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Title: Adventures of Martin Hewitt - Third Series
Author: Morrison, Arthur
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: “AN’ WHICH IS THE HONOURABLE JINTLEMAN AS DO BE
BURRNIN’ TO PRISINT ME WID A BIT O’ GOOLD?”]



  ADVENTURES

  OF

  MARTIN HEWITT

  THIRD SERIES

  by

  ARTHUR MORRISON

  ILLUSTRATED BY T.S.C. CROWTHER

  LONDON

  WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED

  WARWICK HOUSE, SALISBURY SQUARE, E.C.

  NEW YORK AND MELBOURNE

  1896



CONTENTS

  The Case of the “Flitterbat Lancers”

  The Case of the Dead Skipper

  The Case of Mr. Geldard’s Elopement

  The Case of the late Mr. Rewse

  The Affair of Mrs. Seton’s Child

  The Case of the Ward Lane Tabernacle



THE CASE OF THE “FLITTERBAT LANCERS”


I

In none of the cases of investigation by Martin Hewitt which I have
as yet recorded had I any direct and substantial personal interest.
In the case I am about to set forth, however, I had some such
interest, though legally, I fear, it amounted to no more than the
cost of a smashed pane of glass. But the case in some ways was one of
the most curious which came under my notice, and completely justified
Hewitt’s oft repeated dictum that there was nothing, however romantic
or apparently improbable, that had not happened at some time in
London.

It was late on a summer evening, two or three years back, that I
drowsed in my armchair over a particularly solid and ponderous volume
of essays on social economy. I was doing a good deal of reviewing at
the time, and I remember that this particular volume had a property
of such exceeding toughness that I had already made three successive
attacks on it, on as many successive evenings, each attack having
been defeated in the end by sleep. The weather was hot, my chair was
very comfortable, the days were tiring, and the book had somewhere
about its strings of polysyllables an essence as of laudanum. Still
something had been done on each evening, and now on the fourth I
strenuously endeavoured to finish the book. Late as it was, my lamp
had been lighted but an hour or so, for there had been light enough
to read by, near the window, till well past nine o’clock. I was just
beginning to feel that the words before me were sliding about and
losing their meanings, and that I was about to fall asleep after all,
when a sudden crash and a jingle of broken glass behind me woke me
with a start, and I threw the book down. A pane of glass in my window
was smashed, and I hurried across and threw up the sash to see, if I
could, whence the damage had come.

[Illustration: “A PANE OF GLASS IN MY WINDOW WAS SMASHED.”]

I think I have somewhere said (I believe it was in describing the
circumstances of the extraordinary death of Mr. Foggatt) that the
building in which my chambers (and Hewitt’s office) were situated was
accessible--or rather visible, for there was no entrance--from the
rear. There was, in fact, a small courtyard, reached by a passage
from the street behind, and into this courtyard my sitting-room
window looked.

“Hullo, there!” I shouted. But there came no reply. Nor could I
distinguish anybody in the courtyard. It was at best a shadowy place
at night, with no artificial light after the news agent--who had a
permanent booth there--had shut up and gone home. Gone he was now,
and to me the yard seemed deserted. Some men had been at work during
the day on a drain-pipe near the booth, and I reflected that probably
their litter had provided the stone wherewith my window had been
smashed. As I looked, however, two men came hurrying from the passage
into the court, and going straight into the deep shadow of one
corner, presently appeared again in a less obscure part, hauling
forth a third man, who must have already been there in hiding. The
man--who appeared, so far as I could see, to be smaller than either
of his assailants--struggled fiercely, but without avail, and was
dragged across toward the passage leading to the street beyond. But
the most remarkable feature of the whole thing was the silence of all
three men. No cry, no exclamation, or expostulation escaped any one
of them. In perfect silence the two hauled the third across the
courtyard, and in perfect silence he swung and struggled to resist
and escape. The matter astonished me not a little, and the men were
entering the passage before I found voice to shout at them. But they
took no notice, and disappeared. Soon after I heard cab wheels in the
street beyond, and had no doubt that the two men had carried off
their prisoner.

[Illustration: “THE MAN . . . STRUGGLED FIERCELY.”]

I turned back into my room a little perplexed. It seemed probable
that the man who had been borne off had broken my window. But why? I
looked about on the floor, and presently found the missile. It was,
as I had expected, a piece of broken concrete, but it was wrapped up
in a worn piece of paper, which had partly opened out again as it lay
on my carpet, thus indicating that it had only just been hastily
crumpled round the stone. But again, why? It might be considered a
trifle more polite to hand a gentleman a clinker decently wrapped up
than to give it him in its raw state; but it came to much the same
thing after all if it were passed through a shut window. And why a
clinker at all? I disengaged the paper and spread it out. Then I saw
it to be a rather hastily written piece of manuscript music, whereof
I append a reduced facsimile:--

This gave me no help. I turned the paper this way and that, but
could make nothing of it. There was not a mark on it that I could
discover, except the music and the scrawled title, “Flitterbat
Lancers,” at the top. The paper was old, dirty, and cracked. What did
it all mean? One might conceive of a person in certain circumstances
sending a message--possibly an appeal for help--through a friend’s
window, wrapped round a stone, but this seemed to be nothing of that
sort. It was not a message, but a hastily written piece of music,
with no bars or time marked, just as might have been put down by
somebody anxious to make an exact note of an air, the time of which
he could remember. Moreover, it was years old, not a thing just
written in a recent emergency. What lunatic could have chosen this
violent way of presenting me with an air from some forgotten
“Flitterbat Lancers”? That indeed was an idea. What more likely than
that the man taken away _was_ a lunatic and the others his keepers? A
man under some curious delusion, which led him not only to fling his
old music notes through my window, but to keep perfectly quiet while
struggling for his freedom. I looked out of the window again, and
then it seemed plain to me that the clinker and the paper could not
have been intended for me personally, but had been flung at my window
as being the only one that showed a light within a reasonable
distance of the yard. Most of the windows about mine were those of
offices, which had been deserted early in the evening.

Once more I picked up the paper, and with an idea to hear what the
Flitterbat Lancers sounded like, I turned to my little pianette and
strummed over the notes, making my own time and changing it as seemed
likely. But I make nothing of it, and could by no means extract from
the notes anything resembling an air. I considered the thing a little
more, and half thought of trying Martin Hewitt’s office door, in case
he might still be there and could offer a guess at the meaning of my
smashed window and the scrap of paper. It was most probable, however,
that he had gone home, and I was about resuming my social economy
when Hewitt himself came in. He had stayed late to examine a bundle
of papers in connection with a case just placed in his hands, and
now, having finished, came to find if I were disposed for an evening
stroll before turning in--a thing I was in the habit of. I handed him
the paper and the piece of concrete, observing, “There’s a little job
for you, Hewitt, instead of the stroll. What do those things mean?”
And I told him the complete history of my smashed window.

Hewitt listened attentively, and examined both the paper and the
fragment of paving. “You say these people made absolutely no sound
whatever?” he asked.

“None but that of scuffling, and even that they seemed to do
quietly.”

“Could you see whether or not the two men gagged the other, or
placed their hands over his mouth?”

“No, they certainly didn’t do that. It was dark, of course, but not
so dark as to prevent my seeing generally what they were doing.”

“And when you first looked out of the window after the smash, you
called out, but got no answer, although the man you suppose to have
thrown these things must have been there at the time, and alone?”

“That was so.”

Hewitt stood for half a minute in thought, and then said, “There’s
something in this; what, I can’t guess at the moment, but something
deep, I fancy. Are you sure you won’t come out now?”

On this my mind was made up. That dreadful volume had vanquished me
altogether three times already, and if I let it go again it would
haunt me like a nightmare. There was indeed very little left to read,
and I determined to master that and draft my review before I slept.
So I told Hewitt that I _was_ sure, and that I should stick to my
work.

“Very well,” he said; “then perhaps you will lend me these
articles?” holding up the paper and the stone as he spoke.

“Delighted to lend ’em, I’m sure,” I said. “If you get no more
melody out of the clinker than I did out of the paper, you won’t have
a musical evening. Good-night!”

Hewitt went away with the puzzle in his hand, and I turned once more
to my social economy, and, thanks to the gentleman who smashed my
window, conquered. I am sure I should have dropped fast asleep had it
not been for that.


II

At this time my only regular daily work was on an evening paper, so
that I left home at a quarter to eight on the morning following the
adventure of my broken window, in order, as usual, to be at the
office at eight; consequently it was not until lunchtime, when my
work was over, that I had an opportunity of seeing Hewitt. I went to
my own rooms first, however, and on the landing by my door I found
the housekeeper in conversation with a shortish, sun-browned man with
a goatee beard, whose accent at once convinced me that he hailed from
across the Atlantic. He had called, it appeared, three or four times
during the morning to see me, getting more impatient each time. As he
did not seem even to know my name, the housekeeper had not considered
it expedient to say when I was expected, nor indeed to give him any
information about me, and he was growing irascible under the
treatment. When I at last appeared, however, he left her and
approached me eagerly.

“See here, sir,” he said, “I’ve been stumpin’ these here durn stairs
o’ yours half through the mornin’. I’m anxious to _a_pologise, I
reckon, and fix up some damage.”

He had followed me into my sitting-room, and was now standing with
his back to the fireplace, a dripping umbrella in one hand, and the
forefinger of the other held up shoulder-high and pointing, in the
manner of a pistol, to my window, which, by the way, had been mended
during the morning, in accordance with my instructions to the
housekeeper.

“Sir,” he continued, “last night I took the extreme liberty of
smashin’ your winder.”

“Oh,” I said, “that was you, was it?”

“It was, sir--me. For that I hev come humbly to apologise. I trust
the draft has not discommoded you, sir. I regret the acci_dent_, and
I wish to pay for the fixin’ up and the general inconvenience.” He
placed a sovereign on the table. “I ’low you’ll call that square now,
sir, and fix things friendly and comfortable as between gentle_men_,
an’ no ill will. Shake.”

And he formally extended his hand.

I took it at once. “Certainly,” I said, “certainly. As a matter of
fact, you haven’t inconvenienced me at all; indeed, there were some
circumstances about the affair that rather interested me. But as to
the damage,” I continued, “if you’re really anxious to pay for it, do
you mind my sending the glazier to you to settle? You see, it’s only
a matter of half a crown or so at most.” And I pushed the sovereign
toward him.

“But then,” he said, looking a trifle disappointed, “there’s general
discommodedness, you know, to pay for, and the general _sass_ of the
liberty to a stranger’s winder. I ain’t no down-easter--not a Boston
dude--but I reckon I know the gentlemanly thing, and I can afford to
do it. Yes. Say now, didn’t I startle your nerves?”

“Not a bit,” I answered, laughing. “In fact, you did me a service by
preventing me going to sleep just when I shouldn’t; so we’ll say no
more of that.”

“Well--there was one other little thing,” he pursued, looking at me
rather sharply as he slowly pocketed the sovereign. “There was a bit
o’ paper round that pebble that came in here. Didn’t happen to notice
that, did you?”

“Yes, I did. It was an old piece of manuscript music.”

“That was it--just. Might you happen to have it handy now?”

“Well,” I said, “as a matter of fact a friend of mine has it now. I
tried playing it over once or twice, as a matter of curiosity, but I
couldn’t make anything of it, and so I handed it to him.”

“Ah!” said my visitor, watching me narrowly, “that’s a nailer, is
that ‘Flitterbat Lancers’--a real nailer. It whips ’em all. Nobody
can’t get ahead of that. Ha, ha!” He laughed suddenly--a laugh that
seemed a little artificial. “There’s music fellers as ’lows to set
right down and play off anything right away that can’t make anything
of the ‘Flitterbat Lancers.’ That was two of ’em that was monkeyin’
with me last night. They never could make anythin’ of it at all, and
I was tantalizing them with it all along till they got real mad, and
reckoned to get it out o’ my pocket and learn it off quiet at home,
and stop all my chaff. Ha, ha! So I got away for a bit, and bein’ a
bit lively after a number of tooth-lotions (all three was much that
way), just rolled it round a stone and heaved it through your winder
before they could come up, your winder bein’ the nearest one with a
light in it. Ha, ha! I’ll be considerable obliged if you’ll get it
from your friend right now. Is he stayin’ hereabout?”

The story was so ridiculously lame that I determined to confront my
visitor with Hewitt, and observe the result. If he had succeeded in
making any sense of the “Flitterbat Lancers,” the scene might be
amusing. So I answered at once, “Yes; his office is only on the floor
below; he will probably be in at about this time. Come down with me.”

We went down, and found Hewitt in his outer office. “This
gentleman,” I told him with a solemn intonation, “has come to ask for
his piece of manuscript music, the ‘Flitterbat Lancers.’ He is
particularly proud of it, because nobody who tries to play it can
make any sort of tune out of it, and it was entirely because two dear
friends of his were anxious to drag it out of his pocket and practice
it over on the quiet that he flung it through my window-pane last
night, wrapped round a piece of concrete.”

The stranger glanced sharply at me, and I could see that my manner
and tone rather disconcerted him. But Hewitt came forward at once.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Just so--quite a natural sort of thing. As a
matter of fact, I quite expected you. Your umbrella’s wet--do you
mind putting it in the stand? Thank you. Come into my private office.”

We entered the inner room, and Hewitt, turning to the stranger, went
on: “Yes, that is a very extraordinary piece of music, that
‘Flitterbat Lancers.’ I have been having a little practice with it
myself, though I’m really nothing of a musician. I don’t wonder you
are anxious to keep it to yourself. Sit down.”

The stranger, with a distrustful look at Hewitt, complied. At this
moment, Hewitt’s clerk, Kerrett, entered from the outer office with a
slip of paper. Hewitt glanced at it, and crumpled it in his hand. “I
am engaged just now,” was his remark, and Kerrett vanished.

“And now,” Hewitt said, as he sat down and suddenly turned to the
stranger with an intent gaze, “and now, Mr Hoker, we’ll talk of this
music.”

The stranger started and frowned. “You’ve the advantage of me, sir,”
he said; “you seem to know my name, but I don’t know yours.”

Hewitt smiled pleasantly. “My name,” he said, “is Hewitt--Martin
Hewitt, and it is my business to know a great many things. For
instance, I know that you are Mr Reuben B. Hoker, of Robertsville,
Ohio.”

[Illustration: “MR. HOKER.”]

The visitor pushed his chair back, and stared. “Well--that gits me,”
he said. “You’re a pretty smart chap, anyway. I’ve heard your name
before, of course. And--and so you’ve been a-studyin’ of the
Flitterbat Lancers, have you?” This with a keen glance in Hewitt’s
face. “Well, well, s’pose you have. What’s your opinion?”

“Why,” answered Hewitt, still keeping his steadfast gaze on Hoker’s
eyes, “I think it’s pretty late in the century to be fishing about
for the Wedlake jewels, that’s all.”

These words astonished me almost as much as they did Mr Hoker. The
great Wedlake jewel robbery is, as many will remember, a traditional
story of the sixties. I remembered no more of it at the time than
probably most men do who have at some time or another read up the
_causes célèbres_ of the century. Sir Francis Wedlake’s country house
had been robbed, and the whole of Lady Wedlake’s magnificent
collection of jewels stolen. A man named Shiels, a strolling
musician, had been arrested and had been sentenced to a long term of
penal servitude. Another man named Legg--one of the comparatively
wealthy scoundrels who finance promising thefts or swindles and
pocket the greater part of the proceeds--had also been punished, but
only a very few of the trinkets, and those quite unimportant items,
had been recovered. The great bulk of the booty was never brought to
light. So much I remembered, and Hewitt’s sudden mention of the
Wedlake jewels in connection with my broken window, Mr Reuben B.
Hoker, and the “Flitterbat Lancers,” astonished me not a little.

As for Hoker, he did his best to hide his perturbation, but with
little success. “Wedlake jewels, eh?” he said; “and--and what’s that
to do with it, anyway?”

“To do with it?” responded Hewitt, with an air of carelessness.
“Well, well, I had my idea, nothing more. If the Wedlake jewels have
nothing to do with it, we’ll say no more about it, that’s all. Here’s
your paper, Mr Hoker--only a little crumpled. Here also is the piece
of cement. If the Wedlake jewels have nothing to do with the affair
you may possibly want that too--I can’t tell.” He rose and placed the
articles in Mr Hoker’s hand, with the manner of terminating the
interview.

Hoker rose, with a bewildered look on his face, and turned toward
the door. Then he stopped, looked at the floor, scratched his cheek,
and finally, after a thoughtful look, first at me and then at Hewitt,
sat down again emphatically in the chair he had just quitted, and put
his hat on the ground. “Come,” he said, “we’ll play a square game.
That paper has something to do with the Wedlake jewels, and, win or
lose, I’ll tell you all I know about it. You’re a smart man--you’ve
found out more than I know already--and whatever I tell you, I guess
it won’t do me no harm; it ain’t done me no good yet, anyway.”

“Say what you please, of course,” Hewitt answered, “but think first.
You might tell me something you’d be sorry for afterward. Mind, I
don’t invite your confidence.”

“Confidence be durned! Say, will you listen to what I say, and tell
me if you think I’ve been swindled or not? There ain’t a creature in
this country whose advice I can ask. My 250 dollars is gone now, and
I guess I won’t go skirmishing after it any more if you think it’s no
good. Will you do so much?”

“As I said before,” Hewitt replied, “tell me what you please, and if
I can help you I will. But remember, I don’t ask for your secrets.”

“That’s all right, I guess, Mr Hewitt. Well, now, it was all like
this.” And Mr Reuben B. Hoker plunged into a detailed account of his
adventures since his arrival in London.

Relieved of repetitions, and put as directly as possible, it was as
follows: Mr Hoker was a wagon-builder, had made a good business from
very humble beginnings, and intended to go on and make it still a
better. Meantime, he had come over to Europe for a short holiday--a
thing he had promised himself for years. He was wandering about the
London streets on the second night after his arrival in the city,
when he managed to get into conversation with two men at a bar. They
were not very prepossessing men altogether, though flashily dressed.
Very soon they suggested a game of cards. But Reuben B. Hoker was not
to be had in that way, and after a while they parted. The two were
amusing fellows enough in their way, and when Hoker saw them again
the next night in the same bar, he made no difficulty in talking with
them freely. After a time, and after a succession of drinks, they
told him that they had a speculation on hand--a speculation that
meant thousands if it succeeded--and to carry out which they were
only waiting for a paltry sum of £50. There was a house, they said,
in which they were certain was hidden a great number of jewels of
immense value, which had been deposited there by a man who was now
dead. Exactly in what part of the house the jewels were to be found
they did not know. There was a paper, they said, which was supposed
to contain some information, but as yet they hadn’t quite been able
to make it out. But that would really matter very little if once they
could get possession of the house. Then they would simply set to work
and search from the topmost chimney to the lowermost brick if
necessary. Anyhow, the jewels must be found sooner or later. The only
present difficulty was that the house was occupied, and that the
landlord wanted a large deposit of rent down before he would consent
to turn out his present tenants and give them possession at a higher
rental. This deposit and other expenses, would come to at least £50,
and they hadn’t the money. However, if any friend of theirs who meant
business would put the necessary sum at their disposal, and keep his
mouth shut, they would make him an equal partner in the proceeds with
themselves; and as the value of the whole haul would probably be
something not very far off £20,000, the speculation would bring a
tremendous return to the man who was smart enough to see the
advantage of putting down his £50.

Hoker, very distrustful, skeptically demanded more detailed
particulars of the scheme. But these the two men (Luker and Birks
were their names, he found, in course of talking) inflexibly refused
to communicate.

“Is it likely,” said Luker, “that we should give the ’ole thing away
to anybody who might easily go with his £50 and clear out the
bloomin’ show? Not much. We’ve told you what the game is, and if
you’d like to take a flutter with your £50, all right; you’ll do as
well as anybody, and we’ll treat you square. If you don’t--well,
don’t, that’s all. We’ll get the oof from somewhere--there’s blokes
as ’ud jump at the chance, I can tell you--only they’re inconvenient
blokes to deal with, as I’ll explain if you come in with us. Anyway,
we ain’t going to give the show away before you’ve done somethin’ to
prove you’re on the job, straight. Put your money in, and you shall
know as much as we do.”

Then there were more drinks, and more discussion. Hoker was still
reluctant, though tempted by the prospect, and growing more
venturesome with each drink.

“Don’t you see,” said Birks, “that if we was a-tryin’ to ’ave you we
should out with a tale as long as yer arm, all complete, with the
address of the ’ouse and all. Then I s’pose you’d lug out the pieces
on the nail, without askin’ a bloomin’ question. More fool you,
that’s all. As it is, the thing’s so perfectly genuine that we’d
rather lose the chance and wait for some other bloke to find the
money than run a chance of givin’ the thing away. It ain’t you wot’ll
be doin’ a favour, mind. If it’s anybody, it’s us. Not that we want
to talk of favours at all, if you come to that. It’s a matter o’
business, simple and plain, that’s all it is. If you’re willin’ to
come in with the money that we can’t do without--very well. If you
ain’t, very well too, only we ain’t goin’ to give the thing away to
an outsider. It’s a question of either us trustin’ you with a chance
of collarin’ £20,000, or you trustin’ us with a paltry £50. We don’t
lay out no ’igh moral sentiments, we only say the weight o’ money is
all on one side. Take it or leave it, that’s all. ’Ave another
Scotch?”

The talk went on and the drinks went on, and it all ended, at
“chucking-out time,” in Reuben B. Hoker handing over five ten-pound
notes, with smiling, though slightly incoherent, assurances of his
eternal friendship for Luker and Birks.

In the morning he awoke to the realization of a bad head, a bad
tongue, and a bad opinion of his proceedings of the previous night.
In his sober senses it seemed plain that he had been swindled. He had
heard of the confidence trick, to which many Americans had
unaccountably fallen victims (for to him the trick had always seemed
very thin), and he had sworn that something better than the
confidence trick would be required to get over _him_. But now there
seemed no doubt that this was no more than the confidence trick over
again, in a new and more impudent form. All day he cursed his fuddled
foolishness, and at night he made for the bar that had been the scene
if the transaction, with little hope of seeing either Luker or Birks,
who had agreed to be there to meet him. There they were, however,
and, rather to his surprise, they made no demand for more money. They
asked him if he understood music, and showed him the worn old piece
of paper containing the manuscript “Flitterbat Lancers.” The exact
spot, they said, where the jewels were hidden was supposed to be
indicated somehow and somewhere on that piece of paper. Hoker did not
understand music, and could find nothing on the paper that looked in
the least like a direction to a hiding-place for jewels or anything
else.

Luker and Birks then went into full particulars of their project.
First, as to its history. First, as to its history. The jewels were
the famous Wedlake jewels, which had been taken from Sir Francis
Wedlake’s house in 1866 and never heard of again. A certain Jerry
Shiels had been arrested in connection with the robbery, had been
given a long sentence of penal servitude, and had died in gaol. This
Jerry Shiels was an extraordinarily clever criminal, and travelled
about the country as a street musician. Although an expert burglar,
he very rarely perpetrated robberies himself, but acted as a sort of
travelling fence, receiving stolen property and transmitting it to
London or out of the country. He also acted as the agent of a man
named Legg, who had money, and who financed any likely-looking
project of a criminal nature that Shiels might arrange or recommend.
Luker and Birks explained that there were many men of this class, and
that it was to them that they had referred on the previous evening,
when they said that there were “blokes that would jump at the chance”
of financing the present venture.

Jerry Shiels traveled with a “pardner”--a man who played the harp
and acted as his assistant and messenger in affairs wherein Jerry was
reluctant to appear personally. When Shiels was arrested, he had in
his possession a quantity of printed and manuscript music, and after
his first remand his “pardner,” Jimmy Snape, applied for the music to
be given up to him, in order, as he explained, that he might earn his
living. No objection was raised to this, and Shiels was quite willing
that Snape should have it, and so it was handed over. Now among the
music was a small slip, headed “Flitterbat Lancers,” which Shiels had
shown to Snape before the arrest. In case of Shiels being taken,
Snape was to take this particular slip to Legg as fast as he could.
The slip indeed carried about it, in some unexplained way, which Legg
understood, an indication of the place in which Shiels had concealed
the bulk of the Wedlake jewels, and the whole proceeding was an
ingenious trick invented by Shiels (and used before, it was supposed)
to communicate with Legg while under arrest.

Snape got the music, but, as chance would have it, on that very day
Legg himself was arrested, and soon after was sentenced also to a
term of years. Snape hung about in London for a little while, and
then emigrated. Before leaving, however, he gave the slip of music to
Luker’s father, a rag-shop keeper, who was a friend of his, and to
whom he owed money. He explained its history, and hoped that Luker
senior would be able to recoup himself for the debt, and a good deal
over. Then he went. Luker senior had made all sorts of fruitless
efforts to get at the information concealed in the paper. He had held
it to the fire to bring up concealed writing, had washed it, had held
it to the light till his eyes ached, had gone over it with a
magnifying glass--all in vain. He had got musicians to strum out the
notes on all sorts of instruments--backwards, forwards, alternately,
and in every other way he could think of. If at any time he fancied a
resemblance in the resulting sound to some familiar song-tune, he got
that song and studied all its words with loving care, upside-down,
right-side up--every way. He took the words “Flitterbat Lancers” and
transposed the letters in all directions, and did everything else he
could think of. In the end he gave it up, and died. Now lately, Luker
junior had been impelled with a desire to see into the matter. He had
repeated all the parental experiments, and more, with chemicals, and
with the same lack of success. He had taken his “pal” Birks into his
confidence, and together they had tried other experiments
still--usually very clumsy ones indeed--till at last they began to
believe that the message had probably been written in some sort of
invisible ink which the subsequent washings and experiments had
erased altogether. But he had done one other thing: he had found the
house which Shiels rented at the time of his arrest, and in which a
good quantity of stolen property--not connected with the Wedlake
case--was discovered. Here, he argued, if anywhere, Jerry Shiels had
hidden the jewels. There was no other place where he could be found
to have lived, or over which he had sufficient control to warrant his
hiding valuables therein. Perhaps, once the house could be properly
examined, something about it might give a clue as to what the message
of the “Flitterbat Lancers” meant. At any rate, message or none,
anybody in possession of the house, with a certain amount of
patience, secrecy, and thoroughness, could in time make himself
master of every possible hiding-place, and could completely excavate
the back yard. The trouble was that the house was occupied, and that
money was wanted to get possession. It was with the view of providing
this that they had decided to broach the subject to Hoker.

Hoker, of course, was anxious to know where the house in question
stood, but this Luker and Birks would on no account inform him.
“You’ve done your part,” they said, “and now you leave us to do ours.
There’s a bit of a job about gettin’ the tenants out. They won’t go,
and it’ll take a bit of time before the landlord can make them. So
you just hold your jaw and wait. When we’re safe in the ’ouse, and
there’s no chance of anybody else pokin’ into the business, then you
can come and help find the stuff if you like. But you ain’t goin’ to
’ave a chance of puttin’ in first for yourself this journey, you bet.”

Hoker went home that night sober, but in much perplexity. The thing
might be genuine, after all; indeed, there were many little things
that made him think it was. But then, if it were, what guarantee had
he that he would get his share, supposing the search turned out
successful? None at all. But then it struck him for the first time
that these jewels, though they may have lain untouched so long, were
stolen property after all. The moral aspect of the affair began to
trouble him a little, but the legal aspect troubled him more. That
consideration, however, he decided to leave over, for the present at
any rate. He had no more than the word of Luker and Birks that the
jewels (if they existed) _were_ those of Lady Wedlake, and Luker and
Birks themselves only professed to know from hearsay. At any rate,
his £50 was gone where he felt pretty sure he would have a difficulty
in getting it back from, and he determined to wait events. But at
least he made up his mind to have some little guarantee for his
money. In accordance with this resolve, he suggested, when he met the
two men the next day, that he should take charge of the slip of music
and make an independent study of it. This proposal, however, met with
an instant veto. The whole thing was now in their hands, Luker and
Birks laid it down, and they didn’t intend letting any of it out. If
Hoker wanted to study the “Flitterbat Lancers,” he could do it in
their presence, and if he were dissatisfied he could go to the next
shop. Altogether it became clear to the unhappy Hoker that now he had
parted with his money he was altogether at the mercy of these
fellows, if he wished to get any share of the plunder, or even to see
his money back again. And if he made any complaint, or if the matter
became at all known, the affair would be “blown upon,” as they
expressed it, and his money would be gone. Mostly, though, he
resented their bullying talk, and he determined to get even in the
matter of the music. He resolved to make up a piece of paper, folded
as like the slip as possible, and substitute one for the other at
their next meeting. Then he would put the “Flitterbat Lancers” in
some safe place, and face his fellow-conspirators with a hand of
cards equal to their own. He carried out his plan the next evening
with perfect success, thanks to a trick of “passing” cards which he
had learned in his youth, and thanks also to the contemptuous
indifference with which Luker and Birks had begun to regard him. He
got the slip in his pocket, and left the bar. He had not gone far,
however, before Luker discovered the trick, and soon he became
conscious of being followed. He looked for a cab, but he was in a
dark street, and no cab was near. Luker and Birks turned the corner
and began to run. He saw they must catch him, and felt no doubt that
it they did he would lose the slip of paper, the £50, and everything.
They were big, active fellows, and could probably do as they liked
with him--especially since he could not call for help without risking
an exposure of their joint enterprise. Everything depended now on his
putting the “Flitterbat Lancers” out of their reach, but where he
could himself recover it. Then it would form a sort of security for
his share of the venture. He ran till he saw a narrow passage-way on
his right, and into this he darted. It led into a yard where stones
were lying about, and in a large building before him he saw the
window of a lighted room a couple of floors up. It was a desperate
expedient, but there was no time for consideration. He wrapped a
stone in the paper and flung it with all his force through the
lighted window. Even as he did it he heard the feet of Luker and
Birks as they hurried down the street. The rest of the adventure in
the court I myself saw.

Luker and Birks kept Hoker in their lodgings all that night. They
searched him unsuccessfully for the paper; they bullied, they swore,
they cajoled, they entreated, they begged him to play the game square
with his pals. Hoker merely replied that he had put the “Flitterbat
Lancers” where they couldn’t easily find it, and that he intended
playing the game square so long as they did the same. In the end they
released him, apparently with more respect for his cuteness than they
had before entertained, advising him, at any rate, to get the paper
into his possession as soon as he could. With this view he repaired
again to the scene of his window-smashing exploit, and having
ascertained the exact position of the window in the building, began
his morning’s attack on my outer door.

“And now,” said Mr. Hoker, in conclusion of his narrative, “perhaps
you’ll give me a bit of Christian advice. You’re up to as many moves
as most people over here. Am I playin’ a fool-game running after
these toughs, or ain’t I? I wouldn’t have told you what I have, of
course, if it wasn’t clear that you’d got hold of the hang of the
scheme somehow. Say, now, is it all a swindle?”

Hewitt shrugged his shoulders. “It all depends,” he said, “on your
friends Luker and Birks, as you may easily see for yourself. They may
want to swindle you of your money and of the proceeds of the
speculation, as you call it, or they may not. I’m afraid they’d like
to, at any rate. But perhaps you’ve got some little security in this
piece of paper. One thing is plain: they certainly believe in the
deposit of jewels themselves, else they wouldn’t have taken so much
trouble to get the paper back, on the chance of seeing some way of
using it after they had got into the house they speak of.”

“Then I guess I’ll go on with the thing, if that’s it.”

“That depends, of course, on whether you care to take trouble to get
possession of what, after all, is somebody else’s lawful property.”

Hoker looked a little uneasy. “Well,” he said, “there’s that, of
course. I didn’t know nothin’ about that at first, and when I did I’d
parted with my money and felt entitled to get something back for it.
Anyway, the stuff ain’t found yet. When it is, why then, you know, I
might make a deal with the owner. But, say, how did you find out my
name, and about this here affair being jined up with the Wedlake
jewels?”

Hewitt smiled. “As to the name and address, you just think it over a
little when you’ve gone away, and if you don’t see how I did it,
you’re not so cute as I think you are. In regard to the jewels--well,
I just read the message of the ‘Flitterbat Lancers,’ that’s all.”

“You read it? Whew! That beats! And what does it say, and where? How
did you fix it?” Hoker turned the paper over eagerly in his hands as
he spoke.

“See, now,” said Hewitt, “I won’t tell you all that, but I’ll tell
you something, and it may help you to test the real knowledge of
Luker and Birks. Part of the message is in these words, which you had
better write down: ‘_Over the coals the fifth dancer slides, says
Jerry Shiels the horney_.’”

“What?” Hoker exclaimed, “fifth dancer slides over the coals? That’s
a mighty odd dance-figure, anyway, lancers or not. What’s it all
about?”

“About the Wedlake jewels, as I said. Now you can go and make a
bargain with Luker and Birks. The only other part of the message is
an address, and that they already know, if they have been telling the
truth about the house they intend taking. You can offer to tell them
what I have told you of the message, after they have told you where
the house is, and proved to you that they are taking the steps they
talk of. If they won’t agree to that, I think you had best treat them
as common rogues (which they are), and charge them with obtaining
your money under false pretences. But in any case don’t be
disappointed if you see very little of the Wedlake jewels.”

Nothing more would Hewitt say than that, despite Hoker’s many
questions; and when at last Hoker had gone, almost as troubled and
perplexed as ever, my friend turned to me and said, “Now, Brett, if
you haven’t lunched, and would like to see the end of this business,
hurry up!”

“The end of it?” I said. “Is it to end so soon? How?”

“Simply by a police raid on Jerry Shiels’s old house with a search
warrant. I communicated with the police this morning before I came
here.”

“Poor Hoker!” I said.

“Oh, I had told the police before I saw Hoker, or heard of him, of
course. I just conveyed the message on the music slip--that was
enough. But I’ll tell you all about it when there’s more time; I must
be off now. With the information I have given him, Hoker and his
friends may make an extra push and get into the house soon, but I
couldn’t resist the temptation to give the unfortunate Hoker some
sort of a sporting chance--though it’s a poor one, I fear. Get your
lunch as quickly as you can, and go at once to Colt Row,
Bankside--Southwark way, you know. Probably we shall be there before
you. If not, wait.”

Hewitt had assumed his hat and gloves as he spoke, and now hurried
away. I took such lunch as I could in twenty minutes, and hurried in
a cab towards Blackfriars Bridge. The cabman knew nothing of Colt
Row, but had a notion of where to find Bankside. Once in the region I
left him, and then Colt Row was not difficult to find. It was one of
those places that decay with an access of respectability, like Drury
Lane and Clare Market. Once, when Jacob’s Island was still an island,
a little farther down the river, Colt Row had evidently been an
unsafe place for a person with valuables about him, and then it
probably prospered, in its own way. Now it was quite respectable, but
very dilapidated and dirty, and looked as unprosperous as a street
well can. It was too near the river to be a frequented thoroughfare,
and too far from it to be valuable for wharfage purposes. It was a
stagnant backwater in the London tide, close though it stood to the
full rush of the stream. Perhaps it was sixty yards long--perhaps a
little more. It was certainly very few yards wide, and the houses at
each side had a patient and forlorn look of waiting for a
metropolitan improvement to come along and carry them away to their
rest. Many seemed untenanted, and most threatened soon to be
untenable. I could see no signs as yet of Hewitt, nor of the police,
so I walked up and down the narrow pavement for a little while. As I
did so, I became conscious of a face at a window of the least ruinous
house in the row, a face that I fancied expressed particular interest
in my movements. The house was an old gabled structure, faced with
plaster. What had apparently once been a shop-window, or at any rate
a wide one, on the ground floor, was now shuttered up, and the face
that watched me--an old woman’s--looked from a window next above. I
had noted these particulars with some curiosity, when, arriving again
at the street corner, I observed Hewitt approaching, in company with
a police inspector, and followed by two unmistakable “plain-clothes”
men.

“Well,” Hewitt said, “you’re first here after all. Have you seen any
more of our friend Hoker?”

“No, nothing.”

“Very well--probably he’ll be here before long, though.”

The party turned into Colt Row, and the inspector, walking up to the
door of the house with the shuttered bottom window, knocked sharply.
There was no response, so he knocked again; but equally in vain.

“All out,” said the inspector.

“No,” I said; “I saw a woman watching me from the window above not
three minutes ago.”

“Ho, ho!” the inspector replied. “That’s so, eh? One of you--you,
Johnson--step round to the back, will you? You know the courts
behind.”

One of the plain-clothes men started off, and after waiting another
minute or two the inspector began a thundering cannonade of knocks
that brought every available head out of the window of every
inhabited room in the Row.

The woman’s face appeared stealthily at the upper window again, but
the inspector saw, and he shouted to her to open the door and save
him the necessity of damaging it. At this the woman opened the
window, and began abusing the inspector with a shrillness and fluency
that added a street-corner audience to that already congregated at
the windows.

“Go away, you blaggards!” the lady said, among other things; “you
ought to be ’orse-w’ipped, every one of ye! A-comin’ ’ere a-tryin’ to
turn decent people out o’ ’ouse and ’ome! Wait till my ’usband comes
’ome--’e’ll show yer, ye mutton-cadgin’ scoundrels! Payin’ our rent
reg’lar, and good tenants as is always been--as you may ask Mrs.
Green next door this blessed minute--and I’m a respectable married
woman, that’s what I am, ye dirty great cow-ards!”--this last word
with a low, tragic emphasis.

Hewitt remembered what Hoker had said about the present tenants
refusing to quit the house on the landlord’s notice. “She thinks
we’ve come from the landlord to turn her out,” he said to the
inspector.

“We’re not here from the landlord, you old fool!” the inspector
said, in as low a voice as could be trusted to reach the woman’s
ears. “We don’t want to turn you out. We’re the police, with a
search-warrant to look for something left here before you came; and
you’d better let us in, I can tell you, or you’ll get into trouble.”

“’Ark at ’im!” the woman screamed, pointing at the inspector. “’Ark
at ’im! Thinks I was born yesterday, that feller! Go ’ome, ye dirty
pie-stealer, go ’ome! ’Oo sneaked the cook’s watch, eh? Go ’ome!”

The audience showed signs of becoming a small crowd, and the
inspector’s patience gave out. “Here, Bradley,” he said, addressing
the remaining plain-clothes man, “give a hand with these shutters,”
and the two--both powerful men--seized the iron bar which held the
shutters, and began to pull. But the garrison was undaunted, and,
seizing a broom, the woman began to belabour the invaders about the
shoulders and head from above. But just at this moment the woman,
emitting a terrific shriek, was suddenly lifted from behind and
vanished. Then the head of the plain-clothes man who had gone round
the houses appeared, with the calm announcement, “There’s a winder
open behind, sir. But I’ll open the front door if you like.”

[Illustration: “THE WOMAN BEGAN TO BELABOUR THE INVADERS ABOUT THE
SHOULDERS AND HEAD FROM ABOVE.”]

Then there was a heavy thump, and _his_ head was withdrawn; the
broom was probably responsible. The inspector shouted impatiently for
the front door to be opened, and in a minute or two the bolts were
shot, and it swung back. The placid Johnson stood in the passage, and
as we passed in he said, “I’ve locked ’er in the back room upstairs.”
As a matter of fact we might have guessed it. Volleys of screeches,
punctuated by bangs from contact of broom and door, left no doubt.

“It’s the bottom staircase, of course,” the inspector said; and we
tramped down into the basement. A little way from the stairfoot
Hewitt opened a cupboard door, which enclosed a receptacle for coals.
“They still keep the coals here, you see,” he said, striking a match
and passing it to and fro near the sloping roof of the cupboard. It
was of plaster, and covered the under-side of the stairs.

“And now for the fifth dancer,” he said, throwing the match away and
making for the staircase again. “One, two, three, four, five,” and he
tapped the fifth stair from the bottom. “Here it is.”

The stairs were uncarpeted, and Hewitt and the inspector began a
careful examination of the one he had indicated. They tapped it in
different places, and Hewitt passed his hand over the surfaces of
both tread and riser. Presently, with his hand at the outer edge of
the riser, Hewitt spoke. “Here it is, I think,” he said; “it is the
riser that slides.”

He took out his pocket-knife and scraped away the grease and paint
from the edge of the old stair. Then a joint was plainly visible. For
a long time the plank, grimed and set with age, refused to shift; but
at last, by dint of patience and firm fingers, it moved, and in a few
seconds was drawn clean out from the end, like the lid of a
domino-box lying on its side.

Within, nothing was visible but grime, fluff, and small rubbish. The
inspector passed his hand along the bottom angle. “Here’s a hook or
something, at any rate,” he said. It was the gold hook of an
old-fashioned earring, broken off short.

Hewitt slapped his thigh. “Somebody’s been here before us,” he said
“and a good time back too, judging from the dust. That hook’s a plain
indication that jewellery was here once, and probably broken up for
convenience of carriage and stowage. There’s plainly nothing more,
except--except this piece of paper.” Hewitt’s eyes had
detected--black with loose grime as it was--a small piece of paper
lying at the bottom of the recess. He drew it out and shook off the
dust. “Why, what’s this?” he exclaimed. “More music! Why, look here!”

We went to the window, and there saw in Hewitt’s hand a piece of
written musical notation, thus:--

Hewitt pulled out from his pocket a few pieces of paper. “Here is a
copy I made this morning of the ‘Flitterbat Lancers,’ and a note or
two of my own as well,” he said. He took a pencil, and, constantly
referring to his own papers, marked a letter under each note on the
last-found slip of music. When he had done this, the letters read:--

_“You are a clever cove whoever you are but there was a cleverer
says Jim Snape the horney’s mate.”_

“You see?” Hewitt said handing the inspector the paper. “Snape, the
unconsidered messenger, finding Legg in prison, set to work and got
the jewels for himself. He either had more gumption than the other
people through whose hands the ‘Flitterbat Lancers’ has passed, or
else he had got some clue to the cipher during his association with
Shiels. The thing was a cryptogram, of course, of a very simple sort,
though uncommon in design. Snape was a humorous soul, too, to leave
this message here in the same cipher, on the chance of somebody else
reading the ‘Flitterbat Lancers.’”

“But,” I asked, “why did he give that slip of music to Luker’s
father?”

“Well, he owed him money, and got out of it that way. Also he
avoided the appearance of ‘flushness’ that paying the debt might have
given him, and got quietly out of the country with his spoils. Also
he may have paid off a grudge on old Luker--anyhow, the thing plagued
him enough.”

The shrieks upstairs had grown hoarser, but the broom continued
vigorously. “Let that woman out,” said the inspector, “and we’ll go
and report. Not much good looking for Snape now, I fancy. But there’s
some satisfaction in clearing up that old quarter-century mystery.”

We left the place pursued by the execrations of the broom wielder,
who bolted the door behind us, and from the window defied us to come
back, and vowed she would have us all searched before a magistrate
for what we had probably stolen. In the very next street we hove in
sight of Reuben B. Hoker in the company of two swell-mob-looking
fellows, who sheered off down a side turning at sight of our group.
Hoker, too, looked rather shy at sight of the inspector. As we
passed, Hewitt stopped for a moment and said, “I’m afraid you’ve lost
those jewels, Mr. Hoker; come to my office to-morrow, and I’ll tell
you all about it.”


III

“The meaning of the thing was so very plain,” Hewitt said to me
afterwards, “that the duffers who had the ‘Flitterbat Lancers’ in
hand for so long never saw it at all. If Shiels had made an ordinary
clumsy cryptogram, all letters and figures, they would have seen what
it was at once, and at least would have tried to read it; but because
it was put in the form of music, they tried everything else but the
right way. It was a clever dodge of Shiels’s, without a doubt. Very
few people, police officers or not, turning over a heap of old music,
would notice or feel suspicious of that little slip among the rest.
But once one sees it is a cryptogram (and the absence of bar-lines
and of notes beyond the stave would suggest that) the reading is as
easy as possible. For my part I tried it as a cryptogram at once. You
know the plan--it has been described a hundred times. See here--look
at this copy of the ‘Flitterbat Lancers.’ Its only difficulty--and
that is a small one--is that the words are not divided. Since there
are on the stave positions for less than a dozen notes, and there are
twenty-six letters to be indicated, it follows that crotchets,
quavers, and semiquavers on the same line or space must mean
different letters. The first step is obvious. We count the notes to
ascertain which sign occurs most frequently, and we find that the
crotchet in the top space is the sign required--it occurs no less
than eleven times. Now the letter most frequently occurring in an
ordinary sentence of English is _e_. Let us then suppose that this
represents _e_. At once a coincidence strikes us. In ordinary musical
notation in the treble clef the note occupying the top space would be
E. Let us remember that presently. Now the most common word in the
English language is _the_. We know the sign for _e_, the last letter
of this word, so let us see if in more than one place that sign is
preceded by two others identical in each case. If so, the probability
is that the other two signs will represent _t_ and _h_, and the whole
word will be _the_. Now it happens in no less than four places the
sign _e_ is preceded by the same two other signs--once in the first
line, twice in the second, and once in the fourth. No word of three
letters ending in _e_ would be in the least likely to occur four
times in a short sentence except _the_. Then we will call it _the_,
and note the signs preceding the _e_. They are a quaver under the
bottom line for the _t_, and a crotchet on the first space for the
_h_. We travel along the stave, and wherever these signs occur we
mark them with _t_ or _h_, as the case may be. But now we remember
that _e_, the crotchet in the top space, is in its right place as a
musical note, while the crotchet in the bottom space means _h_, which
is no musical note at all. Considering this for a minute, we remember
that among the notes which are expressed in ordinary music on the
treble stave, without the use of ledger lines, _d e_ and _f_ are
repeated at the lower and at the upper part of the stave. Therefore,
anybody making a cryptogram of musical notes would probably use one
set of these duplicate positions to indicate other letters, and as
_h_ is in the lower part of the stave, that is where the variation
comes in. Let us experiment by assuming that all the crotchets above
_f_ in ordinary musical notation have their usual values, and let us
set the letters over their respective notes. Now things begin to
shape. Look toward the end of the second line: there is the word
_the_ and the letters _f f t h_, with another note between the two
_f_s. Now that word can only possibly be _fifth_, so that now we have
the sign for _i_. It is the crotchet on the bottom line. Let us go
through and mark the _is_. And now observe. The first sign of the lot
is _i_, and there is one other sign before the word _the_. The only
words possible here beginning with _i_, and of two letters, are_ it_,
_if_,_ is_ and _in_. Now we have the signs for _t_ and _f_, so we
know that it isn’t _it_ or _if_. Is would be unlikely here, because
there is a tendency, as you see, to regularity in these signs, and
_t_, the next letter alphabetically to _s_, is at the bottom of the
stave. Let us try _n_. At once we get the word _dance_ at the
beginning of line three. And now we have got enough to see the system
of the thing. Make a stave and put G A B C and the higher D E F in
their proper musical places. Then fill in the blank places with the
next letters of the alphabet downward, _h i j_, and we find that _h_
and _i_ fall in the places we have already discovered for them as
crotchets. Now take quavers, and go on with _k l m n o_, and so on as
before, beginning on the A space. When you have filled the quavers,
do the same with semiquavers--there are only six alphabetical letters
left for this--_u v w x y z_. Now you will find that this exactly
agrees with all we have ascertained already, and if you will use the
other letters to fill up over the signs still unmarked you will get
the whole message:--

_“‘In the Colt Row ken over the coals the fifth dancer slides says
Jerry Shiels the horney.’_

[Illustration: “THE FIFTH DANCER SLIDES.”]

“‘Dancer,’ as perhaps you didn’t know, is thieves’ slang for a
stair, and ‘horney’ is the strolling musician’s name for a cornet
player. Of course the thing took a little time to work out, chiefly
because the sentence was short, and gave one few opportunities. But
anybody with the key, using the cipher as a means of communication,
would read it as easily as print. Snape used the same cipher in his
jocular little note to the next searcher in the Colt Row staircase.

“As soon as I had read it, of course I guessed the purport of the
‘Flitterbat Lancers.’ Jerry Shiels’s name is well-known to anybody
with half my knowledge of the criminal records of the century, and
his connection with the missing Wedlake jewels, and his death in
prison, came to my mind at once. (The police afterwards, by the way,
soon identified his old house in Colt Row from their records.)
Certainly here was something hidden, and as the Wedlake jewels seemed
most likely, I made the shot in talking to Hoker.”

“But you terribly astonished him by telling him his name and
address. How was that?”

Hewitt laughed aloud. “That,” he said; “why, that was the thinnest
trick of all. Why, the man had it engraved at large all over the
silver band of his umbrella handle. When he left his umbrella
outside, Kerrett (I had indicated the umbrella to him by a sign) just
copied the lettering on one of the ordinary visitors’ forms, and
brought it in. You will remember I treated it as an ordinary
visitor’s announcement. Kerrett has played that trick before, I
fear.” And he laughed again.


On the afternoon of the next day Reuben B. Hoker called on Hewitt and
had half an hour’s talk with him in his private room. After that he
came up to me with half a crown in his hand. “Sir,” he said,
“everything has turned out a durned sell. I don’t want to talk about
it any more. I’m goin’ out o’ this durn country. Night before last I
broke your winder. You put the damage at half a crown. Here is the
money. Good-day to you, sir.”

And Reuben B. Hoker went out into the tumultuous world.



THE CASE OF THE DEAD SKIPPER


I

It is a good few years ago now that a suicide was investigated by a
coroner’s jury before whom Martin Hewitt gave certain simple and
direct evidence touching the manner of the death, and testifying to
the fact of its being a matter of self-destruction. The public got
certain suggestive information from the bare newspaper report, but
they never learnt the full story of the tragedy that led up to the
suicide that was so summarily disposed of.

The time I speak of was in Hewitt’s early professional days, not
long after he had left Messrs. Crellan’s office, and a long time
before I myself met him. At that time fewer of the police knew him
and were aware of his abilities, and fewer still appreciated them at
their true value. Inquiries in connection with a case had taken him
early one morning to the district which is now called “London over
the border,” and which comprises West Ham and the parts there
adjoining. At this time, however, the district was much unlike its
present self, for none of the grimy streets that now characterize it
had been built, and even in its nearest parts open land claimed more
space than buildings.

Hewitt’s business lay with the divisional surgeon of police, who
had, he found, been called away from his breakfast to a patient.
Hewitt followed him in the direction of the patient’s house, and met
him returning. They walked together, and presently, as they came in
sight of a row of houses, a girl, having the appearance of a
maid-of-all-work, came running from the side door of the end house--a
house rather larger and more pretentious than the others in the row.
Almost immediately a policeman appeared from the front door, and,
seeing the girl running, shouted to Hewitt and his companion to stop
her. This Hewitt did by a firm though gentle grasp of the arms; and,
turning her about, marched her back again. “Come, come,” he said,
“you’ll gain nothing by running away, whatever it is.” But the girl
shuddered and sobbed, and cried incoherently, “No, no--don’t; I’m
afraid. I don’t like it, sir. It’s awful. I can’t stop there.”

She was a strongly-built, sullen-looking girl, with prominent
eyebrows and a rather brutal expression of face; consequently her
extreme nervous agitation, her distorted face and her tears were the
more noticeable.

“What is all this?” the surgeon asked as they reached the front door
of the house. “Girl in trouble?”

The policeman touched his helmet. “It’s murder, sir, this time,” he
said, “that’s what it is. I’ve sent for the inspector, and I’ve sent
for you too, sir; and of course I couldn’t allow anyone to leave the
house till I’d handed it over to the inspector. Come,” he added to
the girl, as he saw her indoors, “don’t let’s have any more o’ that.
It looks bad, I can tell you.”

“Where’s the body?” asked the surgeon.

“First-floor front, sir--bed-sittin’-room. Ship’s captain, I’m told.
Throat cut awful.”

“Come,” said the surgeon, as he prepared to mount the stairs. “You’d
better come up too, Mr. Hewitt. You may spot something that will help
if it’s a difficult case.”

Together they entered the room, and, indeed, the sight was of a sort
that any maid-servant might be excused for running away from. Between
the central table and the fireplace the body lay, fully clothed, and
the whole room was in a great state of confusion, drawers lying about
with the contents spilt, boxes open, and papers scattered about. On a
table was a bottle and a glass.

“Robbery, evidently,” the surgeon said as he bent to his task. “See,
the pockets are all emptied, and partly protruding at the top. The
watch and chain has been torn off, leaving the swivel in the
button-hole.”

“Yes,” Hewitt answered, “that is so.” He had taken a rapid glance
about the room, and was now examining the stove, a register, with
close attention. He shut the trap above it and pushed to the room
door. Then very carefully, by the aid of the feather end of a quill
pen which lay on the table, he shifted the charred remains of a piece
or two of paper from the top of the cold cinders into the fire
shovel. He carried them to the sideboard, nearer the light from the
window, and examined them minutely, making a few notes in his
pocket-book, and then, removing the glass shade from an ornament on
the mantel-piece, placed it over them.

“There’s something that _may_ be of some use to the police,” he
remarked, “or may not, as the case may be. At any rate, there it is,
safe from draughts, if they want it. There’s nothing distinguishable
on one piece, but I think the other has been a cheque.”

The surgeon had concluded his first rapid examination, and rose to
his feet. “A very deep cut,” he said, “and done from behind, I think,
as he was sitting in his chair. Death at once, without a doubt, and
has been dead seven or eight hours I should say. Bed not slept in,
you see. Couldn’t have done it himself, that’s certain.”

“The knife,” Hewitt added, “is either gone or hidden. But here is
the inspector.”

The inspector was a stranger to Hewitt, and looked at him
inquiringly till the surgeon introduced him and mentioned his
profession. Then he said, with the air of one unwillingly relaxing a
rule of conduct, “All right, doctor, if he’s a friend of yours. A
little practice for you, eh, Mr. Hewitt?”

“Yes,” Hewitt answered modestly. “I haven’t had the advantage of any
experience in the police force, and perhaps I may learn. Perhaps also
I may help you.”

This did not seem to strike the inspector as a very luminous
probability, and he stepped to the landing and ordered up the
constable to make his full report. He had brought another man with
him, who took charge of the door. By this time, thinly populated as
was the neighbourhood, boys had begun to collect outside.

The policeman’s story was simple. As he passed on his beat he had
been called by three women, who had a light ladder planted against
the window-sill of the room. They feared something was wrong with the
occupant of the room, they said, as they could not make him hear, and
his door was locked; therefore they had brought the ladder to look in
at the window, but now each feared to go and look. Would he, the
policeman, do so? He mounted the ladder, looked in at the window, and
saw--what was still visible. He had then, at the women’s urgent
request, entered the house, broken in the door, and found the body to
be dead and cold. He had told the women at once, and warned them, in
the customary manner, that any statement they might be disposed to
volunteer would be noted and used as evidence. The landlady, who was
a widow, and gave her name as Mrs. Beckle, said that the dead man’s
name was Abel Pullin, and that he was a captain in the merchant
service, who had occupied the room as a lodger since the end of last
week only, when he had returned from a voyage. So far as she knew, no
stranger had been in the house since she last saw Pullin alive on the
previous evening, and the only person living in the house, who had
since gone out, was Mr. Foster, also a seafaring man, who had been a
mate, but for some time had had no ship. He had gone out an hour or
so before the discovery was made--earlier than usual, and without
breakfast. That was all that Mrs. Beckle knew, and the only other
persons in the house were the servant and a Miss Walker, a school
teacher. They knew nothing; but Miss Walker was very anxious to be
allowed to go to her school, which, of course, he had not allowed
till the inspector should arrive.

[Illustration: “HE MOUNTED THE LADDER AND LOOKED IN AT THE WINDOW.”]

“That’s all right,” the inspector said. “And you’re sure the door
was locked?”

“Yes, sir, fast.”

“Key in the lock?”

“No, sir. I haven’t seen any key.”

“Window shut, just as it is now?”

“Yes, sir; nothing’s been touched.”

The inspector walked to the window and opened it. It was a
wooden-framed casement window, fastened by the usual turning catch at
the side, with a heavy bow handle. He just glanced out and then swung
the window carelessly to on its hinges. The catch, however, worked so
freely that the handle dropped and the catch banged against the
window frame as he turned away. Hewitt saw this, and closed the
casement properly, after a glance at the sill.

The inspector made a rapid examination of the clothing on the body,
and then said, “It’s a singular thing about the key. The door was
locked fast, but there’s no key to be seen inside the room. Seems it
must have been locked from the outside.”

“Perhaps,” Hewitt suggested, “other keys on this landing fit the
lock. It’s commonly the case in this sort of house.”

“That’s so,” the inspector admitted, with the air of encouraging a
pupil. “We’ll see.”

They walked across the landing to the nearest door. It had a small
round brass scutcheon, apparently recently placed there. “Yale lock,”
said the inspector. “That’s no good.” They went to the third door,
which stood ajar.

“Seems to be Mr. Foster’s room,” the inspector remarked; “here’s the
key inside.”

They took it across the landing and tried it. It fitted Captain
Pullin’s lock exactly and easily. “Hullo!” said the inspector, “look
at that!”

Hewitt nodded thoughtfully. Just then he became aware of somebody
behind him, who had arrived noiselessly. He turned and saw a mincing
little woman, with a pursed mouth and lofty expression, who took no
notice of him, but addressed the inspector. “I shall be glad to know,
if you please,” she said, “when I may leave the house and attend to
my duties. My school has already been open for three-quarters of an
hour, and I cannot conceive why I am detained in this manner.”

“Very sorry, ma’am,” the inspector replied. “Matter of duty, of
course. Perhaps we shall be able to let you go presently. Meanwhile
perhaps you can help us. You’re not obliged to say anything, of
course, but if you do we shall make a note of it. You didn’t hear any
uncommon noise in the night, did you?”

“Nothing at all. I retired at ten, and I was asleep soon after. I
know nothing whatever of the whole horrible affair, and I shall leave
the house entirely as soon as I can arrange.”

“Did you have any opportunity of observing Mr. Pullin’s manners or
habits?” Hewitt asked.

“Indeed, no. I saw nothing of him. But I could hear him very often,
and his language was not of the sort I could tolerate. He seemed to
dominate the whole house with his boorish behaviour, and he was
frequently intoxicated. I had already told Mrs. Beckle that if his
stay were to continue mine should cease. I avoided him, indeed,
altogether, and I know nothing of him.”

“Do you know how he came here? Did he know Mrs. Beckle or anybody
else in the house before?”

“That also I can’t say. But Mrs. Beckle, I believe, knew all about
him. In fact I have sometimes thought there was some mysterious
connection between them, though what I cannot say. Certainly I cannot
understand a landlady keeping so troublesome a lodger.”

“You have seen a little more of Mr. Foster, of course?”

“Well, yes. He has been here so much longer. He was more endurable
than was Captain Pullin, certainly, though _he_ was not always sober.
The two did not love one another, I believe.”

There the inspector pricked his ears. “They didn’t love one another,
you say, ma’am. Why was that?”

“Oh, I don’t really know. I fancy Mr. Foster wanted to borrow money
or something. He used to say Captain Pullin had plenty of money, and
had once sunk a ship purposely. I don’t know whether or not this was
serious, of course.”

Hewitt looked at her keenly. “Have you ever heard him called Captain
Pullin of the _Egret_?” he asked.

“No, I never heard the name of any vessel.”

“There’s just one thing, Miss Walker,” the inspector said, “that I’m
afraid I must insist on before you go. It’s only a matter of form, of
course. But I must ask you to let me look round your room--I shan’t
disturb it.”

Miss Walker tossed her head. “Very well then,” she said, turning
toward the door with the Yale lock, and producing the key; “there it
is.” And she flung the door open.

The inspector stepped within and took a perfunctory glance round.
“That will do; thank you,” he said; “I am sorry to have kept you. I
think you may go now, Miss Walker. You won’t be leaving here to-day
altogether, I suppose?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t. Good-morning.”

As she disappeared by the foot of the stairs the inspector remarked
in a jocular undertone, “Needn’t bother about _her._ She isn’t strong
enough to cut a hen’s throat.”

Just then Miss Walker appeared again and attempted to take her
umbrella from the stand--a heavy, tall oaken one. The ribs, however,
had become jammed between the stand and the wall; so Miss Walker,
with one hand, calmly lifted the stand and disengaged the umbrella
with the other. “My eyes!” observed the inspector, “she’s a bit
stronger than she looks.”

The surgeon came upon the landing. “I shall send to the mortuary
now,” he said.“I’ve seen all I want to see here. Have you seen the
landlady?”

“No. I think she’s downstairs.”

They went downstairs and found Mrs. Beckle in the back room, much
agitated, though she was not the sort of woman one would expect to
find greatly upset by anything. She was thin, hard, and rigid, with
the rigidity and sharpness that women acquire who have a long and
lonely struggle with poverty. She had at first very little to say.
Captain Pullin had lodged with her before. Last night he had been in
all the evening, and had gone to bed about half-past eleven, and a
quarter of an hour later everybody else had done so, and the house
was fastened up for the night. The front door was fully bolted and
barred, and it was found so in the morning. No stranger had been in
the house for some days. The only person who had left before the
discovery was Mr. Foster, and he went away when only the servant was
up. This was unusual, as he usually took breakfast in the house. What
had frightened the girl so much, she thought, was the fact that after
the door had been burst open she peeped into the room, out of
curiosity, and was so horrified at the sight that she ran out of the
house. She had always been a hard-working girl, though of sullen
habits.

The inspector made more particular inquiries as to Mr. Foster, and
after some little reluctance Mrs. Beckle gave her opinion that he was
very short of money indeed. He had lost his ship sometime back
through a neglect of duty, and he was not of altogether sober habits;
he had consequently been unable to get another berth as yet. It was a
fact, she admitted, that he owed her a considerable sum for rent, but
he had enough clothes and nautical implements in his boxes to cover
that and more.

Hewitt had been watching Mrs. Beckle’s face very closely, and now
suddenly asked, with pointed emphasis, “How long have you known Mr.
Pullin?”

Mrs. Beckle faltered, and returned Hewitt’s steadfast gaze with a
quick glance of suspicion. “Oh,” she said, “I have known him, on and
off, for a long time.”

“A connection by marriage, of course?” Hewitt’s hard gaze was still
upon her.

Mrs. Beckle looked from him to the inspector and back again, and the
corners of her mouth twitched. Then she sat down and rested her head
on her hand. “Well, I suppose I must say it, though I’ve kept it to
myself till now,” she said resignedly. “He’s my brother-in-law.”

“Of course, as you have been told, you are not obliged to say
anything now; but the more information you can give the better chance
there may be of detecting your brother-in-law’s murderer.”

“Well, I don’t mind, I’m sure. It was a bad day when he married my
sister. He killed her--not at once, so that he might have been hung
for it, but by a course of regular brutality and starvation. I hated
the man!” she said, with a quick access of passion, which however she
suppressed at once.

“And yet you let him stay in your house?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I was afraid of him; and he used to come just
when he pleased, and practically take possession of the house. I
couldn’t keep him away; and he drove away my other lodgers.” She
suddenly fired up again. “Wasn’t that enough to make anybody
desperate? Can you wonder at anything?”

She quieted again by a quick effort, and Hewitt and the inspector
exchanged glances.

“Let me see, he was captain of the sailing ship _Egret,_ wasn’t he?”
Hewitt asked. “Lost in the Pacific a year or more ago?”

“Yes.”

“If I remember the story of the loss aright, he and one native
hand--a Kanaka boy--were the only survivors?”

“Yes, they were the only two. He was the only one that came back to
England.”

“Just so. And there _were_ rumours, I believe, that after all he
wasn’t altogether a loser by that wreck? Mind, I only say there were
rumours; there may have been nothing in them.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Beckle replied, “I know all about that. They said the
ship had been cast away purposely, for the sake of the insurance. But
there was no truth in that, else why did the underwriters pay? And
besides, from what I know privately, it couldn’t have been. Abel
Pullin was a reckless scoundrel enough, I know, but he would have
taken good care to be paid well for any villainy of that sort.”

“Yes, of course. But it was suggested that he was.”

“No, nothing of the sort. He came here, as usual, as soon as he got
home, and until he got another ship he hadn’t a penny. I had to keep
him, so I know. And he was sober almost all the time from want of
money. Do you mean to say, if the common talk were true, that he
would have remained like that without getting money of the owners,
his accomplices, and at least making them give him another ship? Not
he. I know him too well.”

“Yes, no doubt. He was just now back from his next voyage after
that, I take it?”

“Yes, in the _Iolanthe_ brig. A smaller ship than he has been used
to, and belonging to different owners.”

“Had he much money this time?”

“No. He had bought himself a gold watch and chain abroad, and he had
a ring and a few pounds in money, and some instruments; that was all,
I think, in addition to his clothes.”

“Well, they’ve all been stolen now,” the inspector said. “Have you
missed anything yourself?”

“No.”

“Nor the other lodgers, so far as you know?”

“No, neither of them.”

“Very well, Mrs. Beckle. We’ll have a word or two with the servant
now, and then I’ll get you to come over the house with us.”

Sarah Taffs was the servant’s name. She seemed to have got over her
agitation, and was now sullen and uncommunicative. She would say
nothing. “You said I needn’t say nothin’ if I didn’t want to, and I
won’t.” That was all she would say, and she repeated it again and
again. Once, however, in reply to a question as to Foster, she
flashed out angrily, “If it’s Mr. Foster you’re after you won’t find
’im. ’E’s a gentleman, ’e is, and I ain’t goin’ to tell you nothin’.”
But that was all.

Then Mrs. Beckle showed the inspector, the surgeon, and Hewitt over
the house. Everything was in perfect order on the ground floor and on
the stairs. The stairs, it appeared, had been swept before the
discovery was made. Nevertheless, Hewitt and the inspector
scrutinised them narrowly. The top floor consisted of two small rooms
only, used as bedrooms by Mrs. Beckle and Sarah Taffs respectively.
Nothing was missing, and everything was in order there.

The one floor between contained the dead man’s room, Miss Walker’s,
and Foster’s. Miss Walker’s room they had already seen, and now they
turned into Foster’s.

The place seemed to betray careless habits on the part of its
tenant, and was everywhere in slovenly confusion. The bedclothes were
flung anyhow on the floor, and a chair was overturned. Hewitt looked
round the room, and remarked that there seemed to be no clothes
hanging about, as might have been expected.

“No,” Mrs. Beckle replied; “he has taken to keeping them all in his
boxes lately.”

“How many boxes has he?” asked the inspector. “Only these two?”

“That is all.”

The inspector stooped and tried the lids.

“Both locked,” he said. “I think we’ll take the liberty of a peep
into these boxes.”

He produced a bunch of keys and tried them all, but none fitted.
Then Hewitt felt about inside the locks very carefully with a match,
and then taking a button-hook from his pocket, after a little careful
“humouring” work, turned both the locks, one after another, and
lifted the lids.

Mrs. Beckle uttered an exclamation of dismay, and the inspector
looked at her rather quizzically. The boxes contained nothing but
bricks.

[Illustration: “THE BOXES CONTAINED NOTHING BUT BRICKS.”]

“Ah,” said the inspector, “I’ve seen that sort of suits o’ clothes
before. People have ’em who don’t pay hotel bills and such like.
You’re a very good pick-lock, by the way, Mr. Hewitt. I never saw
anything quicker and neater.”

“But I _know_ he had a lot of clothes,” Mrs. Beckle protested. “I’ve
seen them.”

“Very likely--very likely indeed,” the inspector answered. “But
they’re gone now, and Mr. Foster’s gone with ’em.”

“But--but the girl didn’t say he had any bundles with him when he
went out?”

“No, she didn’t; and she didn’t say he hadn’t, did she? She won’t
say anything about him, and she says she won’t, plump. Even supposing
he _hadn’t_ got them with him this morning, that signifies nothing.
The clothes are gone, and anybody intending a job of _that_
sort”--the inspector jerked his thumb significantly towards the
skipper’s room--“would get his things away quietly first, so as to
have no difficulty about getting away himself afterwards. No; the
thing’s pretty plain now, I think; and I’m afraid Mr. Foster’s a
pretty bad lot. Anyway, I shouldn’t like to be in his shoes.”

“Nor I,” Hewitt assented. “Evidence of that sort isn’t easy to get
over.”

“Come, Mrs. Beckle,” the inspector said, “do you mind coming into
the front room with us? The body’s covered over with a rug.”

The landlady disliked going, it was plain to see, but presently she
pulled herself together and followed the men. She peeped once
distrustfully round the door to where the body lay, and then
resolutely turned her back on it.

“His watch and chain are gone, and whatever else he had in his
pockets,” the inspector said. “I think you said he had a ring?”

“Yes, one--a thick gold one.”

“Then that’s gone too. Everything’s turned upside down, and probably
other things are stolen too. Do you miss any?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Beckle replied, looking round, but avoiding with her
eyes the rug-covered heap near the fireplace. “There was a sextant on
the mantel-piece: it was his; and he kept one or two other
instruments in that drawer”--pointing to one which had been turned
out--“but they seem to be gone now. And there was a small ship,
carved in ivory, and worth money, I believe--that’s gone. I don’t
know about his clothes; some of them may be stolen or they may not.”
She stepped to the bed and turned back the coverlet. “Oh,” she added,
“the sheets are gone from the bed too!”

“Usual thing,” the inspector remarked; “wrap up the swag in a sheet,
you know--makes a convenient bundle. Nothing else missing?”

The landlady took one more look round and said doubtfully, “No, no,
I don’t think so. Oh, but yes,” she suddenly added, “uncle’s hook.”

“Oh,” remarked the inspector with dismal jocularity, “he’s took
uncle’s hook as well as his own, has he? What was uncle’s hook like?”

“It wasn’t of much value,” Mrs. Beckle explained; “but I kept it as
a memorial. My great-uncle, who died many years ago, was a
sea-captain too, and had lost his left hand by accident. He wore a
hook in its place--a hook made for him on board his vessel. It was an
iron hook screwed into a wooden stock. He had it taken off in his
last illness, and gave it to me to mind against his recovery. But he
never got well, so I’ve kept it over since. It used to hang on a nail
at the side of the chimney-breast.”

“No wounds about the body that might have been made with a hook like
that, doctor, were there?” the inspector asked.

“No, no wounds at all but the one.”

“Well, well,” the inspector said, moving toward the door, “we’ve got
to find Foster now, that’s plain. I’ll see about it. You’ve sent to
the mortuary, you say, doctor? All right. You’ve no particular reason
for sending the girl out of doors to-day, I suppose, Mrs. Beckle?”

“I _can_ keep her in, of course,” the landlady answered. “It will be
inconvenient, though.”

“Ah, then keep her in, will you? We mustn’t lose sight of her. I’ll
leave a couple of men here, of course, and I’ll tell them she mustn’t
be allowed out.”

Hewitt and the surgeon went downstairs and parted at the door. “I
shall be over again to-morrow morning,” Hewitt said, “about that
other matter I was speaking of. Shall I find you in?”

“Well,” the doctor answered, “at any rate they will tell you where I
am. Good-morning.”

“Good-morning,” Hewitt answered, and then stopped. “I’m obliged for
being allowed to look about upstairs here,” he said. “I’m not sure
what the inspector has in his mind, by the way; but I should think
whatever I noticed would be pretty plain to him, though naturally he
would be cautious about talking of it before others, as I was myself.
That being the case, it might seem rather presumptuous in me to make
suggestions, especially as he seems fairly confident. But if you have
a chance presently of giving him a quiet hint, you might draw his
special attention to two things--the charred paper that I took from
the fireplace and the missing hook. There is a good deal in that, I
fancy. I shall have an hour or two to myself, I expect, this
afternoon, and I’ll make a small inquiry or two on my own account in
town. If anything comes of them I’ll let you know to-morrow when I
see you.”

“Very well, I shall expect you. Goodbye.”

Hewitt did not go straight away from the house to the railway
station. He took a turn or two about the row of houses, and looked up
each of the paths leading from them across the surrounding marshy
fields. Then he took the path for the station. About a hundred yards
along, the path reached a deep, muddy ditch with a high hedge behind
it, and then lay by the side of the ditch for some little distance
before crossing it. Hewitt stopped and looked thoughtfully at the
ditch for a few moments before proceeding, and then went briskly on
his way.

That evening’s papers were all agog with the mysterious murder of a
ship’s captain at West Ham, and in next morning’s papers it was
announced that Henry Foster, a seafaring man, and lately mate of a
trading ship, had been arrested in connection with the crime.


II

That morning Hewitt was at the surgeon’s house early. The surgeon
was in, and saw him at once. His own immediate business being
transacted, Hewitt learned particulars of the arrest of Foster. “The
man actually came back of his own accord in the afternoon,” the
surgeon said. “Certainly he was drunk, but that seems a very reckless
sort of thing, even for a drunken man. One rather curious thing was
that he asked for Pullin as soon as he arrived, and insisted on going
to him to borrow half a sovereign. Of course he was taken into
custody at once, and charged, and that seemed to sober him very
quickly. He seemed dazed for a bit, and then, when he realised the
position he was in, refused to say a word. I saw him at the station.
He had certainly been drinking a good deal; but a curious thing was
that he hadn’t a cent of money on him. He’d soon got rid of it all,
anyhow.”

“Did you say anything to the inspector as to the things I mentioned
to you?”

“Yes, but he didn’t seem to think a great deal of them. He took a
look at the charred paper, and saw that one piece had evidently been
a cheque on the Eastern Consolidated Bank, but the other he couldn’t
see any sort of sign upon. As to the hook, he seemed to take it that
that was used to fasten in the knot of the bundle, to carry it the
more easily.”

“Well,” Hewitt said, “I think I told you yesterday that I should
make an inquiry or two myself? Yes, I did. I’ve made those inquiries,
and now I think I can give the inspector some help. What is his name,
by the way?”

“Truscott. He’s a very good sort of fellow, really.”

“Very well. Shall I find him at the station?”

“Probably, unless he’s off duty; that I don’t know about. But I
should call at the house first, I think, if I were you. That is much
nearer than the station, and he might possibly be there. Even if he
isn’t, there will be a constable, and he can tell you where to find
Truscott.”

Hewitt accordingly made for the house, and had the good fortune to
overtake Truscott on his way there. “Good-morning, inspector,” he
called cheerily. “I’ve got some information for you, I think.”

“Oh, good-morning. What is it?”

“It’s in regard to _that_ business,” Hewitt replied, indicating by a
nod the row of houses a hundred yards ahead. “But it will be clearer
if we go over the whole thing together and take what I have found out
in its proper place. You’re not altogether satisfied with your
capture of Foster, are you?”

“Well, I mustn’t say, of course. Perhaps not. We’ve traced his
doings yesterday after he left the house, and _perhaps_ it doesn’t
help us much. But what do you know?”

“I’ll tell you. But first can you get hold of such a thing as a
boat-hook? Any long pole with a hook on the end will do.”

“I don’t know that there’s one handy. Perhaps they’ll have a garden
rake at the house, if that’ll do?”

“Excellently, I should think, if it’s fairly long. We will ask.”

The garden rake was forthcoming at once, and with it Hewitt and the
inspector made their way along the path that led towards the railway
station and stopped where it came by the ditch.

“I’ve brought you here purely on a matter of conjecture,” Hewitt
said, “and there may be nothing in it; but if there is it will help
us. This is a very muddy ditch, with a soft bottom many feet deep
probably, judging from the wet nature of the soil hereabout.”

He took the rake and plunged it deep into the ditch, dragging it
slowly back up the side. It brought up a tangle of duckweed and
rushes and slimy mud, with a stick or two among it.

“Do you think the knife’s been thrown here?” asked the inspector.

“Possibly, and possibly something else. We’ll see.” And Hewitt made
another dive. They went along thus very thoroughly and laboriously,
dragging every part of the ditch as they went, it being frequently
necessary for both to pull together to get the rake through the
tangle of weed and rubbish. They had worked through seven or eight
yards from the angle of the path where it approached the ditch, when
Hewitt stopped, with the rake at the bottom.

“Here is something that feels a little different,” he said. “I’ll
get as good a hold as I can, and then we’ll drag it up slowly and
steadily together.”

He gave the rake a slight twist, and then the two pulled steadily.
Presently the sunken object came away suddenly, as though mud-suction
had kept it under, and rose easily to the surface. It was a muddy
mass, and they had to swill it to and fro a few times in the clearer
upper water before it was seen to be a linen bundle. They drew it
ashore and untied the thick knot at the top. Inside was an Indian
shawl, also knotted, and this they opened also. There within, wet and
dirty, lay a sextant, a chronometer in a case, a gold watch and
chain, a handful of coins, a thick gold ring, a ship carved in ivory,
with much of the delicate work broken, a sealskin waistcoat, a door
key, a seaman’s knife, and an iron hook screwed into a wooden stock.

[Illustration: “THEY HAD TO SWILL IT BEFORE IT WAS SEEN TO BE A LINEN
BUNDLE”]

“Lord!” exclaimed Inspector Truscott, “what’s this? It’s a queer
place to hide swag of this sort. Why, that watch and those
instruments must be ruined.”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Hewitt answered. “You see, the things are
wrapped in the sheets, just as you expected. But those sheets mean
something more. There are _two,_ you notice.”

“Yes, of course; but I don’t see what it points to. The whole
thing’s most odd. Foster certainly would have been a fool to hide the
things here; he’s a sailor himself, and knows better than to put away
chronometers and sextants in a wet ditch--unless he got frightened,
and put the things there out of sight because the murder was
discovered.”

“But you say you have traced his movements after he left. If he had
come near here while the police were about, he would have been seen
from the house. No, you’ve got the wrong prisoner. The person who put
those things there didn’t want them again.”

“Then do you think robbery wasn’t the motive, after all?”

“Yes, it was; but not _this_ robbery. Come, we’ll talk it over in
the house. Let us take these things with us.”

Arrived at the house, Hewitt immediately locked, bolted, and barred
the front door. Then he very carefully and gently unfastened each
lock, bolt, and bar in order, pressing the door with his hand and
taking every precaution to avoid noise. Nevertheless the noise was
considerable. There was a sad lack of oil everywhere, and all the
bolts creaked; the lock in particular made a deal of noise, and when
the key was half turned its bolt shot back with a loud thump.

“Anybody who had once heard that door fastened or unfastened,” said
Hewitt, “would hesitate about opening it in the dead of night after
committing murder. He would remember the noise. Do you mind taking
the things up to the room--_the_ room--upstairs? I will go and ask
Mrs. Beckle a question.”

Truscott went upstairs, and presently Hewitt followed. “I have just
asked Mrs. Beckle,” he said, “whether or not the captain went to the
front door for any purpose on the evening before his death. She says
he stood there for some half an hour or so smoking his pipe before he
went to bed. We shall see what that means presently, I think. Now we
will go into the thing in the light of what I have found out.”

[Illustration: “‘HE STOOD THERE FOR SOME HALF AN HOUR OR SO SMOKING
HIS PIPE BEFORE HE WENT TO BED.’”]

“Yes, tell me that.”

“Very well. I think it will make the thing plainer if I summarise
separately all my conclusions from the evidence as a whole, from the
beginning. Perhaps the same ideas struck you, but I’m sure you’ll
excuse my going over them. Now here was a man undoubtedly murdered,
and the murderer was gone from the room. There were two ways by which
he could have gone--the door and the window. If he went by the
window, then he was somebody who did not live in the place, since
nobody seemed to have been missing when the girl came down, though,
mind you, it was necessary to avoid relying on all she said, in view
of her manner, and her almost acknowledged determination not to
incriminate Foster. It seemed at first sight probable that the
murderer had gone out by the door, because the key was gone entirely,
and if he had left by the window he would probably have left the key
in the lock to hinder anybody who attempted to get in with another
key, or to peep. But then the blind was _up,_ and was found so in the
morning. It would probably be pulled down at dark, and the murderer
would be unlikely to raise it except to go out that way. But then the
casement was shut and fastened. Just so; but can’t it be as easily
shut and fastened from the outside as from the in? The catch is very
loose, and swings by itself. True, this _prevents_ the casement
shutting when it is just carelessly banged to, but see here.” He rose
and went to the window. “Anybody from outside who cared to hold the
catch back with his finger till the casement was shut as far as the
frame could then shut the window completely, and the catch would
simply swing into its appointed groove.

[Illustration: “‘THE CATCH WOULD SIMPLY SWING INTO ITS APPOINTED
GROOVE.’”]

“And now see something more. You and I both looked at the sill
outside. It is a smooth new sill--the house itself is almost new; but
probably you saw in one place a sharply marked pit or depression.
Look, it seems to have been drilled with a sharp steel point. It was
absolutely new, for there was the powder of the stone about the mark.
The wind has since blown the powder away. Now if a man had descended
from that sill by means of a rope with a hook at the end, that was
just the sort of mark I should expect him to leave behind. So that at
any rate the balance of probability was that the murderer had left by
the window. But there is another thing which confirms this. You will
remember that when Mrs. Beckle mentioned that the sheets were gone
from the bed you concluded that they had been taken to carry the
swag.”

“Yes, and so they were, as we have seen here in the bundle.”

“Just so; but why _both_ sheets? One would be ample. And since you
allude to the bundle, why both sheets as well as the Indian shawl?
This last, by the way, is a thing Mrs. Beckle seems not to have
missed in the confusion, or perhaps she didn’t know that Pullin
possessed it. Why all these wrappings, and moreover, _why the hook?_
The presumption is clear. The bundle was already made up in the
Indian shawl, and required no more wrapping. The two sheets were
wanted to tie together to enable the criminal to descend from the
window, and the hook was the very thing to hold this rope with at the
top. It was not necessary to tie it to anything, and it would not
prevent the shutting of the window behind. Moreover, when the descent
had been made, a mere shake of the rope of sheets would dislodge the
hook and bring it down, thus leaving no evidence of the
escape--except the mark on the sill, which was very small.

“Then again, there was no noise or struggle heard. Pullin, as you
could see, was a powerful, hard-set man, not likely to allow his
throat to be cut without a lot of trouble, therefore the murderer
must either have entered the room unknown to him--an unlikely thing,
for he had not gone to bed--or else must have been there with his
permission, and must have taken him by sudden surprise. And now we
come to the heart of the thing. Of the two papers burnt in the
grate--you have kept them under the shade, I see--one bore no trace
of the writing that had been on it (many inks and papers do not after
having been burnt), but the other bore plain signs of having been a
cheque. Now just let us look at it. The main body of the paper has
burnt to a deep gray ash, nearly black, but the printed parts of the
cheque--those printed in coloured inks, that is--are of a much paler
gray, quite a light ash colour. That is the colour to which most of
the _pink_ ink used in printing cheques burns, as you may easily test
for yourself with an old cheque of the sort that is printed from a
fine plate with water-solution pink ink. The _black_ ink, on the
other hand, such as the number of the cheque is printed in, has
charred black, and by sharp eyes is quite distinguishable against the
general dark gray of the paper. The cinder is unfortunately broken
rather badly, and the part containing the signature is missing
altogether. But one can plainly see in large script letters part of
the boldest line of print, the name of the bank. The letters are _e r
n C o n s o,_ and this must mean the Eastern Consolidated Bank. Of
course you saw that for yourself.”

“Yes, of course I did.”

“Fortunately the whole of the cheque number is unbroken. It is
B/K63777. Of course I took a note of that, as well as of the other
particulars distinguishable. It is payable to Pullin, clearly, for
here is the latter half of his Christian name, Abel, and the first
few letters of Pullin. Then on the line where the amount is written
at length there are the letters _u s a n d_ and _p._ Plainly it was a
large cheque, for thousands. At the bottom, where the amount is
placed in figures, there is a bad break, but the first figure is a 2.
The cheque, then, was one for £2000 at least. And there is one more
thing. The cinder is perfect and unbroken nearly all along the top
edge, and there is no sign of crossing, so that here is an open
cheque which any thief might cash with a little care. That is all we
can see; but it is enough, I think. Now would a thief, committing
murder for the sake of plunder, _burn_ this cheque? Would Pullin, to
whom the money was to be paid, burn it? I think not. Then who in the
whole world _would_ have any interest in burning it? Not a soul, with
one single exception--_the man who drew it.”_

“Yes, yes. What! do you mean that the man who drew that cheque must
have murdered Pullin in order to get it back and destroy it?”

“That is my opinion. Now who would draw Pullin a cheque for £2,000?
Anybody in this house? Is it at all likely? Of course not. Again, we
are pointed to a stranger. And now remember Pullin’s antecedents. On
his last voyage but one his ship, the _Egret,_ from Valparaiso for
Wellington, New Zealand, was cast away on the Paumotu Islands, far
out of her proper course. There was but a small crew, and, as it
happened, all were lost except Pullin and one Kanaka boy. The _Egret_
was heavily insured, and there were nasty rumours at Lloyd’s that
Captain Pullin had made sure of his whereabouts, taken care of
himself, and destroyed the ship in collusion with the owners, and
that the Kanaka boy had only escaped because he happened to be well
acquainted with the islands. But there was nothing positive in the
way of proof, and the underwriters paid, with no more than covert
grumblings. And, as you remember, Mrs. Heckle told us yesterday
Pullin on his return had no money. Now suppose the story of the
intentional wreck were true, and for some reason Pullin’s payment was
put off till after his next voyage, would the people who sent their
men to death in the Pacific hesitate at a single murder to save
£2,000? I think not.

“After I left you yesterday I made some particular inquiries at
Lloyd’s through a friend of mine, an underwriter himself. I find that
the sole owner of the _Egret_ was one Herbert Roofe, trading as
Herbert Roofe & Co. The firm is a very small one, as shipping
concerns go, and has had the reputation for a long time of being very
‘rocky’ financially; indeed, it was the common talk at Lloyd’s that
nothing but the wreck of the _Egret_ saved Roofe from the bankruptcy
court, and he is supposed now to be ‘hanging on by his eyelashes,’ as
my friend expresses it, with very little margin to keep him going,
and in a continual state of touch-and-go between his debit and credit
sides. As to the rumours of the wilful casting away of the _Egret,_
my friend assured me that the thing was as certain as anything could
be, short of legal proof. There was something tricky about the cargo,
and altogether it was a black sort of business. And to complete
things he told me that the bankers of Herbert Roofe & Co. were the
Eastern Consolidated.”

“Phew! This is getting pretty warm, I must say, Mr. Hewitt.”

“Wait a minute; my friend aided me a little further still. I told
him the whole story--in confidence, of course--and he agreed to help.
At my suggestion he went to the manager of the Eastern Consolidated
Bank, whom he knew personally, and represented that among a heap of
cheques one had got torn, and the missing piece destroyed. This was
true entirely, except in regard to the heap--a little fiction which I
trust my friend may be forgiven. The cheque, he said, was on the
Eastern Consolidated, and its number was B/K63777. Would the manager
mind telling him which of his customers had the cheque book from
which that had been taken? Trace of where the cheque had come from
had been quite lost, and it would save a lot of trouble if the Bank
could let him know. ‘Certainly,’ said the manager; ‘I’ll inquire.’ He
did, and presently a clerk entered the room with the information that
cheque No. B/K63777 was from a book in the possession of Messrs.
Herbert Roofe & Co.”

The inspector rose excitedly from his chair. “Come,” he said, “this
must be followed up. We mustn’t waste time; there’s no knowing where
Roofe may have got to by this.”

“Just a little more patience,” Hewitt said. “I don’t think there
will be much difficulty in finding him. He believes himself safe. As
soon as my friend told me what the Bank manager had said, I went
round to Roofe’s office to ascertain his whereabouts, prepared with
an excuse for the interview in case I should find him in. It was a
small office rather, over a shop in Leadenhall Street. When I asked
for Mr. Roofe, the clerk informed me that he was at home confined to
his room by a bad cold, and had not been at the office since
Tuesday--the next day but one before the body was discovered. I
appeared to be disappointed, and asked if I could send him a message.
Yes, I could, the clerk told me. All letters were being sent to him,
and he was sending business instructions daily to the office from
Chadwell Heath. I saw that the address had slipped inadvertently from
the clerk’s mouth, for it is a general rule, I know, in city offices
to keep the principals’ addresses from casual callers. So I said no
more, but contented myself with the information I had got. I took the
first opportunity of looking at a suburban directory, and then I
found the name of Mr. Roofe’s house at Chadwell Heath. It is Scarby
Lodge.”

“I must be off, then, at once,” Truscott said, “and make careful
inquiries as to his movements. And those cinders--bless my soul,
they’re as precious as diamonds now! How shall we keep them from
damage?”

“Oh, the glass shade will do, I fancy. But wait a moment; let us
review things thoroughly. I will run rapidly over what I suggest has
happened between Roofe and Pullin, and you shall stop me if you see
any flaw in the argument. It’s best to make our impressions clear and
definite. Now we will suppose that the _Egret_ has been lost, and
Pullin has come home to claim the reward of his infamy. We will
suppose it is £2,000. He goes to Roofe and demands it. Roofe says he
can’t possibly pay just then; he is very hard up, and the insurance
money of the _Egret_ has only just saved him from bankruptcy. Pullin
insists on having his money. But, says Roofe, that is impossible,
because he hasn’t got it. A cheque for the amount would be
dishonoured. The plunder of the underwriters has all been used to
keep things going. Roofe says plainly that Pullin must wait for the
money. Pullin can’t reveal the conspiracy without implicating
himself, and Roofe knows it. He promises to pay in a certain time,
and gives Pullin an acknowledgment of the debt, an I O U, perhaps, or
something of that kind, and with that Pullin has to be contented,
and, having no money, he has to go away on another voyage, this time
in a ship belonging to somebody else, because it would look worse
than ever if Roofe gave him another berth at once. He makes his
voyage and he returns, and asks for his money again. But Roofe is as
hard up as ever. He cannot pay, and he cannot refuse to pay. It is
ruin either way. He knows that Pullin will stand no more delay, and
may do something desperate, so Roofe does something desperate
himself. He tells Pullin that he must not call at his office, nor
must anybody see them together anywhere for fear of suspicion. He
suggests that he, Roofe, should call at Pullin’s lodgings late one
night, and bring the money. Pullin is to let him in himself, so that
nobody may see him. Pullin consents, and thus assists in the
concealment of his own murder. He stands at the front door smoking
his pipe (you remember that Mrs. Beckle told me so), waiting for
Roofe. When Roofe comes, Pullin takes him very quietly up to his room
without attracting attention. Roofe, on his part, has prepared things
by feigning a bad cold and going to bed early, going out--perhaps
through the window--when all his household is quiet. There are plenty
of late trains from Chadwell Heath that would bring him to Stratford.

“Well, when they are safely in Pullin’s room, Roofe hears the front
door shut and bolted, with all its squeaks and thumps, and decides
that it won’t be safe to go out that way after he has committed his
crime. The men sit and talk, and Pullin drinks. Roofe doesn’t. You
will remember the bottle on the table, with only one glass. Roofe
produces and writes a cheque for the £2,000, and Pullin hands back
the I O U, which Roofe burns. _That_ would be the lower of the two
charred pieces of paper, which we have there with the other, but
can’t read.

“Then the crime takes place. Perhaps Pullin drinks a little too
much, perhaps he dozes--we shall never know, unless Roofe confesses
circumstantially. At any rate, Roofe gets behind him, uses the sharp
seaman’s knife he has brought for the purpose, and straightway the
skipper is dead at his feet. Then Roofe gets back the cheque and
burns _that._ After that he ransacks the whole room. He fears there
may be some documentary evidence, unguarded letters or something of
the sort, which, being examined, may throw some light on the _Egret_
affair. There are none. Then he sets about his escape. He has the
whole night before him, and to make the thing look like a murder for
ordinary plunder, and at the same time account for the upset room, he
takes away all the dead man’s valuables, tied in that shawl. He sees
the hook--just the thing he wants--and of course the sheets are an
obvious substitute for a rope. He takes away the door-key, to make it
seem likely that somebody inside the house had been the criminal, and
then he simply goes away through the window, as I have already
explained. At 5.45 there would be a train to Chadwell Heath, and that
would land him home early enough to enable him to regain his bedroom
unobserved. After that he wisely maintains the pretence of illness
for a day or two.

“I guessed that the things carried off would be in that ditch, for
very simple reasons. I looked about the house, and the ditch seemed
the only available hiding-place near. More, it was on the way to the
station, the direction Roofe would naturally take. He would seize the
very first opportunity of getting rid of his burden, for every
possible reason. It was a nuisance to carry; he could not account for
it if he were asked; and the further he carried it before getting rid
of it, the more distinct the clue to the direction he had taken,
supposing it ever were found. As I quite expected, my guess was
right. The behaviour of some of the people in the house might have
been suspicious, if I hadn’t had so strong a clue in my hand, leading
in another direction. Foster, poor fellow, has probably pawned all
his clothes, one after another, and put those bricks in his boxes to
conceal the fact, so that Mrs. Beckle might not turn him away. He
owed her so much that at last he hadn’t the face to go and eat her
breakfast when he had no money to pay for it. He went out early, met
friends, got ‘stood’ drinks and came back drunk. The girl Taffs very
naturally ran from the horrible sight in this room, and probably
Foster had been kind to her at some time or another, so that when she
found he was suspected she refused to give any information.”

“Yes,” the inspector said, “it certainly seems to fit together to
the smallest bit as you put it. There’s a future before you, Mr.
Hewitt. You ought to be in the force. But now I must go to Chadwell
Heath. Are you coming?”


III

At Chadwell Heath it was found that a first-class return ticket to
Stratford had been taken just before the 10.54 train left on the last
night Abel Pullin was seen alive, and that the return half had been
given up by a passenger who arrived by the first train soon after six
in the morning The porter who took the ticket remembered the
circumstance, because first-class tickets were rare at that time in
the morning, but he did not recognise the passenger, who was muffled
up.

“But I think there’s enough for an arrest without a warrant, at any
rate,” Truscott said. “We shall be able to walk round and pick up a
little more evidence after that. I am off to Scarby Lodge. Can’t
afford to waste any more time. He was foolish to take a first-class
ticket, any way. That singles a man out, and he might easily have
been recognised. He was smart enough not to use his season ticket,
though. That would have done him clean.”

Scarby Lodge was a rather pretentious house, standing in about three
acres of ground. The path to the front door was well shaded, and it
was arranged that Truscott should wait aside till Hewitt had sent in
a message asking to see Mr. Roofe on a matter of urgent business, and
that then both should follow the servant to his room. This was done,
and as the parlourmaid was knocking at the bedroom door she was
astonished to find Hewitt and the police inspector behind her.
Truscott at once pushed open the door, and the two walked in.

It was a large, well-lighted room, and at the far end a man sat in
his dressing-gown near a table, on which stood several medicine
bottles. He was a man apparently of about thirty-eight, well built,
and with sharp features. He frowned as Truscott and Hewitt entered,
but betrayed no sign of emotion, carelessly taking one of the small
bottles from the table at his side. “What do you want here?” he said.

“Sorry to be so unceremonious, Mr. Roofe,” Truscott said, advancing
up the long room, “but I am a police officer, and it is my duty to
arrest you on a serious charge--a charge of murder on the person
of---- Stop, sir! Let me see that!”

[Illustration: “‘STOP, SIR! LET ME SEE THAT!’”]

But it was too late. Before Truscott could reach him, Roofe had
swallowed the contents of the small bottle, and, swaying once,
dropped to the floor as though shot. A faint smell as of bruised
almonds rose in the air.

Hewitt stooped over the man. “Dead,” he said; “dead as Abel Pullin.
It is prussic acid. He had arranged for instant action if by any
chance the game went against him.”

But Inspector Truscott was troubled. “This is a nice thing,” he
said, “to have a prisoner commit suicide in front of my eyes. It’ll
be an unpleasant job for me, I’m afraid. But you can testify that I
hadn’t time to get near him, can’t you? Indeed he _wasn’t_ a prisoner
at the time, for I hadn’t arrested him, in fact.”



THE CASE OF MR. GELDARD’S ELOPEMENT


I

Many people have been surprised at the information that, in all
Martin Hewitt’s wide and busy practice, the matrimonial cases whereon
he has been engaged have been comparatively few. That he has had many
important cases of the sort is true, but among the innumerable cases
of different descriptions they make a small percentage. The reason is
that so many of the persons wishing to consult him on such concerns
were actuated by mere unreasoning or fanciful jealousy that Hewitt
would do no more in their cases than urge reconciliation and mutual
trust, The common “private inquiry” offices chiefly flourish on this
class of case, and their proprietors present no particular reluctance
to taking it up. In any event it means fees for consultation and
“watching”; and recent newspaper reports have made it plain that
among some of the less scrupulous agents a case may be manufactured
from beginning to end according to order. Again, Hewitt had a
distaste for the sort of work commonly involved in matrimonial
troubles; and with the immense amount of business brought to him,
rendering necessary his rejection of so many commissions, it was easy
for him to avoid what went against his inclinations. Still, as I have
said, matrimonial cases there were, and often of an interesting
nature, taking rise in no fanciful nor unreasoning jealousy.

When, on its change of proprietorship, I accepted my appointment on
the paper that now claims me, I had a week or two’s holiday pending
the final turning over of the property. I could not leave town, for I
might have been wanted at any moment, but I made an absorbing and
instructive use of my leisure as an amateur assistant to Hewitt. I
sat in his office much of the time, and saw more of the daily routine
of his work than I had ever done before; and I was present at one or
two interviews that initiated cases that afterwards developed
striking features. One of these--which indeed I saw entirely through
before I resumed my more legitimate work--was the case of Mr. and
Mrs. Geldard.

Hewitt had stepped out for a few minutes, and I was sitting alone in
his private room, when I became conscious of some disturbance in the
outer office. An excited female voice was audible making impatient
inquiries. Presently Kerrett, Hewitt’s clerk, came in with the
message that a lady--Mrs. Geldard was the name on the visitor’s slip
that she had filled up--was anxious to see Mr. Hewitt, at once, and
failing himself, had decided to see me, whom Kerrett had calmly taken
it upon himself to describe as Hewitt’s confidential assistant. He
apologised for this, and explained that he thought, as the lady
seemed excited, it would be as well to let her see me to begin with,
if there was no objection, and perhaps she would begin to be coherent
and intelligible by Hewitt’s arrival, which might occur at any
moment. So the lady was shown in. She was tall, bony, and severe of
face, and she began as soon as she saw me: “I’ve come to get you to
get a watch set on my husband. I’ve endured this sort of thing in
silence long enough. I won’t have it. I’ll see if there’s no
protection to be had for a woman treated as I am--with his goings out
all day ‘on business’ when his office is shut up tight all the time.
I wanted to see Mr. Hewitt himself, but I suppose you’ll do, for the
present at any rate though I’ll have it sifted to the bottom and get
the best advice to be had, no matter what it costs though I _am_ only
a woman with nobody to confide in or to speak a word for me and I’m
not going to be crushed like a fly as I’ll soon let him know.”

Here I seized a short opportunity to offer Mrs. Geldard a chair, and
to say that I expected Mr. Hewitt in a few minutes.

“Very well, I’ll wait and see him. But you have to do with the
watching business, no doubt, and you’ll understand what it is I want
done; and I’m sure I’m justified, and mean to sift it to the bottom,
whatever happens. Am I to be kept in total ignorance of what my
husband does all day when he is supposed to be at business? Is it
likely I should submit to that?”

I said I didn’t think it likely at all, which was a fact. Mrs.
Geldard appeared to be about the least submissive woman I ever saw.

“No, and I won’t, that’s more. Nice goings on somewhere, no doubt,
with his office shut up all day and the business going to ruin. I
want you to watch him. I want you to follow him to-morrow morning and
find out all he does and let me know. I’ve followed him myself this
morning and yesterday morning, but he gets away somehow from the back
of his office, and I can’t watch on two staircases at once, so I want
you to come and do it, and I’ll--”

Here fortunately Hewitt’s arrival checked Mrs. Geldard’s flow of
speech, and I rose and introduced him. I told him shortly that the
lady desired a watch to be set on her husband at his office, and a
report to be given her of his daily proceedings. Hewitt did not
appear to accept the commission with any particular delight, but he
sat down to hear his visitor’s story. “Stay here, Brett,” he said, as
he saw my hands stretched towards the door. “We’ve an engagement
presently, you know.”

The engagement, I remembered, was merely to lunch, and Hewitt kept
me with some notion of restricting the time which this alarming woman
might be disposed to occupy. She repeated to Hewitt, in the same
manner, what she had already said to me, and then Hewitt, seizing his
first opportunity, said, “Will you please tell me, Mrs. Geldard,
definitely and concisely, what evidence, or even indication, you have
of unbecoming conduct on your husband’s part, and substantially what
case you wish me to take up?”

“Case? why, I’ve been telling you.” And again Mrs. Geldard repeated
her vague catalogue of sufferings, assuring Hewitt that she was
determined to have the best advice and assistance, and that therefore
she had come to him. In the end Hewitt answered: “Put concisely, Mrs.
Geldard, I take it that your case is simply this. Mr. Geldard is in
business as, I think you told me, a general agent and broker, and
keeps an office in the city. You have had various disagreements with
him--not an uncommon thing, unfortunately, between married
people--and you have entertained certain indefinite suspicions of his
behaviour. Yesterday you went so far as to go to his office soon
after he should have been there, and found him absent and the office
shut up. You waited some time, and called again, but the door was
still locked, and the caretaker of the building assured you that Mr.
Geldard usually kept his office thus shut. You knocked repeatedly,
and called through the keyhole, but got no answer. This morning you
even followed your husband and saw him enter his office; but when, a
little later, you yourself attempted to enter it, you once more found
it locked and apparently tenantless. From this you conclude that he
must have left his rooms by some back way, and you say you are
determined to find out where he goes and what he does during the day.
For this purpose you, I gather, wish me to watch him and report his
whole day’s proceedings to you?”

“Yes, of course; as I said.”

“I’m afraid the state of my other engagements just at present will
scarcely admit of that. Indeed, to speak quite frankly, this mere
watching, especially of husband or wife, is not a sort of business
that I care to undertake, except as a necessary part of some
definite, tangible case. But apart from that, will you allow me to
advise you? Not professionally, I mean, but merely as a man of the
world. Why come to third parties with these vague suspicions? Family
divisions of this sort, with all sorts of covert mistrust and
suspicion, are bad things at best, and once carried as far as you
talk of carrying this, go beyond peaceable remedy. Why not deal
frankly and openly with your husband? Why not ask him plainly what he
has been doing during the days you were unable to get into his
office? You will probably find it all capable of a very simple and
innocent explanation.”

“Am I to understand, then,” Mrs. Geldard said, bridling, “that you
refuse to help me?”

“I have not refused to help you,” Hewitt replied. “On the contrary,
I am trying to help you now. Did your husband ever follow any other
profession than the one he is now engaged in?”

“Once he was a mechanical engineer, but he got very few clients, and
it didn’t pay.”

“There, now, is a suggestion. Would it be very unlikely that your
husband, trained mechanician as he is, may have reverted so far to
his old profession as to be conceiving some new invention? And in
that case, what more probable than that he would lock himself
securely in his office to work out his idea, and take no notice of
visitors knocking, in order to admit nobody who might learn something
of what he was doing? Does he keep a clerk or office boy?”

“No, he never has since he left the mechanical engineering.”

“Well, Mrs. Geldard, I’m sorry I have no more time now, but I must
earnestly repeat my advice. Come to an understanding with your
husband in a straightforward way as soon as you possibly can. There
are plenty of private inquiry offices about where they will watch
anybody, and do almost anything, without any inquiry into their
clients’ motives, and with a single eye to fees. I charge you no fee,
and advise you to treat your husband with frankness.”

Mrs. Geldard did not seem particularly satisfied, though Hewitt’s
rejection of a consultation fee somewhat softened her. She left
protesting that Hewitt didn’t know the sort of man she had to deal
with, and that, one way or another, she must have an explanation.

“Come, we’ll get to lunch,” said Hewitt. “I’m afraid my suggestion
as to Mr. Geldard’s probable occupation in his office wasn’t very
brilliant, but it was the pleasantest I could think of for the
moment, and the main thing was to pacify the lady. One does no good
by aggravating a misunderstanding of that sort.”

“Can you make any conjecture,” I said, “at what the trouble really
is?”

Hewitt raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “There’s no telling,”
he said. “An angry, jealous, pragmatical woman, apparently, this Mrs.
Geldard, and it’s impossible to judge at first sight how much she
really knows and how much she imagines. I don’t suppose she’ll take
my advice. She seems to have worked herself into a state of rancour
that must burst out violently somewhere. But lunch is the present
business. Come.”

The next day I spent at a friend’s house a little way out of town,
so that it was not till the following morning, about the same time,
that I learned from Hewitt that Mrs. Geldard had called again.

“Yes,” he said; “she seems to have taken my advice in her own way,
which wasn’t a judicious one. When I suggested that she should speak
frankly to her husband, I meant her to do it in a reasonably amicable
mood. Instead of that, she appears to have flown at his throat, so to
speak, with all the bitterness at her tongue’s disposal. The natural
result was a row. The man slanged back, the woman threatened divorce,
and the man threatened to leave the country altogether. And so
yesterday Mrs. Geldard was here again to get me to follow and watch
him. I had to decline once more, and got something rather like a
slanging myself for my pains. She seemed to think I was in league
with her husband in some way. In the end I promised--more to get rid
of her than anything else--to take the case in hand if ever there
were anything really tangible to go upon; if her husband really did
desert her, you know, or anything like that. If, in fact, there were
anything more for me to consider than these spiteful suspicions.”

“I suppose,” I said, “she had nothing more to tell you than she had
before?”

“Very little. She seems to have startled Geldard, however, by a
chance shot. It seems that she once employed a maid, whom she
subsequently dismissed, because, as she tells me, the young woman was
a great deal too good-looking, and because she observed, or fancied
she observed, signs of some secret understanding between her maid and
her husband. Moreover, it was her husband who discovered this maid
and introduced her into the house, and furthermore, he did all he
could to induce Mrs. Geldard not to dismiss her. He even hinted that
her dismissal might cause serious trouble, and Mrs. Geldard says it
is chiefly since this maid has left the house that his movements have
become so mysterious. Well it seems that in the heat of yesterday’s
quarrel Mrs. Geldard, quite at random, asked tauntingly how many
letters Geldard had received from Emma Trennatt lately--Emma Trennatt
was the girl’s name. This chance shot seemed to hit the target.
Geldard (so his wife tells me, at any rate) winced visibly, paled a
little, and dodged the question. But for the rest of the quarrel he
appeared much less at ease, and made more than one attempt to find
out how much his wife really knew of the correspondence she had
spoken of. But as her reference to it was of course the wildest
possible fluke, he got little guidance, while his better-half waxed
savage in her triumph, and they parted on wild-cat terms. She came
straight here, and evidently thought that after Geldard’s reception
of her allusion to correspondence with Emma Trennatt--which she
seemed to regard as final and conclusive confirmation of all her
jealousies--I should take the case in hand at once. When she found me
still disinclined, she gave me a trifling sample of her rhetoric, as
no doubt commonly supplied to Mr. Geldard. She said in effect that
she had only come to me because she meant having the best assistance
possible, but that she didn’t think much of me after all, and one man
was as bad as another, and so on. I think she was a trifle angrier
because I remained calm and civil. And she went away this time
without the least reference to a consultation fee one way or another.”

[Illustration: “SIGNS OF SOME SECRET UNDERSTANDING.”]

I laughed. “Probably,” I said, “she went off to some agent who’ll
watch as long as she likes to pay.”

“Quite possibly.” But we were quite wrong. Hewitt took his hat, and
we made for the staircase. As we opened the landing-door there were
hurried feet on the stairs below, and as it shut behind Mrs.
Geldard’s bonnet-load of pink flowers hove up before us. She was in a
state of fierce alarm and excitement that had oddly enough something
of triumph in it, as of the woman who says, “I told you so.” Hewitt
gave a tragic groan under his breath.

“Here’s a nice state of things I’m in for now, Mr. Hewitt,” she
began abruptly, “through your refusing to do anything for me while
there was time though I was ready to pay you well as I told your
young man but no, you wouldn’t listen to anything, and seemed to
think you knew my business better than I could tell you and now
you’ve caused this state of affairs by delay perhaps you’ll take the
case in hand now?”

“But you haven’t told me what has happened--” Hewitt began, whereat
the lady instantly rejoined, with a shrill pretence of a laugh,
“Happened? Why, what do you suppose has happened after what I have
told you over and over again? My precious husband’s gone clean away,
that’s all. He’s deserted me and gone nobody knows where. That’s
what’s happened. You said that if he did anything of that sort you’d
take the case up; so now I’ve come to see if you’ll keep your
promise. Not that it’s likely to be of much use _now.”_

We turned back into Hewitt’s private office, and Mrs. Geldard told
her story. Disentangled from irrelevances, repetitions, opinions and
incidental observations, it was this. After the quarrel Geldard had
gone to business as usual, and had not been seen nor heard of since.
After her yesterday’s interview with Hewitt, Mrs. Geldard had called
at her husband’s office and found it shut as before. She went home
again, and waited, but he never returned home that evening, nor all
night. In the morning she had gone to the office once more, and
finding it still shut, had told the caretaker that her husband was
missing, and insisted on his bringing his own key and opening it for
her inspection. Nobody was there, and Mrs. Geldard was astonished to
find folded and laid on a cupboard shelf the entire suit of clothes
that her husband had worn when he left home on the morning of the
previous day. She also found in the waste-paper basket the fragments
of two or three envelopes addressed to her husband, which she brought
for Hewitt’s inspection. They were in the handwriting of the girl
Trennatt, and with them Mrs. Geldard had discovered a small fragment
of one of the letters, a mere scrap, but sufficient to show part of
the signature “Emma,” and two or three of a row of crosses running
beneath, such as are employed to represent kisses. These things she
had brought with her.

Hewitt examined them slightly, and then asked, “Can I have a
photograph of your husband, Mrs. Geldard?”

She immediately produced, not only a photograph of her husband, but
also one of the girl Trennatt, which she said belonged to the cook.
Hewitt complimented her on her foresight. “And now,” he said, “I
think we’ll go and take a look at Mr. Geldard’s office, if we may. Of
course I shall follow him up now.” Hewitt made a sign to me, which I
interpreted as asking whether I would care to accompany him. I
assented with a nod, for the case seemed likely to be interesting.

I omit most of Mrs. Geldard’s talk by the way, which was almost
ceaseless, mostly compounded of useless repetition, and very tiresome.

The office was on a third floor in a large building in Finsbury
Pavement. The caretaker made no difficulty in admitting us. There
were two rooms, neither very large, and one of them at the back very
small indeed. In this was a small locked door.

“That leads on to the small staircase, sir,” the caretaker said in
response to Hewitt’s inquiry. “The staircase leads down to the
basement, and it ain’t used much ‘cept by the cleaners.”

“If I went down this back staircase,” Hewitt pursued, “I suppose I
should have no difficulty in gaining the street?”

“Not a bit, sir. You’d have to go a little way round to get into
Finsbury Pavement, but there’s a passage leads straight from the
bottom of the stairs out to Moorfields behind.”

“Yes,” remarked Mrs. Geldard bitterly, when the caretaker had left
the room, “that’s the way he’s been leaving the office every day, and
in disguise, too.” She pointed to the cupboard where her husband’s
clothes lay. “Pretty plain proof that he was ashamed of his doings,
whatever they were.”

“Come, come,” Hewitt answered deprecatingly, “we’ll hope there’s
nothing to be ashamed of--at any rate till there’s proof of it.
There’s no proof as yet that your husband has been disguising. A
great many men who rent offices, I believe, keep dress clothes at
them--I do it myself--for convenience in case of an unexpected
invitation, or such other eventuality. We may find that he returned
here last night, put on his evening dress, and went somewhere dining.
Illness, or fifty accidents, may have kept him from home.”

But Mrs. Geldard was not to be softened by any such suggestion,
which I could see Hewitt had chiefly thrown out by way of pacifying
the lady, and allaying her bitterness as far as he could, in view of
a possible reconciliation when things were cleared up.

“_That_ isn’t very likely,” she said. “If he kept a dress suit here
openly, I should know of it; and if he kept it here unknown to me,
what did he want it for? If he went out in dress clothes last night,
who did he go with? Who do you suppose, after seeing those envelopes
and that piece of the letter?”

“Well, well, we shall see,” Hewitt replied. “May I turn out the
pockets of these clothes?”

“Certainly; there’s nothing in them of importance,” Mrs. Geldard
said. “I looked before I came to you.”

Nevertheless Hewitt turned them out. “Here is a cheque-book with a
number of cheques remaining. No counterfoils filled in, which is
awkward. Bankers, the London Amalgamated. We will call there
presently. An ivory pocket paper-knife. A sovereign purse--empty.”
Hewitt placed the articles on the table as he named them. “Gold
pencil case, ivory folding rule, russia-leather card-case.” He turned
to Mrs. Geldard. “There is no pocket-book,” he said, “no pocket-knife
and no watch, and there are no keys. Did Mr. Geldard usually carry
any of these things?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Geldard replied, “he carried all four.” Hewitt’s simple,
methodical calmness, and his plain disregard of her former
volubility, appeared by this to have disciplined Mrs. Geldard into a
businesslike brevity and directness of utterance.

“As to the watch now. Can you describe it?”

“Oh, it was only a cheap one. He had a gold one stolen--or at any
rate he told me so--and since then he has only carried a very common
sort of silver one, without a chain.”

“The keys?”

“I only know there _was_ a bunch of keys. Some of them fitted
drawers and bureaux at home, and others, I suppose, fitted locks in
this office.”

“What of the pocket-knife?”

“That was a very uncommon one. It was a present, as a matter of
fact, from an engineering friend, who had had it made specially. It
was large, with a tortoise-shell handle and a silver plate with his
initials. There was only one ordinary knife-blade in it; all the
other implements were small tools or things of that kind. There was a
small pair of silver calipers, for instance.”

“Like these?” Hewitt suggested, producing those he used for
measuring drawers and cabinets in search of secret receptacles.

“Yes, like those. And there were folding steel compasses, a tiny
flat spanner, a little spirit level, and a number of other small
instruments of that sort. It was very well made indeed; he used to
say that it could not have been made for five pounds.”

“Indeed?” Hewitt cast his eyes about the two rooms. “I see no signs
of books here, Mrs. Geldard--account-books I mean, of course. Your
husband must have kept account-books, I take it?”

“Yes, naturally, he must have done. I never saw them, of course, but
every business man keeps books.” Then after a pause Mrs. Geldard
continued: “And they’re gone too. I never thought of _that._ But
there, I might have known as much. Who can trust a man safely if his
own wife can’t? But _I_ won’t shield him. Whatever he’s been doing
with his clients’ money he’ll have to answer for himself. Thank
Heaven I’ve enough to live on of my own without being dependent on a
creature like him! But think of the disgrace! My husband nothing
better than a common thief--swindling his clients and making away
with his books when he can’t go on any longer! But he shall be
punished, oh yes; _I’ll_ see he’s punished, if once I find him!”

Hewitt thought for a moment, and then asked, “Do you know any of
your husband’s clients, Mrs. Geldard?”

“No,” she answered, rather snappishly, “I don’t. I’ve told you he
never let me know anything of his business--never anything at all;
and very good reason he had too, that’s certain.”

“Then probably you do not happen to know the contents of these
drawers?” Hewitt pursued, tapping the writing-table as he spoke.

“Oh, there’s nothing of importance in them--at any rate in the
unlocked ones. I looked at all of them this morning when I first
came.”

The table was of the ordinary pedestal pattern with four drawers at
each side and a ninth in the middle at the top, and of very ordinary
quality. The only locked drawer was the third from the top on the
left-hand side. Hewitt pulled out one drawer after another. In one
was a tin half full of tobacco; in another a few cigars at the bottom
of a box; in a third a pile of notepaper headed with the address of
the office, and rather dusty; another was empty; still another
contained a handful of string. The top middle drawer rather reminded
me of a similar drawer of my own at my last newspaper office, for it
contained several pipes; but my own were mostly briars, whereas these
were all clays.

“There’s nothing really so satisfactory,” Hewitt said, as he lifted
and examined each pipe by turn, “to a seasoned smoker as a well-used
clay. Most such men keep one or more of them for strictly private
use.” There was nothing noticeable about these pipes except that they
were uncommonly dirty, but Hewitt scrutinised each before returning
it to the drawer. Then he turned to Mrs. Geldard and said: “As to the
bank now--the London Amalgamated, Mrs. Geldard. Are you known there
personally?”

“Oh, yes; my husband gave them authority to pay cheques signed by me
up to a certain amount, and I often do it for household expenses, or
when he happens to be away.”

“Then perhaps it will be best for you to go alone,” Hewitt
responded. “Of course they will never, as a general thing, give any
person information as to the account of a customer; but perhaps, as
you are known to them, and hold your husband’s authority to draw
cheques, they may tell you something. What I want to find out is, of
course, whether your husband drew from the bank all his remaining
balance yesterday, or any large sum. You must go alone, ask for the
manager, and tell him that you have seen nothing of Mr. Geldard since
he left for business yesterday morning. Mind, you are not to appear
angry, or suspicious, or anything of that sort, and you mustn’t say
you are employing me to bring him back from an elopement. That will
shut up the channel of information at once. Hostile inquiries they’ll
never answer, even by the smallest hint, except after legal
injunction. You can be as distressed and as alarmed as you please.
Your husband has disappeared since yesterday morning, and you’ve no
notion what has become of him; that is your tale, and a perfectly
true one. You would like to know whether or not he has withdrawn his
balance, or a considerable sum, since that would indicate whether or
not his absence was intentional and premeditated.”

Mrs. Geldard understood and undertook to make the inquiry with all
discretion. The bank was not far, and it was arranged that she should
return to the office with the result.

As soon as she had left, Hewitt turned to the pedestal table and
probed the keyhole of the locked drawer with the small stiletto
attached to his penknife. “This seems to be a common sort of lock,”
he said. “I could probably open it with a bent nail. But the whole
table is a cheap sort of thing. Perhaps there is an easier way.”

He drew the unlocked drawer above completely out, passed his hand
into the opening and felt about. “Yes,” he said, “it’s just as I
hoped--as it usually is in pedestal tables not of the best quality;
the partition between the drawers doesn’t go more than two-thirds of
the way back, and I can drop my hand into the drawer below. But I
can’t feel anything there--it seems empty.”

He withdrew his hand and we tilted the whole table backward, so as
to cause whatever lay in the drawers to slide to the back. This dodge
was successful. Hewitt reinserted his hand and withdrew it with two
orderly heaps of papers, each held together by a metal clip.

The papers in each clip, on examination, proved to be all of an
identical character, with the exception of dates. They were, in fact,
rent receipts. Those for the office, which had been given quarterly,
were put back in their place with scarcely a glance, and the others
Hewitt placed on the table before him. Each ran, apart from dates, in
this fashion: “Received from Mr. J. Cookson 15_s_., one month’s rent
of stable at 3, Dragon Yard, Benton Street, to”--here followed the
date. “Also rent, feed and care of horse in own stable as agreed,
£2.--W. Gask.” The receipts were ill-written, and here and there
ill-spelt. Hewitt put the last of the receipts in his pocket, and
returned the others to the drawer. “Either,” he said, “Mr. Cookson is
a client who gets Mr. Geldard to hire stables for him, which may not
be likely, or Mr. Geldard calls himself Mr. Cookson when he goes
driving--possibly with Miss Trennatt. We shall see.”

The pedestal table put in order again, Hewitt took the poker and
raked in the fireplace. It was summer, and behind the bars was a sort
of screen of cartridge paper with a frilled edge, and behind this
various odds and ends had been thrown--spent matches, trade circulars
crumpled up, and torn paper. There were also the remains of several
cigars, some only half smoked, and one almost whole. The torn paper
Hewitt examined piece by piece, and finally sorted out a number of
pieces, which he set to work to arrange on the blotting pad. They
formed a complete note, written in the same hand as were the
envelopes already found by Mrs. Geldard--that of the girl Emma
Trennatt. It corresponded also with the solitary fragment of another
letter which had accompanied them, by way of having a number of
crosses below the signature, and it ran thus:--


                                                  _Tuesday Night._

_Dear Sam,--To-morrow, to carry. Not late because people are coming
for flowers. What you did was no good. The smoke leaks worse than
ever, and F. thinks you must light a new pipe or else stop smoking
altogether for a bit. Uncle is anxious._

                                                           _Emma._



Then followed the crosses, filling one line and nearly half the
next--seventeen in all.

Hewitt gazed at the fragments thoughtfully. “This is a find,” he
said--“most decidedly a find. It looks so much like nonsense that it
must mean something of importance. The date, you see, is Tuesday
night. It would be received here on Wednesday--yesterday--morning. So
that it was immediately after the receipt of this note that Geldard
left. It’s pretty plain the crosses don’t mean kisses. The note isn’t
quite of the sort that usually carries such symbols, and moreover,
when a lady fills the end of a sheet of notepaper with kisses she
doesn’t stop less than half way across the last line--she fills it to
the end. These crosses mean something very different. I should like,
too, to know what ‘smoke’ means. Anyway this letter would probably
astonish Mrs. Geldard if she saw it. We’ll say nothing about it for
the present.” He swept the fragments into an envelope, and put away
the envelope in his breast pocket. There was nothing more to be found
of the least value in the fireplace, and a careful examination of the
office in other parts revealed nothing that I had not noticed before,
so far as I could see, except Geldard’s boots standing on the floor
of the cupboard wherein his clothes lay. The whole place was
singularly bare of what one commonly finds in an office in the way of
papers, hand-books, and general business material.

Mrs. Geldard was not long away. At the bank she found that the
manager was absent, and his deputy had been very reluctant to say
anything definite without his sanction. He gave Mrs. Geldard to
understand, however, that there was a balance still remaining to her
husband’s credit; also that Mr. Geldard had drawn a cheque the
previous morning, Wednesday, for an amount “rather larger than
usual.” And that was all.

“By the way, Mrs. Geldard,” Hewitt observed, with an air of
recollecting something, “there _was_ a Mr. Cookson I believe, if I
remember, who knew a Mr. Geldard. You don’t happen to know, do you,
whether or not Mr. Geldard had a client or an acquaintance of that
name?”

“No, I know nobody of the name.”

“Ah, it doesn’t matter. I suppose it isn’t necessary for your
husband to keep horses or vehicles of any description in his
business?”

“No, certainly not.” Mrs. Geldard looked surprised at the question.

“Of course--I should have known that. He does not drive to business,
I suppose?”

“No; he goes by omnibus.”

“But as to Emma Trennatt now. This photograph is most welcome, and
will be of great assistance, I make no doubt. But is there anything
individual by which I might identify her if I saw her--anything
beyond what I see in the photograph? A peculiarity of step, for
instance, or a scar, or what not.”

“Yes, there is a large mole--more than a quarter of an inch across,
I should think--on her left cheek, an inch below the outer corner of
her eye. The photograph only shows the other side of the face.”

“That will be useful to know. Now has she a relative living at
Crouch End, or thereabout?”

“Yes, her uncle; she’s living with him now--or she was at any rate
till lately. But how did you know that?”

“The Crouch End postmark was on those envelopes you found. Do you
know anything of her uncle?”

“Nothing, except that he’s a nurseryman, I believe.”

“Not his full address?”

“No.”

“And Trennatt is his name?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. I think, Mrs. Geldard,” Hewitt said, taking his hat,
“that I will set out after your husband at once. You, I think, can do
no better than stay at home till I have news for you. I have your
address. If anything comes to your knowledge, please telegraph it to
my office at once.”

The office door was locked, the keys were left with the caretaker,
and we saw Mrs. Geldard into a cab at the door. “Come,” said Hewitt,
“we’ll go somewhere and look at a directory, and after that to Dragon
Yard. I think I know a man in Moorgate Street who’ll let me see his
directory.”

We started to walk down Finsbury Pavement. Suddenly Hewitt caught my
arm and directed my eyes toward a woman who had passed hurriedly in
the opposite direction. I had not seen her face, but Hewitt had. “If
that isn’t Miss Emma Trennatt,” he said, “it’s uncommonly like the
notion I’ve formed of her. We’ll see if she goes to Geldard’s office.”

We hurried after the woman, who, sure enough, turned into the large
door of the building we had just left. As it was impossible that she
should know us, we followed her boldly up the stairs, and saw her
stop before the door of Geldard’s office, and knock. We passed her as
she stood there--a handsome young woman enough--and well back on her
left cheek, in the place Mrs. Geldard had indicated, there was plain
to see a very large mole. We pursued our way to the landing above and
there we stopped in a position that commanded a view of Geldard’s
door. The young woman knocked again and waited.

“This doesn’t look like an elopement yesterday morning, does it?”
Hewitt whispered. “Unless Geldard’s left both this one and his wife
in the lurch.”

The young woman below knocked once or twice more, walked
irresolutely across the corridor and back, and in the end, after a
parting knock, started slowly back downstairs.

“Brett,” Hewitt exclaimed with suddenness, “will you do me a favour?
That woman understands Geldard’s secret comings and goings, as is
plain from the letter. But she would appear to know nothing of where
he is now, since she seems to have come here to find him. Perhaps
this last absence of his has nothing to do with the others. In any
case, will you follow this woman? She must be watched; but I want to
see to the matter in other places. Will you do it?”

Of course I assented at once. We had been descending the stairs as
Hewitt spoke, keeping distance behind the girl we were following.
“Thank you,” Hewitt now said. “Do it. If you find anything urgent to
communicate, wire to me in care of the inspector at Crouch End Police
Station. He knows me, and I will call there in case you may have
sent. But if it’s after five this afternoon, wire also to my office.
If you keep with her to Crouch End, where she lives, we shall
probably meet.”

We parted at the door of the office we were at first bound for, and
I followed the girl southward.

This new turn of affairs increased the puzzlement I already laboured
under. Here was the girl Trennatt--who by all evidence appeared to be
well acquainted with Geldard’s mysterious proceedings, and in
consequence of whose letter, whatever it might mean, he would seem to
have absented himself--herself apparently ignorant of his
whereabouts, and even unconscious that he had left his office. I had
at first begun to speculate on Geldard’s probable secret employment;
I had heard of men keeping good establishments who, unknown to even
their own wives, procured the wherewithal by begging or
crossing-sweeping in London streets; I had heard also--knew, in fact,
from Hewitt’s experience--of well-to-do suburban residents whose
actual profession was burglary or coining. I had speculated on the
possibility of Geldard’s secret being one of that kind. My mind had
even reverted to the case, which I have related elsewhere, in which
Hewitt frustrated a dynamite explosion by his timely discovery of a
baker’s cart and a number of loaves, and I wondered whether or not
Geldard was a member of some secret brotherhood of Anarchists or
Fenians. But here, it would seem, were two distinct mysteries, one of
Geldard’s generally unaccountable movements, and another of his
disappearance, each mystery complicating the other. Again, what did
that extraordinary note mean, with its crosses and its odd references
to smoking? Had the dirty clay pipes anything to do with it? Or the
half-smoked cigars? Perhaps the whole thing was merely ridiculously
trivial after all. I could make nothing of it, however, and applied
myself to my pursuit of Emma Trennatt, who mounted an omnibus at the
Bank, on the roof of which I myself secured a seat.


II

Here I must leave my own proceedings to put in their proper place
those of Martin Hewitt as I subsequently learnt them.

Benton Street, he found by the directory, turned out of the City
Road south of Old Street, so was quite near. He was there in less
than ten minutes, and had discovered Dragon Yard. Dragon Yard was as
small a stable-yard as one could easily find. Only the right-hand
side was occupied by stables, and there were only three of these. On
the left was a high dead wall bounding a great warehouse or some such
building. Across the first and second of the stables stretched a long
board with the legend, “W. Gask, Corn, Hay, and Straw Dealer,” and
underneath a shop address in Old Street. The third stable stood blank
and uninscribed, and all three were shut fast. Nobody was in the
yard, and Hewitt at once proceeded to examine the end stable. The
doors were unusually well finished and close-fitting, and the lock
was a good one, of the lever variety, and very difficult to pick.
Hewitt examined the front of the building very carefully, and then,
after a visit to the entrance of the yard, to guard against early
interruption, returned and scrambled by projections and fastenings to
the roof. This was a roof in contrast to those of the other stables.
They were of tiles, seemed old, and carried nothing in the way of a
skylight; evidently it was the habit of Mr. Gask and his helpers to
do their horse and van business with gates wide open to admit light.
But the roof of this third stable was newer and better made, and
carried a good-sized skylight of thick fluted glass. Hewitt took a
good look at such few windows as happened to be in sight, and
straightaway began, with the strongest blade of his pocket-knife, to
cut away the putty from round one pane. It was a rather long job, for
the putty had hardened thoroughly in the sun, but it was accomplished
at length, and Hewitt, with a final glance at the windows in view,
prised up the pane from the end and lifted it out.

The interior of the stable was apparently empty. Neither stall nor
rack was to be seen, and the place was plainly used as a coach or van
house simply. Hewitt took one more look about him, and dropped
quietly through the hole in the skylight. The floor was thickly laid
with straw. There were a few odd pieces of harness, a rope or two, a
lantern, and a few sacks lying here and there, and at the darkest end
there was an obscure heap covered with straw and sacking. This heap
Hewitt proceeded to unmask, and having cleared away a few sacks, left
revealed about half a dozen rolls of linoleum. One of these he
dragged to the light, where it became evident that it had remained
thus rolled and tied with cord in two places for a long period. There
were cracks in the surface, and when the cords were loosened the
linoleum showed no disposition to open out or to become unrolled.
Others of the rolls on inspection exhibited the same peculiarities.
Moreover, each roll appeared to consist of no more than a couple of
yards of material at most, though all were of the same pattern. Every
roll, in fact, was of the same length, thickness, and shape as the
others, containing somewhere near two yards of linoleum in a roll of
some half-dozen thicknesses, leaving an open diameter of some four
inches in the centre. Hewitt looked at each in turn, and then
replaced the heap as he had found it. After this, to regain the
skylight was not difficult by the aid of a trestle. The pane was
replaced as well as the absence of fresh putty permitted, and five
minutes later Hewitt was in a hansom bound for Crouch End.

[Illustration: “HALF A DOZEN ROLLS OF LINOLEUM”]

He dismissed his cab at the police station. Within he had no
difficulty in procuring a direction to Trennatt, the nurseryman, and
a short walk brought him to the place. A fairly high wall, topped
with broken glass, bounded the nursery garden next the road, and in
the wall were two gates, one a wide double one for the admission of
vehicles, and the other a smaller one of open pales, for ordinary
visitors. The garden stood sheltered by higher ground behind, whereon
stood a good-sized house, just visible among the trees that
surrounded it. Hewitt walked along by the side of the wall. Soon he
came to where the ground of the nursery garden appeared to be divided
from that of the house by a most extraordinarily high hedge extending
a couple of feet above the top of the wall itself. Stepping back, the
better to note this hedge, Hewitt became conscious of two large
boards, directly facing each other, with scarcely four feet space
between them, one erected on a post in the ground of the house, and
the other similarly elevated from that of the nursery, each being
inscribed in large letters, “Trespassers will be prosecuted. Hewitt
smiled and passed on; here plainly was a neighbour’s quarrel of long
standing, for neither board was by any means new. The wall continued,
and keeping by it Hewitt made the entire circuit of the large house
and its grounds, and arrived once more at that part of the wall that
enclosed the nursery garden. Just here, and near the wider gate, the
upper part of a cottage was visible, standing within the wall, and
evidently the residence of the nurseryman. It carried a conspicuous
board with the legend, “H. M. Trennatt, Nurseryman.” The large house
and the nursery stood entirely apart from other houses or enclosures,
and it would seem that the nursery ground had at some time been cut
off from the grounds attached to the house.

Hewitt stood for a moment thoughtfully, and then walked back to the
outer gate of the house on the rise. It was a high iron gate, and as
Hewitt perceived, it was bolted at the bottom. Within the garden
showed a neglected and weed-choked appearance, such as one associates
with the garden of a house that has stood long empty.

A little way off a policeman walked. Hewitt accosted him and spoke
of the house. “I was wondering if it might happen to be to let,” he
said. “Do you know?”

“No, sir,” the policeman replied, “it ain’t; though anyone might
almost think it, to look at the garden. That’s a Mr. Fuller as lives
there--and a rum ‘un too.”

“Oh, he’s a rum ‘un, is he? Keeps himself shut up, perhaps?”

“Yes, sir. On’y ’as one old woman, deaf as a post, for servant, and
never lets nobody into the place. It’s a rare game sometimes with the
milkman. The milkman, he comes and rings that there bell, but the old
gal’s so deaf she never ’ears it. Then the milkman, he just slips ’is
’and through the gate rails, lifts the bolt and goes and bangs at the
door. Old Fuller runs out and swears a good ’un. The old gal comes
out, and old Fuller swears at ’er, and she turns round and swears
back like anything. She don’t care for ’im--not a bit. Then when he
ain’t ’avin’ a row with the milkman and the old gal he goes down the
garden and rows with the old nurseryman there down the ’ill. He jores
the nurseryman from ’is side o’ the hedge, and the nurseryman he
jores back at the top of ’is voice. I’ve stood out there ten minutes
together and nearly bust myself a-laughin’ at them gray-’eaded old
fellers a-callin’ each other everythink they can think of; you can
’ear ’em ’alf over the parish. Why, each of ’em’s ’ad a board
painted, ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted,’ and stuck ’em up facin’
each other, so as to keep up the row.”

“Very funny, no doubt.”

“Funny? I believe you, sir. Why, it’s quite a treat sometimes on a
dull beat like this. Why, what’s that? Blowed if I don’t think
they’re beginning again now. Yes, they are. Well, my beat’s the other
way.”

There was a sound of angry voices in the direction of the nursery
ground, and Hewitt made toward it. Just where the hedge peeped over
the wall the altercation was plain to hear.

“You’re an old vagabond, and I’ll indict you for a nuisance.”

“You’re an old thief, and you’d like to turn me out of house and
home, wouldn’t you? Indict away, you greedy old scoundrel!”

These and similar endearments, punctuated by growls and snorts, came
distinctly from over the wall, accompanied by a certain scraping,
brushing sound, as though each neighbour were madly attempting to
scale the hedge and personally bang the other.

Hewitt hastened round to the front of the nursery garden and quietly
tried first the wide gate and next the small one. Both were fastened
securely. But in the manner of the milkman at the gate of the house
above, Hewitt slipped his hand between the open slats of the small
gate and slid the night-latch that held it. Within the quarrel ran
high as Hewitt stepped quietly into the garden. He trod on the narrow
grass borders of the beds for quietness’ sake, till presently only a
line of shrubs divided him from the clamorous nurseryman. Stooping
and looking through an opening which gave him a back view, Hewitt
observed that the brushing and scraping noise proceeded, not from
angry scramblings, but from the forcing through an inadequate opening
in the hedge of some piece of machinery which the nurseryman was most
amicably passing to his neighbour at the same time as he assailed him
with savage abuse, and received a full return in kind. It appeared to
consist of a number of coils of metal pipe, not unlike those
sometimes used in heating apparatus, and was as yet only a very
little way through. Something else, of bright copper, lay on the
garden-bed at the foot of the hedge, but intervening plants concealed
its shape.

[Illustration: “FORCING THROUGH THE HEDGE SOME PIECE OF MACHINERY.”]

Hewitt turned quickly away and made towards the greenhouses, keeping
tall shrubs as much as possible between himself and the cottage, and
looking sharply about him. Here and there about the garden were
stand-pipes, each carrying a tap at its upper end and placed
conveniently for irrigation. These in particular Hewitt scrutinised,
and presently, as he neared a large wooden outhouse close by the
large gate, turned his attention to one backed by a thick shrub. When
the thick undergrowth of the shrub was pushed aside a small stone
slab, black and dirty, was disclosed, and this Hewitt lifted,
uncovering a square hole six or eight inches across, from the
foreside of which the stand-pipe rose.

[Illustration: THE STAND-PIPE IN THE NURSERY GARDEN.]

The row went cheerily on over by the hedge, and neither Trennatt nor
his neighbour saw Hewitt, feeling with his hand, discover two
stop-cocks and a branch pipe in the hole, nor saw him try them both.
Hewitt, however, was satisfied, and saw his case plain. He rose and
made his way back toward the small gate. He was scarce half-way there
when the straining of the hedge ceased, and before he reached it the
last insult had been hurled, the quarrel ceased, and Trennatt
approached. Hewitt immediately turned his back to the gate, and
looking about him inquiringly hemmed aloud as though to attract
attention. The nurseryman promptly burst round a corner crying,
“Who’s that? who’s that, eh? What d’ye want, eh?”

“Why,” answered Hewitt in a tone of mild surprise, “is it so
uncommon to have a customer drop in?”

“I’d ha’ sworn that gate was fastened,” the old man said, looking
about him suspiciously.

“That would have been rash; I had no difficulty in opening it. Come,
can’t you sell me a button-hole?”

The old man led the way to a greenhouse, but as he went he growled
again, “I’d ha’ sworn I shut that gate.”

“Perhaps you forgot,” Hewitt suggested. “You have had a little
excitement with your neighbour, haven’t you?”

Trennatt stopped and turned round, darting a keen glance into
Hewitt’s face. “Yes,” he answered angrily, “I have. He’s an old
villain. He’d like to turn me out of here, after being here all my
life-and a lot o’ good the ground ’ud be to him if he kep’ it like he
keeps his own! And look there!” He dragged Hewitt toward the
“Trespassers” boards. “Goes and sticks up a board like that looking
over my hedge! As though I wanted to go over among his weeds! So I
stuck up another in front of it, and now they can stare each other
out o’ countenance. Buttonhole, you said, sir, eh?”

The old man saw Hewitt off the premises with great care, and the
latter, flower in coat, made straight for the nearest post-office and
despatched a telegram. Then he stood for some little while outside
the post-office deep in thought, and in the end returned to the gate
of the house above the nursery.

With much circumspection he opened the gate and entered the grounds.
But instead of approaching the house he turned immediately to the
left, behind trees and shrubs, making for the side nearest the
nursery. Soon he reached a long, low wooden shed. The door was only
secured by a button, and turning this he gazed into the dark
interior. Now he had not noticed that close after him a woman had
entered the gate, and that that woman was Mrs. Geldard. She would
have made for the house, but catching sight of Hewitt, followed him
swiftly and quietly over the long grass. Thus it came to pass that
his first apprisal of the lady’s presence was a sharp drive in the
back, which pitched him down the step to the low floor of what he had
just perceived to be merely a tool-house, after which the door was
shut and buttoned behind him.

[Illustration: “HIS FIRST APPRISAL OF THE LADY’S PRESENCE WAS A SHARP
DRIVE IN THE BACK.”]

“Perhaps you’ll be more careful in future,” came Mrs. Geldard’s
angry voice from without, “how you go making mischief between husband
and wife and poking your nose into people’s affairs. Such fellows as
you ought to be well punished.”

Hewitt laughed softly. Mrs. Geldard had evidently changed her mind.
The door presented no difficulty; a fairly vigorous push dislodged
the button entirely, and he walked back to the outer gate chuckling
quietly. In the distance he heard Mrs. Geldard in shrill altercation
with the deaf old woman. “It’s no good you a-talking,” the old woman
was saying. “I can’t hear. Nobody ain’t allowed in this here place,
so you must get out. Out you go, now!” Outside the gate Hewitt met me.


III

My own adventures had been simple. I had secured a back seat on the
roof of the omnibus whereon Emma Trennatt travelled south from the
Bank, from which I could easily observe where she alighted. When she
did so I followed, and found to my astonishment that her destination
was no other than the Geldards’ private house at Camberwell--as I
remembered from the address on the visitor’s slip which Mrs. Geldard
had handed in at Hewitt’s office a couple of days before. She handed
a letter to the maid who opened the door, and soon after, in response
to a message by the same maid, entered the house. Presently the maid
reappeared, bonneted, and hurried off, to return in a few minutes in
a cab with another following behind. Almost immediately Mrs. Geldard
emerged in company with Emma Trennatt. She hurried the girl into one
of the cabs, and I heard her repeat loudly twice the address of
Hewitt’s office, once to the girl and once to the cabman. Now it
seemed plain to me that to follow Emma Trennatt farther would be
waste of time, for she was off to Hewitt’s office, where Kerrett
would learn her message. And knowing where a message would find
Hewitt sooner than at his office, I judged it well to tell Mrs.
Geldard of the fact. I approached, therefore, as she was entering the
other cab, and began to explain, when she cut me short. “You go and
tell your master to attend to his own business as soon as he pleases,
for not a shilling does he get from me. He ought to be ashamed of
himself, sowing dissension between man and wife for the sake of what
he can make out of it, and so ought you.”

I bowed with what grace I might, and retired. The other cab had
gone, so I set forth to find one for myself at the nearest rank. I
could think of nothing better to do than to make for Crouch End
Police Station and endeavour to find Hewitt. Soon after my cab
emerged north of the city I became conscious of another cab, whose
driver I fancied I recognised, and which kept ahead all along the
route. In fact it was Mrs. Geldard’s cab, and presently it dawned
upon me that we must both be bound for the same place. When it became
quite clear that Crouch End was the destination of the lady I
instructed my driver to disregard the police-station and follow the
cab in front. Thus I arrived at Mr. Fuller’s house just behind Mrs.
Geldard, and thus, waiting at the gate, I met Hewitt as he emerged.

“Hullo, Brett!” he said. “Condole with me. Mrs. Geldard has changed
her mind, and considers me a pernicious creature anxious to make
mischief between her and her husband; I’m very much afraid I shan’t
get my fee.”

“No,” I answered, “she told me you wouldn’t.”

We compared notes, and Hewitt laughed heartily. “The appearance of
Emma Trennatt at Geldard’s office this morning is explained,” he
said. “She went first with a message from Geldard to Mrs. Geldard at
Camberwell, explaining his absence and imploring her not to talk of
it or make a disturbance. Mrs. Geldard had gone off to town, and Emma
Trennatt was told that she had gone to Geldard’s office. There she
went, and then we first saw her. She found nobody at the office, and
after a minute or two of irresolution returned to Camberwell, and
then succeeded in delivering her message, as you saw. Mrs. Geldard is
apparently satisfied with her husband’s explanation. But I’m afraid
the revenue officers won’t approve of it.”

“The revenue officers?”

“Yes. It’s a case of illicit distilling--and a big case, I fancy.
I’ve wired to Somerset House, and no doubt men are on their way here
now. But Mrs. Geldard’s up at the house, so we’d better hurry up to
the police station and have a few sent from there. Come along. The
whole thing’s very clever, and a most uncommonly big thing. If I know
all about it--and I think I do--Geldard and his partners have been
turning out untaxed spirit by the hundred gallons for a long time
past. Geldard is the practical man, the engineer, and probably
erected the whole apparatus himself in that house on the hill. The
spirit is brought down by a pipe laid a very little way under the
garden surface, and carried into one of the irrigation stand-pipes in
the nursery ground. There’s a quiet little hole behind the pipe with
a couple of stop-cocks--one to shut off the water when necessary, the
other to do the same with the spirit. When the stopcocks are right
you just turn the tap at the top of the pipe and you get water or
whisky, as the case may be. Fuller, the man up at the house, attends
to the still, with such assistance as the deaf old woman can give
him. Trennatt, down below, draws off the liquor ready to be carried
away. These two keep up an ostentatious appearance of being at
unending feud to blind suspicion. Our as yet ungreeted friend
Geldard, guiding spirit of the whole thing, comes disguised as a
carter with an apparent cart-load of linoleum, and carries away the
manufactured stuff. In the pleasing language of Geldard and Co.,
‘smoke,’ as alluded to in the note you saw, means whisky. Something
has been wrong with the apparatus lately, and it has been leaking
badly. Geldard has been at work on it, patching, but ineffectually.
‘What you did was no good’ said the charming Emma in the note, as you
will remember. ‘Uncle was anxious.’ And justifiably so, because not
only does a leak of spirit mean a waste, but it means a smell, which
some sharp revenue man might sniff. Moreover, if there is a leak, the
liquid runs somewhere at random, and with any sudden increase in
volume attention might easily be attracted. It was so bad that ‘F.’
(Fuller) thought Geldard must light another pipe (start another
still) or give up smoking (distilling) for a bit. There is the
explanation of the note. ‘To-morrow, to carry’ probably means that he
is to call with his cart--the cart in whose society Geldard becomes
Cookson--to remove a quantity of spirit. He is not to come late
because people are expected on floral business. The crosses, I
_think,_ will be found to indicate the amount of liquid to be moved.
But that we shall see. Anyhow, Geldard got there yesterday and had a
busy day loading up, and then set to repairing. The damage was worse
than supposed, and an urgent thing. Result, Geldard works into early
morning, has a sleep in the place, where he may be called at any
moment, and starts again early this morning. New parts have to be
ordered, and these are delivered at Trennatt’s to-day and passed
through the hedge. Meantime Geldard sends a message to his wife
explaining things, and the result you’ve seen.”

At the police station a telegram had already been received from
Somerset House. That was enough for Hewitt, who had discharged his
duty as a citizen and now dropped the case. We left the police and
the revenue officers to deal with the matter and travelled back to
town.

“Yes,” said Hewitt on the way, after each had fully described his
day’s experiences, “it seemed pretty plain that Geldard left his
office by the back way in disguise, and there were things that hinted
what that disguise was. The pipes were noticeable. They were quite
unnecessarily dirty, and partly from dirty fingers. Pipes smoked by a
man in his office would never look like that. They had been smoked
out of doors by a man with dirty hands, and hands and pipes would be
in keeping with the rest of the man’s appearance. It was noticeable
that he had left not only his clothes and hat, but his boots behind
him. They were quite plain though good boots, and would be quite in
keeping with any dress but that of a labourer or some such man in his
working clothes. Moreover, the partly-smoked cigars were probably
thrown aside because they would appear inconsistent with Geldard’s
changed dress. The contents of the pockets in the clothes left
behind, too, told the same tale. The cheap watch and the necessary
keys, pocketbook and pocket-knife were taken, but the articles of
luxury, the russia leather card-case, the sovereign purse and so on,
were left. Then we came on the receipts for stable-rent.
Suggestion--perhaps the disguise was that of a carter.

“Then there was the coach-house. Plainly, if Geldard took the
trouble thus to disguise himself, and thus to hide his occupation
even from his wife, he had some very good reason for secrecy. Now the
goods which a man would be likely to carry secretly in a cart or van,
as a regular piece of business, would probably be either stolen or
smuggled. When I examined those pieces of linoleum, I became
convinced that they were intended merely as receptacles for some
other sort of article altogether. They were old, and had evidently
been thus rolled for a very long period. They appeared to have been
exposed to weather, but on the outside only. Moreover they were all
of one size and shape, each forming a long, hollow cylinder, with
plenty of interior room. Now from this it was plainly unlikely that
they were intended to hold _stolen_ goods. Stolen goods are not apt
to be always of one size and shape, adaptable to a cylindrical
recess. Perhaps they were smuggled. Now the only goods profitable to
be smuggled nowadays are tobacco and spirits, and plainly these rolls
of linoleum would be excellent receptacles for either. Tobacco could
be packed inside the rolls and the ends stopped artistically with
narrow rolls of linoleum. Spirits could be contained in metal
cylinders exactly fitting the cavity, and the ends filled in the same
way as for tobacco. But for tobacco a smart man would probably make
his linoleum rolls of different sizes, for the sake of a more
innocent appearance, while for spirits it would be a convenience to
have vessels of uniform measure, to save trouble in quicker delivery
and calculation of quantity. Bearing these things in mind, I went in
search of the gentle nurseryman at Crouch End. My general survey of
the nursery ground and the house behind it inspired me with the
notion that the situation and arrangement were most admirably adapted
for the working of a large illicit still--a form of misdemeanour, let
me tell you, that is much more common nowadays than is generally
supposed. I remembered Geldard’s engineering experience, and I heard
something of the odd manners of Mr. Fuller; my theory of a traffic in
untaxed spirits became strengthened. But why a nursery? Was this a
mere accident of the design? There were commonly irrigation pipes
about nurseries, and an extra one might easily be made to carry
whisky. With this in mind I visited the nursery with the result you
know of. The stand-pipe I tested (which was where I expected--handy
to the vehicle-entrance) could produce simple New River water or raw
whisky at command of one of two stop-cocks. My duty was plain. As you
know, I am a citizen first and an investigator after, and I find the
advantage of it in my frequent intercourse with the police and other
authorities. As soon as I could get away I telegraphed to Somerset
House. But then I grew perplexed on a point of conduct. I was
commissioned by Mrs. Geldard. It scarcely seemed the loyal thing to
put my client’s husband in gaol because of what I had learnt in
course of work on her behalf. I decided to give him, and nobody else,
a sporting chance. If I could possibly get at him in the time at my
disposal, by himself, so that no accomplice should get the benefit of
my warning, I would give him a plain hint to run; then he could take
his chance. I returned to the place and began to work round the
grounds, examining the place as I went; but at the very first
outhouse I put my head into I was surprised in the rear by Mrs.
Geldard coming in hot haste to stop me and rescue her husband. She
most unmistakably gave me the sack, and so now the police may catch
Geldard or not, as their luck may be.”

They did catch him. In the next day’s papers a report of a great
capture of illicit distillers occupied a prominent place. The
prisoners were James Fuller, Henry Matthew Trennatt, Sarah Blatten, a
deaf woman, Samuel Geldard, and his wife Rebecca Geldard. The two
women were found on the premises in violent altercation when the
officers arrived, a few minutes after Hewitt and I had left the
police station on our way home. It was considered by far the greatest
haul for the revenue authorities since the seizure of the famous
ship’s boiler on a wagon in the East End stuffed full of tobacco,
after that same ship’s boiler had made about a dozen voyages to the
Continent and back “for repair.” Geldard was found dressed as a
workman, carrying out extensive alterations and repairs to the still.
And a light van was found in a shed belonging to the nursery loaded
with seventeen rolls of linoleum, each enclosing a cylinder
containing two gallons of spirits, and packed at each end with narrow
linoleum rolls. It will be remembered that seventeen was the number
of crosses at the foot of Emma Trennatt’s note.

[Illustration: THE PRISONERS.]

The subsequent raids on a number of obscure public-houses in
different parts of London, in consequence of information gathered on
the occasion of the Geldard capture, resulted in the seizure of a
large quantity of secreted spirit for which no permit could be shown.
It demonstrated also the extent of Geldard’s connection, and
indicated plainly what was done with the spirit when he had carted it
away from Crouch End. Some of the public-houses in question must have
acquired a notoriety among the neighbours for frequent purchases of
linoleum.



THE CASE OF THE LATE MR. REWSE


I

Of this case I personally saw nothing beyond the first advent in
Hewitt’s office of Mr. Horace Bowyer, who put the case in his hands,
and then I merely saw Mr. Bowyer’s back as I passed downstairs from
my rooms. But I noted the case in full detail after Hewitt’s return
from Ireland, as it seemed to me one not entirely without interest,
if only as an exemplar of the fatal ease with which a man may
unwittingly dig a pit for his own feet--a pit from which there is no
climbing out.

A few moments after I had seen the stranger disappear into Hewitt’s
office, Kerrett brought to Hewitt in his inner room a visitor’s slip
announcing the arrival on urgent business of Mr. Horace Bowyer. That
the visitor was in a hurry was plain from a hasty rattling of the
closed wicket in the outer room where Mr. Bowyer was evidently making
impatient attempts to follow his announcement in person. Hewitt
showed himself at the door and invited Mr. Bowyer to enter, which he
did, as soon as Kerrett had released the wicket, with much
impetuosity. He was a stout, florid gentleman with a loud voice and a
large stare.

“Mr. Hewitt,” he said, “I must claim your immediate attention to a
business of the utmost gravity. Will you please consider yourself
commissioned, wholly regardless of expense, to set aside whatever you
may have in hand and devote yourself to the case I shall put in your
hands?”

“Certainly not,” Hewitt replied with a slight smile. “What I have in
hand are matters which I have engaged to attend to, and no mere
compensation for loss of fees could persuade me to leave my clients
in the lurch, else what would prevent some other gentleman coming
here to-morrow with a bigger fee than yours and bribing me away from
you?”

“But this--this is a most serious thing, Mr. Hewitt. A matter of
life or death--it is indeed!”

“Quite so,” Hewitt replied; “but there are a thousand such matters
at this moment pending of which you and I know nothing, and there are
also two or three more of which you know nothing, but on which I am
at work. So that it becomes a question of practicability. If you will
tell me your business I can judge whether or not I may be able to
accept your commission concurrently with those I have in hand. Some
operations take months of constant attention; some can be conducted
intermittently; others still are a mere matter of a few days--many of
hours simply.”

“I will tell you then,” Mr. Bowyer replied. “In the first place,
will you have the kindness to read that? It is a cutting from the
_Standard’s_ column of news from the provinces of two days ago.”

Hewitt took the cutting and read as follows:--

“The epidemic of small-pox in County Mayo, Ireland, shows few signs
of abating. The spread of the disease has been very remarkable
considering the widely-scattered nature of the population, though
there can be no doubt that the market-towns are the centres of
infection, and that it is from these that the germs of contagion are
carried into the country by people from all parts who resort thither
on market days. In many cases the disease has assumed a particularly
malignant form, and deaths have been very rapid and numerous. The
comparatively few medical men available are sadly overworked, owing
largely to the distances separating their different patients. Among
those who have succumbed within the last few days is Mr. Algernon
Rewse, a young English gentleman who has been staying with a friend
at a cottage a few miles from Cullanin, on a fishing excursion.”

[Illustration: ALGERNON REWSE.]

Hewitt placed the cutting on the table at his side. “Yes?” he said
inquiringly. “It is to Mr. Algernon Rewse’s death you wish to draw my
attention?”

“It is,” Mr. Bowyer answered; “and the reason I come to you is that
I very much suspect--more than suspect, indeed--that Mr. Algernon
Rewse has _not_ died by small-pox, but has been murdered--murdered
cold-bloodedly, and for the most sordid motives, by the friend who
has been sharing his holiday.”

“In what way do you suppose him to have been murdered?”

“That I cannot say--that, indeed, I want you to find out, among
other things--chiefly, perhaps, the murderer himself, who has made
off.”

“And your own status in the matter,” queried Hewitt, “is that of--?”

“I am trustee under a will by which Mr. Rewse would have benefited
considerably had he lived but a month or two longer. That
circumstance indeed lies rather near the root of the matter. The
thing stood thus. Under the will I speak of--that of young Rewse’s
uncle, a very old friend of mine in his lifetime--the money lay in
trust till the young fellow should attain twenty-five years of age.
His younger sister, Miss Mary Rewse, was also benefited, but to a
much smaller extent. She was to come into her property also on
attaining the age of twenty-five, or on her marriage, whichever event
happened first. It was further provided that in case either of these
young people died before coming into the inheritance, his or her
share should go to the survivor. I want you particularly to remember
this. You will observe that now, in consequence of young Algernon
Rewse’s death, barely two months before his twenty-fifth birthday,
the whole of the very large property--all personalty, and free from
any tie or restriction--which would otherwise have been his, will, in
the regular course, pass, on her twenty-fifth birthday, _or on her
marriage,_ to Miss Mary Rewse, whose own legacy was comparatively
trifling. You will understand the importance of this when I tell you
that the man whom I suspect of causing Algernon Rewse’s death, and
who has been his companion on his otherwise lonely holiday, is
engaged to be married to Miss Rewse.”

Mr. Bowyer paused at this, but Hewitt only raised his eyebrows and
nodded.

“I have never particularly liked the man,” Mr. Bowyer went on. “He
never seemed to have much to say for himself. I like a man who holds
up his head and opens his mouth. I don’t believe in the sort of
modesty that he showed so much of--it isn’t genuine. A man can’t
afford to be genuinely meek and retiring who has his way to make in
the world--and he was clever enough to know _that.”_

“He is poor, then?” Hewitt asked.

“Oh yes, poor enough. His name, by the bye, is Main--Stanley
Main--and he is a medical man. He hasn’t been practising, except as
assistant, since he became qualified, the reason being, I understand,
that he couldn’t afford to buy a good practice. He is the person who
will profit by young Rewse’s death--or at any rate who intended to;
but we will see about that. As for Mary, poor girl, she wouldn’t have
lost her brother for fifty fortunes.”

“As to the circumstances of the death, now?”

“Yes, yes, I am coming to that. Young Algernon Rewse, you must know,
had rather run down in health, and Main persuaded him that he wanted
a change. I don’t know what it was altogether, but Rewse seemed to
have been having his own little love troubles and that sort of thing,
you know. He’d been engaged, I think, or very nearly so, and the
young lady died, and so on. Well, as I said, he had run down and got
into low health and spirits, and no doubt a change of some sort would
have done him good. This Stanley Main always seemed to have a great
influence over the poor boy--he was about four or five years older
than Rewse--and somehow he persuaded him to go away, the two
together, to some outlandish wilderness of a place in the West of
Ireland for salmon-fishing. It seemed to me at the time rather a
ridiculous sort of place to go to, but Main had his way, and they
went. There was a cottage--rather a good sort of cottage, I believe,
for the district--which some friend of Main’s, once a landowner in
the district, had put up as a convenient box for salmon-fishing, and
they rented it. Not long after they got there this epidemic of
small-pox got about in the district--though that, I believe, has had
little to do with poor young Rewse’s death. All appeared to go well
until a day over a week ago, when Mrs. Rewse received this letter
from Main.” Mr. Bowyer handed Martin Hewitt a letter, written in an
irregular and broken hand, as though of a person writing under stress
of extreme agitation. It ran thus:--


“MY DEAR MRS. REWSE,--

“You will probably have heard through the newspapers--indeed I think
Algernon has told you in his letters--that a very bad epidemic of
small-pox is abroad in this district. I am deeply grieved to have to
tell you that Algernon himself has taken the disease in a rather bad
form. He showed the first symptoms to-day (Tuesday), and he is now in
bed in the cottage. It is fortunate that I, as a medical man, happen
to be on the spot, as the nearest local doctor is five miles off at
Cullanin, and he is working and travelling night and day as it is. I
have my little medicine chest with me, and can get whatever else is
necessary from Cullanin, so that everything is being done for
Algernon that is possible, and I hope to bring him up to scratch in
good health soon, though of course the disease is a dangerous one.
Pray don’t unnecessarily alarm yourself, and don’t think about coming
over here, or anything of that sort. You can do no good, and will
only run risk yourself. I will take care to let you know how things
go on, so please don’t attempt to come. The journey is long and would
be very trying to you, and you would have no place to stay at nearer
than Cullanin, which is quite a centre of infection. I will write
again to-morrow.

                       “Yours most sincerely,

                             “STANLEY MAIN.”


Not only did the handwriting of this letter show signs of agitation,
but here and there words had been repeated, and sometimes a letter
had been omitted. Hewitt placed the letter on the table by the
newspaper cutting, and Mr. Bowyer proceeded.

“Another letter followed on the next day,” he said, handing it to
Hewitt as he spoke; “a short one, as you see; not written with quite
such signs of agitation. It merely says that Rewse is very bad, and
repeats the former entreaties that his mother will not think of going
to him.” Hewitt glanced at the letter and placed it with the other,
while Mr. Bowyer continued: “Notwithstanding Main’s persistent
anxiety that she should stay at home, Mrs. Rewse, who was of course
terribly worried about her only son, had almost made up her mind, in
spite of her very delicate health, to start for Ireland, when she
received a third letter announcing Algernon’s death. Here it is. It
is certainly the sort of letter that one might expect to be written
in such circumstances, and yet there seems to me at least a certain
air of disingenuousness about the wording. There are, as you see, the
usual condolences, and so forth. The disease was of the malignant
type, it says, which is terribly rapid in its action, often carrying
off the patient even before the eruption has time to form. Then--and
this is a thing I wish you especially to note--there is once more a
repetition of his desire that neither the young man’s mother nor his
sister shall come to Ireland. The funeral must take place
immediately, he says, under arrangements made by the local
authorities, and before they could reach the spot. Now doesn’t this
obtrusive anxiety of his that no connection of young Rewse’s should
be near him during his illness, nor even at the funeral, strike you
as rather singular?”

“Well, possibly it is; though it may easily be nothing but zeal for
the health of Mrs. Rewse and her daughter. As a matter of fact, what
Main says is very plausible. They could do no sort of good in the
circumstances, and might easily run into danger themselves, to say
nothing of the fatigue of the journey and general nervous upset. Mrs.
Rewse is in weak health, I think you said?”

“Yes, she’s almost an invalid, in fact; she is subject to heart
disease. But tell me now, as an entirely impartial observer, doesn’t
it seem to you that there is a very forced, unreal sort of tone in
all these letters?”

“Perhaps one may notice something of the sort, but fifty things may
cause that. The case from the beginning may have been worse than he
made it out. What ensued on the receipt of this letter?”

“Mrs. Rewse was prostrated, of course. Her daughter communicated
with me as a friend of the family, and that is how I heard of the
whole thing for the first time. I saw the letters, and it seemed to
me, looking at all the circumstances of the case, that somebody at
least ought to go over and make certain that everything was as it
should be. Here was this poor young man, staying in a lonely cottage
with the only man in the world who had any reason to desire his
death, or any profit to gain by it, and he had a very great
inducement indeed. Moreover he was a medical man, _carrying his
medicine chest with him,_ remember, as he says himself in his letter.
In this situation Rewse suddenly dies, with nobody about him, so far
as there is anything to show, but Main himself. As his medical
attendant it would be Main who would certify and register the death,
and no matter what foul play might have taken place he would be safe
as long as nobody was on the spot to make searching inquiries--might
easily escape even then, in fact. When one man is likely to profit
much by the death of another a doctor’s medicine chest is likely to
supply but too easy a means to his end.”

“Did you say anything of your suspicions to the ladies?”

“Well--well, I hinted perhaps--no more than hinted, you know. But
they wouldn’t hear of it--got indignant, and ‘took on’ as people call
it, worse than ever, so that I had to smooth them over. But since it
seemed somebody’s duty to see into the matter a little more closely,
and there seemed to be nobody to do it but myself, I started off that
very evening by the night mail. I was in Dublin early the next
morning, and spent that day getting across Ireland. The nearest
station was ten miles from Cullanin, and that, as you remember, was
five miles from the cottage, so that I drove over on the morning of
the following day. I must say Main appeared very much taken aback at
seeing me. His manner was nervous and apprehensive, and made me more
suspicious than ever. The body had been buried, of course, a couple
of days or more. I asked a few rather searching questions about the
illness, and so forth, and his answers became positively confused. He
had burned the clothes that Rewse was wearing at the time the disease
first showed itself, he said, as well as all the bedclothes, since
there was no really efficient means of disinfection at hand. His
story in the main was that he had gone off to Cullanin one morning on
foot to see about a top joint of a fishing-rod that was to be
repaired. When he returned early in the afternoon he found Algernon
Rewse sickening of small-pox, at once put him to bed, and there
nursed him till he died. I wanted to know, of course, why no other
medical man had been called in. He said that there was only one
available, and it was doubtful if he could have been got at even a
day’s notice, so overworked was he; moreover he said this man, with
his hurry and over-strain, could never have given the patient such
efficient attention as he himself, who had nothing else to do. After
a while I put it to him plainly that it would at any rate have been
more prudent to have had the body at least inspected by some
independent doctor, considering the fact that he was likely to profit
so largely by young Rewse’s death, and I suggested that with an
exhumation order it might not be too late now, as a matter of justice
to himself. The effect of that convinced me. The man gasped and
turned blue with terror. It was a full minute, I should think, before
he could collect himself sufficiently to attempt to dissuade me from
doing what I had hinted at. He did so as soon as he could by every
argument he could think of--entreated me, in fact, almost
desperately. That decided me. I said that after what he had said, and
particularly in view of his whole manner and bearing, I should
insist, by every means in my power, on having the body properly
examined, and I went off at once to Cullanin to set the telegraph
going, and see whatever local authority might be proper. When I
returned in the afternoon Stanley Main had packed his bag and
vanished, and I have not heard nor seen anything of him since. I
stayed in the neighbourhood that day and the next, and left for
London in the evening. By the help of my solicitors proper
representations were made at the Home Office, and, especially in view
of Main’s flight, a prompt order was made for exhumation and medical
examination preliminary to an inquest. I am expecting to hear that
the disinterment has been effected to-day. What I want you to do, of
course, is chiefly to find Main. The Irish constabulary in that
district are fine big men, and no doubt most excellent in quelling a
faction fight or shutting up a shebeen, but I doubt their efficiency
in anything requiring much more finesse. Perhaps also you may be able
to find out something of the means by which the murder--it is plain
it is one--was committed. It is quite possible that Main may have
adopted some means to give the body the appearance, even to a medical
man, of death from small-pox.”

“That,” Hewitt said, “is scarcely likely, else, indeed, why did he
not take care that another doctor should see the body before the
burial? That would have secured him. But that is not a thing one can
deceive a doctor over. Of course in the circumstances exhumation is
desirable, but if the case _is_ one of small-pox, I don’t envy the
medical man who is to examine. At any rate the business is, I should
imagine, not likely to be a very long one, and I can take it in hand
at once. I will leave to-night for Ireland by the 6.30 train from
Euston.”

“Very good. I shall go over myself, of course. If anything comes to
my knowledge in the meanwhile, of course I’ll let you know.”

An hour or two after this a cab stopped at the door, and a young
lady dressed in black sent in her name and a minute later was shown
into Hewitt’s room. It was Miss Mary Rewse. She wore a heavy veil,
and all she said she uttered in evidently deep distress of mind.
Hewitt did what he could to calm her, and waited patiently.

At length she said: “I felt that I must come to you, Mr. Hewitt, and
yet now that I am here I don’t know what to say. Is it the fact that
Mr. Bowyer has commissioned you to investigate the circumstances of
my poor brother’s death, and to discover the whereabouts of Mr. Main?”

“Yes, Miss Rewse, that is the fact. Can you tell me anything that
will help me?”

“No, no, Mr. Hewitt, I fear not. But it is such a dreadful thing,
and Mr. Bowyer is--I’m afraid he is so much prejudiced against Mr.
Main that I felt I ought to do something--to say something at least
to prevent you entering on the case with your mind made up that he
has been guilty of such an awful thing. He is really quite incapable
of it, I assure you.”

“Pray, Miss Rewse,” Hewitt replied, “don’t allow that apprehension
to disturb you. If Mr. Main is, as you say, incapable of such an act
as perhaps he is suspected of, you may rest assured no harm will come
to him. So far as I am concerned, at any rate, I enter the case with
a perfectly open mind. A man in my profession who accepted prejudices
at the beginning of a case would have very poor results to show
indeed. As yet I have no opinion, no theory, no prejudice--nothing
indeed but a bare outline of facts. I shall derive no opinion and no
theory from anything but a consideration of the actual circumstances
and evidences on the spot. I quite understand the relation in which
Mr. Main stands in regard to yourself and your family. Have you heard
from him lately?”

“Not since the letter informing us of my brother’s death.”

“Before then?”

Miss Rewse hesitated.

“Yes,” she said, “we corresponded. But--but there was really
nothing--the letters were of a personal and private sort--they were--”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Hewitt answered, with his eyes fixed keenly
on the veil which Miss Rewse still kept down. “Of course I understand
that. Then there is nothing else you can tell me?”

“No, I fear not. I can only implore you to remember that no matter
what you may see and hear, no matter what the evidence may be, I am
sure, sure, _sure_ that poor Stanley could never do such a thing.”
And Miss Rewse buried her face in her hands.

Hewitt kept his eyes on the lady, though he smiled slightly, and
asked, “How long have you known Mr. Main?”

[Illustration: “‘HOW LONG HAVE YOU KNOWN MR. MAIN?’”]

“For some five or six years now. My poor brother knew him at school,
though, of course, they were in different forms, Mr. Main being the
elder.”

“Were they always on good terms?”

“They were always like brothers.”

Little more was said. Hewitt condoled with Miss Rewse as well as he
might, and she presently took her departure. Even as she descended
the stairs a messenger came with a short note from Mr. Bowyer
enclosing a telegram just received from Cullanin. The telegram ran
thus:--

_Body exhumed. Death from shot-wound. No trace of small-pox. Nothing
yet heard of Main. Have communicated with coroner.--O’Reilly._


II

Hewitt and Mr. Bowyer travelled towards Mayo together, Mr. Bowyer
restless and loquacious on the subject of the business in hand, and
Hewitt rather bored thereby. He resolutely declined to offer an
opinion on any single detail of the case till he had examined the
available evidence, and his occasional remarks on matters of general
interest, the scenery and so forth, struck his companion, unused to
business of the sort which had occasioned the journey, as strangely
cold-blooded and indifferent. Telegrams had been sent ordering that
no disarrangement of the contents of the cottage was to be allowed
pending their arrival, and Hewitt well knew that nothing more was
practicable till the site was reached. At Ballymaine, where the train
was left at last, they stayed for the night, and left early the next
morning for Cullanin, where a meeting with Dr. O’Reilly at the
mortuary had been appointed. There the body lay stripped of its
shroud, calm and gray, and beginning to grow ugly, with a scarcely
noticeable breach in the flesh of the left breast.

“The wound has been thoroughly cleansed, closed and stopped with a
carbolic plug before interment,” Dr. O’Reilly said. He was a
middle-aged, grizzled man, with a face whereon many recent sleepless
nights had left their traces. “I have not thought it necessary to do
anything in the way of dissection. The bullet is not present, it has
passed clean through the body, between the ribs both back and front,
piercing the heart on its way. The death must have been
instantaneous.”

Hewitt quickly examined the two wounds, back and front, as the
doctor turned the body over, and then asked: “Perhaps, Dr. O’Reilly,
you have had some experience of a gunshot wound before this?”

The doctor smiled grimly. “I think so,” he answered, with just
enough of brogue in his words to hint his nationality and no more. “I
was an army surgeon for a good many years before I came to Cullanin,
and saw service in Ashanti and in India.”

“Come then,” Hewitt said, “you’re an expert. Would it have been
possible for the shot to have been fired from behind?”

“Oh, no. See! the bullet entering makes a wound of quite a different
character from that of the bullet leaving.”

“Have you any idea of the weapon used?”

“A large revolver, I should think; perhaps of the regulation size;
that is, I should judge the bullet to have been a conical one of
about the size fitted to such a weapon--smaller than that from a
rifle.”

“Can you form an idea of from what distance the shot was fired?”

Dr. O’Reilly shook his head. “The clothes have all been burned,” he
said, “and the wound has been washed, otherwise one might have looked
for powder blackening.”

“Did you know either the dead man or Dr. Main personally?”

“Only very slightly. I may say I saw just such a pistol as might
cause that sort of wound in Main’s hands the day before he gave out
that Rewse had been attacked by small-pox. I drove past the cottage
as he stood in the doorway with it in his hand. He had the breach
opened, and seemed to be either loading or unloading it--which it was
I couldn’t say.”

“Very good, doctor, that may be important. Now is there any single
circumstance, incident or conjecture that you can tell me of in
regard to this case that you have not already mentioned?”

Doctor O’Reilly thought for a moment, and replied in the negative.
“I heard, of course,” he said, “of the reported new case of
small-pox, and that Main had taken the case in hand himself. I was
indeed relieved to hear it, for I had already more on my hands than
one man can safely be expected to attend to. The cottage was fairly
isolated, and there could have been nothing gained by removal to an
asylum--indeed there was practically no accommodation. So far as I
can make out nobody seems to have seen young Rewse, alive or dead,
after Main had announced that he had the small-pox. He seems to have
done everything himself, laying out the body and all, and you may be
pretty sure that none of the strangers about was particularly anxious
to have anything to do with it. The undertaker (there is only one
here, and he is down with the small-pox himself now) was as much
overworked as I was myself, and was glad enough to send off a coffin
by a market cart and leave the laying out and screwing down to Main,
since he had got those orders. Main made out the death certificate
himself, and, since he was trebly qualified, everything seemed in
order.”

“The certificate merely attributed the death to small-pox, I take
it, with no qualifying remarks?”

“Small-pox simply.”

Hewitt and Mr. Bowyer bade Dr. O’Reilly good-morning, and their car
was turned in the direction of the cottage where Algernon Rewse had
met his death. At the Town Hall in the market-place, however, Hewitt
stopped the car and set his watch by the public clock. “This is more
than half an hour before London time,” he said, “and we mustn’t be at
odds with the natives about the time.”

As he spoke Dr. O’Reilly came running up breathlessly. “I’ve just
heard something,” he said. “Three men heard a shot in the cottage as
they were passing, last Tuesday week.”

“Where are the men?”

“I don’t know at the moment; but they can be found. Shall I set
about it?”

“If you possibly can,” Hewitt said, “you will help us enormously.
Can you send them messages to be at the cottage as soon as they can
get there to-day? Tell them they shall have half a sovereign apiece.”

“Right, I will. Good-day.”

“Tuesday week,” said Mr. Bowyer as they drove off; “that was the
date of Main’s first letter, and the day on which, by his account,
Rewse was taken ill. Then if that was the shot that killed Rewse, he
must have been lying dead in the place while Main was writing those
letters reporting his sickness to his mother. The cold-blooded
scoundrel!”

“Yes,” Hewitt replied, “I think it probable in any case that Tuesday
was the day that Rewse was shot. It wouldn’t have been safe for Main
to write the mother lying letters about the small-pox before. Rewse
might have written home in the meantime, or something might have
occurred to postpone Main’s plans, and then there would be impossible
explanations required.”

Over a very bad road they jolted on, and in the end arrived where
the road, now become a mere path, passed a tumble-down old farmhouse.

“This is where the woman lives who cooked and cleaned house for
Rewse and Main,” Mr. Bowyer said. “There is the cottage, scarce a
hundred yards off, a little to the right of the track.”

“Well,” replied Hewitt, “suppose we stop here and ask her a few
questions? I like to get the evidence of all the witnesses as soon as
possible. It simplifies subsequent work wonderfully.”

They alighted, and Mr. Bowyer roared through the open door and
tapped with his stick. In reply to his summons, a decent-looking
woman of perhaps fifty, but wrinkled beyond her age, and better
dressed than any woman Hewitt had seen since leaving Cullanin,
appeared from the hinder buildings and curtsied pleasantly.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Hurley, good-morning,” Mr. Bowyer said, “this is
Mr. Martin Hewitt, a gentleman from London, who is going to look into
this shocking murder of our young friend, Mr. Rewse, and sift it to
the bottom. He would like you to tell him something, Mrs. Hurley.”

The woman curtsied again. “An’ it’s the jintleman is welcome, sor,
sad doin’s as ut is.” She had a low, pleasing voice, much in contrast
with her unattractive appearance, and characterised by the softest
and broadest brogue imaginable. “Will ye not come in? Mother av
Hiven! An’ thim two livin’ together, an’ fishin’ an’ readin’ an’ all,
like brothers! An’ trut’ ut is, he was a foine young jintleman,
indade, indade!”

“I suppose, Mrs. Hurley,” Hewitt said, “you’ve seen as much of the
life of those two gentlemen here as anybody?”

“True ut is, sor; none more--nor as much.”

“Did you ever hear of anybody being on bad terms with Mr.
Rewse--anybody at all, Mr. Main or another?”

“Niver a soul in all Mayo. How could ye? Such a foine young
jintleman, an’ fair-spoken an’ all.”

“Tell me all that happened on the day that you heard that Mr. Rewse
was ill--Tuesday week.”

“In the mornin’, sor, ’twas much as ord’nary. I was over there at
half afther sivin, an’ ’twas half an hour afther that I cud hear the
jintlemen dhressin’. They tuk their breakfast--though Mr. Rewse’s was
a small wan. It was half afther nine that Mr. Main wint off walkin’
to Cullanin, Mr. Rewse stayin’ in, havin’ letthers to write. Half an
hour later I came away mesilf. Later than that (it was nigh elivin) I
wint across for a pail from the yard, an’ then, through the windy as
I passed I saw the dear young jintleman sittin’ writin’ at the table
calm an’ peaceful--an’ saw him no more in this warrl’.”

“And after that?”

“Afther that, sor, I came back wid the pail, an’ saw nor heard no
more till two o’clock, whin Mr. Main came back from Cullanin.”

“Did you see him as he came back?”

“That I did, sor, as I stud there nailin’ the fence where the pig
bruk ut. I’d been there an’ had me oi down the road lookin’ for him
an hour past, expectin’ he might be bringin’ somethin’ for me to cook
for their dinner. An’ more by token he gave me the toime from his
watch, set by the Town Hall clock.”

“And was it two o’clock?”

“It was that to the sthroke, an’ me own ould clock was right too
whin I wint to set ut. An’--”

“One moment; may I see your clock?”

Mrs. Hurley turned and shut an open door which had concealed an old
hanging clock. Hewitt produced his watch and compared the time.
“Still right, I see, Mrs. Hurley,” he said; “your clock, keeps
excellent time.”

[Illustration: “‘MRS. HURLEY,’ HE SAID, ‘YOUR CLOCK KEEPS EXCELLENT
TIME.’”]

“It does that, sor, an’ nivir more than claned twice by Rafferty
since me own father (rest his soul!) lift ut here. ’Tis no bad clock,
as Mr. Rewse himsilf said oft an’ again; an’ I always kape ut by the
Town Hall toime. But as I was sayin’, Mr. Main came back an’ gave me
the toime; thin he wint sthraight to his house, an’ no more av him I
saw till may be half afther three.”

“And then?”

“An’ thin, sor, he came across in a sad takin’, wid a letther. ‘Take
ut,’ sez he, ‘an’ have ut posted at Cullanin by the first that can
get there. Mr. Rewse has the sickness on him awful bad,’ he sez, ‘an’
ye must not be near the place or ye’ll take ut. I have him to bed,
an’ his clothes I shall burn behin’ the cottage,’ sez he, ‘so if ye
see smoke ye’ll know what ut is. There’ll be no docthor wanted. I’m
wan mesilf, an’ I’ll do all for ’um. An’ sure I knew him for a
docthor ivir since he come. ‘The cottage ye shall not come near,’ he
sez, ‘till ut’s over one way or another, an’ yez can lave whativir av
food an’ dhrink we want mid-betwixt the houses an’ go back, an’ I’ll
come and fetch ut. But have the letther posted,’ he sez, ‘at wanst.
’Tis not contagious,’ he sez, ‘bein’ as I’ve dishinfected it mesilf.
But kape yez away from the cottage.’ An’ I kept.”

“And then did he go back to the cottage at once?”

“He did that, sor, an’ a sore stew was he in to all seemin’--white
as paper, and much need, too, the murtherin’ scutt! An’ him always so
much the jintleman an’ all. Well, I saw no more av him that day. Next
day he laves another letther wid the dirthy’ plates there mid-betwixt
the houses, an’ shouts for ut to be posted. ’Twas for the poor young
jintleman’s mother, sure, as was the other wan. An’ the day afther
there was another letther, an’ wan for the undhertaker, too, for he
tells me it’s all over, an’ he’s dead. An’ they buried him next day
followin’.”

[Illustration: “‘HE LAVES ANOTHER LETTHER WID THE DIRTHY PLATES
. . . AN’ SHOUTS FOR UT TO BE POSTED.’”]

“So that from the time you went for the pail and saw Mr. Rewse
writing, till after the funeral, you were never at the cottage at
all?”

“Nivir, sor; an’ can ye blame me? Wid children an’ Terence himself
sick wid bronchitis in this house?”

“Of course, of course, you did quite right--indeed you only obeyed
orders. But now think; do you remember on any one of those three days
hearing a shot, or any other unusual noise in the cottage?”

“Nivir at all, sor. ’Tis that I’ve been thryin’ to bring to mind
these four days. Such may have been, but not that I heard.”

“After you went for the pail, and before Mr. Main returned to the
house, did Mr. Rewse leave the cottage at all, or might he have done
so?”

“He did not lave at all, to my knowledge. Sure he _might_ have gone
an’ he might have come back widout my knowin’. But see him I did not.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hurley. I think we’ll go across to the cottage now.
If any people come, will you send them after us? I suppose a
policeman is there?”

“He is, sor. An’ the serjint is not far away. They’ve been in
chyarge since Mr. Bowyer wint away last--but shlapin’ here.”

Hewitt and Mr. Bowyer walked towards the cottage. “Did you notice,”
said Mr. Bowyer, “that the woman saw Rewse _writing letters?_ Now
what were those letters, and where are they? He has no correspondents
that I know of but his mother and sister, and they heard nothing from
him. Is this something else?--some other plot? There is something
very deep here.”

“Yes,” Hewitt replied thoughtfully, “I think our inquiries may take
us deeper than we have expected; and in the matter of those
letters--yes, I think they may lie near the kernel of the mystery.”

Here they arrived at the cottage--an uncommonly substantial
structure for the district. It was square, of plain, solid brick,
with a slated roof. On the patch of ground behind it there were still
signs of the fires wherein Main had burnt Rewse’s clothes and other
belongings. And sitting on the window-sill in front was a big member
of the R.I.C., soldierly and broad, who rose as they came, and
saluted Mr. Bowyer.

“Good-day, constable,” Mr. Bowyer said. “I hope nothing has been
disturbed?”

“Not a shtick, sor. Nobody’s as much as gone in.”

“Have any of the windows been opened or shut?” Hewitt asked.

“This wan was, sor,” the policeman said, indicating the one behind
him, “when they took away the corrpse, an’ so was the next round the
corrner. ’Tis the bedroom windies they are, an’ they opened thim to
give ut a bit av air. The other windy behin’--sittin’-room windy--has
not been opened.”

“Very well,” Hewitt answered, “we’ll take a look at that unopened
window from the inside.”

The door was opened and they passed inside. There was a small lobby,
and on the left of this was the bedroom with two single beds. The
only other room of consequence was the sitting-room, the cottage
consisting merely of these, a small scullery and a narrow closet used
as a bath-room, wedged between the bedroom and the sitting-room. They
made for the single window of the sitting-room at the back. It was an
ordinary sash window, and was shut, but the catch was not fastened.
Hewitt examined the catch, drawing Mr. Bowyer’s attention to a bright
scratch on the grimy brass. “See,” he said, “that nick in the catch
exactly corresponds with the narrow space between the two frames of
the window. And look”--he lifted the bottom sash a little as he
spoke--“there is the mark of a knife on the frame of the top sash.
Somebody has come in by that window, forcing the catch with a knife.”

“Yes, yes!” cried Mr. Bowyer, greatly excited, “and he has gone out
that way too, else why is the window shut and the catch not fastened?
Why should he do that? What in the world does _this_ thing mean?”

Before Hewitt could reply the constable put his head into the room
and announced that one Larry Shanahan was at the door, and had been
promised half a sovereign.

“One of the men who heard a shot,” Hewitt said to Mr. Bowyer. “Bring
him in, constable.”

The constable brought in Larry Shanahan, and Larry Shanahan brought
in a strong smell of whisky. He was an extremely ragged person, with
only one eye, which caused him to hold his head aside as he regarded
Hewitt, much as a parrot does. On his face sun-scorched brown and
fiery red struggled for mastery, and his voice was none of the
clearest. He held his hat against his stomach with one hand and with
the other pulled his forelock.

“An’ which is the honourable jintleman,” he said, “as do be burrnin’
to prisint me wid a bit o’ goold?”

“Here I am,” said Hewitt, jingling money in his pocket, “and here is
the half-sovereign. It’s only waiting where it is till you have
answered a few questions. They say you heard a shot fired hereabout?”

“Faith, an’ that I did, sor. ’Twas a shot in this house, indade, no
other.”

“And when was it?”

“Sure, ’twas in the afthernoon.”

“But on what day?”

“Last Tuesday sivin-noight, sor, as I know by rayson av Ballyshiel
fair that I wint to.”

“Tell me all about it.”

“I will, sor. ’Twas pigs I was dhrivin’ that day, sor, to Ballyshiel
fair from just beyond Cullanin. At Cullanin, sor, I dhropped in wid
Danny Mulcahy, that intintioned thravellin’ the same way, an’ while
we tuk a thrifle av a dhrink in comes Dennis Grady, that was to go to
Ballyshiel similarously. An’ so we had another thrifle av a dhrink,
or maybe a thrifle more, an’ we wint togedther, passin’ this way,
sor, as ye may not know, bein’ likely a shtranger. Well, sor, ut was
as we were just forninst this place that there came a divil av a bang
that makes us shtop simultaneous. ‘What’s that?’ sez Dan. ‘’Tis a
gunshot,’ sez I, ‘an’ ’tis in the brick house too.’ ‘That is so,’ sez
Dennis; ‘nowhere else.’ And we lukt at wan another. ‘An’ what’ll we
do?’ sez I. ‘What would yez?’ sez Dan; ‘ ’tis none av our business.’
‘That is so,’ sez Dennis again, and we wint on. Ut was quare, maybe,
but it might aisily be wan av the jintlemen emptyin’ a barr’l out o’
windy or what not. An’--an’ so--an’ so----” Mr. Shanahan scratched
his ear, “an’ so--we wint.”

“And do you know at what time this was?”

Larry Shanahan ceased scratching, and seized his ear between thumb
and forefinger, gazing severely at the floor with his one eye as he
did so, plunged in computation. “Sure,” he said, “’twould be--’twould
be--let’s see--’twould be--” he looked up, “’twould be half-past two
maybe, or maybe a thrifle nearer three.”

“And Main was in the place all the time after two,” Mr. Bowyer said,
bringing down his fist on his open hand. “That finishes it. We’ve
nailed him to the minute.”

“Had you a watch with you?” asked Hewitt.

“Divil of a watch in the company, sor. I made an internal
calculation. ’Tis foive mile from Cullanin, and we never lift till
near half an hour after the Town Hall clock had struck twelve.
’Twould take us two hours and a thrifle more, considherin’ the pigs,
an’ the rough road, an’ the distance, an’--an’ the thrifle of
dhrink.” His eye rolled slyly as he said it. “That was my
calculation, sor.”

Here the constable appeared with two more men. Each had the usual
number of eyes, but in other respects they were very good copies of
Mr. Shanahan. They were both ragged, and neither bore any violent
likeness to a teetotaler. “Dan Mulcahy and Dennis Grady,” announced
the constable.

Mr. Dan Mulcahy’s tale was of a piece with Mr. Larry Shanahan’s, and
Mr. Dennis Grady’s was the same. They had all heard the shot, it was
plain. What Dan had said to Dennis and what Dennis had said to Larry
mattered little. Also they were all agreed that the day was Tuesday,
by token of the fair. But as to the time of day there arose a
disagreement.

“’Twas nigh soon afther wan o’clock,” said Dan Mulcahy.

“Soon afther wan!” exclaimed Larry Shanahan with scorn. “Soon afther
your grandmother’s pig! ’Twas half afther two at laste. Ut sthruck
twelve nigh half an hour before we lift Cullanin. Why, yez heard ut!”

“That I did not. Ut sthruck eleven, an’ we wint in foive minutes.”

“What fool-talk ye shpake, Dan Mulcahy. ’Twas twelve sthruck; I
counted ut.”

“Thin ye counted wrong. I counted ut, an’ ’twas elivin.”

“Yez nayther av yez right,” interposed Dennis Grady. “’Twas not
elivin when we lift; ’twas not, be the mother av Moses!”

“I wondher at ye, Dennis Grady; ye must have been dhrunk as a Kerry
cow,” and both Mulcahy and Shanahan turned upon the obstinate Grady,
and the dispute waxed clamorous till Hewitt stopped it.

“Come, come,” he said, “never mind the time then. Settle that
between you after you’ve gone. Does either of you remember--not
calculate, you know, but _remember--_the time you got to
Ballyshiel?--the actual time by a clock--not a guess.”

Not one of the three had looked at a clock at Ballyshiel.

“Do you remember anything about coming home again?”

They did not. They looked furtively at one another and presently
broke into a grin.

“Ah! I see how _that_ was,” Hewitt said good-humouredly. “That’s all
now, I think. Come, it’s ten shillings each, I think.” And he handed
over the money. The men touched their forelocks again, stowed away
the money and prepared to depart. As they went Larry Shanahan stepped
mysteriously back again and said in a whisper, “Maybe the jintlemen
wud like me to kiss the book on ut? An’ as to the toime--”

“Oh, no, thank you,” Hewitt laughed. “We take your word for it, Mr.
Shanahan.” And Mr. Shanahan pulled his forelock again and vanished.

“There’s nothing but confusion to be got from them,” Mr. Bowyer
remarked testily. “It’s a mere waste of time.”

“No, no, not a waste of time,” Hewitt replied, “nor a waste of
money. One thing is made pretty plain. That is that the shot was
fired on Tuesday. Mrs. Hurley never noticed the report, but these
three men were close by, and there is no doubt that they heard it.
It’s the only single thing they agree about at all. They contradict
one another over everything else, but they agree completely in that.
Of course I wish we could have got the exact time; but that can’t be
helped. As it is it is rather fortunate that they disagreed so
entirely. Two of them are certainly wrong, and perhaps all three. In
any case it wouldn’t have been safe to trust to mere computation of
time by three men just beginning to get drunk, who had no particular
reason for remembering. But if by any chance they had agreed on the
time we might have been led into a wrong track altogether by taking
the thing as fact. But a gunshot is not such a doubtful thing. When
three independent witnesses hear a gunshot together there can be
little doubt that a shot has been fired. Now I think you’d better sit
down. Perhaps you can find something to read. I’m about to make a
very minute examination of this place, and it will probably bore you
if you’ve nothing else to do.”

But Mr. Bowyer would think of nothing but the business in hand. “I
don’t understand that window,” he said, shaking his finger towards it
as he spoke. “Not at all. Why should Main want to get in and out by a
window? He wasn’t a stranger.”

Hewitt began a most careful inspection of the whole surface of
floor, ceiling, walls and furniture of the sitting-room. At the
fireplace he stooped and lifted with great care a few sheets of
charred paper from the grate. These he put on the window-ledge. “Will
you just bring over that little screen,” he asked, “to keep the
draught from this burnt paper? Thank you. It looks like letter paper,
and thick letter paper, since the ashes are very little broken. The
weather has been fine, and there has been no fire in that grate for a
long time. These papers have been carefully burned with a match or a
candle.”

“Ah! perhaps the letters poor young Rewse was writing in the
morning. But what can they tell us?”

“Perhaps nothing--perhaps a great deal.” Hewitt was examining the
cinders keenly, holding the surface sideways to the light. “Come,” he
said, “see if I can guess Rewse’s address in London. 17, Mountjoy
Gardens, Hampstead. Is that it?”

“Yes. Is it there? Can you read it? Show me.” Mr. Bowyer hurried
across the room, eager and excited.

“You can sometimes read words on charred paper,” Hewitt replied, “as
you may have noticed. This has curled and crinkled rather too much in
the burning, but it is plainly notepaper with an embossed heading,
which stands out rather clearly. He has evidently brought some
notepaper with him from home in his trunk. Look, you can just see the
ink lines crossing out the address; but there’s little else. At the
beginning of the letter there is ‘My d----’ then a gap, and then the
last stroke of ‘M’ and the rest of the word ‘mother.’ ‘My dear
Mother,’ or ‘My dearest Mother’ evidently. Something follows too in
the same line, but that is unreadable. ‘My dear Mother and Sister,’
perhaps. After that there is nothing recognisable. The first letter
looks rather like ‘W,’ but even that is indistinct. It seems to be a
longish letter--several sheets, but they are stuck together in the
charring. Perhaps more than one letter.”

“The thing is plain,” Mr. Bowyer said. “The poor lad was writing
home, and perhaps to other places, and Main, after his crime, burned
the letters, because they would have stultified his own with the
lying tale about small-pox.”

Hewitt said nothing, but resumed his general search. He passed his
hand rapidly over every inch of the surface of everything in the
room. Then he entered the bedroom and began an inspection of the same
sort there. There were two beds, one at each end of the room, and
each inch of each piece of bed-linen passed rapidly under his sharp
eye. After the bedroom he betook himself to the little bath-room, and
then to the scullery. Finally he went outside and examined every
board of a close fence that stood a few feet from the sitting-room
window, and the brick-paved path lying between.

When it was all over he returned to Mr. Bowyer. “Here is a strange
thing,” he said. “The shot passed clean through Rewse’s body,
striking no bones, and meeting no solid resistance. It was a
good-sized bullet, as Dr. O’Reilly testifies, and therefore must have
had a large charge of powder behind it in the cartridge. After
emerging from Rewse’s back it _must_ have struck something else in
this confined place. Yet on nowhere--ceiling, floor, wall nor
furniture--can I find the mark of a bullet nor the bullet itself.”

“The bullet itself Main might easily have got rid of.”

“Yes, but not the mark. Indeed, the bullet would scarcely be easy to
get at if it had struck anything I have seen about here; it would
have buried itself. Just look round now. Where could a bullet strike
in this place without leaving its mark?”

Mr. Bowyer looked round. “Well, no,” he said, “nowhere. Unless the
window was open and it went out that way.”

“Then it must have hit the fence or the brick paving between, and
there is no sign of a bullet there,” Hewitt replied. “Push the sash
as high as you please, the shot couldn’t have passed _over_ the fence
without hitting the window first. As to the bedroom windows, that’s
impossible. Mr. Shanahan and his friends would not only have heard
the shot, they would have seen it--which they didn’t.”

“Then what’s the meaning of it?”

“The meaning of it is simply this: either Rewse was shot somewhere
else and his body brought here afterwards, or the article, whatever
it was, that the bullet struck must have been taken away.”

“Yes, of course. It’s just another piece of evidence destroyed by
Main, that’s all. Every step we go we see the diabolical completeness
of his plans. But now every piece of evidence missing only tells the
more against him. The body alone condemns him past all redemption.”

Hewitt was gazing about the room thoughtfully. “I think we’ll have
Mrs. Hurley over here,” he said; “she should tell us if anything is
missing. Constable, will you ask Mrs. Hurley to step over here?”

Mrs. Hurley came at once and was brought into the sitting-room.
“Just look about you, Mrs. Hurley,” Hewitt said, “in this room and
everywhere else, and tell me if anything is missing that you can
remember was here on the morning of the day you last saw Mr. Rewse.”

She looked thoughtfully up and down the room. “Sure, sor,” she said,
“’tis all there as ord’nary.” Her eyes rested on the mantelpiece, and
she added at once, “Except the clock, indade.”

“Except the clock?”

“The clock ut is, sure. Ut stud on that same mantelpiece on that
mornin’ as ut always did.”

“What sort of clock was it?”

“Just a plain round wan wid a metal case--an American clock they
said ut was. But ut kept nigh as good time as me own.”

“It _did_ keep good time, you say?”

“Faith an’ ut did, sor. Mine an’ this ran together for weeks wid
nivir a minute betune thim.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hurley, thank you; that will do,” Hewitt exclaimed,
with something of excitement in his voice. He turned to Mr. Bowyer.
“We must find that clock,” he said. “And there’s the pistol; nothing
has been seen of that. Come, help me search. Look for a loose board.”

“But he’ll have taken them away with him, probably.”

“The pistol perhaps--although that isn’t likely. The clock, no. It’s
evidence, man, evidence!” Hewitt darted outside and walked hurriedly
round the cottage, looking this way and that about the country
adjacent.

Presently he returned. “No,” he said, “I think it’s more likely in
the house.” He stood for a moment and thought. Then he made for the
fireplace and flung the fender across the floor. All round the
hearthstone an open crack extended. “See there!” he exclaimed as he
pointed to it. He took the tongs, and with one leg levered the stone
up till he could seize it in his fingers. Then he dragged it out and
pushed it across the linoleum that covered the floor. In the space
beneath lay a large revolver and a common American round
nickel-plated clock. “See here!” he cried, “see here!” and he rose
and placed the articles on the mantelpiece. The glass before the
clock-face was smashed to atoms, and there was a gaping rent in the
face itself. For a few seconds Hewitt regarded it as it stood, and
then he turned to Mr. Bowyer. “Mr. Bowyer,” he said, “we have done
Mr. Stanley Main a sad injustice. Poor young Rewse committed suicide.
There is proof undeniable,” and he pointed to the clock.

[Illustration: “HE TOOK THE TONGS, AND WITH ONE LEG LEVERED THE STONE
UP.”]

“Proof? How? Where? Nonsense, man! Pooh! Ridiculous! If Rewse
committed suicide, why should Main go to all that trouble and tell
all those lies to prove that he died of small-pox? More even than
that, what has he run away for?”

“I’ll tell you, Mr. Bowyer, in a moment. But first as to this clock.
Remember, Main set his watch by the Cullanin Town Hall clock, and
Mrs. Hurley’s clock agreed exactly. That we have proved ourselves
to-day by my own watch. Mrs. Hurley’s clock still agrees. _This_
clock was always kept in time with Mrs. Hurley’s. Main returned at
two exactly. Look at the time by that clock--the time when the bullet
crashed into and stopped it.”

The time was three minutes to one.

Hewitt took the clock, unscrewed the winder and quickly stripped off
the back, exposing the works. “See,” he said, “the bullet is lodged
firmly among the wheels, and has been torn into snags and strips by
the impact. The wheels themselves are ruined altogether. The central
axle which carries the hands is bent. See there! Neither hand will
move in the slightest. That bullet struck the axle and fixed those
hands immovably at the moment of time when Algernon Rewse died. Look
at the mainspring. It is less than half run out. Proof that the clock
was going when the shot struck it. Main left Rewse alive and well at
half-past nine. He did not return till two--when Rewse had been dead
more than an hour.”

“But then, hang it all! How about the lies, and the false
certificate, and the bolting?”

“Let me tell you the whole tale, Mr. Bowyer, as I conjecture it to
have been. Poor young Rewse was, as you told me, in a bad state of
health--thoroughly run down, I think you said. You said something of
his engagement and the death of the lady. This pointed clearly to a
nervous--a mental upset. Very well. He broods, and so forth. He must
go away and find change of scene and occupation. His intimate friend
Main brings him here. The holiday has its good effect perhaps, at
first, but after a while it gets monotonous, and brooding sets in
again. I do not know whether or not you happen to know it, but it is
a fact that four-fifths of all persons suffering from melancholia
have suicidal tendencies. This may never have been suspected by Main,
who otherwise might not have left him so long alone. At any rate he
_is_ left alone, and he takes the opportunity. He writes a note to
Main, and a long letter to his mother--an awful, heartbreaking
letter, with a terrible picture of the mental agony wherein he was to
die--perhaps with a tincture of religious mania in it, and
prophesying merited hell for himself in the hereafter. This done, he
simply stands up from this table, at which he has been writing, and
with his back to the fireplace shoots himself. There he lies till
Main returns an hour later. Main finds the door shut, and nobody
answers his knock. He goes round to the sitting-room window, looks
through, and perhaps he sees the body. Anyway he pushes back the
catch with his knife, opens the window and gets in, and _then_ he
sees. He is completely knocked out of time. The thing is terrible.
What shall he--what can he do? Poor Rewse’s mother and sister dote on
him, and his mother is an invalid--heart disease. To let her see that
awful letter would be to kill her. He burns the letter, also the note
to himself. Then an idea strikes him. Even without the letter the
news of her boy’s suicide will probably kill the poor old lady. Can
she be prevented hearing of it? Of his death she must know--that’s
inevitable. But as to the manner? Would it not be possible to concoct
some kind lie? And then the opportunities of the situation occur to
him. Nobody but himself knows of it. He is a medical man, fully
qualified, and empowered to give certificates of death. More, there
is an epidemic of small-pox in the neighbourhood. What easier, with a
little management, than to call the death one by small-pox? Nobody
would be anxious to examine too closely the corpse of a small-pox
patient. He decides that he will do it. He writes the letter to Mrs.
Rewse announcing that her son has the disease, and he forbids Mrs.
Hurley to come near the place for fear of infection. He cleans the
floor--it is linoleum here, you see, and the stains were fresh--burns
the clothes, cleans and stops the wound. At every turn his medical
knowledge is of use. He puts the smashed clock and the pistol out of
sight under the hearth. In a word, he carries out the whole thing
rather cleverly, and a terrible few days he must have passed. It
never strikes him that he has dug a frightful pit for his own feet.
You are suspicious, and you come across. In a perhaps rather
peremptory manner you tell him how suspicious his conduct has been.
And then a sense of his terrible position comes upon him like a
thunderclap. He sees it all. He has deliberately of his own motion
destroyed every evidence of the suicide. There is no evidence in the
world that Rewse did not die a natural death, except the body, and
that you are going to dig up. He sees now (you remind him of it, in
fact) that _he_ is the one man alive who can profit by Rewse’s death.
And there is the shot body, and there is the false death certificate,
and there are the lying letters, and the tales to the neighbours and
everything. He has himself destroyed everything that proves suicide.
All that remains points to a foul murder, and to him as the murderer.
Can you wonder at his complete breakdown and his flight? What else in
the world could the poor fellow do?”

“Well, well--yes, yes,” Mr. Bowyer replied thoughtfully, “it seems
very plausible, of course. But still, look at probabilities, my dear
sir, look at probabilities.”

“No, but look at _possibilities._ There is that clock. Get over it
if you can. Was there ever a more insurmountable alibi? Could Main
possibly be here shooting Rewse and half-way between here and
Cullanin at the same time? Remember, Mrs. Hurley saw him come back at
two, and she had been watching for an hour, and could see more than
half a mile up the road.”

“Well, yes, I suppose you’re right. And what must we do now?”

“Bring Main back. I think we should advertise to begin with. Say,
‘Rewse is proved to have died over an hour before you came. All safe.
Your evidence is wanted,’ or something of that sort. And we must set
the telegraph going. The police already are looking for him, no
doubt. Meanwhile I will look here for a clue myself.”

The advertisement was successful in two days. Indeed, Main
afterwards said that he was at the time, once the first terror was
over, in doubt whether or not it would be best to go back and face
the thing out, trusting to his innocence. He could not venture home
for money, nor to his bank, for fear of the police. He chanced upon
the advertisement as he searched the paper for news of the case, and
that decided him. His explanation of the matter was precisely as
Hewitt had expected. His only thought till Mr. Bowyer first arrived
at the cottage had been to smother the real facts and to spare the
feelings of Mrs. Rewse and her daughter, and it was not till that
gentleman put them so plainly before him that he in the least
realised the dangers of his position. That his fears for Mrs. Rewse
were only too well grounded was proved by events, for the poor old
lady only survived her son by a month.

These events took place some little while ago, as may be gathered
from the fact that Miss Rewse has now been Mrs. Stanley Main for
nearly three years.

[Illustration: Gun and broken clock]



THE AFFAIR OF MRS. SETON’S CHILD


It has struck me that many of my readers may wonder that, although I
have set down in detail a number of interesting cases wherein Hewitt
figured with success, I have scarcely as much as alluded to his
failures. For failures he had, and of a fair number. More than once
he has found his search met, perhaps at the beginning, perhaps after
some little while, by an impenetrable wall of darkness through which
no clue led. At other times he has lost time on a false trail while
his quarry escaped. At others still the stupidity or inaccuracy of
some person upon whom he has depended for information has set his
plans to naught. The reason why none of these cases have been
embodied in the present papers is simply this: that a problem with no
answer, a puzzle with no explanation, an incident with no
satisfactory end, as a rule lends itself but poorly to purposes of
popular narrative, and it is often difficult to make understood and
appreciated any degree of skill and acumen unless it produces a clear
and intelligible result. That such results attended Hewitt’s efforts
in an extraordinary degree those who have followed my narratives so
far will need no assurance; but withal impossibilities still remain
impossibilities, for Hewitt as for the dullest creature alive. On
some other occasion I may perhaps set out at length a case in which
Martin Hewitt achieved nothing more than unqualified failure; for the
present I shall content myself with a case which, although it was
completely cleared up in the end, yet for some while baffled Hewitt
because of some of the reasons I have alluded to.

On the ground floor of the building wherein Hewitt kept his office,
and in which I myself had my chambers, were the offices of Messrs.
Streatley & Raikes, an old-fashioned firm of family solicitors.
Messrs. Streatley & Raikes’s junior clerk appeared in Hewitt’s outer
office one morning with the query, “Is your guv’nor in?”

Kerrett admitted the fact.

“Will you tell him Mr. Raikes sends his compliments and will be
obliged if he can step downstairs for a few minutes? It’s a client of
ours--a lady--and she’s in a great state about losing her baby or
something. Say Mr. Raikes would bring her up, only she seems too ill
to get up the stairs.”

This was the purport of the message which Kerrett brought into the
inner room, and in three minutes Hewitt was in Streatley & Raikes’s
office.

“I thought the only useful thing possible would be to send for you,
Mr Hewitt,” Mr. Raikes explained; “indeed, if my client had been
better acquainted with London, no doubt she would have come to you
direct. She is in a bad state in the inner office. Her name is Mrs.
Seton; her husband is a recent client of ours. Quite young, and
rather wealthy people, so far as I know. Made a fortune early, I
believe, in South Africa, and came here to live. Their child--their
only child, a little toddler of two years or thereabout--disappeared
yesterday in a most mysterious way, and all efforts to find it seem
to have failed as yet. The police have been set going everywhere, but
there is no news as yet. Mrs. Seton seems to have passed a dreadful
night, and could think of nothing better to do this morning than to
come to us. She has her maid with her, and looks to be breaking down
entirely. I believe she’s lying on the sofa in my private room now.
Will you see her? I think you might hear what she has to say, whether
you take the case in hand or not; something may strike you, and in
any case it will comfort her to get your opinion. I told her all
about you, you know, and she clutched at the chance eagerly. Shall I
see if we may go in?”

Mr. Raikes knocked at the door of his inner sanctum and waited; then
he knocked again and set the door ajar. There was a quiet “Come in,”
and pushing open the door the lawyer motioned Hewitt to follow him.

On the sofa facing the door sat a lady, very pale, and exhibiting
plain signs of grief and physical weariness. A heavy veil was thrown
back over her bonnet, and her maid stood at her side holding a bottle
of salts. As she saw Hewitt she made as if to rise, but he stepped
quickly forward and laid his hand on her shoulder. “Pray don’t
disturb yourself, Mrs. Seton,” he said; “Mr. Raikes has told me
something of your trouble, and perhaps when I know a little more I
shall be able to offer you some advice. But remember that it will be
very important for you to maintain your strength and spirits as much
as possible.”

[Illustration: “ON THE SOFA FACING THE DOOR SAT A LADY, VERY PALE,
AND EXHIBITING PLAIN SIGNS OF GRIEF.”]

“This is Mr. Martin Hewitt, you know,” Mr. Raikes here put in--“of
whom I was speaking.”

Mrs. Seton inclined her head, and with a very obvious effort began.
“It is my child, you know, Mr. Hewitt--my little boy Charley; we
can’t find him.”

“Mr. Raikes has told me so. When did you see the child last?”

“Yesterday morning. His nurse left him sitting on the floor in a
room we call the small morning-room, where we sometimes allowed him
to play when nurse was out, because the nursery was out of hearing,
except from the bedrooms. I myself was in the large morning-room, and
as he seemed to be very quiet I went to look, and found he was not
there.”

“You looked elsewhere, of course?”

“Yes; but he was nowhere in the house, and none of the servants had
seen him. At first I supposed that his nurse had gone back to the
small morning-room and taken him with her--I had sent her on an
errand--but when she returned I found that was not the case.”

“Can he walk?”

“Oh, yes, he can walk quite well. But he could scarcely have come
out from the room without my hearing him. The two rooms, the
morning-room and the small sitting-room, are on opposite sides of the
same passage.”

“Do the doors face each other?”

“No; the door of the small room is farther up the passage than the
other. But in any case he was nowhere in the house.”

“But if he left the room he must have got out somehow. Is there no
other door?”

“Yes, there is a French window, with the lower panels of wood, in
the room; it gives on to a few steps leading down into the garden;
but that was closed and bolted on the inside.”

“You found no trace whatever of him, I take it, on the whole
premises?”

“Not a trace of any sort, nor had anybody about the place seen him.”

“Did you yourself actually see him in this room, or have you merely
the nurse’s word for it?”

“I saw her put him there. She left him playing with a box of toys.
When I went to look for him the toys were there, scattered on the
floor, but he had gone.” Mrs. Seton sank on the arms of her maid and
her breast heaved.

“I’m sure,” Hewitt said, “You’ll keep your nerves as steady as you
can, Mrs. Seton: much may depend on it. If you have nothing else to
tell me now, I think I will come to your house at once, look at it,
and question your servants myself. Meantime, what has been done?”

“The police have been notified everywhere, of course,” Mr. Raikes
said, handing Hewitt a printed bill, damp from the press; “and here
is a bill containing a description of the child and offering a
reward, which is being circulated now.”

Hewitt glanced at the bill and nodded. “That is quite right,” he
said, “so far as I can tell at present. But I must see the place. Do
you feel strong enough to come home now, Mrs. Seton?”

Hewitt’s business-like decision and confidence of manner gave the
lady fresh strength. “The brougham is here,” she said, “and we can
drive home at once. We live at Cricklewood.”

A fine pair of horses stood before the brougham, though they still
bore signs of hard work; and indeed they had been kept at their best
pace all that morning. All the way to Cricklewood Hewitt kept Mrs.
Seton in conversation, never for a moment leaving her attention
disengaged. The missing child, he learned, was the only one, and the
family had only been in England for something less than a year. Mr.
Seton had become possessed of real property in South Africa, had sold
it in London, and had determined to settle here.

A little way past Shoot-up Hill the coachman swung his pair off to
the left, and presently entering a gate, pulled up before a large,
old-fashioned house.

Here Hewitt immediately began a complete examination of the
premises. The possible exits from the grounds, he found, were four in
number: the two wide front gates giving on to the carriage-drive, the
kitchen and stable entrance, and a side gate in a fence--always
locked, however. Inside the house, from the central hall, a passage
to the right led to another wherein was the door of the small
morning-room. This was a very ordinary room, fifteen feet square or
so, lighted by the glass in the French window, the bottom panes of
which, however, had been filled in with wood. The contents of a box
of toys lay scattered on the floor, and the box itself lay near.

“Have these toys been moved,” Hewitt asked, “since the child was
missed?”

“No, we haven’t allowed anything to be disturbed. The disappearance
seemed so wholly unaccountable that we thought the police might wish
to examine the place exactly as it was. They did not seem to think it
necessary, however.”

Hewitt knelt and examined the toys without disturbing them. They
were of very good quality, and represented a farmyard, with horses,
carts, ducks, geese and cows complete. One of the carts had had a
string attached so that it might be pulled along the floor.

“Now,” Hewitt said, rising, “you think, Mrs. Seton, that the child
could not have toddled through the passage, and so into some other
part of the house, without you hearing him?”

“Well,” Mrs. Seton answered with indecision, “I thought so at first,
but I begin to doubt. Because he _must_ have done so, I suppose.”

They went into the passage. The door of the large morning-room was
four or five yards further toward the passage leading to the hall,
and on the opposite side. “The floor in this passage,” Hewitt
observed, “is rather thickly carpeted. See here, I can walk on it at
a good pace without noise.”

Mrs. Seton assented. “Of course,” she said, “if he got past here he
might have got anywhere about the house, and so into the grounds.
There is a veranda outside the drawing-room, and doors in various
places.’

“Of course the grounds have been completely examined?”

“Oh, yes, every inch.”

“The weather has been very dry, unfortunately,” Hewitt said, “and it
would be useless for me to look for footprints on your hard gravel,
especially of so small a child. Let us come back to the room. Is the
French window fastened as you found it?”

“Yes; nothing has been changed.”

The French window was, as is usual, one of two casements joining in
the centre and fastened by bolts top and bottom. “It is not your
habit, I see,” Hewitt observed, “to open both halves of the window.”

“No; one side is always fastened, the other we secure by the bottom
bolt because the catch of the handle doesn’t always act properly.”

“And you found that bolt fastened as I see it now?”

“Yes.”

Hewitt lifted the bolt and opened the door. Four or five steps led
parallel with the face of the wall to a sort of path which ran the
whole length of the house on this side, and was only separated from a
quiet public lane by a low fence and a thin hedge. Almost opposite a
small, light gate stood in the fence, firmly padlocked.

“I see,” Hewitt remarked, “your house is placed close against one
side of the grounds. Is that the side gate which you always keep
locked?”

Mrs. Seton replied in the affirmative, and Hewitt laid his hand on
the gate in question. “Still,” he said, “if security is the object I
should recommend hinges a little less rural in pattern; see here,”
and he gave the gate a jerk upward, lifting the hinge-pins from their
sockets and opening the gate from that side, the padlock acting as
hinge. “Those hinges,” he added, “were meant for a heavier gate than
that;” and he replaced the gate.

[Illustration: “‘THOSE HINGES WERE MEANT FOR A HEAVIER GATE THAN
THAT.’”]

“Yes,” Mrs. Seton replied; “I am obliged to you; but that doesn’t
concern us now. The French window was bolted on the inside. Would you
like to see the servants?”

The servants were produced, and Hewitt questioned each in turn, but
not one would admit having seen anything of Master Charles Seton
after he had been left in the small morning-room. A rather stupid
groom fancied he had seen Master Charles on the side lawn, but then
remembered that that must have been the day before. The cook, an
uncommonly thin, sharp-featured woman for one of her trade, was
especially positive that she had not seen him all that day. “And she
would be sure to have remembered if she had seen him leaving the
house,” she said, “because she was the more particular since he was
lost the last time.”

This was news to Hewitt. “Lost the last time?” he asked; “why, what
is this, Mrs. Seton? Was he lost once before?”

“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Seton answered, “six or seven weeks ago. But that
was quite different. He strayed out at the front gate, and was
brought back from the police station in the evening.”

“But this may be most important,” Hewitt said. “You should certainly
have told me. Tell me now exactly what happened on this first
occasion.”

“But it was really quite an ordinary sort of accident. He was left
alone and got out through an open gate. Of course we were very
anxious; but we had him back the same evening. Need we waste time in
talking about that?”

“But it will be no waste of time, I assure you. What was it that
happened, exactly?”

“Nurse was about to take him for a short walk just before lunch. On
the front lawn he suddenly remembered a whip which had been left in
the nursery, and insisted on taking it with him. She left him and
went back for it, taking, however, some little time to find it. When
she returned he was nowhere to be seen; but one of the gates was a
couple of feet or more open--it had caught on a loose stone in
swinging to--and no doubt he had wandered off that way. A lady found
him some distance away, and, not knowing to whom he belonged, took
him that evening to a police station, and as messages had been sent
to the police stations, we had him back soon after he was left there.”

“Do you know who the lady was?”

“Her name was Mrs. Clark. She left her name and address at the
police station, and of course I wrote to thank her. But there was
some mistake in taking it down, I suppose, for the letter was
returned marked ‘not known.’”

“Then you never saw this lady yourself?”

“No.”

“I think I will make a note of the exact description of the child
and then visit the police station to which this lady took him six
weeks ago. Fair, curly hair, I think, and blue eyes? Age two years
and three months; walks and runs well, and speaks fairly plainly.
Dress?”

“Pale blue llama frock with lace, white under-linen, linen overall,
pale blue silk socks and tan shoes. Everything good as new except the
shoes, which were badly worn at the backs, through a habit he has of
kicking back and downward with his heels when sitting. They were
rather old shoes, and only used indoors.”

“If I remember aright nothing was said of those shoes in the printed
bill?”

“Was that so? No, I believe not. I have been so worried.”

“Yes, Mrs. Seton, of course. It is most creditable in you to have
kept up so well while I have been making my inquiries. Go now and
take a good rest while I do what is possible. By the way, where was
Mr. Seton yesterday morning when you missed the boy?”

“In the City. He has some important business in hand just now.”

“And to-day?”

“He has gone to the City again. Of course he is sadly worried; but
he saw that everything possible was done, and his business was very
important.”

“Just so. Mr. Seton was not married before, I presume--if I may?”

“No, certainly not; why do you ask?”

“I beg your pardon, but I have a habit of asking almost every
question I can think of; I can’t know too much of a case, you know,
and most unlikely pieces of information sometimes turn out useful.
Thank you for your patience; I will try another plan now.”

Mrs. Seton had kept up remarkably well during Hewitt’s examination,
but she was plainly by no means a strong woman, and her maid came
again to her assistance as Hewitt left. Hewitt himself made for the
police station. Few inspectors indeed of the Metropolitan Police
force did not know Hewitt by sight, and the one here in charge knew
him well. He remembered very well the occasion, six weeks or so
before, when Mrs. Clark brought Mrs. Seton’s child to the station. He
was on duty himself at the time, and he turned up the book containing
an entry on the subject. From this it appeared that the lady gave the
address No. 89, Sedgby Road, Belsize Park.

“I suppose you didn’t happen to know the lady,” Hewitt asked--“by
sight or otherwise?”

“No, I didn’t, and I’m not sure I could swear to her again,” the
inspector answered. “She wore a heavy veil, and I didn’t see much of
her face. One rum thing I noticed, though: she seemed rather taken
with the baby, and as she stooped down to kiss him before she went
away I could see an old scar on her throat. It was just the sort of
scar I’ve seen on a man that’s had his throat cut and got over it.
She wore a high collar to hide it, but stooping shifted the collar,
and so I saw it.”

“Did she seem an educated woman?”

“Oh yes; perfect lady; spoke very nice. I told her a baby had been
inquired after by Mrs. Seton, and from the description I’d no doubt
this was the one. And so it was.”

“At what time was this?”

“7.10 p.m., exactly. Here it is, all entered properly.”

“Now as to Sedgby Road, Belsize Park. Do you happen to know it?”

“Oh, yes, very well. Very quiet, respectable road indeed. I only
know it through walking through.”

“I see a suburban directory on the shelf behind you. Do you mind
pulling it down? Thanks. Let us find Sedgby Road. Here it is. See,
there _is_ no No. 89; the highest number is 67.”

“No more there is,” the inspector answered, running his finger down
the column; “and there’s no Clark in the road, that’s more. False
address, that’s plain. And so they’ve lost him again, have they? We
had notice yesterday, of course, and I’ve just got some bills. This
last seems a queer sort of affair, don’t it? Child sitting inside the
house disappeared like a ghost, and all the doors and windows
fastened inside.”

Hewitt agreed that the affair had very uncommon features, and
presently left the station and sought a cab. All the way back to his
office he considered the matter deeply. As a matter of fact he was at
a loss. Certain evidence he had seen in the house, but it went a very
little way, and beyond that there was merely no clue whatever. There
were features of the child’s first estrayal also that attracted him,
though it might very easily be the case that nothing connected the
two events. There was an unknown woman--apparently a lady--who had
once had her throat cut, bringing the child back after several hours,
and giving a false name and address, for since the address was false,
the same was probably the case with the name. Why was this? This time
the child was still absent, and nothing whatever was there to suggest
in what direction he might be followed, neither was there anything to
indicate why he should be detained anywhere, if detained he was.
Hewitt determined, while awaiting any result that the bills might
bring, to cause certain inquiries to be made into the antecedents of
the Setons. Moreover, other work was waiting, and the Seton business
must be put aside for a few hours at least.

Hewitt sat late in his office that evening, and at about nine
o’clock Mrs. Seton returned. The poor woman seemed on the verge of
serious illness. She had received two anonymous letters, which she
brought with her, and with scarcely a word placed before Hewitt’s
eyes.

The first he opened and read as follows:--

“The writer observes that you are offering a reward for the recovery
of your child. There is no necessity for this; Charley is quite safe,
happy, and in good hands. Pray do not instruct detectives or take any
such steps just yet. The child is well and shall be returned to you.
This I swear solemnly. His errand is one of mercy; pray have
patience.”

Hewitt turned the letter and envelope in his hand. “Good paper, of
the same sort as the envelope,” he remarked, “but only a half sheet,
freshly torn off, probably because the other side bore an address
heading; therefore most likely from a respectable sort of house. The
writing is a woman’s, and good, though the writer was agitated when
she did it. Posted this afternoon, at Willesden.”

“You see,” Mrs. Seton said anxiously, “she knows his name. She calls
him ‘Charley.’”

“Yes,” Hewitt answered; “there may be something in that, or there
may not. The name Charles Seton is on the bills, isn’t it? And they
have been visible publicly all day to-day. So that the name may be
more easily explained than some other parts of the letter. For
instance, the writer says that the child’s ‘errand’ is one of mercy.
The little fellow may be very intelligent--no doubt is--but children
of two years old as a rule do not practise errands of mercy--nor
indeed errands of any sort. Can you think of anything whatever, Mrs.
Seton, in connection with your family history, or indeed anything
else, that may throw light on that phrase?”

He looked keenly at her as he asked, but her expression was one of
blank doubt merely, as she shook her head slowly and answered in the
negative. Hewitt turned to the other letter and read this:--


“MADAM,--

“If you want your child you had better make an arrangement with me.
You fancy he has strayed, but as a matter of fact he has been stolen,
and you little know by whom. You will never get him back except
through me, you may rest assured of that. Are you prepared to pay me
one hundred pounds (£100) if I hand him to you, and no questions
asked? Your present reward, £20, is paltry; and you may finally bid
good-bye to your child if you will not accept my terms. If you do,
say as much in an advertisement to the _Standard,_ addressed to

                                                     “VERITAS.”


“A man’s handwriting,” Hewitt commented; “fairly well formed, but
shaky. The writer is not in first-rate health--each line totters away
in a downward slope at the end. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that
the gentleman drank. Postmark, Hampstead; posted this afternoon also.
But the striking thing is the paper and envelope. They are each of
exactly the same kind and size as those of the other letter. The
paper also is a half sheet, and torn off on the same side as the
other; confirmation of my suspicion that the object is to get rid of
the printed address. I shall be surprised if both these were not
written in the same house. That looks like a traitor in the enemy’s
camp; the question is, which is the traitor?” Hewitt regarded the
letters intently for a few seconds and then proceeded. “Plainly,” he
said, “if these letters are written by people who know anything about
the matter, one writer is lying. The woman promises that the child
shall be returned without reward or search, and talks generally as if
the taking away of the child, or the estrayal, or whatever it was,
were a very virtuous sort of proceeding. The man says plainly that
the child has been stolen, with no attempt to gloss the matter, and
asserts that nothing will get the child back but heavy blackmail--a
very different story. On the other hand, can there be any concerted
design in these two letters? Are they intended, each from its own
side, to play up to a certain result?” Hewitt paused and thought.
Then he asked suddenly: “Do you recognise anything familiar either in
the handwriting or the stationery of these letters?”

“No, nothing.”

“Very well,” Hewitt said, “we will come to closer quarters with the
blackmailer, I think. You needn’t commit yourself to paying anything,
of course.”

“But, Mr. Hewitt, I will gladly pay or do anything. The hundred
pounds is nothing. I will pay it gladly if I can only get my child.”

“Well, well, we shall see. The man may not be able to do what he
offers, after all, but that we will test. It is too late now for an
advertisement in to-morrow morning’s _Standard,_ but there is the
_Evening Standard_--he may even mean that--and the next morning’s. I
will have an advertisement inserted in both, inviting this man to
make an appointment, and prove the genuineness of his offer; that
will fetch him if he wants the money, and can do anything for it.
Have you nothing else to tell me?”

“Nothing. But have you ascertained nothing yourself? Don’t say I’ve
to pass another night in such dreadful suspense!”

“I’m afraid, Mrs. Seton, I must ask you to be patient a little
longer. I have ascertained something, but it has not carried me far
as yet. Remember that if there is anything at all in these anonymous
letters (and I think there is) the child is at any rate safe, and to
be found one way or another. Both agree in that.” This he said mainly
to comfort his client, for in fact he had learned very little. His
news from the City as to Mr. Seton’s early history had been but
meagre. He was known as a successful speculator, and that was almost
all. There was an indefinite notion that he had been married once
before, but nothing more.


All the next day Hewitt did nothing in the case. Another affair, a
previous engagement, kept him hard at work in his office all day, and
indeed had this not been the case he could have done little. His City
inquiries were still in progress, and he awaited, moreover, a reply
to the advertisement. But at about half-past seven in the evening
this telegram arrived--


_Child returned. Come at once.--Seton._


In five minutes Hewitt was making north-west in a hansom, and in
half an hour he was ringing the bell at the Setons’ house. Within,
Mrs. Seton was still semi-hysterical, clasping the child--an
intelligent-looking little fellow--in her arms, and refusing to
release her hold of him for a moment. Mr. Seton stood before the fire
in the same room. He was a smart-looking, scrupulously dressed man of
thirty-five or thereabouts, and he began explaining his telegram as
soon as he had wished Hewitt good-evening.

“The child’s back,” he said, “and of course that’s the great thing.
But I’m not satisfied, Mr. Hewitt. I want to know why it was taken
away, and I want to punish somebody. It’s really very extraordinary.
My poor wife has been driving about all day--she called on you, by
the bye, but you were out” (Hewitt credited this to Kerrett, who had
been told he must not be disturbed), “and she has been all over the
place uselessly, unable to rest, of course. Well, I have been at home
since half-past four, and at about six I was smoking in the small
morning-room--I often use it as a smoking-room--and looking out at
the French window. I came away from there, and half an hour or more
later, as it was getting dusk, I remembered I had left the French
window open, and sent a servant to shut it. She went straight to the
room, and there on the floor, where he was seen last, she found the
child playing with his toys as though nothing had happened!”

“And how was he dressed--as he is now?”

“Yes, just as he was when we missed him.”

Hewitt stepped up to the child as he sat on his mother’s lap, and
rubbed his cheek, speaking pleasantly to him. The little fellow
looked up and smiled, and Hewitt observed: “One thing is noticeable:
this linen overall is almost clean. Little boys like this don’t keep
one white overall clean for three days, do they? And see--those
shoes--aren’t they new? Those he had were old, I think you said, and
tan-coloured.”

The shoes now on the child’s feet were of white leather, with a
noticeable sewn ornamentation in silk. His mother had not noticed
them before, and as she looked he lifted his little foot higher and
said. “Look, mummy, more new shoes!”

“Ask him,” suggested Hewitt hurriedly, “who gave them to him.”

His father asked him, and the little fellow looked puzzled. After a
pause, he said, “Mummy.”

“No,” his mother answered, “_I_ didn’t.”

He thought a moment and then said, “No, no, not _vis_ mummy--course
not.” And for some little while after that the only answer procurable
from him was, “Course not,” which seemed to be a favourite phrase of
his.

“Have you asked him where he has been?”

“Yes,” his mother answered, “but he only says ‘Ta-ta.’”

“Ask him again.”

She did. This time, after a little reflection, he pointed his chubby
arm toward the door and said. “Been dere.”

“Who took you?” asked Mrs. Seton.

Again Charley seemed puzzled. Then, looking doubtfully at his
mother, he said “Mummy.”

“No, not mummy,” she answered; and his reply was “Course not,” after
which he attempted to climb on her shoulder.

Then, at Hewitt’s suggestion, he was asked whom he went to see. This
time the reply was prompt.

“Poor daddy,” he said.

“What, _this_ daddy?”

“No, not _vis_ daddy--course not.” And that was all that could be
got from him.

“He will probably say things in the next day or two which may be
useful,” Hewitt said, “if you listen pretty sharply. Now I should
like to go to the small morning-room.”

In time room in question the door was still open. Outside the moon
had risen and made the evening almost as clear as day. Hewitt
examined the steps and the path at their foot, but all was dry and
hard, and showed no footmark. Then, as his eye rested on the small
gate, “See here,” he exclaimed suddenly, “somebody has been in,
lifting the gate, as I showed Mrs. Seton when I was last here. The
gate has been replaced in a hurry, and only the top hinge has dropped
in its place; the bottom one is disjointed.” He lifted the gate once
more and set it back. The ground just along its foot was softer than
in the parts surrounding, and here Hewitt perceived the print of a
heel. It was the heel-mark of a woman’s boot, small and sharp and of
the usual curved D-shape. Nowhere else within or without was there
the slightest mark. Hewitt went some distance either way in the outer
lane, but without discovering anything more.

“I think I will borrow those new shoes,” Hewitt said on his return.
“I think I should be disposed to investigate further in any case, for
my own satisfaction. The thing interests me. By the way, Mrs. Seton,
tell me, would these shoes be more likely to have been bought at a
regular shoemaker’s or at a baby-linen shop?”

“Certainly I should say at a baby-linen shop,” Mrs. Seton answered;
“they are of excellent quality, and for babies’ shoes of this fancy
description one would never go to an ordinary shoemaker’s.”

“So much the better, because the baby-linen shops are fewer than the
shoemakers’. I may take these, then? Perhaps before I go you had
better make quite certain that there is nothing else about the child
which is not your own.”

There was nothing, and with the shoes in his pocket Hewitt regained
his cab and travelled back to his office. The case, from its very
bareness and simplicity, puzzled him. Why was the child taken?
Plainly not to keep, for it had been returned almost as it went.
Plainly also not for the sake of reward or blackmail, for here was
the child safely back, before the anonymous blackmailer had had a
chance of earning his money. More, the advertised reward had not been
claimed. Also it could not be a matter of malice or revenge, for the
child was quite unharmed, and indeed seemed to have been quite happy.
No conceivable family complication, previous to the marriage of Mr.
and Mrs. Seton, could induce anybody to take away and return the
child, which was undoubtedly Mrs. Seton’s. Then who could be the
“poor daddy” and “mummy”--not _“vis_ daddy” and not _“vis_ mummy
“--that the child had been with? The Setons knew nothing of them. It
was difficult to see what it could all mean.

Arrived at his office, Hewitt took a map, and, setting the leg of a
pair of compasses on the site of the Setons’ house, described a
circle, including in its radius all Willesden and Hampstead. Then,
with the Suburban Directory to help him, he began searching out and
noting all the baby-linen shops in the area. After all, there were
not many--about a dozen. This done, Hewitt went home.

In the morning he began his hunt. His design was to call at each of
the shops until he had found in which a pair of shoes of that
particular pattern had been sold on the day of little Charley Seton’s
disappearance. The first two shops he tried did not keep shoes of the
pattern, and had never had them, and the young ladies behind the
counter seemed vastly amused at Hewitt’s inquiries. Nothing
perturbed, he tried the next shop on his list in the Hampstead
district. There they kept such shoes as a rule, but were “out of them
at present.” Hewitt immediately sent his card to the proprietress,
requesting a few minutes’ interview.

The lady--a very dignified lady indeed--in black silk, gray
corkscrew curls and spectacles, came out with Hewitt’s card between
her fingers. He apologised for troubling her, and, stepping out of
hearing from the counter, explained that his business was urgent. “A
child has been taken away by some unauthorised person, whom I am
endeavouring to trace. This person bought this pair of shoes on
Monday. You keep such shoes, I find, though they are not in stock at
present, and, as they appear to be of an uncommon sort, possibly they
were bought here.”

The lady looked at them. “Yes,” she said, “this pattern of shoe is
made especially for me. I do not think you can buy them at other
places.”

[Illustration: “‘THIS PATTERN OF SHOE IS MADE ESPECIALLY FOR ME.’”]

“Then may I ask you to inquire from your assistants if any were sold
on Monday, and to whom?”

“Certainly.” Then there were consultations behind counters and
desks, and examinations of carbon-papered books. In the end the
proprietress came to Hewitt, followed by a young lady of rather pert
and self-confident aspect. “We find,” she said, “that two pairs of
these shoes were sold on Monday. But one pair was afterwards brought
back and exchanged for others less expensive. This young lady sold
both.”

“Ah, then possibly she may remember something of the person who
bought the pair which was _not_ exchanged.”

“Yes,” the assistant answered at once, addressing herself to the
lady, “it was Mrs. Butcher’s servant.”

The proprietress frowned slightly. “Oh, indeed,” she said, “Mrs.
Butcher’s servant, was it? There have been inquiries about Mrs.
Butcher before, I believe, though not _here_. Mrs. Butcher is a woman
who takes babies to mind, and is said to make a trade of adopting
them, or finding people anxious to adopt them. I know nothing of her,
nor do I want to. She lives somewhere not far off, and you can get
her address, I believe, from the greengrocer’s round the corner.”

“Does she keep more than one servant?”

“Oh, I think not; but no doubt the greengrocer can say.” The lady
seemed to feel it an affront that she should be supposed to know
anything of Mrs. Butcher, and Hewitt consequently started for the
greengrocer’s. Now this was just one of those cases in which
dependence on information given by other people put Hewitt on the
wrong scent. He spent that day in a fatiguing pursuit of Mrs.
Butcher’s servant, with adventures rather amusing in themselves, but
quite irrelevant to the Seton case. In the end, when he had captured
her, and proceeded to open a cunning battery of inquiries, under plea
of a bet with a friend that the shoes could not be matched, he soon
found that _she_ had been the purchaser who, after buying just such a
pair of shoes, had returned and exchanged them for something cheaper.
And the only outcome of his visit to the baby-linen shop was the
waste of a day. It was indeed just one of those checks which, while
they may hamper the progress of a narrative for popular reading, are
nevertheless inseparable from the matter-of-fact experience of
Hewitt’s profession.

With a very natural rage in his heart, but with as polite an
exterior as possible, Hewitt returned to the baby-linen shop in the
evening. The whole case seemed barren of useful evidence, and at each
turn as yet he had found himself helpless. At the shop the
self-confident young lady calmly admitted that soon after he had left
something had caused her to remember that it was the other customer
who had kept the white shoes, and not Mrs. Butcher’s servant.

“And do you know the other customer?” he asked.

“No; she was quite a stranger. She brought in a little boy from a
cab and bought a lot of things for him--a suit of outdoor clothes as
well as the shoes.”

“Ah! now probably this is what I want. Can you remember anything of
the child?”

“Yes; he was a pretty little fellow, about two years old or so, with
curls. She called him Charley.”

“Did she put the things on him in the shop?”

“Not the frock; but she put on the outer coat, the hat and the
shoes. I can remember it all now quite well--now I have had time to
think.”

“Then what shoes did the child wear when he came in?”

“Rather old tan-coloured ones.”

“Then I think this is the person I am after. You say you never saw
her at any other time before or since. Try to describe her.”

“Well, she was a lady well dressed, in black. She had a very high
collar to hide a scar on her neck, like the scars people have
sometimes after abscesses, I think. I could see it from the side when
she stooped down.”

“And are you sure she had nothing sent home? Did she take everything
with her?”

“Yes; nothing was sent, else we should know her address, you know.”

“She didn’t happen to pay with a banknote, did she?”

“No; in cash.”

Hewitt left with little more ceremony, and made the best of his way
to his friend the inspector at the police station. Here was the woman
with the scarred neck again--Charley’s deliverer once, now his
kidnapper. If only something else could be ascertained of her--some
small clue that might bring her identity into view--the thing would
be done.

At the station, however, there was something new. A man had just
come in, very drunk, and had given himself into custody for
kidnapping the child Charles Seton, whose description was set forth
on the bill which still appeared on the notice-board outside the
station. When Hewitt arrived, the man was lolling, wretched and
maudlin, against the rail, and, oblivious of most of the questions
addressed to him, was ranting and snivelling by turns. His dress was
good, though splashed with mud, and his bloated face, bleared eyes
and loose, tremulous mouth proclaimed the habitual drunkard.

“I shay I’ll gimmeself up,” he proclaimed, with a desperate attempt
at dignity; “I’ll gimmeself up takin’ away lil boy; I’ll shacrifishe
m’self. Solemn duty shacrifishe m’self f’elpless woman, ain’t it?
Ver’ well then; gimmeself up takin’ ’way lil boy, buyin’ ’m pair
shoes. No harm in that, issher? Hope not. Ver’ well then.” And he
subsided into tears.

“What’s your name?” asked the inspector.

[Illustration: “‘WHAT’S YOUR NAME?’ ASKED THE INSPECTOR.”]

“Whash name? Thash my bishnesh. Warrer wan’ know name for?
Grapertnence ask gellumshname. I’m gellum, thash wha’ I am. Besht of
shisters too, besht shis’ers”--snivelling again--“an’ I’m ungra’ful
beasht. But I shacrifishe ’self; she shan’ get ’n trouble. D’y’ear?
Gimmeself up shtealin’ lil boy. Who says I ain’ gellum?”

Nothing more intelligible than this could be got out of him, and
presently he was taken off to the cells. Then Hewitt asked the
inspector, “What will happen to him now?”

The inspector laughed.

“Oh he’ll get very sober and sick and sorry by the morning,” he
said; “and then he’ll have to send home for some money, that’s all.”

“And as to the child?”

“Oh, he’ll forget all about that; that’s only a drunken freak. The
child has been recovered. You know that, I suppose?”

“Yes; but I am still after the person who took it away. It was a
woman. Indeed, I’ve more than a suspicion that it was the woman who
brought the child here when he was lost before--the one with the scar
on the neck, you know.”

“Is that so?” said the inspector. “Well, that’s a rum go, ain’t it?
What did she bring him back here for if she wanted him again?”

“That I want to find out,” Hewitt answered. “And now I want you to
do me a favour. You say you expect that man below will want to send
home in the morning for money. Well, I want to be the messenger.”

The inspector opened his eyes.

“Want to be the messenger? Well, that’s easily done; if you’re here
at the time I’ll leave word. But why?”

“Well, I’ve a sort of notion I know something about his family, and
I want to make sure. Shall I be here at eight in the morning, or
shall we say nine?”

“Which you like; I expect he’ll be shouting for bail before eight.”

“Very well, we will say eight. Good-night.”

And so Hewitt had to let yet another night go without an explanation
of the mystery; but he felt that his hand was on the key at last,
though it had only fallen there by chance. Prompt to his time at
eight in the morning he was at the police station, where another
inspector was now on duty, who, however, had been told of Hewitt’s
wish.

“Ah,” he said, “you’re well to time, Mr. Hewitt. That prisoner’s as
limp as rags now; he’s begging of us to send to his sister.”

“Does he say anything about that child?”

“Says he don’t know anything about it; all a drunken freak. His
name’s Oliver Neale, and he lives at 10, Morton Terrace, Hampstead,
with his sister. Her name’s Mrs. Isitt; and you’re to take this note
and bring her back with you, or at any rate some money; and you’re to
say he’s truly repentant,” the inspector concluded with a grin.

The distance was short, and Hewitt walked it. Morton Terrace was a
short row of pleasant, old-fashioned villas, ivy-grown and neat, and
No. 10 was as neat as any. To the servant who answered his ring
Hewitt announced himself as a gentleman with a message from Mrs.
Isitt’s brother. This did not seem to prepossess the girl in Hewitt’s
favour, and she backed to the end of the hall and communicated with
somebody on the stairs before finally showing Hewitt into a room,
where he was quickly followed by Mrs. Isitt.

She was a rather tall woman of perhaps thirty-eight, and had
probably been attractive, though now her face bore lines of sad
grief. Hewitt noticed that she wore a very high black collar.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Isitt,” he said. “I’m afraid my errand is not
altogether pleasant. The fact is, your brother, Mr. Neale, was not
altogether sober last night, and he is now at the police station,
where he wrote this note.”

Mrs. Isitt did not appear surprised, and took the note with no more
than a sigh.

“Yes,” she said, “it can’t be concealed. This is not the first time
by many, as you probably know, if you are a friend of his.”

She read the note, and as she looked up Hewitt said--

“No, I have not known him long. I happened to be at the station last
night, and he rather attracted my attention by insisting, in his
intoxicated state, on giving himself up for kidnapping a child,
Charles Seton.”

Mrs. Isitt started as though shot. Pale of cheek, she glanced
fearfully in Hewitt’s face and there met a keen gaze that seemed to
read her brain. She saw that her secret was known, but for a moment
she struggled, and her lips worked convulsively--

“Charles Seton--Charles Seton?” she said.

“Yes, Mrs. Isitt, that is the name. The child, as a matter of fact,
was stolen by the person who bought these shoes for it. Do you
recognise them?”

He produced the shoes and held them before her. The woman sank on
the sofa behind her, terrified, but unable to take her eyes from
Hewitt’s.

“Come, Mrs. Isitt,” he said, “you have been recognised. Here is my
card. I am commissioned by the parents of the child to find who
removed him, and I think I have succeeded.”

She took the card and glanced at it dazedly; then she sank with a
groaning sob with her face on the head of the sofa, and as she did so
Hewitt could see a scar on the side of her neck peeping above her
high collar.

[Illustration: “SHE SANK WITH A GROANING SOB WITH HER FACE ON THE
HEAD OF THE SOFA.”]

“Oh, my God!” the woman moaned. “Then it has come to this. He will
die! he will die!”

The woman’s anguish was piteous to see. Hewitt had gained his point,
and was willing to spare her. He placed his hand on her heaving
shoulder and begged her not to distress herself.

“The matter is rather difficult to understand, Mrs. Isitt,” he said.
“If you will compose yourself, perhaps you can explain. I can assure
you that there is no desire to be vindictive. I’m afraid my manner
upset you. Pray reassure yourself. May I sit down?”

Nobody could by his manner more easily restore confidence and trust
than Hewitt when it pleased him. Mrs. Isitt lifted her head and gazed
at him once more with a troubled though quieter expression.

“I think you wrote Mrs. Seton an anonymous letter,” Hewitt said,
producing the first of those which Mrs. Seton had brought him. “It
was kind of you to reassure the poor woman.”

“Oh, tell me,” Mrs. Isitt asked, “was she much upset at missing the
little boy? Did it make her ill?”

“She was upset, of course; but perhaps the joy of recovering him
compensated for all.”

“Yes; I took him back as soon as I possibly could, really I did, Mr.
Hewitt. And, oh! I was so tempted! My life has been so unhappy! If
you only knew!” She buried her face in her hands.

“Will you tell me?” Hewitt suggested gently. “You see, whatever
happens, an explanation of some sort is the first thing.”

“Yes, yes--of course. Oh, I am a wretched woman.” She paused for
some little while, and then went on: “Mr. Hewitt, my husband is a
lunatic.” She paused again. “There was never a man, Mr. Hewitt, so
devoted to his wife and children as my husband. He bore even with the
continual annoyance of my brother, whom you saw, _because_ he was my
brother. But a little more than a year ago, as the result of an
accident, a tumour formed on his brain. The thing is incurable
except, as a remote possibility, by a most dangerous operation, which
the doctors fear to attempt except under most favourable conditions.
Without that he must die, sooner or later. Meantime he is insane,
though with many and sometimes long intervals of perfect lucidity.
When the disease attacked him there was little warning, except from
pains in the head, till one dreadful night. Then he rose from bed a
maniac and killed our child, a little girl of six, whom he was
devotedly attached to. He also cut my own throat with his razor, but
I recovered. I would rather say nothing more of that--it is too
dreadful, though indeed I think about little else. There was another
child, a baby boy, about a year old when his sister died, and he--he
died of scarlet fever scarcely four months ago.

“My husband was taken to a private asylum at Willesden, where he now
is. I visited him frequently, and took the baby, and it was almost
terrible to see--a part of his insanity, no doubt--how his fondness
for that child grew. When it died, I never dared to tell him. Indeed,
the doctors forbade it. In his state he would have died raving. But
he asked for it, sometimes earnestly, sometimes angrily, till I
almost feared to visit him. Then he began to demand it of the doctors
and attendants, and his excitement increased day by day. I was told
to prepare for the worst. When I visited him he sometimes failed to
recognise me, and at others demanded the child fiercely. I should
tell you that it was only just about this time that it was found that
the tumour existed, and the idea of the operation was suggested; but
of course it was impossible in his disturbed condition. I scarcely
dared to go to see him, and yet I did so long to! Dr. Bailey did
indeed suggest that possibly we might find he would be quieted by
being shown another child; but I myself felt that to be very unlikely.

“It was while things were in this state, and about six or seven
weeks ago, that, walking toward Cricklewood one morning, I saw a
little fellow trotting along all alone, who actually startled
me--startled me very much--by his resemblance to our poor little one.
The likeness was one of those extraordinary ones that one only finds
among young children. This child was a little bigger and stronger
than ours was when he died, but then it was older--probably very
nearly the age and size our own would have been had it lived. Nobody
else was in sight, and I fancied the child looked about to cry, so I
went to it and spoke. Plainly it had strayed, and could not tell me
where it lived, only that its name was Charley. I took it in my arms
and it grew quite friendly. As I talked to it suddenly Dr. Bailey’s
suggestion came in my mind. If any child could deceive my poor
husband, surely this was the one. Of course I should have to find its
parents--probably through the police; but why not at any rate take it
to Willesden in the meantime for an hour or so? I could not resist
the temptation--I took the first available cab.

“The result of the experiment almost frightened me. My poor husband
received the child with transports of delight, kissed it, and laughed
and wept over it like a mother rather than a father, and refused to
give it up for hours. The child of course would not answer to its
strange name at first, but he seemed an adaptable little thing, and
presently began calling my poor husband ‘daddy.’ I had not been so
happy myself for months as I was as I watched them. I had told Dr.
Bailey--what I fear was not strictly true--that I had borrowed the
child from a friend. At length I felt I must go and take the boy to
the police, and with great difficulty I managed to get it away, my
poor husband crying like a child. Well, I took the little fellow to
the station I judged nearest to where I found him, and gave him up to
the care of the inspector. But I was a little frightened at having
kept him so long, and gave a false name and address. Still, I learned
from the inspector that the child had been inquired after, and by
whom.

[Illustration: “DADDY!”]

“My husband was quiet for some days after this, but then he began to
ask for his boy with more vehemence than ever. He grew worse and
worse, and soon his ravings were terrible. Dr. Bailey urged me to
bring the child again, but what could I do? I formed a desperate idea
of going to Mrs. Seton, telling her the whole thing, and imploring
her to let me take the child again. But then would that be likely?
Would she allow her child to be placed in the arms of a lunatic--one
indeed who had already killed a child of his own? I felt that the
thing was impossible. Still, I went to the house, and walked about it
again and again, I scarcely knew why. And my poor husband in his
confinement screamed for his child till I dared not go near him. So
it was when one morning--last Monday morning--I had passed the front
of the Setons’ house and turned up the lane at the side. I could see
over the low fence and hedge, and as I came to the French window with
the steps I saw that the window was open at one side and little
Charley was standing on the top step. He recognised me, smiled and
called just as my own child would have done; indeed, as I stood there
I almost fell into the delusion of my poor mad husband. I took the
gate in my hands, shaking it impatiently, and in attempting to open
it from the wrong end, found the hinges lift out. I could see that
nobody else was in the room behind the French window. There was the
temptation--the overwhelming temptation--and I was distracted. I took
the little fellow hurriedly in my arms and pulled the window to, so
that the bottom bolt fell into the floor socket; then I replaced the
gate as I found it, and ran to where I knew there was a cab-stand.
Oh! Mr. Hewitt, was it so very sinful? And I meant to bring him back
that same afternoon, I really did.

“The child was in indoor clothes, and had no hat. I called at a
baby-linen shop and bought hat, cloak, frock and a new pair of shoes.
Then I hurried to Willesden. Again the effect was magical. My husband
was happy once more; but when at last I attempted to take the child
away he would not let it go. It was terrible. Oh, I can’t describe
the scene. Dr. Bailey told me that, come what might, I must stay that
night in a room his wife would provide for me and keep the child, or
perhaps I must sit up with my husband and let the child sleep on my
knee. In the end it was the latter that I did.

“By the morning my senses were blunted, and I scarcely cared what
happened. I determined that as I had gone so far I would keep the
child that day at least; indeed, as I say, whether by the influence
of my husband I know not, but I almost felt myself falling into his
delusion that the child was ours. I went home for an hour at midday,
taking the child, and then my wretched brother saw it and got the
whole story from me. He told me that reward bills were out about the
child, and then I dimly realised that its mother must be suffering
pain, and I wrote the note you spoke of. Perhaps I had some little
idea of delaying pursuit--I don’t know. At any rate I wrote it, and
posted it at Willesden as I went back. My husband had been asleep
when I left, but now he was awake again and asking for the child once
more. There is little more to say. I stayed that night and the next
day, and by that time my husband had become tranquil and rational as
he had not been for months. If only the improvement can be sustained,
they think of operating to-morrow or the next day.

“I carried Charley back in the dusk, intending to put him inside one
of the gates, ring, and watch him safely in from a little way off,
but as I passed down the side lane I saw the French window open again
and nobody near. I had been that way before and felt bolder there. I
took his hat and cloak (I had already changed his frock) and, after
kissing him, put him hastily through the window and came away. But I
had forgotten the new shoes. I remembered them, however, when I got
home, and immediately conceived a fear that the child’s parents might
trace me by their means. I mentioned this fear to my brother, and it
appeared to frighten him. He borrowed some money of me yesterday,
and, it seems, got intoxicated. In that state he is always anxious to
do some noble action, though he is capable, I am grieved to say, of
almost any meanness when sober. He lives here at my expense, indeed,
and borrows money from his friends for drink. These may seem hard
things for a sister to say, but everybody knows it. He has wearied
me, and I have lost all shame of him. I suppose in his muddled state
he got the notion that he would accuse himself of what I had done and
so shield me. I expect he repented of his self-sacrifice this
morning, though.”

Hewitt knew that he had, but said nothing. Also he said nothing of
the anonymous letter he had in his pocket, wherein Mr. Oliver Neale
had covertly demanded a hundred pounds for the restoration of Charley
Seton. He guessed, however, that that gentleman had feared making the
appointment that the advertisement answering his letter had suggested.

To Mr. and Mrs. Seton Hewitt told the whole story, omitting at first
names and addresses. “I saw plainly,” he said in course of his talk,
“that the child might easily have been taken from the French window.
I did not say so, for Mrs. Seton was already sufficiently distressed,
and the notion that the child was kidnapped, and not simply lost,
might have made her worse just then. The toys--the cart with the
string on it in particular--had been dragged in the direction of the
window, and then nothing would be easier than for the child to open
the window itself. There was nothing but a drop bolt, working very
easily, which the child must often have seen lifted, and you will
remember that the catch did not act. Once the child had opened the
window and got outside, the whole thing was simple. The gate could be
lifted, the child taken, and the window pulled to, so that the bolt
would fall into its place and leave all as before.

“As to the previous occasion, I thought it curious at first that the
child should stray before lunch and yet not be heard of again till
the evening, and then apparently not be over-fatigued. But beyond
these little things, and what I inferred from the letter, I had very
little to help me indeed. Nothing, in fact, till I got the shoes, and
they didn’t carry me very far. The drunken rant of the man in the
police station attracted me because he spoke not only of taking away
the child, but of buying it shoes. Now nobody could know of the
buying of the shoes who did not know something more. But I knew it
was a woman who had taken Charley, as you know, from the heel-mark
and the evidence of the shop people, so that when the bemused fool
talked of his sister, and sacrificing himself for her, and keeping
her out of trouble, and so on, I ranged the case up in my mind, and,
so far as I ventured, I guessed it aright. The police inspector knew
nothing of the matter of the shoes, nor of the fact of the person I
was after being a woman, so thought the thing no more than a drunken
freak.

“And now,” Hewitt said, “before I tell you this woman’s name, don’t
you think the poor creature has suffered enough?”

Both Mrs. Seton and her husband agreed that she had, and that, so
far as they were concerned, no further steps should be taken. And
when she was told where to go, Mrs. Seton went off at once to offer
Mrs. Isitt her forgiveness and sympathy. But Mrs. Isitt’s punishment
came in twenty-four hours, when her husband died in the surgeon’s
hands.



THE CASE OF THE WARD LANE TABERNACLE


I

Among the few personal friendships that Martin Hewitt has allowed
himself to make there is one for an eccentric but very excellent old
lady named Mrs. Mallett. She must be more than seventy now, but she
is of robust and active, not to say masculine, habit, and her
relations with Hewitt are irregular and curious. He may not see her
for many weeks, perhaps for months, until one day she will appear in
the office, push directly past Kerrett (who knows better than to
attempt to stop her) into the inner room, and salute Hewitt with a
shake of the hand and a savage glare of the eye which would appall a
stranger, but which is quite amiably meant. As for myself, it was
long ere I could find any resource but instant retreat before her
gaze, though we are on terms of moderate toleration now.

After her first glare she sits in the chair by the window and
directs her glance at Hewitt’s small gas grill and kettle in the
fireplace--a glance which Hewitt, with all expedition, translates
into tea. Slightly mollified by the tea, Mrs. Mallett condescends to
remark, in tones of tragic truculence, on passing matters of
conventional interest--the weather, the influenza, her own health,
Hewitt’s health, and so forth, any reply of Hewitt’s being commonly
received with either disregard or contempt. In half an hour’s time or
so she leaves the office with a stern command to Hewitt to attend at
her house and drink tea on a day and at a time named--a command which
Hewitt obediently fulfils, when he passes through a similarly
exhilarating experience in Mrs. Mallett’s back drawing-room at her
little freehold house in Fulham. Altogether Mrs. Mallett, to a
stranger, is a singularly uninviting personality, and indeed, except
Hewitt, who has learnt to appreciate her hidden good qualities, I
doubt if she has a friend in the world. Her studiously concealed
charities are a matter of as much amusement as gratification to
Hewitt, who naturally, in the course of his peculiar profession,
comes across many sad examples of poverty and suffering, commonly
among the decent sort, who hide their troubles from strangers’ eyes,
and suffer in secret. When such a case is in his mind it is Hewitt’s
practice to inform Mrs. Mallett of it at one of the tea ceremonies.
Mrs. Mallett receives the story with snorts of incredulity and scorn,
but takes care, while expressing the most callous disregard and
contempt of the troubles of the sufferers, to ascertain casually
their names and addresses; twenty-four hours after which Hewitt need
only make a visit to find their difficulties in some mysterious way
alleviated.

[Illustration: “SLIGHTLY MOLLIFIED BY THE TEA.”]

Mrs. Mallett never had any children, and was early left a widow. Her
appearance, for some reason or another, commonly leads strangers to
believe her an old maid. She lives in her little detached house with
its square piece of ground, attended by a housekeeper, older than
herself, and one maid-servant. She lost her only sister by death soon
after the events I am about to set down, and now has, I believe, no
relations in the world. It was also soon after these events that her
present housekeeper first came to her, in place of an older and very
deaf woman, quite useless, who had been with her before. I believe
she is moderately rich, and that one or two charities will benefit
considerably at her death; also I should be far from astonished to
find Hewitt’s own name in her will, though this is no more than idle
conjecture. The one possession to which she clings with all her
soul--her one pride and treasure--is her great-uncle Joseph’s
snuff-box, the lid of which she steadfastly believes to be made of a
piece of Noah’s original ark, discovered on the top of Mount Ararat
by some intrepid explorer of vague identity about a hundred years
ago. This is her one weakness, and woe to the unhappy creature who
dares hint a suggestion that possibly the wood of the ark rotted away
to nothing a few thousand years before her great-uncle Joseph ever
took snuff. I believe he would be bodily assaulted. The box is
brought out for Hewitt’s admiration at every tea ceremony at Fulham,
when Hewitt handles it reverently, and expresses as much astonishment
and interest as if he had never seen or heard of it before. It is on
these occasions only that Mrs. Mallett’s customary stiffness relaxes.
The sides of the box are of cedar of Lebanon, she explains (which
very possibly they are), and the gold mountings were worked up from
spade guineas (which one can believe without undue strain on the
reason). And it is usually these times, when the old lady softens
under the combined influence of tea and Uncle Joseph’s snuff-box,
that Hewitt seizes to lead up to his hint of some starving governess
or distressed clerk, with the full confidence that the more savagely
the story is received the better will the poor people be treated as
soon as he turns his back.

It was her jealous care of Uncle Joseph’s snuff-box that first
brought Mrs. Mallett into contact with Martin Hewitt, and the
occasion, though not perhaps testing his acuteness to the extent that
some did, was nevertheless one of the most curious and fantastic on
which he has ever been engaged. She was then some ten or twelve years
younger than she is now, but Hewitt assures me she looked exactly the
same; that is to say, she was harsh, angular, and seemed little more
than fifty years of age. It was before the time of Kerrett, and
another youth occupied the outer office. Hewitt sat late one
afternoon with his door ajar when he heard a stranger enter the outer
office, and a voice, which he afterwards knew well as Mrs. Mallett’s,
ask “Is Mr. Martin Hewitt in?”

“Yes, ma’am, I think so. If you will write your name and----”

“Is he in _there_?” And with three strides Mrs. Mallett was at the
inner door and stood before Hewitt himself, while the routed
office-lad stared helplessly in the rear.

“Mr. Hewitt,” Mrs. Mallet said, “I have come to put an affair into
your hands, which I shall require to be attended to at once.”

Hewitt was surprised, but he bowed politely, and said, with some
suspicion of a hint in his tone, “Yes--I rather supposed you were in
a hurry.”

She glanced quickly in Hewitt’s face and went on: “I am not
accustomed to needless ceremony, Mr. Hewitt. My name is Mallett--Mrs.
Mallett--and here is my card. I have come to consult you on a matter
of great annoyance and some danger to myself. The fact is I am being
watched and followed by a number of persons.”

Hewitt’s gaze was steadfast, but he reflected that possibly this
curious woman was a lunatic, the delusion of being watched and
followed by unknown people being perhaps the most common of all; also
it was no unusual thing to have a lunatic visit the office with just
such a complaint. So he only said soothingly, “Indeed? That must be
very annoying.”

“Yes, yes; the annoyance is bad enough, perhaps,” she answered
shortly; “but I am chiefly concerned about my great-uncle Joseph’s
snuff-box.”

This utterance sounded a trifle more insane than the other, so
Hewitt answered, a little more soothingly still: “Ah, of course. A
very important thing, the snuff-box, no doubt.”

“It is, Mr. Hewitt--it is important, as I think you will admit when
you have seen it. Here it is,” and she produced from a small handbag
the article that Hewitt was destined so often again to see and affect
an interest in. “You may be incredulous, Mr. Hewitt, but it is,
nevertheless, a fact that the lid of this snuff-box is made of the
wood of the original ark that rested on Mount Ararat.”

She handed the box to Hewitt, who murmured, “Indeed! Very
interesting--very wonderful, really,” and returned it to the lady
immediately.

“That, Mr. Hewitt, was the property of my great-uncle, Joseph
Simpson, who once had the honour of shaking hands with his late
Majesty King George the Fourth. The box was presented to my uncle
by----,” and then Mrs. Mallett plunged into the whole history and
adventures of the box, in the formula wherewith Hewitt subsequently
became so well acquainted, and which need not be here set out in
detail. When the box had been properly honoured Mrs. Mallett
proceeded with her business.

“I am convinced, Mr. Hewitt,” she said, “that systematic attempts
are being made to rob me of this snuff-box. I am not a nervous or
weak-minded woman, or perhaps I might have sought your assistance
before. The watching and following of myself I might have
disregarded, but when it comes to burglary I think it is time to do
something.”

“Certainly,” Hewitt agreed.

“Well, I have been pestered with demands for the box for some time
past. I have here some of the letters which I have received, and I am
sure I know at whose instigation they were sent.” She placed on the
table a handful of papers of various sizes, which Hewitt examined one
after another. They were mostly in the same handwriting, and all were
unsigned. Every one was couched in a fanatically-toned imitation of
scriptural diction, and all sorts of threats were expressed with many
emphatic underlinings. The spelling was not of the best, the writing
was mostly uncouth, and the grammar was in ill shape in many places,
the “thous” and “thees” and their accompanying verbs falling over
each other disastrously. The purport of the messages was rather
vaguely expressed, but all seemed to make a demand for the
restoration of some article held in extreme veneration. This was
alluded to in many figurative ways as the “token of life,” the “seal
of the woman,” and so forth, and sometimes Mrs. Mallett was requested
to restore it to the “ark of the covenant.” One of the least vague of
these singular documents ran thus:--

“Thou of no faith put the bond of the woman clothed with the sun on
the stoan sete in thy back garden this night or thy blood beest on
your own hed. Give it back to us the five righteous only in this
citty, give us that what saves the faithful when the erth is swalloed
up.”

Hewitt read over these fantastic missives one by one till he began
to suspect that his client, mad or not, certainly corresponded with
mad Quakers. Then he said, “Yes, Mrs. Mallett, these are most
extraordinary letters. Are there any more of them?”

“Bless the man, yes, there were a lot that I burnt. All the same
crack-brained sort of thing.”

“They are mostly in one handwriting,” Hewitt said, “though some are
in another. But I confess I don’t see any very direct reference to
the snuff-box.”

“Oh, but it’s the only thing they _can_ mean,” Mrs. Mallett replied
with great positiveness. “Why, he wanted me to sell it him; and last
night my house was broken into in my absence and everything ransacked
and turned over, but not a thing was taken. Why? Because I had the
box with me at my sister’s. And this is the only sacred relic in my
possession. And what saved the faithful when the world was swallowed
up? Why, the ark, of course.”

The old lady’s manner was odd, but notwithstanding the bizarre and
disjointed character of her complaint, Hewitt had now had time to
observe that she had none of the unmistakable signs of the lunatic.
Her eye was steady and clear, and she had none of the restless habits
of the mentally deranged. Even at that time Hewitt had met with
curious adventures enough to teach him not to be astonished at a new
one, and now he set himself seriously to get at his client’s case in
full order and completeness.

“Come, Mrs. Mallett,” he said, “I am a stranger, and I can never
understand your case till I have it, not as it presents itself to
your mind, in the order of importance of events, but in the exact
order in which they happened. You had a great-uncle, I understand,
living in the early part of the century, who left you at his death
the snuff-box which you value so highly. Now you suspect that
somebody is attempting to extort or steal it from you. Tell me as
clearly and simply as you can whom you suspect, and the whole story
of the attempts.”

“That’s just what I’m coming to,” the old lady answered, rather
pettishly. “My uncle Joseph had an old housekeeper, who, of course,
knew all about the snuff-box, and it is her son Reuben Penner who is
trying to get it from me. The old woman was half crazy with one
extraordinary religious superstition and another, and her son seems
to be just the same. My great-uncle was a man of strong common sense
and a Churchman (though he _did_ think he could write plays), and if
it hadn’t been for his restraint I believe--that is, I have been
told--Mrs. Penner would have gone clean demented with religious
mania. Well, she died in course of time, and my great-uncle died some
time after, leaving me the most important thing in his possession (I
allude to the snuff-box of course), a good bit of property, and a tin
box full of his worthless manuscripts. I became a widow at
twenty-six, and since then I have lived very quietly in my present
house in Fulham.

“A couple of years ago I received a visit from Reuben Penner. I
didn’t recognise him, which wasn’t wonderful, since I hadn’t seen him
for thirty years or more. He is well over fifty now, a large,
heavy-faced man with uncommonly wild eyes for a greengrocer--which is
what he is, though he dresses very well, considering. He was quite
respectful at first, and very awkward in his manner. He took a little
time to get his courage, and then he began questioning me about my
religious feelings. Well, Mr. Hewitt, I am not the sort of person to
stand a lecture from a junior and an inferior, whatever my religious
opinions may be, and I pretty soon made him realise it. But somehow
he persevered. He wanted to know if I would go to some place of
worship that he called his ‘Tabernacle.’ I asked him who was the
pastor. He said himself. I asked him how many members of the
congregation there were, and (the man was as solemn as an owl. I
assure you, Mr. Hewitt) he actually said five! I kept my countenance
and asked why such a small number couldn’t attend church, or, at any
rate, attach itself to some decent Dissenting chapel. And then the
man burst out; mad--mad as a hatter. He was as incoherent as such
people usually are, but as far as I could make out he talked, among a
lot of other things, of some imaginary woman--a woman standing on the
moon and driven into a wilderness on the wings of an eagle. The man
was so madly possessed of his fancies that I assure you for a while
he almost ceased to look ridiculous. He was so earnest in his rant.
But I soon cut him short. It’s best to be severe with these
people--it’s the only chance of bringing them to their senses.
‘Reuben Penner,’ I said, ‘shut up. Your mother was a very decent
person in her way, I believe, but she was half a lunatic with her
superstitious notions, and you’re a bigger fool than she was. Imagine
a grown man, and of your age, coming and asking me, of all people in
the world, to leave my church and make another fool in a congregation
of five, with _you_ to rave at me about women in the moon! Go away
and look after your greengrocery, and go to church or chapel like a
sensible man. Go away and don’t play the fool any longer; I won’t
hear another word!’

[Illustration: “‘REUBEN PENNER,’ I SAID, ‘SHUT UP!’”]

“When I talk like this I am usually attended to, and in this case
Penner went away with scarcely another word. I saw nothing of him for
about a month or six weeks, and then he came and spoke to me as I was
cutting roses in my front garden. This time he talked--to begin with,
at least--more sensibly. ‘Mrs. Mallett,’ he said, ‘you have in your
keeping a very sacred relic.’

“‘I have,’ I said, ‘left me by my great-uncle Joseph. And what then?’

“‘Well’--he hummed and hawed a little--‘I wanted to ask if you might
be disposed to part with it.’

“‘What?’ I said, dropping my scissors--‘sell it?’

“‘Well, yes,’ he answered, putting on as bold a face as he could.

“The notion of selling my uncle Joseph’s snuff-box in any possible
circumstances almost made me speechless. ‘What!’ I repeated. ‘Sell
it?--_sell_ it? It would be a sinful sacrilege!’

“His face quite brightened when I said this, and he replied, ‘Yes,
of course it would; I think so myself, ma’am; but I fancied you
thought otherwise. In that case, ma’am, not being a believer
yourself, I’m sure you would consider it a graceful and a pious act
to present it to my little Tabernacle, where it would be properly
valued. And it having been my mother’s property----’

“He got no further. I am not a woman to be trifled with, Mr. Hewitt,
and I believe I beat him out of the garden with my basket. I was so
infuriated I can scarcely remember what I did. The suggestion that I
should sell my uncle Joseph’s snuff-box to a greengrocer was bad
enough; the request that I should actually _give_ it to his
‘Tabernacle’ was infinitely worse. But to claim that it had belonged
to his mother--well I don’t know how it strikes you, Mr. Hewitt, but
to me it seemed the last insult possible.”

[Illustration: “‘I AM NOT A WOMAN TO BE TRIFLED WITH.’”]

“Shocking! shocking! of course,” Hewitt said, since she seemed to
expect a reply. “And he called you an unbeliever, too. But what
happened after that?”

“After that he took care not to bother me personally again; but
these wretched anonymous demands came in, with all sorts of darkly
hinted threats as to the sin I was committing in keeping my own
property. They didn’t trouble me much. I put ’em in the fire as fast
as they came, until I began to find I was being watched and followed,
and then I kept them.”

“Very sensible,” Hewitt observed, “very sensible indeed to do that.
But tell me as to these papers. Those you have here are nearly all in
one handwriting, but some, as I have already said, are in another.
Now before all this business did you ever see Reuben Penner’s
handwriting?”

“No, never.”

“Then you are not by any means sure that he has written any of these
things?”

“But then who else could?”

“That, of course, is a thing to be found out. At present, at any
rate, we know this: that if Penner has anything to do with these
letters he is not alone, because of the second handwriting. Also we
must not bind ourselves past other conviction that he wrote any one
of them. By the way, I am assuming that they all arrived by post?”

“Yes, they did.”

“But the envelopes are not here. Have you kept any of them?”

“I hardly know; there may be some at home. Is it important?”

“It may be; but those I can see at another time. Please go on.”

“These things continued to arrive, as I have said, and I continued
to burn them till I began to find myself watched and followed, and
then I kept them. That was two or three months ago. It is a most
unpleasant sensation, that of feeling that some unknown person is
dogging your footsteps from corner to corner and observing all your
movements for a purpose you are doubtful of. Once or twice I turned
suddenly back, but I never could catch the creatures, of whom I am
sure Penner was one.”

“You saw these people, of course?”

“Well, yes, in a way--with the corner of my eye, you know. But it
was mostly in the evening. It was a woman once, but several times I
feel certain it was Penner. And once I saw a man come into my garden
at the back in the night, and I feel quite sure that was Penner.”

“Was that after you had this request to put the article demanded on
the stone seat in the garden?”

“The same night. I sat up and watched from the bath-room window,
expecting someone would come. It was a dark night, and the trees made
it darker, but I could plainly see someone come quietly over the wall
and go up to the seat.”

“Could you distinguish his face?”

“No; it was too dark. But I feel sure it was Penner.”

“Has Penner any decided peculiarity of form or gait?”

“No; he’s just a big, common sort of man. But I tell you I feel
certain it was Penner.”

“For any particular reason?”

“No, perhaps not. But who else could it have been? No, I’m very sure
it must have been Penner.”

Hewitt repressed a smile and went on. “Just so,” he said. “And what
happened then?”

“He went up to the seat, as I said, and looked at it, passing his
hand over the top. Then I called out to him. I said if I found him on
my premises again by day or night I’d give him in charge of the
police. I assure you he got over the wall the second time a good deal
quicker than the first. And then I went to bed, though I got a
shocking cold in the head sitting at that open bath-room window.
Nobody came about the place after that till last night. A few days
ago my only sister was taken ill. I saw her each day, and she got
worse. Yesterday she was so bad that I wouldn’t leave her. I sent
home for some things and stopped in her house for the night. To-day I
got an urgent message to come home, and when I went I found that an
entrance had been made by a kitchen window, and the whole house had
been ransacked, but not a thing was missing.”

“Were drawers and boxes opened?”

“Everywhere. Most seemed to have been opened with keys, but some
were broken. The place was turned upside down, but, as I said before,
not a thing was missing. A very old woman, very deaf, who used to be
my housekeeper, but who does nothing now, was in the house, and so
was my general servant. They slept in rooms at the top, and were not
disturbed. Of course the old woman is too deaf to have heard
anything, and the maid is a very heavy sleeper. The girl was very
frightened, but I pacified her before I came away. As it happened, I
took the snuff-box with me. I had got very suspicious of late, of
course, and something seemed to suggest that I had better make sure
of it, so I took it. It’s pretty strong evidence that they have been
watching me closely, isn’t it, that they should break in the very
first night I left the place?”

“And are you quite sure that nothing has been taken?”

“Quite certain. I have spent a long time in a very careful search.”

“And you want me, I presume, to find out definitely who these people
are, and get such evidence as may ensure their being punished?”

“That is the case. Of course I know Reuben Penner is the moving
spirit--I’m quite certain of that. But still I can see plainly enough
that as yet there’s no legal evidence of it. Mind, I’m not afraid of
him--not a bit. That is not my character. I’m not afraid of all the
madmen in England; but I’m not going to have them steal my
property--this snuff-box especially.”

“Precisely. I hope you have left the disturbance in your house
exactly as you found it?”

“Oh, of course, and I have given strict orders that nothing is to be
touched. To-morrow morning I should like you to come and look at it.”

“I must look at it, certainly,” Hewitt said, “but I would rather go
at once.”

“Pooh--nonsense!” Mrs. Mallett answered, with the airy obstinacy
that Hewitt afterwards knew so well. “I’m not going home again now to
spend an hour or two more. My sister will want to know what has
become of me, and she mustn’t suspect that anything is wrong, or it
may do all sorts of harm. The place will keep till the morning, and I
have the snuff-box safe with me. You have my card, Mr. Hewitt,
haven’t you? Very well. Can you be at my house to-morrow morning at
half-past ten? I will be there, and you can see all you want by
daylight. We’ll consider that settled. Good-day.”

Hewitt saw her to his office door, and waited till she had half
descended the stairs. Then he made for a staircase window which gave
a view of the street. The evening was coming on murky and foggy, and
the street lights were blotchy and vague. Outside a four-wheeled cab
stood, and the driver eagerly watched the front door. When Mrs.
Mallett emerged he instantly began to descend from the box with the
quick invitation, “Cab, mum, cab?” He seemed very eager for his fare,
and though Mrs. Mallett hesitated a second she eventually entered the
cab. He drove off, and Hewitt tried in vain to catch a glimpse of the
number of the cab behind. It was always a habit of his to note all
such identifying marks throughout a case, whether they seemed
important at the time or not, and he has often had occasion to be
pleased with the outcome. Now, however, the light was too bad. No
sooner had the cab started than a man emerged from a narrow passage
opposite, and followed. He was a large, rather awkward, heavy-faced
man of middle age, and had the appearance of a respectable artisan or
small tradesman in his best clothes. Hewitt hurried downstairs and
followed the direction the cab and the man had taken, toward the
Strand. But the cab by this time was swallowed up in the Strand
traffic, and the heavy-faced man had also disappeared. Hewitt
returned to his office a little disappointed, for the man seemed
rather closely to answer Mrs. Mallett’s description of Reuben Penner.

[Illustration: “‘CAB, MUM?’”]


II

Punctually at half-past ten the next morning Hewitt was at Mrs.
Mallett’s house at Fulham. It was a pretty little house, standing
back from the road in a generous patch of garden, and had evidently
stood there when Fulham was an outlying village. Hewitt entered the
gate, and made his way to the front door, where two young females,
evidently servants, stood. They were in a very disturbed state, and
when he asked for Mrs. Mallett assured him that nobody knew where she
was, and that she had not been seen since the previous afternoon.

“But,” said Hewitt, “she was to stay at her sister’s last night, I
believe.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the more distressed of the two girls--she in a
cap--“but she hasn’t been seen there. This is her sister’s servant,
and she’s been sent over to know where she is, and why she hasn’t
been there.”

This the other girl--in bonnet and shawl--corroborated. Nothing had
been seen of Mrs. Mallett at her sister’s since she had received the
message the day before to the effect that the house had been broken
into.

“And I’m so frightened,” the other girl said, whimperingly. “They’ve
been in the place again last night.”

“Who have?”

“The robbers. When I came in this morning----”

“But didn’t you sleep here?”

“I--I ought to ha’ done, sir, but--but after Mrs. Mallett went
yesterday I got so frightened I went home at ten.” And the girl
showed signs of tears, which she had apparently been already
indulging in.

“And what about the old woman--the deaf woman; where was she?”

“She was in the house, sir. There was nowhere else for her to go,
and she was deaf and didn’t know anything about what happened the
night before, and confined to her room, and--and so I didn’t tell
her.”

“I see,” Hewitt said with a slight smile. “You left her here. She
didn’t see or hear anything, did she?”

“No sir; she can’t hear, and she didn’t see nothing.”

“And how do you know thieves have been in the house?”

“Everythink’s tumbled about worse than ever, sir, and all different
from what it was yesterday; and there’s a box o’ papers in the attic
broke open, and all sorts o’ things.”

“Have you spoken to the police?”

“No, sir; I’m that frightened I don’t know what to do. And missis
was going to see a gentleman about it yesterday, and----”

“Very well, I am that gentleman--Mr. Martin Hewitt. I have come down
now to meet her by appointment. Did she say she was going anywhere
else as well as to my office and to her sister’s?”

“No, sir. And she--she’s got the snuff-box with her and all.” This
latter circumstance seemed largely to augment the girl’s terrors for
her mistress’s safety.

“Very well,” Hewitt said, “I think I’d better just look over the
house now, and then consider what has become of Mrs. Mallett--if she
isn’t heard of in the meantime.”

The girl found a great relief in Hewitt’s presence in the house, the
deaf old house-keeper, who seldom spoke and never heard, being, as
she said, “worse than nobody.”

“Have you been in all the rooms?” Hewitt asked.

“No, sir; I was afraid. When I came in I went straight upstairs to
my room, and as I was coming away I see the things upset in the other
attic. I went into Mrs. Perk’s room, next to mine (she’s the deaf old
woman), and she was there all right, but couldn’t hear anything. Then
I came down and only just peeped into two of the rooms and saw the
state they were in, and then I came out into the garden, and
presently this young woman came with the message from Mrs. Rudd.”

“Very well, we’ll look at the rooms now,” Hewitt said, and they
proceeded to do so. All were in a state of intense confusion.
Drawers, taken from chests and bureaux, littered about the floor,
with their contents scattered about them. Carpets and rugs had been
turned up and flung into corners, even pictures on the walls had been
disturbed, and while some hung awry, others rested on the floor and
on chairs. The things, however, appeared to have been fairly
carefully handled, for nothing was damaged except one or two framed
engravings, the brown paper on the backs of which had been cut round
with a knife and the wooden slats shifted so as to leave the backs of
the engravings bare. This, the girl told Hewitt, had not been done on
the night of the first burglary; the other articles also had not on
that occasion been so much disturbed as they now were.

Mrs. Mallett’s bedroom was the first floor front. Here the confusion
was, if possible, greater than in the other rooms. The bed had been
completely unmade and the clothes thrown separately on the floor, and
everything else was displaced. It was here, indeed, that the most
noticeable features of the disturbance were observed, for on the side
of the looking-glass hung a very long, old-fashioned gold chain
untouched, and on the dressing-table lay a purse with the money still
in it. And on the looking-glass, stuck into the crack of the frame,
was a half sheet of notepaper with this inscription scrawled in
pencil:--


_To Mr. Martin Hewitt._

_Mrs. Mallett is alright and in frends hands. She will return soon
alright, if you keep quiet. But if you folloe her or take any steps
the conseqinses will be very serious._


This paper was not only curious in itself, and curious as being
addressed to Hewitt, but it was plainly in the same handwriting as
were the most of the anonymous letters which Mrs. Mallett had
produced the day before in Hewitt’s office. Hewitt studied it
attentively for a few moments, and then thrust it in his pocket and
proceeded to inspect the rest of the rooms. All were the same--simply
well-furnished rooms turned upside down. The top floor consisted of
three comfortable attics, one used as a lumber room and the others
used respectively as bedrooms for the servant and the deaf old woman.
None of these rooms appeared to have been entered, the girl said, on
the first night, but now the lumber-room was almost as confused as
the rooms downstairs. Two or three boxes were opened and their
contents turned out. One of these was what is called a steel trunk--a
small one--which had held old papers; the others were filled chiefly
with old clothes.

The servant’s room next this was quite undisturbed and untouched;
and then Hewitt was admitted to the room of Mrs. Mallett’s deaf old
pensioner. The old woman sat propped up in her bed, and looked with
half-blind eyes at the peak in the bedclothes made by her bent knees.
The servant screamed in her ear, but she neither moved nor spoke.

Hewitt laid his hand on her shoulder and said, in the slow and
distinct tones he had found best for reaching the senses of deaf
people, “I hope you are well. Did anything disturb you in the night?”

But she only turned her head half toward him and mumbled peevishly,
“I wish you’d bring my tea. You’re late enough this morning.”

Nothing seemed likely to be got from her, and Hewitt asked the
servant, “Is she altogether bedridden?”

“No,” the girl answered; “leastways she needn’t be. She stops in bed
most of the time, but she can get up when she likes--I’ve seen her.
But missis humours her and lets her do as she likes--and she gives
plenty of trouble. I don’t believe she’s as deaf as she makes out.”

“Indeed?” Hewitt answered. “Deafness _is_ convenient sometimes, I
know. Now I want you to stay here while I make some inquiries.
Perhaps you’d better keep Mrs. Rudd’s servant with you if you want
company. I don’t expect to be very long gone, and in any case it
wouldn’t do for her to go to her mistress and say that Mrs. Mallett
is missing, or it might upset her seriously.”

Hewitt left the house and walked till he found a public-house where
a post-office directory was kept. He took a glass of whisky and
water, most of which he left on the counter, and borrowed the
directory. He found “Greengrocers” in the “Trade” section and ran his
finger down the column till he came on this address:--

“Penner, Reuben, 8, Little Marsh Row, Hammersmith, W.”

Then he returned the directory and found the best cab he could to
take him to Hammersmith.

Little Marsh Row was not a vastly prosperous sort of place, and the
only shops were three--all small. Two were chandlers’, and the third
was a sort of semi-shed of the greengrocery and coal persuasion, with
the name “Penner” on a board over the door.

The shutters were all up, though the door was open, and the only
person visible was a very smudgy boy, who was in the act of wheeling
out a sack of coals. To the smudgy boy Hewitt applied himself. “I
don’t see Mr. Penner about,” he said; “will he be back soon?”

The boy stared hard at Hewitt. “No,” he said, “he won’t. ’E’s guv’
up the shop. ’E paid ’is next week’s rent this mornin’ and retired.”

[Illustration: “THE BOY STARED HARD AT HEWITT.”]

“Oh!” Hewitt answered sharply. “Retired, has he? And what’s become
of the stock, eh! Where are the cabbages and potatoes?”

“’E told me to give ’em to the pore, an’ I did. There’s lots o’
pore lives round ’ere. My mother’s one; an’ these ’ere coals is for
’er, an’ I’m goin’ to ’ave the trolley for myself.”

“Dear me!” Hewitt answered, regarding the boy with amused interest.
“You’re a very business-like almoner. And what will the Tabernacle do
without Mr. Penner?”

“I dunno,” the boy answered, closing the door behind him. “I dunno
nothin’ about the Tabernacle--only where it is.”

“Ah, and where is it? I might find him there, perhaps.”

“Ward Lane--fust on left, second on right. It’s a shop wot’s bin
shut up; next door to a stableyard.” And the smudgy boy started off
with his trolley.

The Tabernacle was soon found. At some very remote period it had
been an unlucky small shop, but now it was permanently shuttered, and
the interior was lighted by holes cut in the upper panels of the
shutters. Hewitt took a good look at the shuttered window and the
door beside it, and then entered the stable-yard at the side. To the
left of the passage giving entrance to the yard there was a door,
which plainly was another entrance to the house, and a still damp
mud-mark on the step proved it to have been lately used. Hewitt
rapped sharply at the door with his knuckles.

Presently a female voice from within could be heard speaking through
the key-hole in a very loud whisper. “Who is it?” asked the voice.

Hewitt stooped to the key-hole and whispered back, “Is Mr. Penner
here now?”

“No.”

“Then I must come in and wait for him. Open the door.”

A bolt was pulled back and the door cautiously opened a few inches.
Hewitt’s foot was instantly in the jamb, and he forced the door back
and entered. “Come,” he said in a loud voice, “I’ve come to find out
where Mr. Penner is, and to see whoever is in here.”

Immediately there was an assault of fists on the inside of a door at
the end of the passage, and a loud voice said, “Do you hear? Whoever
you are, I’ll give you five pounds if you’ll bring Mr. Martin Hewitt
here. His office is 25, Portsmouth Street, Strand. Or the same if
you’ll bring the police.” And the voice was that of Mrs. Mallett.

Hewitt turned to the woman who had opened the door, and who now
stood, much frightened, in the corner beside him. “Come,” he said,
“your keys, quick, and don’t offer to stir, or I’ll have you brought
back and taken to the station.”

The woman gave him a bunch of keys, without a word. Hewitt opened
the door at the end of the passage, and once more Mrs. Mallett stood
before him, prim and rigid as ever, except that her bonnet was sadly
out of shape and her mantle was torn. “Thank you, Mr. Hewitt,” she
said. “I thought you’d come, though where I am I know no more than
Adam. Somebody shall smart severely for this. Why, and that
woman--_that_ woman,” she pointed contemptuously at the woman in the
corner, who was about two-thirds her height, “was going to _search_
me--_me_! Why----” Mrs. Mallett, blazing with suddenly revived
indignation, took a step forward, and the woman vanished through the
outer door.

“Come,” Hewitt said, “no doubt you’ve been shamefully treated; but
we must be quiet for a little. First I will make quite sure that
nobody else is here, and then we’ll get to your house.”

Nobody was there. The rooms were dreary and mostly empty. The front
room, which was lighted by the holes in the shutters, had a rough
reading-desk and a table, with half a dozen wooden chairs. “This,”
said Hewitt, “is no doubt the Tabernacle proper, and there is very
little to see in it. Come back now, Mrs. Mallett, to your house, and
we’ll see if some explanation of these things is not possible. I hope
your snuff-box is quite safe?”

Mrs. Mallett drew it from her pocket and exhibited it triumphantly.
“I told them they should never get it,” she said, “and they saw I
meant it, and left off trying.”

She had straightened her bonnet and concealed the rent in her mantle
as best she could. As they emerged in the street she said, “The first
thing, of course, is to bring the police into this place.”

“No, I think we won’t do that yet,” Hewitt said. “In the first
place, the case is one of assault and detention, and your remedy is
by summons or action; and then there are other things to speak of. We
shall get a cab in the High Street, and you shall tell me what has
happened to you.”

Mrs. Mallett’s story was simple. The cab in which she left Hewitt’s
office had travelled west, and was apparently making for the locality
of her sister’s house; but the evening was dark, the fog increased
greatly, and she shut the windows and took no particular notice of
the streets through which she was passing. Indeed, with such a fog
that would have been impossible. She had a sort of undefined notion
that some of the streets were rather narrow and dirty, but she
thought nothing of it, since all cabmen are given to selecting
unexpected routes. After a time, however, the cab slowed, made a
sharp turn, and pulled up. The door was opened, and “Here you are,
mum,” said the cabby. She did not understand the sharp turn, and had
a general feeling that the place could not be her sister’s, but as
she alighted she found she had stepped directly upon the threshold of
a narrow door, into which she was immediately pulled by two persons
inside. This, she was sure, must have been the side-door in the
stable-yard, through which Hewitt himself had lately obtained
entrance to the Tabernacle. Before she had recovered from her
surprise the door was shut behind her. She struggled stoutly, and
screamed, but the place she was in was absolutely dark; she was taken
by surprise, and she found resistance useless. They were men who held
her, and the voice of the only one who spoke she did not know. He
demanded in firm and distinct tones that the “sacred thing” should be
given up, and that Mrs. Mallett should sign a paper agreeing to
prosecute nobody before she was allowed to go. She, however, as she
asserted with her customary emphasis, was not the sort of woman to
give in to that. She resolutely declined to do anything of the sort,
and promised her captors, whoever they were, a full and legal return
for their behaviour. Then she became conscious that a woman was
somewhere present, and the man threatened that this woman should
search her. This threat Mrs. Mallett met as boldly as the others. She
should like to meet the woman who would dare attempt to search her,
she said. She defied anybody to attempt it. As for her Uncle Joseph’s
snuff-box, no matter where it was, it was where they would not be
able to get it. That they should never have, but sooner or later they
should have something very unpleasant for their attempts to steal it.
This declaration had an immediate effect. They importuned her no
more, and she was left in an inner room and the key was turned on
her. There she sat, dozing occasionally, the whole night, her
indomitable spirit remaining proof through all those doubtful hours
of darkness. Once or twice she heard people enter and move about, and
each time she called aloud to offer, as Hewitt had heard, a reward to
anybody who should bring the police or communicate her situation to
Hewitt. Day broke and still she waited, sleepless and unfed, till
Hewitt at last arrived and released her.

On Mrs. Mallett’s arrival at her house Mrs. Rudd’s servant was at
once despatched with reassuring news, and Hewitt once more addressed
himself to the question of the burglary. “First, Mrs. Mallett,” he
said, “did you ever conceal anything--anything at all, mind--in the
frame of an engraving?”

“No, never.”

“Were any of your engravings framed before you had them?”

“Not one that I can remember. They were mostly Uncle Joseph’s, and
he kept them with a lot of others in drawers. He was rather a
collector, you know.”

“Very well. Now come up to the attic. Something has been opened
there that was not touched at the first attempt.”

Mrs. Mallett’s indignation at the second burglary was something to
see. But there was triumph in her manner; she still had the snuff-box.

“See now,” said Hewitt, when the attic was reached, “here is a box
full of papers. Do you know everything that was in it?”

“No, I don’t,” Mrs. Mallett replied. “There were a lot of my uncle’s
manuscript plays. Here, you see, ‘The Dead Bridegroom, or the Drum of
Fortune,’ and so on; and there were a lot of autographs. I took no
interest in them, although some were rather valuable, I believe.”

“Now bring your recollection to bear as strongly as you can,” Hewitt
said. “Do you ever remember seeing in this box a paper bearing
nothing whatever upon it but a wax seal?”

“Oh yes, I remember that well enough. I’ve noticed it each time I’ve
turned the box over--which is very seldom. It was a plain slip of
vellum paper with a red seal, cracked and rather worn--some
celebrated person’s seal, I suppose. What about it?”

Hewitt was turning the papers over one at a time. “It doesn’t seem
to be here now,” he said. “Do you see it?”

“No,” Mrs. Mallett returned, examining the papers herself, “it
isn’t. It appears to be the only thing missing. But why should they
take it?”

“I think we are at the bottom of all this mystery now,” Hewitt
answered quietly. “It is the Seal of the Woman.”

“The _what_? I don’t understand.”

“The fact is, Mrs. Mallett, that these people have never wanted your
Uncle Joseph’s snuff-box at all, but that seal.”

“Not wanted the snuff-box? Nonsense! Why, didn’t I tell you Penner
asked for it--wanted to buy it?”

“Yes, you did, but so far as I can remember you never spoke of a
single instance of Penner mentioning the snuff-box by name. He spoke
of a sacred relic, and you, of course, very naturally assumed he
spoke of the box. None of the anonymous letters mentioned the box,
you know, and once or twice they actually did mention a seal, though
usually the thing was spoken of in a roundabout and figurative way,
as is the manner of many people of strange beliefs in speaking of
anything they particularly venerate. Moreover, remember that when
they had entrapped you last night, the moment you mentioned the
snuff-box specifically by name they ceased troubling you, and
contented themselves with shutting you up. All along, these
people--Reuben Penner and the others--have been after the seal, and
you have been defending the snuff-box.”

“But why the seal?”

“Did you never hear of Joanna Southcott?”

“Oh yes, of course; she was an ignorant visionary who set up as
prophetess eighty or ninety years ago or more.”

“Joanna Southcott, as you may see by any suitable book of reference,
gave herself out as a prophetess in 1790. She was an ignorant woman,
and no doubt deceived herself, and really believed in the extravagant
claims she put forward. She was to be the mother of the Messiah, she
said, and she was the woman driven into the wilderness, as foretold
in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation. She died at the end
of 1814, when her followers numbered more than 100,000, all fanatic
believers, though, of course, mostly ignorant people. She had made
rather a good thing in her lifetime by the sale of seals, each of
which was to secure the eternal salvation of the holder. At her
death, of course, many of the believers fell away, but others held on
as faithfully as ever, asserting that ‘the holy Joanna’ would rise
again and fulfil all the prophecies. These poor people dwindled in
numbers gradually, and although they attempted to bring up their
children in their own faith, the whole belief has been practically
extinct for years now. You will remember that you told me of Penner’s
mother being a superstitious fanatic of some sort, and that your
Uncle Joseph had checked her extravagances. The thing seems pretty
plain now. Your uncle Joseph possessed himself of Joanna Southcott’s
seal by way of removing from poor old Mrs. Penner an object of a sort
of idolatry, and kept it as a curiosity. Reuben Penner grew up strong
in his mother’s delusions, and to him and the few believers he had
gathered round him at his Tabernacle the seal was an object worth
risking anything to get. I should think that probably it is the only
one remaining in existence at the present moment. You see, he tried
every way of getting at it. First, he tried to convert you to his
belief. Then he tried to buy it; and you will remember his mentioning
that it had been his mother’s--a suggestion which you, thinking of
the snuff-box, naturally resented. After that he and his friends
tried anonymous letters, and at last, grown desperate, they resorted
to watching you, burglary, and kidnapping. Their first night’s raid
was unsuccessful, so last night they tried kidnapping you by the aid
of a cabman--possibly one of themselves. When they had got you, and
you had at last given them to understand that it was your Uncle
Joseph’s snuff-box you were defending, they tried the house again,
and this time were successful. On the occasion of their first
burglary they avoided the top floor, because of the servant sleeping
there. This time she went home--they probably saw her go--and they
got at the box in the attic. I guessed they had succeeded then, from
a simple circumstance. They had begun to cut out the backs of framed
engravings for purposes of search, but only some of the engravings
were so treated. That meant either that the article wanted was found
behind one of them, or that the intruders broke off in their
picture-examination to search somewhere else, and were then
successful, and so under no necessity of opening the other
engravings. You assured me that nothing could have been concealed in
any of the engravings, so I at once assumed that they had found what
they were after in the only place wherein they had not searched the
night before--the attic--and probably among the papers in the trunk.”

“But then if they found it there, why didn’t they return and let me
go?”

“Because you would have found where they had brought you. They
probably intended to keep you there till the dark of the next
evening, and then take you away in a cab again and leave you some
distance off. To prevent my following and possibly finding you they
left here on your looking-glass this note” (Hewitt produced it),
“threatening all sorts of vague consequences if you were not left to
them. They knew you had come to me, of course, having followed you to
my office. And now Penner feels himself anything but safe. He has
relinquished his greengrocery and dispensed his stock in charity, and
probably, having got the seal--the only thing he coveted in the
world--he has taken himself off. Not so much perhaps from fear of
punishment as for fear the seal may be taken from him, and with it
the salvation his odd belief teaches him it will confer.” And then
Hewitt related the circumstance of the smudgy boy and his sack of
coals.

Mrs. Mallett sat silently for a little while, and then said in a
rather softened voice, “Mr. Hewitt, I am not what is called a woman
of sentiment, as you may have observed, and I have been most
shamefully treated over this wretched seal--if that was really what
Penner wanted. But if all you tell me has been actually what has
happened, I have a sort of perverse inclination to forgive the man in
spite of myself. The thing probably had been his mother’s--or, at any
rate, he believed so--and his giving up his little all to attain the
object of his ridiculous faith, and distributing his goods among the
poor people and all that--really it’s worthy of an old martyr, if
only it were done in the cause of a faith a little less
stupid--though, of course, _he_ thinks his is the only religion, as
others do of theirs. But then”--Mrs. Mallett stiffened
again--“there’s not much to prove your theories, is there?”

Hewitt smiled. “Perhaps not,” he said, “except that, to my mind, at
any rate, everything points to my explanation being the only possible
one. The thing presented itself to you, from the beginning, as an
attempt on the snuff-box you value so highly, and the possibility of
the seal being the object aimed at never entered your mind. I saw it
whole from the outside, and on thinking the thing over after our
first interview, I remembered Joanna Southcott. I think you will find
I am right.”

“Well, if you are, as I said, I half believe I shall forgive the
man. We will advertise, if you like, telling him he has nothing to
fear if he can give an explanation of his conduct consistent with
what he calls his religious belief, absurd as it may be.”


That night fell darker and foggier than the last. The advertisement
went into the daily papers, but Reuben Penner never saw it. Late the
next day a bargeman passing Old Swan Pier struck some large object
with his boat-hook and brought it to the surface. It was the body of
a drowned man, and it was afterwards identified as that of Reuben
Penner, late greengrocer, of Hammersmith. How he came into the water
there was nothing to show. Others have been drowned by accident on
those foggy nights; but then there have also been suicides in the
river Thames on nights just as foggy. Nobody knew There was no money
nor any valuables found on the body, and there was a story of a
large, heavy-faced man who had given a poor woman--a perfect
stranger--a watch and chain and a handful of money down near Tower
Hill on that foggy evening. But this again was only a story, not
definitely authenticated. What was certain was that, tied securely
round the dead man’s neck with a cord, and gripped and crumpled
tightly in his right hand, was a soddened piece of vellum paper,
blank, but carrying an old red seal, of which the device was almost
entirely rubbed and cracked away. Nobody at the inquest quite
understood this.


[Transcriber’s Note: The final paragraph contains an apparent
printing error after the words “Nobody knew”, possibly involving a
missing line of text.]



Transcriber’s Note

The text in this eBook follows the 1896 book edition of the stories,
which differs from the earlier versions published in the _Windsor_
magazine, principally in punctuation.





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