Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Middle of Things by J. S. Fletcher

Part 2 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Ever since we were lads," answered Fosdick readily. "He was a grown man,
then, though. Stephens and I are about forty--Ashton was sixty."

"You've always known of him as a townsman of Melbourne?"

"That's so. We were taken out there when we were about ten or
twelve--Ashton lived near where we settled down. He was a speculator in
property--made his money in buying and selling lots."

"Was he well known?"

"Everybody knew Ashton."

"Did you ever know of his having a friend named Wickham?" inquired Mr.
Pawle with a side-glance at Viner. "Think carefully, now!"

But Fosdick shook his head, and Stephens shook his.

"Never heard the name," said Fosdick.

"Did you ever hear Ashton mention the name!" asked Mr. Pawle.


"Never heard him mention it on board ship--when he was coming home?"


"Well," said Mr. Pawle, "I happen to know that Ashton, some years ago,
had a very particular friend named Wickham, out in Australia."

A sudden light came into Fosdick's keen grey-blue eyes.

"Ah," he said. "I can tell how that may be. A good many years ago, when
we were just familiar enough with Melbourne to know certain people in it,
I remember that Ashton was away up country for some time--as that
cablegram says. Most likely he knew this Wickham then. Is that the
Wickham mentioned there?"

"It is," assented Mr. Pawle, "and I want to know who he was."

"Glad to set any inquiries going for you when we get back," said Fosdick.
"We sail in two days."

"Gentlemen," answered Mr. Pawle gravely, "it takes, I believe, five or
six weeks to reach Australia. By the time you get there, this unfortunate
fellow Hyde, who's charged with the murder of Ashton, on evidence that is
quite sufficient to satisfy an average British jury, will probably have
been tried, convicted and hanged. No! I'm afraid we must act at once if
we're to help him, as Mr. Viner here is very anxious to do. And there's
something you can do. The coroner's inquest is to be held tomorrow. Go
there and volunteer the evidence you've just told us! It mayn't do a
scrap of good--but it will introduce an element of doubt into the case
against Hyde, and that will benefit him."

"Tomorrow?" said Fosdick. "We'll do it. Give us the time and place. We'll
be there, Mr. Pawle. I see your point, sir--to introduce the idea that
there's more to this than the police think."

When the two callers had gone, Mr. Pawle turned to Viner.

"Now, my friend," he said, "you've already sent your own solicitor to
Hyde, haven't you? Who is he, by the by?"

"Felpham, of Chancery Lane," replied Viner.

"Excellent man! Now," said Mr. Pawle, "you go to Felpham and tell him
what these two Australians have just told us, and say that in my opinion
it will be well worth while, in his client's interest, to develop their
evidence for all it's worth. That theory of Fosdick's may have a great
deal in it. And another thing--Felpham must insist on Hyde being present
at the inquest tomorrow and giving evidence. That, I say, must be done!
Hyde must make his story public as soon as possible. He must be brought
to the inquest. He'll be warned by the coroner, of course, that he's not
bound to give any evidence at all, but he must go into the box and tell,
on oath, all that he told you and Drillford. Now be off to Felpham and
insist on all this being done."

Viner went away to Chancery Lane more puzzled than ever. What was this
secret affecting one of the first families in England, of which Ashton
had told his two Melbourne friends? How was it, if legal proceedings were
likely to arise out of it, that Ashton had not told Pawle about it? Was
it possible that he had gone to some other solicitor? If so, why didn't
he come forward? And what, too, was this mystery about Miss Wickham and
her father? Why, as Pawle had remarked, were there no papers or
documents, concerning her to be found anywhere? Had she anything to do
with the secret? It seemed to him that the confusion was becoming more
confounded. But the first thing to do was to save Hyde. And he was
relieved to see that Felpham jumped at Pawle's suggestion.

"Good!" said Felpham. "Of course, I'll have Hyde brought up at the
inquest, and he shall tell his story. And we'll save these Australian
chaps until Hyde's been in the box. I do wish Hyde himself could tell us
more about that man whom he saw leaving the passage. Of course, that man
is the actual murderer."

"You think that?" asked Viner.

"Don't doubt it for one moment--and a cool, calculating hand, too!"
declared Felpham. "A man who knew what he was doing. How long do you
suppose it would take to strike the life out of a man and to snatch a few
valuables from his clothing? Pooh! to a hand such as this evidently was,
a minute. Then, he walks calmly away. And--who is he? But--we're not
doing badly."

That, too, was Viner's impression when he walked out of the coroner's
court next day. After having endured its close and sordid atmosphere for
four long hours, he felt, more from intuition than from anything
tangible, that things had gone well for Hyde. One fact was plain--nothing
more could be brought out against Hyde, either there, when the inquest
was resumed a week later, or before the magistrate, or before a judge and
jury. Every scrap of evidence against him was produced before the
coroner: it was obvious that the police could rake up no more, unless
indeed they could prove him to have hidden Ashton's remaining valuables
somewhere which was ostensibly an impossibility. And the evidence of Hyde
himself had impressed the court. Two days' rest and refreshment, even in
a prison and on prison fare, had pulled him together, and he had given
his evidence clearly and confidently. Viner had seen that people were
impressed by it: they had been impressed, too, by the evidence
volunteered by the two Australians. And when the coroner announced that
he should adjourn the inquiry for a week, the folk who had crowded the
court went away asking each other not if Hyde was guilty, but what was
this secret of which Ashton had boasted the possession?

Drillford caught Viner up as he walked down the street and smiled
grimly at him.

"Well, you're doing your best for him, and no mistake, Mr. Viner," he
said. "He's a lucky chap to have found such a friend!"

"He's as innocent as I am," answered Viner. "Look here; if you
police want to do justice, why don't you try to track the man whom
Hyde has told of?"

"What clue have we?" exclaimed Drillford almost contemptuously. "A tall
man in black clothes, muffled to his eyes! But I'll tell you what, Mr.
Viner," he added with a grin: "as you're so confident, why don't you
find him?"

"Perhaps I shall," said Viner, quietly.

He meant what he said, and he was thinking deeply what might be done
towards accomplishing his desires, when, later in the afternoon, Mr.
Pawle rang him up on the telephone.

"Run down!" said Mr. Pawle cheerily. "There's a new development!"



When Viner, half an hour later, walked into the waiting-room at Crawle,
Pawle and Rattenbury's, he was aware of a modestly attired young woman,
evidently, from her dress and appearance, a country girl, who sat shyly
turning over the pages of an illustrated paper. And as soon as he got
into Pawle's private room, the old solicitor jerked his thumb at the door
by which Viner had entered, and smiled significantly.

"See that girl outside?" he asked. "She's the reason of my ringing you

"Yes?" said Viner. "But what--why? More mystery?"

"Don't know," said Mr. Pawle. "I've kept her story till you came. She
turned up here about three-quarters of an hour ago, and said that her
grandmother, who keeps an inn at Marketstoke, in Buckinghamshire, had
seen the paragraph in the papers this morning in which I asked if anybody
could give any information about Mr. John Ashton's movements, and had
immediately sent her off to me with the message that a gentleman of that
name stayed at their house for a few days some weeks since, and that if I
would send somebody over there, she, the grandmother, could give some
particulars about him. So that solves the question we were talking of at
Markendale Square, as to where Ashton went during the absence Mrs.
Killenhall told us of."

"If this is the same Ashton," suggested Viner.

"Well soon decide that," answered Mr. Pawle as he touched the bell on his
desk. "I purposely awaited your coming before hearing what this young
woman had to tell. Now, my dear," he continued as a clerk brought the
girl into the room, "take a chair and tell me what your message is, more
particularly. You're from Marketstoke eh? Just so--and your grandmother,
who sent you here, keeps an inn there?"

"Yes, sir, the Ellingham Arms," replied the girl as she sat down and
glanced a little nervously at her two interviewers.

"To be sure. And your grandmother's name is--what?"

"Hannah Summers, sir."

"Mrs. Hannah Summers. Grandfather living?"

"No, sir."

"Very well--Mrs. Hannah Summers, landlady at the Ellingham Arms,
Marketstoke, in Buckinghamshire. Now then--but what's your name, my

"Lucy Summers, sir."

"Very pretty name, I'm sure! Well, and what's the message your
grandmother sent me? I want this gentleman to hear it."

"Grandmother wished me to say, sir, that we read the piece in the paper
this morning asking if anybody could give you any news about a Mr. John
Ashton, and that as we had a gentleman of that name staying with us for
three or four days some weeks since, she sent me to tell you, and to say
that if you would send somebody down to see her, she could give some
information about him."

"Very clearly put, my dear--much obliged to you," said Mr. Pawle. "Now, I
suppose you were at the Ellingham Arms when this Mr. Ashton came there?"

"Oh, yes, sir; I live there!"

"To be sure! Now, what sort of man was he--in appearance?"

"A tall, big gentleman, sir, with a beard, going a little grey. He was
wearing a blue serge suit."

Mr. Pawle nodded at Viner.

"Seems like our man," he remarked. "Now," he went on, turning again to
Lucy Summers, "you say he stayed there three or four days. What did he do
with himself while he was there?"

"He spent a good deal of time about the church, sir," answered the girl,
"and he was at Ellingham Park a good deal--"

"Whose place is that?" interrupted Mr. Pawle.

"Lord Ellingham's, sir."

"Do you mean that Mr. Ashton called on Lord Ellingham, or what?"

"No, sir, because Lord Ellingham wasn't there--he scarcely ever is
there," replied Lucy Summers. "I mean that Mr. Ashton went into the park
a good deal and looked over the house--a good many people come to see
Ellingham Park, sir."

"Well, and what else?" asked Mr. Pawle. "Did he go to see people in the
town at all?"

"I don't know, sir--but he was out most of the day. And at night he
talked a great deal with my grandmother, in her sitting-room, I think,"
added the girl with a glance which took in both listeners. "I think
that's what she wants to tell about. She would have come here herself,
but she's over seventy and doesn't like travelling."

Mr. Pawle turned to Viner.

"Now we know where we are," he said. "There's no doubt that this is our
Ashton, and that Mrs. Summers has something she can tell about him.
Viner, I suggest that you and I go down to Marketstoke this afternoon.
You've accommodations for a couple of gentlemen, I suppose, my dear?" he
added, turning to the girl. "Couple of nice bedrooms and a bit of
dinner, eh?"

"Oh, yes sir!" replied Lucy Summers. "We constantly have gentlemen
there, sir."

"Very well," said Mr. Pawle. "Now, then, you run away home to
Marketstoke, my dear, and tell your grandmother that I'm very much
obliged to her, and that I am coming down this evening, with this
gentleman, Mr. Viner, and that we shall be obliged if she'll have a nice,
plain, well-cooked dinner ready for us at half-past seven. We shall come
in my motorcar--you can put that up for the night, and my driver too?
Very well--that's settled. Now, come along, and one of my clerks shall
get you a cab to your station. Great Central, isn't it? All right--mind
you get yourself a cup of tea before going home."

"Viner," Pawle continued when he had taken the girl into the outer
office, "we can easily run down to Marketstoke in under two hours. I'll
call for you at your house at half-past five. That'll give us time to
wash away the dirt before our dinner. And then--we'll hear what this old
lady has to tell."

Viner, who was musing somewhat vaguely over these curious developments,
looked at Mr. Pawle as if in speculation about his evident optimism.

"You think we shall hear something worth hearing?" he asked.

"I should say we probably shall," replied Mr. Pawle. "Put things
together. Ashton goes away--as soon as he's got settled down in
Markendale Square--on a somewhat mysterious journey. Now we hear that he
had a secret. Perhaps something relating to that secret is mixed up with
his visit to Marketstoke. Depend upon it, an old woman of over
seventy--especially a landlady of a country-town inn, whose wits are
presumably pretty sharp--wouldn't send for me unless she'd something to
tell. Before midnight, my dear sir, we may have learnt a good deal."

Viner picked up his hat.

"I'll be ready for you at half-past five," he said. Then, halfway to the
door, he turned with a question: "By the by," he added, "you wouldn't
like me to tell the two ladies that we've found out where Ashton went
when he was away?"

"I think not until we've found out why he went away," answered the old
lawyer with a significant smile. "We may draw the covert blank, you know,
after all. When we've some definite news--"

Viner nodded, went out, into the afternoon calm of Bedford Row. As he
walked up it, staring mechanically at the old-fashioned red brick fronts,
he wondered how many curious secrets had been talked over and perhaps
unravelled in the numerous legal sanctuaries approached through those
open doorways. Were there often as strange ones as that upon which he had
so unexpectedly stumbled? And when they first came into the arena of
thought and speculation did they arouse as much perplexity and mental
exercise as was now being set up in him? Did every secret, too, possibly
endanger a man's life as his old schoolfellow's was being endangered? He
had no particular affection or friendship for Langton Hyde, of whom,
indeed, he had known very little at school, but he had an absolute
conviction that he was innocent of murder, and that conviction had
already aroused in him a passionate determination to outwit the police.
He had been quick to see through Drillford's plans. There was a case, a
strong _prima facie_ case against Hyde, and the police would work it up
for all they were worth. Failing proofs in other directions, failing the
discovery of the real murderer, how was that case going to be upset? And
was it likely that he and Pawle were going to find any really important
evidence in an obscure Buckinghamshire market-town?

He jumped into a cab at the top of Bedford Row and hastened back to
Markendale Square to pack a bag and prepare for his journey. Miss
Penkridge called to him from the drawing-room as he was running upstairs;
he turned into the room to find her in company with two ladies--dismal,
pathetic figures in very plain and obviously countrified garments, both
in tears and evident great distress, who, as Viner walked in, rose from
their chairs and gazed at him sadly and wistfully. They reminded him at
once of the type of spinster found in quiet, unpretentious cottages in
out-of-the-way villages--the neither young nor old women, who live on
circumscribed means and are painfully shy of the rude world outside. And
before either he or Miss Penkridge could speak, the elder of the two
broke into an eager exclamation.

"Oh, Mr. Viner, we are Langton's sisters! And we are so grateful to
you--and oh, do you think you can save him?"

Viner was quick to seize the situation. He said a soothing word or two,
begged his visitors to sit down again, and whispered to Miss Penkridge to
ring for tea.

"You have come to town today?" he asked.

"We left home very, very early this morning," replied the elder sister.
"We learned this dreadful news last night in the evening paper. We came
away at four o'clock this morning--we live in Durham, Mr. Viner,--and we
have been to Mr. Felpham's office this afternoon. He told us how kind you
had been in engaging his services for our unfortunate brother, and we
came to thank you. But oh, do you think there is any chance for him?"

"Every chance!" declared Viner, pretending more conviction than he felt.
"Don't let yourselves be cast down. Well move heaven and earth to prove
that he's wrongly accused. I gather--if you don't mind my asking--that
your brother has been out of touch with you for some time?"

The two sisters exchanged mournful glances.

"We had not heard anything of Langton for some years," replied the
elder. "He is much--much younger then ourselves, and perhaps we are too
staid and old-fashioned for him. But if we had known that he was in
want! Oh, dear me, we are not at all well-to-do, Mr. Viner, but we would
have sacrificed anything. Mr. Felpham says that we shall be allowed to
visit him--he is going to arrange for us to do so. And of course we must
remain in London until this terrible business is over--we came prepared
for that."

"Prepared for that!" repeated the other sister, who seemed to be a
fainter replica of the elder. "Yes, prepared, of course, Mr. Viner."

"Now that we have found Langton, though in such painful circumstances,"
said the first speaker, "we must stand by him. We must find some quiet
lodging, and settle down to help. We cannot let all the burden fall on
you, Mr. Viner."

Viner glanced at Miss Penkridge. They were quick to understand each
other, these two, and he knew at once that Miss Penkridge saw what was
in his mind.

"You must stay with us," he said, turning to the two mournful
figures. "We have any amount of room in this house, and we shall be
only too glad--"

"Oh, but that is too--" began both ladies.

"I insist," said Viner, with a smile.

"We both insist!" echoed Miss Penkridge. "We are both given to having
our own way, too; so say no more about it. We are all in the same boat
just now, and its name is _Mystery_, and we must pull together until
we're in harbour."

"Listen!" said Viner. "I have to go away tonight, on a matter closely
connected with this affair. Let me leave you in my aunt's charge, and
tomorrow I may be able to give you some cheering news. You'll be much
more comfortable here than in any lodgings or hotel and--and I should
like to do something for Hyde; we're old schoolfellows, you know."

Then he escaped from the room and made ready for his journey; and at
half-past five came Mr. Pawle in his private car and carried him off into
the dark. And hour and a half later the car rolled smoothly into the main
street of a quiet, wholly Arcadian little town, and pulled up before an
old-fashioned many gabled house over the door of which was set up one of
those ancient signs which, in such places, display the coat of arms of
the lord of the manor. Viner had just time to glance around him, and in a
clear, starlit evening, to see the high tower of a church, the timbered
fronts of old houses, and many a tall, venerable tree, before following
Mr. Pawle into a stone hall filled with dark oak cabinets and bright with
old brass and pewter, on the open hearth of which burnt a fine and cheery
fire of logs.

"Excellent!" muttered the old lawyer as he began to take off his
multitudinous wraps. "A real bit of the real old England! Viner, if the
dinner is as good as this promises, I shall be glad we've come, whatever
the occasion."

"Here's the landlady, I suppose," said Viner as a door opened.

A tall, silver-haired old woman, surprisingly active and vivacious in
spite of her evident age, came forward with a polite, old-fashioned bow.
She wore a silk gown and a silk apron and a smart cap, and her still
bright eyes took in the two visitors at a glance.

"Your servant, gentlemen," she said. "Your rooms are ready, and dinner
will be ready, too, when you are. This way, if you please."

"A very fine old house this, ma'am," observed Mr. Pawle as they followed
her up a curious staircase, all nooks and corners. "And you have, no
doubt, been long in it?"

"Born in it, sir," said the landlady, with a laugh. "Our family--on one
side--has been here two hundred years. This is your room, sir--this is
your friend's." She paused, and with a significant look, pointed to
another door. "That," she said, "is the room which Mr. Ashton had when he
was here."

"Ah! We are very anxious to know what you can tell us about him, ma'am,"
said Mr. Pawle.

Mrs. Summers paused, and again glanced significantly at her visitors.

"I wish I knew the meaning of what I shall tell you," she answered.



On the principle that business should never be discussed when one is
dining, Mr. Pawle made no reference during dinner to the matter which had
brought Viner and himself to the Ellingham Arms. He devoted all his
attention and energies to the pleasures of the table; he praised the
grilled soles and roast mutton and grew enthusiastic over some old
Burgundy which Mrs. Summers strongly recommended. But when dinner was
over and he had drunk a glass or two of old port, his eyes began to turn
toward the door of the quaint little parlour in which he and Viner had
been installed, and to which the landlady had promised to come.

"I confess I'm unusually curious about what we're going to hear, Viner,"
he said, as he drew out a well-filled cigar-case. "There's an atmosphere
of mystery about our presence and our surroundings that's like an
apéritif to an already hungry man. Ashton, poor fellow, comes over to
this quiet, out-of-the-way place; why, we don't know; what he does here
we don't know, yet--but all the circumstances, up to now, seem to point
to secrecy, if not to absolute romance and adventure."

"Is it going, after all, to clear up the mystery of his death?" asked
Viner. "That's what concerns me--I'm afraid I'm a bit indifferent to the
rest of it. What particular romance, do you think, could be attached to
the mere fact that Ashton paid a three days' visit to Marketstoke?"

Mr. Pawle drew out a well-filled cigar-case.

"In my profession," he answered, "we hear a great deal more of romance
than most folk could imagine. Now, here's a man who returns to this
country from a long residence in Australia. The first thing he does,
after getting settled down in London, is to visit Marketstoke. Why
Marketstoke? Marketstoke is an obscure place--there are at least five or
six towns in this very county that are better known. Again, I say--why
Marketstoke? And why this, the very first place in England? For what
reason? Now, as a lawyer, a reason does suggest itself to me; I've been
thinking about it ever since that rosy-cheeked lass called at my office
this afternoon. What does the man who's been away from his native land
for the best part of his life do, as a rule, when at last he sets foot on
it again--eh?"

"I'm not greatly experienced," replied Viner, smiling at the old
solicitor's professional enthusiasm. "What does he do--usually?"

"Makes his way as soon as possible to his native place!" exclaimed Mr.
Pawle, with an expressive flourish of his cigar. "That, usually, is the
first thing he thinks of. You're not old enough to remember the
circumstances, my boy, but I have, of course, a very distinct
recollection of the Tichborne affair in the early seventies. Now, if you
ever read the evidence in that _cause célèbre_, you'll remember that the
claimant, Orton, on arriving in England, posing as the missing heir, Sir
Roger Tichborne, did a certain thing, the evidence of which, I can assure
you, was not lost on the jury before whom he eventually came. Instead of
going direct to Tichborne, where you'd naturally have thought all his
affection and interests rested, where did he go? To Whitechapel! Why?
Because the Ortons were Whitechapel folk! The native place called him, do
you see? The first thought he had on setting foot on English soil

"Are you suggesting that Ashton was probably a native of Marketstoke?"
asked Viner.

"I mean to find out--no matter what we hear from the landlady--if that
name is to be found in the parish register here, anyway," answered Mr.
Pawle. "You can be sure of this--Ashton came to this obscure country town
for some special purpose. What was it? And--had it anything to do with,
did it lead up to, his murder? That--"

A light tap at the door heralded the approach of Mrs. Summers.

"That," repeated Mr. Pawle, as he jumped up from his chair and politely
threw the door open, "is what I mean to endeavour--endeavour, at any
rate--to discover. Come in, ma'am," he continued, gallantly motioning the
old landlady to the easiest chair in the room. "We are very eager,
indeed, to hear what you can tell us. Our cigars, now--"

"Pray, don't mention them, sir," responded Mrs. Summers. "I hope you are
quite comfortable, and that you are having everything you wish?"

"Nothing ma'am, could be more pleasant and gratifying, as far as
material comfort goes," answered Mr. Pawle with conviction. "The dinner
was excellent; your wine is sound; this old room is a veritable haven! I
wish we were visiting you under less sad conditions. And now about your
recollections of this poor gentleman, ma'am?"

The landlady laid a large book on the table, and opening it at a page
where at she had placed a marker, pointed to a signature.

"That is the writing of the Mr. John Ashton who came here," she said.
"He registered his name and address the day he came--there it is: 'John
Ashton, 7 Markendale Square, London, W.' You gentlemen will recognise
it, perhaps?"

Mr. Pawle put up his glasses, glanced once at the open book, and turned
to Viner with a confirmatory nod.

"That's Ashton's writing, without a doubt," he said. "It's a signature
not to be forgotten when you've once seen it. Well, that establishes the
fact that he undoubtedly came here on that date. Now, ma'am, what can you
tell about him?"

Mrs. Summers took the chair which Viner drew forward to the hearth and
folded her hands over her silk apron.

"Well sir," she answered, "a good deal. Mr. Ashton came here one Monday
afternoon, in a motorcar, with his luggage, and asked if I could give him
rooms and accommodation for a few days. Of course I could--he had this
room and the room I pointed out upstairs, and he stayed here until the
Thursday, when he left soon after lunch--the same car came for him. And
he hadn't been in the house an hour, gentlemen, before I wondered if he
hadn't been here before."

"Interesting--very!" said Mr. Pawle. "Now, why, ma'am did you
wonder that?"

"Well, sir," replied Mrs. Summers, "because, after he'd looked round the
house, and seen his room upstairs, he went out to the front door, and
then I followed him, to ask if he had any particular wishes about his
dinner that evening. Our front door, as you will see in the morning,
fronts the market square, and from it you can see about all there is to
see of the town. He was standing at the door, under the porch, looking
all round him, and I overheard him talking to himself as I went up
behind him.

"'Aye!' he was saying, as he looked this way and that, 'there's the old
church, and the old moot-hall, and the old market-place, and the old
gabled and thatched houses, and even the old town pump--they haven't
changed a bit, I reckon, in all these years!' Then he caught sight of me,
and he smiled. 'Not many changes in this old place, landlady, in your
time?' he said pleasantly. 'No, sir,' I answered. 'We don't change much
in even a hundred years in Marketstoke.' 'No!' he said, and shook his
head. 'No--the change is in men, in men!' And then he suddenly set
straight off across the square to the churchyard. 'You've known
Marketstoke before,' I said to myself."

"You didn't ask him that?" inquired Mr. Pawle, eagerly.

"I didn't, sir," replied Mrs. Summers. "I never asked him a question all
the time he was here. I thought that if I was correct in what I fancied,
I should hear him say something. But he never did say anything of that
sort--all the same, I felt more and more certain that he did know the
place. And during the time he was here, he went about in it in a fashion
that convinced me that my ideas were right. He was in and around the
church a great deal--the vicar and the parish clerk can tell you more
about his visits there than I can--and he was at the old moot-hall
several times, looking over certain old things they keep there, and he
visited Ellingham Park twice, and was shown over the house. And before
he's been here two days I came to a certain conclusion about him, and
I've had it ever since, though he never said one word, or did one thing
that could positively confirm me in it."

"Yes!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "And that, ma'am, was--"

"That he was somebody who disappeared from Marketstoke thirty-five years
ago," answered the landlady, "disappeared completely, and has never been
heard of from that day to this!"

Mr. Pawle turned slowly and looked at Viner. He nodded his head several
times, then turned to Mrs. Summers and regarded her fixedly.

"And that somebody?" he asked in hushed accents. "Who was he?"

The landlady smoothed her silk apron and shook her head.

"It's a long story, sir," she answered. "I think you must have heard
something of it--though to be sure, it was not talked of much at the
time, and didn't become public until legal proceedings became necessary,
some years ago. You're aware, of course, that just outside the town here
is Ellingham Park, the seat of the Earl of Ellingham. Well, what I have
to tell you has to do with them, and I shall have to go back a good way.
Thirty-five years ago the head of the family was the seventh Earl, who
was then getting on in life. He was a very overbearing, harsh old
gentleman, not at all liked--the people here in Marketstoke, nearly all
of them his tenants, used to be perpetually at variance with him about
something or other; he was the sort of man who wanted to have his own way
about everything. And he had trouble at home, at any rate with his elder
son,--he only had two sons and no daughter,--and about the time I'm
talking of it came to a head. Nobody ever knew exactly what it was all
about, but it was well known that Lord Marketstoke--that was the elder
son's name--and his father, the Earl, were at cross purposes, if not
actually at daggers drawn, about something or other. And when Lord
Marketstoke was about twenty five or twenty-six there was a great quarrel
between them; it broke out one night, after dinner; the servants heard
angry words between them. That night, gentlemen, Lord Marketstoke left
the house and set off to London, and from that day to this he has never
been heard of or seen again--hereabouts, at any rate."

Mr. Pawle, who was listening with the deepest interest and attention,
glanced at Viner as if to entreat the same care on his part.

"I do remember something of this, now I come to think of it," he said.
"There were some legal proceedings in connection with this disappearance,
I believe, some years ago."

"Yes, sir--they were in the newspapers," asserted the old landlady. "But
of course, those of us about here knew of how things stood long before
that. Lord Marketstoke went away, as I have said. It was known that he
had money of his own, that had come to him from his mother, who had died
years before all this. But it wasn't known where he went. Some said he'd
gone to the Colonies; some said to America. And at one time there was a
rumour that he'd taken another name and joined some foreign army, and
been killed in its service. Anyway, nobody ever heard a word of him--Mr.
Marcherson, who was steward at Ellingham Park for over forty years (he
died last year, a very old man) assured me that from the day on which
Lord Marketstoke left his father's house not one word of him, not a
breath, ever reached any of those he'd left behind him. There was
absolute silence--he couldn't have disappeared more completely if they'd
laid him in the family vault in Marketstoke church."

"And evident intention to disappear!" observed Mr. Pawle. "You'll mark
that, Viner--it's important. Well, ma'am," he added, turning again to
Mrs. Summers. "And--what happened next?"

"Well sir, there was nothing much happened," continued the landlady.
"Matters went on in pretty much the usual way. The old Earl got older, of
course, and his temper got worse. Mr. Marcherson assured me that he was
never known to mention his missing son--to anybody. And in the end,
perhaps about fifteen years after Lord Marketstoke had gone away, he
died. And then there was no end of trouble and bother. The Earl had left
no will; at any rate, no will could be found, and no lawyer could be
Heard of who had ever made one. And of course, nobody knew where the new
Earl was, nor even if he was alive or dead. There were advertisements
sent out all over the world--Mr. Marcherson told me that they were
translated into I don't know how many foreign languages and published in
every quarter of the globe--asking for news of him and stating that his
father was dead. That was done for some time."

"With no result?" asked Mr. Pawle.

"No result whatever, sir--I understand that the family solicitors never
had one single reply," answered Mrs. Summers. "I understand, too, that
for some time before the old Earl's death they'd been trying to trace
Lord Marketstoke from his last known movements. But that had failed too.
He had chambers in London, and he kept a manservant there; the manservant
could only say that on the night on which his young master left Ellingham
Park he returned to his chambers, went to bed--and had gone when he, the
manservant, rose in the morning. No, sir; all the efforts and
advertisements were no good whatever, and after some time--some
considerable time--the younger brother, the Honourable Charles

"Cave-Gray? Is that the family name?" interrupted Mr. Pawle.

"That's the family name, sir--Cave-Gray," replied Mrs. Summers. "One of
the oldest families in these parts, sir--the earldom dates from Queen
Anne. Well, the Honourable Charles Cave-Gray, and his solicitors, of
course, came to the conclusion that Lord Marketstoke was dead, and so--I
don't understand the legal niceties, gentlemen, but they went to the
courts to get something done which presumed his death and let Mr.
Charles come into the title and estates. And in the end that had been
done, and Mr. Charles became the eighth Earl of Ellingham."

"I remember it now," muttered Mr. Pawle. "Yes--curious case. But it was
proved to the court, I recollect, that everything possible had been done
to find the missing heir--and without result."

"Just so, sir, and so Mr. Charles succeeded," asserted Mrs. Summers. "He
was a very nice, pleasant man, not a bit like his father--a very good and
considerate landlord, and much respected. But he's gone now--died three
years ago; and his son, a young man of twenty-two or three, succeeded
him--that's the present Earl, gentlemen. And of him we see very little;
he scarcely ever stayed at Ellingham Park, except for a bit of shooting,
since he came to the title. And now," she concluded, with a shrewd glance
at the old lawyer, "I wonder if you see, sir, what it was that came into
my mind when this Mr. John Ashton came here a few weeks ago, especially
after I heard him say what he did, and after I saw how he was spending
his time here?"

"I've no inkling, ma'am; I've no inkling!" said Mr. Pawle. "You

"I wondered," murmured Mrs. Summers, bending closer to her listeners, "if
the man who called himself John Ashton wasn't in reality the long-lost
Lord Marketstoke."



Mr. Pawle, after a glance at Viner which seemed to be full of many
meanings, bent forward in his chair and laid a hand on the old
landlady's arm.

"Now, have you said as much as that to anybody before?" he asked, eking
her significantly. "Have you mentioned it to your neighbours, for
instance, or to any one in the town?"

"No, sir!" declared Mrs. Summers promptly. "Not to a soul! I'm given to
keeping my ideas to myself, especially on matters of importance. There is
no one here in Marketstoke that I would have mentioned such a thing to,
now that the late steward, Mr. Marcherson, is dead. I shouldn't have
mentioned it to you two gentlemen it hadn't been for this dreadful news
in the papers. No, I've kept my thoughts at home."

"Wise woman!" said Mr. Pawle. "But now let me ask you a few questions.
Did you know this Lord Marketstoke before he disappeared?"

"I only saw him two or three times," replied the landlady. "It was seldom
that he came to Ellingham Park, after his majority. Of course, I saw him
a good deal when he was a mere boy. But after he was grown up, only, as I
say, a very few times."

"But you remember him?" suggested Mr. Pawle.

"Oh, very well indeed!" said Mrs. Summers. "I saw him last a day or two
before he went away for good."

"Well, now, did you think you recognized anything of him--making
allowance for the difference in age--in this man who called himself John
Ashton?" asked Mr. Pawle. "For that, of course, is important!"

"Mr. Ashton," answered Mrs. Summers, "was just such a man as Lord
Marketstoke might have been expected to become. Height, build--all the
Cave-Grays that I've known were big men--colour, were alike. Of course,
Mr. Ashton had a beard, slightly grey, but he was a grey-haired man. All
the family had crown hair; the present Lord Ellingham is crown-haired.
And Mr. Ashton had grey eyes--every Cave-Gray that I remember was
grey-eyed. I should say that Mr. Ashton was just what I should have
expected Lord Marketstoke to be at sixty."

"I suppose Ashton never said or did anything here to reveal his secret,
if he had one?" asked Mr. Pawle, after a moment's thoughtful pause.

"Oh, nothing!" replied Mrs. Summers. "He occupied himself, as I tell you,
while he was here, and finally he went away in the car in which he had
come, saying that he had greatly enjoyed his stay, and that we should see
him again sometime. No--he never said anything about himself, that is.
But he asked me several questions; I used to talk to him sometimes, of an
evening, about the present Lord Ellingham."

"What sort of questions?" inquired Mr. Pawle.

"Oh--as to what sort of young man he was, and if he was a good landlord
and so on," replied Mrs. Summers. "And I purposely told him about the
disappearance of thirty-five years ago, just to see what he would say
about it."

"Ah! And what did he say?" asked Mr. Pawle.

"Nothing--except that it was extraordinary how people could disappear in
this world," said Mrs. Summers. "Whether he was interested or not, he
didn't show it."

"Probably felt that he knew more about it than you did," chuckled the old
solicitor. "Well, ma'am, we're much obliged to you. Now take my advice
and keep to your very excellent plan of saying nothing. Tomorrow morning
we will just have a look into certain things, and see if we can discover
anything really pertinent, and you shall know what conclusion we come to.
Viner!" Pawle went on, when the old landlady had left them alone, "what
do you think of this extraordinary story? Upon my word, I think it quite
possible that the old lady's theory might be right, and that Ashton may
really have been the missing Lord Marketstoke!"

"You think it probable that a man who was heir to an English earldom and
to considerable estates could disappear like that, for so many years, and
then reappear?" asked Viner.

"I won't discuss the probability," answered Mr. Pawle, "but that it's
possible I should steadily affirm. I've known several very extraordinary
cases of disappearance. In this particular instance--granting things to
be as Mrs. Summers suggests--see how easy the whole thing is. This young
man disappears. He goes to a far-off colony under an assumed name.
Nobody knows him. It is ten thousand to one against his being recognized
by visitors from home. All the advertising in the world will fail to
reveal his identity. The only person who knows who he is is himself. And
if he refuses to speak--there you are!"

"What surprises me," remarked Viner, "is that a man who evidently lived a
new life for thirty-five years and prospered most successfully in it,
should want to return to the old one."

"Ah, but you never know!" said the old lawyer. "Family feeling, old
associations, loss of the old place--eh? As men get older, their thoughts
turn fondly to the scenes and memories of their youth, Viner. If Ashton
was really the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared, he may have come down
here with no other thought than that of just revisiting his old home for
sentimental reasons. He may not have had the slightest intention, for
instance, of setting up a claim to the title and estates."

"I don't understand much about the legal aspect of this," said Viner,
"but I've been wondering about it while you and the landlady talked.
Supposing Ashton to be the long-lost Lord Marketstoke--could he have
established a claim such as you speak of?"

"To be sure!" answered Mr. Pawle. "Had he been able to prove that he was
the real Simon pure, he would have stepped into title and estates at
once. Didn't the old lady say that the seventh Earl died intestate? Very
well--the holders since his time, that is to say, Charles, who, his
brother's death being presumed, became eighth Earl, and his son, the
present holder, would have had to account for everything since the day
of the seventh Earl's death. When the seventh Earl died, his elder son,
Lord Marketstoke, _ipso facto_, stepped into his shoes, and if he were,
or is, still alive, he's in them still. All he had to do, at any moment,
after his father's death, no matter who had come into title and estates,
was to step forward and say: 'Here I am!--now I want my rights!'"

"A queer business altogether!" commented Viner. "But whoever Ashton
was, he's dead. And the thing that concerns me is this: if he really
was Earl of Ellingham, do you think that fact's got anything to do with
his murder?"

"That's just what we want to find out," answered Mr. Pawle eagerly. "It's
quite conceivable that he may have been murdered by somebody who had a
particular interest in keeping him out of his rights. Such things have
been known. I want to go into all that. But now here's another matter. If
Ashton really was the missing Lord Marketstoke, who is this girl whom he
put forward as his ward, to whom he's left his considerable fortune, and
about whom nobody knows anything? I've already told you there isn't a
single paper or document about her that I can discover. Was he really her

"Has this anything to do with it?" asked Viner. "Does it come into

Mr. Pawle did not answer for a moment; he appeared to have struck a new
vein of thought and to be exploring it deeply.

"In certain events, it would come into it pretty strongly!" he muttered
at last. "I'll tell you why, later on. Now I'm for bed--and first thing
after breakfast, in the morning, Viner, well go to work."

Viner had little idea of what the old solicitor meant as regards going to
work; it seemed to him that for all practical purposes they were already
in a maze out of which there seemed no easy way. And he was not at all
sure of what they were doing when, breakfast being over next morning, Mr.
Pawle conducted him across the square to the old four-square churchyard,
and for half an hour walked him up one path and down another and in and
around the ancient yew-trees and gravestones.

"Do you know what I've been looking for, Viner?" asked Mr. Pawle at
last as he turned towards the church porch. "I was looking for
something, you know."

"Not the faintest notion!" answered Viner dismally. "I wondered!"

"I was looking," replied Mr. Pawle with a faint chuckle, "to see if I
could find any tombstones or monuments in this churchyard bearing the
name Ashton. There isn't one! I take it from that significant fact that
Ashton didn't come down here to visit the graves of his kindred. But now
come into the church--Mrs. Summers told me this morning that there's a
chapel here in which the Cave-Gray family have been interred for two or
three centuries. Let's have a look at it."

Viner, who had a dilettante love of ancient architecture, was immediately
lost in admiration of the fine old structure into which he and his
companion presently stepped. He stood staring at the high rood, the fine
old rood screen, the beauty of the clustered columns--had he been alone,
and on any other occasion, he would have spent the morning in wandering
around nave and aisles and transepts. But Mr. Pawle, severely practical,
at once made for the northeast chapel; and Viner, after another glance
round, was forced to follow him.

"The Ellingham Chapel!" whispered the old solicitor as they passed a fine
old stone screen which Viner mentally registered as fifteenth-century.
"No end of Cave-Grays laid here. What a profusion of monuments!"

Viner began to examine those monuments as well as the gloom of the
November morning and the dark-painted glass of the windows would permit.
And before very long he turned to his companion, who was laboriously
reading the inscription on a great box-tomb which stood against the
north wall.

"I say!" he whispered. "Here's a curious fact which, in view of what we
heard last night, may be of use to us."

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Pawle.

Viner took him by the elbow and led him over to the south wall, on which
was arranged a number of ancient tablets, grouped around a great
altar-tomb whereon were set up the painted effigies of a gentleman, his
wife, and several sons and daughters, all in ruffs, kneeling one after
the other, each growing less in size and stature, in the attitude of
prayer. He pointed to the inscription on this, and from it to several of
the smaller monuments.

"Look here!" he said. "There are Cave-Grays commemorated here from 1570
until 1820. No end of 'em--men and women. And now, see--there's a
certain Christian name--a woman's name--which occurs over and over
again. There it is--and there--and here--and here--and here again; it's
evidently been a favourite family name among the Cave-Gray women for
three hundred years at least. You see what it is? Avice!"

Mr. Pawle peered at the various places to which his companion's
finger pointed.

"Yes," he answered, "I see it--several times, as you say. Avice! Yes?"

"Miss Wickham's Christian name is Avice," said Viner.

Mr. Pawle started.

"God bless me!" he exclaimed. "So it is! I'd forgotten that. Dear me!
Now, that's very odd--too odd, perhaps, to be a coincidence. Very
interesting, indeed! Favourite family name without a doubt."

Viner silently went round the chapel, inspecting every monument its four
walls sheltered.

"It occurs just nineteen times," he announced at last. "Now, is it a
coincidence that Miss Wickham's name should be Avice? Or is it that
there's some connection between her and all these dead and gone Avices?"

"Very strange!" admitted Mr. Pawle. "Viner--we'll go next and have a look
at the parish registers. But look here! Not a word to parson or clerk
about our business! We merely wish to make search for a certain legal
purpose, eh?"

Three hours later Viner, heartily weary of turning over old registers
full of crabbed writing, was glad when Mr. Pawle closed the one on
which he was engaged, intimated that he had seen all he wanted, paid
the fees for his search, and whispered to his companion that they would
go to lunch.

"Well?" asked Viner as they walked across the square to the Ellington
Arms. "Have we done anything?"

"Probably!" answered Mr. Pawle. "For you never know how these little
matters might help. We've established two facts, anyway. One--that there
have never been any folk of the name of Ashton in this town since the
registers came into being in 1567; the other, that the name Avice was a
very favourite one indeed amongst the women of the Cave-Gray family. And
there's just another little fact which I discovered, and said nothing
about while the vicar and clerk were about--it may be nothing, and it may
be something."

"What is it?" asked Viner.

"Well," answered Mr. Pawle pausing a few yards away from the porch of the
hotel, and speaking in a confidential voice, "it's this: In turning up
the records of the Cave-Gray family, as far as they are shown in their
parish registers, I found that Stephen John Cave-Gray, sixth Earl of
Ellingham, married one Georgina Wickham. Now, is that another
coincidence? There you get the two names in combination--Avice Wickham.
That particular Countess of Ellingham would, of course, be the
grandmother of the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared. Did he think of her
maiden name, Wickham, when he wanted a new one for himself? Possibly! And
when he married, and had a daughter, did he think of the Christian name
so popular with his own womenfolk of previous generations, and call his
daughter Avice? And are Marketstoke and Wickham and Ashton all one and
the same man?"

"Upon my word, it's a strange muddle!" exclaimed Viner.

"Nothing as yet to what it will be," remarked Mr. Pawle sententiously.
"Come on--I'm famishing. Let's lunch--and then we'll go back to town."

Another surprise awaited them when they walked into Mr. Pawle's office in
Bedford Row at four o'clock that afternoon. A card lay on the old
lawyer's blotting-pad, and after glancing at it, he passed it to Viner.

"See that?" he said. "Now, who on earth is Mr. Armitstead Ashton
Armitstead, of Rouendale House, Rawtenstall? Who left this?" he went on,
as a clerk entered the room with some letters.

"A gentleman who called at three o'clock, sir," replied the clerk. "He
said he's travelled specially from Lancashire to see you about the Ashton
affair. He's going to call again, sir. In fact," concluded the clerk,
glancing into the anteroom, "I think he's here now."

"Bring him in," commanded Mr. Pawle. He made a grimace at Viner as the
clerk disappeared. "You see how things develop," he murmured. "What are
we going to hear next?"



The man who presently walked in, a tall, grey-bearded, evidently
prosperous person, dressed in the height of fashion, glanced keenly from
one to the other of the two men who awaited him.

"Mr. Pawle?" he inquired as he dropped into the chair which the old
lawyer silently indicated at the side of his desk. "One of your partners,
no doubt!" he added, looking again at Viner.

"No sir," replied Mr. Pawle. "This is Mr. Viner, who gave evidence in the
case you want to see me about. You can speak freely before him. What is
it you have to say, Mr. Armitstead?"

"Not, perhaps, very much, but it may be of use," answered the visitor.
"The fact is that, like most folk, I read the accounts of this Ashton
murder in the newspapers, and I gave particular attention to what was
said by the man Hyde at the inquest the other day. It was what he said in
regard to the man whom he alleges he saw leaving Lonsdale Passage that
made me come specially to town to see you. I don't know," he went on,
glancing at the card which still lay on Mr. Pawle's blotting-pad, "if you
know my name at all? I'm a pretty well-known Lancashire manufacturer, and
I was a member of Parliament for some years--for the Richdale Valley
division. I didn't put up again at the last General Election."

Mr. Pawle bowed.

"Just so, Mr. Armitstead," he answered. "And there's something you know
about this case?"

"I know this," replied Mr. Armitstead. "I met John Ashton in Paris some
weeks ago. We were at the Hotel Bristol together. In fact, we met and
introduced ourselves to each other in an odd way. We arrived at the Hotel
Bristol at the same time--he from Italy, I from London, and we registered
at the same moment. Now, I have a habit of always signing my name in
full, Armitstead Ashton Armitstead. I signed first; he followed. He
looked at me and smiled. 'You've got one of my names, anyway, sir,' he
remarked. 'And I see you hail from where I hailed from, many a long year
ago.' 'Then you're a Lancashire man?' I said. 'I left Lancashire more
years ago than I like to thing of,' he answered, with a laugh. And then
we got talking, and he told me that he had emigrated to Australia when he
was young, and that he was going back to England for the first time. We
had more talk during the two or three days that we were at the Bristol
together, and we came to the conclusion that we were distantly related--a
long way back. But he told me that, as far as he was aware, he had no
close relations living, and when I suggested to him that he ought to go
down to Lancashire and look up old scenes and old friends, he replied
that he'd no intention of doing so--he must, he said, have been
completely forgotten in his native place by this."

"Did he tell you what his native place was, Mr. Armitstead?" asked Mr.
Pawle, who had given Viner two or three expressive glances during the
visitor's story.

"Yes," replied Mr. Armitstead. "He did--Blackburn. He left it as a very
young man."

"Well," said Mr. Pawle, "there's a considerable amount of interest in
what you tell us, for Mr. Viner and myself have been making certain
inquiries during the last twenty-four hours, and we formed, or nearly
formed, a theory which your information upsets. Ashtons of Blackburn? We
must go into that. For we particularly want to know who Mr. John Ashton
was--there's a great deal depending on it. Did he tell you more?"

"About himself, no," replied the visitor, "except that he'd been
exceedingly fortunate in Australia, and had made a good deal of money and
was going to settle down here in London. He took my address and said he'd
write and ask me to dine with him as soon as he got a house to his
liking, and he did write, only last week, inviting me to call next time I
was in town. Then I saw the accounts of his murder in the papers--a very
sad thing!"

"A very mysterious thing!" remarked Mr. Pawle. "I wish we could get some
light on it!"

The visitor looked from one man to the other and lowered his voice a

"It's possible I can give you a little," he said. "That, indeed, is the
real reason why I set off to see you this morning. You will remember
that Hyde, the man who is charged with the murder, said before the
Coroner that as he turned into Lonsdale Passage, he saw coming out of
it a tall man in black clothes who was swathed to the very eyes in a big
white muffler?"

"Yes!" said Mr. Pawle. "Well?"

"I saw such a man with Ashton in Paris," answered Mr. Armitstead. "Hyde's
description exactly tallies with what I myself should have said."

Mr. Pawle looked at his visitor with still more interest and attention.

"Now, that really is of importance!" he exclaimed. "If Hyde saw such a
man--as I believe he did--and you saw such a man, then that man must
exist, and the facts that you saw him with Ashton, and that Hyde saw him
in close proximity to the place where Ashton was murdered, are of the
highest consequence. But--you can tell us more, Mr. Armitstead?"

"Unfortunately, very little," replied the visitor. "What I saw was on the
night before I left Paris--after it I never saw Ashton again to speak to.
It was late at night. Do you know the Rue Royale? There is at the end of
it a well-known restaurant, close to the Place de la Concorde--I was
sitting outside this about a quarter to eleven when I saw Ashton and the
man I am speaking of pass along the pavement in the direction of the
Madeleine. What made me particularly notice the man was the fact that
although it was an unusually warm night, he was closely muffled in a big
white silk handkerchief. It was swathed about his throat, his chin, his
mouth; it reached, in fact, right up to his eyes. An odd thing, on such a
warm night--Ashton, who was in evening dress, had his light overcoat
thrown well back. He was talking very volubly as they passed me--the
other man was listening with evident attention."

"Would you know the man if you saw him again?" asked Viner.

"I should most certainly know him if I saw him dressed and muffled in the
same way," asserted Mr. Armitstead. "And I believe I could recognize him
from his eyes--which, indeed, were all that I could really see of him. He
was so muffled, I tell you, that it was impossible to see if he was a
clean-shaven man or a bearded man. But I did see his eyes, for he turned
them for an instant full on the light of the restaurant. They were
unusually dark, full and brilliant--his glance would best be described as
flashing. And I should say, from my impression at the time, and from what
I remember of his dress, that he was a foreigner--probably an Italian."

"You didn't see this man at your hotel?" asked Mr. Pawle.

"No--I never saw him except on this one occasion," replied Mr.
Armitstead. "And I did not see Ashton after that. I left Paris very early
the next morning, for Rouen, where I had some business. You think this
matter of the man in the muffler important?"

"Now that you've told us what you have, Mr. Armitstead, I think it's of
the utmost importance and consequence--to Hyde," answered Mr. Pawle. "You
must see his solicitor--he's Mr. Viner's solicitor too--and offer to give
evidence when Hyde's brought up again; it will be of the greatest help.
There's no doubt, to me, at any rate, that the man Hyde saw leaving the
scene of the murder is the man you saw with Ashton in Paris. But now, who
is he? Ashton, as we happen to know, left his ship at Naples, and
travelled to England through Italy and France. Is this man some fellow
that he picked up on the way? His general appearance, now--how did that
strike you?"

"He was certainly a man of great distinction of manner," declared Mr.
Armitstead. "He had the air and bearing of--well, of a personage. I
should say he was somebody--you know what I mean--a man of superior
position, and so on."

"Viner," exclaimed Mr. Pawle, "that man must be found! There must be
people in London who saw him that night. People can't disappear like
that. Well set to work on that track--find him we must! Now, all the
evidence goes to show that he and Ashton were in company that
night--probably they'd been dining together, and he was accompanying
Ashton to his house. How is it that no one at all has come forward to say
that Ashton was seen with this man? It's really extraordinary!"

Mr. Armitstead shook his head.

"There's one thing you're forgetting, aren't you?" he said. "Ashton and
this man mayn't have been in each other's company many minutes when the
murder took place. Ashton may have been trapped. I don't know much
about criminal affairs, but in reading the accounts of the proceedings
before the magistrate and the coroner, an idea struck me which, so far
as I could gather from the newspapers, doesn't seem to have struck any
one else."

"What's that?" demanded Mr. Pawle. "All ideas are welcome."

"Well, this," replied Mr. Armitstead: "In one of the London newspapers
there was a plan, a rough sketchmap of the passage in which the murder
took place. I gathered from it that on each side of that passage there
are yards or gardens, at the backs of houses--the houses on one side
belong to some terrace; on the other to the square--Markendale Square--in
which Ashton lived. Now, may it not be that the murder itself was
actually committed in one of those houses, and that the body was carried
out through a yard or garden to where it was found?"

"Ashton was a big and heavy man," observed Viner. "No one man could have
carried him."

"Just so!" agreed Mr. Armitstead. "But don't you think there's a
probability that more than one man was engaged in this affair! The man in
the muffler, hurrying away, may have only been one of several."

"Aye!" said Mr. Pawle, with a deep sigh. "There's something in all that.
It may be as you say--a conspiracy. If we only knew the real object of
the crime! But it appears to be becoming increasingly difficult to find
it.... What is it?" he asked, as his clerk came into the room with a
card. "I'm engaged."

The clerk came on, however, laid the card before his employer, and
whispered a few words to him.

"A moment, then--I'll ring," said Mr. Pawle. He turned to his two
companions as the clerk retired and closed the door, and smiled as he
held up the card. "Here's another man who wants to tell me something
about the Ashton case!" he exclaimed.

"It's been quite a stroke of luck having that paragraph in the
newspapers, asking for information from anybody who could give it!"

"What's this?" asked Viner.

"Mr. Jan Van Hoeren, Diamond Merchant," read Mr. Pawle from the card,
"583 Hatton Garden--"

"Ah!" Mr. Armitstead exclaimed. "Diamonds!"

"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," remarked Mr. Pawle. "Diamonds, I
believe, are to Hatton Garden what cabbages and carrots are to Covent."
He touched his bell, and the clerk appeared. "Bring Mr. Van Hoeren this
way," he said.

There entered, hat in hand, bowing all round, a little fat, beady-eyed
man, whose beard was blue-black and glossy, whose lips were red, whose
nose was his most decided feature. His hat was new and shining, his black
overcoat of superfine cloth was ornamented with a collar of undoubted
sable; he carried a gold-mounted umbrella. But there was one thing on him
that put all the rest of his finery in the shade. In the folds of his
artistically-arranged black satin stock lay a pearl--such a pearl as few
folk ever have the privilege of seeing. It was as big as a moderately
sized hazel nut, and the three men who looked at it knew that it was
something wonderful.

"Take a chair, Mr. Van Hoeren," said Mr. Pawle genially. "You want to
tell me something about this Ashton case? Very much obliged to you, I'm
sure. These gentlemen are both interested--considerably--in that case,
and if you can give me any information that will throw any light on it--"

Mr. Van Hoeren deposited his plump figure in a convenient chair and
looked round the circle of faces.

"One thing there is I don't see in them newspapers, Mr. Pawle," he said
in strongly nasal accents. "Maybe nobody don't know nothings about it,
what? So I come to tell you what I know, see? Something!"

"Very good of you, I'm sure," replied Mr. Pawle. "What may it be?"

Mr. Van Hoefren made a significant grimace; it seemed to imply that there
was a great deal to be told.

"Some of us, my way, we know Mr. Ashton," he said. "In Hatton Garden, you
understand. Dealers in diamonds, see? Me, and Haas, and Aarons, and one
or two more. Business!"

"You've done business with Mr. Ashton?" asked the old lawyer. "Just so!"

"No--done nothing," replied Mr. Van Hoeren. "Not a shilling's worth. But
we know him. He came down there. And we don't see nothing in them papers
that we expected to see, and today two or three of us, we lunch together,
and Haas, he says: 'Them lawyer men,' he says, 'they want information.
You go and give it to 'em,' So!"

"Well--what is it?" demanded Mr. Pawle.

Mr. Van Hoeren leaned forward and looked from one face to another.

"Ashton," he said, "was carrying a big diamond about--in his pocketbook!"

Mr. Armitstead let a slight exclamation escape his lips. Viner glanced at
Mr. Pawle. And Mr. Pawle fastened his eyes on his latest caller.

"Mr. Ashton was carrying a big diamond about in his pocketbook?" he said.
"Ah--have you seen it?"

"Several times I see it," replied Mr. Van Hoeren. "My trade, don't it?
Others of us--we see it too."

"He wanted to sell it?" suggested Mr. Pawle.

"There ain't so many people could afford to buy it," said Mr. Van Hoeren.

"Why!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "Was it so valuable, then?"

The diamond merchant shrugged his shoulders and waved the gold-mounted
umbrella which he was carefully nursing in his tightly-gloved hands.

"Oh, well!" he answered. "Fifty or sixty thousand pounds it was



The three men who heard this announcement were conscious that at this
point the Ashton case entered upon an entirely new phase. Armitstead's
mind was swept clean away from the episode in Paris, Viner's from the
revelations at Marketstoke, Mr. Pawle suddenly realized that here, at
last, was something material and tangible which opened out all sorts of
possibilities. And he voiced the thoughts of his two companions as he
turned in amazement on the fat little man who sat complacently nursing
his umbrella.

"What!" he exclaimed. "You mean to tell me that Ashton was walking about
London with a diamond worth fifty thousand pounds in his pocket?

"Don't see nothing so very incredible about it," retorted Mr. Van Hoeren.
"I could show you men what carries diamonds worth twice that much in
their pockets about the Garden."

"That's business," said Mr. Pawle. "I've heard of such things--but you
all know each other over there, I'm told. Ashton wasn't a diamond
merchant. God bless me--he was probably murdered for that stone!"

"That's just what I come to you about, eh?" suggested Mr. Van Hoeren.
"You see 'tain't nothing if he show that diamond to me, and such as me;
we don't think nothing of that--all in our way of business. But if he
gets showing it to other people, in public places--what?"

"Just so!" asserted Mr. Pawle. "Sheer tempting of Providence! I'm amazed!
But--how did you get to know Mr. Ashton and to hear of this diamond? Did
he come to you?"

"Called on me at my office," answered Mr. Van Hoeren laconically. "Pulled
out the diamond and asked me what I thought it was worth. Well, I
introduce him to some of the other boys in the Garden, see? He show them
the diamond too. We reckon it's worth what I say--fifty to sixty
thousand. So!"

"Did he want to sell it?" demanded Mr. Pawle.

"Oh, well, yes--he wouldn't have minded," replied the diamond merchant.
"Wasn't particular about it, you know--rich man."

"Did he tell you anything about it--how he got it, and so on?" asked Mr.
Pawle. "Was there any history attached to it?"

"Oh, nothing much," answered Mr. Van Hoeren. "He told me he'd had it some
years--got it in Australia, where he come from to London. Got it cheap,
he did--lots of things like that in our business."

"And carried it in his pocket!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. He stared hard at
Mr. Van Hoeren, as if his mind was revolving some unpleasant idea. "I
suppose all the people you introduced him to are--all right?" he asked.

"Oh, they're all right!" affirmed Mr. Van Hoeren, with a laugh. "Give my
word for any of 'em, eh? But Ashton--if he pulls that diamond out to
show to anybody--out of the trade, you understand--well, then, there's
lots of fellows in this town would settle him to get hold of it--what?"

"I think you're right," said Mr. Pawle. He glanced at Viner. "This puts a
new complexion on affairs," he remarked. "We shall have to let the police
know of this. I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Van Hoeren. You won't mind
giving evidence about this if it's necessary?"

"Don't mind nothing," said Mr. Van Hoeren. "Me and the other boys, we
think you ought to know about that diamond, see?"

He went away, and Mr. Pawle turned to Viner and Armitstead.

"I shouldn't wonder if we're getting at something like a real clue," he
said. "It seems evident that Ashton was not very particular about showing
his diamond to people! If he'd show it--readily--to a lot of Hatton
Garden diamond merchants, who, after all, were strangers to him, how do
we know that he wouldn't show it to other men? The fact is, wealthy men
like that are often very careless about their possessions. Possibly a
diamond worth fifty or sixty thousand pounds wasn't of so much importance
in Ashton's eyes as it would have been in--well, in mine. And how do we
know that he didn't show the diamond to the man with the muffler, in
Paris, and that the fellow followed him here and murdered him for it?"

"Possible!" said Armitstead.

"Doesn't it strike you as strange, though," suggested Viner, "that the
first news of this diamond comes from Van Hoeren? One would have thought
that Ashton would have mentioned it--and shown it--to Miss Wickham and
Mrs. Killenhall. Yet apparently--he never did."

"Yes, that does seem odd," asserted Mr. Pawle. "But there seems to be no
end of oddity in this case. And there's one thing that must be done at
once: we must have a full and thorough search and examination of all
Ashton's effects. His house must be thoroughly searched for papers and so
on. Viner, I suppose you're going home? Do me the favour to call at Miss
Wickham's, and tell her that I propose to come there at ten o'clock
tomorrow morning, to go through Ashton's desk and his various belongings
with her--surely there must be something discoverable that will throw
more light on the matter. And in the meantime, Viner, don't say anything
to her about our journey to Marketstoke--leave that for a while."

Viner went away from Crawle, Pawle, and Rattenbury's in company
with Armitstead. Outside, the Lancashire business man gave him a
shrewd glance.

"I very much doubt if that diamond has anything whatever to do with
Ashton's murder," he said. "From what I saw of him, he seemed to me to
be a very practical man, full of business aptitude and common sense, and
I don't believe that he'd make a practice of walking about London with a
diamond of that value in his pocket. It's all very well that he should
have it in his pocket when he went down to Hatton Garden--he had a
purpose. But that he should always carry it--no, I don't credit that,
Mr. Viner."

"I can scarcely credit such a foolish thing myself," said Viner.
"But--where is the diamond?"

"Perhaps you'll find it tomorrow," suggested Armitstead. "The man would
be sure to have some place in his house where he kept his valuables. I
shall be curious to hear."

"Are you staying in town?" inquired Viner.

"I shall be at the Hotel Cecil for a fortnight at least," answered
Armitstead. "And if I can be of any use to you or Mr. Pawle, you've only
to ring me up there. You've no doubt yourself, I think, that the
unfortunate fellow Hyde is innocent?"

"None!" said Viner. "No doubt whatever! But--the police have a strong
case against him. And unless we can find the actual murderer, I'm afraid
Hyde's in a very dangerous position."

"Well," said Armitstead, "in these cases, you never know what a sudden
and unexpected turn of events may do. That man with the muffler is the
chap you want to get hold of--I'm sure of that!"

Viner went home and dined with his aunt and their two guests, Hyde's
sisters, whom he endeavoured to cheer up by saying that things were
developing as favourably as could be expected, and that he hoped to
have good news for them ere long. They were simple souls, pathetically
grateful for any scrap of sympathy and comfort, and he strove to
appear more confident about the chances of clearing this unlucky
brother than he really felt. It was his intention to go round to
Number Seven during the evening, to deliver Mr. Pawle's message to
Miss Wickham, but before he rose from his own table, a message arrived
by Miss Wickham's parlour-maid--would Mr. Viner be kind enough to
come to the house at once?

At this, Viner excused himself to his guests and hurried round to Number
Seven, to find Miss Wickham and Mrs. Killenhall, now in mourning
garments, in company with a little man whom Viner at once recognized as a
well-known tradesman of Westbourne Grove--a florist and fruiterer named
Barleyfield, who was patronized by all the well-to-do folk of the
neighbourhood. He smiled and bowed as Viner entered the room, and turned
to Miss Wickham as if suggesting that she should explain his presence.

"Oh, Mr. Viner!" said Miss Wickham, "I'm so sorry to send for you so
hurriedly, but Mr. Barleyfield came to tell us that he could give some
information about Mr. Ashton, and as Mr. Pawle isn't available, and I
don't like to send for a police-inspector, I thought that you, perhaps--"

"To be sure!" said Viner. "What is it, Mr. Barleyfield?"

Mr. Barleyfield, who had obviously attired himself in his Sunday raiment
for the purposes of his call, and had further shown respect for the
occasion by wearing a black cravat, smiled as he looked from the two
ladies to Viner.

"Well, Mr. Viner," he answered, "I'll tell you what it is--it may help a
bit in clearing up things, for I understand there's a great deal of
mystery about Mr. Ashton's death. Now, I'm told, sir, that
nobody--especially these good ladies--knows nothing about what the
deceased gentleman used to do with himself of an evening--as a rule. Just
so. Well, you know, Mr. Viner, a tradesman like myself generally knows a
good deal about the people of his neighbourhood. I knew Mr. Ashton very
well indeed--he was a good customer of mine, and sometimes he'd stop and
have a bit of chat with me. And I can tell you where he very often spent
an hour or two of an evening."

"Yes--where?" asked Viner.

"At the Grey Mare Inn, sir," answered Barleyfield promptly. "I have often
seen him there myself."

"The Grey Mare Inn!" exclaimed Viner, while Mrs. Killenhall and Miss
Wickham looked at each other wonderingly. "Where is that? It sounds like
the name of some village tavern."

"Ah, but you don't know this part of London as I do, sir!" said
Barleyfield, with a knowing smile. "If you did, you'd know the Grey Mare
well enough--it's an institution. It's a real old-fashioned place,
between Westbourne Grove and Netting Hill--one of the very last of the
old taverns, with a tea-garden behind it, and a bar-parlour of a very
comfortable sort, where various old fogies of the neighbourhood gather of
an evening and smoke churchwarden pipes and tell tales of the olden
days--I rather gathered from what I saw that it was the old atmosphere
that attracted Mr. Ashton--made him think of bygone England, you know,
Mr. Viner."

"And you say he went there regularly?" asked Viner.

"I've seen him there a great deal, sir, for I usually turn in there for
half an hour or so, myself, of an evening, when business is over and I've
had my supper," answered Barleyfield. "I should say that he went there
four or five nights a week."

"And no doubt conversed with the people he met there?" suggested Viner.

"He was a friendly, sociable man, sir," said Barleyfield. "Yes, he was
fond of a talk. But there was one man there that he seemed to
associate with--an elderly, superior gentleman whose name I don't
know, though I'm familiar enough with his appearance. Him and Mr.
Ashton I've often seen sitting in a particular corner, smoking their
cigars, and talking together. And--if it's of any importance--I saw
them talking like that, at the Grey Mare, the very evening that--that
Mr. Ashton died, Mr. Viner."

"What time was that?" asked Viner.

"About the usual time, sir--nine-thirty or so," replied Barleyfield. "I
generally look in about that time--nine-thirty to ten."

"Did you leave them talking there?" inquired Viner.

"They were there when I left, sir, at a quarter past ten," answered
Barleyfield. "Talking in their usual corner."

"And you say you don't know who this man is?"

"I don't! I know him by sight--but he's a comparatively recent comer to
the Grey Mare. I've noticed him for a year or so--not longer."

Viner glanced at the two ladies.

"I suppose you never heard Mr. Ashton mention the Grey Mare?" he asked.

"We never heard Mr. Ashton say anything about his movements," answered
Miss Wickham. "We used to wonder, sometimes, if he'd joined a club or if
he had friends that we knew nothing about." "Well," said Viner, turning
to the florist, "do you think you could take me to the Grey Mare, Mr.

"Nothing easier, sir--open to one and all!" "Then, if you've the time to
spare, well go now," said Viner. He lingered behind a moment to tell Miss
Wickham of Mr. Pawle's appointment for the morning, and then went away
with Barleyfield in the Notting Hill direction. "I suppose you've been at
the Grey Mare since Mr. Ashton's death?" he asked as they walked along.

"Once or twice, sir," replied Barleyfield. "And you've no doubt heard the
murder discussed?" suggested Viner.

"I've heard it discussed hard enough, sir, there and elsewhere," replied
the florist. "But at the Gray Mare itself, I don't think anybody knew
that this man who'd been murdered was the same as the grey-bearded
gentleman who used to drop in there sometimes. They didn't when I was
last in, anyway. Perhaps this gentleman I've mentioned to you might
know--Mr. Ashton might have told his name to him. But you know how it is
in these places, Mr. Viner--people drop in, even regularly, and
fellow-customers may have a bit of talk with them without having the
least idea who they are. Between you and me, sir, I came to the
conclusion that Mr. Ashton was a man who liked to see a bit of what we'll
call informal, old-fashioned tavern life, and he hit on this place by
accident, in one of his walks round, and took to coming where he could be
at his ease--amongst strangers."

"No doubt," agreed Viner.

He followed his guide through various squares and streets until they came
to the object of their pilgrimage--a four-square, old-fashioned house set
back a little from the road, with a swinging sign in front, and a garden
at the side. Barleyfield led him through this garden to a side-door,
whence they passed into a roomy, low-ceilinged parlour which reminded
Viner of old coaching prints--he would scarcely have believed it possible
that such a pre-Victorian room could be found in London. There were
several men in it, and he nudged his companion's elbow.

"Let us sit down in a quiet corner and have something to drink," he said.
"I just want to take a look at this place--and its frequenters."

Barleyfield led him to a nook near the chimney-corner and beckoned to
an aproned boy who hung about with a tray under his arm. But before
Viner could give an order, his companion touched his arm and motioned
towards the door.

"Here's the gentleman Mr. Ashton used to talk to!" he whispered. "The
tall man--just coming in."



Remembering that Barleyfield had said that the man who now entered had
been in Ashton's company in that very room on the evening of the murder,
Viner looked at him with keen interest and speculation. He was a tall,
well-built, clean-shaven man, of professional appearance and of a large,
heavy, solemn face the evidently usual pallor of which was deepened by
his black overcoat and cravat. An eminently respectable, slow-going,
unimaginative man, in Viner's opinion, and of a type which one may see by
the dozen in the precincts of the Temple; a man who would be content to
do a day's work in a placid fashion, and who cherished no ambition to set
the Thames on fire; certainly, so Viner thought from appearances, not the
man to commit a peculiarly daring murder. Nevertheless, knowing what he
did, he watched him closely.

The newcomer, on entering, glanced at once at a quiet corner of the room,
and seeing it unoccupied, turned to the bar, where the landlord, who was
as old-fashioned as his surroundings, was glancing over the evening
paper. He asked for whisky and soda, and when he took up the glass, drank
slowly and thoughtfully. Suddenly he turned to the landlord.

"Have you seen that gentleman lately that I've sometimes talked to in
the corner there?" he asked.

The landlord glanced across the room and shook his head.

"Can't say that I have, sir," he answered. "The tallish gentleman with a
grey beard? No, he hasn't been in this last night or two."

The other man sat down his glass and drew something from his pocket.

"I promised to bring him a specimen of some cigars I bought lately," he
said, laying an envelope on the counter. "I can't stop tonight. If he
should come in, will you give him that--hell know what it is."

"Good heavens!" muttered Viner, as he turned in surprise to Barleyfield.
"These men evidently don't know that the man they're talking about is--"

"Murdered!" whispered Barleyfield, with a grim smile. "Nothing wonderful
in that, Mr. Viner. They haven't connected Mr. Ashton with the man
they're mentioning--that's all."

"And yet Ashton's portrait has been in the papers!" exclaimed Viner. "It
amazes me!"

"Aye, just so, sir," said Barleyfield. "But--a hundred yards in London
takes you into another world, Mr. Viner. For all practical purposes,
Lonsdale Passage, though it's only a mile away, is as much separated
from this spot as New York is from London. Well--that's the man I told
you of, sir."

The man in question drank off the remaining contents of his glass, nodded
to the landlord, and walked out. And Viner was suddenly minded to do
something towards getting information.

"Look here!" he said. "I'm going to ask that landlord a question or two.
Come with me."

He went up to the bar, Barleyfield following in close attendance, and
gave the landlord a significant glance.

"Can I have a word with you, in private?" he asked.

The landlord looked his questioner over and promptly opened a flap in
the counter.

"Step inside, sir," he said, indicating a door in the rear. "Private room
there, sir."

Viner and Barleyfield walked into a little snugly furnished sitting-room;
the landlord followed and closed the door.

"Do you happen to know the name of the gentleman who was speaking to you
just now?" asked Viner, going straight to his point. "I've a very
particular reason for wishing to know it."

"No more idea than I have of yours, sir," replied the landlord with a
shrewd glance.

Viner pulled out a card and laid it on the table.

"That is my name," he said. "You and the gentleman who has just gone out
were speaking just now of another gentleman whom he used to meet
here--who used to sit with him in that far corner. Just so--you don't
know the name of that gentleman, either?"

"No more than I know the others', sir," replied the landlord, shaking
his head. "Lord bless you, folks may come in here for a year or two, and
unless they happen to be neighbours of mine, I don't know who they are.
Now, there's your friend there," he went on, indicating Barleyfield with
a smile, "I know his face as that of a customer, but I don't know who he
is! That gentleman who's just gone out, he's been in the habit of
dropping in here for a twelvemonth, maybe, but I never remember hearing
his name. As for the gentleman he referred to, why, I know him as one
that's come in here pretty regular for the last few weeks, but I don't
know his name, either."

"Have you heard of the murder in Lonsdale Passage?" asked Viner.

"Markendale Square way? Yes," answered the landlord, with awakening
interest. "Why, is it anything to do--"

Viner saw an illustrated paper lying on a side-table and caught it
up. There was a portrait of Ashton in it, and he held it up before
the landlord.

"Don't you recognize that?" he asked.

The landlord started and stared.

"Bless my life and soul!" he exclaimed. "Why, surely that's very like the
gentleman I just referred to--I should say it was the very man!"

"It is the very man!" said Viner with emphasis, "the man for whom your
customer who's just gone out left the envelope. Now, this man who was
murdered in Lonsdale Passage was here in your parlour for some time on
the evening of the night on which he was murdered, and he was then in
conversation with the man who has just gone out. Naturally, therefore, I
should like to know that man's name."

"You're not a detective?" suggested the landlord.

"Not at all!" replied Viner. "I was a neighbour of Mr. Ashton's, and I am
interested--deeply interested--in an attempt to clear up the mystery of
his death. Things keep coming out. I didn't know until this evening that
Ashton spent some time here, at your house, the night he was killed. But
when I got to know, I came along to make one or two inquiries."

"Bless me!" said the landlord, who was still staring at the portrait.
"Yes, that's the gentleman, sure enough! I've often wondered who he
was--pleasant, sociable sort, he was, poor fellow. Now I come to think of
it I remember him being in here that night--last time, of course, he was
ever in. He was talking to that gentleman who's just gone; in fact, they
left together."

"They left together, did they!" exclaimed Viner with a sharp glance at
Barleyfield. "Ah! What time was that, now?"

"As near as I can recollect, about ten-fifteen to ten-thirty," answered
the landlord. "They'd been talking together for a good hour in that
corner where they usually sat. But dear me," he went on, looking from one
to the other of his two visitors, "I'm quite sure that gentleman who's
just left doesn't know of this murder! Why, you heard him ask for the
other gentleman, and leave him some cigars that he'd promised!"

"Just so--which makes it all the stranger," said Viner. "Well, I'm much
obliged to you, landlord--and for the time being, just keep the matter
of this talk strictly to yourself. You understand?"

"As you wish, sir," assented the landlord. "I shan't say anything. You
wouldn't like me to find out this gentleman's name? Somebody'll know him.
My own idea is that he lives in this part--he began coming in here of an
evening about a year since."

"No--do nothing at present," said Viner. "The inquiries are only

He impressed the same obligation of silence on Barleyfield as they went
away, and the florist readily understood.

"No hard work for me to hold my tongue, Mr. Viner," he said. "We
tradespeople are pretty well trained to that, sir! There's things and
secrets I could tell! But upon my word, I don't ever remember quite such
a case as this. And I expect it'll be like most cases of the sort!"

"What do you mean?" asked Viner.

"Oh, there'll be a sudden flash of light on it, sir, all of a sudden,"
replied Barleyfield. "And then--it'll be as clear as noonday."

"I don't know where it's coming from!" muttered Viner. "I don't even see
a rift in the clouds yet."

He had been at work for an hour or two with Miss Wickham and Mr. Pawle
next morning, searching for whatever might be discovered among Ashton's
effects, before he saw any reason to alter this opinion. The bunch of
keys discovered in the murdered man's pocket had been duly delivered to
Miss Wickham by the police, and she handed them over to the old solicitor
with full license to open whatever they secured. But both Mr. Pawle and
Viner saw at once that Ashton had been one of those men who have no habit
of locking up things. In all that roomy house he had but one room which
he kept to himself--a small, twelve-foot-square apartment on the ground
floor, in which, they said, he used to spend an hour or two of a
morning. It contained little in the way of ornament or comfort--a solid
writing-desk with a hard chair, an easy-chair by the fireplace, a sofa
against the wall, a map of London and a picture or two, a shelf of old
books, a collection of walking-sticks, and umbrellas: these made up all
there was to see.

And upon examination the desk yielded next to nothing. One drawer
contained a cash-box, a checkbook, a pass-book. Some sixty or seventy
pounds in notes, gold and silver lay in the cash-box; the stubs of
the checks revealed nothing but the payment of tradesmen's bills; the
pass-book showed that an enormous balance lay at the bank. In another
drawer rested a collection of tradesmen's books--Mr. Ashton, said
Mrs. Killenhall, used to pay his tradesmen every week; these books
had been handed to him on the very evening of his death for
settlement next morning.

"Evidently a most methodical man!" remarked Mr. Pawle. "Which makes it
all the more remarkable that so few papers are discoverable. You'd have
thought that in his longish life he'd have accumulated a good many
documents that he wanted to keep."

But documents there were next to none. Several of the drawers of the desk
were empty, save for stationery. One contained a bunch of letters, tied
up with blue ribbon--these, on examination, proved to be letters written
by Miss Wickham, at school in England, to her guardian in Australia. Miss
Wickham, present while Mr. Pawle and Viner searched, showed some emotion
at the sight of them.

"I used to write to him once a month," she said. "I had no idea that he
had kept the letters, though!"

The two men went silently on with their search. But there was no further
result. Ashton did not appear to have kept any letters or papers relative
to his life or doings prior to his coming to England. Private documents
of any sort he seemed to have none. And whatever business had taken him
to Marketstoke, they could find no written reference to it; nor could
they discover anything about the diamond of which Mr. Van Hoeren had
spoken. They went upstairs to his bedroom and examined the drawers,
cabinets and dressing-case--they found nothing.

"This is distinctly disappointing," remarked Mr. Pawle when he and Viner
returned to the little room. "I never knew a man who left such small
evidence behind him. It's quite evident to me that there's nothing
whatever in this house that's going to be of any use to us. I wonder if
he rented a box at any of the safe-deposit places? He must have had
documents of some sort."

"In that case, we should surely have found a key, and perhaps a receipt
for the rent of the box," suggested Viner. "I should have thought he'd
have had a safe in his own house," he added, "but we don't hear of one."

Mr. Pawle looked round the room, as if suspicious that Ashton might have
hidden papers in the stuffing of the sofa or the easy-chair.

"I wonder if there's anything in that," he said suddenly. "It looks like
a receptacle of some sort."

Viner turned and saw the old lawyer pointing to a curious Japanese
cabinet which stood in the middle of the marble mantelpiece--the only
really notable ornament in the room. Mr. Pawle laid hold of it and
uttered a surprised exclamation. "That's a tremendous weight for so small
a thing!" he said. "Feel it!"

Viner took hold of the cabinet--an affair of some eighteen inches in
height and twelve in depth--and came to the conclusion that it was
heavily weighted with lead. He lifted it down to the desk, giving it a
slight shake.

"I took it for a cigar cabinet," he remarked. "How does it open? Have you
a key that will fit it?"

But upon examination there was no keyhole, and nothing to show how the
door was opened.

"I see what this is," said Viner, after looking closely over the cabinet,
back, front and sides. "It opens by a trick--a secret. Probably you press
something somewhere and the door flies open. But--where?"

"Try," counselled Mr. Pawle. "There's something inside--I heard it when
you shook the thing."

It took Viner ten minutes to find out the secret. He would not have found
it at all but for accident. But pressing here and pulling there, he
suddenly touched what appeared to be no more than a cleverly inserted
rivet in the ebony surface; there was a sharp click, and the panelled
front flew open.

"There is something!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "Papers!"

He drew out a bundle of papers, folded in a strong sheet of
cartridge-paper and sealed back and front. The enveloping cover
was old and faded; the ribbon which had been tied round the
bundle was discoloured by age; the wax of the seals was cracked
all over the surface.

"No inscription, no writing," said Mr. Pawle. "Now, I wonder
what's in here?"

"Shall I fetch Miss Wickham?" suggested Viner. Mr. Pawle hesitated.

"No!" he said at last. "I think not. Let us first find out what this
packet contains. I'll take the responsibility."

He cut the ribbons beneath the seals, and presently revealed a number of
letters, old and yellow, in a woman's handwriting. And after a hasty
glance at one or two of the uppermost, he turned to Viner with an
exclamation that signified much.

"Viner!" he said, "here is indeed a find! These are letters written by
the Countess of Ellingham to her son, Lord Marketstoke, when he was a
schoolboy at Eton!"



Viner looked over Mr. Pawle's shoulder at the letters--there were numbers
of them, all neatly folded and arranged; a faint scent of dried flowers
rose from them as the old lawyer spread them out on the desk.

"Which Countess of Ellingham, and which Lord Marketstoke?" asked Viner.
"There have been--must have been--several during the last century."

"The Lord Marketstoke I mean is the one who disappeared," answered Mr.
Pawle. "We've no concern with any other. Look at these dates! We know
that if he were living, he would now be a man of sixty-one or so;
therefore, he'd be at school about forty-five years ago. Now, look here,"
he went on, rapidly turning the letters over. "Compare these dates--they
run through two or three years; they were all of forty-three to forty-six
years since. You see how they're signed--you see how they're addressed?
There's no doubt about it, Viner--this is a collection of letters written
by the seventh Countess of Ellingham to her elder son, Lord Marketstoke,
when he was at Eton."

"How came they into Ashton's possession, I wonder!" asked Viner.

"It's all of a piece!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "All of a piece with
Ashton's visit to Marketstoke--all of a piece with the facts that Avice
was a favourite name with the Cave-Gray family, and that one of the
holders of the title married a Wickham. Viner, there's no doubt
whatever--in my mind--that either Ashton was Lord Marketstoke or that he
knew the man who was!"

"You remember what Armitstead told us," remarked Viner. "That Ashton told
him, in Paris, that he, Ashton, hailed from Lancashire?"

"Then--he knew the missing man, and got these papers from him!" declared
the old lawyer. "But why? Ah!--now I have an idea! It may be that
Marketstoke, dying out there in Australia, handed these things to Ashton
and asked him to give them to some members of the Cave-Gray
family--perhaps an aunt, or a cousin, or so on--and that Ashton went down
to Marketstoke to find out what relations were still in existence. That
may be it--that would solve the problem!"

"No!" said Viner was sudden emphasis. He made sure that the door of the
little room was closed, and then went up to the old lawyer's elbow. "Is
that really all you can think of?" he asked, with a keen glance. "As for
me--why, I'm thinking of something that seems absolutely--obvious!"

"What, then?" demanded Mr. Pawle. "Tell me!"

Viner pointed towards the door.

"Haven't we heard already, that a man named Wickham handed over his
daughter Avice to Ashton's care and guardianship?" he asked. "Doesn't
that seem to be an established fact?"

"No doubt of it!" assented Mr. Pawle. "Well?"

"In my opinion," said Viner, quietly, "Wickham was the missing Lord of

Mr. Pawle, who was still turning over the letters, examining their dates,
let them slip out of his hands and gasped.

"By George!" he exclaimed in a wondering voice. "It may be--possibly is!
Then, in that case, that girl outside there--"

"Well?" asked Viner, after a pause.

Mr. Pawle made a puzzled gesture and shook his head, as if in amazement.

"In that case, if Wickham was the missing Lord Marketstoke, and this girl
is his daughter, she's--" He broke off, and became still more puzzled.
"Upon my honour," he exclaimed, "I don't know who she is!"

"What do you mean?" asked Viner. "She's his daughter, of
course--Wickham's. Only, in that case--I mean, if he was really Lord
Marketstoke--her proper name, I suppose, is Cave-Gray."

Mr. Pawle looked his young assistant over with an amused expression.

"You haven't the old practitioner's _flair_, Viner, my boy!" he said.
"When one's got to my age, and seen a number of queer things and
happenings, one's quick to see possible cases. Look here!--if Wickham
was really Lord Marketstoke, and that girl across the hall is his
daughter, she's probably--I say probably, for I don't know if the
succession in this case goes with the female line--Countess of
Ellingham, in her own right!"

Viner looked his surprise.

"Is that really so--would it be so?" he asked.

"It may be--I'm not sure," replied Mr. Pawle. "As I say, I don't know
how the succession runs in, this particular instance. There are, as you
are aware, several peeresses in their own rights--twentyfour or five, at
least. Some are very ancient peerages. I know that three--Furnivale and
Fauconberg and Conyers--go right back to the thirteenth century; three
others--Beaumont, Darcy da Knayth, and Zorch of Haryngworth--date from
the fourteenth. I'm not sure of this Ellingham peerage--but I'll find out
when I get back to my office. However, granting the premises, and if the

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest