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Title: Wild Justice
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 2000961h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Sep 2020
Most recent update: Mar 2020

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Wild Justice


Arthur Gask

Cover Image

As published in The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, 10 July 1941

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2020

THOMAS BENTLEY SCUDDER, of Mark's tenements in Lisson Grove, was a most unpleasant man to live with, and so his wife and two children found. He was a dreadful tyrant.

He would not, however, have appeared to the world to be so unpleasant, as he never drank or gambled and he took no undue interest in the other sex. He was particular, too, never to use his fist upon any member of his family, although, occasionally he was not averse to striking them with the palm of his open hand. Also, he often shook his little son of eight, who was partly crippled, so furiously that the local doctor said, once, the lad was almost in the way of becoming an imbecile through fright, and threatened to acquaint the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children about it.

A kink must somehow have developed in Scudder's brain, for he had grown to detest his family in a blind, unreasonable way. He was always in a bad temper with them, always nagging and forever declaring what he would do for them all when he could not stand them any more.

His home-coming at night, he worked as a porter in a Ludgate Hill warehouse, was always a great trial to them, and the little boy would shake and shiver whenever he heard his father's footsteps outside the door of their flat.

Scudder himself was big and truculent looking, but his wife was gentle and mouse-like in appearance. She never answered him back, and did her utmost not to anger him, and it was only when he laid hands upon the children that her temper was roused. Then, one day, she attempted to strike him with the poker, and when he threatened he would have her put in prison for it, she was terrified at the thought of what would become then of the children.

Scudder had not always been so ill-tempered, but one day he had been struck on the head by a falling packing case and he had never been the same man since. Physically, however, he appeared in excellent health for he was ruddy-faced and stout, in great contrast to his family, who, all of them, always looked pinched and white.

He stinted the household, terribly, in the money he allowed for food, always complaining that they were living beyond their means. He rarely allowed his wife or children any new clothes, and in consequence they were more shabbily dressed than anyone else in the building. They were never given any money for amusements, and the sole pleasure of the little boy was collecting buttons.

Everyone in the tenement knew of the sad home life of the Scudders, for the father had a strident voice and was heard to shout in anger almost every night.

This state of affairs went on for a long time, and then one morning, following upon an evening when Scudder had shaken his little boy until the latter's teeth had seemed to rattle like castanets, Scudder, who slept in a room by himself, did not come out at the usual hour of seven o'clock. His wife said later that she had got his breakfast all ready at the usual time, but she had not dared to knock at his door until fully a quarter of an hour had elapsed.

Then receiving no answer either to her knocks or her calling, she had opened the door and gone into the room to find her husband unconscious in the bed, as cold as ice, and with his face a dreadful color.

She had then immediately run out and asked her neighbor in the adjoining flat, upon the same floor, to come in and look at Scudder. Thereupon, this neighbor, an elderly woman of sound common sense, had at once given it as her opinion that it looked as if Scudder were dying, and she had raced down to the basement and got the caretaker to telephone for a doctor.

The doctor arrived within a few minutes and said immediately that it was quite apparent to him Scudder had taken poison. An ambulance was summoned and Scudder was rushed to a hospital. There, his stomach was pumped out; he was given injections, oxygen and artificial respiration, but everything was of no avail and Thomas Bentley Scudder passed to his Maker within three hours of admission.

Just a week later, Detective-Inspector Stone of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard was walking meditatively down Fleet street, when he almost collided with his friend, Gilbert Larose, a one-time international detective, but now married to a wealthy widow, who, previous to her marriage with him had been Lady Helen Ardane.

The stout inspector's face broke instantly into a delighted smile. "Hullo! Gilbert, my boy," he exclaimed, "but you're the very chap I want! I was thinking of you not two minutes ago."

"What's up, then, Charlie?" asked Larose, smiling back. "Have you done in your mother-in-law and want me to arrange an alibi for you?"

"Not yet, Gilbert," smiled Stone. "My mother-in-law happens to be a good sort." His face became serious. "But, I say, have you read about that poisoning case in Lisson Grove?"

Larose shook his head. "No, I've been very busy lately, and have only just glanced at the newspapers. What's happened there?"

"Where can I have a bit of a talk with you?" asked Stone, ignoring his question. He nodded. "I'll tell you a nice little story that'll just please your rotten, morbid mind."

"Then come to my hotel," said Larose. "I'm putting up at the Apollo for a few days."

They hailed a taxi and in a very few minutes were sitting close together in a quiet part of the big Apollo lounge.

"Now, my boy," began Stone, regarding the alert and good-looking face of the young fellow beside him very gravely, "this is no tale of a sparkling crime among the nobs. It's a very squalid story of a murder among poor people in a working-class tenement in Lisson Grove." He shook his head vexatiously. "A wife has poisoned her husband and we can't bring it home to her."

Then very briefly he proceeded to relate all about the Scudders; how miserable their home-life had been; how Scudder had bullied his family; how one night he had particularly ill-treated his little boy and how the next morning he had been found unconscious in his bed, and how he had died in the hospital soon afterwards. Then he proceeded to tell how the post-mortem had revealed that the man had been poisoned, no less than 112 grains of veronal being found in the liver and other organs.

"And we are certain it was the wife who gave him the poison," went on the inspector. "She had every provocation, it was proved the veronal must have been administered about the time he had his meal that evening, she had prepared everything he ate and he had not set foot out of the building after his meal." He snapped his fingers together. "But for the life of us we cannot find out how she got hold of the stuff."

"But veronal!" exclaimed Larose. "Surely a drug like that would be most difficult for a woman in her position to get possession of!"

"Impossible, one would say," insisted the inspector, "for veronal is on the list of prohibited drugs and can be obtained by no one without a doctor's prescription." He scoffed. "Besides, what doctor is going to put 150 grains of veronal in any patient's hands, for that, they reckon, is the probable dose the man had taken, seeing that more than a hundred grains were recovered afterwards from the body."

"Of course, she denies it!" suggested Larose.

"Of course, she does," snapped the inspector, "and every time we try to bring it home to her we come bang up against that snag—how did a woman in her station of life manage to get hold of the poison. That beats us every time. Oh, but we are suspicious of her!" He nodded emphatically. "It was like this. At the hospital they knew straight away that the man had been poisoned, and, the police having had the tip, two local plain-clothes men went up at once to question his wife and try to find out what stuff he had taken. Of course, she pretended to know nothing, but to her obvious confusion they said they must search the dead man's room. They didn't find a scrap of poison, but saw they had interrupted her when she had been trying to open a large wooden box with a poker. It turned out to be the box in which Scudder kept all his private papers, which he didn't want his wife to see."

The inspector scowled. "Yes, the woman had been going through her husband's effects before even she knew he was dead, and we are certain that, from her fear of him and the life he led her, she would never have dared to touch a single thing of his if she had been thinking there was any likelihood of his coming back."

"But why was she opening the box with the poker?" asked Larose. "Didn't she find his keys in his pockets?"

"No, for the very good reason he put them in his boots at night. He never trusted his wife, and she had no idea he kept them there. Our men found them, wrapped in a piece of paper in one of the toes. I tell you she knew so little of her husband's affairs that she was not aware that he'd got an account at the Savings Bank, and that there was 427 10/ in it. The book was in the box she had been trying to open."

Larose whistled. "Whew, a nice little windfall for someone! Did he leave any will?"

The inspector grinned. "Yes, he did, and it was in the box, too, between the leaves of an old photographic album. Perhaps, Scudder had forgotten all about it, as he'd made it the day after his wedding, fifteen years ago. He left everything 'to my wife, Rhoda Scudder, formerly Rhoda Angelstone.'"

The inspector went on. "Now another thing, and this is very suspicious." He spoke very slowly. "Mrs. Scudder was quite sure that that morning her husband would not be in a condition to eat any breakfast, and she did not get everything prepared for him in the usual way. She says she made a pot of tea for him, boiled him an egg and fried him his usual three rashers of bacon. That all came out in the questions that were put to her at the inquest, but"—he nodded significantly—"the neighbor who was called in when Scudder was found unconscious says there was no smell of bacon when she came into the kitchen and as she sat there, as company for Mrs. Scudder until the doctor arrived, she is positive there was no frying pan upon the stove and the stove itself was stone cold. Her chair was close against it." He nodded. "So Mrs. Scudder was lying then again—a small lie, but a very significant one."

"And you asked what became of the bacon?" asked Larose.

"Certainly, and the reply was that she ate two of the rashers herself and gave one to the little boy. Most improbable, because she is very highly strung, and just the type of individual who would be unable to touch food after any mental upset."

"What was the woman like in the witness box?"

"Very cool and collected and very much all there. She was well prepared by then with her answers, and able to reel off at once every article of food that her husband had had for his tea, three sausages, bread and butter, a piece of cold suet pudding and a cup of coffee with three spoonfuls of sugar. That was all the man had touched and she said she heard him throw himself upon his bed within half an hour of having finished his meal."

"And you haven't the slightest idea of how the veronal had been obtained?"

"Not the slightest. We made enquiries for miles and miles round if any had been missed or lost and could hear nothing." The inspector spread out his hands. "And we know the woman hadn't left the house for more than three weeks, as she had had a bad cold and that neighbor in the adjoining flat had done all the shopping for her. Also, we cannot learn that she had had a single visitor during that time. They're a nosey lot in the tenement and it is almost certain a strange person would have been noticed coming up the stairs."

"And the inquest is concluded now?"

"Yes, it had been adjourned until today and this morning the verdict was 'Death from an overdose of veronal, but by whom administered is unknown.'" Stone smiled sardonically. "Now, Gilbert this should be a very simple problem for you." He grinned. "Where did she get the veronal?"

A long silence followed and then Larose said with a smile:—"I should like to see this woman. She seems interesting to me."

"She is interesting," replied Stone sharply, ''and I've never quite met her like before. I've been questioning her every blessed day, and each time I've seen her she's appeared to be of strong character. She's not a bit nervous now, and at the inquest this morning she was as cool and self-possessed as she could possibly be. She just denied everything, and I could see she made an excellent impression upon the jury. Oh! as for seeing her, why not come straightaway now. In any case, I'm calling tonight to make her understand she is not to leave the tenement without letting us know where she is moving.''

So it happened that some twenty minutes later a taxi dropped the two at Mark's Tenements. They passed two men as they were entering the building, and Stone nodded to one. "The caretaker," he explained, as they were mounting the stairs, "and he gave Scudder a dreadful character." He gripped Larose by the arm. "If homicide were not a punishable offence, Gilbert, some might say this woman has done a good deed." He nodded. The crippled lad, already, looks a different boy."

Mrs. Scudder received them with quiet dignity, and even smiled at Inspector Stone, as if he were an old friend. Larose was not introduced, and he asked no questions, contenting himself with first regarding the woman very intently, and then letting his eyes roam round upon every article in the room.

"And are you going to any relations?" asked the inspector, when Mrs. Scudder had told them she was leaving the tenement as soon as she could arrange it.

"I have no relations," she replied sharply, "and I have no friends, either. Mr. Scudder never liked me to make any. No, I'm going somewhere into the country. I shall find a little place where I can keep poultry and make teas for cyclists." She gave the ghost of a little smile. "I'll tell you where I am going directly I know myself."

They stayed only a very few minutes and then when bowling along in another taxi, Stone asked with a deep sigh, "Well, Gilbert, what's your opinion?"

Larose nodded. "Guilty, without a shadow of doubt," he replied solemnly. "She is worn out with all she's been through, but every moment, just now, there was suppressed triumph on her tired face. She knows she's beaten you." He sighed in his turn. "But still, she's rather a nice type of woman, Charlie, although probably her conscience is not troubling her in the slightest. It was to save that lad that she turned at last upon her husband, and it was like the wrath of a sheep." He nodded again. "Still, with you I feel rather sorry for her."

"But I'm not allowing myself to feel sorry," growled Stone, "for I never indulge in sympathy with the criminal classes. My job is to help carry out the administration of the law and I want to get that woman twenty years." He spoke sharply. "But are you going to be any good to me, Gilbert?" He grinned sarcastically. "Found out anything by this visit just now?"

Larose grinned back. "Yes, quite a lot. I'll come and see you in about a couple of days."

The inspector looked contemptuous.

But it was not destined that Larose should have any news for Inspector Stone in anything like a couple of days, for the next morning he was in the throes of a severe attack of influenza, and it was more than three weeks before he began to feel really himself again.

The inspector called several times to see how he was getting on, announcing upon the last occasion that nothing more had been found out about Mrs. Scudder, and that she had now moved to a cottage just outside the little town of Westerham, in Kent. The cottage had a good-sized garden and she was having a summer-house put up, with the notice upon a board that teas were provided at nine-pence a head."

"I ran down on Sunday to make sure she was there," added the inspector, "and she didn't turn a hair when she saw me get out of the car, although for all she knew I might have had the warrant in my pocket. She even wanted to press a little box of eggs upon me"—he shook his head ironically—"but I wasn't to be bribed that way." He smiled a big, expansive smile. "But come now, hurry up, my boy, and get to work, for the scent is getting cold. In her country surroundings she doesn't look a bit like a poisoner."

When finally Larose was able to get about again, he was very busy for three days. Then on the fourth day he rang up Scotland Yard, to find, however, that Inspector Stone was in the North of England and would not be back for two days, until the Monday. So as he was intending to leave for his home in Norfolk early on the Monday morning, he sat down just before dinner on the Saturday evening and wrote him a letter.

My Dear Charlie

As you anticipated, once I got to work it was a very simple matter for me to find out from where Mrs. Scudder got the veronal. Her brother, Luke Angelstone, gave it to her. His address is 24, Doughty street, Theobald's road. He is a postman and he kept back five 'physicians' samples' of Vomeral which he ought to have delivered at the houses of five doctors in Marylebone road, on Thursday, May the eighth, just over seven weeks ago. The names of the doctors are Patson, Maddling, Boyle, Cooper and James. Vomeral is sodium barbitone, or veronal, and is very soluble in water. The sample packets of the Vomeral, contained five tablets of seven and a half grains in each tablet, therefore he filched rather more than 177 grains altogether.

I found it out in this way. When we called upon Mrs. Scudder that afternoon, you remember we passed the caretaker of Mark's Tenements, and then another man, coming out of the building. This other man, I saw, was wearing postman's trousers. They both stared hard at us and I stared hard at them. Then when we went upstairs to Mrs. Scudder I noticed that her eyes were of the same color and shape as those of this second man we had just passed, and seeing two dirty teacups upon the dresser I guessed she had just had a visitor. The smell of tea was still hanging about the room. Then I argued the man with the same eyes had in all probability been her visitor and that he was some relation of hers, most likely her brother.

Then when she was so prompt in declaring to you that she had no relations and was so emphatic about it, I was of opinion at once that she had some very definite reason for not wanting you to know she had a relation who was a postman.

Then it flashed into my mind that a postman would, of course, often be handling drugs that were being delivered at the houses of medical men.

Now you had mentioned to me that Mrs Scudder's maiden name had been Angelstone, and searching the London Directory, I saw a Mrs. Angelstone, the only person of that name in the directory, kept a sweetshop in Doughty street. Then, from indirect enquiries I learnt that her husband was a postman.

Well, the following morning when he was delivering letters, I shadowed this postman and noted down the names of all the medical men who were on his round.

Next, I approached a doctor friend and enquired of him where the profession generally purchased their veronal. He mentioned the name of several firms and then added that Heiner & Co., of Gray's Inn road had but recently put upon the market a palatable and very soluble veronal in the form of tablets, under the designation of Vomeral and in common with all other medical men, he had received a sample from them about two months ago.

I pricked up my ears there and then getting an introduction to Heiner & Co. through a very influential person, prevailed upon them to let me act as their traveller for one day. Then I called upon all the doctors on Angelstone's round and, extolling the advantages of Vomeral, discovered that five of them had no recollection of having received any samples of the preparation, as they should have done those two months ago. Heigh presto! I feel sorry for both Mrs. Scudder and the postman. Scudder was an unpleasant ogre in his little world and, knowing all he had done, nine people out of ten would be inclined to hold to the view that he only got his deserts, or indeed much less than his deserts, forasmuch as his departure from this life was a perfectly painless one.

I regret deeply that my curiosity induced me to start upon any enquiries, and that my vanity now urges me to make known to you their result.

Sincerely yours,

Gilbert Larose.

P.S.—This postman seems to be a warm-hearted, simple fellow. He is happily married, has three children, and to all accounts is a good husband and father.

"And this letter," sighed Larose, "will ruin two families and reverberate down the lifetime of them all." He frowned. "Now if I don't post it at once, I shall weaken and perhaps not post it at all." He opened the door of his room. "So here goes, I'll post it with no further consideration."

But he did not post it at once, for after hesitating before the pillar box in the lounge of the hotel, he went into dinner with the letter still in his pocket.

His face was a frowning one right through the meal and then finally, at dessert, he came to the sudden resolution. "No, damn it all, I'll go down and see the woman, first, and hear what she's got to say."

So the following afternoon he drove down to Westerham, and leaving his car in a garage there, walked on to where he was told Mrs. Scudder lived. Reaching the cottage, he saw a small boy swinging on the garden gate.

"Hullo! sonny," he exclaimed, "is this Mrs. Scudder's place?"

"Yes," replied the boy, "she's my mum."

"Oh! then I want to speak to her," said Larose.

"She's out for a few minutes," explained the boy, "but she'll be back before long." His face became animated and eager. "But if you want a tea, Sis can give it you without waiting for mum. It's only nine-pence and you get bread-and-butter and watercress and two kinds of jam. We serve it in that summer-house there. We've just had it made."

Not wanting to wait outside and attract attention, Larose followed the boy into the summer-house, where the pretty and neatly dressed sister very speedily put a tea upon the table. She was most anxious to see that her customer had everything he wanted, and her little brother hovered round all the time, ready to supplement her activities, if necessary.

"You can have more bread-and-butter if you want it," he announced importantly, "and you give Sis the money when you've finished."

Larose sipped his cup of tea very thoughtfully, and frowningly made himself a sandwich of the bread and butter and cress. Apparently not many teas had been served as yet, for the girl was palpably nervous and unaccustomed to the work.

"You will be able to have cream, sir," she said shyly, after a few minutes, "if you come again next week. We're going to buy a cow and mother's gone to see about it now."

"Do you do much business?" asked Larose, amused at the attention he was receiving.

"We've only been here a very little while, sir, but we served nine teas yesterday," replied the girl proudly, "and when we get known we shall do many more than that. Everything is going to be so clean."

"And I'm going to help milk the cow," said the boy, with the confiding nature of a child. "The gentleman we're buying it from is going to teach me."

A few minutes later the gate clicked and Larose saw Mrs. Scudder coming up the path. The boy ran up and spoke to her and she came at once to the summer-house.

"You want to speak to me, sir?" she asked of Larose, and it was evident from her demeanor that she had no recollection of having seen him before.

Larose regarded her critically. She was dressed very quietly, in a black dress and was wearing an old-fashioned black toque that, strangely enough, gave her something of the appearance of a nun. But it was her face that so intrigued him, for upon it was engraved a gentle and sad serenity. It was the face of a woman who had been through suffering, but was enjoying peace—peace, perfect peace.

He drew in a deep breath. "I only wanted to know," he said lamely "if you could let me have a shilling's worth of eggs." He smiled. "I've heard yours are always fresh."

THE following morning Inspector Stone was sitting in his room in Scotland Yard when a brother inspector entered.

"I say, Charlie," said the latter, "when I was going by, on the top of a bus, on Friday, I saw Gilbert Larose in Marylebone road. He was dressed very differently to the way he usually is now, and was carrying a bag. Just when I caught sight of him he was standing still and glancing at a small piece of paper he'd got in his hand. He looked to me the very spit of a commercial traveller calling on his customers."

"A-ah! Ah!" exclaimed Stone smilingly, "then I shall be hearing from him very soon. He's doing a little job for me."

And hear from him very quickly the stout inspector did, for not ten minutes later a letter and cardboard box were delivered by hand.

Stone opened the letter eagerly, and read.

Dear Charlie

As you anticipated, I did succeed in making a few discoveries, but as a private individual I shall not interfere. I believe Justice to be best served by letting things remain as they are.

Kind regards always,

Gilbert Larose.

P.S.—Remember, Scudder's death was a perfectly painless one.

"Justice!" snorted the inspector disgustedly. "Who spoke of Justice, at all? It's law that concerns us, not Justice, any time." He shook his head angrily. "Gilbert never lies, and so he's found out something, right enough, but now he's not going to tell." He frowned. "He was always too much of a sentimentalist to be a good officer, and I was always telling him so." His eyes fell upon the cardboard box and, lifting it up, he rattled it gently. "Eggs! Mrs. Scudder's eggs!" He recovered his good humor and his face broke into an amused smile. "The young devil! These are just to inform me he's been down to see her." He shook his head again, but now in mock severity. "Ah! he's not like me. He took these eggs as a bribe to hold his tongue!"


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