a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: Tales by a Female Detective Author: Andrew Forrester, Jun. * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1901181h.html Language: English Date first posted: November 2019 Most recent update: November 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore 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 Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
The Unraveled Mystery
The Unknown Weapon
We, meaning thereby society, are frequently in the habit of looking at a successful man, and while surveying him, think how fortunate he has found life, how chances have opened up to him, and how lucky he has been in drawing so many prizes.
We do not, or we will not, see the blanks which he may have also drawn. We look at his success, thinking of our own want of victories, shut our eyes to his failures, and envy his good fortune instead of emulating his industry. For my part I believe that no position or success comes without that personal hard work which is the medium of genius. I never will believe in luck.
When this habit of looking at success and shutting our eyes to failure is exercised in reference, not to a single individual, but to a body, the danger of coming to a wrong conclusion is very much increased.
This argument is very potent in its application to the work of the detective. Because there are many capital cases on record in which the detective has been the mainspring, people generally come to the conclusion that the detective force is made up of individuals of more than the average power of intellect and sagacity.
Just as the successful man in any profession says nothing about his failures, and allows his successes to speak for themselves, so the detective force experiences no desire to publish its failures, while in reference to successes detectives are always ready to supply the reporter with the very latest particulars.
In fact, the public see the right side only of the police embroidery, and have no idea what a complication of mistakes and broken threads there are on the wrong.
Nay, indeed, the public in their admiration of the public successes of the detective force very generously forget their public failures, which in many instances are atrocious.
To what cause this amiability can be attributed it is perhaps impossible to say, but there is a great probability that it arises from the fact that the public have generally looked upon the body as a great public safeguard—an association great at preventing crime.
Be this as it may, it is certain that the detective force is certainly as far from perfect as any ordinary legal organization in England.
But the reader may ask why I commit myself to this statement, damaging as it is to my profession.
My answer is this, that in my recent days such a parliamentary inquiry (of a very brief nature, it must be conceded) has been made into the uses and customs of the detective force, as must have led the public to believe that this power is really a formidable one, as it affects not only the criminal world but society in general.
It had appeared as though the English detectives were in the habit of prying into private life, and as though no citizen were free from a system of spydom, which if it existed would be intolerable, but which has an existence only in imagination.
It is a great pity that the minister who replied to the inquiry should have so faintly shown that the complaint was faint, if not altogether groundless.
I do not suppose the public will believe me with any great amount of faith, and simply because I am an interested party; yet I venture to assert that the detective forces as a body are weak; that they fail in the majority of the cases brought under their supervision; and finally, that frequently their most successful cases have been brought to perfection, not by their own unaided endeavours so much as by the use of facts, frequently stated anonymously, and to which they make no reference in finally giving their evidence. This evidence starts from the statement, “from information I received.” Those few words frequently enclose the secret which led to all the after operations which the detective deploys in description, and without which secret his evidence would never have been given at all.
The public, especially that public who have experienced any pressure of the continental system of police, and who shudder at the remembrance of the institution, need have no fear that such a state of things municipal can ever exist in England. It could not be attempted as the force is organized, and it could not meet with success were the constitution of the detective system invigorated, and in its reformed character pressed upon English society, for it would be detected at once as unconstitutional, and resented accordingly.
With these remarks I will to the statement I have to make concerning my part, that of a female detective, in the attempt to elucidate a criminal mystery which has never been cleared up, which from the mode in which it was dealt with, ran little chance of being discovered, and which will now never be explained.
The simple facts of the case, and necessary to be known, are these:—
One morning, a Thames boatman found a carpet-bag resting on the abutment of an arch of one of the Thames bridges. This treasure-trove being opened, was found to contain fragments of a human body—no head.
The matter was put into the hands of the police, an inquiry was made, and nothing came of it.
This result was very natural.
There was little or no intellect exercised in relation to the case. Facts were collected, but the deductions that might have been drawn from them were not made, simply because the right men were not set to work to—to sort them, if I may be allowed that expression.
The elucidation, as offered by me at the time, and which was in no way acted upon, was due—I confess it at first starting—not to myself, but to a gentleman who put me in possession of the means of submitting my ultimate theory of the case to the proper authorities.
I was seated one night, studying a simple case enough, but which called for some plotting, when a gentleman applied to see me, with whom I was quite willing to have an interview, though I did not even remotely recognise the name on the card which was sent in to me.
As of course I am not permitted to publish his name, and as a false one would be useless, I will call him Y—.
He told me, in a few clear, curt words, very much like those of a detective high in office, and who has attained his position by his own will, that he knew I was a detective, and wanted to consult with me.
“Oh, very well, if I am a detective, you can consult with me. You have only yourself to please.”
He then at once said that he had a theory of the Bridge mystery, as he called it and as I will call it, and that he wanted this theory brought under the consideration of the people at Scotland Yard.
So far I was cautious, asking him to speak.
He did so, and I may say at once that at the end of a minute I threw off the reserve I had maintained and became frank and outspoken with my visitor.
I will not here reproduce his words, because if I did so I should afterwards have to go through them in order to interpolate my own additions, corrections, or excisions.
It is perhaps sufficient to say that his entire theory was based upon grounds relating to his profession as a medical man. Therefore, whenever a statement is made in the following narrative which smacks of the surgery, the reader may fairly lay its origin to Y—; while, on the other hand, the generality of the conclusions drawn from these facts are due to myself.
I shall therefore put the conversations we had at various times in the shape of a perfected history of the whole of them, with the final additions and suggestions in their proper places, though they may have occurred at the very commencement of the argument.
As our statement stood, as it was submitted to the authorities, so now it is laid before the public, official form and unnecessary details alone being excised.
1. The mutilated fragments did not when placed together form anything like an entire body, and the head was wanting.
The first fact which struck the medical man was this, that the dissection had been effected, if not with learning, at least with knowledge. The severances were not jagged, and apparently the joints of the body had not been guessed at. The knife had been used with some knowledge of anatomy.
The inference to be drawn from these facts was this, that whoever the murderer or homicide might be, either he or an accessory, either at or after the fact, was inferentially an educated man, from the simple discovery that there was evidence he knew something of a profession (surgery) which presupposes education.
Now, it is an ordinary rule, in cases of murder where there are two or more criminals, that these are of a class.
That is to say, you rarely find educated men (I am referring here more generally to England) combine with uneducated men in committing crime. It stands evident that criminals in combination presupposes companionship. This assertion accepted, or allowed to stand for the sake of argument, it then has to be considered that all companionship generally maintains the one condition of equality. This generality has gained for itself a proverb, a sure evidence of most widely-extended observation, which runs—“Birds of a feather flock together.”
Very well. Now, where do we stand in reference to the Bridge case, while accepting or allowing the above suppositions?
We arrive at this conclusion:—
That the state of the mutilated fragments leads to the belief that men of some education were the murderers.
2. The state of the tissue of the flesh of the mutitilated fragments showed that the murder had been committed by the use of the knife.
This conclusion was very easily arrived at.
There is no need to inform the public that the blood circulates through the whole system of veins and arteries in about three minutes, or that nothing will prevent blood from coagulating almost immediately it has left the veins. To talk of streams of blood is to speak absurdly.
If, therefore, an artery is cut, and the heart continues to beat for a couple of minutes after the wound is made, the blood will be almost pumped out of the body, and the flesh, after death, will in appearance bear that relation to ordinary flesh that veal does to ordinary beef—a similar process of bleeding having been gone through with the calf, that of exhausting the body of its blood.
What was the conclusion to be drawn from the fact that the fragments showed by their condition that the murdered man had been destroyed by the use of the knife?
The true conclusion stood thus—that he was murdered by foreigners.
For if we examine a hundred consecutive murders and homicides, committed in England by English people, we shall find that the percentage of deaths from the use of the knife is so small as barely to call for observation. Strangling, beating, poisoning (in a minor degree)—these are the modes of murder adopted in England.
The conclusion, then, may stand that the murder was committed by foreigners.
I am aware that against both the conclusions at which I have arrived it might be urged that educated and uneducated men have been engaged in the same crime; and secondly, that murders by the knife are perpetrated in England.
But in all cases of mystery, if they are to be solved at all, it is by accepting probabilities as certainties, so far as acting upon them is concerned.
3. There was further evidence than supposition to show that the remains were those of a foreigner.
This evidence is divided into a couple of branches. The first depends upon the evidence of the pelves, or hip bones, which formed a portion of the fragments; the second upon the evidence of the skin of the fragments.
It may be remarked by any one of experience that there is this distinctive difference between foreigners and Englishmen, and one which may be seen in the Soho district any day—that while the hips of foreigners are wider than those of Englishmen, foreign shoulders are not so broad as English; hence it results that while foreigners, by reason of the contrast, look generally wider at the hips than shoulders, Englishmen, for the greater part, look wider at the shoulders than the hips.
This distinction can best be observed in contrasting French and English, or German and English soldiery. Here you find it so extremely evident as not to admit discussion.
Now, was there any evidence in the fragments to which this comparative international argument could apply?
The medical gentleman who examined the fragments deposed that they belonged to a slightly-built man. Then followed this remarkable statement, that the hip bones, or pelves, were extremely large.
The second branch of this evidence, relating to the skin, may now be set out.
The report went on to say that the skin was covered with long, strong, straight black hairs.
Now it is very remarkable that the skin should exhibit those appearances which are usually associated with strength, while the report distinctly sets out that the fragments belonged to a slightly-built man.
It strikes the most ordinary thinker at once that his experience tells him that slight, weakly made men are generally distinguishable for weak and thin hair. Most men at once recognise the force of the poetical description of Samson’s strength lying in his hair.
There is, then, surely something contradictory in the slight build, and the long, strong black hair, if we judge from our ordinary experience. But if we carry our experience beyond the ordinary, if we go into a French or Italian eating-house in the Soho district, it will be found that scarcely a man is to be found who is destitute of strong hair, for the most part black, upon the face. It need not be added that hair thickly growing on the face is presumptive proof that the entire skin possesses that faculty, the palms of the hands and soles of the feet excepted.*
*It should be here again pointed out that it is to the doctor that these physiological remarks are to be attributed.
Now follows another intricate piece of evidence. The hairs are stated to be long, black, and strong—that is to say, black, thick, and without any curl in them.
Any man who, by an hospital experience, has seen many English human beings, will agree with me that the body hair here in England is rarely black, rarely long, and generally with a tendency to curl.
Now, go to the French and Italian cafés already referred to, and it will be found that the beards you shall see are black, very strong, and the hairs individually straight.
The third conclusion stands thus:
That the bones and skin of the fragments point to their having formed a portion of a foreigner rather than an Englishman.
Evidence of the Fragments. The evidence of the fragments, therefore, goes problematically to prove that the murdered man was an educated foreigner, stabbed to death by one or more educated foreigners.
Now, what evidence can be offered which can support this theory?
In the first place, the complaints of the French Government to England, and the results of those complaints, very evidently show that London is the resting-place of many determined foreigners. In fact, it is a matter beyond all question, that London has at all times been that sanctuary for refugees from which they could not be torn.
Hence London has always been the centre of foreign exiled disaffection.
Then if it can be shown that foreign exiled disaffection is given to assassination, it stands good that we have here in London foreigners who are ready to assassinate.
Experience shows that this tendency to assassinate on the part of foreign malcontents is a common understanding amongst them. There is no need to refer to the attempts upon the life of the Emperor of the French, upon the life of the father of the late King of Naples—there is no need to point out that in the former cases the would-be assassins have lived in London, and have generally set out from London. All required is, to talk of tyranny with the next twenty foreigners you may meet, good, bad, and indifferent. It will be found that the ordinary theory in reference to a tyrant is, not that he shall be overthrown by the will of the people, but by the act of assassination.
This theory is the natural result, possibly, of that absence of power in the people which we English possess. We take credit to ourselves for abhorring assassination in reference to tyrants; but it should never be forgotten that here we have no need of assassination—the mere will of the people (when it is exerted) being quite enough to carry away all opposition.
Once admit assassination as a valuable aid in destroying tyranny, and you recognise by inference its general value as a medium of justice and relief.
Now apply the argument to the treachery of a member of a secret society, and you will comprehend the suggestion that the murdered man was a member of a secret political society, who was either false, or supposed to be false, to the secret society to which he belonged.
The question now arises—are there foreign secret societies established in London?
Have they an existence abroad? Unquestionably. Even here in open England there are a dozen secret societies of a fellowship-like character—Masons, and Foresters, and Odd Fellows, &c. &c.
And if foreigners have secret societies abroad, in spite of the police, why not here, where they have perfect liberty to form as many secret societies as they like?
Where has the money come from which has rigged out various penniless men, and sent them on the Continent to assassinate this or that potentate?
The inference is good that the money is found by secret societarians. Where else could it come from? Exiles personally are not rich; but if twenty economical professors save two pounds a-piece in six months, there is forty pounds to be applied to a purpose.
Is there any solid evidence beyond that of the fragments to suggest that the murdered man was a foreigner? There is.
In the first place, the state of those fragments showed that death had been recent—say, within two days.
Now, was any man missing during those two days who was in any way suggestively identifiable with the dead man?
If so, no application was made to the police.
Now, if the dead man were an Englishman, and all who knew him were not implicated in his death (a most unlikely supposition), it seems pretty evident that the discovery of the murder following so swiftly on the fact, some clue to the mystery must have been gained.
Granted the supposed Englishman had no relations in London (for it must be accepted as certain that the murder was committed in town, it being hardly within the bounds of possibility to suppose that the remains were brought into London to hide)—granted he had no friends, he must have had either servants, landlady, or employers. If any of these had existed, how certain it is that the publicity of the crime would have been followed by some inquiries by some of these people.
Not one was made.
Not any evidence was offered to the police that could for a moment be looked upon as valuable, although it is not perhaps going too far to say that every soul in London who could comprehend the affair had heard of and talked it over within twenty-four hours of its discovery, thanks to the power and extension of the press.*
* I point out as an instance of the late case of poisoning a wife and children in a cab. The culprit was discovered within twenty-four hours of the publication of the crime, and by several people in no way connected with the family in which the catastrophe occured.
But see how thoroughly this absence of all inquiry will fall in with the murdered man having been a foreign refugee resting in this country.
Firstly—these refugees lodge together, and make so free with each other’s lodgings, and visit so frequently and so generally, that an English landlady would have some difficulty in telling who was and who was not her lodger. It would be most unlikely that she would miss a foreigner who had been staying with her foreign lodger some weeks. Hence it might readily happen that a man having no locality with which he could be identified, no suspicion would be aroused by his absence from any particular place.
Then see how this supposed poverty of lodging would accord with a refugee who, broken down by want, might betray his society in order to gain bread, by selling their secrets to his home-police.
Or, on the other hand, he might be an actual police spy, sent by his government to play the refugee and the poverty-stricken wretch, in order the better to penetrate the secrets of conspirators.
Then mark how all chance of recognition is avoided by the absence of the head. In disposing of the fragments, and slinging them over the bridge by means of a rope, it was intended silently to drop the ugly burden into the Thames. The idea of the bag resting on the abutment of the bridge could never have entered into the precautionary measures perfected by the murderers, and yet the necessity of strict secresy was made wonderfully evident in the fact of the head being kept back.
For what purpose? Probably that the chief actors in the murder might be sure of its destruction—perchance that it might be forwarded to the president of a secret society, that the death of the traitor might be proved beyond all dispute.
Another very important line of consideration is the inquiry why such a means of disposing of the remains as that taken was adopted. It will be remarked that the objectionable process of cutting up the body had to be gone through, and that then the dangerous act of carrying or riding with a bag of human remains through the streets to the river had to be effected. And effected in the night time, when it must be notorious to all parties the police are particularly alert in inquiring into the nature of the parcels carried past them. It will frequently happen that the police stop and justifiably examine heavy packages which they find being carried in the streets during the night.
The encountering of all these enormous risks, to say nothing of the fear of interruption during the final act of lowering the carpet-bag, all go to presuppose that the murderers were unable to dispose of the body in any less hazardous manner.
What is the mode in which murderers usually seek to hide the more awful traces of their guilt in the shape of the murdered man? They generally adopt the simplest and safest mode—hiding under the ground.
A body buried ten feet in the ground, even though in the close cellar of a house, would give no warning of the hidden secret. A body buried in quicklime, under similar circumstances, would give no warning, though only four or three feet below the surface.
Burial is the most evident and simplest mode of disposing of a dead body. How is it, then, that the murderers in question did not bury, and ran a series of frightful risks, which resulted in the discovery of the remains?
The answer is obvious—they had no means of burial. In other words, the murder being done in a house where there was no command of the ground floor it was impossible to bury the body, and so it had to be disposed of in some other way. The inference therefore, is, that the occupier of the place was a lodger—not a householder.
Now make inquiries in the Soho district and you will find that refugees rarely become householders. Always hoping, perhaps, to return to their countries, never possibly desirous of taking any step which shall appear to themselves like a settling in a foreign land, it will be found that they prefer lodgings, and that the householders in most of the streets frequented by this sort of people are either English people or foreigners who do not belong to the refugee class, such as Swiss (chiefly) and the world of waiters, who with their savings have gone into foreign housekeeping.
I am aware that there is one good objection to this part of my scheme, in the remark that the murder might have been committed in a house occupied by the murderer or his friends, but that there might be no yard attached, or a yard too much exposed, or that the ground-floor was too publicly in use to admit of time for the removal of the boards, the replacing of the flooring, and the burial of the body.
However, I beg again to urge the doctrine of probabilities. Accepting the theory that it was a murder by foreigners, and not denying the statement that foreign refugees, as a rule, rarely become householders, the probability is greater that the murderers had no ground in which to bury, rather than they had ground at their command, but that circumstances prevented them from using it.
It is true that there is one awkward point in the fact that the bridge selected from which to throw their burden was not so near to the refugee district as the late Suspension Bridge. At first sight it would appear strange that a longer risk should be run by taking the remains to a bridge not the nearest to the scene of the murder. But it must be remembered that the Suspension Bridge had no recesses, while the actual bridge used has many—that the Suspension Bridge was altogether more open and better lit than the other. These suggestions must be taken for what they are worth. I am willing to admit that it still remains extraordinary that the attempt to dispose of the body should have been made at the more distant of the two bridges, and I acknowledge that the apparent advantages of the bridge used over the Suspension do not appear to compensate the extra risk incurred.
Let those who object thoroughly to the whole of this theory, advanced to account for a mystery which has never been cleared up—let them make the most of a weak point.
The probability seems to me that the murdered man was a spy amongst men who, holding to the theory of the justice of assassination, very necessarily recognised its value in relation to a spy in the pay of a tyrant. Nay, to be at once exhaustive in reference to spies, few people will be inclined to deny that the spy, whatever the shape he has taken, has always been dealt with most implacably.
The supposition once accepted that the murderers had no power of burial, the use of the Thames as a hiding place follows almost as a natural consequence. To hide below the water when the earth is not to be opened for the purpose of concealment appears to be a very natural thought. In what other way could the body be so readily disposable?
The Thames offered secresy, the risk of carriage was surmountable; this means therefore of concealment, though it involved danger to those concerned in the work, was far preferable to leaving the remains in the street—a mode which only a madman would adopt.*
* Such a mode was exercised a few months since with several still-born children. Inquiry was set on foot, and the perpetrator of this open mode of disposing of human remains turned out to be a doctor who had suffered so much from delirium tremens that he might be called a madman.
Had the bag not lodged on the abutment of the bridge not one hint of the crime, it is evident, would ever have been made public. Or two or more may have been concerned in this crime, but they all kept their counsel well. Whether this silence was the result of brotherhood or fear it is impossible to say—possibly the latter. The very success of this one murder would intimidate any societarian who contemplated betraying his companions.
There has but to be added to the statement already put before the reader, two facts which, however, call for little or no comment.
1. The toll-keeper at one end of the bridge recognised the carpet-bag as a heavy one he had lifted over his toll-bar during the night.
2. He stated that he did this kindness for a woman whom he afterwards thought must have been a man in woman’s clothing.
I see no value in this evidence.
1. The identification of the bag was of no value.
2. It does not appear that the man remarked upon any peculiarity of the carrier of the bag till after its discovery on the bridge abutment. And therefore his evidence is not reliable.
All I have now to do is to put in form the result I drew from the above theoretic evidence.
The result in question may be put thus:—
Deduction.—That a foreign man, of age, but not aging, was murdered by stabbing by the members of a secret foreign society of educated men which he had betrayed. That this murder was committed by lodgers and most probably on some other floor than the basement, and of a house situated in the Soho district.
A copy of this statement now made to the reader, but somewhat more abridged and technical was forwarded to the authorities—but so far as I have been able to learn it was never accepted as of any value.
The inquiry, as all the world knows, failed.
I do not wonder that it did.
Left in the hands of English police, who set about their work after their ordinary rule, it is evident that if the murder was committed by foreigners, in a foreign colony, there was little chance of discovery.
I believe the chief argument held against me at the time I sent in my report ran as follows: that if my supposition to the effect that the murdered man was a foreign police spy were correct, the publicity given to the discovery of the remains would have led to a communication sooner or later from a foreign prefect of police stating that an officer was missing.
I did not make a reply to the objection, but I could have announced that the French police, for instance, are not at all desirous of advertising their business, and that a French prefect of police would prefer to lose a man, and let the chance of retribution escape, rather than serve justice by admitting that a French political spy had been in London.
The silence of continental police prefects at that time is by no means to be accepted as an evidence that they missed no official who had been sent to England.
The case failed—miserably.
It could not be otherwise.
How would French police succeed, set to work in Bethnalgreen to catch an English murderer?
They would fail—miserably also.
There can be no question about it, to those who have any knowledge of the English police system, and who choose to be candid, that it requires more intellect infused into it. Many of the men are extraordinarily acute and are able to seize facts as they rise to the surface. But they are unable to work out what is below the surface. They work well enough in the light. When once they are in the dark, they walk with their hands open, and stretched out before them.
Had foreign lodging-houses, where frequent numbers of foreigners assemble, been inquired about, had some few perfectly constitutional searches been made, they might have led to the discovery of a fresh blood-stained floor—it being evident that if a spy were fallen upon from behind and stabbed, his blood must have reached the ground and written its tale there.
These blood-stains must still exist if the house in which the murder took place has not been burnt down, but I doubt if ever the police will make an examination of them at this or any other distance of time, owing to the distant date of the crime.
Experience shows that the chances of discovery of a crime are in exact inverse proportion to the time which has elapsed since the murder. Roughly it may be stated that if no clew is obtained within a week from the discovery of a crime, the chances of hunting down the criminal daily become rapidly fewer and fainter.
Let it not be supposed that I am advocating any change in the detective system which would be unconstitutional. Far from it. I am quite sure any unconstitutional remodelment of that force would not be suffered for any length of time to exist—as it was proved by that recent parliamentary protest against an intolerable excess of duty on the part of the police to which I have already referred.
My argument is, that more intellect should be infused into the operation of the police system, that it is impossible routine can always be a match for all shapes of crime, and finally that means should be taken to avoid so much failure as could be openly recorded of the detective police authorities.
Take in point the case I have been mentioning.
What evidence have the public ever read or learnt to show that any other than ordinary measures were taken to clear up any extraordinary crime?
It is clear that while only ordinary measures are in force to detect extraordinary crime, a premium of impunity is offered to the latter description of ill-doing, and one which it is just possible is often pocketed. Be all that as it may, it is certain the Bridge mystery has never been cleared up.
I am about to set out here one of the most remarkable cases which have come under my actual observation.
I will give the particulars, as far as I can, in the form of a narrative.
The scene of the affair lay in a midland county, and on the outskirts of a very rustic and retired village, which has at no time come before the attention of the world.
Here are the exact preliminary facts of the case. Of course I alter names, for as this case is now to become public, and as the inquiries which took place at the time not only ended in disappointment, but by some inexplicable means did not arrest the public curiosity, there can be no wisdom in covering the names and places with such a thin veil of fiction as will allow of the truth being seen below that literary gauze. The names and places here used are wholly fictitious, and in no degree represent or shadow out the actual personages or localities.
The mansion at which the mystery which I am about to analyse took place was the manor-house. while its occupant, the squire of the district, was also the lord of the manor. I will call him Petleigh.
I may at once state here, though the fact did not come to my knowledge till after the catastrophe, that the squire was a thoroughly mean man, with but one other passion than the love of money, and that was a greed for plate.
Every man who has lived with his eyes open has come across human beings who concentrate within themselves the most wonderful contradictions. Here is a man who lives so scampishly that it is a question if ever he earnt an honest shilling, and yet he would firmly believe his moral character would be lost did he enter a theatre; there is an individual who never sent away a creditor or took more than a just commercial discount, while any day in the week he may be arrested upon a charge which would make him a scandal to his family.
So with Squire Petleigh. That he was extremely avaricious there can be no doubt, while his desire for the possession and display of plate was almost a mania.
His silver was quite a tradition in the county. At every meal—and I have heard the meals at Petleighcote were neither abundant nor succulent—enough plate stood upon the table to pay for the feeding of the poor of the whole county for a month. He would eat a mutton chop off silver.
Mr. Petleigh was in parliament, and in the season came up to town, where he had the smallest and most miserable house ever rented by a wealthy county member.
Avaricious, and therefore illiberal, Petleigh would not keep up two establishments; and so, when he came to town for the parliamentary season, he brought with him his country establishment, all the servants composing which were paid but third-class fares up to town.
The domestics I am quite sure, from what I learnt, were far from satisfactory people; a condition of things which was quite natural, seeing that they were not treated well, and were taken on at the lowest possible rate of wages.
The only servitor who remained permanently on the establishment was the housekeeper at the manor-house, Mrs. Quinion.
It was whispered in the neighbourhood that she had been the foster-sister (“and perhaps more”) of the late Mrs. Petleigh; and it was stated with sufficient openness, and I am afraid also with some general amount of chuckling satisfaction, that the squire had been bitten with his lady.
The truth stood that Petleigh had married the daughter of a Liverpool merchant in the great hope of an alliance with her fortune, which at the date of her marriage promised to be large. But cotton commerce, even twenty-five years ago, was a risky business, and to curtail here particulars which are only remotely essential to the absolute comprehension of this narrative, he never had a penny with her, and his wife’s father, who had led a deplorably irregular life, started for America and died there.
Mrs. Petleigh had but one child, Graham Petleigh, and she died when he was about twelve years of age.
During Mrs. Petleigh’s life, the housekeeper at Petleighcote was the foster-sister to whom reference has been made. I myself believe that it would have been more truthful to call Mrs. Quinion the natural sister of the squire’s wife.
Be that as it may, after the lady’s death Mrs. Quinion, in a half-conceded, and after an uncomfortable fashion, became in a measure the actual mistress of Petleighcote.
Possibly the squire was aware of a relationship to his wife at which I have hinted, and was therefore not unready in recognising that it was better she should be in the house than any other woman. For, apart from his avariciousness and his mania for the display of plate, I found beyond all dispute that he was a man of very estimable judgment.
Again, Mrs. Quinion fell in with his avaricious humour. She shaved down his household expenses, and was herself contented with a very moderate remuneration.
From all I learnt, I came to the conclusion that Petleighcote had long been the most uncomfortable house in the county, the display of plate only tending to intensify the general barrenness.
Very few visitors came to the house, and hospitality was unknown; yet, notwithstanding these drawbacks, Petleigh stood very well in the county, and indeed, on the occasion of one or two charitable collections, he had appeared in print with sufficient success.
Those of my readers who live in the country will comprehend the style of the squire’s household when I say that he grudged permission to shoot rabbits on his ground. Whenever possible, all the year round, specimens of that rather tiring food were to be found in Squire Petleigh’s larder. In fact, I learnt that a young curate who remained a short time at Tram (the village), in gentle satire of this cheap system of rations, called Petleighcote the “Warren.”
The son, Graham Petleigh, was brought up in a deplorable style, the father being willing to persuade himself, perhaps, that as he had been disappointed in his hopes of a fortune with the mother, the son did not call for that consideration to which he would have been entitled had the mother brought her husband increased riches. It is certain that the boy roughed life. All the schooling he got was that which could be afforded by a foundation grammar school, which happened fortunately to exist at Tram.
To this establishment he went sometimes, while at others he was off with lads miserably below him in station, upon some expedition which was not perhaps, as a rule, so respectable an employment as studying the humanities.
Evidently the boy was shamefully ill-used; for he was neglected.
By the time he was nineteen or twenty (all these particulars I learnt readily after the catastrophe, for the townsfolk were only too eager to talk of the unfortunate young man)—by the time he was nineteen or twenty, a score of years of neglect bore their fruit. He was ready, beyond any question, for any mad performance. Poaching especially was his delight, perhaps in a great measure because he found it profitable; because, to state the truth, he was kept totally without money, and to this disadvantage he added a second, that of being unable to spread what money he did obtain over any expanse of time.
I have no doubt myself that the depredations on his father’s estate might have with justice been put to his account, and, from the inquiries I made, I am equally free to believe that when any small article of the mass of plate about the premises was missing, that the son knew a good deal more than was satisfactory of the lost valuables.
That Mrs. Quinion, the housekeeper, was extremely devoted to the young man is certain; but the money she received as wages, and whatever private or other means she had, could not cover the demands made upon them by young Graham Petleigh, who certainly spent money, though where it came from was a matter of very great uncertainty.
From the portrait I saw of him, he must have been of a daring, roving, jovial disposition—a youngster not inclined to let duty come between him and his inclinations; one, in short, who would get more out of the world than he would give it.
The plate was carried up to town each year with the establishment, the boxes being under the special guardianship of the butler, who never let them out of his sight between the country and town houses. The man, I have heard, looked forward to those journeys with absolute fear.
From what I learnt, I suppose the convoy of plate boxes numbered well on towards a score.
Graham Petleigh sometimes accompanied his father to town, and at other times was sent to a relative in Cornwall. I believe it suited father and son better that the latter should be packed off to Cornwall in the parliamentary season, for in town the lad necessarily became comparatively expensive—an objection in the eyes of the father, while the son found himself in a world to which, thanks to the education he had received, he was totally unfitted.
Young Petleigh’s passion was horses, and there was not a farmer on the father’s estate, or in the neighbourhood of Tram, who was not plagued for the loan of this or that horse—for the young man had none of his own.
On my part, I believe if the youth had no selfrespect, the want was in a great measure owing to the father having had not any for his son.
I know I need scarcely add, that when a man is passionately fond of horses generally he bets on those quadrupeds.
It did not call for many inquiries to ascertain that young Petleigh had “put” a good deal of money upon horses, and that, as a rule, he had been lucky with them. The young man wanted some excitement, some occupation, and he found it in betting. Have I said that after the young heir was taken from the school he was allowed to run loose? This was the case. I presume the father could not bring his mind to incurring the expense of entering his son at some profession.
Things then at Petleighcote were in this condition; the father neglectful and avaricious; the son careless, neglected, and daily slipping down the ladder of life; and the housekeeper, Mrs. Quinion, saying nothing, doing nothing, but existing, and perhaps showing that she was attached to her foster-sister’s son. She was a woman of much sound and discriminating sense, and it is certain that she expressed herself to the effect that she foresaw the young man was being silently, steadfastly, unceasingly ruined.
All these preliminaries comprehended, I may proceed to the action of this narrative.
It was the 19th of May (the year is unimportant), and early in the morning when the discovery was made, by the gardener to Squire Petleigh—one Tom Brown.
Outside the great hall-door, and huddled together in an extraordinary fashion, the gardener, at half-past five in the morning (a Tuesday), found lying a human form. And when he came to make an examination, he discovered that it was the dead body of the young squire.
Seizing the handle of the great bell, he quickly sounded an alarm, and within a minute the housekeeper herself and the one servant, who together numbered the household which slept at Petleighcote when the squire was in town, stood on the threshold of the open door.
The housekeeper was half-dressed, the servant wench was huddled up in a petticoat and a blanket.
The news spread very rapidly, by means of the gardener’s boy, who, wondering where his master was stopping, came loafing about the house, quickly to find the use of his legs.
“He must have had a fit,” said the housekeeper; and it was a flying message to that effect carried by the boy into the village, which brought the village doctor to the spot in the quickest possible time.
It was then found that the catastrophe was due to no fit.
A very slight examination showed that the young squire had died from a stab caused by a rough iron barb, the metal shaft of which was six inches long, and which still remained in the body.
At the inquest, the medical man deposed that very great force must have been used in thrusting the barb into the body, for one of the ribs had been half severed by the act. The stab given, the barb had evidently been drawn back with the view of extracting it—a purpose which had failed, the flanges of the barb having fixed themselves firmly in the cartilage and tissue about it. It was impossible the deceased could have turned the barb against himself in the manner in which it had been used.
Asked what this barb appeared like, the surgeon was unable to reply. He had never seen such a weapon before. He supposed it had been fixed in a shaft of wood, from which it had been wrenched by the strength with which the barb, after the thrust, had been held by the parts surrounding the wound.
The barb was handed round to the jury, and every man cordially agreed with his neighbour that he had never seen anything of the kind before; it was equally strange to all of them.
The squire, who took the catastrophe with great coolness, gave evidence to the effect that he had seen his son on the morning previous to the discovery of the murder, and about noon—seventeen and a half hours before the catastrophe was discovered. He did not know his son was about to leave town, where he had been staying. He added that he had not missed the young man; his son was in the habit of being his own master, and going where he liked. He could offer no explanation as to why his son had returned to the country, or why the materials found upon him were there. He could offer no explanation in any way about anything connected with the matter.
It was said, as a scandal in Tram, that the squire exhibited no emotion upon giving his evidence, and that when he sat down after his examination he appeared relieved.
Furthermore, it was intimated that upon being called upon to submit to a kind of cross-examination, he appeared to be anxious, and answered the few questions guardedly.
These questions were put by one of the jurymen—a solicitor’s clerk (of some acuteness it was evident), who was the Tram oracle.
It is perhaps necessary for the right understanding of this case, that these questions should be here reported, and their answers also.
They ran as follows:—
“Do you think your son died where he was found?”
“I have formed no opinion.”
“Do you think he had been in your house?”
“Why are you so certain?”
“Because had he entered the house, my housekeeper would have known of his coming.”
“Is your housekeeper here?”
“Has it been intended that she should be called as a witness?”
“Do you think your son attempted to break into your house?”
[The reason for this question I will make apparent shortly. By the way, I should, perhaps, here at once explain that I obtained all these particulars of the evidence from the county paper.]
“Do you think your son attempted to break into your house?”
“Why should he?”
“That is not my question. Do you think he attempted to break into your house?”
“No, I do not.”
“You swear that, Mr. Petleigh?”
[By the way, there was no love lost between the squire and the Tram oracle, for the simple reason that not any existed that could be spilt.]
“I do swear it.”
“Do you think there was anybody in the house he wished to visit clandestinely?”
“Who were in the house?”
“Mrs. Quinion, my housekeeper, and one servant woman.”
“Is the servant here?”
“What kind of a woman is she?”
“Really Mr. Mortoun you can see her and judge for yourself.”
“So we can. I am only going to ask one question more.”
“I reserve to myself the decision whether I shall or shall not answer it.”
“I think you will answer it, Mr. Petleigh.”
“It remains, sir, to be seen. Put your question.”
“It is very simple—do you intend to offer a reward for the discovery of the murderer of your son?”
The squire made no reply.
“You have heard my question, Mr. Petleigh.”
“And what is your answer?”
The squire paused for some moments. I should state that I am adding the particulars of the inquest I picked up, or detected if you like better, to the information afforded by the county paper to which I have already referred.
“I refuse to reply,” said the squire.
Mortoun thereupon applied to the coroner for his ruling.
Now it appears evident to me that this juryman had some hidden motive in thus questioning the squire. If this were so, I am free to confess I never discovered it beyond any question of doubt. I may or I may not have hit on his motive. I believe I did.
It is clear that the question Mr. Mortoun urged was badly put, for how could the father decide whether he would offer a reward for the discovery of a murderer who did not legally exist till after the finding of the jury? And indeed it may furthermore be added that this question had no bearing upon the elucidation of the mystery, or at all events it had no apparent bearing upon the facts of the catastrophe.
It is evident that Mr. Mortoun was actuated in all probability by one of two motives, both of which were obscure. One might have been an attempt really to obtain a clue to the murder, the other might have been the endeavour to bring the squire, with whom it has been said he lived bad friends, into disrespect with the county.
The oracle-juryman immediately applied to the coroner, who at once admitted that the question was not pertinent, but nevertheless urged the squire as the question had been put to answer it.
It is evident that the coroner saw the awkward position in which the squire was placed, and spoke as he did in order to enable the squire to come out of the difficulty in the least objectionable manner.
But as I have said, Mr. Petleigh, all his incongruities and faults apart, was a clear-seeing man of a good and clear mind. As I saw the want of consistency in the question, as I read it, so he must have remarked the same failure when it was addressed to him.
For after patiently hearing the coroner to the end of his remarks, Petleigh said, quietly,—
“How can I say I will offer a reward for the discovery of certain murderers when the jury have not yet returned a verdict of murder?”
“But supposing the jury do return such a verdict?” asked Mortoun.
“Why then it will be time for you to ask your question.”
I learnt that the juryman smiled as he bowed and said he was satisfied.
It appears to me that at that point Mr. Mortoun must have either gained that information which fitted in with his theory, or, accepting the lower motive for his question, that he felt he had now sufficiently damaged the squire in the opinion of the county. For the reporters were at work, and every soul present knew that not a word said would escape publication in the county paper.
Mr. Mortoun however was to be worsted within the space of a minute.
“Have you ceased questioning me, gentlemen?” asked the squire.
The coroner bowed, it appeared.
“Then,” continued the squire, “before I sit down—and you will allow me to remain in the room until the inquiry is terminated—I will state that of my own free will which I would not submit to make public upon an illegal and a totally uncalled-for attempt at compulsion. Should the jury bring in a verdict of murder against unknown persons, I shall not offer a reward for the discovery of those alleged murderers.”
“Why not?” asked the coroner, who I learnt afterwards admitted that the question was utterly unpardonable.
“Because,” said Squire Petleigh, “it is quite my opinion that no murder has been committed.”
According to the newspaper report these words were followed by “sensation.”
“No murder?” said the coroner.
“No; the death of the deceased was, I am sure, an accident.”
“What makes you think that, Mr. Petleigh?”
“The nature of the death. Murders are not committed, I should think, in any such extraordinary manner as that by which my son came to his end. I have no more to say.”
“Here,” says the report, “the squire took his seat.”
The next witness called—the gardener who had discovered the body had already been heard, and simply testified to the finding of the body—was Margaret Quinion, the housekeeper.
Her depositions were totally valueless from my point of view, that of the death of the young squire. She stated simply that she had gone to bed at the usual time (about ten) on the previous night, and that Dinah Yarton retired just previously, and to the same room. She heard no noise during the night, was disturbed in no way whatever until the alarm was given by the gardener.
In her turn Mrs. Quinion was now questioned by the solicitor’s clerk, Mr. Mortoun.
“Do you and this—what is her name?—Dinah Yarton; do you and she sleep alone at Petleighcote?”
“Yes—when the family is away.”
“Are you not afraid to do so?”
“Why should I be?”
“Well—most women are afraid to sleep in large lonely houses by themselves. Are you not afraid of burglars?”
“Simply because burglars would find so little at Petleighcote to steal that they would be very foolish to break into the house.”
“But there is a good deal of plate in the house—isn’t there?”
“It all goes up to town with Mr. Petleigh.”
“Every ounce—as a rule.”
“You say the girl sleeps in your room?”
“In my room.”
“Is she an attractive girl?”
“Is she unattractive?”
“You will have an opportunity of judging, for she will be called as a witness, sir.”
“Oh; you don’t think, do you, that there was anything between this young person and your young master?”
“Between Dinah and young Mr. Petleigh?”
“I think there could hardly be any affair between them, for [here she smiled] they have never seen each other—the girl having come to Petleighcote from the next county only three weeks since, and three months after the family had gone to town.”
“Oh; pray have you not expected your master’s son home recently?”
“I have not expected young Mr. Petleigh home recently—he never comes home when the family is away.”
“Was he not in the habit of coming to Petleighcote unexpectedly?”
“You know that for a fact?”
“I know that for a fact.”
“Was the deceased kept without money?”
“I know nothing of the money arrangements between the father and son.”
“Well—do you know that often he wanted money?”
“Really—I decline to answer that question.”
“Well—did he borrow money habitually from you?”
“I decline also to answer that question.”
“You say you heard nothing in the night?”
“What did you do when you were alarmed by the gardener in the morning?”
“I am at a loss to understand your question.”
“It is very plain, nevertheless. What was your first act after hearing the catastrophe?”
[After some consideration.] “It is really almost impossible, I should say, upon such terrible occasions as was that, to be able distinctly to say what is one’s first act or words, but I believe the first thing I did, or the first I remember, was to look after Dinah.”
“And why could she not look after herself?”
“Simply because she had fallen into a sort of epileptic fit—to which she is subject—upon seeing the body.”
“Then you can throw no light upon this mysterious affair?”
“No light: all I know of it was the recognition of the body of Mr. Petleigh, junior, in the morning.”
The girl Dinah Yarton was now called, but no sooner did the unfortunate young woman, waiting in the hall of the publichouse at which the inquest was held, hear her name, than she swooped into a fit which totally precluded her from giving any evidence “except,” as the county paper facetiously remarked, “the proof by her screams that her lungs were in a very enviable condition.”
“She will soon recover,” said Mrs. Quinion, “and will be able to give what evidence she can.”
“And what will that be, Mrs. Quinion?” asked the solicitor’s clerk.
“I am not able to say, Mr. Mortoun,” she replied.
The next witness called (and here as an old police-constable I may remark upon the unbusiness-like way in which the witnesses were arranged)—the next witness called was the doctor.
His evidence was as follows, omitting the purely professional points. “I was called to the deceased on Tuesday morning, at near upon six in the morning. I recognized the body as that of Mr. Petleigh junior. Life was quite extinct. He had been dead about seven or eight hours, as well as I could judge. That would bring his death about ten or eleven on the previous night. Death had been caused by a stab, which had penetrated the left lung. The deceased had bled inwardly. The instrument which had caused death had remained in the wound, and stopped what little effusion of blood there would otherwise have been. Deceased literally died from suffocation, the blood leaking into the lungs and filling them. All the other organs of the body were in a healthy condition. The instrument by which death was produced is one with which I have no acquaintance. It is a kind of iron arrow, very roughly made, and with a shaft. It must have been fixed in some kind of handle when it was used, and which must have yielded and loosed the barb when an attempt was made to withdraw it—an attempt which had been made, because I found that one of the flanges of the arrow had caught behind a rib. I repeat that I am totally unacquainted with the instrument with which death was effected. It is remarkably coarse and rough. The deceased might have lived a quarter of a minute after the wound had been inflicted. He would not in all probability have called out. There is no evidence of the least struggle having taken place—not a particle of evidence can I find to show that the deceased had exhibited even any knowledge of danger. And yet, nevertheless, supposing the deceased not to have been asleep at the time of the murder, for murder it undoubtedly was, or manslaughter, he must have seen his assailant, who, from the position of the weapon, must have been more before than behind him. Assuredly the death was the result of either murder or accident, and not the result of suicide, because I will stake my professional reputation that it would be quite impossible for any man to thrust such an instrument into his body with such a force as in this case has been used, as is proved by the cutting of a true bone-formed rib. Nor could a suicide, under such circumstances as those of the present catastrophe, have thrust the dart in the direction which this took. To sum up, it is my opinion that the deceased was murdered without, on his part, any knowledge of the murderer.”
Mr. Mortoun cross-examined the doctor:
To this gentleman’s inquiries he answered willingly.
“Do you think, Dr. Pitcherley, that no blood flowed externally?”
“Of that I am quite sure.”
“There were no marks of blood on the clothes.”
“Then the inference stands that no blood stained the place of the murder?”
“Then the body may have been brought an immense way, and no spots of blood would form a clue to the road?”
“Is it your impression that the murder was committed far away from the spot, or near the place where the body was found?”
“This question is one which it is quite out of my power to answer, Mr. Mortoun, my duty here being to give evidence as to my being called to the deceased, and as to the cause of death. But I need not tell you that I have formed my own theory of the catastrophe, and if the jury desire to have it, I am ready to offer it for their consideration.”
Here there was a consultation, from which it resulted that the jury expressed themselves very desirous of obtaining the doctor’s impression.
[I have no doubt the following words led the jury to their decision.]
The medical gentleman said:—
“It is my impression that this death resulted out of a poaching—I will not say affray—but accident. It is thoroughly well-known in these districts, and at such a juncture as the present I need feel no false delicacy, Mr. Petleigh, in making this statement, that young Petleigh was much given to poaching. I believe that he and his companions were out poaching—I myself on two separate occasions, being called out to nightcases, saw the young gentleman under very suspicious circumstances—and that one of the party was armed with the weapon which caused the death, and which may have been carried at the end of such a heavy stick as is frequently used for flinging at rabbits. I suppose that by some frightful accident—we all know how dreadful are the surgical accidents which frequently arise when weapons are in use—the young man was wounded mortally, and so died, after the frightened companion had hurriedly attempted to withdraw the arrow, only to leave the barb sticking in the body and hooked behind a rib, while the force used in the resistance of the bone caused the weapon to part company from the haft. The discovery of the body outside the father’s house can then readily be accounted for. His companions knowing who he was, and dreading their identification with an act which could but result in their own condemnation of character, carried the body to the threshold of his father’s house, and there left it. This,” the doctor concluded, “appears to me the most rational mode I can find of accounting for the circumstances of this remarkable and deplorable case. I apologize to Mr. Petleigh for the slur to which I may have committed myself in referring to the character of that gentleman’s son, the deceased, but my excuse must rest in this fact, that where a crime or catastrophe is so obscure that the criminal, or guilty person, may be in one of many directions, it is but just to narrow the circle of inquiry as much as possible, in order to avoid the resting of suspicion upon the greater number of individuals. If, however, any one can suggest a more lucid explanation of the catastrophe than mine, I shall indeed be glad to admit I was wrong.”
[There can be little question, I repeat, that Dr. Pitcherley’s analysis fitted in very satisfactorily and plausibly with the facts of the case.]
Mr. Mortoun asked Dr. Pitcherley no more questions.
The next witness called was the police-constable of Tram, a stupid, hopeless dolt, as I found to my cost, who was good at a rustic public-house row, but who as a detective was not worth my dog Dart.
It appeared that he gave his flat evidence with a stupidity which called even for the rebuke of the coroner.
All he could say was, that he was called, and that he went, and that he saw whose body it “be’d.” That was “arl” he could say.
Mr. Mortoun took him in hand, but even he could do nothing with the man.
“Had many persons been on the spot where the body was found before he arrived?”
“How was that?”
“Whoy, ’cos Toom Broown, the gard’ner, coomed t’him at wuncet, and ’cos Toom Broown coomed t’him furst, ’cas he’s cot wur furst coomed too.”
This was so, as I found when I went down to Tram. The gardener, Brown, panic-stricken, after calling to, and obtaining the attention of the housekeeper, had rushed off to the village for that needless help which all panic-stricken people will seek, and the constable’s cottage happening to be the first dwelling he reached the constable obtained the first alarm. Now, had the case been conducted properly, the constable being the first man to get the alarm, would have obtained such evidence as would at once have put the detectives on the right scent.
The first two questions put by the lawyerlike juryman showed that he saw how important the evidence might have been which this witness, Joseph Higgins by name, should have given had he but known his business.
The first question was—
“It had rained, hadn’t it, on the Monday night?”
[That previous to the catastrophe.]
“Ye-es t’had rained,” Higgins replied.
Then followed this important question:
“You were on the spot one of the very first. Did you notice if there were any footsteps about?”
It appears to me very clear that Mr. Mortoun was here following up the theory of the catastrophe offered by the doctor. It would be clear that if several poaching companions had carried the young squire, after death, to the hall-door, that, as rain had fallen during the night, there would inevitably be many boot-marks on the soft ground.
This question put, the witness asked, “Wh-a-at?”
The question was repeated.
“Noa,” he replied; “ah didn’t see noa foot ma-arks.”
“Did you look for any?”
“Noa; ah didn’t look for any.”
“Then you don’t know your business,” said Mr. Mortoun.
And the juryman was right; for I may tell the reader that boot-marks have sent more men to the gallows, as parts of circumstantial evidence, than any other proof whatever; indeed, the evidence of the boot-mark is terrible. A nail fallen out, or two or three put very close together, a broken nail, or all the nails perfect, have, times out of number, identified the boot of the suspected man with the boot-mark near the murdered, and has been the first link of the chain of evidence which has dragged a murderer to the gallows, or a minor felon to the hulks.
Indeed, if I were advising evildoers on the best means of avoiding detection, I would say by all means take a second pair of boots in your pocket, and when you near the scene of your work change those you have on for those you have in your pocket, and do your wickedness in these latter; flee from the scene in these latter, and when you have “made” some distance, why return to your other boots, and carefully hide the tell-tale pair. Then the boots you wear will rather be a proof of your innocence than presumable evidence of your guilt.
Nor let any one be shocked at this public advice to rascals; for I flatter myself I have a counter-mode of foiling such a felonious arrangement as this one of two pairs of boots. And as I have disseminated the mode amongst the police, any attempt to put the suggestions I have offered actually into action, would be attended with greater chances of detection than would be incurred by running the ordinary risk.
To return to the subject in hand.
The constable of Tram, the only human being in the town, Mortoun apart perhaps, who should have known, in the ordinary course of his duty, the value of every footmark near the dead body, had totally neglected a precaution which, had he observed it, must have led to a discovery (and an immediate one), which in consequence of his dullness was never publicly made.
Nothing could be more certain than this, that what is called foot-mark evidence was totally wanting.
The constable taking no observations, not the cutest detective in existence could have obtained any evidence of this character, for the news of the catastrophe spreading, as news only spreads in villages, the rustics tramped up in scores, and so obliterated what footmarks might have existed.
To be brief, Mr. Josh. Higgins could give no evidence worth hearing.
And now the only depositions which remained to be given were those of Dinah Yarton.
She came into court “much reduced,” said the paper from which I gain these particulars, “from the effects of the succession of fits which she had fallen into and struggled out of.”
She was so stupid that every question had to be repeated in half-a-dozen shapes before she could offer a single reply. It took four inquiries to get at her name, three to know where she lived, five to know what she was; while the coroner and the jury, after a score of questions, gave over trying to ascertain whether she knew the nature of an oath. However, as she stated that she was quite sure she would go to a “bad place” if she did not speak the truth, she was declared to be a perfectly competent witness, and I have no doubt she was badgered accordingly.
And as Mr. Mortoun got more particulars out of her than all the rest of the questioners put together, perhaps it will not be amiss, as upon her evidence turned the whole of my actions so far as I was concerned, to give that gentleman’s questions and her answers in full, precisely as they were quoted in the greedy county paper, which doubtless looked upon the whole case as a publishing godsend, the proprietors heartily wishing that the inquest might be adjourned a score of times for further evidence.
“Well now, Dinah,” said Mr. Mortoun, “what time did you go to bed on Monday?”
[The answers were generally got after much hammering in on the part of the inquirist. I will simply return them at once as ultimately given.]
“Did you go to sleep?”
“Noa—Ise didunt goa to sleep.”
“Caize Ise couldn’t.”
“Ise wur thinkin’.”
“Arl manner o’ thing’.”
“Tell us one of them?”
[No answer—except symptoms of another fit.]
“Tut—tut! Well, did you go to sleep at last?”
“Well, when did you wake?”
“Ise woke when missus ca’d I.”
“Doant know clock.”
“Was it daylight?”
“E-es, it wur day.”
“Did you wake during the night?”
“How did that happen?”
“Did you hear anything?”
“Did you think you heard anything?”
“Whoy, it movin’.”
“What was moving?”
“Whoy, the box.”
“Box—tut, tut,” said the lawyer, “answer me properly.”
Now here he raised his voice, and I have no doubt Dinah had to thank the jury man for the return of her fits.
“Do you hear?—Answer me properly.”
“When you woke up did you hear any noise?”
“But you thought you heard a noise?”
“E-es, in the—”
“Tut, tut. Never mind the box—where was it?”
“Ter box? In t’ hall!”
“No—no, the noise.”
“In t’ hall, zur!”
“What—the noise was?”
“Noa, zur, ter box.”
“There, my good girl,” says the Tram oracle, “never mind the box, I want you to think of this—did you hear any noise outside the house?”
“But you said you heard a noise?”
“No, zur, I didunt.”
“Well, but you said you thought you heard a noise?”
“In ter box—”
Here, said the county paper, the lawyer, striking his hand on the table before him, continued—
“Speak of the box once more, my girl, and to prison you go.”
“Prizun!” says the luckless witness.
“Yes, jail and bread and water!”
And thereupon the unhappy witness without any further remarks plunged into a fit, and had to be carried out, battling with that strength which convulsions appear to bring with them, and in the arms of three men, who had quite their work to do to keep her moderately quiet.
“I don’t think, gentlemen,” said the coroner, “that this witness is material. In the first place, it seems doubtful to me whether she is capable of giving evidence; and, in the second, I believe she has little evidence to give—so little that I doubt the policy of adjourning the inquest till her recovery. It appears to me that it would be cruelty to force this poor young woman again into the position she has just endured, unless you are satisfied that she is a material witness. I think she has said enough to show that she is not. It appears certain, from her own statement, that she retired to rest with Mrs. Quinion, and knows nothing more of what occurred till the housekeeper awoke her in the morning, after she herself had received the alarm. I suggest, therefore, that what evidence she could give is included in that already before the jury, and given by the housekeeper.”
The jury coincided in the remarks made by the coroner, Mr. Mortoun, however, adding that he was at a loss to comprehend the girl’s frequent reference to the box. Perhaps Mrs. Quinion could help to elucidate the mystery.
The housekeeper immediately rose.
“Mrs. Quinion,” said Mr. Mortoun, “can you give any explanation as to what the young person meant by referring to a box?”
“There are of course boxes at Petleighcote?”
“Beyond all question.”
“Any box in particular?”
“No box in particular.”
“No box which is spoken of as the box?”
“The girl said it was in the hall. Is there a box in the hall?”
“What are they?”
“There is a clog and boot box, a box on the table in which letters for the post are placed when the family is at home, and from which they are removed every day at four; and also a box fixed to the wall, the use of which I have never been able to discover, and of the removal of which I have several times spoken to Mr. Petleigh.”
“How large is it?”
“About a foot-and-a-half square and three feet deep.”
“No, the flap is always open.”
“Has the young woman ever betrayed any fear of this box?”
“You have no idea to what box in the hall she referred in her evidence?”
“Not the least idea.”
“Do you consider the young woman weak in her head?”
“She is decidedly not of strong intellect.”
“And you suppose this box idea a mere fancy?”
“And a recent one?”
“I never heard her refer to a box before.”
“That will do.”
The paper whence I take my evidence describes Mrs. Quinion as a woman of very great self-possession, who gave what she had to say with perfect calmness and slowness of speech.
This being all the evidence, the coroner was about to sum up, when the Constable Higgins remembered that he had forgotten something, and came forward in a great hurry to repair his error.
He had not produced the articles found on the deceased.
These articles were a key and a black crape mask.
The squire being recalled, and the key shown to him, he identified the key as (he believed) one of his “household keys.” It was of no particular value, and it did not matter if it remained in the hands of the police.
The report continued: “The key is now in the custody of the constable.”
With regard to the crape mask the squire could offer no explanation concerning it.
The coroner then proceeded to sum up, and in doing so he paid many well-termed compliments to the doctor for that gentleman’s view of the matter (which I have no doubt threw off all interest in the matter on the part of the public, and slackened the watchfulness of the detective force, many of whom, though very clever, are equally simple, and accept a plain and straight-forward statement with extreme willingness)—and urged that the discovery of the black crape mask appeared to be very much like corroborative proof of the doctor’s suggestion. “The young man,” said the coroner, “would, if poaching, be exceedingly desirous of hiding his face, considering his position in the county, and then the finding of this black crape mask upon the body would, if the poaching explanation were accepted, be a very natural discovery. But—”
And then the coroner proceeded to explain to the jury that they had to decide not upon suppositions but facts. They might all be convinced that Dr. Pitcherley’s explanation was the true one, but in law it could not be accepted. Their verdict must be in accordance with facts, and the simple facts of the case were these:—A man was found dead, and the causes of his death were such that it was impossible to believe that the deceased had been guilty of suicide. They would therefore under the circumstances feel it was their duty to return an open verdict of murder.
The jury did not retire, but at the expiration of a consultation of three minutes, in which (I learnt) the foreman, Mr. Mortoun, had all the talking to himself, the jury gave in a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.
Thus ended the inquest.
And I have little hesitation in saying it was one of the weakest inquiries of that kind which had ever taken place. It was characterized by no order, no comprehension, no common sense.
The facts of the case made some little stir, but the plausible explanations offered by the doctor, and the several coinciding circumstances, deprived the affair of much of its interest, both to the public and the detective force; to the former, because they had little room for ordinary conjecture; to the latter, because I need not say the general, the chief motive power in the detective is gain, and here the probabilities of profit were almost annihilated by the possibility that a true explanation of the facts of this affair had been offered, while it was such as promised little hope of substantial reward.
But the mere fact of my here writing this narrative will be sufficient to show that I did not coincide with the general view taken of the business.
That I was right the following pages will I think prove.
Of course the Government offered the usual reward, £100, of which proclamation is published in all cases of death where presumably foul play has taken place.
But it was not the ordinary reward which tempted me to choose this case for investigation. It was several peculiar circumstances which attracted me.
They were as follows:—
1. Why did the father refuse to offer a reward?
2. Why did the deceased have one of the household keys with him at the time of his death, and how came he to have it at all?
3. What did the box mean?
1. It seemed to me that the refusal by the father to offer a reward must arise from one of three sources. Either he did not believe a murder had been committed, and therefore felt the offer was needless; or he knew murder was committed, and did not wish to accelerate the action of the police; or, thirdly, whether he believed or disbelieved in the murder, knew or did not know it to be a murder, that he was too sordid to offer a reward by the payment of which he would lose without gaining any corresponding benefit.
2. How came the deceased to have one of the keys of his father’s establishment in his pocket? Such a possession was extremely unusual, and more inexplicable. How came he to possess it? Why did he possess it? What was he going to do with it?
3. What did the box mean? Did the unhappy girl Dinah Yarton refer to any ordinary or extraordinary box? It appeared to me that if she referred to any ordinary box it must be an ordinary box under extraordinary circumstances. But fools have very rarely any imagination, and knowing this I was not disposed to accredit Dinah with any ability to invest the box ordinary with any extraordinary attributes. And then remembering that there was nobody in the house to play tricks with her but a grave housekeeper who would not be given to that kind of thing, I came to the conclusion that the box in question was an extraordinary box. “It was in the hall.” Now if the box were no familiar box, and it was in the hall, the inference stood that it had just arrived there. Did I at this time associate the box intimately with the case? I think not.
At all events I determined to go down to Tram and investigate the case, and as with us detectives action is as nearly simultaneous with determination to act as it can be, I need not say that, making up my mind to visit Tram, I was soon nearing that station by the first train which started after I had so determined.
Going down I arranged mentally the process with which I was to go through.
Firstly, I must see the constable.
Secondly, I must talk to the girl Dinah.
Thirdly, I must examine the place of the murder.
All this would be easy work.
But what followed would be more difficult.
This was to apply what I should discover to any persons whom my discoveries might implicate, and see what I could make of it all.
Arrived at Tram at once I found out the constable, and I am constrained to say—a greater fool I never indeed did meet.
He was too stupid to be anything else than utterly, though idiotically, honest.
Under my corkscrew-like qualities as a detective he had no more chance than a tender young cork with a corkscrew proper. I believe that to the end of the chapter he never comprehended that I was a detective. His mind could not grasp the idea of a police officer in petticoats.
I questioned him as the shortest way of managing him, smoothing his suspicions and his English with shillings of the coin of this realm.
Directly I came face to face with him I knew what I had to do. I had simply to question him. And here I set out my questions and his answers as closely as I can recollect them, together with a narrative of the actions which resulted out of both.
I told him at once I was curious to know all I could about the affair; and as I illustrated this statement with the exhibition of the first shilling, in a moment I had the opportunity of seeing every tooth he had in his head—thirty-two. Not one was missing.
“There was found on the body a key and a mask—where are they?”
“War be they—why, in my box, sin’ I be coonstubble!”
“Will you show them me?”
“Oh, Ise show they ye!”
And thereupon he went to a box in the corner of the room, and unlocked it solemnly.
As the constable of Tram it was perfectly natural that he should keep possession of these objects, since a verdict of wilful murder had been given, and at any time, therefore, inquiries might have to be made.
From this box he took out a bundle; this opened, a suit of clothes came to view, and from the middle of these he produced a key and a mask.
I examined the key first. It was a well-made—a beautifully-made key, and very complicated. We constables learn in the course of our experience a good deal about keys, and therefore I saw at a glance that it was the key to a complicated and more than ordinarily valuable lock.
On the highly-polished loop of the key a carefully cut number was engraved—No. 13.
Beyond all question this key was no ordinary key to an ordinary lock.
Now, extraordinary locks and keys guard extraordinary treasures.
The first inference I arrived at, therefore, from my interview with the Tram constable was this—that the key found upon the body opened a lock put upon something valuable.
Then I examined the mask.
It was of black crape, stretched upon silver wire. I had never seen anything like it before, although as a detective I had been much mixed up with people who wore masks, both at masquerades and on other occasions even less satisfactory.
I therefore inferred that the mask was of foreign manufacture.
[I learnt ultimately that I was right, and no great credit to me either, for that which is not white may fairly be guessed to be of some other colour. The mask was what is called abroad a masque de luxe, a mask which, while it changes the countenance sufficiently to prevent recognition, is made so delicately that the material, crape, admits of free perspiration—a condition which inferior masks will not admit.]
“Anything else found on the body?”
“No skeleton keys?”
“Noa; on’y wan key.”
So, if the constable were right, and if the body had remained as it fell, when found by the gardener, Brown, the only materials found were a key and mask.
But, surely, there was something else in the pockets.
“Was there no purse found?” I asked.
“Noa; noa poorse.”
“Ooh, ’ees; thar war a kerchiefer.”
“Where is it?”
He went immediately to the bundle.
“Are these the clothes in which he was found?”
“Ees, they be.”
So far, so good, I felt.
The constable, stupid and honest as he appeared, and as he existed, was very suspicious, and therefore I felt that he had to be managed most carefully.
Having hooked the handkerchief out from some recess in the bundle with the flattest forefinger I think I ever remarked, he handed it to me.
It was a woman’s handkerchief.
It was new; had apparently never been used; there was no crease nor dirt upon it, as there would have been had it been carried long in the pocket; and it was marked in the corner “Freddy”—undoubtedly the diminution for Frederica.
“Was the ‘kerchiefer,’” I asked, using the word the constable had used—“was it wrapped in anything?”
“What pocket was it in?”
“Where was it, then?”
“In’s weskit, agin’s hart, an’ joost aboove th’ ole made in ’um.”
Now, what was the inference of the handkerchief.
It was a woman’s; it was not soiled; it had not been worn long; it was thrust in his breast; it was marked.
The inference stood thus:
This handkerchief belonged to a woman, in all probability young, whose Christian name was Frederica; as it was not soiled, and as it was not blackened by wear, it had recently been given to, or taken, by him; and as the handkerchief was found in the breast of his shirt, it appeared to have been looked upon with favour. Suppose then we say that it was a gift by a young woman to the deceased about the time when he was setting out on his expedition?
Now, the deceased had left London within eighteen hours of his death; had the handkerchief been given him in London or after he left town?
Again, had the mask anything to do with this woman?
Taking it up again and re-examining it, the delicacy of the fabric struck me more than before, and raising it close to my eyes to make a still narrower examination I found that it was scented.
The inference stood, upon the whole, that this mask had belonged to a woman.
Again I began to question Joseph Higgins, constable.
“I should be glad to look at the clothes,” I said.
“Lard, thee may look,” said the constable.
They were an ordinary suit of clothes, such as a middle-class man would wear of a morning, but not so good or fashionable as one might have expected to find in wear by the son of a wealthy squire.
[This apparent incongruity was soon explained away by my learning, as I did in the evening of my arrival, that the squire was mean and even parsimonious.]
There was nothing in the pockets, but my attention was called to the fluffy state of the cloth, which was a dark grey, and which therefore in a great measure hid this fluffiness.
“You have not been taking care of these clothes, I am afraid.”
“They be joost as they coomed arf him!”
“What, was all this fluff about the cloth?”
[Yoa was a new version of “e-es,” and both meant “yes.”]
“They look as though they had been rolled about a bed.”
The clothes in question were stained on their under side with gravel-marks, and they were still damp on these parts.
The remarking of this fact, recalled to my mind something which came out at the inquest, and which now I remembered and kept in mind while examining the state of the clothes.
On the Monday night, as the body was discovered on the Tuesday morning, it had rained.
Now the clothes were not damp all over, for the fluff was quite wavy, and flew about in the air. It was necessary to know what time it left off raining on the Monday night, or Tuesday morning.
It was very evident that the clothes had not been exposed to rain between the time of their obtaining the fluffiness and the discovery of the body. Therefore ascertain at what hour the rain ceased, and I had the space of time (the hour at which the body was discovered being half-past five) within which the body had been deposited.
The constable knew nothing about the rain, and I believe it was at this point, in spite of the shillings, that the officer began to show rustic signs of impatience.
I may add here that I found the rain had only ceased at three o’clock on the Tuesday morning. It was therefore clear that the body had been deposited between three and half-past five—two hours and a-half.
This discovery I made that same evening of my landlady, a most useful person.
Now, does it not strike the reader that three o’clock on a May morning, and when the morning had almost come, was an extraordinarily late hour at which to be poaching?
This indisputable fact, taken into consideration with the needlessness of the mask (for poachers do not wear masks), and the state of the clothes, to say nothing of the kind of clothes found on the deceased, led me to throw over Mr. Martoun’s theory that the young squire had met his death in a poaching affray, or rather while out on a poaching expedition.
I took a little of the fluff from the clothes and carefully put it away in my pocket-book.
The last thing I examined was the barb which had caused the death.
And here I admit I was utterly foiled—completely, positively foiled. I had never seen anything of the kind before—never.
It was a very coarse iron barb, shaped something like a queen’s broad arrow, only that the flanges widened from their point, so that each appeared in shape like the blade of a much-worn penknife. The shaft was irregular and perhaps even coarser than the rest of the work. The weapon was made of very poor iron, for I turned its point by driving it, not by any means heavily, against the frame of the window—to the intense disgust of the constable, whose exclamation, I remember thoroughly well, was “Woa.”
Now what did I gain by my visit to the constable? This series of suppositions:—
That the deceased was placed where he was found between three and half-past five a.m. on the Tuesday; that he was not killed from any result of a poaching expedition; and that he had visited a youngish woman named Frederica a few hours before death, and of whom he had received a handkerchief and possibly a mask.
The only troublesome point was the key, which, by the way, had been found in a small fob-pocket in the waist of the coat.
While taking my tea at the inn at which I had set down, I need not say I asked plenty of questions, and hearing a Mrs. Green frequently referred to, I surmised she was a busybody, and getting her address, as that of a pleasant body who let lodgings, I may at once add that that night I slept in the best room of the pleasant body’s house.
She was the most incorrigible talker ever I encountered. Nor was she devoid of sharpness; indeed, with more circumspection than she possessed, or let me say, with ordinary circumspection, she would have made a good ordinary police-officer, and had she possessed that qualification I might have done something for her. As it was the idea could not be entertained for any part of a moment.
She was wonderful, this Mrs. Green.
You only had to put a question on any point, and she abandoned the subject in which she had been indulging, and sped away on a totally new tack.
She was ravenous to talk of the murder; for it was her foregone conclusion that murder had been committed.
In a few words, all the information afforded to this point, which has not arisen out of my own seeking, or came by copy from the county newspaper (and much of that information which is to follow) all proceeded from the same gushing source—Mrs. Green.
All I had to do was to put another question when I thought we had exhausted the previous one, and away she went again at score, and so we continued from seven to eleven. It was half-past eight for nine before she cleared away the long-since cold and sloppy tea things.
“And what has become of Mrs. Quinion?” I asked, in the course of this to me valuable entertainment on the part of Mrs. Green, throughout the whole of which she never asked me my business in these parts (though I felt quite sure so perfect a busybody was dying to know my affairs), because any inquiry would have called for a reply, and this was what she could not endure while I was willing to listen to her. Hence she chose the less of two evils.
“And what became of the girl?”
“Yes. I believe that was her name.”
“Lor’ bless ’ee! it’s as good and as long as a blessed big book to tell ’ee all about Dinah Yarton. She left two days after, and they not having a bed for she at the Lamb and Flag, and I having a bed, her came here—the Lamb and Flag people always sending me their over beds, bless ’em, bless ’ee! and that’s how I comes to know arl about it, bless ’ee, and the big box!”
[The box—now this was certainly what I did want Mrs. Green to come to. The reader will remember that I laid some stress upon the girl’s frequent reference to the trunk.]
“Bless ’ee! the big box caused arl the row, because Mrs. Quinion said she were a fool to have been frightened by a big box; but so Dinah would be, and so her did, being probable in the nex’ county at this time, at Little Pocklington, where her mother lives making lace, and her father a farmer, and where her was born—Dinah, and not her mother—on the 1st o’April, 1835, being now twenty years old. What art thee doing? bless ’ee!”
[I was making a note of Little Pocklington.]
Nor will I here make any further verbatim notes of Mrs. Green’s remarks, but use them as they are required in my own way, and as in actuality really I did turn them to account.
I determined to see the girl at once; that is, after I had had a night’s rest. And therefore next morning, after carefully seeing my box and bag were locked, I made a quick breakfast, and sallied out. Reaching the station, there was Mrs. Green. She had obviously got the start of me by crossing Goose Green fields, as in fact she told me.
She said she thought I must have dropped that, and had come to see.
“That” was a purse so old that it was a curiosity.
“Bless ’ee!” she says, “isn’t yourn? Odd, beant it? But, bless ’ee! ye’ll have to wait an hour for a train. There beant a train to anywhere for arl an hour.”
“Then I’ll take a walk,” said I.
“Shall I come, and tark pleasant to ’ee?” asked Mrs. Green.
“No,” I replied; “I’ve some business to transact.”
I had an hour to spare, and remembering that I had seen the things at Higgins’s by a failing evening light, I thought I would again visit that worthy, and make a second inspection.
It was perhaps well I did so.
Not that I discovered anything of further importance, but the atom of novelty of which I made myself master, helped to confirm me in my belief that the deceased had visited a young woman, probably a lady, a very short time before his death.
Higgins, a saddler by trade, was not at all delighted at my re-appearance, and really I was afraid I should have to state what I was in order to get my way, and then civilly bully him into secrecy. But happily his belief in me as a mild mad woman overcame his surliness, and so with the help of a few more shillings I examined once more the clothes found on the unfortunate young squire.
And now, in the full blazing spring morning sunlight, I saw what had missed my view on the previous evening. This was nothing less than a bright crimson scrap of silk braid, such as ladies use in prosecuting their embroidery studies.
This bit of braid had been wound round and round a breast button, and then tied in a natty bow at the top.
“She is a lady,” I thought; “and she was resting her head against his breast when she tied that bit of braid there. She is innocent, I should think, or she never would have done such a childish action as that.”
Higgins put away the dead youth’s clothes with a discontented air.
“Look ye yere—do’ee think ye’l want ’em wuncet more?”
“Wull, if ee do, ’ee wunt have ’un.”
“Oh, very well,” I said, and went back to the station.
Of course there was Mrs. Green on the watch, though in the morning I had seen about the house symptoms of the day being devoted to what I have heard comic Londoners describe as “a water party”—in other words, a grand wash.
That wash Mrs. Green had deserted.
“Bless ’ee, I’m waitin’ for a dear fren!”
“Oh, indeed, Mrs. Green.”
“Shall I take ticket for ’ee, dear?”
“Yes, if you like. Take it for Stokeley,” said I.
“Four mile away,” says Mrs. Green. “I’ve got a fren’ at Stokeley. I wounds if your fren’ be my fren’! Who be your fren’, bless ’ee?”
“What, her as lives near th’ peump?” (pump)
“Oh, I don’t know she.”
It seemed to me Mrs. Green was awed—I never learnt by what, because as I never knew Mrs. Blotchley, and dropped upon her name by chance, and indeed never visited Stokeley, why Green had all the benefit of the discovery.
“And, Mrs. Green, if I am not home by nine, do not sit up for me.”
“Oh!—goin’ maybe to sleep at her hoose?”
And as Mrs. Green here dropped me a curtsey I have remained under the impression that Mrs. B. was a lady of consequence whose grandeur Mrs. Green saw reflected upon me.
I have no doubt the information she put at once in circulation helped to screen the actual purpose for which I had arrived at Tram from leaking out.
When the train reached Stokeley I procured another ticket on to Little Pocklington, and reached that town about two in the afternoon. It was not more than sixty miles from Tram.
The father of this Dinah Yarton was one of those small few-acre farmers who throughout the country are gradually but as certainly vanishing.
I may perhaps at once say that the poor girl Dinah had no less than three fits over the cross-examination to which I submitted her, and here (to the honour of rustic human nature) let it be recorded that actually I had to use my last resource, and show myself to be a police-officer, by the production of my warrant in the presence of the Little Pocklington constable, who was brought into the affair, before I could overcome the objections of the girl’s father. He with much justifiable reason urged that the “darned” business had already half-killed his wench, and he would be “darned” if I should altogether send her out of the “warld.”
As I have said, the unhappy girl had three fits, and I have no doubt the family were heartily glad when I had turned my back upon the premises.
The unhappy young woman had to make twenty struggles before she could find one reply.
Here I need not repeat her evidence to that point past which it was not carried when she stood before the coroner and jury, but I will commence from that point.
“Dinah,” I inquired in a quiet tone, and I believe the fussiness betrayed by the girl’s mother tended as much to the fits as the girl’s own nervousness—“Dinah, what was all that about the big box?”
“Darn the box,” said the mother.
And here it was that the unfortunate girl took her second fit.
“There, she’s killed my Dinah now,” said the old woman, and it must be confessed Dinah was horribly convulsed, and indeed looked frightful in the extreme. The poor creature was quite an hour fighting with the fit, and when she came to and opened her eyes, the first object they met made her shut them again, for that object was myself.
However, I had my duty to perform, and therein lies the excuse for my torture.
“What—oh—o-o-oh wha-at did thee say?”
“What about the big box?”
“Doa noa.” [This was the mode in those parts of saying “I do not know.”]
“Where was it?”
“In th’ hall.”
“Where did it come from?”
“How long had it been there?”
“Sin’ the day afore.”
“Who brought it?”
“Was it a man?”
“How did they come?”
“They coomed in a great big waggoon.”
“And did they bring the box in the waggon!”
“Yoa.” [This already I knew meant “Yes.”]
“And they left the box at the hall?”
“Whoa?” [This I guessed meant “What.”]
“What did they say?”
“Zed box wur for squoire.”
“Did they both carry it?”
“Carefool loike.” [Here there were symptoms of another convulsion.]
“What became of the big box?”
“Did they come for it again?”
“Is it there now?”
“Then it went away again?”
“You did not see it taken away?”
“Then how do you know it is not there now?”
“But you say it is not at the hall—how do you know that?”
“Mrs. Quanyan (Quinion) told I men had been for it.”
“When was that?”
“After I’d been garne to bed.”
“Was it there the next morning?”
“Was it there the morning when they found the young squire dead outside the door?”
And now “Diney,” as her mother called her, plunged into the third fit, and in the early throes of that convulsion I was forced to leave her, for her father, an honest fellow, told me to leave his house, “arficer or no arficer,” and that if I did not do so he would give me what he called a “sta-a-art.”
Under the circumstances I thought that perhaps it was wise to go, and did depart accordingly.
That night I remained in Little Pocklington in the hope, in which I was so grievously disappointed, of discovering further particulars which the girl might have divulged to her companions. But in the first place Diney had no companions, and in the second all attempts to draw people out, for the case had been copied into that county paper which held sway at Little Pocklington, all attempts signally failed.
Upon my return to Tram, Mrs. Green received me with all the honours, clearly as a person who had visited Mrs. Blotchley, and I noticed that the parlour fire-place was decorated with a new stove-ornament in paper of a fiery and flaring description.
I thanked Mrs. Green, and in answer to that lady’s inquiries I was happy to say Mrs. Blotchley was well—except a slight cold. Yes, I had slept there. What did I have for dinner at Mrs. Blotchley’s? Well, really I had forgotten. “Dear heart,” said Mrs. Green, “’ow unfortnet.”
After seeing “Diney,” and in coming home by the train (and indeed I can always think well while travelling), I turned over all that I had pinched out of Dinah Yarton in reference to the big box.
Did that box, or did it not, in any way relate to the death?
It was large; it had been carried by two men; and according to Dinah’s information it had been removed again from the hall.
At all events I must find out what the box meant.
The whole affair was still so warm—not much more than a fortnight had passed since the occurrence—that I still felt sure all particulars about that date which had been noticed would be remembered.
I set Mrs. Green to work, for nobody could better suit my purpose.
“Mrs. Green, can you find out whether any strange carrier’s cart or waggon, containing a very big box, was seen in Tram on the Monday, and the day before young Mr. Petleigh’s body was found?”
I saw happiness in Mrs. Green’s face; and having thus set her to work, I put myself in the best order, and went up to Petleighcote Hall.
The door was opened (with suspicious slowness) by a servant-woman, who closed it again before she took my message and a card to Mrs. Quinion. The message consisted of a statement that I had come after the character of a servant.
A few moments passed, and I was introduced into the housekeeper’s presence.
I found her a calm-looking, fine, portly woman, with much quiet determination in her countenance. She was by no means badly featured.
She was quite self-possessed.
The following conversation took place between us. The reader will see that not the least reference was made by me to the real object of my visit—the prosecution of an inquiry as to the mode by which young Mr. Petleigh had met his death. And if the reader complains that there is much falsity in what I state, I would urge that as evil-doing is a kind of lie levelled at society, if it is to be conquered it must be met on the side of society, through its employes, by similar false action.
Here is the conversation.
“Mrs. Quinion, I believe?”
“Yes, as I am usually termed—but let that pass. You wish to see me?”
“Yes; I have called about the character of a servant.”
“I was passing through Tram, where I shall remain some days, on my way from town to York, and I thought it would be wise to make a personal inquiry, which I find much the best plan in all affairs relating to my servants.”
“A capital plan; but as you came from town, why did you not apply to the town housekeeper, since I have no doubt you take the young person from the town house?”
“There is the difficulty. I should take the young person, if her character were to answer, from a sort of charity. She has never been in town, and here’s my doubt. However, if you give me any hope of the young person—”
“What is her name?”
“Dinah—Dinah—you will allow me to refer to my pocketbook.”
“Don’t take that trouble,” said she, and I thought she looked pale; but her pallor might have been owing, I thought at the time, to the deep mourning she was wearing; “you mean Dinah Yarton.”
“Yarton—that is the name. Do you think she will suit?”
“Much depends upon what she is wanted for.”
“An under nurserymaid.”
“Your own family?”
“Oh, dear no—a sister’s.”
[She asked this question most calmly.]
“Abroad?” and I remarked that she uttered the word with an energy which, though faint in itself, spoke volumes when compared with her previous serenity.
“Yes,” I said, “my sister’s family are about leaving England for Italy, where they will remain for years. Do you think this girl would do?”
“Well—yes. She is not very bright, it is true, but she is wonderfully clean, honest, and extremely fond of children.”
Now, it struck me then and there that the experience of the housekeeper at childless Petleighcote as to Dinah’s love of children must have been extremely limited.
“What I most liked in Dinah,” continued Mrs. Quinion, “was her frankness and trustworthiness. There can be no doubt of her gentleness with children.”
“May I ask why you parted with her?”
“She left me of her own free will. We had, two or three weeks since, a very sad affair here. It operated much upon her; she wished to get away from the place; and indeed I was glad she determined to go.”
“Has she good health?”
“Very fair health.”
Not a word about the fits.
It struck me Mrs. Quinion relished the idea of Dinah Yarton’s going abroad.
“I think I will recommend her to my sister. She tells me she would have no objection to go abroad.”
“Oh! you have seen her?”
“Yes—the day before yesterday, and before leaving for town, whence I came here. I will recommend the girl. Good morning.”
“Good morning, ma’am; but before you go, will you allow me to take the liberty of asking you, since you are from London, if you can recommend me a town servant, or at all events a young person who comes from a distance. When the family is away I require only one servant here, and I am not able to obtain this one now that the hall has got amongst the scandal-mongers, owing to the catastrophe to which I have already referred. The young person I have with me is intolerable; she has only been here four days, and I am quite sure she must not remain fourteen.”
“Well, I think I can recommend you a young person, strong and willing to please, and who only left my sister’s household on the score of followers. Shall I write to my sister’s housekeeper and see what is to be done?”
“I should be most obliged,” said Mrs. Quinion; “but where may I address a letter to you in event of my having to write?”
“Oh!” I replied, “I shall remain at Tram quite a week. I have received a telegraphic message which makes my journey to the north needless; and as I have met here in Tram with a person who is a friend of an humble friend of mine, I am in no hurry to quit the place.
“Indeed! may I ask who?”
“Old Mrs. Green, at the corner of the Market Place, and her friend is Mrs. Blotchley of Stokeley.”
“Oh, thank you. I know neither party.”
“I may possibly see you again,” I continued.
“Most obliged,” continued Mrs. Quinion; “shall be most happy.”
She returned the salute, and there was an end of the visit.
And then it came about that upon returning to the house of old Mrs. Green, I said in the most innocent manner in the world, and in order to make all my acts and words in the place as consistent as possible, for in a small country town if you do not do your falsehood deftly you will very quickly be discovered—I said to that willing gossip—
“Why, Mrs. Green, I find you are a friend of Mrs. Blotchley of Stokeley!”
“E-es,” she said in a startled manner, “Ise her fren’, bless ’ee.”
“And I’m gratified to hear it, for as her friend you are mine, Mrs. Green.”
And here I took her hand.
No wonder after our interview was over that she went out in her best bonnet, though it was only Wednesday. I felt sure it was quite out of honour to Mrs. Blotchley and her friend, who had claimed her friendship, and the history of which she was taking out to tea with her.
Of the interview with Mrs. Green I must say a few words, and in her own expressions.
“Well, Mrs. Green, have you heard of any unusual cart having been seen in Tram on the day before Mr. Petleigh was found dead?”
“Lardy, lardy, e-es,” said Mrs. Green; “but bless ’ee, whaty want to know for?”
“I want to know if it was Mrs. Blotchley’s brother’s cart, that’s all.”
“Des say it war. I’ve been arl over toon speering aboot that waggoon. I went to Jones the baker, and Willmott, who married Mary Sprinters—which wur on’y fair; the grocer, an’ him knowed nought about it; an’ the bootcher in froont street, and bootcher in back street; and Mrs. Macnab, her as mangles, and no noos, bless ’ee, not even of Tom Hatt the milkman, but, lardy, lardy! when Ise tarking for a fren’ o’ my fren’s Ise tark till never. ’Twur draper told I arl aboot the ca-art.”
“What?” I said, I am afraid too eagerly for a detective who knew her business thoroughly.
“Why, draper White wur oot for stroll loike, an’ looking about past turning to the harl (hall), and then he sees coming aloong a cart him guessed wur coming to him’s shop; but, bless ’ee, ’twarnt comin’ to his shop at arl!”
“Where was it going?”
“Why the cart turned roight arf to harl, and that moost ha’ been wher they cart went to; and, bless ’ee, that’s arl.”
Then Mrs. Green, talking like machinery to the very threshold, went, and I guess put on her new bonnet instanter, for she wore it before she went out, and when she brought in my chop and potatoes.
Meanwhile I was ruminating the news of the box, if I may be allowed the figure, and piecing it together.
It was pretty clear to me that a box had been taken to the hall, for the evidence of the girl Dinah and that which Mrs. Green brought together coincided in supporting a supposition to that effect.
The girl said a big box (which must have been large, seeing it took two men to carry it) had been brought to the hall in a large cart on the day previous to the finding of the body.
It was on that day the draper, presumably, had seen a large cart turn out of the main road towards Petleighcote.
Did that cart contain the box the girl Diuah referred to?
If so, had it anything to do with the death?
If so, where was it?
If hidden, who had hidden it?
These were the questions which flooded my mind, and which the reader will see were sufficiently important and equally embarrassing.
The first question to be decided was this,—
Had the big box anything to do with the matter?
I first wrote my letter to head quarters putting things in train to plant one of our people as serving woman at Petleighcote, and then I sallied out to visit Mr. White, the draper.
He was what men would call a “jolly” man, one who took a good deal of gin-and-water, and the world as it came. He was a man to be hail met with the world, but to find it rather a thirsty sphere, and diligently to spirit-and-water that portion of it contained within his own suit of clothes.
He was a man to be rushed at and tilted over with confidence.
“Mr. White,” said I, “I want an umbrella, and also a few words with you.”
“Both, mum,” said he; and I would have bet, for though a woman I am fond of a little wager now and then,—yes, I would have bet that before his fourth sentence he would drop the “mum.”
“Here are what we have in umberellers, mum.”
“Thank you. Do you remember meeting a strange cart on the day, a Monday, before Mr. Petleigh—Petleigh—what was his name?—was found dead outside the hall? I mention that horrid circumstance to recall the day to your mind.”
“Well, yes, I do, mum. I’ve been hearing of this from Mary Green.”
“What kind of cart was it?”
“Well, mum, it was a wholesale fancy article manufacturer’s van.”
“Ah, such as travel from drapers to drapers with samples, and sometimes things for sale.”
“Yes; that were it.”
[He dropped the mum at the fourth sentence.]
“A very large van, in which a man could almost stand upright?”
“A man, my dear!” He was just the kind of man to “my dear” a customer, though by so doing he should offend her for life. “Half-a-dozen of ’em, and filled with boxes of samples, in each of which you might stow away a long—what’s the matter, eh? What do you want to find out about the van for, eh?”
“Oh, pray don’t ask me, White,” said I, knowing the way to such a man’s confidence is the road of familiarity. “Don’t, don’t inquire what. But tell me, how many men were there on the van?”
“Two, my dear.”
“What were they like?”
“Well, I didn’t notice.”
“Did you know them, or either of them?”
“Ha! I see,” said White; and I am afraid I allowed him to infer that he had surprised a personal secret. “No; I knew neither of ’em, if I know it. Strangers to me. Of course I thought they were coming with samples to my shop; for I am the only one in the village. But they didn’t.”
“No; they went to the hall, I believe?”
“Yes. I thought they had turned wrong, and I hollered after them, but it was no use. I wish I could describe them for you, my dear, but I can’t. However, I believe they looked like gentlemen. Do you think that description will answer?”
“Did they afterwards come into the town, Mr. White?”
“Well, my dear, they did, and baited at the White Horse, and then it was I was so surprised they did not call. And then—in fact, my dear, if you would like to know all—”
“Oh, don’t keep anything from me, White.”
“Well, then, my dear, I went over as they were making ready to go, and I asked them if they were looking for a party of the name of White? And then—”
“Oh, pray, pray continue.”
“Well, then, one of them told me to go to a place, to repeat which before you, my dear, I would not; from which it seemed to me that they did not want a person of the name of White.”
“And, Mr. White, did they quit Tram by the same road as that by which they entered it?”
“No, they did not; they drove out at the other end of the town.”
“Is it possible? And tell me, Mr. White, if they wanted to get back to the hall, could they have done so by any other means than by returning through the village?”
“No, not without—let me see, my dear—not without going thirty miles round by the heath, which,” added Mr. White, “and no offence, my dear, I am bound to submit they were not men who seemed likely to take any unnecessary trouble; or why—why in fact did they tell me to go to where in fact they told me to go to?”
“True; but they may have returned, and you not know anything about it, Mr. White.”
“There you have it, my dear. You go to the gateman, and as it’s only three weeks since, you take his word, for Tom remembers every vehicle that passes his ’pike—there are not many of them, for business is woundily slack. Tom remembers ’em all for a good quarter.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. White. I think I’ll take the green umbrella. How much is it?”
“Now look here, my dear,” the draper continued, leaning over the counter, and dropping his voice; “I know the umbereller is the excuse, and though business is bad. I’m sure I don’t want you to take it; unless, indeed, you want it,” he added, the commercial spirit struggling with the spirit proper of the man.
“Thank you,” said I. “I’ll take the green—you will kindly let me call upon you again?”
“With pleasure, my dear; as often as you like; the more the better. And look here, you need not buy any more umberellers or things. You just drop in in a friendly way, you know. I see it all.”
“Thank you,” I said; and making an escape I was rather desirous of obtaining, I left the shop, which, I regret to say, I was ungrateful enough not to revisit. But, on the other hand, I met White several and at most inconvenient times.
Tom the ’pikeman’s memory for vehicles was, I found, a proverb in the place; and when I went to him, he remembered the vehicle almost before I could explain its appearance to him.
As for the question—“Did the van return?”—he treated the “Are you sure of it?” with which I met his shake of the head—he treated my doubt with such violent decision that I became confident he was right.
Unless he was bribed to secrecy?
But the doubt was ridiculous; for could all the town be bribed to secrecy?
I determined that doubt at once. And indeed it is the great gain and drawback to our profession that we have to doubt so imperiously. To believe every man to be honest till he is found out to be a thief, is a motto most self-respecting men cling to; but we detectives on the contrary would not gain salt to our bread, much less the bread itself, if we adopted such a belief. We have to believe every man a rogue till, after turning all sorts of evidence inside out, we can only discover that he is an honest man. And even then I am much afraid we are not quite sure of him.
I am aware this is a very dismal way of looking upon society, but the more thinking amongst my profession console themselves with the knowledge that our system is a necessary one (under the present condition of society), and that therefore in conforming to the melancholy rules of this system, however repulsive we may feel them, we are really doing good to our brother men.
Returning home after I left the ’pikeman—from whom I ascertained that the van had passed his gate at half-past eight in the evening, I turned over all my new information in my mind.
The girl Dinah must have seen the box in the hall as she went to bed. Say this was half-past nine; at half-past five, at the time the alarm was given, the box was gone.
This made eight hours.
Now, the van had left Tram at half-past eight, and to get round to the hall it had to go thirty miles by night over a heath. (By a reference to my almanack I found there was no moon that night.) Now, take it that a heavy van travelling by night-time could not go more than five miles an hour, and allowing the horse an hour’s rest when half the journey was accomplished, we find that seven hours would be required to accomplish that distance.
This would bring the earliest time at which the van could arrive at the hall at half-past three, assuming no impediments to arise.
There would be then just two hours before the body was discovered, and actually as the dawn was breaking.
Such a venture was preposterous even in the contemplation.
In the first place, why should the box be left if it were to be called for again?
In the second, why should it be called for so early in the morning as half-past three?
And yet at half-past five it had vanished, and Mrs. Quinion had said to the girl (I assumed the girl’s evidence to be true) that the box had been taken away again.
From my investigation of these facts I inferred—firstly: That the van which brought the box had not taken it away.
Secondly: That Mrs. Quinion, for some as yet unexplained purpose, had wished the girl to suppose the box had been removed.
Thirdly: That the box was still in the house.
Fourthly: That as Mrs. Quinion had stated the box was gone, while it was still on the premises, she had some purpose (surely important) in stating that it had been taken away.
It was late, but I wanted to complete my day’s work as far as it lay in my power.
I had two things to do.
Firstly, to send the “fluff” which I had gathered from the clothes to a microscopic chemist; and secondly, to make some inquiry at the inn where the van attendants had baited, and ascertain what they were.
Therefore I put the “fluff” in a tin box, and directed it to the gentleman who is good enough to control these kind of investigations for me, and going out I posted my communication. Then I made for the tavern, with the name of which Mrs. Green had readily furnished me, and asked for the landlady.
The interest she exhibited showed me in a moment that Mrs. Green’s little remarks and Mr. White’s frank observations had got round to that quarter.
And here let me break off for a moment to show how nicely people will gull themselves. I had plainly made no admission which personally identified me with the van, and yet people had already got up a very sentimental feeling in my favour in reference to that vehicle.
For this arrangement I was unfeignedly glad. It furnished a motive for my remaining in Tram, which was just what I wanted.
And furthermore, the tale I told Mrs. Quinion about my remaining in Tram because I had found a friend of my own friend, would, if it spread (which it did not, from which I inferred that Mrs. Quinion had no confidences with the Tram maiden at that hour with her, and that this latter did not habitually listen) do me no harm, as I might ostensibly be supposed to invent a fib which might cover my supposed tribulation. Here is a condensation of the conversation I had with the landlady.
“Ah! I know; I’m glad to see you. Pray sit down. Take that chair—it’s the easiest. And how are you, my poor dear?”
“Not strong,” I had to say.
“Ah! and well you may not be.”
“I came to ask, did two persons, driving a van—a large black van, picked out with pale blue (this description I had got from the ’pikeman)—stop here on the day before Mr.—I’ve forgotten his name—the young squire’s death?”
“Yes, my poor dear, an’ a tall gentleman with auburn whiskers, and the other shorter, without whiskers.”
“Dear me; did you notice anything peculiar in the tall gentleman?”
“Well, my poor dear, I noticed that every now and then his upper lip flitched a bit, like a dog’s asleep will sometimes go.”
Here I sighed.
“And the other?” I continued.
“Oh! all that seemed odd in him was that he broke out into bits of song, something like birds more nor English Christian singing; which the words, if words there were, I could not understand.”
“Italian scraps,” I thought; and immediately I associated this evidence of the man with the foreign mask.
If they were commercial travellers, one of them was certainly an unusual one, operatic accomplishments not being usually one of the tendencies of commercial men.
“Were they nice people?”
“Oh!” says the landlady, concessively and hurriedly; “they were every inch gentlemen; and I said to mine, said I—‘they aint like most o’ the commercial travellers that stop here;’ and mine answers me back, ‘No,’ says he, ‘for commercials prefers beers to sherries, and whiskies after dinner to both!’”
“Oh! did they only drink wine?”
“Nothing but sherry, my dear; and says they to mine—‘Very good wine,’—those were their very words—‘whatever you do, bring it dry;’ and said mine—I saying his very words—‘Gents, I will.’”
Some more conversation ensued, with which I need not trouble the reader, though I elicited several points which were of minor importance.
I was not permitted to leave the hotel without “partaking,”—I use the landlady’s own verb—without partaking of a warmer and stronger comfort than is to be found in mere words.
And the last inference I drew, before satisfactorily I went to bed that night, was to the effect that the apparent commercial travellers were not commercial travellers, but men leading the lives of gentlemen.
And now as I have set out a list of inferences which rest upon very good evidence, before I go to the history of the work of the following days, I must recapitulate these inferences—if I may use so pompous a word.
They are as follow:—
That the key found on the body opened a receptacle containing treasure.
That the mask found on the body was of foreign manufacture.
That the handkerchief found on the body had very recently belonged to a young lady named Frederica, and to whom the deceased was probably deeply attached.
That the circumstances surrounding the deceased showed that he had been engaged in no poaching expedition, nor in any house-breaking attempt, notwithstanding the presence of the mask, because no house-breaking implements were found upon him.
That the young lady was innocent of participation in whatever evil work the deceased may have been engaged upon. [This inference, however, was solely based upon the discovery of the embroidery braid round the button of the deceased’s coat. This inference is the least supported by evidence of the near dozen.]
That a big box had been taken to the hall on the day previous to that on which the deceased was found dead outside the hall.
That the box was not removed again in the van in which it had been brought to the house.
That whatever the box contained that something was heavy, as it took the two men to carry it into the house.
That Mrs. Quinion, for some so far unexplainable reason, had endeavoured to make the witness Dinah Yarton believe that the box had been removed; while, in fact, the box was still in the house.
That as Mrs. Quinion had stated the box was gone while it was still on the premises, she had some important motive for saying it had been taken away.
That the van-attendants, who were apparent commercial travellers, were not commercial travellers, and were in the habit of living the lives of gentlemen.
And what was the condensed inference of all these inferences?
Why—That the first probable means by which the solution of the mystery was to be arrived at was the finding of the box.
To hunt for this box it was necessary that I should obtain free admission to Petleighcote, and by the most extraordinary chance Mrs. Quinion had herself thrown the opportunity in my way by asking me to recommend her a town servant.
Of course, beyond any question, she had made this request with the idea of obtaining a servant who, being a stranger to the district, would have little or not any of that interest in the catastrophe of the young squire’s death which all felt who, by belonging to the neighbourhood, had more or less known him.
I had now to wait two days before I could move in the matter—those two days being consumed in the arrival of the woman police-officer who was to play the part of servant up at the hall, and in her being accepted and installed at that place.
On the morning of that second day the report came from my microscopic chemist.
He stated that the fluff forwarded him for inspection consisted of two different substances; one, fragments of feathers, the other, atoms of nap from some linen material, made of black and white stuff, and which, from its connexion with the atoms of feather, he should take to be the fluff of a bed-tick.
For a time this report convinced me that the clothes had been covered with this substance, in consequence of the deceased having lain down in his clothes to sleep at a very recent time before he was found dead.
And now came the time to consider the question—“What was my own impression regarding the conduct of the deceased immediately preceding the death?”
My impression was this—that he was about to commit some illegal action, but that he had met with his death before he could put his intention into execution.
This impression arose from the fact that the mask showed a secret intention, while the sound state of the clothes suggested that no struggle had preceded the bloody death—struggle, however brief, generally resulting in clothes more or less damaged, as any soldier who has been in action will tell you (and perhaps tell you wonderingly), to the effect that though he himself may have come out of the fight without a scratch, his clothes were one vast rip.
The question that chiefly referred to the body was, who placed it where it was found between three o’clock (the time when the rain ceased, before which hour the body could not have been deposited, since the clothes, where they did not touch the ground, were dry) and half-past five?
Had it been brought from a distance?
Had it been brought from a vicinity?
The argument against distance was this one, which bears in all cases of the removal of dead bodies—that if it is dangerous to move them a yard, it is a hundred times more dangerous to move them a hundred yards.
Granted the removal of young Petleigh’s body, in a state which would at once excite suspicion, and it is clear that a great risk was run by those who carried that burden.
But was there any apparent advantage to compensate that risk?
No, there was not.
The only rational way of accounting for the deposition of the body where it was found, lay in the supposition that those who were mixed up with his death were just enough to carry the body to a spot where it would at once be recognised and cared for.
But against this argument it might be held, the risk was so great that the ordinary instinct of self-preservation natural to man would prevent such a risk being encountered. And this impression becomes all the deeper when it is remembered that the identification of the body could have been secured by the slipping of a piece of paper in the pocket bearing his address.
Then, when it is remembered that it must have been quite dawn at the time of the assumed conveyance, the improbability becomes the greater that the body was brought any great distance.
Then this probability became the greater, that the young man had died in the vicinity of the spot where he was found.
Then followed the question, how close?
And in considering this point, it must not be forgotten that if it were dangerous to bring the body to the hall, it would be equally dangerous to remove the body from the hall; supposing the murder (if murder it were) had been committed within the hall.
Could this be the case?
Beyond all question, the only people known to be at the hall on the night of the death were Mrs. Quinion and Dinah.
Now we have closed in the space within which the murder (as we will call it) had been done, as narrowly circumscribing the hall. Now was the place any other than the hall, and yet near it?
The only buildings near the hall, within a quarter of a mile, were the gardener’s cottage, and the cottage of the keeper.
The keeper was ill at the time, and it was the gardener who had discovered the body. To consider the keeper as implicated in the affair, was quite out of the question; while as to the gardener, an old man, and older servant of the family (for he had entered the service of the family as a boy), it must be remembered that he was the discoverer of the dead body.
Now is it likely that if he was implicated in the affair that he would have identified himself with the discovery? Such a supposition is hardly holdable.
Very well; then, as the doctor at six a.m. declared death had taken place from six to eight hours; and as the body, from the dry state of the clothes, had not been exposed during the night’s rain, which ceased at three, it was clear either that the murder had been committed within doors, or that the body had been sheltered for some hours after death beneath a roof of some kind.
Where was that roof?
Apart from the gardener’s cottage and the keeper’s, there was no building nearer than a quarter of a mile; and if therefore the body had been carried after three to where it was found, it was evident that those cognizant of the affair had carried it a furlong at or after dawn.
To suppose such an amount of moral courage in evil-doers was to suppose an improbability, against which a detective, man or woman, cannot too thoroughly be on his or her guard.
But what of the supposition that the body had been removed from the hall, and placed where it was found?
So far, all the external evidences of the case leant in favour of this theory.
But the theory was at total variance with the ordinary experience of life.
In the first place, what apparent motive could Mrs. Quinion have for taking the young heir’s life? Not any apparently.
What motive had the girl?
She had not sufficient strength of mind to hold a fierce motive. I doubt if the poor creature could ever have imagined active evil.
I may here add I depended very much upon what that girl said, because it was consistent, was told under great distress of mind, and was in many particulars borne out by other evidence.
I left Dinah Yarton quite out of my list of suspects.
But in accepting her evidence I committed myself to the belief that no one had been at Petleighcote on the night of the catastrophe beyond the girl and the housekeeper.
Then how could I support the supposition that the young man had passed the night and met his death at the hall?
Because a weak-headed woman like Dinah did not know of the presence of the heir at Petleighcote, it did not follow he could not be there—his presence being known only to the housekeeper.
But was there any need for such secrecy?
I found out that fact before the town servant arrived.
Mrs. Quinion’s express orders were not to allow the heir to remain at the hall while the family were in town.
Then here was a good reason why the housekeeper should maintain his presence a secret from a stupid blurting servant maid.
But I have said motive for murder on the part of the housekeeper could scarcely be present.
Then suppose the death was accidental (though certainly no circumstance of the catastrophe justified such a supposition), and suppose Mrs. Quinion the perpetratress, what was the object in exposing the body outside the house?
Such an action was most unwomanly, especially where an accident had happened.
I confess that at this point of the case (and up to the time when my confederate arrived) I was completely foiled. All the material evidence was in favour of the murder or manslaughter having been committed under the roof of Petleighcote Hall, while the mass of the evidence of probability opposed any such belief.
Up to this time I had in no way identified the death with the “big box,” although I identified that box with the clearing up of the mystery. This identification was the result of an ordinary detective law.
The law in question is as follows:—
In all cases which are being followed up by the profession, a lie is a suspicious act, whether it has relation or no relation, apparent or beyond question, with the matter in hand. As a lie it must be followed to its source, its meaning cleared up, and its value or want of value decided upon. The probability stands good always that a lie is part of a plot.
So as Mrs. Quinion had in all probability lied in reference to the removal of the box, it became necessary to find out all about it, and hence my first directions to Martha—as she was always called (she is now in Australia and doing well) at our office, and I doubt if her surname was known to any of us—hence my first instruction to Martha was to look about for a big box.
“What kind of box?”
“That I don’t know,” said I.
“Well there will be plenty of boxes in a big house—is it a new box?”
“I can’t tell; but keep an eye upon boxes, and tell me if you find one that is more like a new one than the rest.”
But by the date of our first interview after her induction at Petleighcote, and when Quinion sent her down upon a message to a tradesman, I had learnt from the polished Mr. White that boxes such as drapers’ travellers travelled with were invariably painted black.
This information I gave her. Martha had not any for me in return—that is of any importance. I heard, what I had already inferred, that Quinion was a very calm, self-possessed woman, “whom it would take,” said Martha, “one or two good collisions to drive off the rails.”
“You mark my words,” said Matty, “she’d face a judge as cool as she faces herself in a looking-glass, and that I can tell you she does face cool, for I’ve seen her do it twice.”
Martha’s opinion was, that the housekeeper was all right, and I am bound to say that I was unable to suppose that she was all wrong, for the suspicion against her was of the faintest character.
She visited me the day after Martha’s arrival, thanked me coolly enough for what I had done, said she believed the young person would do, and respectfully asked me up to the hall.
Three days passed, and in that time I had heard nothing of value from my aide-de-camp, who used to put her written reports twice a day in a hollow tree upon which we had decided.
It was on the fourth day that I got a fresh clue to feel my way by.
Mrs. Lamb, the publican’s wife, who had shown such a tender interest in my welfare on the night when I had inquired as to the appearance of the two persons who baited the van-horses at their stables on the night of the death—Mrs. Lamb in reluctantly letting me leave her (she was a most sentimental woman, who I much fear increased her tendencies by a too ready patronage of her own liquors) intreated me to return, “like a poor dear as I was”—for I had said I should remain at Tram—“and come and take a nice cup of tea” with her.
In all probability I never should have taken that nice cup of tea, had I not learnt from my Mrs. Green that young Petleigh had been in the habit of smoking and drinking at Lamb’s house.
That information decided me.
I “dropped in” at Mrs. Lamb’s that same afternoon, and I am bound to say it was a nice cup of tea.
During that refreshment I brought the conversation round to young Petleigh, and thus I heard much of him told to his credit from a publican’s point of view, but which did not say much for him from a social standing-place.
“And this, my poor dear, is the very book he would sit in this very parlour and read from for an hour together, and—coming!”
For here there was a tap-tap on the metal counter with a couple of halfpence.
Not thinking much of the book, for it was a volume of a very ordinary publication, which has been in vogue for many years amongst cheap literature devotees, I let it fall open, rather than opened it, and I have no doubt that I did not once cast my eyes upon the page during the spirting of the beer-engine and the return of Mrs. Lamb.
“Bless me!” said she, in a moved voice, for she was one of the most sentimental persons ever I encountered. “Now that’s very odd!—poor dear.”
“What’s odd, Mrs. Lamb?” I asked.
“Why if you haven’t got the book open at his fav’rite tale!”
“Whose, Mrs. Lamb?”
“Why that poor dear young Graham Petleigh.”
I need not say I became interested directly.
“Oh! did he read this tale?”
“Often; and very odd it is, my own dear, as you should be about to read it too; though true it is that that there book do always open at that same place, which I take to be his reading it so often the place is worn and—coming!”
Here Mrs. Lamb shot away once more, while I, it need not be said, looked upon the pages before me.
And if I say that, before Mrs. Lamb had done smacking at the beer-engine, and ending her long gossip with the customer, I had got the case by the throat—I suppose I should astonish most of my readers.
And yet there is nothing extraordinary in the matter.
Examine most of the great detected cases on record, and you will find a little accident has generally been the clue to success.
So with great discoveries. One of the greatest improvements in the grinding of flour, and by which the patentee has made many thousands of pounds, was discovered by seeing a miller blow some flour out of a nook; and all the world knows that the cause which led the great Newton to discover the great laws of the universe was the fall of an apple.
So it frequently happens in these days of numberless newspapers that a chance view of a man will identify him with the description of a murderer.
In the history of crime and its detection chance plays the chief character.
Why, as I am writing a newspaper is near me, in which there is the report of a trial for attempt to murder, where the woman who was shot at was only saved by the intervention of a piece of a ploughshare, which was under her shawl, and which she had stolen only a few minutes before the bullet struck the iron!
Why, compared with that instance of chance, what was mine when; by reading a tale which had been pointed out to me as one frequently read by the dead young man, I discovered the mystery which was puzzling me?
The tale told of how, in the north of England, a pedlar had left a pack at a house, and how a boy saw the top of it rise up and down; how they supposed a man must be in it who intended to rob the house; and how the boy shot at the pack, and killed a man.
I say, before Mrs. Lamb returned to her “poor dear” I had the mystery by heart.
The young man had been attracted by the tale, remembered it, and put it in form for some purpose. What?
In a moment I recalled the mania of the squire for plate, and, remembering how niggardly he was to the boy, it flashed upon me that the youth had in all probability formed a plan for robbing his father of a portion of his plate.
It stood true that it was understood the plate went up to town with the family. But was this so?
Now see how well the probabilities of the case would tell in with such a theory.
The youth was venturesome and daring, as his poaching affrays proved.
He was kept poor.
He knew his father to possess plate.
He was not allowed to be at Petleighcote when the father was away.
He had read a tale which coincided with my theory.
A large box had been left by strangers at the hall.
The young squire’s body had been found under such circumstances, that the most probable way of accounting for its presence where it was found was by supposing that it had been removed there from the hall itself.
Such a plot explained the presence of the mask.
Finally, there was the key, a key opening, beyond all question, an important receptacle—a supposition very clear, seeing the character of the key.
Indeed, by this key might be traced the belief of treasure in the house.
Could this treasure really exist?
Before Mrs. Lamb had said “Good night, dear,” to a female customer who had come for a pint of small beer and a gallon of more strongly brewed scandal, I had come to the conclusion that plate might be in the house.
For miserly men are notoriously suspicious and greedy. What if there were some of the family plate which was not required at the town house then at Petleighcote, and which the squire, relying for its security upon the habitual report of his taking all his plate to town, had not lodged at the county bank, because of that natural suspiciousness which might lead him to believe more in his own strong room than a banker’s?
Accept this supposition, and the youth’s motive was evident.
Accept young Petleigh’s presence in the house under these circumstances, and then we have to account for the death.
Here, of course, I was still at fault.
If Mrs. Quinion and the girl only were in the house, and the girl was innocent, then the housekeeper alone was guilty.
Guilty—what of? Murder or manslaughter?
Had the tale young Petleigh used to read been carried out to the end?
Had he been killed without any knowledge of who he was?
That I should have discovered the real state of the case without Mrs. Lamb’s aid I have little doubt, for even that very evening, after leaving Mrs. Lamb, and promising to bear in mind the entreaty to “come again, you dear dear,” my confederate brought me a piece of information which must have put me on the track.
It appeared that morning Mrs. Quinion had received a letter which much discomposed her. She went out directly after breakfast, came down to the village, and returned in about an hour. My confederate had picked the pocket (for, alas! we police officers have sometimes to turn thieves—for the good of society of course) of the housekeeper while she slept that afternoon, and while the new maid was supposed to be putting Mrs. Quinion’s stockings in wearable order and she had made a mental copy of that communication. It was from a Joseph Spencer, and ran as follows:—
My dear Margaret,—For God’s sake look all over the place for key 13. There’s such a lot of ’em I never missed it; and if the governor finds it out I’m as good as ruined. It must be somewhere about. I can’t tell how it ever come orf the ring. So no more at present. It’s post time. With dear love, from your own
Why, it was the same number as that on the key found on the dead man.
A letter was despatched that night to town, directing the police to find out who Joseph Spencer was, and giving the address heading the letter—a printed one.
Mrs. Green then came into operation.
No, she could not tell who lived at the address I mentioned. Thank the blessed stars she knowed nought o’ Lunnon. What! Where had Mrs. Quinion been that morning? Why, to Joe Higgins’s. What for? Why, to look at the young squire’s clothes and things. What did she want with them? Why, she “actially” wanted to take ’em “arl oop” to the Hall. No, Joe Higgins wouldn’t.
Of course I now surmised that Joseph Spencer was the butler.
And my information from town showed I was right.
Now, certain as to my preliminaries, I knew that my work lay within the walls of the Hall.
But how was I to reach that place?
Alas! the tricks of detective police officers are infinite. I am afraid many a kindly-disposed advertisement hides the hoof of detection. At all events I know mine did.
It appeared in the second column of the Times, and here is an exact copy of it. By the way, I had received the Times daily, as do most detectives, during the time I had been in Tram:—
“Wanted, to hear of Margaret Quinion, or her heirs-at-law. She was known to have left the South of England (that she was a Southener I had learnt by her accent) about the year 1830 to become housekeeper to a married foster-sister, who settled in a midland county (this information, and especially the date, Mrs. Green had to answer for). Address, —” Here followed that of my own solicitors, who had their instructions to keep the lady hanging about the office several days, and until they heard from me.
I am very much afraid I intended that should the case appear as black against her as I feared it would, she was to be arrested at the offices of the gentlemen to whom she was to apply in order to hear of something to her advantage. And furthermore, I am quite sure that many an unfortunate has been arrested who has been enticed to an office under the promise of something to his or her special benefit.
For of such misrepresentations is this deplorable world.
When this advertisement came out, the least acute reader is already aware of the use I made of it.
I pointed out the news to Mrs. Green, and I have no doubt she digited the intelligence to every soul she met, or rather overtook, in the course of the day. And indeed before evening (when I was honoured with a visit from Mrs. Quinion herself), it was stated with absolute assurance that Mrs. Quinion had come in for a good twenty-two thousand pounds, and a house in Dyot Street, Bloomsbury Square, Lunnun.
It was odd, and yet natural, that Mrs. Quinion should seek me out. I was the only stranger with whom she was possibly acquainted in the district, and my strangeness to the neighbourhood she had already, from her point of view, turned to account. Therefore (human nature considered) I did not wonder that she tried to turn me to account again. My space is getting contracted, but as the following is the last conversation I had with Mrs. Quinion, I may perhaps be pardoned for here quoting it. Of course I abridge it very considerably. After the usual salutations, and an assurance that Martha suited very fairly, she said,—
“I have a favour to ask you.”
“Indeed; pray what is it?”
“I have received some news which necessarily takes me from home.”
“I think,” said I, smiling, “I know what that news is,” and I related how I had myself seen the advertisement in the morning.
I am afraid I adopted this course the more readily to attract her confidence.
“Indeed,” said she, “then since you have identified yourself with that news, I can the more readily ask you the favour I am about to—”
“And what is that?”
“I am desirous of going up to town—to London—for a few hours, to see what this affair of the advertisement means, but I hesitate to leave Martha alone in the house. You have started, and perhaps you feel offended that I should ask a stranger such a favour, but the fact is, I do not care to let any one belonging to the neighbourhood know that I have left the Hall—it will be for only twenty-four hours. The news might reach Mr. Petleigh’s ears, and I desire that he should hear nothing about it. You see the position in which I am placed. If, my dear lady, you can oblige me I shall be most grateful; and, as you are staying here, it seemed—to—me—”
Here she trailed off into silence.
The cunning creature! How well she hid her real motive—the desire to keep those who knew of the catastrophe out of the Hall, because she feared their curiosity.
Started! Yes, indeed I had started. At best I had expected that I should have to divulge who I was to the person whom she would leave in the place did the advertisement take, and here by the act of what she thought was her forethought, she was actually placing herself at my mercy, while I still remained screened in all my actions referring to her. For I need not say that had I had to declare who I was, and had I failed, all further slow-trapping in this affair would have been at an end—the “game” would have taken the alarm, and there would have been an end to the business.
To curtail here needless particulars, that same evening at nine I was installed in the housekeeper’s parlour, and she had set out for the first station past Tram, to which she was going to walk across the fields in order to avoid all suspicion.
She had not got a hundred yards away from the house, before I had turned up my cuffs, and I and Martha, (a couple of detectives,) were hard at work, trying to find that box.
Her keys we soon found, in a work-basket, and lightly covered with a handkerchief.
Now, this mode of hiding should have given me a clue.
But it did not.
For three hours—from nine till midnight, we hunted for that box, and unsuccessfully.
In every room that, from the absence of certain dusty evidences, we knew must have been recently opened—in every passage, cellar, corridor, and hall we hunted.
I am afraid that we even looked in places where it could not have gone—such as under beds.
But we found it at last, and then the turret-clock had gone twelve about a quarter of an hour.
It was in her bedroom; and what is more, it formed her dressing-table.
And I have no doubt I should have missed it had it not been that she had been imperfect in her concealment.
Apparently she comprehended the value of what I may call “audacity hiding”—that is, such concealment that an ordinary person searching would never dream of looking for the object where it was to be found.
For instance, the safest hiding-place in a drawing-room for a bank note, would be the bottom of a looselyfined card-basket. Nobody would dream of looking for it in such a place.
The great enigma-novelist, Edgar Poe, illustrates this style of concealment where he makes the holder of a letter place it in a card-rack over the mantelpiece, when he knows his house will be ransacked, and every inch of it gone over to find the document.
Mrs. Quinion was evidently acquainted with this mode of concealment.
Indeed, I believe I should not have found the box had it not been that she had overdone her unconcealed-concealment. For she had used a bright pink slip with a white flounce over it to complete the appearance of a dressing-table, having set the box up on one side.
And therefore the table attracted my notice each time I passed and saw it. As it was Martha, in passing between me and the box, swept the drapery away with her petticoats, and showed a black corner.
The next moment the box was discovered.
I have no doubt that being a strong-minded woman she could not endure to have the box out of her sight while waiting for an opportunity to get rid of it.
It was now evident that my explanation of the case, to the effect that young Petleigh had been imitating the action of the tale, was correct.
The box was quite large enough to contain a man lying with his legs somewhat up; there was room to turn in the box; and, finally, there were about two dozen holes round the box, about the size of a crown piece, and which were hidden by the coarse black canvas with which the box was covered.
Furthermore, the box was closeable from within by means of a bolt, and therefore openable from within by the same means.
Furthermore, if any further evidence were wanting, there was a pillow at the bottom of the box (obviously for the head to rest on), and from a hole the feathers had escaped over the bottom of the box, which was lined with black and white striped linen bed-tick, this material being cut away from the holes.
I was now at no loss to comprehend the fluff upon the unhappy young man’s coat.
And, finally, there was the most damnifying evidence of all.
For in the black canvas over one of the holes there was a jagged cut.
“Lie down; Martha,” said I, “in the box, with your head at this end.”
“Tut—tut,—girl; do as I tell you.”
She did; and using the stick of a parasol which lay on the dressing-table, I found that by passing it through the hole its end reached the officer in exactly the region by a wound in which young Mr. Petleigh had been killed.
Of course the case was now clear.
After the young woman, Dinah, had gone to bed, the housekeeper must have had her doubts about the chest, and have inspected it.
Beyond all question, the young man knew the hour at which the housekeeper retired, and was waiting perhaps for eleven o’clock to strike by the old turret clock before he ventured out—to commit what?
It appeared to me clear, bearing in mind the butler’s letter, to rob the plate-chest No. 13, which I inferred had been left behind, a fact of which the young fellow might naturally be aware.
The plan doubtless was to secure the plate without any alarm, to let himself out of the Hall by some mode long-since well-known to him, and then to meet his confederates, and share with them the plunder, leaving the chest to tell the tale of the robbery, and to exculpate the housekeeper.
It struck me as a well-executed scheme, and one far beyond the ordinary run of robbery plots.
What had caused that scheme to fail?
I could readily comprehend that a strong-minded woman like Quinion would rely rather upon her own than any other assistance.
I could comprehend her discovery; perhaps a lowmuttered blasphemy on the part of the young man; or may be she may have heard his breathing.
Then, following out her action, I could readily suppose that once aware of the danger near her she would prepare to meet it.
I could follow her, silent and self-possessed, in the hall, asking herself what she should do.
I could mark her coming to the conclusion that there must be holes in the box through which the evildoer could breathe, and I apprehended readily enough that she had little need to persuade herself that she had a right to kill one who might be there to kill her.
Then in my mind’s eye I could follow her seeking the weapon, and feeling all about the box for a hole.
She finds it.
She fixes the point for a thrust.
A movement—and the manslaughter is committed.
That the unhappy wretch had time to open the box is certain, and doubtless it was at that moment the fierce woman, still clutching the shaft of the arrow, or barb—call it what you will—leant back, and so withdrew the shaft from the rankling iron.
Did the youth recognise her? Had he tried to do so?
From the peacefulness of the face, as described at the inquest, I imagined that he had, after naturally unbolting the lid, fallen back, and in a few moments died.
Then must have followed her awful discovery, succeeded by her equally awful determination to hide the fault of her master’s, and perhaps of her own sister’s son.
And so it came to pass that she dragged the youth’s dead body out into the cold morning atmosphere, as the bleak dawn was filling the air, and the birds were fretfully awaking.
No doubt, had a sharp detective been at once employed, she would not have escaped detection.
As it was she had so far avoided discovery.
And I could easily comprehend that a powerfully-brained woman like herself would feel no compunction and little grief for what she had done—no compunction, because the act was an accident; little grief, because she must have felt she had saved the youth from a life of misery—for a son who at twenty robs a father, however bad, is rarely at forty, if he lives so long, an honest man.
But though I had made this discovery I could do nothing so far against the housekeeper, whom of course it was my duty to arrest, if I could convince myself she had committed manslaughter. I was not to be ruled by any feeling of screening the family—the motive indirectly which had actuated Quinion, for, strong-minded as she was, it appeared to me that she would not have hesitated to admit the commission of the act which she had completed had the burglar, as I may call the young man, been an ordinary felon, and unknown to her.
No, the box had no identification with the death, because it exhibited no unanswerable signs of its connexion with that catastrophe.
So far, how was it identifiable (beyond my own circumstantial evidence, known only to myself,) with the murder?
The only particle of evidence was that given by the girl, who could or could not swear to the box having been brought on the previous day, and to the housekeeper saying that it had been taken away again—a suspicious circumstance certainly, but one which, without corroborative evidence, was of little or indeed no value.
As to the jagged cut in the air-hole, in the absence of all blood-stain it was not mentionable.
Corroborative evidence I must have, and that corroborative evidence would best take the shape of the discovery of the shaft of the weapon which had caused death, or a weapon of similar character.
This, the box being found, was now my work.
“Is there any armoury in the house, Martha?”
“No; but there’s lots of arms in the library.”
We had not searched in the library for the box, because I had taken Martha’s assurance that no boxes were there.
When we reached the place, I remarked immediately—“What a damp place.”
As I said so I observed that there were windows on each side of the room, and that the end of the chamber was circular.
“Well it may be,” said Martha, “for there’s water all round it—a kind of fountain-pond, with gold fish in it. The library,” continued Martha, who was more sharp than educated, “butts out of the house.’
Between each couple of book-cases there was fixed a handsome stand of arms, very picturesque and taking to the eyes.
There were modern arms, antique armour, and foreign arms of many kinds; but I saw no arrows, though in the eagerness of my search I had the chandelier, which still held some old yellow wax-candles, lighted up.
But my guardian angel, if there be such good creatures, held tight on to my shoulder that night, and by a strange chance, yet not a tithe so wonderful as that accident by which the woman was saved from a bullet by a piece of just stolen iron, the origin of the weapon used by Quinion came to light.
We had been searching amongst the stands of arms for some minutes, when I had occasion suddenly to cry—
“Hu-u-sh! what are you about?”
For my confederate had knocked off its hook a large drum, which I had noticed very coquettishly finished off a group of flags, and cymbals, and pikes.
“I’m very sorry,” she said, as I ran to pick up the still reverberating drum with that caution which, even when useless, generally stands by the detective, when—
There, sticking through the drum, and hooked by its barbs, was the point of such a weapon—the exact counterpart—as had been used to kill young Petleigh.
Had a ghost, were there such a thing, appeared I had not been more astounded.
The drum was ripped open in a moment, and there came to light an iron arrow with a wooden shaft about eighteen inches long, this shaft being gaily covered with bits of tinsel and coloured paper.
[I may here at once state, what I ultimately found out—for in spite of our danger I kept hold of my prize and brought it out of battle with me—that this barb was one of such as are used by picadors in Spanish bull-fights for exciting the bull. The barbs cause the darts to stick in the flesh and skin. The cause of the decoration of the haft can now readily be comprehended. Beyond all doubt the arrow used by Quinion and the one found by me were a couple placed as curiosities amongst the other arms. The remaining one the determined housekeeper had used as suiting best her purpose, the other (which I found) had doubtless at some past time been used by an amateur picador, perhaps the poor dead youth himself, with the drum for an imaginary bull, and within it the dart had remained till it was to reappear as a witness against the guilty and yet guiltless housekeeper.]
I had barely grasped my prize when Martha said—“What a smell of burning!”
“Good God!” I cried, “we have set the house on fire!”
The house was on fire, but we were not to blame.
We ran to the door.
We were locked in!
What brought her back I never learnt, for I never saw or heard of her again. I guess that the motion of the train quickened her thought (it does mine), that she suspected—that she got out at the station some distance from Tram, and that she took a post-chaise back to Petleighcote.
All this, however, is conjecture.
But if not she, who locked us in? We could not have done it ourselves.
We were locked in, and I attribute the act to her—though how she entered the house I never learnt.
The house was on fire, and we were surrounded by water.
This tale is the story of the “Unknown Weapon,” and therefore I cannot logically here go into any full explanation of our escape. Suffice it to our honour as detectives to say, that we did not lose our presence of mind, and that by the aid of the library tables, chairs, big books, &c., we made a point of support on one side the narrow pond for the library ladder to rest on, while the other end reached shallow water.
Having made known the history of the “Unknown Weapon,” my tale is done; but my reader might fancy my work incomplete did I not add a few more words.
I have no doubt that Quinion returning, her quick mind in but a few moments came to the conclusion that the only way to save her master’s honour was the burning of the box by the incendiarism of the Hall.
The Petleighs were an old family, I learnt, with almost Spanish notions of family honour.
Effectually did she complete her work.
I acknowledge she conquered me. She might have burnt the same person to a cinder into the bargain; and, upon my word, I think she would have grieved little had she achieved that purpose.
For my part in the matter—I carried it no further.
At the inquiry, I appeared as the lady who had taken care of the house while Mrs. Quinion went to look after her good fortune; and I have no doubt her disappearance was unendingly connected with my advertisement in the Times.
I need not say that had I found Quinion I would have done my best to make her tremble.
I have only one more fact to relate—and it is an important one. It is this—
The squire had the ruins carefully examined, and two thousand ounces of gold and silver plate, melted into shapelessness of course, were taken out of the rubbish.
From this fact it is pretty evident that the key No. 13, found upon the poor, unhappy, ill-bred, and neglected boy, was the “Open Sesamè” to the treasure which was afterwards taken from the ruins—perhaps worth £4000, gold and silver together.
Beyond question he had stolen the key from the butler, gone into a plot with his confederates—and the whole had resulted in his death and the conflagration of Petleighcote, one of the oldest, most picturesque, and it must be admitted dampest seats in the midland counties.
And, indeed, I may add that I found out who was the “tall gentleman with the auburn whiskers and the twitching of the face;” I discovered who was the short gentleman with no whiskers at all; and finally I have seen the young lady (she was very beautiful) called Frederica, and for whose innocent sake I have no doubt the unhappy young man acted as he did.
As for me, I carried the case no further.
I had no desire to do so—had I had, I doubt if I possessed any further evidence than would have sufficed to bring me into ridicule.
I left the case where it stood.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia