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MARTIN HEWITT, INVESTIGATOR.
I. THE LENTON CROFT ROBBERIES
II. THE LOSS OF SAMMY CROCKETT
III. THE CASE OF MR. FOGGATT
IV. THE CASE OF THE DIXON TORPEDO
V. THE QUINTON JEWEL AFFAIR
VI. THE STANWAY CAMEO MYSTERY
VII. THE AFFAIR OF THE TORTOISE
MARTIN HEWITT, INVESTIGATOR.
THE LENTON CROFT ROBBERIES.
Those who retain any memory of the great law cases of fifteen or twenty years back will remember, at least, the title of that extraordinary will case, “Bartley _v_. Bartley and others,” which occupied the Probate Court for some weeks on end, and caused an amount of public interest rarely accorded to any but the cases considered in the other division of the same court. The case itself was noted for the large quantity of remarkable and unusual evidence presented by the plaintiff’s side–evidence that took the other party completely by surprise, and overthrew their case like a house of cards. The affair will, perhaps, be more readily recalled as the occasion of the sudden rise to eminence in their profession of Messrs. Crellan, Hunt & Crellan, solicitors for the plaintiff–a result due entirely to the wonderful ability shown in this case of building up, apparently out of nothing, a smashing weight of irresistible evidence. That the firm has since maintained–indeed enhanced–the position it then won for itself need scarcely be said here; its name is familiar to everybody. But there are not many of the outside public who know that the credit of the whole performance was primarily due to a young clerk in the employ of Messrs. Crellan, who had been given charge of the seemingly desperate task of collecting evidence in the case.
This Mr. Martin Hewitt had, however, full credit and reward for his exploit from his firm and from their client, and more than one other firm of lawyers engaged in contentious work made good offers to entice Hewitt to change his employers. Instead of this, however, he determined to work independently for the future, having conceived the idea of making a regular business of doing, on behalf of such clients as might retain him, similar work to that he had just done with such conspicuous success for Messrs. Crellan, Hunt & Crellan. This was the beginning of the private detective business of Martin Hewitt, and his action at that time has been completely justified by the brilliant professional successes he has since achieved.
His business has always been conducted in the most private manner, and he has always declined the help of professional assistants, preferring to carry out himself such of the many investigations offered him as he could manage. He has always maintained that he has never lost by this policy, since the chance of his refusing a case begets competition for his services, and his fees rise by a natural process. At the same time, no man could know better how to employ casual assistance at the right time.
Some curiosity has been expressed as to Mr. Martin Hewitt’s system, and, as he himself always consistently maintains that he has no system beyond a judicious use of ordinary faculties, I intend setting forth in detail a few of the more interesting of his cases in order that the public may judge for itself if I am right in estimating Mr. Hewitt’s “ordinary faculties” as faculties very extraordinary indeed. He is not a man who has made many friendships (this, probably, for professional reasons), notwithstanding his genial and companionable manners. I myself first made his acquaintance as a result of an accident resulting in a fire at the old house in which Hewitt’s office was situated, and in an upper floor of which I occupied bachelor chambers. I was able to help in saving a quantity of extremely important papers relating to his business, and, while repairs were being made, allowed him to lock them in an old wall-safe in one of my rooms which the fire had scarcely damaged.
The acquaintance thus begun has lasted many years, and has become a rather close friendship. I have even accompanied Hewitt on some of his expeditions, and, in a humble way, helped him. Such of the cases, however, as I personally saw nothing of I have put into narrative form from the particulars given me.
“I consider you, Brett,” he said, addressing me, “the most remarkable journalist alive. Not because you’re particularly clever, you know, because, between ourselves, I hope you’ll admit you’re not; but because you have known something of me and my doings for some years, and have never yet been guilty of giving away any of my little business secrets you may have become acquainted with. I’m afraid you’re not so enterprising a journalist as some, Brett. But now, since you ask, you shall write something–if you think it worth while.”
This he said, as he said most things, with a cheery, chaffing good-nature that would have been, perhaps, surprising to a stranger who thought of him only as a grim and mysterious discoverer of secrets and crimes. Indeed, the man had always as little of the aspect of the conventional detective as may be imagined. Nobody could appear more cordial or less observant in manner, although there was to be seen a certain sharpness of the eye–which might, after all, only be the twinkle of good humor.
I _did_ think it worth while to write something of Martin Hewitt’s investigations, and a description of one of his adventures follows.
* * * * *
At the head of the first flight of a dingy staircase leading up from an ever-open portal in a street by the Strand stood a door, the dusty ground-glass upper panel of which carried in its center the single word “Hewitt,” while at its right-hand lower corner, in smaller letters, “Clerk’s Office” appeared. On a morning when the clerks in the ground-floor offices had barely hung up their hats, a short, well-dressed young man, wearing spectacles, hastening to open the dusty door, ran into the arms of another man who suddenly issued from it.
“I beg pardon,” the first said. “Is this Hewitt’s Detective Agency Office?”
“Yes, I believe you will find it so,” the other replied. He was a stoutish, clean-shaven man, of middle height, and of a cheerful, round countenance. “You’d better speak to the clerk.”
In the little outer office the visitor was met by a sharp lad with inky fingers, who presented him with a pen and a printed slip. The printed slip having been filled with the visitor’s name and present business, and conveyed through an inner door, the lad reappeared with an invitation to the private office. There, behind a writing-table, sat the stoutish man himself, who had only just advised an appeal to the clerk.
“Good-morning, Mr. Lloyd–Mr. Vernon Lloyd,” he said, affably, looking again at the slip. “You’ll excuse my care to start even with my visitors–I must, you know. You come from Sir James Norris, I see.”
“Yes; I am his secretary. I have only to ask you to go straight to Lenton Croft at once, if you can, on very important business. Sir James would have wired, but had not your precise address. Can you go by the next train? Eleven-thirty is the first available from Paddington.”
“Quite possibly. Do you know any thing of the business?”
“It is a case of a robbery in the house, or, rather, I fancy, of several robberies. Jewelry has been stolen from rooms occupied by visitors to the Croft. The first case occurred some months ago–nearly a year ago, in fact. Last night there was another. But I think you had better get the details on the spot. Sir James has told me to telegraph if you are coming, so that he may meet you himself at the station; and I must hurry, as his drive to the station will be rather a long one. Then I take it you will go, Mr. Hewitt? Twyford is the station.”
“Yes, I shall come, and by the 11.30. Are you going by that train yourself?”
“No, I have several things to attend to now I am in town. Good-morning; I shall wire at once.”
Mr. Martin Hewitt locked the drawer of his table and sent his clerk for a cab.
At Twyford Station Sir James Norris was waiting with a dog-cart. Sir James was a tall, florid man of fifty or thereabout, known away from home as something of a county historian, and nearer his own parts as a great supporter of the hunt, and a gentleman much troubled with poachers. As soon as he and Hewitt had found one another the baronet hurried the detective into his dog-cart. “We’ve something over seven miles to drive,” he said, “and I can tell you all about this wretched business as we go. That is why I came for you myself, and alone.”
“I have sent for you, as Lloyd probably told you, because of a robbery at my place last evening. It appears, as far as I can guess, to be one of three by the same hand, or by the same gang. Late yesterday afternoon—-“
“Pardon me, Sir James,” Hewitt interrupted, “but I think I must ask you to begin at the first robbery and tell me the whole tale in proper order. It makes things clearer, and sets them in their proper shape.”
“Very well! Eleven months ago, or thereabout, I had rather a large party of visitors, and among them Colonel Heath and Mrs. Heath–the lady being a relative of my own late wife. Colonel Heath has not been long retired, you know–used to be political resident in an Indian native state. Mrs. Heath had rather a good stock of jewelry of one sort and another, about the most valuable piece being a bracelet set with a particularly fine pearl–quite an exceptional pearl, in fact–that had been one of a heap of presents from the maharajah of his state when Heath left India.
“It was a very noticeable bracelet, the gold setting being a mere feather-weight piece of native filigree work–almost too fragile to trust on the wrist–and the pearl being, as I have said, of a size and quality not often seen. Well, Heath and his wife arrived late one evening, and after lunch the following day, most of the men being off by themselves–shooting, I think–my daughter, my sister (who is very often down here), and Mrs. Heath took it into their heads to go walking–fern-hunting, and so on. My sister was rather long dressing, and, while they waited, my daughter went into Mrs. Heath’s room, where Mrs. Heath turned over all her treasures to show her, as women do, you know. When my sister was at last ready, they came straight away, leaving the things littering about the room rather than stay longer to pack them up. The bracelet, with other things, was on the dressing-table then.”
“One moment. As to the door?”
“They locked it. As they came away my daughter suggested turning the key, as we had one or two new servants about.”
“And the window?”
“That they left open, as I was going to tell you. Well, they went on their walk and came back, with Lloyd (whom they had met somewhere) carrying their ferns for them. It was dusk and almost dinner-time. Mrs. Heath went straight to her room, and–the bracelet was gone.”
“Was the room disturbed?”
“Not a bit. Everything was precisely where it had been left, except the bracelet. The door hadn’t been tampered with, but of course the window was open, as I have told you.”
“You called the police, of course?”
“Yes, and had a man from Scotland Yard down in the morning. He seemed a pretty smart fellow, and the first thing he noticed on the dressing-table, within an inch or two of where the bracelet had been, was a match, which had been lit and thrown down. Now nobody about the house had had occasion to use a match in that room that day, and, if they had, certainly wouldn’t have thrown it on the cover of the dressing-table. So that, presuming the thief to have used that match, the robbery must have been committed when the room was getting dark–immediately before Mrs. Heath returned, in fact. The thief had evidently struck the match, passed it hurriedly over the various trinkets lying about, and taken the most valuable.”
“Nothing else was even moved?”
“Nothing at all. Then the thief must have escaped by the window, although it was not quite clear how. The walking party approached the house with a full view of the window, but saw nothing, although the robbery must have been actually taking place a moment or two before they turned up.
“There was no water-pipe within any practicable distance of the window, but a ladder usually kept in the stable-yard was found lying along the edge of the lawn. The gardener explained, however, that he had put the ladder there after using it himself early in the afternoon.”
“Of course it might easily have been used again after that and put back.”
“Just what the Scotland Yard man said. He was pretty sharp, too, on the gardener, but very soon decided that he knew nothing of it. No stranger had been seen in the neighborhood, nor had passed the lodge gates. Besides, as the detective said, it scarcely seemed the work of a stranger. A stranger could scarcely have known enough to go straight to the room where a lady–only arrived the day before–had left a valuable jewel, and away again without being seen. So all the people about the house were suspected in turn. The servants offered, in a body, to have their boxes searched, and this was done; everything was turned over, from the butler’s to the new kitchen-maid’s. I don’t know that I should have had this carried quite so far if I had been the loser myself, but it was my guest, and I was in such a horrible position. Well, there’s little more to be said about that, unfortunately. Nothing came of it all, and the thing’s as great a mystery now as ever. I believe the Scotland Yard man got as far as suspecting _me_ before he gave it up altogether, but give it up he did in the end. I think that’s all I know about the first robbery. Is it clear?”
“Oh, yes; I shall probably want to ask a few questions when I have seen the place, but they can wait. What next?”
“Well,” Sir James pursued, “the next was a very trumpery affair, that I should have forgotten all about, probably, if it hadn’t been for one circumstance. Even now I hardly think it could have been the work of the same hand. Four months or thereabout after Mrs. Heath’s disaster–in February of this year, in fact–Mrs. Armitage, a young widow, who had been a school-fellow of my daughter’s, stayed with us for a week or so. The girls don’t trouble about the London season, you know, and I have no town house, so they were glad to have their old friend here for a little in the dull time. Mrs. Armitage is a very active young lady, and was scarcely in the house half an hour before she arranged a drive in a pony-cart with Eva–my daughter–to look up old people in the village that she used to know before she was married. So they set off in the afternoon, and made such a round of it that they were late for dinner. Mrs. Armitage had a small plain gold brooch–not at all valuable, you know; two or three pounds, I suppose–which she used to pin up a cloak or anything of that sort. Before she went out she stuck this in the pin-cushion on her dressing-table, and left a ring–rather a good one, I believe–lying close by.”
“This,” asked Hewitt, “was not in the room that Mrs. Heath had occupied, I take it?”
“No; this was in another part of the building. Well, the brooch went–taken, evidently, by some one in a deuce of a hurry, for, when Mrs. Armitage got back to her room, there was the pin-cushion with a little tear in it, where the brooch had been simply snatched off. But the curious thing was that the ring–worth a dozen of the brooch–was left where it had been put. Mrs. Armitage didn’t remember whether or not she had locked the door herself, although she found it locked when she returned; but my niece, who was indoors all the time, went and tried it once–because she remembered that a gas-fitter was at work on the landing near by–and found it safely locked. The gas-fitter, whom we didn’t know at the time, but who since seems to be quite an honest fellow, was ready to swear that nobody but my niece had been to the door while he was in sight of it–which was almost all the time. As to the window, the sash-line had broken that very morning, and Mrs. Armitage had propped open the bottom half about eight or ten inches with a brush; and, when she returned, that brush, sash, and all were exactly as she had left them. Now I scarcely need tell _you_ what an awkward job it must have been for anybody to get noiselessly in at that unsupported window; and how unlikely he would have been to replace it, with the brush, exactly as he found it.”
“Just so. I suppose the brooch, was really gone? I mean, there was no chance of Mrs. Armitage having mislaid it?”
“Oh, none at all! There was a most careful search.”
“Then, as to getting in at the window, would it have been easy?”
“Well, yes,” Sir James replied; “yes, perhaps it would. It was a first-floor window, and it looks over the roof and skylight of the billiard-room. I built the billiard-room myself–built it out from a smoking-room just at this corner. It would be easy enough to get at the window from the billiard-room roof. But, then,” he added, “that couldn’t have been the way. Somebody or other was in the billiard-room the whole time, and nobody could have got over the roof (which is nearly all skylight) without being seen and heard. I was there myself for an hour or two, taking a little practice.”
“Well, was anything done?”
“Strict inquiry was made among the servants, of course, but nothing came of it. It was such a small matter that Mrs. Armitage wouldn’t hear of my calling in the police or anything of that sort, although I felt pretty certain that there must be a dishonest servant about somewhere. A servant might take a plain brooch, you know, who would feel afraid of a valuable ring, the loss of which would be made a greater matter of.”
“Well, yes, perhaps so, in the case of an inexperienced thief, who also would be likely to snatch up whatever she took in a hurry. But I’m doubtful. What made you connect these two robberies together?”
“Nothing whatever–for some months. They seemed quite of a different sort. But scarcely more than a month ago I met Mrs. Armitage at Brighton, and we talked, among other things, of the previous robbery–that of Mrs. Heath’s bracelet. I described the circumstances pretty minutely, and, when I mentioned the match found on the table, she said: ‘How strange! Why, _my_ thief left a match on the dressing-table when he took my poor little brooch!'”
Hewitt nodded. “Yes,” he said. “A spent match, of course?”
“Yes, of course, a spent match. She noticed it lying close by the pin-cushion, but threw it away without mentioning the circumstance. Still, it seemed rather curious to me that a match should be lit and dropped, in each case, on the dressing-cover an inch from where the article was taken. I mentioned it to Lloyd when I got back, and he agreed that it seemed significant.”
“Scarcely,” said Hewitt, shaking his head. “Scarcely, so far, to be called significant, although worth following up. Everybody uses matches in the dark, you know.”
“Well, at any rate, the coincidence appealed to me so far that it struck me it might be worth while to describe the brooch to the police in order that they could trace it if it had been pawned. They had tried that, of course, over the bracelet without any result, but I fancied the shot might be worth making, and might possibly lead us on the track of the more serious robbery.”
“Quite so. It was the right thing to do. Well?”
“Well, they found it. A woman had pawned it in London–at a shop in Chelsea. But that was some time before, and the pawnbroker had clean forgotten all about the woman’s appearance. The name and address she gave were false. So that was the end of that business.”
“Had any of the servants left you between the time the brooch was lost and the date of the pawn ticket?”
“Were all your servants at home on the day the brooch was pawned?”
“Oh, yes! I made that inquiry myself.”
“Very good! What next?”
“Yesterday–and this is what made me send for you. My late wife’s sister came here last Tuesday, and we gave her the room from which Mrs. Heath lost her bracelet. She had with her a very old-fashioned brooch, containing a miniature of her father, and set in front with three very fine brilliants and a few smaller stones. Here we are, though, at the Croft. I’ll tell you the rest indoors.”
Hewitt laid his hand on the baronet’s arm. “Don’t pull up, Sir James,” he said. “Drive a little farther. I should like to have a general idea of the whole case before we go in.”
“Very good!” Sir James Norris straightened the horse’s head again and went on. “Late yesterday afternoon, as my sister-in-law was changing her dress, she left her room for a moment to speak to my daughter in her room, almost adjoining. She was gone no more than three minutes, or five at most, but on her return the brooch, which had been left on the table, had gone. Now the window was shut fast, and had not been tampered with. Of course the door was open, but so was my daughter’s, and anybody walking near must have been heard. But the strangest circumstance, and one that almost makes me wonder whether I have been awake to-day or not, was that there lay _a used match_ on the very spot, as nearly as possible, where the brooch had been–and it was broad daylight!”
Hewitt rubbed his nose and looked thoughtfully before him. “Um–curious, certainly,” he said, “Anything else?”
“Nothing more than you shall see for yourself. I have had the room locked and watched till you could examine it. My sister-in-law had heard of your name, and suggested that you should be called in; so, of course, I did exactly as she wanted. That she should have lost that brooch, of all things, in my house is most unfortunate; you see, there was some small difference about the thing between my late wife and her sister when their mother died and left it. It’s almost worse than the Heaths’ bracelet business, and altogether I’m not pleased with things, I can assure you. See what a position it is for me! Here are three ladies, in the space of one year, robbed one after another in this mysterious fashion in my house, and I can’t find the thief! It’s horrible! People will be afraid to come near the place. And I can do nothing!”
“Ah, well, we’ll see. Perhaps we had better turn back now. By-the-by, were you thinking of having any alterations or additions made to your house?”
“No. What makes you ask?”
“I think you might at least consider the question of painting and decorating, Sir James–or, say, putting up another coach-house, or something. Because I should like to be (to the servants) the architect–or the builder, if you please–come to look around. You haven’t told any of them about this business?”
“Not a word. Nobody knows but my relatives and Lloyd. I took every precaution myself, at once. As to your little disguise, be the architect by all means, and do as you please. If you can only find this thief and put an end to this horrible state of affairs, you’ll do me the greatest service I’ve ever asked for–and as to your fee, I’ll gladly make it whatever is usual, and three hundred in addition.”
Martin Hewitt bowed. “You’re very generous, Sir James, and you may be sure I’ll do what I can. As a professional man, of course, a good fee always stimulates my interest, although this case of yours certainly seems interesting enough by itself.”
“Most extraordinary! Don’t you think so? Here are three persons, all ladies, all in my house, two even in the same room, each successively robbed of a piece of jewelry, each from a dressing-table, and a used match left behind in every case. All in the most difficult–one would say impossible–circumstances for a thief, and yet there is no clue!”
“Well, we won’t say that just yet, Sir James; we must see. And we must guard against any undue predisposition to consider the robberies in a lump. Here we are at the lodge gate again. Is that your gardener–the man who left the ladder by the lawn on the first occasion you spoke of?”
Mr. Hewitt nodded in the direction of a man who was clipping a box border.
“Yes; will you ask him anything?”
“No, no; at any rate, not now. Remember the building alterations. I think, if there is no objection, I will look first at the room that the lady–Mrs.—-” Hewitt looked up, inquiringly.
“My sister-in-law? Mrs. Cazenove. Oh, yes! you shall come to her room at once.”
“Thank you. And I think Mrs. Cazenove had better be there.”
They alighted, and a boy from the lodge led the horse and dog-cart away.
Mrs. Cazenove was a thin and faded, but quick and energetic, lady of middle age. She bent her head very slightly on learning Martin Hewitt’s name, and said: “I must thank you, Mr. Hewitt, for your very prompt attention. I need scarcely say that any help you can afford in tracing the thief who has my property–whoever it may be–will make me most grateful. My room is quite ready for you to examine.”
The room was on the second floor–the top floor at that part of the building. Some slight confusion of small articles of dress was observable in parts of the room.
“This, I take it,” inquired Hewitt, “is exactly as it was at the time the brooch was missed?”
“Precisely,” Mrs. Cazenove answered. “I have used another room, and put myself to some other inconveniences, to avoid any disturbance.”
Hewitt stood before the dressing-table. “Then this is the used match,” he observed, “exactly where it was found?”
“Where was the brooch?”
“I should say almost on the very same spot. Certainly no more than a very few inches away.”
Hewitt examined the match closely. “It is burned very little,” he remarked. “It would appear to have gone out at once. Could you hear it struck?”
“I heard nothing whatever; absolutely nothing.”
“If you will step into Miss Norris’ room now for a moment,” Hewitt suggested, “we will try an experiment. Tell me if you hear matches struck, and how many. Where is the match-stand?”
The match-stand proved to be empty, but matches were found in Miss Norris’ room, and the test was made. Each striking could be heard distinctly, even with one of the doors pushed to.
“Both your own door and Miss Norris’ were open, I understand; the window shut and fastened inside as it is now, and nothing but the brooch was disturbed?”
“Yes, that was so.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Cazenove. I don’t think I need trouble you any further just at present. I think, Sir James,” Hewitt added, turning to the baronet, who was standing by the door—-“I think we will see the other room and take a walk outside the house, if you please. I suppose, by the by, that there is no getting at the matches left behind on the first and second occasions?”
“No,” Sir James answered. “Certainly not here. The Scotland Yard man may have kept his.”
The room that Mrs. Armitage had occupied presented no peculiar feature. A few feet below the window the roof of the billiard-room was visible, consisting largely of skylight. Hewitt glanced casually about the walls, ascertained that the furniture and hangings had not been materially changed since the second robbery, and expressed his desire to see the windows from the outside. Before leaving the room, however, he wished to know the names of any persons who were known to have been about the house on the occasions of all three robberies.
“Just carry your mind back, Sir James,” he said. “Begin with yourself, for instance. Where were you at these times?”
“When Mrs. Heath lost her bracelet, I was in Tagley Wood all the afternoon. When Mrs. Armitage was robbed, I believe I was somewhere about the place most of the time she was out. Yesterday I was down at the farm.” Sir James’ face broadened. “I don’t know whether you call those suspicious movements,” he added, and laughed.
“Not at all; I only asked you so that, remembering your own movements, you might the better recall those of the rest of the household. Was anybody, to your knowledge–_anybody_, mind–in the house on all three occasions?”
“Well, you know, it’s quite impossible to answer for all the servants. You’ll only get that by direct questioning–I can’t possibly remember things of that sort. As to the family and visitors–why, you don’t suspect any of them, do you?”
“I don’t suspect a soul, Sir James,” Hewitt answered, beaming genially, “not a soul. You see, I can’t suspect people till I know something about where they were. It’s quite possible there will be independent evidence enough as it is, but you must help me if you can. The visitors, now. Was there any visitor here each time–or even on the first and last occasions only?”
“No, not one. And my own sister, perhaps you will be pleased to know, was only there at the time of the first robbery.”
“Just so! And your daughter, as I have gathered, was clearly absent from the spot each time–indeed, was in company with the party robbed. Your niece, now?”
“Why hang it all, Mr. Hewitt, I can’t talk of my niece as a suspected criminal! The poor girl’s under my protection, and I really can’t allow—-“
Hewitt raised his hand, and shook his head deprecatingly.
“My dear sir, haven’t I said that I don’t suspect a soul? _Do_ let me know how the people were distributed, as nearly as possible. Let me see. It was your, niece, I think, who found that Mrs. Armitage’s door was locked–this door, in fact–on the day she lost her brooch?”
“Yes, it was.”
“Just so–at the time when Mrs. Armitage herself had forgotten whether she locked it or not. And yesterday–was she out then?”
“No, I think not. Indeed, she goes out very little–her health is usually bad. She was indoors, too, at the time of the Heath robbery, since you ask. But come, now, I don’t like this. It’s ridiculous to suppose that _she_ knows anything of it.”
“I don’t suppose it, as I have said. I am only asking for information. That is all your resident family, I take it, and you know nothing of anybody else’s movements–except, perhaps, Mr. Lloyd’s?”
“Lloyd? Well, you know yourself that he was out with the ladies when the first robbery took place. As to the others, I don’t remember. Yesterday he was probably in his room, writing. I think that acquits _him_, eh?” Sir James looked quizzically into the broad face of the affable detective, who smiled and replied:
“Oh, of course nobody can be in two places at once, else what would become of the _alibi_ as an institution? But, as I have said, I am only setting my facts in order. Now, you see, we get down to the servants–unless some stranger is the party wanted. Shall we go outside now?”
Lenton Croft was a large, desultory sort of house, nowhere more than three floors high, and mostly only two. It had been added to bit by bit, till it zigzagged about its site, as Sir James Norris expressed it, “like a game of dominoes.” Hewitt scrutinized its external features carefully as they strolled around, and stopped some little while before the windows of the two bed-rooms he had just seen from the inside. Presently they approached the stables and coach-house, where a groom was washing the wheels of the dog-cart.
“Do you mind my smoking?” Hewitt asked Sir James. “Perhaps you will take a cigar yourself–they are not so bad, I think. I will ask your man for a light.”
Sir James felt for his own match-box, but Hewitt had gone, and was lighting his cigar with a match from a box handed him by the groom. A smart little terrier was trotting about by the coach-house, and Hewitt stooped to rub its head. Then he made some observation about the dog, which enlisted the groom’s interest, and was soon absorbed in a chat with the man. Sir James, waiting a little way off, tapped the stones rather impatiently with his foot, and presently moved away.
For full a quarter of an hour Hewitt chatted with the groom, and, when at last he came away and overtook Sir James, that gentleman was about re-entering the house.
“I beg your pardon, Sir James,” Hewitt said, “for leaving you in that unceremonious fashion to talk to your groom, but a dog, Sir James–a good dog–will draw me anywhere.”
“Oh!” replied Sir James, shortly.
“There is one other thing,” Hewitt went on, disregarding the other’s curtness, “that I should like to know: There are two windows directly below that of the room occupied yesterday by Mrs. Cazenove–one on each floor. What rooms do they light?”
“That on the ground floor is the morning-room; the other is Mr. Lloyd’s–my secretary. A sort of study or sitting-room.”
“Now you will see at once, Sir James,” Hewitt pursued, with an affable determination to win the baronet back to good-humor–“you will see at once that, if a ladder had been used in Mrs. Heath’s case, anybody looking from either of these rooms would have seen it.”
“Of course! The Scotland Yard man questioned everybody as to that, but nobody seemed to have been in either of the rooms when the thing occurred; at any rate, nobody saw anything.”
“Still, I think I should like to look out of those windows myself; it will, at least, give me an idea of what _was_ in view and what was not, if anybody had been there.”
Sir James Norris led the way to the morning-room. As they reached the door a young lady, carrying a book and walking very languidly, came out. Hewitt stepped aside to let her pass, and afterward said interrogatively: “Miss Norris, your daughter, Sir James?”
“No, my niece. Do you want to ask her anything? Dora, my dear,” Sir James added, following her in the corridor, “this is Mr. Hewitt, who is investigating these wretched robberies for me. I think he would like to hear if you remember anything happening at any of the three times.”
The lady bowed slightly, and said in a plaintive drawl: “I, uncle? Really, I don’t remember anything; nothing at all.”
“You found Mrs. Armitage’s door locked, I believe,” asked Hewitt, “when you tried it, on the afternoon when she lost her brooch?”
“Oh, yes; I believe it was locked. Yes, it was.”
“Had the key been left in?”
“The key? Oh, no! I think not; no.”
“Do you remember anything out of the common happening–anything whatever, no matter how trivial–on the day Mrs. Heath lost her bracelet?”
“No, really, I don’t. I can’t remember at all.”
“No, nothing. I don’t remember anything.”
“Thank you,” said Hewitt, hastily; “thank you. Now the morning-room, Sir James.”
In the morning-room Hewitt stayed but a few seconds, doing little more than casually glance out of the windows. In the room above he took a little longer time. It was a comfortable room, but with rather effeminate indications about its contents. Little pieces of draped silk-work hung about the furniture, and Japanese silk fans decorated the mantel-piece. Near the window was a cage containing a gray parrot, and the writing-table was decorated with two vases of flowers.
“Lloyd makes himself pretty comfortable, eh?” Sir James observed. “But it isn’t likely anybody would be here while he was out, at the time that bracelet went.”
“No,” replied Hewitt, meditatively. “No, I suppose not.”
He stared thoughtfully out of the window, and then, still deep in thought, rattled at the wires of the cage with a quill toothpick and played a moment with the parrot. Then, looking up at the window again, he said: “That is Mr. Lloyd, isn’t it, coming back in a fly?”
“Yes, I think so. Is there anything else you would care to see here?”
“No, thank you,” Hewitt replied; “I don’t think there is.”
They went down to the smoking-room, and Sir James went away to speak to his secretary. When he returned, Hewitt said quietly: “I think, Sir James–I _think_ that I shall be able to give you your thief presently.”
“What! Have you a clue? Who do you think? I began to believe you were hopelessly stumped.”
“Well, yes. I have rather a good clue, although I can’t tell you much about it just yet. But it is so good a clue that I should like to know now whether you are determined to prosecute when you have the criminal?”
“Why, bless me, of course,” Sir James replied, with surprise. “It doesn’t rest with me, you know–the property belongs to my friends. And even if they were disposed to let the thing slide, I shouldn’t allow it–I couldn’t, after they had been robbed in my house.”
“Of course, of course! Then, if I can, I should like to send a message to Twyford by somebody perfectly trustworthy–not a servant. Could anybody go?”
“Well, there’s Lloyd, although he’s only just back from his journey. But, if it’s important, he’ll go.”
“It is important. The fact is we must have a policeman or two here this evening, and I’d like Mr. Lloyd to fetch them without telling anybody else.”
Sir James rang, and, in response to his message, Mr. Lloyd appeared. While Sir James gave his secretary his instructions, Hewitt strolled to the door of the smoking-room, and intercepted the latter as he came out.
“I’m sorry to give you this trouble, Mr. Lloyd,” he said, “but I must stay here myself for a little, and somebody who can be trusted must go. Will you just bring back a police-constable with you? or rather two–two would be better. That is all that is wanted. You won’t let the servants know, will you? Of course there will be a female searcher at the Twyford police-station? Ah–of course. Well, you needn’t bring her, you know. That sort of thing is done at the station.” And, chatting thus confidentially, Martin Hewitt saw him off.
When Hewitt returned to the smoking-room, Sir James said, suddenly: “Why, bless my soul, Mr. Hewitt, we haven’t fed you! I’m awfully sorry. We came in rather late for lunch, you know, and this business has bothered me so I clean forgot everything else. There’s no dinner till seven, so you’d better let me give you something now. I’m really sorry. Come along.”
“Thank you, Sir James,” Hewitt replied; “I won’t take much. A few biscuits, perhaps, or something of that sort. And, by the by, if you don’t mind, I rather think I should like to take it alone. The fact is I want to go over this case thoroughly by myself. Can you put me in a room?”
“Any room you like. Where will you go? The dining-room’s rather large, but there’s my study, that’s pretty snug, or—-“
“Perhaps I can go into Mr. Lloyd’s room for half an hour or so; I don’t think he’ll mind, and it’s pretty comfortable.”
“Certainly, if you’d like. I’ll tell them to send you whatever they’ve got.”
“Thank you very much. Perhaps they’ll also send me a lump of sugar and a walnut; it’s–it’s a little fad of mine.”
“A–what? A lump of sugar and a walnut?” Sir James stopped for a moment, with his hand on the bell-rope. “Oh, certainly, if you’d like it; certainly,” he added, and stared after this detective with curious tastes as he left the room.
When the vehicle, bringing back the secretary and the policeman, drew up on the drive, Martin Hewitt left the room on the first floor and proceeded down-stairs. On the landing he met Sir James Norris and Mrs. Cazenove, who stared with astonishment on perceiving that the detective carried in his hand the parrot-cage.
“I think our business is about brought to a head now,” Hewitt remarked, on the stairs. “Here are the police officers from Twyford.” The men were standing in the hall with Mr. Lloyd, who, on catching sight of the cage in Hewitt’s hand, paled suddenly.
“This is the person who will be charged, I think,” Hewitt pursued, addressing the officers, and indicating Lloyd with his finger.
“What, Lloyd?” gasped Sir James, aghast. “No–not Lloyd–nonsense!”
“He doesn’t seem to think it nonsense himself, does he?” Hewitt placidly observed. Lloyd had sank on a chair, and, gray of face, was staring blindly at the man he had run against at the office door that morning. His lips moved in spasms, but there was no sound. The wilted flower fell from his button-hole to the floor, but he did not move.
“This is his accomplice,” Hewitt went on, placing the parrot and cage on the hall table, “though I doubt whether there will be any use in charging _him_. Eh, Polly?”
The parrot put his head aside and chuckled. “Hullo, Polly!” it quietly gurgled. “Come along!”
Sir James Norris was hopelessly bewildered. “Lloyd–Lloyd,” he said, under his breath. “Lloyd–and that!”
“This was his little messenger, his useful Mercury,” Hewitt explained, tapping the cage complacently; “in fact, the actual lifter. Hold him up!”
The last remark referred to the wretched Lloyd, who had fallen forward with something between a sob and a loud sigh. The policemen took him by the arms and propped him in his chair.
* * * * *
“System?” said Hewitt, with a shrug of the shoulders, an hour or two after in Sir James’ study. “I can’t say I have a system. I call it nothing but common-sense and a sharp pair of eyes. Nobody using these could help taking the right road in this case. I began at the match, just as the Scotland Yard man did, but I had the advantage of taking a line through three cases. To begin with, it was plain that that match, being left there in daylight, in Mrs. Cazenove’s room, could not have been used to light the table-top, in the full glare of the window; therefore it had been used for some other purpose–_what_ purpose I could not, at the moment, guess. Habitual thieves, you know, often have curious superstitions, and some will never take anything without leaving something behind–a pebble or a piece of coal, or something like that–in the premises they have been robbing. It seemed at first extremely likely that this was a case of that kind. The match had clearly been _brought in_–because, when I asked for matches, there were none in the stand, not even an empty box, and the room had not been disturbed. Also the match probably had not been struck there, nothing having been heard, although, of course, a mistake in this matter was just possible. This match, then, it was fair to assume, had been lit somewhere else and blown out immediately–I remarked at the time that it was very little burned. Plainly it could not have been treated thus for nothing, and the only possible object would have been to prevent it igniting accidentally. Following on this, it became obvious that the match was used, for whatever purpose, not _as_ a match, but merely as a convenient splinter of wood.
“So far so good. But on examining the match very closely I observed, as you can see for yourself, certain rather sharp indentations in the wood. They are very small, you see, and scarcely visible, except upon narrow inspection; but there they are, and their positions are regular. See, there are two on each side, each opposite the corresponding mark of the other pair. The match, in fact, would seem to have been gripped in some fairly sharp instrument, holding it at two points above and two below–an instrument, as it may at once strike you, not unlike the beak of a bird.
“Now here was an idea. What living creature but a bird could possibly have entered Mrs. Heath’s window without a ladder–supposing no ladder to have been used–or could have got into Mrs. Armitage’s window without lifting the sash higher than the eight or ten inches it was already open? Plainly, nothing. Further, it is significant that only _one_ article was stolen at a time, although others were about. A human being could have carried any reasonable number, but a bird could only take one at a time. But why should a bird carry a match in its beak? Certainly it must have been trained to do that for a purpose, and a little consideration made that purpose pretty clear. A noisy, chattering bird would probably betray itself at once. Therefore it must be trained to keep quiet both while going for and coming away with its plunder. What readier or more probably effectual way than, while teaching it to carry without dropping, to teach it also to keep quiet while carrying? The one thing would practically cover the other.
“I thought at once, of course, of a jackdaw or a magpie–these birds’ thievish reputations made the guess natural. But the marks on the match were much too wide apart to have been made by the beak of either. I conjectured, therefore, that it must be a raven. So that, when we arrived near the coach-house, I seized the opportunity of a little chat with your groom on the subject of dogs and pets in general, and ascertained that there was no tame raven in the place. I also, incidentally, by getting a light from the coach-house box of matches, ascertained that the match found was of the sort generally used about the establishment–the large, thick, red-topped English match. But I further found that Mr. Lloyd had a parrot which was a most intelligent pet, and had been trained into comparative quietness–for a parrot. Also, I learned that more than once the groom had met Mr. Lloyd carrying his parrot under his coat, it having, as its owner explained, learned the trick of opening its cage-door and escaping.
“I said nothing, of course, to you of all this, because I had as yet nothing but a train of argument and no results. I got to Lloyd’s room as soon as possible. My chief object in going there was achieved when I played with the parrot, and induced it to bite a quill toothpick.
“When you left me in the smoking-room, I compared the quill and the match very carefully, and found that the marks corresponded exactly. After this I felt very little doubt indeed. The fact of Lloyd having met the ladies walking before dark on the day of the first robbery proved nothing, because, since it was clear that the match had _not_ been used to procure a light, the robbery might as easily have taken place in daylight as not–must have so taken place, in fact, if my conjectures were right. That they were right I felt no doubt. There could be no other explanation.
“When Mrs. Heath left her window open and her door shut, anybody climbing upon the open sash of Lloyd’s high window could have put the bird upon the sill above. The match placed in the bird’s beak for the purpose I have indicated, and struck first, in case by accident it should ignite by rubbing against something and startle the bird–this match would, of course, be dropped just where the object to be removed was taken up; as you know, in every case the match was found almost upon the spot where the missing article had been left–scarcely a likely triple coincidence had the match been used by a human thief. This would have been done as soon after the ladies had left as possible, and there would then have been plenty of time for Lloyd to hurry out and meet them before dark–especially plenty of time to meet them _coming back_, as they must have been, since they were carrying their ferns. The match was an article well chosen for its purpose, as being a not altogether unlikely thing to find on a dressing-table, and, if noticed, likely to lead to the wrong conclusions adopted by the official detective.
“In Mrs. Armitage’s case the taking of an inferior brooch and the leaving of a more valuable ring pointed clearly either to the operator being a fool or unable to distinguish values, and certainly, from other indications, the thief seemed no fool. The door was locked, and the gas-fitter, so to speak, on guard, and the window was only eight or ten inches open and propped with a brush. A human thief entering the window would have disturbed this arrangement, and would scarcely risk discovery by attempting to replace it, especially a thief in so great a hurry as to snatch the brooch up without unfastening the pin. The bird could pass through the opening as it was, and _would have_ to tear the pin-cushion to pull the brooch off, probably holding the cushion down with its claw the while.
“Now in yesterday’s case we had an alteration of conditions. The window was shut and fastened, but the door was open–but only left for a few minutes, during which time no sound was heard either of coming or going. Was it not possible, then, that the thief was _already_ in the room, in hiding, while Mrs. Cazenove was there, and seized its first opportunity on her temporary absence? The room is full of draperies, hangings, and what not, allowing of plenty of concealment for a bird, and a bird could leave the place noiselessly and quickly. That the whole scheme was strange mattered not at all. Robberies presenting such unaccountable features must have been effected by strange means of one sort or another. There was no improbability. Consider how many hundreds of examples of infinitely higher degrees of bird-training are exhibited in the London streets every week for coppers.
“So that, on the whole, I felt pretty sure of my ground. But before taking any definite steps I resolved to see if Polly could not be persuaded to exhibit his accomplishments to an indulgent stranger. For that purpose I contrived to send Lloyd away again and have a quiet hour alone with his bird. A piece of sugar, as everybody knows, is a good parrot bribe; but a walnut, split in half, is a better–especially if the bird be used to it; so I got you to furnish me with both. Polly was shy at first, but I generally get along very well with pets, and a little perseverance soon led to a complete private performance for my benefit. Polly would take the match, mute as wax, jump on the table, pick up the brightest thing he could see, in a great hurry, leave the match behind, and scuttle away round the room; but at first wouldn’t give up the plunder to _me_. It was enough. I also took the liberty, as you know, of a general look round, and discovered that little collection of Brummagem rings and trinkets that you have just seen–used in Polly’s education, no doubt. When we sent Lloyd away, it struck me that he might as well be usefully employed as not, so I got him to fetch the police, deluding him a little, I fear, by talking about the servants and a female searcher. There will be no trouble about evidence; he’ll confess. Of that I’m sure. I know the sort of man. But I doubt if you’ll get Mrs. Cazenove’s brooch back. You see, he has been to London to-day, and by this time the swag is probably broken up.”
Sir James listened to Hewitt’s explanation with many expressions of assent and some of surprise. When it was over, he smoked a few whiffs and then said: “But Mrs. Armitage’s brooch was pawned, and by a woman.”
“Exactly. I expect our friend Lloyd was rather disgusted at his small luck–probably gave the brooch to some female connection in London, and she realized on it. Such persons don’t always trouble to give a correct address.”
The two smoked in silence for a few minutes, and then Hewitt continued: “I don’t expect our friend has had an easy job altogether with that bird. His successes at most have only been three, and I suspect he had many failures and not a few anxious moments that we know nothing of. I should judge as much merely from what the groom told me of frequently meeting Lloyd with his parrot. But the plan was not a bad one–not at all. Even if the bird had been caught in the act, it would only have been ‘That mischievous parrot!’ you see. And his master would only have been looking for him.”
THE LOSS OF SAMMY CROCKETT.
It was, of course, always a part of Martin Hewitt’s business to be thoroughly at home among any and every class of people, and to be able to interest himself intelligently, or to appear to do so, in their various pursuits. In one of the most important cases ever placed in his hands he could have gone but a short way toward success had he not displayed some knowledge of the more sordid aspects of professional sport, and a great interest in the undertakings of a certain dealer therein.
The great case itself had nothing to do with sport, and, indeed, from a narrative point of view, was somewhat uninteresting, but the man who alone held the one piece of information wanted was a keeper, backer, or “gaffer” of professional pedestrians, and it was through the medium of his pecuniary interest in such matters that Hewitt was enabled to strike a bargain with him.
The man was a publican on the outskirts of Padfield, a northern town, pretty famous for its sporting tastes, and to Padfield, therefore, Hewitt betook himself, and, arrayed in a way to indicate some inclination of his own toward sport, he began to frequent the bar of the Hare and Hounds. Kentish, the landlord, was a stout, bull-necked man, of no great communicativeness at first; but after a little acquaintance he opened out wonderfully, became quite a jolly (and rather intelligent) companion, and came out with innumerable anecdotes of his sporting adventures. He could put a very decent dinner on the table, too, at the Hare and Hounds, and Hewitt’s frequent invitation to him to join therein and divide a bottle of the best in the cellar soon put the two on the very best of terms. Good terms with Mr. Kentish was Hewitt’s great desire, for the information he wanted was of a sort that could never be extracted by casual questioning, but must be a matter of open communication by the publican, extracted in what way it might be.
“Look here,” said Kentish one day, “I’ll put you on to a good thing, my boy–a real good thing. Of course you know all about the Padfield 135 Yards Handicap being run off now?”
“Well, I haven’t looked into it much,” Hewitt replied. “Ran the first round of heats last Saturday and Monday, didn’t they?”
“They did. Well”–Kentish spoke in a stage whisper as he leaned over and rapped the table–“I’ve got the final winner in this house.” He nodded his head, took a puff at his cigar, and added, in his ordinary voice. “Don’t say nothing.”
“No, of course not. Got something on, of course?”
“Rather! What do you think? Got any price I liked. Been saving him up for this. Why, he’s got twenty-one yards, and he can do even time all the way! Fact! Why, he could win runnin’ back’ards. He won his heat on Monday like–like–like that!” The gaffer snapped his fingers, in default of a better illustration, and went on. “He might ha’ took it a little easier, _I_ think; it’s shortened his price, of course, him jumpin’ in by two yards. But you can get decent odds now, if you go about it right. You take my tip–back him for his heat next Saturday, in the second round, and for the final. You’ll get a good price for the final, if you pop it down at once. But don’t go makin’ a song of it, will you, now? I’m givin’ you a tip I wouldn’t give anybody else.”
“Thanks, very much; it’s awfully good of you. I’ll do what you advise. But isn’t there a dark horse anywhere else?”
“Not dark to me, my boy, not dark to me. I know every man runnin’ like a book. Old Taylor–him over at the Cop–he’s got a very good lad at eighteen yards, a very good lad indeed; and he’s a tryer this time, I know. But, bless you, my lad could give him ten, instead o’ taking three, and beat him then! When I’m runnin’ a real tryer, I’m generally runnin’ something very near a winner, you bet; and this time, mind _this_ time, I’m runnin’ the certainest winner I _ever_ run–and I don’t often make a mistake. You back him.”
“I shall, if you’re as sure as that. But who is he?”
“Oh, Crockett’s his name–Sammy Crockett. He’s quite a new lad. I’ve got young Steggles looking after him–sticks to him like wax. Takes his little breathers in my bit o’ ground at the back here. I’ve got a cinder-sprint path there, over behind the trees. I don’t let him out o’ sight much, I can tell you. He’s a straight lad, and he knows it’ll be worth his while to stick to me; but there’s some ‘ud poison him, if they thought he’d spoil their books.”
Soon afterward the two strolled toward the taproom. “I expect Sammy’ll be there,” the landlord said, “with Steggles. I don’t hide him too much–they’d think I’d got something extra on if I did.”
In the tap-room sat a lean, wire-drawn-looking youth, with sloping shoulders and a thin face, and by his side was a rather short, thick-set man, who had an odd air, no matter what he did, of proprietorship and surveillance of the lean youth. Several other men sat about, and there was loud laughter, under which the lean youth looked sheepishly angry.
“‘Tarn’t no good, Sammy, lad,” some one was saying, “you a-makin’ after Nancy Webb–she’ll ha’ nowt to do with ‘ee.”
“Don’ like ’em so thread-papery,” added another. “No, Sammy, you aren’t the lad for she. I see her—-“
“What about Nancy Webb?” asked Kentish, pushing open the door. “Sammy’s all right, any way. You keep fit, my lad, an’ go on improving, and some day you’ll have as good a house as me. Never mind the lasses. Had his glass o’ beer, has he?” This to Raggy Steggles, who, answering in the affirmative, viewed his charge as though he were a post, and the beer a recent coat of paint.
“Has two glasses of mild a day,” the landlord said to Hewitt. “Never puts on flesh, so he can stand it. Come out now.” He nodded to Steggles, who rose and marched Sammy Crockett away for exercise.
* * * * *
On the following afternoon (it was Thursday), as Hewitt and Kentish chatted in the landlord’s own snuggery, Steggles burst into the room in a great state of agitation and spluttered out: “He–he’s bolted; gone away!”
“Sammy–gone! Hooked it! _I_ can’t find him.”
The landlord stared blankly at the trainer, who stood with a sweater dangling from his hand and stared blankly back. “What d’ye mean?” Kentish said, at last. “Don’t be a fool! He’s in the place somewhere. Find him!”
But this Steggles defied anybody to do. He had looked already. He had left Crockett at the cinder-path behind the trees in his running-gear, with the addition of the long overcoat and cap he used in going between the path and the house to guard against chill. “I was goin’ to give him a bust or two with the pistol,” the trainer explained, “but, when we got over t’other side, ‘Raggy,’ ses he, ‘it’s blawin’ a bit chilly. I think I’ll ha’ a sweater. There’s one on my box, ain’t there?’ So in I coomes for the sweater, and it weren’t on his box, and, when I found it and got back–he weren’t there. They’d seen nowt o’ him in t’ house, and he weren’t nowhere.”
Hewitt and the landlord, now thoroughly startled, searched everywhere, but to no purpose. “What should he go off the place for?” asked Kentish, in a sweat of apprehension. “‘Tain’t chilly a bit–it’s warm. He didn’t want no sweater; never wore one before. It was a piece of kid to be able to clear out. Nice thing, this is. I stand to win two years’ takings over him. Here–you’ll have to find him.”
“Ah, but how?” exclaimed the disconcerted trainer, dancing about distractedly. “I’ve got all I could scrape on him myself. Where can I look?”
Here was Hewitt’s opportunity. He took Kentish aside and whispered. What he said startled the landlord considerably. “Yes, I’ll tell you all about that,” he said, “if that’s all you want. It’s no good or harm to me whether I tell or no. But can you find him?”
“That I can’t promise, of course. But you know who I am now, and what I’m here for. If you like to give me the information I want, I’ll go into the case for you, and, of course, I shan’t charge any fee. I may have luck, you know, but I can’t promise, of course.”
The landlord looked in Hewitt’s face for a moment. Then he said: “Done! It’s a deal.”
“Very good,” Hewitt replied; “get together the one or two papers you have, and we’ll go into my business in the evening. As to Crockett, don’t say a word to anybody. I’m afraid it must get out, since they all know about it in the house, but there’s no use in making any unnecessary noise. Don’t make hedging bets or do anything that will attract notice. Now we’ll go over to the back and look at this cinder-path of yours.”
Here Steggles, who was still standing near, was struck with an idea. “How about old Taylor, at the Cop, guv’nor, eh?” he said, meaningly. “His lad’s good enough to win with Sammy out, and Taylor is backing him plenty. Think he knows any thing o’ this?”
“That’s likely,” Hewitt observed, before Kentish could reply. “Yes. Look here–suppose Steggles goes and keeps his eye on the Cop for an hour or two, in case there’s anything to be heard of? Don’t show yourself, of course.”
Kentish agreed, and the trainer went. When Hewitt and Kentish arrived at the path behind the trees, Hewitt at once began examining the ground. One or two rather large holes in the cinders were made, as the publican explained, by Crockett, in practicing getting off his mark. Behind these were several fresh tracks of spiked shoes. The tracks led up to within a couple of yards of the high fence bounding the ground, and there stopped abruptly and entirely. In the fence, a little to the right of where the tracks stopped, there was a stout door. This Hewitt tried, and found ajar.
“That’s always kept bolted,” Kentish said. “He’s gone out that way–he couldn’t have gone any other without comin’ through the house.”
“But he isn’t in the habit of making a step three yards long, is he?” Hewitt asked, pointing at the last footmark and then at the door, which was quite that distance away from it. “Besides,” he added, opening the door, “there’s no footprint here nor outside.”
The door opened on a lane, with another fence and a thick plantation of trees at the other side. Kentish looked at the footmarks, then at the door, then down the lane, and finally back toward the house. “That’s a licker!” he said.
“This is a quiet sort of lane,” was Hewitt’s next remark. “No houses in sight. Where does it lead?”
“That way it goes to the Old Kilns–disused. This way down to a turning off the Padfield and Catton road.”
Hewitt returned to the cinder-path again, and once more examined the footmarks. He traced them back over the grass toward the house. “Certainly,” he said, “he hasn’t gone back to the house. Here is the double line of tracks, side by side, from the house–Steggles’ ordinary boots with iron tips, and Crockett’s running pumps; thus they came out. Here is Steggles’ track in the opposite direction alone, made when he went back for the sweater. Crockett remained; you see various prints in those loose cinders at the end of the path where he moved this way and that, and then two or three paces toward the fence–not directly toward the door, you notice–and there they stop dead, and there are no more, either back or forward. Now, if he had wings, I should be tempted to the opinion that he flew straight away in the air from that spot–unless the earth swallowed him and closed again without leaving a wrinkle on its face.”
Kentish stared gloomily at the tracks and said nothing.
“However,” Hewitt resumed, “I think I’ll take a little walk now and think over it. You go into the house and show yourself at the bar. If anybody wants to know how Crockett is, he’s pretty well, thank you. By the by, can I get to the Cop–this place of Taylor’s–by this back lane?”
“Yes, down to the end leading to the Catton road, turn to the left and then first on the right. Any one’ll show you the Cop,” and Kentish shut the door behind the detective, who straightway walked–toward the Old Kilns.
In little more than an hour he was back. It was now becoming dusk, and the landlord looked out papers from a box near the side window of his snuggery, for the sake of the extra light. “I’ve got these papers together for you,” he said, as Hewitt entered. “Any news?”
“Nothing very great. Here’s a bit of handwriting I want you to recognize, if you can. Get a light.”
Kentish lit a lamp, and Hewitt laid upon the table half a dozen small pieces of torn paper, evidently fragments of a letter which had been torn up, here reproduced in fac-simile:
[Illustration: six scraps of paper: mmy, throw them ou, right away, left hi, hate his, lane wr]
The landlord turned the scraps over, regarding them dubiously. “These aren’t much to recognize, anyhow. _I_ don’t know the writing. Where did you find ’em?”
“They were lying in the lane at the back, a little way down. Plainly they are pieces of a note addressed to some one called Sammy or something very like it. See the first piece, with its ‘mmy’? That is clearly from the beginning of the note, because there is no line between it and the smooth, straight edge of the paper above; also, nothing follows on the same line. Some one writes to Crockett–presuming it to be a letter addressed to him, as I do for other reasons–as Sammy. It is a pity that there is no more of the letter to be found than these pieces. I expect the person who tore it up put the rest in his pocket and dropped these by accident.”
Kentish, who had been picking up and examining each piece in turn, now dolorously broke out:
“Oh, it’s plain he’s sold us–bolted and done us; me as took him out o’ the gutter, too. Look here–‘throw them over’; that’s plain enough–can’t mean anything else. Means throw _me_ over, and my friends–me, after what I’ve done for him! Then ‘right away’–go right away, I s’pose, as he has done. Then”–he was fiddling with the scraps and finally fitted two together–“why, look here, this one with ‘lane’ on it fits over the one about throwing over, and it says ‘poor f’ where its torn; that means ‘poor fool,’ I s’pose–_me_, or ‘fathead,’ or something like that. That’s nice. Why, I’d twist his neck if I could get hold of him; and I will!”
Hewitt smiled. “Perhaps it’s not quite so uncomplimentary, after all,” he said. “If you can’t recognize the writing, never mind. But, if he’s gone away to sell you, it isn’t much use finding him, is it? He won’t win if he doesn’t want to.”
“Why, he wouldn’t dare to rope under my very eyes. I’d–I’d—-“
“Well, well; perhaps we’ll get him to run, after all, and as well as he can. One thing is certain–he left this place of his own will. Further, I think he is in Padfield now; he went toward the town, I believe. And I don’t think he means to sell you.”
“Well, he shouldn’t. I’ve made it worth his while to stick to me. I’ve put a fifty on for him out of my own pocket, and told him so; and, if he won, that would bring him a lump more than he’d probably get by going crooked, besides the prize money and anything I might give him over. But it seems to me he’s putting me in the cart altogether.”
“That we shall see. Meantime, don’t mention anything I’ve told you to any one–not even to Steggles. He can’t help us, and he might blurt things out inadvertently. Don’t say anything about these pieces of paper, which I shall keep myself. By-the-by, Steggles is indoors, isn’t he? Very well, keep him in. Don’t let him be seen hunting about this evening. I’ll stay here to-night and we’ll proceed with Crockett’s business in the morning. And now we’ll settle _my_ business, please.”
* * * * *
In the morning Hewitt took his breakfast in the snuggery, carefully listening to any conversation that might take place at the bar. Soon after nine o’clock a fast dog-cart stopped outside, and a red-faced, loud-voiced man swaggered in, greeting Kentish with boisterous cordiality. He had a drink with the landlord, and said: “How’s things? Fancy any of ’em for the sprint handicap? Got a lad o’ your own in, haven’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Kentish replied. “Crockett. Only a young un not got to his proper mark yet, I reckon. I think old Taylor’s got No. 1 this time.”
“Capital lad,” the other replied, with a confidential nod. “Shouldn’t wonder at all. Want to do anything yourself over it?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m not on at present. Might have a little flutter on the grounds just for fun; nothing else.”
There were a few more casual remarks, and then the red-faced man drove away.
“Who was that?” asked Hewitt, who had watched the visitor through the snuggery window.
“That’s Danby–bookmaker. Cute chap. He’s been told Crockett’s missing, I’ll bet anything, and come here to pump me. No good, though. As a matter of fact, I’ve worked Sammy Crockett into his books for about half I’m in for altogether–through third parties, of course.”
Hewitt reached for his hat. “I’m going out for half an hour now,” he said. “If Steggles wants to go out before I come back, don’t let him. Let him go and smooth over all those tracks on the cinder-path, very carefully. And, by the by, could you manage to have your son about the place to-day, in case I happen to want a little help out of doors?”
“Certainly; I’ll get him to stay in. But what do you want the cinders smoothed for?”
Hewitt smiled, and patted his host’s shoulder. “I’ll explain all my tricks when the job’s done,” he said, and went out.
* * * * *
On the lane from Padfield to Sedby village stood the Plough beer-house, wherein J. Webb was licensed to sell by retail beer to be consumed on the premises or off, as the thirsty list. Nancy Webb, with a very fine color, a very curly fringe, and a wide smiling mouth revealing a fine set of teeth, came to the bar at the summons of a stoutish old gentleman in spectacles who walked with a stick.
The stoutish old gentleman had a glass of bitter beer, and then said in the peculiarly quiet voice of a very deaf man: “Can you tell me, if you please, the way into the main Catton road?”
“Down the lane, turn to the right at the cross-roads, then first to the left.”
The old gentleman waited with his hand to his ear for some few seconds after she had finished speaking, and then resumed in his whispering voice: “I’m afraid I’m very deaf this morning.” He fumbled in his pocket and produced a note-book and pencil. “May I trouble you to write it down? I’m so very deaf at times that I–Thank you.”
The girl wrote the direction, and the old gentleman bade her good-morning and left. All down the lane he walked slowly with his stick. At the cross-roads he turned, put the stick under his arm, thrust his spectacles into his pocket, and strode away in the ordinary guise of Martin Hewitt. He pulled out his note-book, examined Miss Webb’s direction very carefully, and then went off another way altogether, toward the Hare and Hounds.
Kentish lounged moodily in his bar. “Well, my boy,” said Hewitt, “has Steggles wiped out the tracks?”
“Not yet; I haven’t told him. But he’s somewhere about; I’ll tell him now.”
“No, don’t. I don’t think we’ll have that done, after all. I expect he’ll want to go out soon–at any rate, some time during the day. Let him go whenever he likes. I’ll sit upstairs a bit in the club-room.”
“Very well. But how do you know Steggles will be going out?”
“Well, he’s pretty restless after his lost _protege_, isn’t he? I don’t suppose he’ll be able to remain idle long.”
“And about Crockett. Do you give him up?”
“Oh, no! Don’t you be impatient. I can’t say I’m quite confident yet of laying hold of him–the time is so short, you see–but I think I shall at least have news for you by the evening.”
Hewitt sat in the club-room until the afternoon, taking his lunch there. At length he saw, through the front window, Raggy Steggles walking down the road. In an instant Hewitt was down-stairs and at the door. The road bent eighty yards away, and as soon as Steggles passed the bend the detective hurried after him.
All the way to Padfield town and more than half through it Hewitt dogged the trainer. In the end Steggles stopped at a corner and gave a note to a small boy who was playing near. The boy ran with the note to a bright, well-kept house at the opposite corner. Martin Hewitt was interested to observe the legend, “H. Danby, Contractor,” on a board over a gate in the side wall of the garden behind this house. In five minutes a door in the side gate opened, and the head and shoulders of the red-faced man emerged. Steggles immediately hurried across and disappeared through the gate.
This was both interesting and instructive. Hewitt took up a position in the side street and waited. In ten minutes the trainer reappeared and hurried off the way he had come, along the street Hewitt had considerately left clear for him. Then Hewitt strolled toward the smart house and took a good look at it. At one corner of the small piece of forecourt garden, near the railings, a small, baize-covered, glass-fronted notice-board stood on two posts. On its top edge appeared the words, “H. Danby. Houses to be Sold or Let.” But the only notice pinned to the green baize within was an old and dusty one, inviting tenants for three shops, which were suitable for any business, and which would be fitted to suit tenants. Apply within.
Hewitt pushed open the front gate and rang the door-bell. “There are some shops to let, I see,” he said, when a maid appeared. “I should like to see them, if you will let me have the key.”
“Master’s out, sir. You can’t see the shops till Monday.”
“Dear me, that’s unfortunate, I’m afraid I can’t wait till Monday. Didn’t Mr. Danby leave any instructions, in case anybody should inquire?”
“Yes, sir–as I’ve told you. He said anybody who called about ’em must come again on Monday.”
“Oh, very well, then; I suppose I must try. One of the shops is in High Street, isn’t it?”
“No, sir; they’re all in the new part–Granville Road.”
“Ah, I’m afraid that will scarcely do. But I’ll see. Good-day.”
Martin Hewitt walked away a couple of streets’ lengths before he inquired the way to Granville Road. When at last he found that thoroughfare, in a new and muddy suburb, crowded with brick-heaps and half-finished streets, he took a slow walk along its entire length. It was a melancholy example of baffled enterprise. A row of a dozen or more shops had been built before any population had arrived to demand goods. Would-be tradesmen had taken many of these shops, and failure and disappointment stared from the windows. Some were half covered by shutters, because the scanty stock scarce sufficed to fill the remaining half. Others were shut almost altogether, the inmates only keeping open the door for their own convenience, and, perhaps, keeping down a shutter for the sake of a little light. Others, again, had not yet fallen so low, but struggled bravely still to maintain a show of business and prosperity, with very little success. Opposite the shops there still remained a dusty, ill-treated hedge and a forlorn-looking field, which an old board offered on building leases. Altogether a most depressing spot.
There was little difficulty in identifying the three shops offered for letting by Mr. H. Danby. They were all together near the middle of the row, and were the only ones that appeared not yet to have been occupied. A dusty “To Let” bill hung in each window, with written directions to inquire of Mr. H. Danby or at No. 7. Now No. 7 was a melancholy baker’s shop, with a stock of three loaves and a plate of stale buns. The disappointed baker assured Hewitt that he usually kept the keys of the shops, but that the landlord, Mr. Danby, had taken them away the day before to see how the ceilings were standing, and had not returned them. “But if you was thinking of taking a shop here,” the poor baker added, with some hesitation, “I–I–if you’ll excuse my advising you–I shouldn’t recommend it. I’ve had a sickener of it myself.”
Hewitt thanked the baker for his advice, wished him better luck in future, and left. To the Hare and Hounds his pace was brisk. “Come,” he said, as he met Kentish’s inquiring glance, “this has been a very good day, on the whole. I know where our man is now, and I think we can get him, by a little management.”
“Where is he?”
“Oh, down in Padfield. As a matter of fact, he’s being kept there against his will, we shall find. I see that your friend Mr. Danby is a builder as well as a bookmaker.”
“Not a regular builder. He speculates in a street of new houses now and again, that’s all. But is he in it?”
“He’s as deep in it as anybody, I think. Now, don’t fly into a passion. There are a few others in it as well, but you’ll do harm if you don’t keep quiet.”
“But go and get the police; come and fetch him, if you know where they’re keeping him. Why—-“
“So we will, if we can’t do it without them. But it’s quite possible we can, and without all the disturbance and, perhaps, delay that calling in the police would involve. Consider, now, in reference to your own arrangements. Wouldn’t it pay you better to get him back quietly, without a soul knowing–perhaps not even Danby knowing–till the heat is run to-morrow?”
“Well, yes, it would, of course.”
“Very good, then, so be it. Remember what I have told you about keeping your mouth shut; say nothing to Steggles or anybody. Is there a cab or brougham your son and I can have for the evening?”
“There’s an old hiring landau in the stables you can shut up into a cab, if that’ll do.”
“Excellent. We’ll run down to the town in it as soon as it’s ready. But, first, a word about Crockett. What sort of a lad is he? Likely to give them trouble, show fight, and make a disturbance?”
“No, I should say not. He’s no plucked un, certainly; all his manhood’s in his legs, I believe. You see, he ain’t a big sort o’ chap at best, and he’d be pretty easy put upon–at least, I guess so.”
“Very good, so much the better, for then he won’t have been damaged, and they will probably only have one man to guard him. Now the carriage, please.”
Young Kentish was a six-foot sergeant of grenadiers home on furlough, and luxuriating in plain clothes. He and Hewitt walked a little way toward the town, allowing the landau to catch them up. They traveled in it to within a hundred yards of the empty shops and then alighted, bidding the driver wait.
“I shall show you three empty shops,” Hewitt said, as he and young Kentish walked down Granville Road. “I am pretty sure that Sammy Crockett is in one of them, and I am pretty sure that that is the middle one. Take a look as we go past.”
When the shops had been slowly passed, Hewitt resumed: “Now, did you see anything about those shops that told a tale of any sort?”
“No,” Sergeant Kentish replied. “I can’t say I noticed anything beyond the fact that they were empty–and likely to stay so, I should think.”
“We’ll stroll back, and look in at the windows, if nobody’s watching us,” Hewitt said. “You see, it’s reasonable to suppose they’ve put him in the middle one, because that would suit their purpose best. The shops at each side of the three are occupied, and, if the prisoner struggled, or shouted, or made an uproar, he might be heard if he were in one of the shops next those inhabited. So that the middle shop is the most likely. Now, see there,” he went on, as they stopped before the window of the shop in question, “over at the back there’s a staircase not yet partitioned off. It goes down below and up above. On the stairs and on the floor near them there are muddy footmarks. These must have been made to-day, else they would not be muddy, but dry and dusty, since there hasn’t been a shower for a week till to-day. Move on again. Then you noticed that there were no other such marks in the shop. Consequently the man with the muddy feet did not come in by the front door, but by the back; otherwise he would have made a trail from the door. So we will go round to the back ourselves.”
It was now growing dusk. The small pieces of ground behind the shops were bounded by a low fence, containing a door for each house.
“This door is bolted inside, of course,” Hewitt said, “but there is no difficulty in climbing. I think we had better wait in the garden till dark. In the meantime, the jailer, whoever he is, may come out; in which case we shall pounce on him as soon as he opens the door. You have that few yards of cord in your pocket, I think? And my handkerchief, properly rolled, will make a very good gag. Now over.”
They climbed the fence and quietly approached the house, placing themselves in the angle of an outhouse out of sight from the windows. There was no sound, and no light appeared. Just above the ground about a foot of window was visible, with a grating over it, apparently lighting a basement. Suddenly Hewitt touched his companion’s arm and pointed toward the window. A faint rustling sound was perceptible, and, as nearly as could be discerned in the darkness, some white blind or covering was placed over the glass from the inside. Then came the sound of a striking match, and at the side edge of the window there was a faint streak of light.
“That’s the place,” Hewitt whispered. “Come, we’ll make a push for it. You stand against the wall at one side of the door and I’ll stand at the other, and we’ll have him as he comes out. Quietly, now, and I’ll startle them.”
He took a stone from among the rubbish littering the garden and flung it crashing through the window. There was a loud exclamation from within, the blind fell, and somebody rushed to the back door and flung it open. Instantly Kentish let fly a heavy right-hander, and the man went over like a skittle. In a moment Hewitt was upon him and the gag in his mouth.
“Hold him,” Hewitt whispered, hurriedly. “I’ll see if there are others.”
He peered down through the low window. Within Sammy Crockett, his bare legs dangling from beneath his long overcoat, sat on a packing-box, leaning with his head on his hand and his back toward the window. A guttering candle stood on the mantel-piece, and the newspaper which had been stretched across the window lay in scattered sheets on the floor. No other person besides Sammy was visible.
They led their prisoner indoors. Young Kentish recognized him as a public-house loafer and race-course ruffian, well known in the neighborhood.
“So it’s you, is it, Browdie?” he said. “I’ve caught you one hard clump, and I’ve half a mind to make it a score more. But you’ll get it pretty warm one way or another before this job’s forgotten.”
Sammy Crockett was overjoyed at his rescue. He had not been ill-treated, he explained, but had been thoroughly cowed by Browdie, who had from time to time threatened him savagely with an iron bar by way of persuading him to quietness and submission. He had been fed, and had taken no worse harm than a slight stiffness from his adventure, due to his light under-attire of jersey and knee-shorts.
Sergeant Kentish tied Browdie’s elbows firmly together behind, and carried the line round the ankles, bracing all up tight. Then he ran a knot from one wrist to the other over the back of the neck, and left the prisoner, trussed and helpless, on the heap of straw that had been Sammy’s bed.
“You won’t be very jolly, I expect,” Kentish said, “for some time. You can’t shout and you can’t walk, and I know you can’t untie yourself. You’ll get a bit hungry, too, perhaps, but that’ll give you an appetite. I don’t suppose you’ll be disturbed till some time to-morrow, unless our friend Danby turns up in the meantime. But you can come along to jail instead, if you prefer it.”
They left him where he lay, and took Sammy to the old landau. Sammy walked in slippers, carrying his spiked shoes, hanging by the lace, in his hand.
“Ah,” said Hewitt, “I think I know the name of the young lady who gave you those slippers.”
Crockett looked ashamed and indignant. “Yes,” he said, “they’ve done me nicely between ’em. But I’ll pay her–I’ll—-“
“Hush, hush!” Hewitt said; “you mustn’t talk unkindly of a lady, you know. Get into this carriage, and we’ll take you home. We’ll see if I can tell you your adventures without making a mistake. First, you had a note from Miss Webb, telling you that you were mistaken in supposing she had slighted you, and that, as a matter of fact, she had quite done with somebody else–left him–of whom you were jealous. Isn’t that so?”
“Well, yes,” young Crockett answered, blushing deeply under the carriage-lamp; “but I don’t see how you come to know that.”
“Then she went on to ask you to get rid of Steggles on Thursday afternoon for a few minutes, and speak to her in the back lane. Now, your running pumps, with their thin soles, almost like paper, no heels and long spikes, hurt your feet horribly if you walk on hard ground, don’t they?”
“Ay, that they do–enough to cripple you. I’d never go on much hard ground with ’em.”
“They’re not like cricket shoes, I see.”
“Not a bit. Cricket shoes you can walk anywhere in!”
“Well, she knew this–I think I know who told her–and she promised to bring you a new pair of slippers, and to throw them over the fence for you to come out in.”
“I s’pose she’s been tellin’ you all this?” Crockett said, mournfully. “You couldn’t ha’ seen the letter; I saw her tear it up and put the bits in her pocket. She asked me for it in the lane, in case Steggles saw it.”
“Well, at any rate, you sent Steggles away, and the slippers did come over, and you went into the lane. You walked with her as far as the road at the end, and then you were seized and gagged, and put into a carriage.”
“That was Browdie did that,” said Crockett, “and another chap I don’t know. But–why, this is Padfield High Street?” He looked through the window and regarded the familiar shops with astonishment.
“Of course it is. Where did you think it was?”
“Why, where was that place you found me in?”
“Granville Road, Padfield. I suppose they told you you were in another town?”
“Told me it was Newstead Hatch. They drove for about three or four hours, and kept me down on the floor between the seats so as I couldn’t see where we was going.”
“Done for two reasons,” said Hewitt. “First, to mystify you, and prevent any discovery of the people directing the conspiracy; and second, to be able to put you indoors at night and unobserved. Well, I think I have told you all you know yourself now as far as the carriage.
“But there is the Hare and Hounds just in front. We’ll pull up here, and I’ll get out and see if the coast is clear. I fancy Mr. Kentish would rather you came in unnoticed.”
In a few seconds Hewitt was back, and Crockett was conveyed indoors by a side entrance. Hewitt’s instructions to the landlord were few, but emphatic. “Don’t tell Steggles about it,” he said; “make an excuse to get rid of him, and send him out of the house. Take Crockett into some other bedroom, not his own, and let your son look after him. Then come here, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Sammy Crockett was undergoing a heavy grooming with white embrocation at the hands of Sergeant Kentish when the landlord returned to Hewitt. “Does Danby know you’ve got him?” he asked. “How did you do it?”
“Danby doesn’t know yet, and with luck he won’t know till he sees Crockett running to-morrow. The man who has sold you is Steggles.”
“Steggles it is. At the very first, when Steggles rushed in to report Sammy Crockett missing, I suspected him. You didn’t, I suppose?”
“No. He’s always been considered a straight man, and he looked as startled as anybody.”
“Yes, I must say he acted it very well. But there was something suspicious in his story. What did he say? Crockett had remarked a chilliness, and asked for a sweater, which Steggles went to fetch. Now, just think. You understand these things. Would any trainer who knew his business (as Steggles does) have gone to bring out a sweater for his man to change for his jersey in the open air, at the very time the man was complaining of chilliness? Of course not. He would have taken his man indoors again and let him change there under shelter. Then supposing Steggles had really been surprised at missing Crockett, wouldn’t he have looked about, found the gate open, and _told_ you it was open when he first came in? He said nothing of that–we found the gate open for ourselves. So that from the beginning I had a certain opinion of Steggles.”
“What you say seems pretty plain now, although it didn’t strike me at the time. But, if Steggles was selling us, why couldn’t he have drugged the lad? That would have been a deal simpler.”
“Because Steggles is a good trainer, and has a certain reputation to keep up. It would have done him no good to have had a runner drugged while under his care; certainly it would have cooked his goose with _you_. It was much the safer thing to connive at kidnapping. That put all the active work into other hands, and left him safe, even if the trick failed. Now, you remember that we traced the prints of Crockett’s spiked shoes to within a couple of yards from the fence, and that there they ceased suddenly?”
“Yes. You said it looked as though he had flown up into the air; and so it did.”
“But I was sure that it was by that gate that Crockett had left, and by no other. He couldn’t have got through the house without being seen, and there was no other way–let alone the evidence of the unbolted gate. Therefore, as the footprints ceased where they did, and were not repeated anywhere in the lane, I knew that he had taken his spiked shoes off–probably changed them for something else, because a runner anxious as to his chances would never risk walking on bare feet, with a chance of cutting them. Ordinary, broad, smooth-soled slippers would leave no impression on the coarse cinders bordering the track, and nothing short of spiked shoes would leave a mark on the hard path in the lane behind. The spike-tracks were leading, not directly toward the door, but in the direction of the fence, when they stopped; somebody had handed, or thrown, the slippers over the fence, and he had changed them on the spot. The enemy had calculated upon the spikes leaving a track in the lane that might lead us in our search, and had arranged accordingly.
“So far so good. I could see no footprints near the gate in the lane. You will remember that I sent Steggles off to watch at the Cop before I went out to the back–merely, of course, to get him out of the way. I went out into the lane, leaving you behind, and walked its whole length, first toward the Old Kilns and then back toward the road. I found nothing to help me except these small pieces of paper–which are here in my pocket-book, by the by. Of course this ‘mmy’ might have meant ‘Jimmy’ or ‘Tommy’ as possibly as ‘Sammy,’ but they were not to be rejected on that account. Certainly Crockett had been decoyed out of your ground, not taken by force, or there would have been marks of a scuffle in the cinders. And as his request for a sweater was probably an excuse–because it was not at all a cold afternoon–he must have previously designed going out. Inference, a letter received; and here were pieces of a letter. Now, in the light of what I have said, look at these pieces. First, there is the ‘mmy’–that I have dealt with. Then see this ‘throw them ov’–clearly a part of ‘throw them over’; exactly what had probably been done with the slippers. Then the ‘poor f,’ coming just on the line before, and seen, by joining up with this other piece, might easily be a reference to ‘poor feet.’ These coincidences, one on the other, went far to establish the identity of the letter, and to confirm my previous impressions. But then there is something else. Two other pieces evidently mean ‘left him,’ and ‘right away,’ perhaps; but there is another, containing almost all of the words ‘hate his,’ with the word ‘hate’ underlined. Now, who writes ‘hate’ with the emphasis of underscoring–who but a woman? The writing is large and not very regular; it might easily be that of a half-educated woman. Here was something more–Sammy had been enticed away by a woman.
“Now, I remembered that, when we went into the tap-room on Wednesday, some of his companions were chaffing Crockett about a certain Nancy Webb, and the chaff went home, as was plain to see. The woman, then, who could most easily entice Sammy Crockett away was Nancy Webb. I resolved to find who Nancy Webb was and learn more of her.
“Meantime, I took a look at the road at the end of the lane. It was damper than the lane, being lower, and overhung by trees. There were many wheel-tracks, but only one set that turned in the road and went back the way it came, toward the town; and they were narrow wheels–carriage wheels. Crockett tells me now that they drove him about for a long time before shutting him up; probably the inconvenience of taking him straight to the hiding-place didn’t strike them when they first drove off.
“A few inquiries soon set me in the direction of the Plough and Miss Nancy Webb. I had the curiosity to look around the place as I approached, and there, in the garden behind the house, were Steggles and the young lady in earnest confabulation!
“Every conjecture became a certainty. Steggles was the lover of whom Crockett was jealous, and he had employed the girl to bring Sammy out. I watched Steggles home, and gave you a hint to keep him there.
“But the thing that remained was to find Steggles’ employer in this business. I was glad to be in when Danby called. He came, of course, to hear if you would blurt out anything, and to learn, if possible, what steps you were taking. He failed. By way of making assurance doubly sure I took a short walk this morning in the character of a deaf gentleman, and got Miss Webb to write me a direction that comprised three of the words on these scraps of paper–‘left,’ ‘right,’ and ‘lane’; see, they correspond, the peculiar ‘f’s,’ ‘t’s,’ and all.
“Now, I felt perfectly sure that Steggles would go for his pay to-day. In the first place, I knew that people mixed up with shady transactions in professional pedestrianism are not apt to trust one another far–they know better. Therefore Steggles wouldn’t have had his bribe first. But he would take care to get it before the Saturday heats were run, because once they were over the thing was done, and the principal conspirator might have refused to pay up, and Steggles couldn’t have helped himself. Again I hinted he should not go out till I could follow him, and this afternoon, when he went, follow him I did. I saw him go into Danby’s house by the side way and come away again. Danby it was, then, who had arranged the business; and nobody was more likely, considering his large pecuniary stake against Crockett’s winning this race.
“But now how to find Crockett? I made up my mind he wouldn’t be in Danby’s own house. That would be a deal too risky, with servants about and so on. I saw that Danby was a builder, and had three shops to let–it was on a paper before his house. What more likely prison than an empty house? I knocked at Danby’s door and asked for the keys of those shops. I couldn’t have them. The servant told me Danby was out (a manifest lie, for I had just seen him), and that nobody could see the shops till Monday. But I got out of her the address of the shops, and that was all I wanted at the time.
“Now, why was nobody to see those shops till Monday? The interval was suspicious–just enough to enable Crockett to be sent away again and cast loose after the Saturday racing, supposing him to be kept in one of the empty buildings. I went off at once and looked at the shops, forming my conclusions as to which would be the most likely for Danby’s purpose. Here I had another confirmation of my ideas. A poor, half-bankrupt baker in one of the shops had, by the bills, the custody of a set of keys; but he, too, told me I couldn’t have them; Danby had taken them away–and on Thursday, the very day–with some trivial excuse, and hadn’t brought them back. That was all I wanted or could expect in the way of guidance. The whole thing was plain. The rest you know all about.”
“Well, you’re certainly as smart as they give you credit for, I must say. But suppose Danby had taken down his ‘To Let’ notice, what would you have done, then?”
“We had our course, even then. We should have gone to Danby, astounded him by telling him all about his little games, terrorized him with threats of the law, and made him throw up his hand and send Crockett back. But, as it is, you see, he doesn’t know at this moment–probably won’t know till to-morrow afternoon–that the lad is safe and sound here. You will probably use the interval to make him pay for losing the game–by some of the ingenious financial devices you are no doubt familiar with.”
“Ay, that I will. He’ll give any price against Crockett now, so long as the bet don’t come direct from me.”
“But about Crockett, now,” Hewitt went on. “Won’t this confinement be likely to have damaged his speed for a day or two?”
“Ah, perhaps,” the landlord replied; “but, bless ye, that won’t matter. There’s four more in his heat to-morrow. Two I know aren’t tryers, and the other two I can hold in at a couple of quid apiece any day. The third round and final won’t be till to-morrow week, and he’ll be as fit as ever by then. It’s as safe as ever it was. How much are you going to have on? I’ll lump it on for you safe enough. This is a chance not to be missed; it’s picking money up.”
“Thank you; I don’t think I’ll have anything to do with it. This professional pedestrian business doesn’t seem a pretty one at all. I don’t call myself a moralist, but, if you’ll excuse my saying so, the thing is scarcely the game I care to pick tap money at in any way.”
“Oh, very well! if you think so, I won’t persuade ye, though I don’t think so much of your smartness as I did, after that. Still, we won’t quarrel; you’ve done me a mighty good turn, that I must say, and I only feel I aren’t level without doing something to pay the debt. Come, now, you’ve got your trade as I’ve got mine. Let me have the bill, and I’ll pay it like a lord, and feel a deal more pleased than if you made a favor of it–not that I’m above a favor, of course. But I’d prefer paying, and that’s a fact.”
“My dear sir, you have paid,” Hewitt said, with a smile. “You paid in advance. It was a bargain, wasn’t it, that I should do your business if you would help me in mine? Very well; a bargain’s a bargain, and we’ve both performed our parts. And you mustn’t be offended at what I said just now.”
“That I won’t! But as to that Raggy Steggles, once those heats are over to-morrow, I’ll–well—-“
It was on the following Sunday week that Martin Hewitt, in his rooms in London, turned over his paper and read, under the head “Padfield Annual 135 Yards Handicap,” this announcement: “Final heat: Crockett, first; Willis, second; Trewby, third; Owen, 0; Howell, 0. A runaway win by nearly three yards.”
THE CASE OF MR. FOGGATT.
Almost the only dogmatism that Martin Hewitt permitted himself in regard to his professional methods was one on the matter of accumulative probabilities. Often when I have remarked upon the apparently trivial nature of the clews by which he allowed himself to be guided–sometimes, to all seeming, in the very face of all likelihood–he has replied that two trivialities, pointing in the same direction, became at once, by their mere agreement, no trivialities at all, but enormously important considerations. “If I were in search of a man,” he would say, “of whom I knew nothing but that he squinted, bore a birthmark on his right hand, and limped, and I observed a man who answered to the first peculiarity, so far the clue would be trivial, because thousands of men squint. Now, if that man presently moved and exhibited a birthmark on his right hand, the value of that squint and that mark would increase at once a hundred or a thousand fold. Apart they are little; together much. The weight of evidence is not doubled merely; it would be only doubled if half the men who squinted had right-hand birthmarks; whereas the proportion, if it could be ascertained, would be, perhaps, more like one in ten thousand. The two trivialities, pointing in the same direction, become very strong evidence. And, when the man is seen to walk with a limp, that limp (another triviality), re-enforcing the others, brings the matter to the rank of a practical certainty. The Bertillon system of identification–what is it but a summary of trivialities? Thousands of men are of the same height, thousands of the same length of foot, thousands of the same girth of head–thousands correspond in any separate measurement you may name. It is when the measurements are taken _together_ that you have your man identified forever. Just consider how few, if any, of your friends correspond exactly in any two personal peculiarities.” Hewitt’s dogma received its illustration unexpectedly close at home.
The old house wherein my chambers and Hewitt’s office were situated contained, besides my own, two or three more bachelors’ dens, in addition to the offices on the ground and first and second floors. At the very top of all, at the back, a fat, middle-aged man, named Foggatt, occupied a set of four rooms. It was only after a long residence, by an accidental remark of the housekeeper’s, that I learned the man’s name, which was not painted on his door or displayed, with all the others, on the wall of the ground-floor porch.
Mr. Foggatt appeared to have few friends, but lived in something as nearly approaching luxury as an old bachelor living in chambers can live. An ascending case of champagne was a common phenomenon of the staircase, and I have more than once seen a picture, destined for the top floor, of a sort that went far to awaken green covetousness in the heart of a poor journalist.
The man himself was not altogether prepossessing. Fat as he was, he had a way of carrying his head forward on his extended neck and gazing widely about with a pair of the roundest and most prominent eyes I remember to have ever seen, except in a fish. On the whole, his appearance was rather vulgar, rather arrogant, and rather suspicious, without any very pronounced quality of any sort. But certainly he was not pretty. In the end, however, he was found shot dead in his sitting-room.
It was in this way: Hewitt and I had dined together at my club, and late in the evening had returned to my rooms to smoke and discuss whatever came uppermost. I had made a bargain that day with two speculative odd lots at a book sale, each of which contained a hidden prize. We sat talking and turning over these books while time went unperceived, when suddenly we were startled by a loud report. Clearly it was in the building. We listened for a moment, but heard nothing else, and then Hewitt expressed his opinion that the report was that of a gunshot. Gunshots in residential chambers are not common things, wherefore I got up and went to the landing, looking up the stairs and down.
At the top of the next flight I saw Mrs. Clayton, the housekeeper. She appeared to be frightened, and told me that the report came from Mr. Foggatt’s room. She thought he might have had an accident with the pistol