Part 4 out of 5
The man who was waiting in Mr. Pawle's room, and who rose from his chair
with alacrity as the old lawyer entered with Viner at his heels, was an
alert, sharp-eyed person of something under middle-age, whose
clean-shaven countenance and general air Immediately suggested the Law
Courts. And he went straight to business before he had released the hand
which Mr. Pawle extended to him.
"Your clerk has no doubt already told you what I came about, Mr. Pawle?"
he said. "This Ashton affair."
"Just so," answered Mr. Pawle. "You know something about it? This
gentleman is Mr. Richard Viner, who is interested in it--considerably."
"To be sure," said the barrister. "One of the witnesses, of course. I
read the whole thing up last night. I have been on the Continent--the
French Riviera, Italy, the Austrian Tyrol--for some time, Mr. Pawle, and
only returned to town yesterday. I saw something, in an English
newspaper, in Paris, the other day, about this Ashton business, and as my
clerk keeps the _Times_ for me when I am absent, last night I read over
the proceedings before the magistrate and before the coroner. And of
course I saw your request for information about Ashton and his recent
"And you've some to give?" asked Mr. Pawle.
"I have some to give," assented Mr. Perkwite, as the three men sat down
by Mr. Pawle's desk. "Certainly--and I should say it's of considerable
importance. The fact is I met Ashton at Marseilles, and spent the better
part of the week in his company at the Hotel de Louvre there."
"When was that?" asked Mr. Pawle.
"About three months ago," replied the barrister. "I had gone straight to
Marseilles from London; he had come there from Italy by way of Monte
Carlo and Nice. We happened to get into conversation on the night of my
arrival, and we afterwards spent most of our time together. And finding
out that I was a barrister, he confided certain things to me and asked
"Aye--and on what, now?" enquired the old lawyer.
"It was the last night we were together," replied Mr. Perkwite. "We had
by that time become very friendly, and I had promised to renew our
acquaintance on my return to London, where, Ashton told me, he intended
to settle down for the rest of his life. Now on that last evening at
Marseilles I had been telling him, after dinner, of some curious legal
cases, and he suddenly remarked that he would like to tell me of a matter
which might come within the law, and on which he should be glad of
advice. He then asked me if I had ever heard of the strange disappearance
of Lord Marketstoke, heir to the seventh Earl of Ellingham. I replied
that I had at the time when application was made to the courts for leave
to presume Lord Marketstoke's death.
"Thereupon, pledging me to secrecy for the time being, Ashton went on
to tell me that Lord Marketstoke was well known to him and that he
alone knew all the facts of the matter, though a certain amount of them
was known to another man, now living in London. He said that
Marketstoke, after a final quarrel with his father, left England in
such a fashion that no one could trace him, taking with him the fortune
which he had inherited from his mother, and eventually settled in
Australia, where he henceforth lived under the name of Wickham.
According to Ashton, he and Marketstoke became friends, close friends,
at a very early period of Marketstoke's career in Australia, and the
friendship deepened and existed until Marketstoke's death some twelve
or thirteen years ago. But Ashton never had the slightest notion of
Marketstoke's real identity until his friend's last days. Then
Marketstoke told him the plain truth; and the fact who he really was at
the same time was confided to another man--who, however, was not told
all the details which were given to Ashton.
"Now, Marketstoke had married in Australia. His wife was dead. But he had
a daughter who was about six years of age at the time of her father's
death. Marketstoke confided her to Ashton, with a wish that she should be
sent home to England to be educated. He also handed over to Ashton a
considerable sum of money for this child. Further, he gave him a quantity
of papers, letters, family documents, and so on. He had a purpose. He
left it to Ashton--in whom he evidently had the most absolute
confidence--as to whether this girl's claim to the title and estates
should be set up. And when Ashton had finished telling me all this, I
found that one of his principal reasons in coming to England to settle
down, was the wish to find out how things were with the present holder of
the title: if, he said, he discovered that he was a worthy sort of young
fellow, he, Ashton, should be inclined to let the secret die with him. He
told me that the girl already had some twelve thousand pounds of her own,
and that it was his intention to leave her the whole of his own fortune,
and as she was absolutely ignorant of her real position, he might perhaps
leave her so. But in view of the possibility of his setting up her claim,
he asked me some questions on legal points, and of course I asked him to
let me see the papers of which he had spoken."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle, with a sigh of relieved satisfaction. "Then
you saw them?"
"Yes--he showed me the whole lot," replied Mr. Perkwite. "Not so many,
after all--those that were really pertinent, at any rate. He carried
those in a pocketbook; had so carried them, he told me, ever since
Marketstoke had handed them to him; they had never, he added, been out of
his possession, day or night, since Marketstoke's death. Now, on
examining the papers, I at once discovered two highly important facts.
Although Marketstoke went to and lived in Australia under the name of
Wickham, he had taken good care to get married in his own proper name,
and there, amongst the documents, was the marriage certificate, in which
he was correctly described. Further, his daughter had been correctly
designated in the register of her birth; there was a copy, properly
attested, of the entry."
Mr. Pawle glanced at Viner, and Viner knew what he was thinking of. The
two documents just described by Mr. Perkwite had not been among the
papers which Methley and Woodlesford had exhibited at Carless &
"A moment," said Mr. Pawle, lifting an arresting finger. "Did you happen
to notice where this marriage took place?"
"It was not in Melbourne," replied Mr. Perkwite.
"My recollection is that it was at some place of a curious name. Ashton
told me that Marketstoke's wife had been a governess in the family of
some well-to-do-sheep-farmer--she was an English girl, and an orphan. The
child, however, was certainly born in Melbourne and registered in
"Now, that's odd!" remarked Mr. Pawle. "You'd have thought that when Lord
Marketstoke was so extensively advertised for some years ago, on the
death of his father, some of these officials--"
"Ah! I put that point to Ashton," interrupted Mr. Perkwite. "He said that
Marketstoke, though he had taken good care to be married in his own name
and had exercised equal precaution about his daughter, had pledged
everybody connected with his marriage and the child's birth to secrecy."
"Aye!" muttered Mr. Pawle. "He would do that, of course. But continue."
"Well," said the barrister, "after seeing these papers, I had no doubt
whatever that the case as presented by Ashton was quite clear, and that
his ward Miss Avice Wickham is without doubt Countess of Ellingham (the
title, I understand, going in the female as well as the male line) and
rightful owner of the estates. And I told him that his best plan, on
reaching England, was to put the whole matter before the family
solicitors. However, he said that before doing that, there were two
things he wanted to do. One was to find out for himself how things
were--if the young earl was a satisfactory landlord and so on, and
likely to be a credit to the family; the other was that he wanted to
consult the man who shared with him the bare knowledge that the man who
had been known in Melbourne as Wickham was really the missing Lord
Marketstoke. And he added that he had already telegraphed to this man to
meet him in Paris."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle with a look in Viner's direction. "Now we are
indeed coming to something! He was to meet him in Paris! Viner I'll wager
the world against a China orange that that's the man whom Armitstead saw
in company with Ashton in the Rue Royale, and--no doubt--the man of
Lonsdale Passage! Mr. Perkwite, this is most important. Did Ashton tell
you the name of this man?"
The old lawyer was tremulous with excited interest, and Mr. Perkwite was
obviously sorry to disappoint him.
"Unfortunately, he did not!" he replied. "He merely told me chat he was a
man who had lived in Melbourne for some time and had known Marketstoke
and himself very intimately--had left Melbourne just after Marketstoke's
death, and had settled in London. No, he did not mention his name."
"Disappointing!" muttered Mr. Pawle. "That's the nearest approach to a
clue that we've had, Perkwite. If we only knew who that man was!
But--what more can you tell us?"
"Nothing more, I'm afraid," answered the barrister. "I promised to call
on Ashton when I returned to London, and when he'd started housekeeping,
and we parted--I went on next morning to Genoa, and he set off for Paris.
He was a pleasant, kindly, sociable fellow," concluded Mr. Perkwite, "and
I was much grieved to hear of his sad fate."
"He didn't correspond with you at all after you left him at Marseilles?"
asked Mr. Pawle.
"No," replied the barrister. "No--I never heard of or from him until I
read of his murder."
Pawle turned to Viner.
"I think we'd better tell Perkwite of all that's happened, within our own
ken," he said, and proceeded to give the visitor a brief account of the
various important details. "Now," he concluded, "it seems to me there's
only one conclusion to be arrived at. The man who shared the secret with
Ashton is certainly the man whom Armitstead saw with him in Paris. He is
probably the man whom Hyde saw leaving Londsdale Passage, just before
Hyde found the body. And he is without doubt the murderer, and is the man
to whom this claimant fellow is acting as cat's-paw. And--who is he?"
"There must be some way of finding that out," observed Mr. Perkwite. "If
your theory is correct, that this claimant is merely a man who is being
put forward, then surely the thing to do is to get at the person or
persons behind him, through him!"
"Aye, there's that to be thought of," asserted Mr. Pawle. "But it may be
a tougher job than we think for. It would have been a tremendous help if
Ashton had only mentioned a name to you."
"Sorry, but he didn't," said Mr. Perkwite. "You feel," he continued after
a moment's silence, "you feel that this affair of the Ellingham
succession lies at the root of the Ashton mystery--that he was really
murdered by somebody who wanted to get possession of those papers?"
"And to remain sole repository of the secret," declared Mr. Pawle. "Isn't
it established that beyond yourself and this unknown man nobody but
Ashton knew the secret?"
"There is another matter, though," remarked Viner. He turned to the
visitor. "You said that you and Ashton became very friendly and
confidential during your stay in Marseilles. Pray, did he never show you
anything of a valuable nature which he carried in his pocketbook?"
The barrister's keen eyes suddenly lighted up with recollection.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "Now you come to suggest it, he did! A diamond!"
"Ah!" said Mr. Pawle. "So you saw that!"
"Yes, I saw it," assented Mr. Perkwite. "He showed it to me as a sort of
curiosity--a stone which had some romantic history attaching to it. But I
was not half as much interested in that as in the other affair."
"All the same," remarked Mr. Pawle, "that diamond is worth some fifty or
sixty thousand pounds, Perkwite--and it's missing!"
Mr. Perkwite looked his astonishment.
"You mean--he had it on him when he was murdered?" he asked.
"So it's believed," replied Mr. Pawle.
"In that case it might form a clue," said the barrister.
"When it's heard of," admitted Mr. Pawle, with a grim smile. "Not
"From what we have heard," remarked Viner, "Ashton carried that
diamond in the pocketbook which contained his papers--the papers you
have told me of, and some of which have certainly come into possession
of this claimant person. Now, whoever stole the papers, of course got
Mr. Perkwite seemed to consider matters during a moment's silence;
finally he turned to the old lawyer.
"I have been thinking over something that might be done," he said. "I see
that the coroner's inquest was adjourned. Now, as that inquest is, of
course, being held to inquire into the circumstances of Ashton's death, I
suggest that I should come forward as a witness and should prove that
Ashton showed certain papers relating to the Ellingham peerage to me at
Marseilles; I can tell the story, as a witness. It can then be proved by
you, or by Carless, that a man claiming to be the missing Lord
Marketstoke showed these stolen papers to you. In the meantime, get the
coroner to summon this man as a witness, and take care that he's brought
to the court. Once there, let him be asked how he came into possession of
these papers? Do you see my idea?"
"Capital!" exclaimed Mr. Pawle. "An excellent notion! Much obliged to
you, Perkwite. It shall be done--I'll see to it at once. Yes, to be sure,
that will put this fellow in a tight corner."
"Don't be surprised if he hasn't some very clever explanation to give,"
said the barrister warningly. "The whole thing is evidently a
well-concocted conspiracy. But when is the adjourned inquest?"
"Day after tomorrow," replied Mr. Pawle, after glancing at his
"And tomorrow morning," remarked Viner, "Hyde comes up before the
magistrate again, on remand."
He was half-minded to tell Mr. Pawle there and then of his secret
dealings with Methley that day, but on reflection he decided that he
would keep the matter to himself. Viner had an idea which he had not
communicated even to Methley. It had struck him that the mysterious
_deux ex machina_ who was certainly at the back of all this business
might not improbably be so anxious about his schemes that he would,
unknown and unsuspected, attend the magistrates' court. Would Hyde, his
wits sharpened by danger, be able to spot him as the muffled man of
When Langton Hyde was brought up before the magistrate next morning, the
court was crowded to its utmost limits; and Viner, looking round him from
his seat near the solicitors' table saw that most of the people
interested in the case were present. Mr. Carless was whispering with Mr.
Pawle; Lord Ellingham had a seat close by; in the front of the public
gallery Miss Penkridge, grim and alert, was in charge of the timid and
shrinking sisters of the unfortunate prisoner. There, too, were Mr.
Armitstead and Mr. Isidore Rosenbaum, and Mr. Perkwite, all evidently
very much alive to certain possibilities. But Viner looked in vain for
either Methley or Woodlesford or their mysterious client; they were
certainly not present when Hyde was put into the dock, and Viner began to
wonder if the events of the previous day had warned Mr. Cave and those
behind him to avoid publicity.
Instructed by Viner, who was determined to spare neither effort nor
Money to clear his old schoolmate, Felpham had engaged the services
of one of the most brilliant criminal barristers of the day, Mr.
Millington-Bywater, on behalf of his client; and he and Viner had sat up
half the night with him, instructing him in the various mysteries and
ramifications of the case. A big, heavy-faced, shrewd-eyed man, Mr.
Millington-Bywater made no sign, and to all outward appearance showed no
very great interest while the counsel who now appeared on behalf of the
police, completed his case against the prisoner.
The only new evidence produced by the prosecution was that of the
greengrocer on whose premises Hyde had admitted that he passed most of
the night of the murder, and in whose shed the missing valuables had been
found. The greengrocer's evidence as to his discovery was given in a
plain and straightforward fashion--he was evidently a man who would just
tell what he actually saw, and brought neither fancy nor imagination to
bear on his observation. But when the prosecution had done with him, Mr.
Millington-Bywater rose and quietly asked the police to produce the
watch, chain and ring which the greengrocer had found, in their original
wrappings. He held up the wrapping-papers to the witness and asked him if
he could swear that this was what he had found the valuables in and had
given to the police. The greengrocer was positive as to this; he was
positive, too, that the other wrappings which Felpham had carefully
preserved were those which had been on the outside of the parcel and had
been thrown aside by himself on its discovery and afterwards picked up by
Viner. Mr. Millington-Bywater handed all these papers up to the
magistrate, directing his attention to the strong odour of drugs or
chemicals which still pervaded them, and to the address of the
manufacturing chemists which appeared on the outer wrapping. The
magistrate seemed somewhat mystified.
"What is the object of this?" he asked, glancing at the defending
counsel. "It is admitted that these are the wrappings in which the watch,
and chain and ring were found in the witness's shed, but"--he paused,
with another inquiring look--"you propose to--what?" he asked.
"I propose, Your Worship, to prove that these things were never put there
by the prisoner at all!" answered Mr. Millington-Bywater, promptly and
with an assurance which was not lost on the spectators. "I intend to show
that they were purposely placed in that outhouse by the real murderer of
John Ashton after the statement made by the prisoner at the inquest
became public--placed there, of course, to divert any possible suspicion
"And now," he continued, after the greengrocer had left the box and the
prosecuting counsel had intimated that he had no more evidence to bring
forward at present, "now I will outline the defence which I shall set up
on behalf of my client. I intend to prove that John Ashton was murdered
by some man not yet discovered, who killed him in order to gain
possession of certain papers which he carried on him--papers of extreme
importance, as will be shown. We know where certain of those papers are,
and we hope before very long to know where the rest are, and also
where a certain very valuable diamond is, which the murdered man had
on him at the time of his death. I shall, indeed, prove that the
prisoner--certainly through his own foolishness--is wrongly accused. It
will be within your worship's recollection that when the prisoner was
first before you, he very unwisely refused to give his name and address
or any information--he subsequently repented of that and made a
statement, not only to the police but before the coroner. Now, I propose
to put him into that box so that he may give evidence, and I shall then
call certain witnesses who will offer evidence which will go to prove
that what I say as regards the murder of Ashton is more than
probable--namely, that he was murdered for the sake of the documents he
had on him, and that the spoiling of his money and valuables was a mere
piece of bluff, intended to mislead. Let the prisoner go into the box!"
There was a continued deep silence in court while Hyde, under
examination, repeated the story which he had told to Viner and Drillford
and before the coroner and his jury. It was a plain, consecutive story,
in which he set forth the circumstances preceding the evening of the
murder and confessed his picking up of the ring which lay on the pavement
by Ashton's body. He kept his eyes steadily fixed on Mr.
Millington-Bywater under this examination, never removing them from him
save when the magistrate interposed with an occasional remark or
question. But at one point a slight commotion in court caused him to look
among the spectators, and Viner, following the direction of his eyes, saw
him start, and at the same instant saw what it was that he started at.
Methley, followed by the claimant, was quietly pushing a way through the
throng between the door and the solicitor's table.
Viner leaned closer to Mr. Pawle.
"Do you see?" he whispered. "Hyde evidently recognizes one of those two!
Mr. Pawle glanced at the prisoner. Hyde's face, hitherto pale, had
flushed a little, and his eyes had grown bright; he looked as if he had
suddenly seen a friend's face in a hostile crowd. But Mr.
Millington-Bywater, who had been bending over his papers, suddenly looked
up with another question, and Hyde again turned his attention to him.
"All that you really know of this matter," asked Mr. Millington-Bywater,
"is that you chanced to turn up Lonsdale Passage, saw a man lying on the
pavement and a ring close by, and that, being literally starving and
desperate, you snatched up that ring and ran away as fast as you could?"
"Yes--that is all," asserted Hyde. "Except that I had met a man, as I
have already told you, at the end of the passage by which I entered."
"You did not even know whether this man lying on the pavement was
alive or dead?"
"I thought he might be drunk," replied Hyde. "But after I had snatched up
the ring I never thought at all until I had run some distance. I was
afraid of being followed."
"Now why were you afraid of being followed?"
"I was famishing!" answered Hyde. "I knew I could get something, some
money, on that ring, in the morning, and I wanted to stick to it. I was
afraid that the man whom I met as I ran out of the passage, whom I now
know to have been Mr. Viner, might follow me and make me give up the
ring. And the ring meant food."
Mr. Millington-Bywater let this answer sink into the prevalent atmosphere
and suddenly turned to another matter. The knife which had been found in
Hyde's possession was lying with certain other exhibits on the
solicitor's table, and Mr. Millington-Bywater pointed to it.
"Now about that knife," he said. "It is yours? Very well--how long have
you had it?"
"Three or four years," replied Hyde, promptly. "I bought it when I was
touring in the United States, at a town called Guthrie, in Oklahoma.
And," he added suddenly and with a triumphant smile as of a man who is
unexpectedly able to clinch an argument, "there is a gentleman there who
was with me when I bought it--Mr. Nugent Starr!"
From the magistrate on his bench to the policeman at the door every
person in court turned to look at the man to whom the prisoner pointed an
out-stretched finger. And Mr. Pawle let out an irrepressible exclamation.
"Good God!" he said. "The claimant fellow!"
But Viner said nothing. He was staring, as everybody else was, at the man
who sat by Methley. He, suddenly aware that Hyde had pointed to him, was
obviously greatly taken aback and embarrassed--he looked sharply at the
prisoner, knitted his brows, shook his head, and turning to Methley
muttered something which no one else caught. Mr. Millington-Bywater
looked at him and turned to his client.
"You say there is a gentleman here--that gentleman!--who was with you
when you bought that knife?" he asked. "A friend of yours, then?"
"Well--we were playing in the same company," asserted Hyde. "Mr.
Moreby-Bannister's company. He was heavy lead--I was juvenile. He knows
me well enough. He was with me when I bought that knife in a hardware
store in Guthrie."
The magistrate's eye was on the man who sat by Methley, and there was a
certain amount of irritation in it. And suddenly Methley whispered
something to his companion and the man shyly but with a noticeable
composure stood up.
"I beg Your Worship's pardon," he said, quietly, with a polite bow to the
bench, "but really, the witness is under a mistaken impression! I don't
know him, and I have never been in the town he mentions--in fact, I have
never been in the United States. I am very sorry, but, really, there is
some strange mistake--I--the witness is an absolute stranger to me!"
The attention of all present was transferred to Hyde. And Hyde flushed,
leaned forward over the ledge of the witness-box and gave the claimant a
long, steady stare.
"No mistake at all!" he suddenly exclaimed in a firm voice. "That's Mr.
Nugent Starr! I played with him for over twelve months."
While this had been going on, Felpham on one side, and Carless on the
other, had been whispering to Mr. Millington-Bywater, who listened to
both with growing interest, and began to nod to each with increasing
intelligence--and then, suddenly, the prosecuting counsel played
unexpectedly and directly into his hand.
"If Your Worship pleases," said the prosecuting counsel, "I should
like to have the prisoner's assertion categorically denied--it may be
of importance. Perhaps this gentleman will go into the box and deny
It on oath"
Mr. Millington-Bywater sat down as quickly as if a heavy hand had forced
him into his seat, and Viner saw a swift look of gratification cross his
features. Close by, Mr. Pawle chuckled with joy.
"By the Lord Harry!" he whispered, "the very thing we wanted! No
need to wait for the adjourned coroner's inquest, Viner--the
thing'll come out now!"
Viner did not understand. He saw Hyde turned out of the box; he saw the
claimant, after an exchange of remarks with Methley, step into it; he
heard him repeat on oath the denial he had just uttered, after stating
that his name was Cave, and that he lived at the Belmead Hotel, Lancaster
Gate; and he saw Mr. Millington-Bywater, after exchanging a few questions
and answers in whispers with Hyde over the ledge of the dock, turn to the
witness as he was about to step down.
"A moment, sir," he said. "I want to ask you a few questions, with the
permission of His Worship, who will soon see that they are very
pertinent. So," he went on, "you reside at the Belmead Hotel, in
Lancaster Gate, and your name is Edward Cave?"
"At present," answered the witness, stiffly.
"Do you mean that your name is Edward Cave--at present?"
"My name is Edward Cave, and at present I live--as I have stated,"
replied the witness with dignity.
"You have just stated, on oath, that you are not Nugent Starr, have never
been so called, don't know the prisoner, never met him in America, have
never set foot in America! Now, then--mind, you're on your oath!--is
Edward Cave your real or full name?"
"Well, strictly speaking," answered the witness, after some hesitation,
"no, it is not. My full name is Cave-Gray--my family name; but for the
"For the present you wish to be called Mr. Cave. Now, sir, are you not
the person who claims to be the rightful Earl of Ellingham?"
A murmur of excited interest ran round the court, and everybody
recognized that a new stage of the case had been entered upon. Every eye,
especially the observant eyes on the bench, were fixed on the witness,
who now looked considerably ruffled. He glanced at Methley--but Methley
sat with averted look and made no sign; he looked at the magistrate; the
magistrate, it was plain, expected the question to be answered. And the
answer came, almost sullenly.
"Yes, I am!"
"That is to say, you are really--or you claim to be really--the Lord
Marketstoke who disappeared from England some thirty-five years ago, and
you have now returned, though you are legally presumed to be dead, to
assert your rights to titles and estates? You absolutely claim to be the
ninth Earl of Ellingham?"
"Where have you been during the last thirty-five years?"
"Chiefly in Melbourne. But I was for four or five years up-country."
"What name did you go under there?"
Mr. Pawle, Mr. Carless and the rest of the spectators who were in these
secrets regarded the witness with keen attention when this question was
put to him. But his answer came promptly.
"At first, under the name of Wickham. Later under the one I now
"Did you marry out there?"
"And so, of course, you never had a daughter?"
"I have never been married and have never had daughter or son!"
Mr. Millington-Bywater turned to Mr. Carless, at his left elbow, and
exchanged two or three whispered remarks with him. At last he looked
round again at the witness.
"Yesterday," he said, "in your character of claimant to the Ellingham
title and estates you showed to Messrs. Carless & Driver, of Lincoln's
Inn Fields, and to the present holder of the title, certain documents,
letters, papers, which would go some way toward establishing your claim
to be what you profess to be. Now, I will say at once that we believe
these papers to have been stolen from the body of John Ashton when he was
murdered. And I will ask you a direct question, on your oath! Have those
papers always been in your possession since you left England thirty-five
The witness drew himself up and looked steadily at his questioner.
"No!" he answered firmly. "They were stolen from me almost as soon as I
arrived in Australia. I have only just regained possession of them."
IS THIS MAN RIGHT?
A murmur of astonishment, ran through the court as the witness made
his last reply, and those most closely interested in him turned and
looked at each other with obvious amazement. And for a moment Mr.
Millington-Bywater seemed to be at a loss; in the next he bent forward
toward the witness-box and fixed the man standing there with a
"Do you seriously tell us, on your oath, that these papers--your papers,
if you are what you claim to be--were stolen from you many years ago, and
have only just been restored to you?" he asked. "On your oath, mind!"
"I do tell you so," answered the witness quietly. "I am on oath."
The magistrate glanced at Mr. Millington-Bywater.
"What is the relevancy of this--in relation to the prisoner and the
charge against him?" he inquired. "You have some point, of course?"
"The relevancy is this, Your Worship," replied Mr. Millington-Bywater:
"Our contention is that the papers referred to were until recently in the
custody of John Ashton, the murdered man--I can put a witness in the box
who can give absolute proof of that, a highly reputable witness, who is
present,--and that John Ashton was certainly murdered by some person or
persons who, for purposes of their own, wished to gain possession of
them. Now, we know that they are in possession of the present witness, or
rather, of his solicitors, to whom he has handed them. I mean to prove
that Ashton was murdered in the way, and for the reason I suggest, and
that accordingly the prisoner is absolutely innocent of the charge
brought against him. I should therefore like to ask this witness to tell
us how he regained possession of these papers, for I am convinced that in
what he can tell us lies the secret of Ashton's murder. Now," he
continued, turning again to the witness as the magistrate nodded assent,
"we will assume for the time being that you are what you represent
yourself to be--the Lord Marketstoke who disappeared from England
thirty-five years ago. You have just heard what I said to His
Worship--about these papers, and what I put forward as regards their
connection with the murder of John Ashton? Will you tell us how you lost
those papers, and more particularly, how you recently regained possession
of them? You see the immense, the vital importance of this to the
unfortunate young fellow in the dock?"
"Who," answered the witness with a calm smile, "is quite and utterly
mistaken in thinking that he knew me in America, for I have certainly
never set foot in America, neither North nor South, in my life! I am very
much surprised indeed to be forced into publicity as I have been this
morning--I came here as a merely curious spectator and had no idea
whatever that I should be called into this box. But if any evidence of
mine can establish, or help to establish, the prisoner's innocence, I
will give it only too gladly."
"Much obliged to you, sir," said Mr. Millington-Bywater, who, in Viner's
opinion, was evidently impressed by the witness's straightforward tone
and candid demeanour.
"Well, if you will tell us--in your own way--about these papers,
now--always remembering that we have absolute proof that until recently
they were in the possession of John Ashton? Let me preface whatever you
choose to tell us with a question: Do you know that they were in
possession of John Ashton?"
"I have no more idea or knowledge of whose hands they were in, and had
been in, for many years, until they were restored to me, than the man in
the moon has!" affirmed the witness. "I'll tell you the whole
story--willingly: I could have told it yesterday to certain gentlemen,
whom I see present, if they had not treated me as an impostor as soon as
they saw me. Well,"--here he folded his hands on the ledge of the
witness-box, and quietly fixing his eyes on the examining counsel,
proceeded to speak in a calm, conversational tone--"the story is this: I
left England about five-and-thirty years ago after certain domestic
unpleasantnesses which I felt so much that I determined to give up all
connection with my family and to start an absolutely new life of my own.
I went away to Australia and landed there under the name of Wickham. I
had a certain amount of money which had come to me from my mother. I
speculated with it on my arrival, somewhat foolishly, no doubt, and I
lost it--every penny.
"So then I was obliged to work for my living. I went up country, and for
some time worked as a miner in the Bendigo district. I had been working
in this way perhaps fourteen months when an accident occurred in the mine
at which I was engaged. There was a serious fall of earth and masonry;
two or three of my fellow-workers were killed on the spot, and I was
taken up for dead. I was removed to a local hospital--there had been some
serious injury to my head and spine, but I still had life in me, and I
was brought round. But I remained in hospital, in a sort of semiconscious
state, for a long time--months. When I went back, after my discharge, to
my quarters--nothing but a rough shanty which I had shared with many
other men--all my possessions had vanished. Among them, of course, were
the papers I had kept, and a packet of letters written to me by my mother
when I was a schoolboy at Eton.
"Of course, I knew at once what had happened--some one of my mates,
believing me to be dead, had appropriated all my belongings and gone off
with them. There was nothing at all to be wondered at in that--it was the
usual thing in such a society. And I knew there was nothing to do but to
accept my loss philosophically."
"Did you make no effort to recover your possessions?" asked Mr.
"No," answered the witness with a quiet smile. "I didn't! I knew too much
of the habits of men in mining centers to waste time in that way. A great
many men had left that particular camp during my illness--it would have
been impossible to trace each one. No--after all, I had left England in
order to lose my identity, and now, of course, it was gone. I went away
into quite another part of the country--into Queensland. I began trading
in Brisbane, and I did very well there, and remained there many years.
Then I went farther south, to Sydney--and I did very well there too. It
was in Sydney, years after that, that I saw the advertisements in the
newspapers, English and Colonial, setting forth that my father was dead,
and asking for news of myself. I took no notice of them--I had not the
least desire to return to England, no wish for the title, and I was quite
content that my youngest brother should get that and the estates. So I
did nothing; nobody knew who I really was--"
"One moment!" said Mr. Millington-Bywater. "While you were at the
mining-camp, in the Bendigo district, did you ever reveal your secret to
any of your fellow-miners?"
"Never!" answered the witness. "I never revealed it to a living soul
until I told my solicitor there, Mr. Methley, after my recent arrival
"But of course, whoever stole your letters and so on, would discover, or
guess at, the truth?" suggested Mr. Millington-Bywater.
"Oh, of course, of course!" said the witness. "Well as I was saying, I
did nothing--except to keep an eye on the papers. I saw in due course
that leave to presume my death had been given, and that my younger
brother had assumed the title, and administered the estate, and I was
quite content. The fact was, I was at that time doing exceedingly well,
and I was too much interested in my doings to care about what was going
on in England. All my life," continued the witness, with a slight smile,
"I have had a--I had better call it a weakness--for speculating; and
when I had got a goodly sum of money together by my trading venture in
Brisbane and Sydney, I began speculating again, in Melbourne chiefly.
And--to cut my story short--last year I had one of my periodic bad turns
of fortune: I lost a lot of money. Now, I am, as you see, getting on in
life, over sixty--and it occurred to me that if I came over to England
and convinced my nephew, the present holder of the title and estates,
that I am really who I am, he would not be averse--we have always been a
generous family--to giving me enough to settle down on in Australia for
the rest of my days. Perhaps I had better say at once, since we are
making matters so very public, that I do not want the title, nor the
estate; I will be quite candid and say what I do want--enough to let me
live in proper comfort in Australia, whither I shall again repair as soon
as I settle my affairs here."
Mr. Millington-Bywater glanced at the magistrate and then at the witness.
"Well, now, these papers?" he said. "You didn't bring them to London
"Of course not!" answered the witness. "I had not seen or heard of them
for thirty-two years! No I relied, on coming to this country, on other
things to prove my identity, such as my knowledge of Marketstoke and
Ellingham, my thorough acquaintance with the family history, my
recollection of people I had known, like Mr. Carless, Mr. Driver, and
their clerk, Mr. Portlethwaite, and on the fact that I lost this finger
through a shooting accident when I was a boy, at Ellingham. Curiously,"
he added with another smile, "these things don't seem to have much
weight. But no! I had no papers when I landed here."
"How did they come into your possession, then?" asked Mr.
Millington-Bywater. "That is what we most earnestly desire to know. Let
me impress upon you, sir, that this is the most serious and fateful
question I can possibly put to you! How did you get them?"
"And--from whom?" said the magistrate. "From whom?"
The witness shook his head.
"I can tell you exactly how I got them," he answered. "But I can't tell
you from whom, for I don't know! What I can tell you is this: When I
arrived at Tilbury from Melbourne, I asked a fellow-passenger with whom I
came along to London if he could tell me of a quiet, good hotel in the
neighbourhood of the parks--he recommended the Belfield, in Lancaster
Gate. I went there and put myself up, and from it I went out and about a
good deal, looking up old haunts. I also lunched and dined a good many
times at some of the new restaurants which had sprung into being since I
left London. I mention this to show you that I was where I could be seen
and noticed, as I evidently was. One afternoon, while I was sitting in
the smoking-room at my hotel, the page-boy came in with a letter on his
tray, approached me, and said that it had been brought by a district
messenger. It was addressed simply, 'Mr. Cave'--the name by which I had
registered at the hotel--and was sealed; the inclosure, on a half-sheet
of note-paper, was typewritten. I have it here," continued the witness,
producing a pocketbook and taking out an envelope. "I will read its
contents, and I shall be glad to let any one concerned see it. There is
no address and no date, and it says this: 'If you wish to recover the
papers and letters which were lost by you when you went into hospital at
Wirra-Worra, Bendigo, thirty-two years ago, be at the Speke Monument in
Kensington Gardens at five o 'clock this afternoon.' There was no
Another murmur of intense and excited interest ran round the court as the
witness handed the letter up to the magistrate, who, after looking it
over, passed it on to the counsel below. They, in their turn, showed it
to Mr. Carless, Mr. Pawle and Lord Ellingham, Mr. Pawle, showing it to
Viner, whispered in his ear:
"If this man's telling the truth," he said, "this is the most
extraordinary story I ever heard in my life."
"It seems to me that it is the truth!" muttered Viner. "And I'm pretty
certain that at last we're on the way-to finding out who killed Ashton.
But let's hear the end."
Mr. Millington-Bywater handed the letter back with a polite bow--it was
very obvious to more than one observer that he had by this time quite
accepted the witness as what he claimed to be.
"You kept the appointment?" he asked.
"I did, indeed!" exclaimed the witness. "As much out of greatly excited
curiosity as anything! It seemed to me a most extraordinary thing that
papers stolen from me in Australia thirty-two years ago should be
returned to me in London! Yes, I walked down to the Speke Monument. I saw
no one about there but a heavily veiled woman who walked about on one
side of the obelisk while I patrolled the other. Eventually she
approached me, and at once asked me if I had kept secret the receipt of
the mysterious letter? I assured her that I had. She then told me that
she was the ambassadress of the people who had my letters and papers, and
who had seen and recognized me in London and tracked me to my hotel. She
was empowered to negotiate with me for the handing over of the papers.
There were stipulations. I was to give my solemn word of honour that I
would not follow her, or cause her to be followed. I was not to ask
questions. And I was to give a post-dated check on the bank at which I
had opened an account in London, on receipt of the papers. The check was
to be post-dated one month; it was to be made out to bearer, and the
amount was ten thousand pounds. I agreed!"
"You really agreed!" exclaimed Mr. Millington-Bywater.
"I agreed! I wanted my papers. We parted, with an agreement that we were
to meet two days later at the same place. I was there--so was the woman.
She handed me a parcel, and I immediately took it to an adjacent seat and
examined it. Everything that I could remember was there, with two
exceptions. The packet of letters from my mother, to which I referred
just now, was missing; so was a certain locket, which had belonged to
her, and of which I had taken great care since her death, up to the time
of my accident in the mining-camp. I pointed out these omissions to the
woman: she answered that the papers which she had handed over were all
that had been in her principal's possession. Thereupon I gave her the
check which had been agreed upon, and we parted."
"And that is all you know of her?" asked Mr. Millington-Bywater.
"Can you describe her?"
"A tallish, rather well-built woman, but so veiled that I could see
nothing of her features; it was, moreover, nearly dark on both occasions.
From her speech and manner, she was, I should say, a woman of education
"Did you try to trace her, or her principals, through the district
messenger who brought the letter?"
"Certainly not! I told you, just now, that I gave my word of honour: I
Mr. Millington-Bywater turned to the magistrate.
"I can, if Your Worship desires it, put a witness in the box who can
prove beyond doubt that the papers of which we have just heard this
remarkable story, were recently in the possession of John Ashton," he
said. "He is Mr. Cecil Perkwite, of the Middle Temple--a member of my own
But the magistrate, who appeared unusually thoughtful, shook his head.
"After what we have heard," he said, "I think we had better adjourn. The
prisoner will be remanded--as before--for another week."
When the magistrate had left the bench, and the court was humming with
the murmur of tongues suddenly let free, Mr. Pawle forced his way to the
side of the last witness.
"Whoever you are, sir," he said, "there's one thing certain--nobody but
you can supply the solution of the mystery about Ashton's death! Come
with me and Carless at once."
THE BROKEN LETTER
The man whose extraordinary story had excited such intense interest had
become the object of universal attention. Hyde, hitherto the centre of
attraction, was already forgotten, and instead of people going away from
the court to canvass his guilt or his innocence, they surged round the
witness whose testimony, strange and unexpected, had so altered the
probabilities of the case. It was with difficulty that Methley got his
client away into a private room; there they were joined by Mr. Carless,
Mr. Pawle, Mr. Perkwite, Lord Ellingham and Viner, and behind a locked
door these men looked at each other and at this centre of interest with
the air of those to whom something extraordinary has just been told.
After a moment of silence Mr. Carless spoke, addressing the man whose
story had brought matters to an undeniable crisis.
"I am sure," he said gravely, and with a side glance at Lord Ellingham,
"that if your story is true, sir,--and after what we have just heard, I
am beginning to think that my first conclusions may have been wrong
ones,--no one will welcome your reappearance more warmly than the young
gentleman whom you will turn out of title and property! But you must see
for yourself that your claims must be thoroughly investigated--and as
what you have now just told affects other people, and we must invite you
to full discussion, I propose that, for the time being, we address you as
The claimant smiled, and nodded genially to the young man whose uncle he
alleged himself to be.
"I wish to remain Mr. Cave," he said. "I don't want to turn my nephew out
of title and property, so long as he will do something for his old uncle.
Call me Mr. Cave, by all means."
"We must talk--and at once," said Mr. Carless. "There are several points
arising out of your evidence on which you must give me information.
Whoever is at the back of that woman who handed you those papers is
probably the murderer of John Ashton--and that is what must be got at.
Now, where can we have a conference--immediately?--Your office, Methley,
is not far away, I think."
"My house is nearer," said Viner. "Come--we shall be perfectly quiet in
my study, and there will be nothing to interrupt us. Let us go now."
A police official let them out by a side-door, and Viner and Mr. Pawle
led the way through some side-streets to Markendale Square, the others
coming behind, conversing eagerly about the events of the morning. Mr.
Pawle, on his part, was full of excitement.
"If we can only trace that woman, Viner!" he exclaimed. "That's the next
thing! Get hold of her, whoever she is, and then--ah, we shall be in
sight of the finishing-part."
"What about tracing the whole lot through the check he has given?"
suggested Viner. "Wouldn't that be a good way?"
"We should have to wait nearly a month," answered Mr. Pawle. "And even
then it would be difficult--simple though it seems at first sight. There
are folk who deal in post-dated checks, remember! This may have been
dealt with already--aye, and that diamond too; and the man who has got
the proceeds may already be many a mile away. Deep, cunning folk they are
who have been in this, Viner. And now--speed is the thing!"
Viner led his guests into his library, and as he placed chairs for them
round a centre table, an idea struck him.
"I have a suggestion to make," he said with a shy smile at the legal men.
"My aunt, Miss Penkridge, who lives with me, is an unusually sharp,
shrewd woman. She has taken vast interest in this affair, and I have kept
her posted up in all its details. She was in court just now and heard Mr.
Cave's story. If no one has any objection, I should like her to be
present at our deliberations--as a mysterious woman has entered into the
case, Miss Penkridge may be able to suggest something."
"Excellent idea!" exclaimed Mr. Carless. "A shrewd woman is worth her
weight in gold! By all means bring Miss Penkridge in--she may, as you
say, make some suggestion."
Miss Penkridge, fetched into the room and duly introduced, lost no
time in making a suggestion of an eminently practical nature--that as
all these gentlemen had been cooped up in that stuffy police-court for
two or three hours, they would be none the worse for a glass of wine,
and she immediately disappeared, jingling a bunch of keys, to reappear
a few minutes later in charge of the parlour-maid carrying decanters
"A very comfortable suggestion, that, ma'am," observed Mr. Carless,
bowing to his hostess over a glass of old sherry. "Your intuition does
you credit! But now, gentlemen, and Miss Penkridge, straight to business!
Mr. Cave, the first question I want to put to you is this: on what date
did you receive the letter which you exhibited in court this morning?"
Mr. Cave produced a small pocket diary and turned over its pages.
"I can tell you that," he answered. "I made a note of it at the time. It
was--yes, here we are--on the twenty-first of November."
"And you received these papers, I think you said, two days later?"
"Yes--on the twenty-third. Here is the entry."
Mr. Carless looked round at the assembled faces.
"John Ashton was murdered on the night of the twenty-second of November,"
he remarked significantly. "Therefore he had not been murdered when the
veiled woman first met Mr. Cave for the first time, and he had been
murdered when she met Mr. Cave the second time!"
There was a silence as significant as Mr. Carless' tone upon this--broken
at last by Mr. Cave.
"If I may say a word or two," he remarked diffidently. "I don't
understand matters about this John Ashton. The barrister who asked me
questions--Mr. Millington-Bywater, is it--said that he, or somebody, had
positive proof that Mr. Ashton had my papers in his possession for some
time previous to his death. Is that really so?"
Mr. Carless pointed to Mr. Perkwite.
"This is the gentleman whom Mr. Millington-Bywater could have put in the
box this morning to prove that," he replied. "Mr. Perkwite, of the Middle
Temple--a barrister-at-law, Mr. Cave. Mr. Perkwite met Mr. Ashton some
three months ago at Marseilles, and Mr. Ashton then not only asked his
advice about the Ellingham affair, alleging that he knew the missing Lord
Marketstoke, but showed him the papers which you have recently deposited
with Mr. Methley here--which papers, Ashton alleged, were intrusted to
him by Lord Marketstoke on his deathbed. Ashton, according to Mr.
Perkwite, took particular care of these papers, and always carried them
about with him in a pocketbook."
Mr. Cave appeared to be much exercised in thought on hearing this.
"It is, of course, absurd to say that Lord Marketstoke
--myself!--intrusted papers to any one on his deathbed, since I am very
much alive," he said. "But it is, equally of course, quite possible that
Ashton had my papers. Who was Ashton?"
"A man who had lived in Australia for some thirty-five or forty years at
least," replied Mr. Carless, "and who recently returned to England and
settled down in London, in this very square. He lived chiefly in
Melbourne, but we have heard that for some four or five years he was
somewhere up country. You never heard of him out there? He was evidently
well known in Melbourne."
"No, I never heard of him," replied Mr. Cave. "But I don't know
Melbourne very well; I know Sydney and Brisbane better. However, an idea
strikes me--Ashton may have had something to do with the purloining of
my letters and effects at Wirra-Worra, when I met with the accident I
told you of."
"So far as we are aware," remarked Mr. Carless, "Ashton was an eminently
"So far as you know!" said Mr. Cave. "There is a good deal in the saving
clause, I think. I have known a good many men in Australia who were
highly respectable in the last stages of life who had been anything but
that in their earlier ones! Of what class was this Ashton?"
"I met him, occasionally," said Methley, "though I never knew who he was
until after his death. He was a very pleasant, kindly, good-humoured
man--but," he added, "I should say, from his speech and manners, a man
who had risen from a somewhat humble position of life. I remember
noticing his hands--they were the hands of a man who at some period had
done hard manual labour."
Mr. Cave smiled knowingly.
"There you are!" he said. "He had probably been a miner! Taking
everything into consideration, I am inclined to believe that he was
most likely one of the men, or the man, who stole my papers thirty-two
"There may be something in this," remarked Mr. Pawle, glancing uneasily
at Mr. Carless. "It is a fact that the packet of letters to which Mr.
Cave referred this morning as having been written by the Countess of
Ellingham to Lord Marketstoke when a boy at school, was found by Mr.
Viner and myself in Ashton's house, and that the locket which he also
mentioned is in existence--facts which Mr. Cave will doubtless be glad to
know of. But," added the old lawyer, shaking his head, "what does all
this imply? That Ashton, of whom up to now we have heard nothing but
good, was not only a thief, but an impostor who was endeavouring, or
meant to endeavour, to palm off a bogus claimant on people, who, but for
Mr. Cave's appearance and evidence, would certainly have been deceived!
It is most amazing."
"Don't forget" said Viner quietly, "that Mr. Perkwite says that Ashton
showed him at Marseilles a certain marriage certificate and a birth
Mr. Carless started.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "I had forgotten that. Um! However, don't let us
forget, just now, that our main object in meeting was to do something
towards tracking these people who gave Mr. Cave these papers. Now, Mr.
Cave, you got no information out of the woman?"
"None!" answered Mr. Cave. "I was not to ask questions, you remember."
"You took her for a gentlewoman?"
"Yes--from her speech and manner."
"Did she imply to you that she was an intermediary?"
"Yes--she spoke of some one, indefinitely, you know, for whom she
"And she told you, I think, that you had been recognized, in
London, since your arrival, by some one who had known you in
Australia years before?"
"Yes--certainly she told me that."
"Just let me look at that typewritten letter again, will you?" asked Mr.
Carless. "It seems impossible, but we might get something out of that."
Mr. Cave handed the letter over, and once more it was passed from hand to
hand: finally it fell into the hands of Miss Penkridge, who began to
examine it with obvious curiosity.
"Afraid there's nothing to be got out of that!" sighed Mr. Carless. "The
rogues were cunning enough to typewrite the message--if there'd been any
handwriting, now, we might have had a chance! You say there was nothing
on the envelope but your name, Mr. Cave?"
Mr. Cave opened his pocketbook again.
"There is the envelope," he said. "Nothing but _Mr. Cave_, as you
see--that is also typewritten."
Miss Penkridge picked up the envelope as Mr. Cave tossed it across the
table. She appeared to examine it carefully, but suddenly she turned to
"There _is_ a clue in these things!" she exclaimed. "A plain clue! One
that's plain enough to me, anyway. I could follow it up. I don't know
whether you gentlemen can."
Mr. Carless, who had, up to that point, treated Miss Penkridge with
good-humoured condescension, turned sharply upon her.
"What do you mean, ma'am?" he asked. "You really see something in--in a
"A great deal!" answered Miss Penkridge. "And in the stationery on
which it's typed, and in the envelope in which it's inclosed. Now look
here: This letter has been typed on a half-sheet of notepaper. Hold
the half-sheet up to the light--what do you see? One half of the name
and address of the stationer who supplied it, in watermark. What is
that one half?"
Mr. Carless held the paper to the light and saw on the top line, ...
"_sforth,"_ on the middle line, ... "_nd Stationer_" and, ... "_n Hill_"
on the bottom line.
"My nephew there," went on Miss Penkridge, "knows what that would be, in
full, if the other half of the sheet were here. It would be precisely
what it is under the flap of this envelope--there you are!
'_Bigglesforth, Bookseller and Stationer, Craven Hill.'_ Everybody in
this district knows Bigglesforth--we get our stationery from him. Now,
Bigglesforth has not such a very big business in really expensive
notepaper like this--the other half of the sheet, of course, would have a
finely engraved address on it--and you can trace the owner of this paper
through him, with patience and trouble.
"But here's a still better clue! Look at this typewritten letter. In
it, the letter _o_ occurs with frequency. Now, notice--the letter is
broken, imperfect; the top left-hand curve has been chipped off. Do
you mean to tell me that with time and trouble and patience you can't
find out to whom that machine belongs? Taking the fact that this
half-sheet of notepaper came from Bigglesforth's, of Craven Hill,"
concluded Miss Penkridge with emphasis, "I should say that this
document--so important--came from somebody who doesn't live a million
miles from here!"
Mr. Carless had followed Miss Penkridge with admiring attention, and he
now rose to his feet.
"Ma'am," he exclaimed, "Mr. Viner's notion of having you to join our
council has proved invaluable! I'll have that clue followed up instantly!
Gentlemen, we can do no more just now--let us separate. Mr. Cave--you'll
continue to be heard of at the Belfield Hotel?"
"I shall be at your service any time, Mr. Carless," responded Mr. Cave.
"A telephone message will bring me at once to Lincoln's Inn Fields."
The assembly broke up, and Viner was left alone with Miss Penkridge.
"That was clever of you!" he said, admiringly. "I should never have
noticed that. But--there are a lot of typewriting machines in London!"
"Not so many owned by customers of Bigglesforth's!" retorted Miss
Penkridge. "I'd work it out, if I were a detective!"
The parlour-maid looked in and attracted Viner's attention.
"Mr. Felpham wants you at the telephone, sir," she said.
THROUGH THE TELEPHONE
Events had crowded so thick and fast upon Viner during the last day
or two, that he went to the telephone fully expecting to hear of some
new development. But he was scarcely prepared for his solicitor's
"Viner!" said Felpham, whose voice betrayed his excitement. "Is that man
Cave still with you?"
"No!" answered Viner. "Why?"
"Listen carefully," responded Felpham. "In spite of all he asserts, and
his long tale this morning at the police-court, I believe he's a rank
impostor! I've just had another talk with Hyde."
"Well?" demanded Viner.
"Hyde," answered Felpham, "persists that he's not mistaken. He Swears
that the man is Nugent Starr. He says there's no doubt of it! And he's
told me of another actor, a man named George Bellingham, who's now
somewhere in London, who can positively identify him as Starr. I'm going
to find Bellingham this afternoon--there's some deep-laid plot in all
this, and that fellow had been cleverly coached in the event of his being
unexpectedly tackled.... Viner!"
"Well--I'm listening carefully," replied Viner.
"Where's this man gone?" demanded Felpham.
"To his hotel, I should think," answered Viner. "He left here just
"Listen!" said Felpham. "Do you think it would be wise to post New
Scotland Yard on to him--detectives, you know?"
Viner considered swiftly. In the rush of events he had forgotten
that Carless had already given instructions for the watching of the
pseudo Mr. Cave.
"Why not find this man Bellingham first?" he suggested. "If he can prove,
positively, that the fellow is Nugent Starr, you'd have something
definite to work on. Where can Bellingham be found?"
"Hyde's given me the address of a theatrical agent in Bedford Street
who's likely to know of his whereabouts," replied Felpham. "I'm going
over there at once. Hyde saw Bellingham in town three weeks ago."
"Let me know at once," said Viner. "If you find Bellingham, take him to
the Belfield Hotel and contrive to show him the man. Call me up later."
He went away from his telephone and sought Miss Penkridge, whom he found
in her room, arraying herself for out of doors.
"Here's a new development!" he exclaimed, shutting the door on them.
"Felpham's just telephoned to say that Hyde persists that the man who
calls himself Cave is Nugent Starr! In that case, he won't--"
Miss Penkridge interrupted her nephew with a sniff.
"My dear Richard," she said, with a note of contemptuous impatience, "in
a case like this, you don't know who's who or who isn't who! It wouldn't
surprise me in the slightest if the man turns out to be Nugent Starr."
"How did he come by such a straight tale, then?" asked Viner doubtfully.
"Carefully prepared--in case of need," declared Miss Penkridge as she
tied her bonnet-strings with a decisive tug. "The whole thing's a plant!"
"That's what Felpham says," remarked Viner. "But--where are you going?"
he broke off as Miss Penkridge, seizing an umbrella, started for the
door. "Lunch is just going in."
"My lunch can wait--I've had a biscuit and a glass of sherry," asserted
Miss Penkridge. "I'm going round to Bigglesforth the stationer's, to
follow up that clue I suggested just now. I dare say I can do a bit of
detective work as well as another, and in my opinion, Richard, there's no
time to be lost. I have been blessed and endowed," continued Miss
Penkridge, as she laid hold of the door-handle, "with exceedingly acute
perceptions, and I saw something when I made that suggestion which I'm
quite sure none of you men, with all your brains, saw!"
"What?" demanded Viner.
"I saw that my suggestion wasn't at all pleasing to the man who calls
himself Cave!" exclaimed Miss Penkridge. "It was only a flash of his eye,
a sudden droop at the corners of his lips--but I saw! And I saw something
else, too--that he got away as quickly as ever he could after I'd made
Viner looked at his aunt with amused wonder. He thought she was unduly
suspicious, and Miss Penkridge guessed his thoughts.
"You'll see," she said as she opened the door.
"There are going to be strange revelations, Richard Viner, my boy! You
said at the beginning of this that you'd suddenly got plunged into the
middle of things--well, in my opinion, we're now coming to the end of
things, and I'm going to do my bit to bring it about."
With that Miss Penkridge sailed away, her step determined and her head
high, and Viner, pondering many matters, went downstairs to entertain his
visitors, the unlucky Hyde's sisters, with stories of the morning's
proceedings and hopes of their brother's speedy acquittal. The poor
ladies were of that temperament which makes its possessors clutch eagerly
at any straw of hope floating on the sea of trouble, and they listened
eagerly to all that their host could tell.
"Langton has an excellent memory!" declared the elder Miss Hyde. "Don't
you remember, sister, what a quantity of poetical pieces he knew by heart
when he was quite a child?"
"Before he was seven years of age!" said the younger sister. "And at ten
he could recite the whole of the trial scene from 'The Merchant of
Venice.' Oh, yes, he always had a marvellous memory! If Langton says he
remembers this man in America, dear Mr. Viner, I am sure Langton will be
right, and that this is the man. But what a very dreadful person to utter
such terrible falsehoods!"
"And on oath!" said the elder Miss Hyde, solemnly. "On oath, sister!"
"Sad!" murmured the younger lady. "Most sad! We find London life very
disturbing, dear Mr. Viner, after our quiet country existence."
"There are certainly some disturbing elements in it," admitted Viner.
Just then came another interruption; for the second time since his return
from the police-court, he was summoned to the telephone. To his great
surprise, the voice that hailed him was Mrs. Killenhall's.
"Is that Mr. Viner?" the voice demanded in its usual brisk, clear tones.
"Yes," answered Viner. "Is that Mrs. Killenhall?"
"Yes!" came the prompt reply. "Mr. Viner, can you be so very kind? Miss
Wickham and I have come down to the City on some business connected
with Mr. Ashton, and we do so want somebody's help. Can you run down at
once and join us? So sorry to trouble you, but we really do want a
"Certainly!" responded Viner. "I'll come to you at once. But where are
"Come to 23 Mirrapore Street, off Whitechapel Road," answered Mrs.
Killenhall. "There is some one here who knew Mr. Ashton, and I
should like you to see him. Can you come at once? And have you the
"A moment--repeat it, please," replied Viner, pulling out a memorandum
book. He noted the address and spoke again: "I'll be there in half an
hour, Mrs. Killenhall," he said. "Sooner, if it's possible."
"Thank you so much," responded Mrs. Killenhall's steady voice. "So good
of you--good-bye for the present, then."
"Good-bye," said Viner. He hurried away into the hall, snatched up a
hat, and letting himself out of the house, ran to the nearest cab-stand
and beckoned to a chauffeur who often took him about. "I want to get
along to Mirrapore Street, Whitechapel Road," he said, as he sprang into
the car. "Do you know whereabouts it is?"
The chauffeur knitted his brows and shook his head.
"There's a sight of small streets running off Whitechapel Road, both
sides, sir," he answered. "It'll be one of them--I'll find it. Mirrapore
Street? Right, sir."
"Get there as quickly as possible," said Viner. "The quicker the better."
It was not until he had gone a good half of his journey that Viner began
to wonder whatever it was that had taken Miss Wickham and her chaperon
down to the far boundaries of the City--or, indeed, farther. Mrs.
Killenhall had said the City, but Viner knew his London well enough to
know that Whitechapel Road lies without the City confines. She had said,
too, that a man who knew Mr. Ashton was there with her and Miss
Wickham--what man, wondered Viner, and what doing in a district like that
toward which he was speeding?
The chauffeur did the run to Whitechapel Road in unusually good time; it
was little more than two o'clock when the car passed the parish church.
But the man had gone from one end of the road to the other, from the end
of High Street to the beginning of Mile End Road, without success, when
he stopped and looked in at his passenger.
"Can't see no street of that name on either side, Mr. Viner," he said.
"Have you got it right, sir?"
"That's the name given me," answered Viner. He pointed to a policeman
slowly patrolling the side walk. "Ask him," he said. "He'll know."
The policeman, duly questioned, seemed surprised at first; then
recollection evidently awoke in him.
"Mirrypoor Street?" he said. "Oh, yes! Second to your left, third to the
right--nice sort o' street for a car like yours to go into, too!"
Viner overheard this and put his head out of the window.
"Why?" he demanded.
The policeman, quick to recognize a superior person, touched his helmet
and stepped off the curb toward his questioner.
"Pretty low quarter down there, sir," he said, with a significant glance
in the direction concerned. "If you've business that way, I should advise
you to look after yourself--some queer places down those streets, sir."
"Thanks," responded Viner with a grim smile. "Go on, driver, as quick as
you can, and stop at the corner of the street."
The car swung out of Whitechapel Road into a long, dismal street, the
shabbiness of which increased the further the main thoroughfare was left
behind; and Viner, looking right and left, saw that the small streets
running off that which he was traversing were still more dismal, still
more shabby. Suddenly the car twisted to the right and stopped, and Viner
was aware of a long, narrow street, more gloomy than the rest, wherein
various doubtful-looking individuals moved about, and groups of poorly
clad children played in the gutters.
"All right," he said as he got down from the car, and the chauffeur made
a grimace at the unlovely vista. "Look here--I don't want you to wait
here. Go back to Whitechapel Road and hang about the end of the street
we've just come down. I'll come back there to you."
"Not afraid of going down here alone, then, sir?" asked the chauffeur.
"It's a bit as that policeman said."
"I'm all right," repeated Viner. "You go back and wait. I may be some
time. I mayn't be long."
He turned away down the street--and in spite of his declaration, he felt
that this was certainly the most doubtful place he had ever been in.
There were evil and sinister faces on the sidewalks; evil and sinister
eyes looking out of dirty windows; here and there a silent-footed figure
went by him in the gloom of the December day with the soft step of a wild
animal; here and there, men leaning against the wall, glared suspiciously
at him or fixed rapacious eyes on his good clothes. There were shops in
this street such as Viner had never seen the like of--shops wherein
coarse, dreadful looking food was exposed for sale; and there were
public-houses from which came the odour of cheap gin and bad beer and
rank tobacco; an atmosphere of fried fish and something far worse hung
heavily above the dirty pavements, and at every step he took Viner asked
himself the same question--what on earth could Miss Wickham and Mrs.
Killenhall be doing in this wretched neighbourhood?
Suddenly he came to the house he wanted--Number 23. It was just like
all the other houses, of sombre grey brick, except for the fact that
it looked somewhat cleaner than the rest, was furnished with blinds
and curtains, and in the front downstairs window had a lower wire
blind, on which was worked in tarnished gilt letters, the word
_Surgery_. On the door was a brass plate, also tarnished, across which
ran three lines in black:
Attendance: 3 to 6 p. m.
Saturdays. 5 to 9.30 p. m."
Before Viner took the bell in hand, he glanced at the houses which
flanked this East-end surgery. One was a poor-looking, meanly equipped
chemist's shop; the other a second-hand clothing establishment. And
comforting himself with the thought that if need arose the apparently
fairly respectable proprietors of these places might reasonably be called
upon for assistance, he rang the bell of Number 23 and awaited the
opening of the door with considerable curiosity.
The door was opened by Mrs. Killenhall herself, and Viner's quick eye
failed to notice anything in her air or manner that denoted uneasiness.
She smiled and motioned him to enter, shutting the door after him as he
stepped into the narrow entrance hall.
"So very good of you to come, Mr. Viner, and so quickly," she said. "You
found your way all right?"
"Yes, but I'm a good deal surprised to find you and Miss Wickham in this
neighbourhood," answered Viner. "This is a queer place, Mrs.
Killenhall. I hope--"
"Oh, we're all right!" said Mrs. Killenhall, with a reassuring smile. "It
is certainly a queer neighbourhood, but Dr. Martincole is an old friend
of mine, and we're safe enough under his roof. He'll be here in a few
minutes, and then--"
"This man who knew Mr. Ashton?" interrupted Viner. "Where is he?"
"Dr. Martincole will bring him in," said Mrs. Killenhall, "Come upstairs,
Viner noticed that the house through which he was led was very quiet, and
larger than he should have guessed at from the street frontage. From what
he could see, it was well furnished, but dark and gloomy; gloomy, too,
was a back room, high up the stairs, into which Mrs. Killenhall presently
showed him. There, looking somewhat anxious, sat Miss Wickham, alone.
"Here's Mr. Viner," said Mrs. Killenhall. "I'll tell Dr. Martincole
She motioned Viner to a chair and went out. But the next instant Viner
swung quickly round. As the door closed, he had heard the unmistakable
click of a patent lock.
THE DISMAL STREET
Unknown to those who had taken part in the conference at Viner's house,
unknown even to Carless, who in the multiplicity of his engagements, had
forgotten the instructions which he had given on the previous afternoon
to Portlethwaite, a strict watch was being kept on the man around whom
all the events of that morning had centred. Portlethwaite, after Methley
and his client had left Carless and Driver's office, had given certain
instructions to one of his fellow-clerks, a man named Millwaters, in
whose prowess as a spy he had unlimited belief. Millwaters was a fellow
of experience. He possessed all the qualities of a sleuth-hound and was
not easily baffled in difficult adventures. In his time he had watched
erring husbands and doubtful wives; he had followed more than one
high-placed wrong-doer running away from the consequences of forgery or
embezzlement; he had conducted secret investigations into the behaviour
of persons about whom his employers wanted to know something. In person
and appearance he was eminently fitted for his job--a little,
inconspicuous, plain-featured man who contrived to look as if he never
saw anything. And to him, knowing that he was to be thoroughly depended
upon, Portlethwaite had given precise orders.
"You'll go up to Lancaster Gate tonight, Millwaters, and get a good look
at that chap," Portlethwaite had told him. "Take plenty of money--I'll
speak to the cashier about that--and be prepared for anything, even to
following, if he bolts. Once you've seen him, you're not to lose sight of
him; make sure of him last thing today and first thing tomorrow. Follow
him wherever he goes, make a note of wherever he goes, and particularly
of whoever he meets. And if there's need, ring me up here, and let's know
what's happening, or if you want assistance."
There was no need for Millwaters to promise faithful compliance;
Portlethwaite knew well enough that to put him on a trail was equivalent
to putting a hound on the scent of a fox or a terrier to the run of a
rat. And that evening, Millwaters, who had clever ways of his own, made
himself well acquainted with the so-called Mr. Cave's appearance, and
assured himself that his man had gone peacefully to rest at his hotel,
and he had seen him again before breakfast next morning and had been in
quiet and unobtrusive attendance upon him when, later, he visited
Methley's office and subsequently walked away with Methley to the
police-court. And Millwater was in the police-court, meditatively sucking
peppermint lozenges in a corner, when Mr. Cave was unexpectedly asked to
give evidence; he was there, too, until Mr. Cave left the court.
Cave's remarkable story ran off Millwaters' mentality like raindrops off
a steep roof. It mattered nothing to him. He did not care the value of a
brass button if Cave was Earl of Ellingham or Duke of Ditchmoor; his job
was to keep his eye on him, whoever he was. And so when Viner and his
party went round to Markendale Square, Millwaters slunk along in their
rear, and at a corner of the Square he remained, lounging about, until
his quarry reappeared. Two or three of the other men came out with Cave,
but Millwaters noticed that Cave immediately separated from them. He was
evidently impressing upon them that he was in a great hurry about
something or other, and sped away from them, Millwaters's cold eye upon
him. And within a minute Millwaters had observed what seemed to him
highly suspicious circumstance--Cave, on leaving the others, had shot off
down a side-street in the direction of Lancaster Gate, but as soon as he
was out of sight of Markendale Square, had doubled in his tracks, hurried
down another turning and sped away as fast as he could walk towards
Millwaters, shorter in the leg than the tall man in front, had to hurry
to keep him in sight, but he was never far behind as Cave hastened along
Craven Road and made for the terminus. Once or twice in this chase the
quarry lifted a hand to an approaching taxicab, only to find each was
engaged; it was not until he and his pursuer were in front of the Great
Western Hotel that Cave found an empty cab, hailed it, and sprang in.
Millwaters grinned quietly at that; he was used to this sort of chase,
and he had memorized car and number before Cave had been driven off. It
was a mere detail to charter the next, and to give a quiet word and wink
to its chauffeur, who was opening its door for Millwaters when a third
person came gently alongside and tapped the clerk's shoulder. Millwaters
turned sharply and encountered Mr. Perkwite's shrewd eyes.
"All right, Millwaters!" said the barrister. "I know what you're after!
I'm after the same bird. We'll go together."
Millwaters knew Mr. Perkwite very well as a promising young barrister
whom Carless and Driver sometimes favoured with briefs. Mr.
Perkwite's presence did not disturb him; he moved into the farther
corner, and Mr. Perkwite slipped inside. The car moved off in pursuit
of the one in front.
"So you're on that game, Mr. Perkwite?" remarked Millwaters. "Ah! And who
might have got you on to it, if one may ask?"
"You know that I was at your people's office yesterday?" said Perkwite.
"Saw you there," replied Millwaters.
"It was about this business," said the barrister. "Did you see me in the
police-court this morning?"
"I did--listening for all you were worth," answered the clerk.
"And I dare say you saw me go with the rest of them to Mr. Viner's, in
Markendale Square?" said Perkwite.
"Right again, sir," assented Millwaters. "I did."
"This fellow in front," observed Perkwite, "made some statements at
Viner's, in answer to your principal, Mr. Carless, which incline me
to the opinion that he's an impostor in spite of his carefully
"Shouldn't wonder, Mr. Perkwite." said Millwaters. "But that's not my
business. My job is to keep him under observation."
"That's what I set out to do when I came out of Viner's," said the
barrister. "He's up to something. He assured us as we left the house that
he'd a most pressing engagement at his hotel in Lancaster Gate; the next
minute, happening to glance down a side-street, I saw him cutting off in
the direction of Paddington. And now he's evidently making for the City."
"Well, I'm after him," remarked Millwaters. He leaned out of his window,
called the chauffeur, and gave him some further instructions.
"Intelligent chap, this, Mr. Perkwite," he said as he sat down again. "He
understands--some of 'em are poor hands at this sort of game."
"You're a pretty good hand yourself, I think?" suggested the barrister,
with a smile.
"Ought to be," said Millwaters. "Had plenty of experience, anyway."
It seemed to Perkwite that his companion kept no particular observation
on the car in front as it sped along to and through the northern edge of
the City and beyond. But Millwaters woke to action as their own car
progressed up Whitechapel Road, and suddenly he gave a warning word to
the barrister and a smart tap on the window behind their driver. The car
came to a halt by the curb; and Millwaters, slipping out, pushed some
money into the man's hand and drew Perkwite amongst the people who were
crowding the sidewalk. The barrister looked in front and around and
seemed at a loss.
"Where is he?" he asked. "Hang it, I've lost him!"
"I haven't!" said Millwaters. "He left his car before we left ours. Our
man knew what he was after--he slowed up and passed him until I saw where
he went." He twisted Perkwite round and pointed to the mouth of a street
which they had just passed.
"He's gone down there," he said. "Nice neighbourhood, too! I know
something of it. Now, Mr. Perkwite, if you please, we'll separate. You
take the right of that street--I'll take the left. Keep a look out for my
gentleman's Homburg hat--grey, with a black band--and keep the tail of
your eye on me, too."
Cave's headgear was easily followed down the squalid street. Its owner
went swiftly ahead, with Millwaters in pursuit on one pavement, and the
barrister on the other, until he finally turned into a narrower and
shabbier thoroughfare. Then the clerk hurried across the road, attracted
Perkwite's attention, winked at him as he passed without checking his
pace, and whispered two or three words.
"Wait--by the street-corner!"
Perkwite pulled up, and Millwaters went down the dismal street in
pursuit of the Homburg hat. This excellent indication of its owner's
presence suddenly vanished from Perkwite's sight, and presently
Millwaters came back.
"Ran him to earth--for the time being, anyway," he said. "He's gone into
a surgery down there--a Dr. Martincole's. Number 23--brass plate on
door--next to a drug-shop. Suspicious sort of spot, altogether."
"Well?" demanded Perkwite. "What next? You know best, Millwaters."
The clerk jerked a thumb down the side of the dismal street on which they
"There's a public-house down there," he said, "almost opposite this
surgery. Fairly decent place for this neighbourhood--bar-parlour looking
out on the street. Better slip in there and look quietly out. But
remember, Mr. Perkwite--don't seem to be watching anything. We're just
going in for a bottle of ale, and talking business together.
"Whatever you recommend," said Perkwite.
He followed his companion down the street to the tavern, a joyless and
shabby place, the bar-parlour of which, a dark and smoke-stained room was
just then empty, and looked over its torn half-blind across the way.
"Certainly a queer place for a man who professes to be a peer of the
realm to visit!" he muttered. "Well, now, what do you propose to do,
"Hang about here and watch," whispered the clerk. "Look out!"
A face, heavy and bloated, appeared at a hatch-window at the back of the
room, and a gruff voice made itself heard.
"Any orders, gents?"
"Two bottles o' Bass, gov'nor," responded Millwaters promptly, dropping
into colloquial Cockney speech. He turned to Perkwite and winked. "Well,
an' wot abaht this 'ere bit o' business as I've come rahnd abaht,
Mister?" he went on, nudging his companion, in free-and-easy style.
"Yer see, it's this ere wy wiv us--if yer can let us have that there
stuff reasonable, d'yer see--" He drew Perkwite over to the window and
began to whisper, "That'll satisfy him," he said with a sharp glance at
the little room behind the hatch where the landlord was drawing corks.
"He'll think we're doing a bit of trade, so we've nothing to do but stand
in this window and keep an eye on the street. Out of this I'm not going
till I see whether that fellow comes out or stops in!"
Some time had passed, and Millwaters had been obliged to repeat his order
for bottled Bass before anything took place in the street outside.
Suddenly he touched his companion's elbow.
"Here's a taxicab coming along and slowing up for somewhere about
here," he whispered. "And--Lord, if there aren't two ladies in it--in a
spot like this! And--whew!" he went on excitedly. "Do you see 'em, Mr.
Perkwite? The young un's Miss Wickham, who came to our office about
this Ashton affair. I don't know who the old un is--but she evidently
knows her way."
The berry-faced landlord had now shut down the hatch, and his two
bar-parlour customers were alone and unobserved. Perkwite drew away from
the window, pulling Millwaters by the sleeve.
"Careful!" he said. "There's something seriously wrong here, Millwaters!
What's Miss Wickham being brought down here for? See, they've gone into
that surgery, and the car's going off. Look here--we've got to do
something, and at once!"
But Millwaters shook his head.
"Not my job, Mr. Perkwite!" he answered.
"My business is with the man--Cave! I've nothing to do with Miss
Wickham, sir, nor with the old lady that's taken her in there. Cave's
my mark! Queer that the young lady's gone there, no doubt, but--no
affair of mine."
"It's going to be an affair of mine, then," said Perkwite. "I'm going off
to the police!"
Millwaters put out a detaining hand.
"Don't, Mr. Perkwite!" he said. "To get police into a quarter like this
is as bad as putting a light to dry straw. I'll tell you a better plan
than that, sir--find the nearest telephone-box and call up our
people--call Mr. Carless, tell him what you've seen and get him to come
down and bring somebody with him. That'll be far better than calling the
"Give me your telephone-number, then," said Perkwite, "and keep a strict
watch while I'm away."
Millwaters repeated some figures and a letter, and Perkwite ran off up
the street and toward the Whitechapel Road, anxiously seeking for a
telephone booth. It was not until he had got into the main thoroughfare
that he found one; he then had some slight delay in getting in
communication with Carless and Driver's office; twenty minutes had
elapsed by the time he got back to the dismal street. At its corner he
encountered Millwaters, lounging about hands in pockets. Millwaters
wagged his head.
"Here's another queer go!" he said. "There's been another arrival at
Number 23--not five minutes since. Another of our little lot!"
"Who?" demanded Perkwite.
"Viner!" replied Millwaters. "Came peeping and perking along the
street, took a glimpse of the premises and the adjacent purlieus, rang at
Number 23, and was let in by--the party that came with Miss Wickham! Now,
whatever can he be doing there, Mr. Perkwite?"
"Whatever can any of them be doing there!" muttered Perkwite. "Viner!
What business can he have in this place? It seems--by George,
Millwaters," he suddenly exclaimed, "what if this is some infernal
plant--trap--something of that sort? Do you know, in spite of what you
say, I really think we ought to get hold of the nearest police and
"Wait, Mr. Perkwite!" counselled Millwaters. "Our governor is a pretty
cute and smart sort, and he's vastly interested in this Miss Wickham; so
Portlethwaite and he'll be on their way down here now, hot foot; and with
help, too, if he thinks she's in any danger. Now, _he_ can go straight to
that door and demand to see her, and--"
"Why can't we?" interrupted Perkwite. "I'd do it! Lord, man, she may be
in real peril--"
"Not while Viner's in there," said Millwaters quietly. "I might possibly
have gone and rung the bell myself, but for that. But Viner's in
And Perkwite waited, chafing, at the corner of the dismal street, until a
quarter of an hour had passed. Then a car came hurrying along and pulled
up as Millwaters and his companion were reached, and from it sprang Mr.
Carless, Lord Ellingham and two men in plain-clothes, at the sight of
whom Perkwite heaved a huge sigh of intense relief.
THE BACK WAY
Viner was so sure that the sound which he had heard on Mrs. Killenhall's
retirement was that caused by the turning of a key or slipping of a lock
in the door by which he had entered, that before speaking to Miss Wickham
he instantly stepped back and tried it. To his astonishment it opened
readily, but the anteroom outside was empty; Mrs. Killenhall had
evidently walked straight through it and disappeared.
"That's odd!" he said, turning to Miss Wickham. "I distinctly thought
I heard something like the snap of a lock, or a bolt or something.
"I certainly heard a sound of that sort," admitted Miss Wickham.
"But--the door's open, isn't it?"
"Yes--that is so," answered Viner, who was distinctly puzzled. "Yet--but
then, all this seems very odd. When did you come down here?"
"About an hour ago," replied Miss Wickham, "in a hurry."
"Do you know why?" asked Viner.
"To see a Dr. Martincole, who is to tell us something about Mr. Ashton,"
replied his fellow-sharer in these strange quarters. "Didn't Mrs.
Killenhall ask you to come down for the same purpose, Mr. Viner?"
Viner, before he replied, looked round the room. Considering the extreme
shabbiness and squalour of the surrounding district, he was greatly
surprised to find that the apartment in which he and Miss Wickham waited
was extremely well furnished, if in an old-fashioned and rather heavy
way. The walls were panelled in dark, age-stained oak, to the height of
several feet; above the panelling were arranged good oil pictures, which
Viner would have liked to examine at his leisure; here and there, in
cabinets, were many promising curiosities; there were old silver and
brass things, and a shelf or two of well-bound books--altogether the
place and its effects were certainly not what Viner had expected to find
in such a quarter.
"Yes," he said at last, turning to his companion, "that's what I was
brought here for. Well--have you seen this doctor?"
"No," answered Miss Wickham. "Not yet."
"Know anything about him?" suggested Viner.
"Nothing whatever! I have heard of him," said Miss Wickham with a glance
of surprise. "I suppose he--somehow--got into touch with Miss
"Queer!" remarked Viner. "And why doesn't he come in?"
Then, resolved to know more, he walked into the anteroom, and after a
look round it, tried the door by which Mrs. Killenhall had admitted him
after coming up the stairs from the street; a second later he went back
to Miss Wickham and shook his head.
"It's just as I supposed," he remarked quietly. "We're trapped! Anyway,
the door of that anteroom is locked--and it's a strong lock. There's
The girl started, and paled a little, but Viner saw at once that she was
not likely to be seriously frightened, and presently she laughed.
"How very queer!" she said. "But--perhaps Mrs. Killenhall turned the key
in the outer lock so that no--patients, or other callers,
perhaps--should come in?"
"Sorry, but that doesn't strike me as a good suggestion," replied Viner.
"I'm going to have a look at that window!"
The one window of the room, a long, low one, was set high in the wall,
above the panelling; Viner had to climb on a bookcase to get at it. And
when he had reached it, he found it to be securely fastened, and to have
in front of it, at a distance of no more than a yard, a blank whitewashed
wall which evidently rose from a passage between that and the next house.
"I don't like the look of this at all!" he said as he got down from the
bookcase. "It seems to me that we might be kept here for a long time."
Miss Wickham showed more astonishment than fear.
"But why should any one want to keep us here for any time?" she asked.
"What's it mean?"
"I wish I knew!" exclaimed Viner. He pulled out his watch and made a
mental note of the time. "We're being kept much longer than we should be
in any ordinary case," he remarked.
"Of course!" admitted Miss Wickham. "Well past three o'clock, isn't
it? If we're delayed much longer, Mrs. Killenhall will be too late
for the bank."
"What bank?" asked Viner.
"My bank. I always give Mrs. Killenhall a check for the weekly bills
every Friday, and as we were coming through the City to get here, she
said, just before we left home, that I might as well give her the check
and she could call and cash it as we drove back. And," concluded Miss
Wickham, "the bank closes at four."
Viner began to be suspicious.
"Look here!" he said suddenly. "Don't think me inquisitive, but what was
the amount of the check you gave her?"
"There was no amount stated," replied Miss Wick-ham. "I always give her a
blank check--signed, of course--and she fills in the amount herself. It
varies according to what she wants."
Without expressing any opinion on the wisdom of handing checks to
other people on this plan, Viner turned to Miss Wickham with a
"Do you know anything about Mrs. Killenhall's movements this morning?" he
asked. "Did she go out anywhere?"
"Yes," replied Miss Wickham. "She went to the police-court, to hear the
proceedings against Mr. Hyde. She wanted me to go, but I wouldn't--I
dislike that sort of thing. She was there all the morning."
"So was I," said Viner. "I didn't see her. But the place was crowded."
"And she was veiled," remarked Miss Wickham. "Naturally, she didn't want
people to see her in a place like that."
"Do you know whether she went to the previous sitting? I mean when Hyde
was brought up the first time?" inquired Viner. "I remember there were
some veiled ladies there--and at the coroner's inquest, too."
"She was at the coroner's inquest, I know," replied Miss Wickham. "I
don't know about the other time."
Viner made no remark, and Miss Wickham suddenly lowered her voice and
bent nearer to him.
"Why?" she asked. "Are you--suspecting Mrs. Killenhall of anything,
Viner gave her a quick glance.
"Are you?" he said in low tones.
Miss Wickham waved a hand towards the anteroom.
"Well!" she whispered. "What's it look like? She brings me down here
in a hurry, on a message which I myself never heard nor saw delivered
in any way; after I get here, you are fetched--and here we are!
And--where is she?"
"And--possibly a much more pertinent question," said Viner, "where is
this Dr. Martincole? Look here: this is a well-furnished room; those
pictures are good; there are many valuable things here; yet the man who
practises here is only in attendance for an hour or two in an afternoon,
and once a week for rather longer in the evening. He can't earn much
here; certainly an East End doctor could not afford to buy things like
this or that. Do you know what I think? I think this man is some West End
man, who for purposes of his own has this place down here--a man who
probably lives a double life, and may possibly be mixed up in some
nefarious practices. And so I propose, as we've waited long enough, to
get out of it, and I'm going to smash that window and yell as loud as I
can--somebody will hear it!"
Miss Wickham pointed to a door in the oak panelling, a door set in a
corner of the room, across which hung a heavy curtain of red plush, only
"There's a door there," she remarked, "but I suppose it's only a
"Sure to be," said Viner. "However, well see." He went across, drew the
curtain aside, tried the door, looked within, and uttered an exclamation.
"I say!" he called back. "Stairs!"
Miss Wickham came across and looked past his shoulder. There was
certainly the head of a staircase before him, and a few stairs to be seen
before darkness swallowed up the rest--but the darkness was deep and the
atmosphere that came up from below decidedly musty.
"Are you going down there?" she asked. "I don't like it!"
"It seems our only chance," answered Viner. He looked back into the room,
and seeing some wax candles standing on a writing-table, seized one and
lighted it. "Come along!" he said. "Let's get out of this altogether."
Miss Wickham gathered up her skirts and followed down the stairs, Viner
going cautiously in front, with the light held before him in such a
fashion that he could see every step. At a turn in the stairway he came
across a door, and opening it, saw that it stood at the end of a narrow
passage running through the house; at the farther end of the passage he
recognized an oak cabinet which he had noticed when Mrs. Killenhall
first admitted him.
"I see how these people, whoever they are, manage matters," he remarked
over his shoulder as he led his companion forward. "This place has a
front and a back entrance. If you don't want to be seen, you know, well,
it's convenient. We're approaching the back--and here it is."
The stairs came to an end deep down in the house, terminating in a door
which Viner, after leaving his silver-sticked candle, only blown out, on
the last step, carefully opened. There before him lay a narrow
whitewashed yard, at the end of which they could see a street, evidently
pretty much like the rest of the streets in that district. But in the
yard a pale-cheeked, sharp-eyed urchin was feeding a couple of rabbits in
a wire-faced soap-box, and him Viner immediately hailed.
"You're a smart-looking lad," he said. "Would you like five shillings?
Well, have you seen Dr. Martincole this afternoon? You know, the doctor
who comes to the house behind us?"