, he was shocked, and he repudiated with passionate vehemence the charge of theft preferred against Israel, and even of his being a miser. He said that he and his brother were born in Russia. Their mother was a gentlewoman of good birth. Their father was a trader in furs, and was very outspoken against the barbarities practised against the Jews in the name of the Czar. One day Behrens the elder was seized, and, under the infamous Russian laws, was thrown into that living tomb, the prison of Peter and Paul at St. Petersburg. When his wife moved on his behoof, she too was arrested, and a lying charge formulated, so as to bring her under the iniquitous law too. She was scourged and persecuted until her heart broke, and she died.
At last Behrens was put on trial—a hideous mockery, as all such trials are in Russia—and, of course, he was sentenced for life to Siberia. Samuel and Israel were then youths. Samuel was the elder. They had been cared for by an aunt, and after a time were sent to England, the land of liberty. They both made a solemn vow that they would labour, toil, and save in order to get money to effect the liberation of their unhappy father. It was true he had been sentenced for life, but every official, whether high or low, in Russia is open to bribery and corruption, and if there is money enough even a Siberian life-prisoner may be set free. In pursuance of their object Samuel went to Australia, while Israel elected to remain in England, and, making the acquaintance of David Robb somewhere or other, he subsequently entered into partnership with him in Birmingham.
Such was Samuel's strange story, and when people spoke of the serious charge that hung over his brother's head he was furious, and expressed a firm belief that his brother was dead. Naturally he was anxious to come face to face with David Robb, but he also had vanished, leaving no trace behind. Of course, Samuel learnt of Tatlock's efforts, and he resolved to go to him and ask him to try again to clear up the mystery surrounding his brother. The story appealed to Tatlock, and, knowing what he did of Robb, he began to think that Robb himself was responsible for his partner's disappearance, consequently it was necessary that Robb should be traced.
The quest began. Tatlock found himself once more in Birmingham, taking up the old threads in the hope of finding a clue. From the fact of Robb having led such a nomadic life, the belief was justified that he would go abroad again, but somehow Tatlock did not hold to that belief. His argument was that, as Robb was growing old—he was much older than Behrens—a longing for his native land might restrain him from wandering farther afield. It was remembered in Birmingham that when he left the town he took many packages with him, including a large wooden case. These things were supposed to be such remnants of his household effects as he wished to preserve. They were sent by goods train to Liverpool. This fact was disclosed by the railway company's records.
To Liverpool Tatlock went. There he discovered that the goods had been claimed and a receipt given for them by Robb himself. And he discovered more than that. A poor man named John Saunders, who owned a horse and cart, had been hired by Robb to remove the things from the railway station to a lodging-house in a street in Toxteth Park, where Robb had hired two rooms. When the job was finished the man wanted his payment. Robb raised some pettifogging quibble, and offered half the amount agreed upon. The man refused to accept it. Robb swore he would not pay more, so Saunders issued a summons against him in the County Court, and obtained judgment. Even then he tried to shirk payment, and the bailiff was sent to seize his goods. Then, and not till then, did he pay.
Tatlock learned that Robb remained nearly two months in the lodging-house, earning the reputation of being a skinflint and half-mad. At last he took himself off, and he and his belongings were conveyed to Glasgow by steamer. In Glasgow he stayed for a short time in a house situated in the Broomielaw, and finally removed from there to Scotter's Farm, near Berwick.
This farm was a very tumble-down, ramshackle place. It had at one time been an important holding, and in its palmy days had comprised upwards of two thousand acres of land. But first the railway cut the estate up. Then a factory was built on the land, and finally a family dispute arose about the ownership. The lawyers, as they always do, sucked the juice away. And when, after years of litigation—and, of course, as long as there was anything to be got the lawyers hung on—the case was settled, there was only a wretched wreck for the victor. The house, as might be supposed, had fallen into decay, and, as there was no land to farm, it was a farm only in name. The owner was too poor to renovate it. He would have got nothing by pulling it down, and so his only hope was that he might find somebody who would become a tenant. That somebody came along at last in the person of David Robb, who took the place on a three years' agreement at a low rental.
Nothing was known in the neighbourhood of the new tenant at this time, and much curiosity was manifested to learn what manner of man he was who was coming to the miserable 'hovel,' as it was termed, and what he intended to do with it.
At last the 'new tenant' came himself, an old, haggard-faced, grey-haired man, with white cheeks, and a vacant expression in his eyes. There were no bairns or wife, only a cart laden with packages. Curiosity was aroused still more. Kindly-disposed neighbours asked if they could be of any service.
They were rebuffed with a grumpy 'No.'
The new tenant, having got his packages in, bolted and barred the place, and went down to Berwick, where he sought out a second-hand huckster's shop, and haggled and bargained and haggled again about some odd articles of rubbish of furniture. He bought a little coal and some wood, and he secured the services of an old woman older than himself to act as housekeeper. She did not remain with him long. She asserted that he was a terrible old man, so mean and stingy that he begrudged every mouthful of food she ate, and from morning till night was nagging at her on the importance of practising economy. So the new tenant was left to himself, and, though some sympathised with him, the majority of those round about regarded him with horror and loathing. Thus things went on for a little while, and the neighbourhood ceased to take any concern in the new tenant.
One day a visitor called upon him. It was Samuel Behrens. The two men had never met before. Samuel went there at the suggestion of Tyler Tatlock. When Samuel made himself known Robb was strangely perturbed, and was particularly anxious to know how he had been discovered. He vehemently protested that it was shameful to disturb him in his old age and misery, and he poured out a torrent of violent abuse on his late partner, who, he averred, had ruined him.
Naturally, Samuel asked many questions, but to all of them Robb either returned evasive answers or would not answer at all. When Samuel declared his unshaken belief in his brother's integrity and unsullied honour, Robb grew more and more excited. He gave way to incoherent ravings, and repeated again and again that Israel Behrens had ruined him. Samuel's endeavours to elicit some plain and definite explanation as to his brother's faults and failings only served to increase Robb's anger, and from abuse he fell to threats, and displayed so much violence that Samuel became frightened, and moved towards the door with the intention of taking his departure. Then Robb's manner changed. From a violent, threatening, passionate madman, he became a pleading, fawning, cringing creature. He threw his arms about his visitor's neck. He moaned, sighed, and sobbed. He declared that he was a lonely, broken, miserable old man, and it was all through his late partner, who had wrecked him. But he was willing to forget it all, he said, and bestow his confidence and affection upon Samuel. He used every art and wile he was capable of to persuade him to remain.
'Make this your home,' he cried. 'Live with me. I have a few pounds, and all, all shall be yours.'
Samuel was not impressed by this sudden display of regard. On the contrary, his fear of the strange old man increased. There was something in Robb's manner which made Samuel desire to get out of the house as speedily as possible. But when he would have gone Robb barred his way, and pleaded to him to remain.
'The world thinks bad of me,' he exclaimed, 'but you need not. We will be friends, eh; friends, very good friends. You shall protect me, and when evil things are said, you shall give the lie to them. You will stay, won't you?'
Samuel by this time had come to the conclusion that he was face to face with a very cunning and very dangerous madman, and, thinking it was better to humour him for a little while until a more favourable moment occurred for him to get away, he said he would remain for a time at any rate. At this a cunning expression spread itself over the haggard face of Robb, who invited his guest to seat himself by the hearth, on which burned a handful of wood. Suddenly, and without any preliminary warning, Robb sprang at the other, and with a knife he had concealed hacked at Samuel's throat. Then ensued a fierce, terrible struggle. Although wounded and bleeding profusely, Samuel fought desperately for his life. He was much inferior in strength to his opponent, but he made a bold bid for victory. He succeeded by extreme exertion in wrenching the knife from the hand of the other and flinging it away, though he was terribly cut and gashed about the fingers. Not to be easily denied in his fell purpose, which unquestionably was to murder the other, Robb renewed his exertions, striving with all the strength which the passion of madness gave him to slay his victim; but in the end the staying powers of the younger man told. Robb showed symptoms of exhaustion, and taking advantage of this Samuel made a supreme effort, which enabled him to fling his opponent off. Then, smothered in blood, his clothes hanging in rags, faint, half-blind, and terrified, he escaped and sought shelter in the nearest house, where the services of a doctor were secured as speedily as possible.
When Samuel had recovered his presence of mind, he sent an urgent message to Tatlock, who was staying at an inn in the town, waiting to hear the result of the interview, but never for a moment anticipating anything of this kind. No time was lost in acquainting the police with what had happened at Scotter's Farm, and in less than a couple of hours Tatlock, accompanied by two policemen, went up to the farm. They experienced no difficulty in obtaining entrance, for the door was open. All was silent. They entered the kitchen. Blood seemed to be everywhere. There was a pool of it on the floor, and doubled up in a corner was Robb. They spoke to him, but he answered not. They touched him, but he gave no sign, and when they attempted to lift him up they found he was dead.
From the kitchen they went to other parts of the house, and in one of the rooms they made a horrible discovery. In a large wooden case was a body, the withered, mummified body of a man. Subsequent investigation left not the shadow of a doubt that it was the body of Israel Behrens, and his partner had murdered him. How, it was not easy to say. Since the crime the murderer had kept the ghastly evidence of his deed by him, possibly under the impression that it was the surest way of preventing the crime being discovered.
Hoards of money were also found in a box, mostly in notes and gold, and there was every reason to suppose that Robb had killed his partner in order to possess himself of his money, the perpetration of the crime being rendered comparatively easy by the isolated lives the two men led, and the unusual way in which they conducted their business. Robb's own death was due to excitement acting on a weak heart. That he was mad admitted of no questioning, but it was the madness of the miser, combined with peculiar and clever cunning.
It was some time before Samuel Behrens recovered from the shock and the wounds he had received. But he ultimately did so, and he succeeded, as his brother's heir, after some trouble, in obtaining possession of the bulk of the money found in Robb, the madman's, house. Scotter's Farm no longer exists, but the curious who may find themselves in the neighbourhood may still hear the story of the strange old man and his awful crime, which is not likely to be ever forgotten by the good folk of Berwick. David Robb and Scotter's Farm have been indelibly woven into the traditions of the countryside.
IN compliance with an urgent request Tatlock called at the American Embassy in London, and had an interview with the Ambassador.
'I want you,' said the Ambassador, 'if you can make it convenient to do so, to proceed at once down to Edinburgh, and put up at the Hotel Balmoral, where a certain James Washington Jackson is staying. I further want you to watch this man closely, and find out all you possibly can about him—trace his career, in fact, from his cradle to the present day. If it can be done. Needless for me to say, the utmost caution must be exercised in order that Jackson's suspicions may not be aroused. My Government have instructed me to take steps to shadow Jackson, and to employ the best talent in England to that end.
'My Government have reason to suppose that Jackson is a notorious character, one of the cleverest rascals in the world, who has travelled everywhere, passed under many names, but whose real name is Shapcott Darlton, who years ago forged an immense number of United States bonds, and is believed to have poisoned Judge Bronson, who tried and condemned to death Darlton's brother, who was charged with shooting the husband, brother, and father of a young lady with whom he had been intriguing in the State of Nebraska. Darlton was, it appears, a man of protean character, and so clever that he outwitted everyone, and finally disappeared from the country. For years nothing has been heard of him, but Jackson is suspected. Of course we want unmistakable proof, and we look to you to supply us with that proof if it can be obtained. Without it we should not, as you know, be justified in arresting Jackson and asking for his extradition.'
Tatlock intimated that he grasped the situation, and thoroughly understood all that was required of him, and in the course of the next few days he had located himself in Edinburgh.
It was the summer season, and the city was full of strangers coming and going. Tatlock had some difficulty in obtaining a room at the Balmoral, but as he expressed his willingness to occupy a garret at the top of the house until the departure of someone enabled him to be more fittingly accommodated he was duly installed in the house, and de-scribed himself in the visitors' book as Ebenezer Gurney, of Manchester. He had attired himself in a tourist suit, consisting of tweed jacket and knickerbockers. He wore spectacles, and an admirably fitting wig of long dark brown hair gave him a somewhat artistic finish.
He had not been long in the house before he spotted his man, who seemed to be the central figure of a little group of people, consisting of two or three men and four ladies, three being young and pretty, the daughters of the fourth, a charming woman of about fifty-five. She was known as Lady Gwendoline Tarrant, of reputed wealth, and was conspicuous for her philanthropic qualities. She was the widow of Sir Richard Tarrant, Bart., who had sat as a Conservative in the House of Commons for many years, and was the owner of Bingley Hall and thousands of broad acres in the hunting county of Leicestershire, besides a town house in Berkeley Square, London. One of the men in her party was a nephew; the others were friends, one being the affianced of Ruth Tarrant, the youngest daughter.
James Washington Jackson was a singularly attractive and fascinating man—tall and powerful, with a strongly marked face, keen, bright, dark eyes, perfect teeth, a good complexion, and regular features. His cheeks and chin were clean shaved, but a well-trimmed moustache shaded his mouth. He had a pleasant musical voice and a polished, gentlemanly manner. In age he was about thirty-two or three, and his general appearance suggested the well-trained gentleman. There was a slight American accent in his speech, which was far from unpleasant. There was nothing about him to indicate that he was the villain the American Ambassador seemed to think he was. And Tatlock himself was at first inclined to believe a mistake had been made. It did not take the detective long to discover that Mr. Jackson was paying court to one of Lady Tarrant's daughters, Miss Beryl Tarrant, a very charming young woman of three-and-twenty, and it was obvious that he was a persona grata with the family and their friends.
For four days Tatlock closely watched the movements of Mr. Jackson, but saw not a sign to warrant a suspicion of the man's honesty. At length the party took their departure and journeyed through the Trossachs. Tatlock went with them, though he was not of their party, and no one suspected that this quiet, demure, unostentatious little gentleman, who was so primly dressed, and moved about as though even with his spectacles he had a difficulty in seeing, was shadowing them.
Mr. Jackson was either very well acquainted with the country, or had been at special pains to post himself up, for he constituted himself the guide of the party, and his knowledge seemed of the cyclopaedic order. He had the story of Rob Roy at his tongue's end. Ellen's Isle aroused his poetic fervour. He recited with correct intonation and an obvious appreciation of its beauties the stirring description of the fight between Fitzjames and Roderick Dhu. He expatiated on the merits of Scott, and rattled off long quotations with a grace and facility that greatly impressed his listeners, and drew around him a number of curious and admiring strangers, who regarded the well-informed and well-spoken gentleman as a man worth knowing.
From Glasgow the party visited Ayrshire, and trod the scenes that are endeared for ever to Scotsmen by the genius of Burns. And here again Mr. Jackson was equally at home, and proved himself as familiar with the ploughman poet as he was with Scott.
Returning to Glasgow, they rested for a couple of days and then took their departure for Oban, from whence they visited Staffa and Iona, and afterwards continued their journey to Inverness.
During all this time Tatlock had kept in touch with them, and yet had avoided attracting their notice in any way. And his mission so far had been fruitless. He had learnt nothing about Jackson beyond that he was exceptionally clever, singularly well read, a good talker, but a poser; on the other hand, he was vain, and in some respects frivolous, and it was clear he liked to be regarded as a person of importance. In all this, of course, there was nothing that warranted suspicion of the man's honesty, but by this time Tatlock had come to the conclusion that beneath Jackson's affable and polished manner there lurked a demon.
The first glimpse he got of this was at Oban. After landing from the trip to Staffa, Jackson was coming over the gangway from the steamer, when a small nail, which had been carelessly left sticking out in the rail, ripped one of Jackson's kid gloves—he was wearing light-coloured gloves that fitted him to perfection. This trifling incident would never have disturbed the equanimity of a well-balanced mind, but the effect on Jackson was marvellous, magical. His usual expression underwent a complete change. From his eyes flashed a light of such wrath and fury that the man looked positively demoniacal. A deep frown furrowed his brow, his lips were compressed, he ground his teeth, and a fiery passion displayed itself in every feature.
It chanced that Tatlock was standing on the landing—place amongst the crowd when this little incident occurred. Jackson's exhibition of temper came and passed like a flash, but it did not escape the watcher, who was able also to gauge its significance, and from that moment Tatlock decided that his man was a consummate actor, and that there was infinitely more of the fiend than the saint in his composition. Possibly no one else saw the change. At any rate, if they did, they did not attach the same importance to it that Tatlock did. A minute after the little accident Jackson was laughing and chatting to Beryl Tarrant, and making a joke about the torn glove.
A few days were spent in Inverness, and the battlefield of Culloden was visited. Then the party moved on to Loch Maree. It was here that Tatlock's patience and perseverance in watching and waiting were rewarded. The day after their arrival a special messenger came over from the post office five miles away with a telegram for Mr. Jackson. Tatlock a little later became aware that Jackson had made arrangements with the landlord to be driven with all speed to the nearest railway station, as he had to catch the train that night for London. There was consternation amongst the Tarrant party when Jackson announced his departure, but he consoled them by promising to be back in five days, when they would continue their tour to the Isle of Skye.
Tatlock recognised the necessity of still keeping an eye on the man he was shadowing. The difficulties of the situation created by the receipt of that telegram were very great, but Tatlock was equal to them. It was of course of the highest importance that he should avoid arousing Jackson's suspicions, as that might have frustrated the whole plan for acquiring the necessary information about him. So he put a knapsack on his back containing a few necessary articles, and, leaving the rest of his things in the hands of the landlord, told him he was going to make a little tramp in the district, and would be back in a few days. Then he slipped quietly away, steered for a farm he had spotted, and bargained with the farmer to drive him to the station to catch a train due before the one by which Jackson was going to travel. This train was caught. Tatlock left his knapsack in the left luggage office of the station, and proceeded to Inverness. He was at the station when the next train arrived, bringing Jackson, and the two men travelled then to Edinburgh, though Jackson was all unconscious that he was being shadowed.
The next day they went up to London, and Jackson engaged a room at the London and North-Western Hotel; so did Tatlock. At this hotel Jackson was met by a superbly dressed, handsome woman, and it was evident she imparted some unpleasant news to him. They had ordered supper, and sat together at a small table in the dining-room. The woman handed Jackson a letter to read. As he read it he bit his lip and frowned deeply. The contents of that letter annoyed him greatly. When he had read it he sank into a fit of abstraction; then he slowly tore the letter into minute pieces and dropped them into a tumbler on the table.
Tatlock addressed himself to a waiter. You see that tumbler with pieces of paper in it on the table where that lady and gentleman are sitting. Bring it to me without attracting attention, and you shall have a sovereign.
The waiter was naturally curious, but he was also discreet. A sovereign was not to be sneezed at for so small a service, and he secured it. As soon as he was in possession of the fragments of the letter Tatlock went to his room, and with infinite patience succeeded in putting that letter together, and this is what he read:
The Club, Boston, U.S.A.
My dear Julia,
A catastrophe has happened. Dear Old Joe has been nabbed, although they may have a difficulty in proving anything against him, for you know how cautious he is. But, if anything is discovered, it will be awkward for all concerned. Get hold of the boss without a moment's loss of time, and put him on his guard. He is so prolific in resource that he may be able to suggest some means of throwing a shield over Joe, whom we must try and save at all costs. I am watching developments, and ready to skip at a moment's notice. I will write more fully by the next mail. But give the boss the tip immediately. Perhaps he will come across the pond.
This letter revealed a good deal, and left no room to doubt that Jackson was the 'boss' referred to, and that he was a rascal. Tatlock soon determined on the course to pursue. In a few hours he was travelling back to Scotland, and as fast as trains and coach would take him he made his way to Loch Maree, where he found Lady Tarrant and her daughters and friends still staying there. When he had made himself presentable after his long journey, he sought an interview with Lady Tarrant, and opened the ball by asking her how long she had known James Washington Jackson.
'Only three months,' she said. She had made his acquaintance at Grasmere, in the English Lake Country. He represented himself as being a nephew of the renowned Stonewall Jackson, who won fame during the American Civil War. His father, according to his account, was a very wealthy man, and was a High Court Judge in the State of Pennsylvania.
'Of course, you have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of these statements?'
'And Mr. Jackson is engaged to one of your daughters?'
'Yes, to Beryl. They are very fond of each other.'
'I presume I am right in supposing that if you were assured that Mr. Jackson was an adventurer you would not allow your daughter to see him again?'
Lady Tarrant uttered a little suppressed scream. The bare suggestion of such a possibility shocked her. Then she was indignant, and said some harsh things.
'Madam,' said Tatlock, 'please have a little patience. I have a duty to perform, and before long I think I may be able to prove to you that Mr. Jackson has deceived you, and that he is not the person he represents himself to be. Failing that, nothing remains for me to do but offer my abject apology. You will, however, confess that it is better to suspect than to be deceived. If Mr. Jackson became the husband of your daughter, and turned out to be an impostor and a scamp, you would be sorry, but sorrow would be of no avail. Better, therefore, to err on the side of caution.'
Lady Tarrant could not find fault with the logic of this argument, and the result was she promised to be silent and secret until the time came to speak, and she undertook to assist Tatlock in every way.
In the course of conversation she had mentioned incidentally that Jackson had placed in her care when he went away a small despatch box, saying that it contained valuables, and he asked her to guard it jealously till his return. No doubt he was under the impression that this box could not be in safer hands than those of his prospective mother-in-law. And this impression would have been right under other circumstances. As matters now stood, Tatlock re-quested her to let him have the box for a short time. At first she was very reluctant to do this, but yielded at last to his arguments, subject to a condition that it should be opened in her presence. This was agreed to, the services of a village blacksmith were secured, and he succeeded after some difficulty in picking the lock.
The contents of the box were principally papers, but amongst them were several United States bonds, cheque books of various English banks and of the Bank of New York. There were scores of letters, and these, together with other documents, proved that 'Jackson' was an assumed name; that the man had passed under many aliases, but that his real name was Shapcott Darlton. There was also a book containing the names and addresses of a large number of titled and wealthy people in England and elsewhere. Amongst them was the name of Lady Tarrant, with this comment:
'Rich, with unmarried daughters. Said to be an old fool and easily gulled.'
Lady Tarrant almost had a fit when she read this. It was a terrible blow to her pride and self-respect, and she could not avoid an articulate prayer of thankfulness that she had so narrowly escaped the trap set for her by the clever rascal Darlton, who, although a man of immense cleverness and ability, chose to walk in the paths of vice rather than apply his talents to the benefit of his fellow-beings, as he might have done, while enriching himself at the same time. Of course his abilities, added to his polished and plausible manner, made him terribly dangerous. He was the head of a little band of educated and expert rogues, all related by ties of blood, and who resorted to the most daring and complicated crimes in various parts of the world in order that they might enrich themselves.
Tatlock's task had finished. He briefly telegraphed at follows to the American Ambassador: 'Jackson is Shapcots Darlton.'
In a very short time afterwards Darlton was arrested, and his box of documentary evidence was seized. The woman he had met at the London and North-Western Hotel turned out to be his cousin, and the person who had sent the warning to her from America was another cousin. In due course the man and woman were extradited and sent hack to the States, where they were subsequently found guilty of many crimes, and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
ONE blistering August day, when London was sweltering under a tropical sun and the one aim and object of every-one seemed to be to get cooling drinks, two young men, carrying between them a solicitor's deed-box, slowly and wearily toiled up Chancery Lane. Horses, pedestrians, drivers, everyone suffered from languidness begotten of the heat. The wood pavement sweated out its tar until the atmosphere reeked with a sickening odour. The stones were hot, the walls of the houses were hot, the iron railings would have blistered the hands that touched them. The sky was cloudless; there was no wind; the sun's rays were like a thrice-heated fiery furnace. The policemen on point-duty mopped their steaming faces, and puffed and groaned. Italian ice-cream vendors did a roaring trade at the street-corners, and everywhere where they could be obtained cooled drinks, drinks, drinks were in brisk demand.
The two young men carrying the deed-box, on which was painted in white letters 'Re Edward Burley, Esq., Deceased,' moved with an evident sense of oppression. They swung the box between them with the air of men who were longing to creep into some cool and shady corner and go to sleep. They were lawyers' touts and clerks; they were ill paid, they fed coarsely, and they were cunning after their kind; but still they were human, and never having seen much of the sun, for they had never been out of England, they were overcome.
Coming from the opposite direction, a stranger stopped and addressed them. He wore a top-hat and frockcoat, its hideous blackness relieved by a splash of red at the buttonhole—a crimson rose. He didn't seem much affected by the heat, though, as he stopped, he removed his headgear and mopped his forehead.
'Can you tell me where Crim, Crisp & Co.'s place is?' he asked of the clerks.
'Why, you're coming away from it,' answered one. 'It's up in Gray's Inn, out of Holborn.'
'What a nuisance!' exclaimed the stranger, irritably. 'Some fool told me it was in the Middle Temple.'
The clerks laughed in chorus. 'We are going towards Gray's Inn, and will direct you, if you like.'
'It's very kind of you.' He turned in his steps and went with them. Presently he stopped. There was a tempting-looking public at the corner of a street. 'By Jove, I'm parched,' he said. 'I must go and have a drink.' He moved towards the door. The clerks looked longingly. He halted. 'Will you fellows join me?' Of course the fellows would.
The three went in through a side doorway. On the door was painted the legend 'Private Bar.' The stranger was affable, courtly, and liberal. 'Three large whiskies and soda, with a huge block of ice in each,' was his order. The ice fluid was grateful to the cracked lips and parched throats of the clerks. They had put the deed-box on a fixed seat against the panelling of the compartment. The bar was pretty full, and people came and went. The whiskies and soda were consumed, and with princely liberality the courteous stranger commanded the glasses to be replenished. But joy and pleasure were ever evanescent. Twenty minutes or so had passed. The clerks felt hotter than ever, but their throats were not so parched. They turned to go, and to their amazement found that the deed-box had gone before them. Possibly it was a teetotal deed-box, and objected to a public-house bar. Anyway, it had disappeared. The young men rushed out. They looked north and they looked south, but the box was not visible.
The stranger commiserated with them, and wondered what sort of 'bally rascal' it was who was mean enough to steal a lawyer's deed-box. Agitated with a great distress, the young men discussed the situation. It was a very serious one for them. It meant ruin, for they would be dismissed without character, and even a lawyer's clerk must have a character of some sort for appearance sake. There was but one thing to do under the circumstances, and they did it. That was, they hurried off to the nearest police station to make known their loss, and of course they parted from the stranger, and saw him no more. As may be surmised, the case passed into the hands of Tyler Tatlock, for it was far more serious a matter than appears on the surface, and the police failed to trace the thief.
Clinton & Hills were lawyers. They had been established for some time in dingy chambers in Fleet Street, but had taken more commodious offices in Holborn, for big fees and silly clients had enriched them. To these offices they were removing on the day that the box disappeared. They had had the management for some years of the estate of a Mr. Edward Burley. He had been a wealthy man and a client of theirs for a very long time. He was regarded as an eccentric man; secretive as to his affairs, though the solicitors knew a good deal about them. He left the bulk of his property, the net value of which was about ten thousand a year, to a nephew, who was a minor at the time of his uncle's death, and the solicitors were appointed his guardians. The stolen deed-box contained documents of the utmost importance, and failing their recovery no end of complications might arise. The two youths who had been entrusted with the important duty of carrying the box to the new offices told a plain, unvarnished talc, for they were cute enough to see that any other might place them in an exceedingly awkward predicament, so for once in their lives they were truthful.
From the first Tatlock was firmly of opinion that the stranger who had accosted them and treated them to drinks was in collusion with somebody else; that the whole business was a plant, and he set to work to discover if possible who was likely to be so far interested in the estate of the late Mr. Burley as to think it worth while to steal the deeds. A mere stranger would surely never have walked off with a box of deeds relating to property of which he knew nothing. The theory, therefore, was that whoever stole the deeds knew a good deal of Mr. Edward Burley's affairs. Tatlock worked from this hypothesis. It was obvious to him that the theft was the result of a deep-laid scheme, and was carried out by some person who was well posted up in the doings of Clinton & Hills. Necessarily the detective took every means to find out if the two clerks were in any way in collusion, and he satisfied himself that the story they told was a perfectly correct one.
Clinton & Hills were not able to furnish Tatlock with any serviceable information with reference to Mr. Burley's domestic and purely private affairs. Clinton was a man well advanced in years, and had known Burley for a very long time. Hills was a young man of about thirty, and had been Clinton's partner for six years. They agreed in the opinion that Burley had been somewhat of a mystery, and, as far as they were concerned, he never talked of his past. Tatlock was convinced that in the man's past would be found a clue to the robbery, so he worked accordingly.
Burley was practically a self-made man, and a money-grabber. He was unfortunate in being violent-tempered, and of a selfish and unfeeling disposition. Tatlock gathered up these facts with comparative ease, for the prominent characteristics of a man are generally known to a pretty wide circle of people; but his further information which enabled him to solve the problem was only acquired by the exercise of great tact, discretion, and ingenuity, and at the cost of much patient toil.
He discovered that Burley had married when he was a little over twenty and very poor. He was married at Christchurch, Whitechapel, and the register set forth, amongst others, the following particulars:
Marriage between Edward Burley, bachelor, importer and agent; father's occupation, carpenter; and Emma Amelia Scranns, spinster, shop assistant; father's occupation, market gardener.'
For some years after the marriage the young couple lived in the neighbourhood of Whitechapel, and Burley's financial progress could be traced. At first they occupied a small house at a rental value of twenty-four pounds. Soon after they removed into one worth forty. Later still into one worth seventy, and ten years after marriage they were tenants of a comparatively palatial abode in a square situated between Bow Road and Commercial Road East.
No children came to bless the union of Mr. and Mrs. Burley, and there was a crystallised belief that their conjugal life was far from happy. Indeed, it was a tradition of the neighbourhood that Mr. Burley used to 'bash his missus,' and at last she 'took up' with a young Jew, and her liege lord and master kicked her out.
After this little incident in his domestic affairs Mr. Burley shook the dust of Whitechapel from his shoes, and, washing his hands of all and sundry, trekked west. About this time there was a hiatus of some two years that could not be easily filled up, but there was reason for the belief that Mr. Burley travelled abroad.
When next the trail was picked up he was living in a big house in Russell Square and had a small riverside residence on the banks of the Thames, near Henley. He had set up his carriage, had numerous horses and traps, kept a butler and several other servants, was believed to be a widower, was looked upon as eminently respectable, but 'close-fisted.' He had a housekeeper, a Mrs. Doyle, who had a son, a youth at this time between twelve and fourteen, in whom Mr. Burley took great interest. This son, Thomas Doyle, was a pupil at the City of London Schools, and was said to have brains. Before he was twenty he went up to Oxford, but the chief thing in which he seemed to have distinguished himself was extravagance. He plunged into debt. Mr. Burley paid his debts and forgave him. Encouraged by that, he took a still deeper plunge, but this time Burley declined to pay any more. There was a scandal, and young Doyle was rusticated. He disappeared after that, and there was reason to believe that he went abroad; but his mother continued to live for years under Mr. Burley's roof, until the measure of her years being full she passed away. Mr. Burley only survived her by two years. For years before he died he had a manservant, who acted as his valet. He was a Scotsman, by name James Gillespie. This man was with him up to his death. Tatlock discovered Gillespie in this way: In the house adjoining Burley's house in Russell Square was a servant whose sister had been a housemaid in Burley's service. This sister married Gillespie, and they took a small hotel in the neighbourhood of Henley. From Gillespie the following information was gleaned by Tatlock:
For two or three years before Mr. Burley's death a man was in the habit of visiting him occasionally. It was made evident that he was not a welcome guest. There were many signs to indicate this. He was known to the house-hold as Mr. Moore, and it was generally believed that there was some relationship between Mr. Moore and Mr. Burley. A very short time before Burley's death, and being then in delicate health, he was visited by Moore, who sat with him in his bedroom. Gillespie remembered that particular visit very well indeed, and he knew that between his master and the visitor there was a violent altercation. At last the bell of the room was rung violently, and, on Gillespie hurrying up, he found his master unconscious in his chair, while Moore was pale and agitated. He said he believed Mr. Burley was in a fit, and urged that the doctor should be summoned immediately. This was done, and as the doctor lived in the neighbourhood he was soon at Mr. Burley's house. He diagnosed the 'fit' as apoplexy, and pronounced it a serious case, and he got in a colleague, who confirmed this. The usual course in such cases was adopted, and at length the patient showed signs of being relieved.
The medical men did not consider it advisable to leave the sick man, they dined in the house together with Mr. Moore, who seemed much concerned about Burley, and was particularly anxious to know if he was likely to re-cover his faculties or not. To this the medical men gave a cautious reply. The attack was a bad one, they said, but still they were hopeful that their patient would rally. It was useless, however, to attempt to disguise the fact that he was in a dangerous condition. Moore was asked if he knew any of Burley's relations. He replied that he did not think there were any Mr. Burley would care to have about him. Nevertheless, the doctors urged that it was a duty on Moore's part to inform these relatives that Burley's life was hanging by a thread. He promised to do this on the following day, and expressed his intention of staying in the house all night. Of course no one had the power or authority to object to this.
The doctors took it in turns to watch by the bedside of the stricken man. One stayed the first half of the night, and was relieved by his colleague at four o'clock. Moore slept in a room leading out of Burley's room, though connected with the landing by an independent door. Although the word 'slept' is used, it would appear as if he slept but little or not at all, for he was constantly in and out of the patient's room, and seemed restless and ill at ease. About nine o'clock the medical watcher was alarmed by noticing a change for the worse in Burley's condition, and he sent a post-haste message to his colleague. Before the latter could arrive, however, the struggle was over. Burley was dead. Moore said that as one who all his life long had known Burley, he would avail himself of his position to seal up some of the effects. This he did in the presence of the doctors, affixing tape and seal to a cupboard in the bedroom, to the deceased man's desk, and to sundry drawers and boxes. He then left the house, saying he would call upon Mr. Burley's solicitors, whom he knew. He did that about midday, but previous to doing so he called at Burley's bank, as Tatlock discovered, and cashed an open cheque for £4,000. It was dated two days previously, and was made payable to George Moore.
As it was very unusual for Burley to give an open cheque for so large an amount, the cashier took it to the manager, who, while surprised, believed it to be all right. Nevertheless, Mr. Moore was asked if he had business connections with Mr. Burley. He seemed indignant at being questioned, and handed the cashier his card, on which was printed 'George Moore, 37 Ebury Street, Pimlico.' In the end the cheque was cashed, the amount being paid chiefly in Bank of England notes. An hour later those notes were converted into gold at the Bank of England by, there is little doubt, Moore himself.
In all these various incidents Tyler Tatlock saw good reason for thinking that the mysterious George Moore might be able to throw some light on the disappearance of the deed-box, more especially as there was reason to think the signature on the £4,000 cheque was a forgery. This could not be proved, of course, as Mr. Burley was dead, but critical examination and comparison with scores of other cheques signed by Burley revealed differences sufficiently marked to arouse suspicions. Experts, in fact, declared that the cheque was a forgery, but in the absence of Burley himself no charge of forgery could have been legally sustained.
As Tatlock worked the problem out he came to the conclusion that George Moore and Thomas Doyle were one and the same, and that Doyle was Burley's son. The description given by the doctors and Gillespie of Moore, and the description of the stranger who met Clinton & Hills' clerks as they were carrying the deed-box, were identical.
Now, it was obvious that while he lured the young men into the public-house he must have had a confederate at hand to carry off the box, and scarcely less obvious that there was a traitor in Clinton & Hills' office who gave Doyle the tip about the box. Tatlock kept this thought to himself, but he watched and probed. Besides the two youths who carried the box, there were four other clerks in the offices. But against no one of these could he get a tittle of anything that would warrant him in suspecting him. Then Tatlock said to himself:
'Thomas Doyle was Burley's son, and between them was ill blood. A quarrel between them brought on the attack of apoplexy from which Burley died. Instead of the son inheriting a share at least of his father's property, it was all left to a nephew. Doyle, enraged and desperate, thought that if he could get hold of the documents in possession of Clinton & Hills' they might be of value to him. Some-body in Clinton & Hills' office gave him information. 'Who was it? Not the clerks, because I've tested them. One of the partners, then? This is startling, but quite feasible. Which of the partners? Not Clinton. He is an old man, and very well off. Hills, then? Yes, probably. He is young, fast, extravagant. At any rate, he must be watched.'
Falling in practically with this line of argument, Tatlock did watch. Hills was not well off. He had a fourth share only in Clinton & Hills. That fourth share had been bought for him by a brother. Hills was single, but engaged to be married. One day he left England for a short holiday. He went to Paris. Tatlock went with him, but all unknown to him. The night of his arrival in Paris Hills dined at the Cafes de la Paix with Thomas Doyle alias George Moore. The detective hastened back to London, and reported to Mr. Clinton, who was shocked, but decided to take no steps till his partner came back. When he did he was questioned. He realised that his guilty secret was discovered, and did the best thing he could perhaps for himself under the circumstances—he went home and put an end to his existence.
Doyle was arrested in Paris, and in his possession was found all the deeds and papers. He declared himself the son of the late Mr. Burley, said that he and Hills had discussed the matter, and resolved that the deed-box should be stolen, and later on, when all chance of recovering it had passed, arrangements should be made to return it to the guardians subject to the payment of a large sum of money, which the partners in guilt were to share.
It was a pretty and ingenious plot, frustrated by the cleverness of Tatlock; but Doyle slipped through the meshes. He employed an exceedingly able French advocate to oppose the extradition, and owing to some technical flaw in the indictment he succeeded in getting his client released while fresh papers were being prepared in London. In the meantime Doyle disappeared, and was heard of no more.
THE great American liner, the City of Baltimore, which had been lying in the Mersey all ready for sea, had blown her final warning whistle; all visitors had been cleared from her decks, her anchors were tripped, and her mighty engines were beginning to pulse and throb through every fibre, timber, and plate of the floating city, when the scream of a tug's whistle was heard, and a tiny tug was seen to put forth from the landing-stage, and to tear through the yellow waters of the muddy river at her best speed towards the slowly-moving ship. She was flying a signal at her mast-head, and this signal caused the captain of the liner to telegraph 'Dead slow' to his engine-room. In a few minutes the tug snorted and puffed up alongside the City of Baltimore, looking in comparison like a barnacle against the side of a whale. From the liner a rope was thrown and dexterously caught on board the tug, which steamed up right amidships of the big vessel, from which a rope ladder was lowered, and the gruff voice of the captain sang out: 'Now, then there, bear a hand. Make haste, please.'
A little, dapper, agile man sprang from the rail of the tug on to the rope ladder, mounting swiftly, and, like a practised hand, he stepped lightly on to the big ship's deck, and was received by the purser and one of the officers, while a crowd of passengers, whose curiosity had been aroused, pressed eagerly round to get a glimpse of the last passenger, who had only saved his passage apparently by the 'skin of his teeth.' A leather portmanteau was pulled up after him from the tug, which was instantly cast adrift, and headed back for the landing-stage. The engines of the liner now revolved more rapidly, and the great vessel stately and grace-fully proceeded towards the sea.
The passenger who had arrived by the tug was a little man, with small piercing eyes, which were almost hidden at times when his brow was contracted. He was neatly dressed, and wore a broad-brimmed soft felt hat. He requested the purser to conduct him at once to the captain, as he bore a letter from the owners, and must deliver it at once. This statement was, of course, a passport to the captain's presence, and a quarter of an hour later the purser was summoned, and to him the captain spoke thus:
'Mr. Arnold, you must find a berth for this gentleman, Mr. Walter Bilby. A berth for himself, you understand?'
'But, sir,' protested the purser, 'I have not a vacant berth in the ship.'
'Mr. Arnold, I said you must find one.'
The purser knew the skipper too well to risk his position by attempting to argue against a matter which the skipper had said 'must' be done. So the worried purser went away scratching his head, and he held a consultation with the chief steward, and, as two heads are always better than one, the problem was ultimately solved by the steward himself giving up his cabin to the stranger, while he himself under-took to sleep on the floor in the purser's room.
The City of Baltimore was unusually crowded, for it was the autumn season, and Americans who had been 'doing Europe' were flocking back to their country in crowds. There were over a hundred passengers in the saloon alone, and upwards of five hundred second and third class. When the Baltimore had cleared the Tuskar, and began to face the swell of the sea, the majority of the passengers disappeared, and the stewards were in great request. But dapper little Mr. Bilby was evidently a seasoned traveller, as he was in no ways affected, and, smoking a big and strong cigar, he paced up and down the quarter-deck, in spite of the roll and pitch, with perfect ease.
Naturally there was much curiosity on the part of his fellow-voyagers to know who this late passenger was; evidently a person of some importance, or the big liner would not have waited for him. But Mr. Walter Bilby was not a communicative person, and he showed no disposition to satisfy the curiosity. Nevertheless, he was voted a pleasant fellow, for he could sing a good song and tell a good story. He did not exclude himself from the smoking-room, nor did he object to take a hand at cards, though all efforts to draw him out failed. But though this was the case as far as he was concerned, he was himself enabled to learn something of a good many of his companions, for he had a wonderful, insinuating, and artful way that was perfectly irresistible. An apparently chance remark, or carelessly asked question, drew a considerable amount of information from others. The impression he created is best illustrated by the following remarks of one man to another as the two stood talking on the deck that evening:
'I say, isn't that fellow Bilby a curious cuss? His eyes are precious small, and almost invisible sometimes, but upon my soul they make one feel as if they were peering into your brains. He seems to me the sort of fellow that would worm your heart's secrets out of you, but it's very little you would learn about him in return.'
Man number two acquiesced in the general correctness of this criticism, and the two agreed that Mr. Walter Bilby was somewhat of a mystery.
Amongst the lady passengers in the saloon was one who puzzled and mystified her sex no less than Mr. Bilby puzzled his. She was of somewhat masculine type, as her features were rather large. But she had a good complexion, so delicate and fresh that it was the envy of the women. Her eyes were blue, her hair, of which she had a great quantity, was tawny in hue. She had delicate and beautifully shaped hands, and wore a number of diamond rings. She occupied a berth by herself, and studiously held aloof from all her fellows. Her age might have been guessed at anything from twenty-five to forty. She spent her days in a deck chair, and seemed interested in a book, and her manner was so disdainful, so cold, so repellent, so stand-offish, that the women by tacit consent avoided her. Some of the men, however, tried to ingratiate themselves, but succeeded no better, with one exception. Mr. Bilby, to the astonishment of all, so far overcame her reserve that occasionally he sat beside her, and they chatted and laughed, and two or three times he carried her wraps down to her cabin for her.
One morning, after she had made herself comfortable in her deck chair on the leeside of the hurricane house, Mr. Bilby came on deck, and spying her out approached her. She was known on board as Miss Veronica Broadwood. The following conversation between her and Bilby was overheard by some of the other passengers:
'I wish, Miss Broadwood, you would do a little favour for me.'
'With pleasure if I can. What is it?'
'Oh, I am sure you can if you will try. It's a very small matter. I have a smoking-cap for which I have a great liking. It was given to me and elaborately embroidered by a young lady to whom I was much attached. By some carelessness I have managed to unravel a great deal of this embroidery, and I am much distressed. Will you kindly put it on again? I shall be so greatly obliged if you will.'
Miss Broadwood laughed, though there was a troubled expression on her face.
'My dear sir,' she exclaimed, 'it's absolutely beyond me—'
'Yes, it is indeed.'
'But it is only a question of sewing it on the velvet in accordance with the rest of the pattern.'
'That may be, but I cannot sew.'
'No. I hate it.'
'Do you never use the needle?'
'How strange! I thought every woman was more or less clever with the needle.'
'A popular error, Mr. Bilby. At any rate, if that is a general rule, then I am the one exception.'
'Well, well, you do astonish me. Why, I should have thought those shapely and delicate hands of yours would have been capable of executing the most exquisite needle-work.'
'If my hands have given you that impression, I am afraid they are deceptive.'
'Obviously—obviously. Well, I am sorry. I must see if I cannot get some other lady to oblige me.'
'Oh, you will have no difficulty in doing that.'
'How do you know?'
'Because you are so fascinating. What woman could resist you?'
'You've resisted me any way.'
'Don't say that.'
'But you won't oblige me.'
'Haven't I told you that I can't use the needle at all?' answered Miss Broadwood, with a certain sharpness which indicated that the subject must be dismissed. Bilby took the hint, and something else was talked about.
The City of Baltimore was a very comfortable but not a fast boat, and she usually took nearly ten days to complete the passage to New York. During the last day or two Mr. Bilby, it was noticed, became more than ever attentive to Miss Broadwood, which called forth from one lady the remark—made to another young lady—'I declare, that fellow Bilby is flirting with that she-cat, Miss Broad-wood. Well, what he can see to admire in her, goodness knows—the stuck-up hussy. I'll bet she's some adventuress on the look-out for a fellow with money.'
This was a little spiteful, but feminine, though it was but an echo of the sentiment of the rest of the ladies in the floating community.
As the vessel proceeded up East River to her berth Mr. Bilby became even more closely attentive to Miss Broad-wood. He wished to know if he could be of use to her. Might he inquire where she was going to stay?
She thanked him very much, but she would not trouble him in any way. She did not quite know where she was going to. She expected friends to meet her, and they would make all arrangements. Possibly she would only stay in New York a few hours.
When the vessel was berthed and the custom-house officers were examining the passengers' baggage, Mr. Bilby strolled to the section where the ladies' baggage was being subjected to scrutiny. Miss Broadwood, unlike most of her sex, had only a comparatively small box. Nevertheless the officers were turning everything out of it, while the lady herself stood by, looking pale and anxious. For a woman of position, as she seemed to be, she had an astonishingly meagre and scant wardrobe, which caused one of the men to exclaim ironically:
'Well, madam, I guess European shopkeepers ain't much better off for your visit, and the revenue of this country won't benefit by your trip.'
Miss Broadwood did not reply, though she looked very indignant. She peremptorily ordered the man to put all her things back. That done, she locked her trunk, and instructed one of the licensed porters to convey it for her to an address she gave in Twenty-Fifth Street. She then joined two gentlemanly-looking men who had evidently been waiting for her, and the three drove in a carriage to Delmonico's, where they dined sumptuously, the party being swelled by two other men and two ladies, who also arrived in a carriage.
The next morning pretty early Miss Broadwood called in a state of excitement at the chief Police Bureau to coin-plain that on the previous evening she had handed her trunk to a licensed porter, No. 107, for conveyance to an address in Twenty-Fifth Street, but he had failed to deliver the box, and she was terribly distressed about it. The officer on duty asked her if she was sure she had given her property into the charge of a licensed man. She said there was no mistake about it. She looked at his badge, and he showed her his licence. The officer was puzzled. All the licensed men were vigilantly superintended, and robbery by one of them was almost an unknown thing. However, he promised that very active steps should be made at once to get on the track of the man and recover the lost trunk.
Miss Broadwood was in a great state of mental commotion, and declared that she would pay a reward of a hundred dollars if the box was at once restored to her with its contents intact. The officer said he would do his best, and communicate with her immediately he heard anything. On this understanding Miss Broadwood took her departure, looking disconsolate and downcast. She had not been gone very long before another curious thing happened. The officer received a fresh visitor, and this time it was Mr. Bilby. This gentleman remained at the Bureau for over an hour, and had a long interview with the chief. Then he went away.
In the course of that day Miss Broadwood sent repeated, urgent messages to the station to inquire if her lost property had been heard of. To the last message an answer was returned to the effect that the police hoped to give her some information about the trunk in a few hours.
The principal houses in Twenty-Fifth Street were very imposing, and proportionately as high-rented as they were high architecturally. They were let out in flats, and occupied by people of means and position. The address Miss Broadwood had given was at one of the most imposing buildings in the thoroughfare, on the third floor of a ten-storeyed structure. Night had closed in when a dozen men assembled at the main entrance. They had come in twos and threes from different directions. There was a hurried consultation amongst them, carried on in low tones. Then almost noiselessly they filed up the stairs to floor three, and gathered about the door on which was an obtrusive brass plate setting forth that the flat was the residence of 'Mr. Aaron Gristwold.' One of the men, who seemed to be the leader, rang the bell. In a few minutes the door was opened by a black manservant.
'Is Mr. Gristwold in?' was the query.
'I guess he is, but he's mighty busy. What do you want?'
'To see him,' was the curt answer, and the leader, brushing aside the nigger, swept in and was followed by the others. Several of them had revolvers in their hands. One man kept the nigger quiet, and the others marched down the passage, pushed open a door, disclosing a brilliantly-lighted room, filled with men and three or four women, including Miss Broadwood.
'Hands up!' cried the leader.
The party thus suddenly disturbed were thrown into a state of consternation. The table was littered with papers, and some of the party made a grab at them, but the intruders presented their revolvers, and in a stern, commanding voice the leader exclaimed: 'Hands up, or by God we'll shoot!' Miss Broadwood suddenly drew a small revolver from her pocket and placed it to her mouth; but before she could fire, one of the intruders rushed at her and seized her, wresting the weapon away.
The leader was the celebrated New York detective Josh Bryant, and the others were policemen, who, thanks to 'Mr. Bilby,' otherwise Tyler Tatlock, had thus swept into their net a nest of notorious scoundrels, including one of the cleverest forgers in the world, Jack Humphrey by name, but who had passed under as many aliases as there are days in the year, the latest being 'Miss Broadwood.'
To explain how this dramatic scene had been brought about it is necessary to state that a large number of United States bonds had been sold in London. These bonds, however, were forgeries. Tatlock was employed to trace the delinquent, and he obtained information to the effect that a man named 'Walter Nolan,' who had been staying at one of the large West End hotels, had sold the bonds. There was every reason to believe that Nolan was the much-wanted Jack Humphrey, who had been on the stage and was accounted an excellent actor. He was a little, effeminate man, with singularly delicate-looking white hands, and had made his mark as the impersonator of female characters, his voice being very like a woman's. When Tatlock went to the hotel he found the bird had flown. He was traced to the Euston Station, and there was every reason to believe he had gone to Liverpool, and, as he was known to be unsurpassed in the art of disguising himself, it was feared that he might get clear away.
But those who thought so reckoned without their Tatlock. Humphrey was known to have his principal quarters in New York, and to be the head of a gang there of as clever swindlers as ever preyed upon society. Tatlock surmised that the fellow would take the first boat sailing for America. That boat was the City of Baltimore. Tatlock rushed to the office of the owners, and secured the list of passengers. It was a long list, and did not help him. Yet instinctively he felt sure that his man would be on board, for, knowing that the scent was hot, he would hasten to get out of the country where the hounds were baying at his heels, so he made known his business to the owners. There wasn't a moment to lose, as the vessel was weighing anchor. But Tatlock rushed down in a cab to the landing-stage in the company of an official of the firm, who took 'Mr. Bilby' off in one of the tugs, flying a private signal to the captain that he must take this last passenger on board and find him a berth in the saloon. That order was law to the captain, and he obeyed it.
Tatlock had not been long on board before he began to suspect that there was something strange about Miss Broad-wood. He shadowed her, and at last hit upon the clever device of asking her to do some sewing for him. Her confession that she could not use the needle convinced him that 'Miss Broadwood' was not a woman. In the meantime he took the captain into his confidence, and when the ship reached the East River a message was sent to the custom-house officials to thoroughly search Miss Broadwood's trunk. Although it contained a good many articles of feminine attire there were some men's clothes, and several coils of different coloured hair. But acting on advice the officers asked no questions about this extraordinary circumstance.
When the licensed porter had started on his journey with the trunk to the address given he was overtaken by a detective from the custom-house and ordered to proceed to a police depot. There the trunk was subjected to a critical examination. It was found to be beautifully and ingeniously constructed, with double sides and lids which were well calculated to escape any but the closest scrutiny. These sides were lined with a quantity of forged bonds, banknotes, and mortgage deeds, which no doubt would have been palmed off on unsuspecting victims had it not been for Tatlock. As it was, the New York police, thanks to Tatlock, captured most of the notorious gang, and though Tatlock had not the satisfaction of conveying 'Miss Broadwood' back to England, as the rascal had to be tried first of all in the United States for crimes committed there, he was warmly congratulated on breaking up the exceedingly clever band of wretches whose depredations had been carried on for years, during which they had obtained immense sums of money.
The ruling spirit of the band was unquestionably Jack Humphreys of the many aliases, and on both sides of the Atlantic there was a sigh of relief that this marvellously clever and artistic swindler had been laid by the heels at last. In recognition of the valuable service rendered in this remarkable case Tyler Tatlock was publicly presented with a purse of gold, some plate, and a magnificently-illuminated address, subscribed for by merchants and bankers both in London and New York.
MADAME IRENE was a Spanish lady naturalised in England, where she had spent the greater part of her life. She was a widow of an uncertain age, but with a very certain income, which enabled her to live in excellent style and indulge an extravagant hobby for collecting works of art and miscellaneous knicknacks which are generally classified as bric-a-brac. Her beautifully-situated house on Richmond Hill was a storehouse of valuable art treasures, and there she entertained in a princely way, and proudly displayed her collections to anyone who took an interest in such things.
To Tatlock she went one day full of moaning and wailing. It was a distressful story she had to tell, and her artistic soul was stirred to its depths. She had just returned from a treasure-hunting expedition in Italy. She had been to quaint Bologna, the mouldering old city of a dead glory. While there she heard of one, Jacob Weinberg by name, a Jew curio-dealer, who was said to possess a wonderful Rubens. She was told of a Madonna which was reputed to be matchless. Of course she sought out Weinberg and saw the Madonna. 'A lovely head! Oh, so beautiful, so wonderful, so poetically sad, so full of divine sorrow!' Thus she rapturously described this 'unique work of art.' She bargained with Weinberg. He had elevated bargaining to a science. He demanded a sum that nearly drove her into hysterics. He expatiated with glowing warmth on the merits of the head. He declared it should never—no, never—leave his possession unless the price he asked was paid. She offered him one-third, and he wept with a wordless sorrow. When he recovered he called her attention with enthusiastic ardour to the beauty of the colouring, to the pathetic tenderness of the eyes, to the wistful, pleading, yearning expression of the saintly face. She increased her price by a hundred or two. He wept again, and vowed he would rather die than part with it unless the small value he had put upon it was paid. To sell it for less would be a sin and outrage against art. Madame wanted the treasure, but she was not without commercial instinct, and she refused to budge an inch. The Jew wailed and wept. He grew heated, he protested, he appealed. 'Art was art,' he said, and not butcher's meat.' Day after day for a whole week did the Jew and the lady struggle for mastery, and in the end the lady won, but it was at the cost of the Jew's heart, for that gentleman declared by all his fathers and prophets that that important organ of his anatomy was burst asunder. Nevertheless he was enabled to give her a receipt for her very substantial cheque, and to receive her instructions for its despatch to London. And he insisted upon her seeing with her own eyes the packing of the precious treasure. She failed not to do this. Had it been a newborn babe, or a bottle of a rare vintage port, it could not have been handled with greater tenderness. Madame saw it securely packed up in its case, the lid of which was screwed, and the address label fixed. Then, full of emotional joy, the lady took her departure and journeyed to Rome.
Two months later she arrived at her Richmond residence. Her anxious inquiries elicited the fact that a wooden case had arrived from abroad. Her heart palpitated with joy. She depicted the delight and envy of the world of art when she invited its chief representatives to view her wonderful find. It was a proud moment for her when her careful carpenter commenced to loosen the screws of the box. With what a loving regard for the precious contents of the box were the screws withdrawn! How cautiously was the lid removed and the top wrapping taken out! Then a cry of horror burst from the lips of Madame Irene, for, instead of her Madonna coming to view, all that could be discovered was a quantity of fine shavings and bits of paper. The Madonna was not there; she had been spirited away.
The shock to Madame's nerves was great. The loss from the mere monetary point of view was a very serious one, while from the art standpoint it was irreparable unless the picture could be regained.
The next post that went out carried with it a letter from the lady to the Jew. And a few posts later came a letter from the Jew to the lady. He had despatched the picture within a few hours of her seeing it packed. He was 'tremendously' distressed. The treasure had been stolen en route; probably by the rascally Italians, or still more rascally French, while the package was in transit. He was sure it could not have been abstracted on the English lines, for the English railway people and carriers were so honest. He instituted inquiries, and so did Madame, but to all and sundry it seemed a profound mystery. The Italian authorities indignantly repudiated the insinuation that the theft was committed while they had charge of the box. But the French! Yes. Was it not well known that the French railway employees were as villainous as they could be?
The French, on their part, were very blunt in their condemnation of the Italian system of conveying goods. No proper check, they alleged, was kept, and the Italians were so wanting in principles and morality that anything was possible amongst them. The English railway company were emphatic in declaring that it was next to impossible that the picture could have been stolen on their system.
Weeks were thus consumed in useless correspondence and inquiry, until in despair Madame invoked the aid of the great English detective. She had paid a very large sum for the painting, and she wanted her money back or the picture. The recovery of the picture was probable; the recovery of the money next to impossible. The Jew had delivered the property to the Bologna Railway people for transmission to England. He had paid all charges on it for transit, as he had agreed to do, and there his responsibility ended. His distress almost drove him mad, and his very elastic heart was once more broken as he thought of the unmitigated wickedness of anyone who would steal a Madonna.
Tatlock listened patiently to the story, which was told somewhat disjointedly, but with impassioned gesture. Now and again he dropped in a question, which was the means of eliciting a good deal of straightforward information, calculated to help him in working out a theory, and Madame felt a trifle happier when he took leave of her, with the assurance that he would use every endeavour to recover her picture.
As was his wont he thought the whole matter out very carefully, and examined all the possibilities. He knew that on the Continental lines robberies were of frequent occurrence. However charitably disposed one might be, it was impossible to acquit the companies of a laxity of supervision, which made crime comparatively easy. Complaints were numerous of the ransacking of passengers' luggage and the pilfering of small things, but the theft of the picture seemed to Tatlock to point to an organised plan and a pre-knowledge of the valuable contents of the wooden case. He had been careful to ascertain that when the case was opened at Richmond there was no appearance of its having been previously disturbed. It had passed through the English Custom House without examination, the 'declaration of contents' being accepted as accurate. It was very obvious, therefore, that if the picture had been stolen while in transit the thieves must have been well prepared, and have had facilities afforded them for carrying out the robbery; nor was it less clear that they were no ordinary pilferers, for the vulgar luggage-rifler would hardly be likely to carry off a unique work of art, which could only be disposed of at very great risk and under exceptionally favourable circumstances.
Tatlock had a free hand with regard to his investigations. Madame, with the enthusiasm of the art worshipper, had told him he was to spare no expense if he thought there was the faintest chance of recovering the Madonna. From the first he was of the opinion that the chances were very good, for whereas a watch, or ring, or the like, could have easily been disposed of, there was no open market for a painting by so celebrated an artist as Rubens. A genuine Rubens was far too rare for the typical pilferer to be able to offer it for sale without attracting attention to himself. A collector or dealer would to a certainty inquire about its history, and wish to know how it came into the possession of the vendor. These facts were so indisputable that it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that the guilty parties were no ordinary railway thieves.
As already stated, there had been quite a mass of correspondence on the subject. Each company over whose system the package travelled was excessively desirous of repudiating any suggestion that laxity of supervision on their part had rendered the thief's way easy. Each company tried to pose as the embodiment of all the virtues, and declared with an emphasis the outcome of firm conviction that 'it is impossible that the picture could have been stolen while it was passing over our line,' and, further, each Continental company, with the smug consciousness of exalted virtue, hinted in what might almost be described as veiled allegory that if the picture had really been stolen in transit the search-light of exhaustive inquiry should be directed on the English system. They did not make any definite accusation, but told pretty fairy stories of things that were said to have happened on English railways. Tatlock, who carefully examined this correspondence, knew what value to attach to the protestations of sweet innocence. Nor was it from any insular prejudice or obliquity of vision to the sins of his compatriots that he made up his mind that it was impossible the Madonna could have been stolen in England. The box was put on hoard of the steamer at Boulogne. The passage across the Channel occupied a little over an hour, and there was absolutely no opportunity for the box to be opened, the picture taken out, and the packing replaced in its original state unless captain and crew were in league. Such an idea as that was too absurd for consideration. Landed at Folkestone, and being marked to be expedited by grande vitesse—that is to say, by express, which meant passenger train instead of ordinary goods—it was placed with the passengers' luggage in the London boat train at Folkestone. In London it came under the notice of the custom-house authorities, but they did not open the box, and in less than twenty-four hours it was delivered at its destination.
Tatlock's inquiries and investigations were of a very exhaustive nature, and the result was that he came to the conclusion that the Madonna had never left Bologna. That suggested one or two probabilities, and narrowed the area of search considerably. One day, in the character of an art treasure seeker, he called upon Jacob Weinberg, a German Jew long resident in Italy. He was a striking-looking man, seventy years of age if a day. His singularly lined and drawn face bore in it evidence of a life spent in greed for gain. His small and somewhat vicious-looking eyes were strangely suggestive of a sleepless watchfulness for chances of money-making. Jacob Weinberg was a little man, with a restless, nervous temperament, and a wonderful command of the voluble language of persuasion, which men of his calling and religion possess to a greater or lesser degree. He displayed a passionate eagerness to trade, and a feverish anxiety lest a possible customer should depart without purchasing.
He lived in a mouldy old house that had once been a palace. Bologna is full of palaces, and the cobbler who patches your shoes beats his leather and plies his awl under a roof which probably, in the times of long ago, may have sheltered some representative of Italy's wealth and grandeur in the days of her greatness. Jacob Weinberg took snuff in a somewhat disagreeable manner; his garments were ancient and patched, and he evidently attached no weight to the axiom that 'cleanliness is next to godliness.'
As 'Mr. John Sturgess, of London,' Tyler Tatlock inspected the art treasures in Jacob Weinberg's storehouse, and he priced this and that, and made numerous inquiries. The old Jew had somewhat of a European reputation. He was in correspondence with many notabilities, and often received commissions to ransack the capitals of the Continent in search of some particular work of art that was much coveted. That he was an authority in such matters was undoubted, and in his way he was a character of much originality.
When 'Mr. Sturgess' had finished his inspection he alluded to the loss of the Madonna, and this allusion drew from the Jew an exclamation of surprise.
'Ah, you know Madame Irene?'
'She is to be pitied: she is to be pitied. It is sad that she should lose that fine head I sold her. Who could have stolen it, I wonder?'
'I wonder, too,' replied Tatlock reflectively.
'It could not have been done by any ordinary thief. It was all so cleverly managed.'
'Have you any theory of the robbery?' asked Tatlock.
'What is it?'
'Madame Irene got that Madonna very cheap. She beat me down; she is so clever, and I—I am weak, you know. She is so charming a lady that she made a triumph over me. It gave her great joy, and she must have talked about it. That is so very like a woman, you know. Madame is a great lady, and I am a poor Jew—very, very poor. But I love art, and I make many sacrifices. I like my patrons to have good things; and sometimes I lose in my bargains.'
'But how does that square in with the theory of the robbery?'
'Ah, I come to that. Madame she made a big story, no doubt. She tells people she has bought a genuine Madonna, and that she squeezed poor old Weinberg until she got her picture for the price of dirt. She boasts about that picture, and the story spreads. Then somebody who hears it makes a fine plan to steal it.'
'But surely more than one person must have been mixed up in the affair?'
'Beyond doubt. It is a business. Several persons perhaps have an interest. They provide money. They give a big bribe to some official on the railway. In Italy the officials are such rascals. They get so little wages that they can be easily bought. If you comprehend that, then the rest is easy.'
'Then you believe that the head has never left Italy?'
'I believe the robbery was done in Italy; but now the Madonna may be the other side of the world.'
'I suppose you have done your best to help Madame in her search for the lost treasure?'
'Truly, truly have I. But it has been so cleverly done. It is so difficult to trace the thieves.'
'Then you don't think the picture is likely to be recovered?'
'Alas, I fear not.'
Tatlock dismissed the subject, and soon after, much to Weinberg's disgust, he departed without making a purchase. The following day he had to answer an anxious letter of inquiry from Madame Irene, in which she urged him to candidly tell her whether he had got any clue, and if he thought it likely he would recover the painting. In reply he said:
'It is impossible for me to say at present what the chances are of recovering the Madonna. The robbery seems to have been effected in a very clever manner. Of course the railway officials here are very indignant at the mere suggestion that the picture was stolen on any part of their system. They declare it would be absolutely impossible for such a thing to be done without there was a widespread conspiracy, which would necessarily involve a good many of the employees. From my own investigations I am pretty well convinced the theft was not committed on the Italian railways, and, though I do not wish to raise your hopes too much, I think it possible I shall ultimately succeed in solving the mystery.'
In less than a week of the date of despatch of this letter to Madame, Tyler Tatlock was in Milan, and one evening, accompanied by two gendarmes and an Italian detective, armed with the necessary legal authority for a domiciliary visit, he went to an old house in the Rue Cavour. It was a sort of lumber place for the storage of all kinds of bric-à-brac and the like, and, after much rummaging about in what seemed most unlikely corners, the stolen Madonna was brought to light. Carefully packed and enfolded in long strips of canvas, it had been concealed on the beams of the roof in a loft where the spiders and dust were seldom disturbed. Forth from that house as a prisoner went a young Jew named Moses Weinberg, son of Jacob Weinberg, of Bologna, and the telegraph was set in motion to Bologna, carrying instructions that Jacob was to be arrested. And when the morrow dawned Madame Irene, to her joy and delight, was telegraphically informed by Tatlock that the lost Madonna had been recovered.
It was another triumph for Tatlock. His investigations had led him to suspect that old Weinberg could throw some light on the robbery. Link by link he worked out a chain of circumstantial evidence, and his deductions forced him to the conclusion that the Madonna was abstracted from the case by Weinberg himself after Madame had seen it packed and had herself gone away; and when Tatlock learned that Weinberg's son managed a branch establishment in Milan, and that the son had visited the father a few days after Madame had made her purchase, then were his suspicions deepened, and he resolved to lay such information in Milan as would insure him the cooperation of the Milan police. It was a clever move, the result of accurate theorising, and, as was determined at a later stage, old Weinberg, annoyed at Madame's persistency in beating him down in price, resolved that, though he took her money, she should not have the picture, which he resolved, when the affair had blown over, to sell to another customer. That little bit of greed was his ruin, and he did not live to complete the sentence that was passed upon him.
THE following story—alas! too true—records one of those grim tragedies of real life the recital of which moves one to the pathos of tears, unless one is strangely emotionless. It needs no pen-dressing, no florid colouring to heighten its dramatic interest; it is best told in the plain and homely language of everyday life. Tatlock confesses that during his long experience none of the many cases he had to deal with stirred him to his depths as this one did.
A gentle lady, tenderly nurtured and brought up, married, when she was only seventeen, Richard Ernest Merford, who held a commission in the army. He was one of a large family. His father was a country clergyman, who had practised a life of self-denial and self-suppression in order to educate his children well and bring them up respectably. It was said of Richard Merford that he was one of the handsomest men the world had ever seen. Whether that was true or not matters little, for it is not with him the narrative is mainly concerned. Two children were born unto him, a girl and a boy, the latter being named Gabriel, who grew up handsome and reckless, like his father before him. Captain Richard Merford died before he had turned forty. During his short life he discounted the future in every possible way. A small fortune he had inherited was dissipated; he alienated his friends; he blighted his career, and a scandal, in which the name of a lady of title was involved, compelled him to resign his commission. Then followed a few brief years of mad recklessness on the turf, until, wrecked with disease and broken-hearted, he sank into a dishonoured grave.
Mrs. Merford, who was a sweet woman, had borne with exemplary patience shame, contumely, and misery, struggling with heroic devotion to screen her girl and boy from the father's blighting influence. Fortunately for herself she had had a small income settled upon her, and so bound with the bonds of legal strictness that it was completely out of her husband's reach. When he died she continued to be-stow unremitting care and attention on her children; and particularly was she mindful of the boy, who was as the apple of her eye; her soul's delight. Gabriel spent some years at a public school, and then went up to Oxford; but he disappointed his tutors, and left without taking honours, and with a somewhat unsavoury odour clinging to his name. Not that he had committed, so far as was known, any grievous fault; but he was credited with many youthful follies which greatly pained all who were interested in his welfare.
On leaving college considerable influence was brought to bear by his mother's relatives, and after a few months' travelling abroad he secured an appointment as private secretary to a member of Parliament, who was immensely wealthy. For three or four years he seems to have fulfilled his duties to the entire satisfaction of his employer and with credit to himself. His employer, whom we will refer to for the purpose of the story as 'Mr. Grantly,' took great interest in him, and indicated his desire to promote his interests in every way. But heredity was strong in the young man, and some of the vices which had ruined and destroyed his father began to manifest themselves, and led him into debt. In a moment of desperation he confessed his errors to Mr. Grantly, who generously, on receiving his solemn promise to reform, paid off his liabilities, and rein-stated him in his estimation.
Mr. Grantly had three daughters, the youngest, Virginia, being about nineteen. She was a girl of surpassing beauty and high accomplishments. As might have been expected, between this beautiful girl and her father's hand-some secretary a strong attachment sprang up. Mr. Grantly, having full confidence in young Merford, treated him almost as one of his family, and, as it chanced, the secretary and Virginia were thrown much together. She was a very clever linguist, and as her father had a large foreign correspondence she attended to his foreign letters, the consequence being that she and Merford saw a great deal of each other.
It was to be revealed at a later stage that he frequently urged her with passionate pleading to go through a secret marriage with him. But against this deception she set her face with stubborn determination; and no less passionately she prayed him to go boldly to her father in an honourable, straightforward way, and ask his permission to marry her. Merford declined for some time to do this, much to the young lady's amazement, for she was very sanguine that her father, who loved her devotedly, would not stand in the way of her happiness. Nevertheless Merford maintained a stubborn obstinacy, and used every argument he could think of to bring her to his way of thinking. Virginia, however, was too dutiful and loyal, and had too high a regard for honour and truth, to deceive her father; and when Merford realised this, and he had exhausted his arguments, he sought a private interview with Mr. Grantly, and nervously and excitedly declared his passion for Virginia, and craved per-mission to marry her.
Mr. Grantly, who had never suspected anything, was quite taken aback, and had hard work to conceal his anger and annoyance. As was only natural in the case of a man of his standing and ability, he said that he would commit himself to no hasty decision one way or the other. In the meantime he would talk to Virginia, and ascertain her feelings in the matter, for he had her happiness deeply at heart. Subsequently he made known his views to his secretary, and they are best expressed, perhaps, in his own words.
From what I have seen and heard, you have succeeded in entirely winning the trust and love of my daughter, and though, if I had been referred to at an earlier date, I should resolutely have set my face against your becoming my son-in-law, I fear that matters have gone too far now, and I therefore countenance an engagement between you, subject to the following conditions:—You shall pledge me your solemn word of honour that for two years you will hold no communication with her. During that time she shall live out of England with some relatives. If at the end of the two years you are still both of the same mind I will sanction your marriage, and will liberally dower my daughter, so that you may have no financial anxiety as regards the future.'
Merford expressed himself as satisfied with the conditions, and gave the necessary promise to refrain from making any attempt to communicate with Virginia during the stipulated time. Twelve months later Mr. Grantly died somewhat suddenly after a trying and exhausting Parliamentary session. When his will became known to the family it was found that he had added a codicil, embodying in effect the verbal conditions he had made with Merford, and setting forth that if at the end of the two years Virginia was still desirous of becoming the wife of Merford, and subject to his keeping his promise not to communicate with her, he was to receive from the estate the sum of twenty-five thousand pounds, and provision was made for settling three thousand pounds a year on her for life, and her children, in the event of any being born, were not forgotten. Indeed, Mr. Grantly's generosity and foresight were displayed in a very marked manner. Until the expiry of the stipulated two years Merford was, in the event of the testator's death, to continue to act as secretary, and was charged with the duty of collating, sorting, and arranging the deceased's papers.
The foregoing may be taken as a sort of prologue to what follows. Mr. Grantly had been in his grave about six months, when Tyler Tatlock was called upon to investigate the circumstances attending the death of a young woman, known as Mrs. Sherrington, and her daughter, Ada, aged four and a half. For some time Mrs. Sherrington and her child had occupied a picturesque but lonely little cottage standing in about an acre of garden near Maidenhead. Mrs. Sherrington led a very secluded life, and had aroused the curiosity of the neighbourhood, for nothing was known about her, and she seemed determined that nothing should be known, for she visited no one, and did not encourage anyone to call upon her. She kept no servant, but twice a week a Mrs. Rogers, a charwoman from Maidenhead, went to the cottage to do the washing and help to clean up.
One morning she went as usual—it was Friday—and she found the house shut up. She knocked and waited and waited, and knocked again; but, getting no response, she became alarmed, because she knew that Mrs. Sherrington was expecting her. So she appealed to a rural constable who was passing, and expressed her fears that something was wrong. He was induced to obtain a ladder, which he reared against an upper window that was unfastened. Lifting the window, he got in, reappearing a few moments later with the startling information that Mrs. Sherrington and her child were lying on the bed, both dead, and he hurried off to make the affair known in the proper quarter. A doctor who was called in said the woman and child had been dead many hours, and, as they had both vomited very much, he was of opinion they had both partaken of some poisonous food. Of course a coroner's inquest was held, and the poison theory confirmed. In a dust-bin at the back of the house a broken pie-dish containing some remnants of a rabbit pie was found, and, as the medical evidence proved that the dead woman and child had partaken of rabbit pie shortly before death, the contents of the stomachs and the remains of the pie, which had been partly devoured by a cat, which was lying dead under a hedge a few yards away, were subjected to analysis, and the fact revealed that the pie was poisoned with arsenic, and mother and child had died from arsenic poisoning.
Here at once was a first-class sensation, and it flew on the wings of electricity from John o' Groat's to Land's End. It was just the kind of mystery the public delight in, and mystery it remained for some time. Adjournment after adjournment of the inquest became necessary, until the difficult analytical work had been completed, and when that was done there was no room to doubt that mother and child had died from eating rabbit pie which was almost saturated with arsenic. Then, of course, arose the question, Who put the arsenic in the pie?' For the time being that question was more difficult of answer than the most complicated of any of Euclid's problems. No arsenic was found in the house. Mrs. Rogers was almost the only witness. She testified to the secluded life Mrs. Sherrington lived. She never heard of arsenic being used for any purpose in the house, and did not consider it possible that her mistress could have put it in the pie wilfully. Mrs. Sherrington always seemed very happy, and was passionately fond of her child. Mrs. Rogers was aware that on two or three occasions a gentleman visited her mistress, but Mrs. Rogers had never seen him. Sometimes amongst the clothing she washed at the cottage she had found a gentleman's shirt and collars.
Jim Schofield was the next witness. He was a farm labourer, an unlettered and ignorant man, but with a certain native shrewdness and considerable intelligence. The cottage occupied by Mrs. Sherrington stood on his master's land. The farm fields surrounded it, and Jim worked in those fields early and late. He knew Mrs. Sherrington, because he kept her garden tidy, for which she often gave him a good square meal and a shilling or two. He had occasionally seen a gentleman go to and leave the house. On the day that Mrs. Sherrington and her little girl died it happened that Jim was working in the field which was separated from Mrs. Sherrington's garden by an oak paling only. Between three and four in the afternoon he saw the gentleman open the wicket gate, go up the garden path, and knock at the door of the house. In a few moments the door was opened. Mrs. Sherrington and the little girl appeared, and embraced affectionately the man, who in turn embraced them. The witness remained working in the field in full view of the cottage until seven o'clock, but did not see the man leave. A few days before his master and some friends had been out rabbit-shooting. Three of the rabbits shot were sent to Mrs. Sherrington, and Jim took them. He never saw her again after that.
This was about all the evidence there was to offer, and when everything had been weighed and examined it was made evident beyond all dispute that the woman and child had died from eating rabbit pie poisoned with arsenic, but there was nothing to prove how the arsenic got into the pie.
Of course this was the only verdict that could be returned under the circumstances, but the police were fully convinced they were face to face with a mysterious case of murder, and they enlisted Tatlock's services without delay. He states that he had rarely had anything submitted to him which looked so hopeless from the start as this case did. A careful search of the premises failed to bring to light any document or letter calculated to be of use. Mrs. Sherrington either had no correspondents or destroyed her letters as soon as read. But in the pocket of the dress she had worn on the day she died was a note written on half a sheet of note paper. It was without date or address, and was worded as follows:—
I will run down to see you to-morrow (Thursday). I shall arrive at the house between three and four. Kiss the Babs for me.—
Lovingly yours, G.
Now it happened that it was between three and four on a Thursday that Jim Schofield saw the gentleman he had seen on two or three occasions go into the cottage. The deduction, therefore, was that the 'gentleman' and the writer of the note were the same. In a drawer in Mrs. Sherrington's bedroom, amongst a quantity of linen, a gentleman's white shirt was found, marked in one corner with the initials 'G. M.' These things and a detailed description of the mysterious visitor, the description being supplied by Jim Schofield, were all that Tatlock had to guide him in the initial stage of the inquiry. He ascertained that Mrs. Sherrington had rented the cottage two years previously to her death from a farmer named Archibald Gifford, the rent being twenty pounds a year, payable quarterly. The instalments were paid with great punctuality and regularity. In Maidenhead was a grocer's shop kept by John Hunter. At this shop Mrs. Sherrington had been in the habit of obtaining her supplies of groceries. Once she ran up an account of ten pounds odd, which was not forthcoming at the time it was expected, and, two or three applications having failed to get a settlement, John Hunter gave the debtor peremptory notice that if the amount was not forthcoming by a certain date he would pass the matter into his solicitor's hands. The result was that before the date came round Mrs. Sherrington presented a cheque in payment. The cheque was for fifteen pounds. It was drawn in favour of Ada Sherrington, and it was signed Alfred Smalley. The grocer cashed the cheque, deducting his account, and handed the balance to his customer. It was a crossed cheque, and he paid it into his bank in the usual way.
Now Tatlock noted that the brief letter found in Mrs. Sherrington's pocket and signed 'G.' had, according to the post mark on the envelope, been posted in Paddington, and the branch bank on which the cheque was drawn was also in Paddington. This to him was significant. It was suggestive that the drawer of the cheque and 'G.' both lived in Paddington; and was there not a probability, he argued, that 'G.' and Alfred Smalley were one and the same person? Inquiries at the bank elicited the fact that Alfred Smalley had had a small current account there for about two years. They did not know what or who he was, but, according to his address in their books, he lived at 27 Ebury Street, Pimlico. This proved to be a house kept by a woman who took in lodgers. She received letters from Alfred Smalley, who had once lodged at her house, though not in the name of Smalley, but Gabriel Merton. The initials marked on the shirt were 'G. M.' The lodging-house keeper further informed Tatlock that her late lodger had, she believed, been living at the house of Mr. Grantly, the member of Parliament. She did not know what Merton's occupation was, but she thought he was 'a sort of a superior kind of servant—a gentleman's wallet or something.'
Following up the clue thus obtained, Tatlock proceeded to the house of the late Mr. Grantly, and learnt Merton's true position; but Merton had suddenly disappeared a fort-night ago, leaving word that he had been called to the death-bed of a relative, and would return in a few days. But he had not returned, and had sent no word of explanation. The late Mr. Grantly interested himself in farming, and carried on a model farm in Essex. At this farm large quantities of arsenic were used for sheep. Merton had recently spent much time at the farm.
The gathering up of these facts placed Gabriel Merton under grave suspicion, which was greatly strengthened when it was ascertained that he had closed his account at the bank and removed all his things from Mr. Grantly's house. If he were honest and guiltless why had he gone off so strangely and tried to destroy his tracks? Of course Tatlock learnt the story of Merton's life, for it seemed to have been pretty well known to the late Mr. Grantly and members of his family. Merton's description and the description of the strange man who was in the habit of visiting Mrs. Sherrington were identical, and all over the country this description was circulated. A little later it was announced to Tatlock by a firm of shipowners that a young man answering the description in every way, though known to them as William Smith, had sailed in a ship of theirs called the 'Somersetshire' for Melbourne. He had booked a saloon passage, and the date of his sailing tallied with the date of Merton's leaving Mr. Grantly's house. The 'Somersetshire' was a sailing ship, but a fast one, and she had been gone three weeks.
Tatlock laid all the facts as he had gathered them up before the authorities, but they did not seem able to make up their minds as to whether or not Gabriel Merton, Alfred Smalley, and William Smith were one and the same. But Tatlock never wavered nor doubted. He was convinced, and urging the necessity for action on the part of the authorities, he was at last furnished with a warrant of arrest and commissioned to start in pursuit. A stern chase is a ong [sic] chase, and Merton had got a good start; but Tatlock secured a berth in a P. and O. boat from Southampton for Alexandria. Thence overland to Aden (it was long before the opening of the Suez Canal). At Aden he got a trading steamer just starting for Melbourne. She was a slow boat, and the passage was long and stormy.
On arriving at Melbourne he learnt that the 'Somerset-shire' had arrived weeks ago, discharged her cargo, and gone to Newcastle, on the Hunter River, to load coal for China. Of course her passengers had dispersed far and wide, and for the moment the trail of William Smith was lost. But Tatlock found that a Mr. Collins, head of the firm of Collins & Co., printers, Melbourne, had come out in the 'Somersetshire,' and to him Tatlock went in the bare hope of picking up a thread. Nor was he disappointed. Collins had become somewhat interested in William Smith, who seemed to hold himself aloof from every one. But Collins succeeded in winning his confidence to some extent, inasmuch as he asked many questions about Australia, and particularly how best to reach some gold diggings in the Braidwood district of New South Wales. After going on shore he dined, by invitation, two or three times at Mr. Collins's, and finally called to say good-bye, as he was off on a bush tramp, and was going to make his way to the diggings he had spoken of, as he intimated that he had a cousin there.
Having thus got on the trail again, Tatlock was speedily following it, accompanied by two experienced men of the mounted police force. It was a rough and trying ride through some of the finest of Australian scenery, which, at any other time, would have filled Tatlock with delight. But now he was so intent on running his quarry down that he had little thought for anything else. At last, after rapid travelling, they crossed into New South Wales, reached Braidwood, and learnt that a man answering the description of the one wanted had gone to a very wild spot called Naraga, where some quartz and alluvial diggings were being worked. Forth the trackers went, and, not without some difficulty, reached their destination, which, up to a recent period, when some prospectors had discovered gold, had been one of Nature's unbroken solitudes. William Smith was found at last, and from a portrait Tatlock carried he had no difficulty in recognising him as Gabriel Merton. When the warrant was read over to him he seemed aghast, but quickly recovering himself vowed and declared that the suspicion against him was infamous.
Protestations, however, were useless. He was arrested, deprived of all weapons, and escorted under a watchful guard to Sydney. A week later he was being conveyed back to England as a prisoner. Tatlock found him an interesting, intelligent, and clever fellow, and did what he could and dared to ameliorate the harsh conditions of his position as a prisoner charged with a dreadful crime. The prisoner's behaviour was all that could be desired. He gave no trouble, and conformed without a murmur to the rules to which he was subjected. Without being sullen he was silent and reserved, and seemed to have resigned himself to his fate.
When the vessel, which was bound to Liverpool, reached the mouth of the Mersey all hands were startled by the discovery that the prisoner passenger had strangled himself in his cabin. He left a document for Tatlock, in which he told the terrible story of his life, and acknowledged that he was Gabriel Merton and had been known as Alfred Smalley. When at Oxford he had made the acquaintance of a publican's daughter, and secretly married her. He placed her under an oath to keep the marriage secret until he gave her permission to divulge it. At his request she went to live with her child at the cottage near Maidenhead. As was inevitable, his folly came home to him, and when he found that but for this obstacle he might have married Miss Grantly and a fortune he was maddened, and in a moment of desperation he resolved to rid himself of his wife and child by the awful expedient of murder. At first he did not realise the enormity of his offence. When he did he was overwhelmed, and, unable at last to withstand the fearful strain and suspense, as he gathered that no effort was to be spared to bring the crime home to the guilty person, he resolved upon flight, the end of which was to be the dark tragedy that closed his career in sight of his native land. Had he been stronger-minded, more self-reliant, and a clever criminal, he might have managed to escape earthly punishment. As it was, his sin found him out, and the cruel deaths of his wife and daughter were revenged. In his confession he stated that he had obtained the arsenic at Mr. Grantly's farm, and had availed himself of the opportunity afforded by the temporary absence of his wife from the cottage to poison the pie which she had specially pre-pared, and which stood upon the table ready for supper.
The revelation of his awful wickedness killed his aged mother, who sank beneath the shock; and the sweet girl who had believed him true and honourable, and had loved him passionately, renounced the world and its ways and went into a convent.
'DYING, I bequeath to you a precious legacy—my daughter, and between dead lips I pledge you and her.'
Speaking these words, with a sad smile on his pale and wasted face, Herbert Lindmark raised with trembling white hand a tumbler of hot spirit to his lips and drank. Then replacing the glass on the table, he put his silk handkerchief to his eyes to wipe away a tear.
Herbert Lindmark, B.A. and Barrister-at-Law, was quite a young man, being at this time under thirty; but he was drifting away, silently but surely, like gliding water to the great ocean of eternity.
Scarcely a year had passed since Mr. Lindmark, having eaten all his dinners and passed his examinations, had been called to the bar. But though he had installed himself in sumptuous chambers in Lincoln's Inn, he had never yet held a brief. He had distinguished himself at his college, and might have distinguished himself in the profession he had chosen, had not a want of stability of character and a fatal weakness of purpose proved his ruin. His life had been short, but he had spent it recklessly. To use a popular phrase, he had 'burnt the candle at both ends,' and though a strong and robust man may sometimes do this and yet live to a green old age, Lindmark's constitution was too delicate and his frame too weak to withstand the liberties which had been taken with them. And so on this cold bright Christmas morning, Herbert Lindmark, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, knew and felt that he was trembling on the borders of the unknown. The scene is a comfortable room in his chambers, and a bright fire sends out warmth and a ruddy glow, and imparts a sort of crimson stain to the old dark oak furniture, and the quaint knick-knacks that had been Lindmark's hobby.
The words with which this chapter opens were ad-dressed to his confidant and bosom friend, John Gyde, his junior by several years. The two young men had been at school and college together, and since their first meeting a friendship had sprung up that had never grown cold for a single day. John Gyde, like his friend, aspired to wear silk, but though he was studying very hard he had not yet attained to the dignity of a 'call' even.
Between these two young men the contrast in character was so marked that their unalterable friendship presented one of those psychological problems that it is not easy to find solutions for by any process of ordinary reasoning. Lind-mark had been wild and reckless; Gyde steady, plodding, and rather humdrum, and it was obvious that if ever he gained any marked position in his profession it would rather be by unalterable determination to reach some given end, than by any extraordinary ability. His friend, on the other hand, had shown certain mental power that at times flashed out with the brilliancy of genius; but this, alas seems ever to be a fatal gift, and the sons of genius die young.
Lindmark's career had been a short one, but it had had its tinge of romance. He had come of good stock, and his father's boast was his patrician descent. Young Lindmark's mother dying while yet in her prime, his father had married again; but the second wife proved an clement of strife in the family; she did not take kindly to the children, and Herbert, who was the youngest of three sons, was sent early to school. During his school years he showed such marked ability that when he went to Oxford his friends predicted a brilliant future for him. He had ever been wayward, fitful, and impulsive, however, so that those who had watched him narrowly and knew him best, shook their heads dubiously and expressed fears that he would come to grief.
He had not been long at Oxford before he made the acquaintance of Dorothy Whymper, whose singular beauty of face and figure earned for her the position of the 'Belle of Oxford.' Her parents, unfortunately, were not only humble, but very vulgar. They kept a small public-house that was a noted rendezvous of betting men, and her father himself combined with the business of a publican the debasing occupation of a 'Professional Bookmaker.' These facts, however, did not deter Herbert Lindmark from becoming infatuated with the publican and bookmaker's daughter; and blind to the future, indifferent to all con-sequences, reckless of self and reputation, he secretly married her, and a few months afterwards she bore him a daughter. It was then he began to realise the false step he had taken; a truth that was brought more forcibly and painfully to him by the unprincipled importunities for money which her father was constantly making under the threat of publicly announcing the marriage. At length, when driven to desperation, Herbert determined to go to his own father like a prodigal son, and, confessing his fault, sue for pardon. The confession, however, almost stunned Mr. Lindmark. It was a crushing blow to his pride. Sternly refusing to see his daughter-in-law, he ordered his son never again to darken his doors. Herbert obeyed the order to the letter, and between him and his irate parent a reconcilation [sic] was never effected, as Mr. Lindmark died soon afterwards, his end being accelerated, so people said, by his son's mésalliance.
His father's death was certainly a blow to Herbert, who began to feel the penalty of his error, for his marriage relations proved unhappy. His wife was vain and extravagant, and at that time, owing to his slender means, he was unable to gratify her taste, the result being disastrous to his domestic peace. It was destined, however, that this should not last long, for Mrs. Lindmark fell into a rapid decline, and left him a widower. Possibly he felt this to be a relief, and as he noticed that his daughter Dorothy gave promise of inheriting all her mother's extraordinary beauty, he determined that he would use every endeavour to prevent her developing her mother's mental characteristics.
Fortunately about this time he came into a small but comfortable fortune left to him by an aunt, and this enabled him to make such provision for his child as would secure her being well brought up. None of his own relations would ever recognise her, and as he was painfully anxious that she should not be subject to the baneful influences of her mother's connections, he had placed her under the care of an English lady resident in Paris.
This, then, was Herbert Lindmark's little history; and now at an age when many men can scarcely be said to have passed their youth, his frail constitution had broken down through over-study and dissipation, and he knew only too well that he must die.
His friend John Gyde was the only son of a barrister who had gained some eminence in his day, but he had been dead three years, and young Gyde's widowed mother was the only life between him and the possession of a snug little estate in Devonshire, which comprised a very quaint and curious old house known as the 'Raven's Nest,' which had been in his family for many generations. Gyde, notwithstanding that he came from a legal stock, had never shown much love for the law, but at the earnest entreaties of his friend Lindmark he had taken chambers in the Inn, and was plodding on with his studies in a manner that was peculiarly characteristic of him.
It had been his intention to have spent the Christmas, upon which this story opens, with his mother in Devonshire, but the serious illness of his friend had induced him to remain in town. Gyde knew very well that his friend was dying, but still he tried to cheer him, and in answer to his remark he said:
'Tut, man, don't talk of dying yet. You are worth twenty dead men. Come, I drink to your better health.'
They clinked glasses, and drained a bumper, and then with forced gaiety Gyde continued, 'So Dorothy is coming to-day, and if I outlive you, I am to be her guardian.'
'Yes, Mrs. Turner and she would arrive from Paris last night and stay at an hotel. They will be here by twelve o'clock. As regards your outliving me, that is a certainty, and for our old friendship's sake I have appointed you Dorothy's guardian. I know how faithfully you will per-form your trust, and that makes my coming end less difficult to face. Her fortune will be about three hundred a year, so that her future is secure, save in one thing.' Lindmark paused, covered his face with his hand for a moment, then said: 'That one thing is marriage; I suppose she will want to marry some day; and if I could live till that time, the husband I would choose for her would be the counterpart of yourself.'
'You flatter me,' said Gyde thoughtfully; 'but one thing you may rely upon, I will guard her jealously, and no man shall ever have my consent to wed her unless he is of sterling worth.'
'God bless you,' Lindmark exclaimed in a choking voice as he grasped his friend's hand. 'But away with this melancholy. It is the last Christmas I shall spend with you; let us try and get some pleasure out of it.' Then, with a great sigh, he added: 'Ah, old fellow, we have known some jolly Christmases together, eh?'
'Yes, and I would fain hope we may yet know others.'
Lindmark shook his head sadly, as, filling his own and his friend's glass from the punch-bowl, he said, 'A toast—to be drunk in silence—To the memory of departed pleasures.'
Gyde humoured his friend, knowing his peculiarities, and drank the toast. After this, and under the influence of the liquor, Lindmark grew more cheerful, and trilled snatches of songs; but every now and then was interrupted by a cough that almost asphyxiated him, and left him pale and gasping. Thus the morning slipped away, and it was a great relief to Gyde when he heard the bell ring, and the old housekeeper came in to announce the arrival of 'Mrs. Turner and Miss Dorothy.' In a few minutes the door of the apartment was flung open, and a young, bright, and laughing girl burst into the room with a joyous cry of delight, and flying to Lindmark, and throwing her arms round his neck, she exclaimed, 'Oh, my dear, dear papa, I am so glad to see you!' Then suddenly, as she heard the hacking cough and saw the bloodless face, she drew back in alarm and said, 'Oh, papa, what is the matter? You are ill, and you have never told me anything about it.'
He pressed the fair head to his shrunken chest, and with a ghastly smile he answered:
'No, darling, I have not told you. I did not think it necessary to do so. But come, come, we mustn't talk of illness now. I want this to be a very pleasant Christmas to you, so that in after years it may live in your memory. Possibly, dear'—here his voice faltered—'possibly, dear, you and I will not be able to spend next Christmas together; but if I could only get a little stronger I would go away to some warm climate, and I might then get perfectly well again.'
Lindmark spoke thus to calm the fears of his child, but he knew perfectly well that his days were numbered, and that if his life stretched out for another three months it was as much as it would. Knowing the hopelessness of his case, he had become, as it were, despairingly reckless, and was rather disposed to hasten the coming end, and so cut short the torturing suspense, than make an attempt to delay it.
His daughter was deeply affected, and cried very much, but she was too young to fully realise the dreadful truth, and under the influence of her father's forced laughter, and Gyde's jokes, she grew merry as a cricket. She sat on Gyde's knee and pulled his beard; then she played havoc amongst her father's books, and next, with sweet wilfulness, rattled off a stirring piece on the piano. She was, indeed, a young wild beauty, and her presence was like a burst of glad sunshine.
At this time Dorothy Lindmark was about eleven years of age, with a face of perfect sweetness. She was beautiful, and she knew it, and she had so often heard people exclaim when they first beheld her, 'What a pretty child; what beautiful hair she's got; what bonny eyes!' that she had become very vain. Her skin was almost waxen in its fairness, and her mouth was exquisitely shaped. Her eyes were hazel and languid, while an astonishing wealth of fair hair fell in ripples about her shoulders.
Mrs. Turner, under whose care Dorothy had been in Paris, was a stiff and severe lady of a very uncertain age. Rigid as to her morals and unbending as to her discipline, she had been iron-handed with Dorothy, who consequently felt like a bird escaped from its cage whenever she got a holiday.
The poor child was very happy on this Christmas afternoon, in spite of the severe looks that Mrs. Turner gave her every now and then, for this lady seemed to think that a child should be stiff, conventional, and silent. But Dorothy, when she was with her father, knew that she could do much as she liked, and for the sake of these brief snatches of joyous freedom she was ready to endure any amount of extra discipline that Mrs. Turner liked to impose.
The dinner passed off very merrily, and Herbert Lindmark seemed in unusually high spirits, and, much to good Mrs. Turner's amazement, he allowed his daughter to partake of a little glass of sherry, and to follow this with a glass of champagne; and the lady's indignation reached a point when it burst into a wordy protest as she witnessed her charge attack a third helping of the rich Christmas pudding, very freely moistened with brandy sauce. But Lindmark, who had never brooked authority, would tolerate no interference now, and said politely:
'Excuse me, Mrs. Turner, if I say that I wish Dorothy to do as she likes to-day.'
The lady felt the rebuke and held her peace, though, as the saying is, her blood boiled; but she was a worldly-minded and selfish woman, and knew that she could not afford to quarrel with Mr. Lindmark.
Mrs. Turner was the widow of an officer in the army who had been dead nearly a dozen years. He left her with one son and a hundred a year, and on this scant income she had lived in genteel poverty in Paris. The sixty guineas a year, therefore, which Mr. Lindmark allowed her for Dorothy's keep and education was not to be lightly thrown away. Now, notwithstanding that Mrs. Turner had highly respectable connections, and had been well brought up and well educated herself, she was a designing if not an unscrupulous woman, and she was rather fond of boasting that anything that she set her mind upon she almost invariably accomplished. One of the things upon which her mind had long been set was the marriage of her son to Dorothy when the children were old enough, as she believed Dorothy to be an heiress, and, therefore, a prize worth hooking, seeing that her son's inheritance was only a reversionary interest in the two thousand pounds from which she derived her modest income. Alfred Turner was more French than English, having been in France the greater part of his life; and as a natural consequence he had become impregnated with the insincerity and easy morality which is so conspicuous of French youth; his mother had been to great pains to thoroughly imbue him with the very French social doctrines that marriage should be a marriage of convenience and money; if love comes afterwards well and good, but if it does not it's of no consequence as long as the money is there; but under no circumstances must love be considered before the financial question. It is a pernicious doctrine, but it accorded well with Mrs. Turner's own views, and she preached it.
Alfred Turner was strikingly handsome, but exceedingly forward, and quite as fast as the most lively of his French companions; and in spite of his youth scandal had already coupled his name in a very compromising manner with that of a young lady whose husband occupied a diplomatic position abroad. To Dorothy he had always strenuously endeavoured, in accordance with his mother's promptings, to exhibit the best side of his character, and at times to display devotion, that had it been sincere would have been worthy the name of chivalry. Under these circumstances there was no wonder that the child had come to enjoy the society of her boy lover, and to feel proud and happy when he told her that some day she should be his 'wee wifie.'
To return, however. When the dinner had been cleared away, and the dessert discussed, Dorothy played several pieces on the piano by her father's request, and as the time drew near for her and Mrs. Turner to take their departure—for it was necessary for them to return to the hotel to sleep—Mr. Lindmark requested Dorothy to go with him to another apartment, as he wished to have a quiet half-hour with her.
The child had spent a happy and joyous day, and one that was likely to live green in her memory for many a long year, for it was the first Christmas she had spent with her father for five years. In spite of his flushed face, his apparent high spirits, and seeming improvement in health, it is probable that Lindmark had an impression that his end was very near, and that this might be the last opportunity he would ever have of saying what he wished to say to his daughter. Had this not been so, it is hard to understand why he should have cast a shadow over the child's gaiety, and have changed her gladness to sorrow.
Sinking into a large cushioned chair that had been wheeled up before the fire, he drew her between his knees; and as her soft cheek was laid lovingly against his, and her arms were twined about his neck, he said in tremulous tones, 'Dolly, my darling, this is Christmas night, and I have something solemn to say.' He paused, for, though he often boasted of being very stoical, he was nearly breaking down in this supreme moment. 'I am afraid, Dolly,' he continued tenderly, 'that you will never spend another Christmas day with me.'
'Why, papa?' she cried in anxious alarm, as starting back from him to arm's length, and looking into his now ashen face and burning eyes, she guessed the truth, child as she was.
He laughed a little melancholy laugh as he made answer, the while toying nervously with her golden hair, 'Because, my pet, I am afraid I shall never recover from my illness. There, there, my precious darling, don't fret like that,' he added as he strained her to him, and kissed her tenderly. Then, after a great effort to steady his voice, he went on: Young as you are, dear, I wish you as my daughter to meet the inevitable with strength of mind and fortitude. What I wish to say now, and I wish you to ever remember the words, as words coming from between dead lips, is that I have appointed my dear companion and faithful friend John Gyde your legal guardian. I know that he will watch over you with tender and fatherly care; and when you shall come to be old enough to understand such things, it will give me pleasure now to think that he might even have the right to shield you as his wife. But do not forget that I have never mentioned it to him. As the years pass on and you gain discretion and wisdom, you must use them to determine your own happiness; and that you should do so is my solemn admonition now.'
This was all he had to say, and he was glad he had said it. It had cost him a tremendous effort, but it was done and he felt lighter, for it had seemed to him a duty he owed to his child to speak a few words that should sink into her heart and influence her conduct in after life.
Dorothy made no reply. How could she? She was too young and too inexperienced to understand the stupendous mystery of death, and the equally stupendous mystery of life, with all its great responsibilities and solemn duties. She, therefore, did as any other child would have done, she caressed her father with childish fervour, and pressing her face to his breast she fretted passionately.
And so they sat with the ruddy glow of the firelight playing about them, and calling into being strange shadows that were, perhaps, typical of the shadows that were coming into the girl's life. Suddenly, on the cold still night air, a church clock slowly tolled out eleven; and with a little start Lindmark raised the face of his daughter, who had grown very quiet, and kissing her, said:
'Come, my darling, it is time you went to bed.'
As Dorothy came into the lamplight of the other room, where Gyde and Mrs. Turner were sitting, her face was flushed, her eyes tearful, and her hair disarranged. Neither Mrs. Turner nor Gyde, however, made any remark, although they both noticed these signs.
In a little while Dorothy stood arrayed in a heavy fur-cloak, and her sweet face framed in a woollen hood that made her look, if possible, even more charming. But an expression of thoughtfulness had come into that face, and caused her to appear older than her years.
With her arms round her father's neck, she clung to him for some minutes; and when at last she tore herself from him, after many warm embraces, he said:
'Remember, Dolly, you come and see me quite early tomorrow.'
'May I come at nine o'clock, papa?' she asked between her sobs.
'Yes, my darling, if you wish it.'
Mrs. Turner, who wisely witnessed the scene without making any remark, was glad enough when she and her charge were descending the stairs, piloted by John Gyde, who was to escort them to their hotel at Charing Cross, and then return to pass the night at his friend's chambers.
As soon as he was alone, and the sounds of the descending footsteps had died away, Lindmark uttered a great sob, and sank like a lump of lead upon the couch. In a few minutes he struggled to his feet, and seizing a bottle half full of champagne that stood on the table, he poured out a tumblerful of the wine and drained it at a draught. For a few brief moments it gave him a deceptive strength; but suddenly there spread over his face a ghastly pallor, and a little frothy blood oozed from between his lips. Clasping his hands to his face in a paroxysm of anguish, he uttered a deep moan of pain, then staggering back he fell, with his body on the floor and his head resting against the couch. It was long past midnight when Gyde strolled leisurely back through the silent and deserted streets. It was bitterly cold; the air was keen with frost, and the stars glittered superbly. Gyde was very thoughtful, and a shade melancholy. He thought of the severe and rigid Mrs. Turner; of the sweet child-face of Dorothy as he had last seen it framed in its woollen hood; and of the pallid wasted face of his dying friend, and he dreamed and speculated upon the future; wondered what his own future would be; what Dorothy's future would be; and whether his friend had any future. The latter part of his speculation was soon answered, for when, a few minutes later, he entered Herbert Lindmark's chamber, he found the silence which could never be unsealed. The current of Lindmark's life, like gliding water, had merged itself into the ocean of mystery which is called Death.
IVY-COVERED and honeysuckled, with quaint gable ends, and oriel windows, a smoothly shaven lawn sloping down to the brink of the river that flowed ever onward with a murmuring song, a few old elm trees overshadowing the house that stood in a scene of romantic beauty. Such was the 'Raven's Nest,' the peaceful country home of John Gyde, Esq., who was able to put Barrister-at-Law after his name, but who had never held a brief, and was never likely to do.
During the seven years that had passed since his friend Lindmark's death on that memorable Christmas night, many changes had taken place in John Gyde's circumstances. He had been called to the Bar, and had come into his fortune through his mother's death. The law had never been particularly attractive for him; he preferred the retirement and pleasures associated with the life of a country gentleman. Although not wealthy, John had ample means for the gratification of his simple tastes. His home, while not luxurious, might have served as a model for the most perfect comfort. Scarcely yet in the prime of life, and healthy and vigorous, he seemed destined to know a great many peaceful years. A handsome man and favoured by fortune, he might have had his pick of Devonshire beauties, but he had chosen to remain single, much to the astonishment of many a designing mother; and to the sorrow of many a young lady who would have lived in sackcloth and ashes for a whole year to have become the mistress of the Raven's Nest.' But Gyde avoided all the snares that were set for him, and was proof against the languishing looks and sweet smiles lavished upon him. He was a perplexing riddle to the Devonshire feminine world; and not a few shrewd ladies of uncertain age shook their heads sagely, and said, 'Ah! depend upon it, Mr. John Gyde has designs upon his ward.' Now, Mr. John Gyde's ward upon whom he was said to have designs was Dorothy Lindmark, the daughter of his dead friend, and his sacred trust given to him between dead lips.
Dorothy, or 'Doll,' as he delighted to call her, was in her nineteenth year. Beautiful as a child, she was infinitely more beautiful now that the stamp of womanhood had set its seal upon her.
For three years after her father's death, which had been a sore trial to her, she had remained in Paris under Mrs. Turner's charge. But one day she had written a hurried letter to her guardian asking him to take her away at once. On receiving this note he had lost not a moment in starting for Paris, and on arrival there he found his ward evidently unhappy. The cause of her unhappiness she would not state, though she persisted in her desire to be removed, and on his ordering her things to be packed up ready for the home-ward journey, a scene ensued between him and Mrs. Turner. The lady was evidently unprepared for this summary mode of doing business, and at first was disposed to be obstinate, but at last, recognising how fruitless it would be to oppose Dorothy's legal guardian, she withdrew her opposition, but proceeded to heap opprobrium upon the girl, accusing her of inconstancy and ingratitude, an accusation that was supported by Mrs. Turner's son Alfred. This was the first occasion upon which Alfred and Gyde had met, and it was nearly being marked by what at first threatened to be a serious quarrel. But with great dignity and firmness, Gyde told the young man that he did not recognise him, and would have nothing to say to him. Turner felt himself very effectually snubbed, and like all mean-spirited men he felt very bitter; and he made use of these words just as Gyde and his charge were on the point of leaving the house:
'Look here, Mister Gyde'—he strongly emphasized the word Mister—'look here, Mister Gyde, you've insulted me, and there's bad blood between us. If you were going to stay in France, I would call you out and shoot you like a cur. But don't think I'll forget you. Some day, perhaps, I'll retaliate.'
Gyde attached no importance to these words. He looked upon them as the frothy outpourings of a vanity-stricken boy, whose vanity had been wounded, and as such beneath contempt. He therefore did not even make reply, and in a little while had turned his back upon Paris, and was glad to have 'Doll' safely under his care.
For a year after this, John Gyde's life was very bright and very peaceful; and all his energies, all his concern, all his thoughts, were devoted to and of his ward. Her happiness and pleasure were his constant study, and in order that she should not go from his watchful care he engaged a most accomplished governess for her, but suddenly, like a flash of lighting from a summer sky, came a blight upon his peace, and a shadow on his hearth. The governess one morning sent a request that he would grant her an interview, and on his doing so she almost stunned him by expressing strong suspicion that Dorothy was secretly corresponding with a gentleman.
Gyde heard this statement in silence, and with the almost stately dignity that was part of his character, and on dismissing her, he promised to investigate the matter. For several days afterwards he said nothing, but his troubled face told how great the shock had been; and yet he could not bring himself to believe it could possibly be true. He had such faith in Doll, and that faith was not to be destroyed lightly. Still his interest in his beautiful house and grounds seemed suddenly to cease. He was frequently observed walking in gloomy silence in some of the bye-paths, or sitting dejected and thoughtful in his favourite seat under the great ivy-clad elm that was such a graceful ornament in the centre of the lawn. This change in his manner was not likely to escape notice. The housekeeper noticed it, the chambermaids noticed it, the gardener, the groom, the coachman noticed it, and wondered and talked amongst themselves as to the cause, and last, not least, Dorothy herself noticed it, and one morning followed him into the grounds, and said:
'John'—he had taught her to call him John—'there is something the matter with you. I wish you would tell me what it is.'
Then ensued within himself a terrible struggle. Was he to doubt and lose faith; or should he say nothing, but go on believing that it was impossible for her to deceive him? With such a man, so sterling, so rugged in his honesty, so strong in the grand old chivalry, a struggle between doubt and faith was likely to be very severe, and it was. But at length it seemed to him that it was his duty to tell her what he had heard, and in a few well-chosen sentences he did so.
At first she seemed covered with shame and confusion, and then indignantly denied it. It was sweet music to his ears that denial, and in a moment he had caught her in his arms, and while he caressed her he craved her pardon for ever thinking for one brief instant that she could possibly be guilty of deception.
It followed as a matter of course that the unfortunate governess was dismissed. But she went in sorrow and not in anger, and protested strongly that she had spoken truly. This protest, however, had no influence with John. His ward's denial had built his faith up whole again, and as against that denial all the protests in the world would have been unavailing, and so the peace and the brightness came back; the shadow went from off his hearth, and joy reigned once more in the 'Raven's Nest.'
It is possible that no man ever watched a girl bud and blossom, as it were, into womanhood with more tender solicitude, and more fervent admiration, than he did. Not ordinarily a demonstrative man, he became demonstrative over her. With her growth grew his love also, and John Gyde fondly dreamed of the time when his ward would become his wife. He had dreamed this dream from the memorable Christmas, when his dear friend Lindmark had said, 'Between dead lips,' and with the solemn knowledge of his near end: 'I suppose she will want to marry some day; and if I could live till that time, the husband I would choose for her would be the counterpart of yourself.' Gyde had gazed on her childish face that night, as wrapped in her hood she was a study for a painter, and he said to himself: 'I understand poor Herbert's meaning, and I will try and teach her to love me.' And then, as he returned to his friend's chambers on that bright frosty night, after he had escorted Dorothy and Mrs. Turner to their hotel, he mused thus: 'Poor child, I will be a father to you; and some day, perhaps, a husband to you. But, whether or not, I will try earnestly to make your life a sweet harmony, devoid of one jarring note. Hitherto I have gone through the world purposeless almost. Now I have a purpose, and that purpose shall be an attempt to make from one of the sweetest of children one of the most perfect of women.'
This was, perhaps, a romantic dream, but John was a young man and might be forgiven. At any rate, from the moment that he, with wonderful gentleness, broke to Dorothy the news of her father's sad death on that memorable Christmas night, up to the present moment, his purpose had become fixed and unalterable, and with true nobleness, and a great-hearted chivalry, he had tried to accomplish it; but never once had he breathed a syllable of love to her. Before he did that he wanted to learn her heart, and to know whether she could give him something more than affection—give him what a true man desires from a true woman—pure love, love that shall find no delight in aught else but the loved object; love that shall feel that in its object it finds its hope, its trust, its world, its bliss, its heaven. 'She shall never become mine from a mere sense of duty,' he said to himself, and John Gyde was too true a gentleman ever to depart from that.
The peace that came back to him when Doll denied that there was any truth in her governess's suspicions was not to remain long undisturbed. He was an observing man, and he noticed often there was a little cloud of trouble in her face, and the lightness of spirits which had hitherto so distinguished her gave place to a certain thoughtfulness that at times almost became abstraction.
Naturally enough this troubled him very much; but once, and only once, did he venture to question her as to the cause of this change, and her answer was: 'I think, John, you are getting morbidly nervous. There is really no change in me.' But there was a change, and John saw it; and when he had endured anxiety many weeks he was tempted into questioning her maid as to whether she knew of any-thing likely to cause her young mistress trouble.
This maid was a French girl, a few years older than Dorothy, who had known her in Paris, and had begged her guardian to allow her to take her into her service, a request that was at once granted, when John had made the necessary inquiries about the girl's character. She was known as Marie Delorme, and, as she had always exhibited great devotion and attachment for her mistress, John had allowed her many advantages and great freedom; in fact, had treated her more like a member of his family than a servant.
In reply to his questioning she expressed great surprise, and said that she knew of nothing that could cause Dorothy any concern.
John did not feel satisfied, but what could he do? 'I will be patient and wait,' he thought, 'and some day she will make me her confidant.'
Save for this little trouble in his own heart, and which he kept to himself, John Gyde's domestic life went on smoothly enough, and Doll reached her nineteenth birthday. Beauty itself had set its seal upon her. Men loved her, and women envied her.
It was soon after this, and on Christmas day, that John Gyde determined to speak to her of himself for the first time. He selected Christmas day, because that day had been marked with a red cross in the calendar of both their lives; if a certain sadness was associated with it, it was a purifying sadness, and one that certainly knit them together in a bond of close acquaintance, and which he hoped would bind them in a still closer bond that only death itself could sever.
For years it had been his custom—a custom hallowed by his father and mother for nearly half a century—to keep open house at Christmas time, so that the 'Raven's Nest' had become famed for its hospitality. John had the good old-fashioned notion—a notion that would be better for our common humanity were it more often acted up to—that Christmas time was a time of peace; that is, a time of peace in the sense that the truest charity of the heart should be exercised towards one's fellows, and that injuries should be forgiven, and friendships cemented.
It was a white Christmas truly this, for the weather had been singularly severe for many days. A great snowstorm had swept over the country, and this had been followed by an extraordinarily low temperature, so that the land was locked in the grip of a powerful frost that hardened the snow to iron, and bound up streamlets and ponds in ice of more than a foot in thickness.
John, his guests, and his ward worshipped in the village church that morning, and Dorothy herself had helped to make the church bright with flowers and holly.
'Doll, I should like to have a quiet half-hour with you in the library before dinner, if you will grant me the favour,' he said, as they returned from church.
It struck him that his request caused her some annoyance, judging from a look that came into her face, and he said quietly:
'Never mind, my dear. If it's not agreeable to you to give me the half-hour, I can say what I've got to say some other time.'
'Oh no, John. I will come, of course, if you wish it.'
The manner in which this was said troubled him, because he fancied that they were words that did not come from the heart. But he reasoned with himself thus—'John, John, do not be unjust; you are growing suspicious, and are inclined to misinterpret Dorothy's acts and words.' And so some time afterwards, when she presented herself at his library door, he took both her hands in his, and looking into her fair, sweet face, he said:
'Doll, I have done you a wrong in my heart, because I thought when I asked you to come here that you seemed unwilling to come. I sue for your pardon.'
During all the years that he had known her he had never once, not even when she was a child, kissed her. He had purposely avoided doing this, as he had purposely avoided doing anything that might raise the foul breath of scandal against her fair fame. Throughout, his conduct towards her, both in public and private, had been studied and reserved. In all his bearing he had been her legal guardian, and he could have defied the world to say that for a single instant the guardian had ever become merged into the lover. Yet now he was tempted—so strongly tempted—that he almost yielded to kiss her fair white forehead. But he resisted, and led her to a scat.
'Doll,' he commenced, as she did not answer his remark, 'if I did not know that on this day you always think solemnly of that memorable Christmas, eight years ago, when your dear father and my friend died in his chambers in Lincoln's Inn, I would not have ventured to remind you of it. But I have something to say, and it seems to me that this is the proper and fitting day upon which to say it. Eight years ago, on that sad Christmas morning, your father and I had been talking of your future. He told me that he had appointed me your guardian, and said: "Dying, I bequeath to you a precious legacy: my daughter, and between dead lips I pledge you and her;" and subsequently he added words that burnt themselves into my brain. After speaking of the fortune you would have, he said: "Her future is secure save in one thing—that one thing is marriage. I suppose she will marry some day, and if I could live till that time the husband I should choose for her would be the counterpart of yourself."'
As he repeated this, Dorothy, who had become very pale, suddenly pressed her handkerchief to her face, and letting her head fall upon the arm of the sofa upon which he sat, she burst into tears. This emotion seemed so natural to Gyde that, though he did not like to see her weeping, he did not attempt to disturb her; but wishing to get done with what he had determined to do, and believing that no more favourable opportunity than the present could occur, he continued:
'Those words of your father's were pregnant with a great meaning for me. I know that he meant that he wished you to become my wife when time had ripened you. I would ask you now whether during the years that I have humbly striven to justify the trust he reposed in me, and to do my duty to you, I have in your estimation proved myself worthy of asking you for your love, of asking you to become my wife?'
He had spoken hastily, and with apparent trepidation, as if his feelings were not altogether under his control.
Looking up as he uttered the last word, she exclaimed with a passionate sob—
'Oh, John, forgive me. It cannot be. I cannot love you, excepting as a dear, dear, good true friend.'
'So ends my dream,' he said, with a deep sigh that told only too well how his heart had rent. Then rising, he crossed to her, and laying his hand on her head as if in blessing, he said: 'I will always be your good and true friend; and never again will I ask you to let me be anything else. I will leave you to compose yourself, my dear, for the dinner-bell will ring soon.'
He had controlled himself now with a mighty effort, and he waited a few moments to see if she would make reply, or stay him from going; but she did not raise her head even to look at him, and her only utterances were sobs. So he went forth from the room a changed man.
It was a merry and jovial party that sat down that Christmas night to partake of the hospitality of the 'Raven's Nest.' But at the festive board was a skeleton, though only two persons saw it. Those two were John Gyde and his ward, Dorothy Lindmark. She was slightly paler than usual, and her face wore an expression of anxiety. He was, as he ever was, the hospitable host, the courtly gentleman, with ready wit and keen anticipatory attention to the wants of his guests. Alas, how little did those guests dream that these two people felt that the festivities were a mockery so long as the skeleton was there confronting them!
So sped the night away with jest and song. The holly glistened on the wall, and beneath the laughing mistletoe many a bearded face touched ruby lips. But silence at last reigned throughout the house. The guests had gone to their rooms, and all was quiet where laughter a little while ago had made the rafters ring. John Gyde had not yet retired, but feeling lonely and sad he had betaken himself to his snug little sanctum that he was fond of calling his study; where, in dressing-gown and slippers, he had ensconced himself in his great easy chair wheeled before the fire. He had lit a cigar, but it had been a mechanical act, and, with his elbow resting on the arm of the chair and his hand supporting his head, he was gazing dreamily into the glowing embers, and his other arm, with the cigar between the long white fingers, hung listlessly over the other side of the chair.
Never before had Doll gone to bed without first coming to wish him good-night, but this night she had suddenly disappeared without word or sign to him; and subsequently, on making inquiries, he was informed that she had complained of a violent headache, and had retired much earlier than usual.
'Ah, poor child,' he thought, 'I have done her a wrong in speaking of love. I ought to have known that she did not love me, and should have kept my love an inviolable secret. Poor Doll, how bright your life should be, could I order it as I could wish! It is eight years ago since your father died, and the trust he placed in my hands, as he spoke from the brink of the grave, I have held as something sacred, and have humbly tried to do my duty. Dear old Lindmark, well do I remember your strange words on that memorable Christmas night—"Dying, I bequeath to you a precious legacy—my daughter; and between dead lips I pledge you and her!" I wonder, if your poor dead lips could speak to-night, if they would praise or blame me.'
Thus John Gyde ruminated, and as the last thought passed through his brain he was suddenly startled into vigilance by a strange sound. It was a metallic sound like the falling of an iron bar, and it echoed hollow and strangely through the silent house. Now, Gyde was not a superstitious man. He was too intelligent and strong-minded for that; but for the moment that sound begat a feeling in him that had had no counterpart during his whole life, a feeling, no doubt, that was consequent on his then frame of mind, for, coming coincident with the memory of his dead friend, it was strange. But he was not the man to accept effects without trying to learn something of causes; and if superstition did for the single instant touch him, he had soon shaken it off, and, flinging his scarcely burnt cigar into the grate, he rose and listened.
In order to make what followed more intelligible to the reader it is necessary to briefly describe the ground plan of the house.
The main entrance was by a large old-fashioned porch reached by a flight of stone steps from the carriage drive. From the porch a massive oaken door gave entrance to the hall, which was a spacious passage with rooms on either side, one of these rooms nearest the entrance being John's snuggery, the window of which looked over the lawn and the river. The main staircase led up from the hall. This staircase, which was of dark polished oak, was guarded by massive carved balustrades, and the lower pilaster was surmounted by a griffin rampant, its fore paws resting on a shield, this being the coat of arms of the Gyde family—their motto, 'Animo, non astutia.' The head of the first flight of stairs was ornamented by beautifully arranged plants, that were backed by an exquisite stained-glass window. This landing and window, of course, faced anyone entering the house. As a precaution against any contingency that might arise the master of 'Raven's Nest 'insisted upon a light being kept burning all night on this landing, and it was the duty of the butler, the last thing after the gas was turned out in the house, to place a small lamp in a niche in the wall at right angles with the stained-glass window, and the lamp was so placed on this particular night. Between the stair and the wall, the passage necessarily contracted to narrower limits, ran the full length of the house, then turned sharply to the left, descended a flight of steps to the basement, where a door gave egress to the grounds. This door at night was not only securely bolted by two large bolts, one at the top and one at the bottom, but a massive iron bar, working on a centre swivel, rendered it more secure. This bar, if it was unfastened carelessly and allowed to swing by its own weight on its swivel, always made a rattling noise. Of course, Gyde was acquainted with this fact, and as he stood he instantly solved the mystery of the sound that had startled him—it was the falling bar that had made it. The bar being moved at that time of night indicated something wrong, he thought, and by one of those strong instincts, or promptings, that come to men in supreme moments, Gyde turned down his own lamp, drew back the heavy tapestry curtains that screened the bay window of the room, and, stepping into the recess, he lifted one of the laths of the venetian blind and peered out, and by the weird light of the stars he saw what he believed to be the figure of a man creeping along the lawn towards the shrubbery at the back of the house.
John was quick to act. He stepped back, drew the curtain again, touched the bell-pull that communicated with the butler's sleeping-room, opened a drawer in his desk, and took therefrom a revolver that he always kept loaded as a precautionary measure against midnight intruders, for he held the good old-fashioned faith that an Englishman's house is his castle, and that he has a right to defend it. Thus armed, he quietly opened the door of his study and stepped into the hall, and as he did so he started again, and back came that feeling of—shall I say superstition?—for there on the landing, thrown into strong relief by the green plants and the stained window, was a white shrouded figure.. It seemed to wave an arm to him, and then suddenly disappeared.
'What is this mystery?' he thought. 'Can it be possible for the dead to come back?' He stood irresolute. What man would not under such circumstances? But the feeling went as quickly as it came, and he was the strong, bold man again, for he fancied he heard somebody moving at the bottom of the passage.
Grasping his revolver firmly and making but little noise with his slippered feet, he hurried in the direction, and when he reached the angle, already spoken of, the cold blast of air that came up told him plainly that the door below was open.
'So; burglars!' he thought.
He hurried down the flight of steps. The door was open, and the rush of keen frosty air made him shiver. He stood and listened. It was strange how silent every-thing was. His heart throbbed and he heard it, and out-side the leaves rustled like the sweep of wings. Then came another sound; it was a footstep on the gravel he was sure. John stepped boldly out and cried, 'Who is there?' There was no answer, unless the night wind sighing in the leaves with ghostly moan answered. Gyde passed through the shrubbery, and got a full view of the lawn, and his eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, saw a figure near the ivy-clad elm tree.
'Who are you? If you are a stranger, you are trespassing on my grounds; stop, or I'll fire,' Gyde shouted.
But the figure did not answer, and did not seem to stop, so Gyde levelled his weapon, and cried, 'If you value your life, stop!'
Suddenly the figure was lost in the shadow thrown by the trunk of the tree, and then, with the intention of inducing a wholesome fear of his authority in the breast of the trespasser, Gyde fired towards the tree. Instantly a piercing scream rose on the night wind—it was the scream of a woman. With an awful, sickening fear in his breast, John rushed forward. He saw a man speed away across the lawn to the river, and he saw the huddled-up form of a woman lying at the foot of the tree. He stooped down and raised her. Then, with a passionate wail of pitiful pain, he exclaimed—' God forgive me! It's Doll!'
THE pistol-shot and the woman's scream had aroused the household, but previous to this the alarm-bell rung by John had disturbed Mr. Septimus Smith, the butler, from his first sleep. This gentleman had been entertaining his fellow-servants in his own snuggery to a very recherche' little supper, and he had imbibed slightly more of his master's port wine than was good for him, or than his master might have approved of. So, on retiring, Mr. Septimus Smith, being in a somewhat absent state of mind, had neglected to perform his usual nightly toilet, and no doubt he was a little amazed himself, when startled into wakefulness by the warning bell, to find that he was still attired in his pantaloons and claw-hammer coat, and that he had even neglected to remove his boots; while a candle that he had left burning had a snuff fully an inch long surmounted by 'a death's head.' However, all things in the end are generally wisely ordered, and this was especially the case with Mr. Septimus Smith, who, notwithstanding that he was a little unsteady on his pins, and slightly muddled in his head, was ready prepared for any emergency, even to a lighted candle.
'I wonder what that bell means,' was Mr. Septimus Smith's sage reflection as he sat bolt upright and rubbed his eves; and then, after a pause of some duration, he added with a resigned philosophy that was really touching and beautiful: 'I suppose as it's Christmas time master's been a-making a beast of hisself, and wants me to help him up to his bed. But I consider as how such a duty as that would be unbecoming to a gentleman of my standing, so I ain't a-going to do anything as is against my dignity.'
Having thus expressed his views, Mr. Septimus Smith was addressing himself to sleep once more, when there arose on the night air the sounds of a pistol-shot and a woman's scream. The effect on Mr. Smith was almost electrical, and with upraised hair, pale face, and trembling limbs, he was suddenly standing in the centre of the room as though he had been shot from the bed by a catapult.
'Oh, lud; oh, lud!' he cried, 'there's murder a-being done!' Then he cautiously peeped out on to the passage, as he heard an uproar and many anxious inquiries being addressed to each other by frightened servants and guests. In a few minutes more, Mr. Septimus Smith was heroically bringing up the rear of an excited little crowd of guests and servants all struggling towards the stairs, on which they were met by Marie Delorme, Dorothy's French maid. Covered with shame and confusion, this young lady was struggling up as the guests were struggling down, and from the fact that her hair was disordered and hanging down her back, and that her only garment was a robe de nuit, it might have been safely assumed that shewas the ghostly figure that Gyde had seen on the landing. Such, then, were the details of an exciting picture as, 'pale as death,' and bearing the inanimate form of Dorothy in his arms, John Gyde rushed into the hall.
'For the love of Heaven,' he cried, in a passionate appeal, 'some of you ride to the village for Dr. Williams Don't spare the horses; don't wait for anything; go as you are—go at once!'
Instantly there was wailing and weeping amongst the women folk, but men sprang forward in answer to that heart-broken appeal. There was necessarily confusion; lights were procured, the stables opened, two or three of the horses hastily saddled and being ridden at a mad gallop along the hard frost-bound ground.
In the meantime, John Gyde had conveyed his burden into the dining-room, and laid her on the great wool rug. She was fully dressed, and wore a bonnet; and in addition to a heavy cloak she had a woollen shawl round her shoulders. Willing hands soon removed these things, which were saturated with blood, and it was then seen that there was a jagged wound in the fleshy part of the left side of the neck.
Amongst many accomplishments that Gyde had acquired was a smattering of that of surgery. He had studied it a bit because, as he said, 'one never knew when it might be useful.' As in most country houses, the 'Raven's Nest' was provided with a well-stocked medicine chest, and this and John's knowledge served him in good stead now, for he was enabled to apply some simple remedies that were effectual in stopping the outflow of that precious life current.
For one long hour—an hour hideous with a sort of nightmare distortions to John Gyde—the poor fellow bent over the silent form of his ward, and never once for the briefest instant relaxed his efforts to save the darling life. His brain was on fire, his heart like lead, and he felt that if she died he must either go raving mad or kill himself. At the end of this hour the excited messengers who had ridden to the village returned heated and anxious, bringing with them Dr. Williams, who bore a high local reputation as a surgeon. He was an elderly man, calm and staid. Entering the room, he removed his hat, muffler, and gloves, directing a keen, searching professional glance at the still unconscious Dorothy, nodding to Gyde, and bowing to the assembled ladies and gentlemen, and doing these things simultaneously in a sense, and with the grave professional air of a man who thoroughly understands his business; and as a further proof that hedidso, he remarked to those assembled:
'Permit me to request that you withdraw, ladies and gentlemen, if you please.'
The ladies and gentlemen were not at all loth to do this, and the ladies, suddenly awakening to the fact that being en déshabillé they were in a very unpresentable condition, scampered off to their rooms; while the gentlemen gathered in the billiard-room to discuss the mysterious affair, and suggest all sorts of theories to account for it; for John Gyde had been too much distressed to offer any explanations. Of course, Gyde remained by Dorothy's side, and as Dr. Williams stooped down and first of all felt the pulse, he said—
'What is the history of this case, Mr. Gyde?'
The sad story was soon told. Much as John would have liked to have screened Dorothy, he could not pervert the truth.
'I find that the bullet has passed right through the neck and has been within an ace of severing the carotid artery.'
'Will she live, Doctor?' Gyde asked in agonised voice.
'She may,' the Doctor replied in that pronounced professional way which indicated that, in order not to compromise himself, he clearly meant that there was an ellipsis to be supplied to complete his sentence, and the ellipsis was or may not.
In all probability, John Gyde was not slow to take it in this way, for with a choking sensation in his throat he gasped:
'Save her life, Doctor; she is too young and too beautiful to die.'
He could say no more; he felt, in fact, as if he would fall down dead himself if he remained another minute, and so somehow he got out of the room and into his own room. Then, in his solitude and loneliness, his lacerated heart found vent for its pain. Such sorrow as John Gyde suffered that night is too sacred for mere words. The sad night passed away, and the morning, bright and clear and cold, came as a relief. A programme of amusements had been drawn up the day previous for Boxing Day, but, of course, it was abandoned, and most of the guests, out of respect for the dreadful blow that had fallen upon the unhappy master of 'Raven's Nest,' prepared to take their departure.
Dr. Williams remained with his patient all night, and brought all his skill to bear on the case. At eight o'clock he felt that he could venture to go away.
Blear-eyed, haggard, careworn, ghastly in his sorrow and weariness, Gyde met him in the hall.
'What is your report now, Doctor?' he asked in a hoarse whisper.
'I venture to think we may hope; but I warn you that her life hangs by a thread. Absolute quietude is imperative. The slightest excitement will kill her. You must not go near her under any circumstances. I have left the necessary instructions for her treatment during my absence. I will return at twelve.'
John retired again to his room, but he summoned Mr. Septimus Smith, and by that gentleman sent a message to his guests, expressing his sense of dreadful sorrow for the sad and sudden termination of the festivities, and he asked their indulgence and sympathy in his bereavement.
Of course, after this it would have been discourteous for anyone to have remained, and in a few hours they had all gone, and the silence of an unrelieved sorrow brooded mournfully over the 'Raven's Nest.'
And so a week passed during which hope rose and fell. During this time John was not allowed to go near the patient. It was a torturing trial for him, and the suspense was cruel, but he endeavoured to bear it with fortitude.
On the eighth day from the time of the accident a little incident occurred that was pregnant with a great meaning. Marie Delorme, who had kept her room during the week on the plea of illness from sorrow for her mistress, descended to the dining-room, where Dorothy still lay, for it had not been considered safe to remove her. Fortunately the Doctor happened to be present, otherwise the consequences might have been more serious. Dorothy grew excited on seeing Marie, and with a shriek she exclaimed:
'Take that woman away. Don't let her come near me. All this is through her.'
What more might have been said it is difficult to tell had not Marie heat a hasty retreat; but even those few words were significant. Dr. Williams thought it wise in the present state of matters to keep this scene a secret, but it took all his skill and tact to soothe the excited patient; and for some hours afterwards there was danger of grave complications arising in the case.
On the following morning, Marie having failed to see her master, requested the coachman to drive her to the station, as she was so ill that she wished to go home to her friends without a moment's delay. Of course, the coachman complied with the request, and taking her boxes and belongings, and even some of the belongings of her mistress, Marie Delorme departed, and was heard of no more.
This incident had no effect upon Gyde. He was too absorbed, too sorrowful, too broken, to bestow any thought upon such a matter. Of course, there had been a good deal of scandal arising out of the 'Shooting affair up at the Raven's Nest'—as in local parlance it had come to be spoken of. The small-brained people, the silly chatterers, and the would-be wiseacres (who exist in every community) had many spiteful things to say, and not a few sinister rumours floated about. But if Gyde heard them at all, he certainly did not heed them. He knew well enough that your human drone who is only conspicuous by his objection-able buzz cannot live against contempt. Nothing wounds brainless gossips so much as to find that their impertinences pass unnoticed.
During these dark and dreary days John Gyde saw no company. To all comers alike the invariable answer was, 'Master cannot be seen.' They were agonising days indeed to the poor fellow; days filled with dreadful suspense and crushing anxiety.
At last, when a fortnight had drifted away, Dr. Williams reported his patient quite out of danger. Then John felt as if he had been relieved from a hideous incubus, and he breathed freely for the first time since that awful night. During the fortnight he had not been allowed to sec his ward, and the Doctor said that at least another week must pass before he could sanction an interview.
It was a long weary week to John Gyde; but at length, towards the end of January, on a brilliantly bright morning, when the air was keen with frost, and the sunlight streamed in a golden flood from a cloudless sky, John found himself in Dorothy's room.
It was a charming room, occupying one of the best positions in the house, and commanding a perfectly enrapturing panorama of river, woodland, and fell. In fitting it up for his ward he had exercised the most exquisite art tastes, and no expense had been spared. Here, with a fleecy, snow-white shawl wrapped around her, Dorothy sat before a glowing fire. Pale and thin she was, but very beautiful in spite of it. As soon as the door had closed and John was alone with her, he threw himself at her feet, and taking her delicate white hand kissed it fervently.
'Doll, my darling child; how can you ever forgive me?' he cried, forgetting in his utter unselfishness that he was the wronged one and she the sinner.
'John, you must rise,' she said in a voice that only too painfully told how ill she had been. 'It is not your place to kneel to me, but mine to you. Willingly would I perform that act of penitence if my strength would permit me, but I am too weak. Nay, do not interrupt me,' she said quickly as he was about to speak. 'My heart will break; I shall die if you don't let me relieve my over-burdened conscience.' He rose to his feet and seated him-self at a respectful distance from her. 'Ah, John,' she continued with a sob, 'I have grown very old during my illness. Before this just punishment came upon me, I was a giddy, wicked, thoughtless girl. But now I would fain hope that I am wiser. Since my dear father's death you have been more than a father to me; and now, as a wilful and disobedient daughter, I ask you to forgive me.'
'If I have anything to forgive, Doll,' he cried, 'it goes without saying that my forgiveness is yours.'
'I do not deserve your kindness,' she said; 'you should punish me; you should heap reproaches upon me; you ought to spurn me; I am unworthy even to be in your presence. But I felt that I could not live without I heard from your own lips that you would forgive me.'
'Oh, Doll, do not talk like that!' he said. 'Do not speak of yourself in such a severe manner. At the most you were guilty of some girlish escapade for which you have been visited with a punishment all too heavy and dreadful. I know not what that escapade was. I have waited to learn it from your own lips. But now I do not want to know. I only want to see you go strong and well again.'
'John,' she said solemnly, and looking at him with tearful eyes, 'your great good heart would look lightly upon my faults; and even the hideous sin I was nearly guilty of you speak of as an escapade. Oh, how you will hate me when you know the truth! How you will detest me for the deception I have practised towards you! Why did you not kill me on that night? Why did your bullet not go through my wicked heart?'
She broke down and wept passionately; and he, to calm the feeling that was agitating him, and all but wringing tears from his own eyes, rose and paced the room. Presently she recovered herself, and in a voice that was broken by 'rifting sobs,' she said:
'The truth must be told. You must hear it, John. Oh, that dreadful night! I had arranged to go away with Alfred Turner, and it was he who, like a craven as he is, fled from me when you fired.' Gyde's face darkened with an expression of fierce anger; he clenched his fists and bit his lip. 'He persecuted me, John, and never let me rest. And he found an able ally in Marie Delorme. She was always urging me to fly with him; she was everlastingly singing his praises in my ears. When I denied my governess's statements about the correspondence I was guilty of a base falsehood; but I was prompted to it by Marie, who carried my letters to Turner and brought his back to me. On that dreadful night the plot was all arranged by her. Turner had come up the river in a boat, and it had been pre-arranged that I was to meet him at one o'clock in the morning and go away to become his wife. Marie followed me downstairs. She was to see me out of the house, and the next morning was to raise the alarm about my flight, and in the course of time join me and Turner in Paris. That is the pitiable story, John. I was mad then—I am sane now. I have outraged my dead father's memory; I have outraged your hospitality, insulted your honour, betrayed your trust, but in the most solemn manner I promise that whatever punishment you like to inflict upon me I will bear it uncomplainingly, and the rest of my life shall be devoted to penitence for my heinous sin.'
She was sobbing very bitterly now, and her sobs found an echo in his breast. It was only with a supreme effort he could say, as standing before her he took her white soft hand into his own:
'Doll, what you term a "heinous sin," I still look upon as a girlish escapade, and would never have happened but for the evil influence of Marie Delorme. Your punishment has been too heavy already. No further word; no act of mine shall add to it.'
There was a pause—a long pause. She leaned wearily back in the chair and silently sobbed; and he, with his back to her, stood in the bay window gazing across the snow-covered, sunlit country, but seeing it not, because in his eyes was a blinding mist of tears. Presently he turned, and walking to her chair he stood behind it, and as he looked down on the bowed head, he said, with touching tenderness:
'Doll, circumstances have caused me to alter a resolution I made, and I venture to ask you now if you remember our interview last Christmas day in the study?'
'Yes,' she faintly murmured, the while she trembled like an aspen-leaf.
'Oh, Doll,' he cried, with a great passionate sigh, 'may I still hope to call you some day by the name of wife?' She turned her face upwards, and murmured:
'John, you are wronging yourself. I am not worthy of you. You must have a better woman than I.'
In another moment he was kneeling at her feet again. Her face, wet with streaming tears, was pressed to his, and for the first time in their lives their lips met in a kiss of passionate love. That kiss sealed his forgiveness, her sincere penitence.
It was a long time before either of them could speak. Each heart was too full for words. At last she found her voice. With her arms locked around his neck, her breath playing on his cheek, she said softly:
'John, my father speaks again from between dead lips. On that sorrowful night when he died, and he held me between his knees, he said, "What I wish to say now and I wish you to ever remember the words, as words coming from between dead lips, is that I have appointed my dear companion and faithful friend, John Gyde, your legal guardian. I know that he will watch over you with tender and fatherly care; and when you shall be old enough to understand such things it will give me pleasure now to think that he might even have the right to shield you as his wife." During my madness I forgot these words. I will never forget them again. The dead lips shall never cease to speak to me.'
Christmas has once more come, and a crowd of people have assembled to partake of the splendid hospitality of the 'Raven's Nest,' from which the shadow that had erstwhile rested there had been lifted, for that morning John Gyde and sweet Dorothy had been made man and wife in the ivy-covered church on the hill, and never did woman take for her wedded husband a truer or nobler man than Dorothy Lindmark took when she became Gyde's wife. All that year he had tenderly nursed her; wooing her back to health and happiness. During the summer he had travelled with her in Switzerland, and when they had returned she was perfectly strong again. The wound in her neck had quite healed, though an ugly scar remained. Some folks wondered why John and Dorothy had chosen Christmas day for their marriage day. They allowed these folks to wonder; but they themselves knew that Christmas must ever be a memorable time to them; for it was on a solemn Christmas night that the wish that they should become man and wife had been expressed 'Between Dead Lips.'
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