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 that usually lay on his mantel-piece. We went upstairs with her, and she knocked at Mr. Foggatt’s door.
There was no reply. Through the ventilating fanlight over the door it could be seen that there were lights within, a sign, Mrs. Clayton maintained, that Mr. Foggatt was not out. We knocked again, much more loudly, and called, but still ineffectually. The door was locked, and an application of the housekeeper’s key proved that the tenant’s key had been left in the lock inside. Mrs. Clayton’s conviction that “something had happened” became distressing, and in the end Hewitt pried open the door with a small poker.
Something had happened. In the sitting-room Mr. Foggatt sat with his head bowed over the table, quiet and still. The head was ill to look at, and by it lay a large revolver, of the full-sized army pattern. Mrs. Clayton ran back toward the landing with faint screams.
“Run, Brett!” said Hewitt; “a doctor and a policeman!”
I bounced down the stairs half a flight at a time. “First,” I thought, “a doctor. He may not be dead.” I could think of no doctor in the immediate neighborhood, but ran up the street away from the Strand, as being the more likely direction for the doctor, although less so for the policeman. It took me a good five minutes to find the medico, after being led astray by a red lamp at a private hotel, and another five to get back, with a policeman.
Foggatt was dead, without a doubt. Probably had shot himself, the doctor thought, from the powder-blackening and other circumstances. Certainly nobody could have left the room by the door, or he must have passed my landing, while the fact of the door being found locked from the inside made the thing impossible. There were two windows to the room, both of which were shut, one being fastened by the catch, while the catch of the other was broken — an old fracture. Below these windows was a sheer drop of fifty feet or more, without a foot or hand-hold near. The windows in the other rooms were shut and fastened. Certainly it seemed suicide — unless it were one of those accidents that will occur to people who fiddle ignorantly with firearms. Soon the rooms were in possession of the police, and we were turned out.
We looked in at the housekeeper’s kitchen, where her daughter was reviving and calming Mrs. Clayton with gin and water.
“You mustn’t upset yourself, Mrs. Clayton,” Hewitt said, “or what will become of us all? The doctor thinks it was an accident.”
He took a small bottle of sewing-machine oil from his pocket and handed it to the daughter, thanking her for the loan.
There was little evidence at the inquest. The shot had been heard, the body had been found — that was the practical sum of the matter. No friends or relatives of the dead man came forward. The doctor gave his opinion as to the probability of suicide or an accident, and the police evidence tended in the same direction. Nothing had been found to indicate that any other person had been near the dead man’s rooms on the night of the fatality. On the other hand, his papers, bankbook, etc., proved him to be a man of considerable substance, with no apparent motive for suicide. The police had been unable to trace any relatives, or, indeed, any nearer connections than casual acquaintances, fellow-clubmen, and so on. The jury found that Mr. Foggatt had died by accident.
“Well, Brett,” Hewitt asked me afterward, “what do you think of the verdict?”
I said that it seemed to be the most reasonable one possible, and to square with the common-sense view of the case.
“Yes,” he replied, “perhaps it does. From the point of view of the jury, and on their information, their verdict was quite reasonable. Nevertheless, Mr. Foggatt did not shoot himself. He was shot by a rather tall, active young man, perhaps a sailor, but certainly a gymnast — a young man whom I think I could identify if I saw him.”
“But how do you know this?”
“By the simplest possible inferences, which you may easily guess, if you will but think.”
“But, then, why didn’t you say this at the inquest?”
“My dear fellow, they don’t want any inferences and conjectures at an inquest; they only want evidence. If I had traced the murderer, of course then I should have communicated with the police. As a matter of fact, it is quite possible that the police have observed and know as much as I do — or more. They don’t give everything away at an inquest, you know. It wouldn’t do.”
“But, if you are right, how did the man get away?”
“Come, we are near home now. Let us take a look at the back of the house. He couldn’t have left by Foggatt’s landing door, as we know; and as he was there (I am certain of that), and as the chimney is out of the question — for there was a good fire in the grate — he must have gone out by the window. Only one window is possible — that with the broken catch — for all the others were fastened inside. Out of that window, then, he went.”
“But how? The window is fifty feet up.”
“Of course it is. But why will you persist in assuming that the only way of escape by a window is downward? See, now, look up there. The window is at the top floor, and it has a very broad sill. Over the window is nothing but the flat face of the gable-end; but to the right, and a foot or two above the level of the top of the window, an iron gutter ends. Observe, it is not of lead composition, but a strong iron gutter, supported, just at its end, by an iron bracket. If a tall man stood on the end of the window-sill, steadying himself by the left hand and leaning to the right, he could just touch the end of this gutter with his right hand. The full stretch, toe to finger, is seven feet three inches. I have measured it. An active gymnast, or a sailor, could catch the gutter with a slight spring, and by it draw himself upon the roof. You will say he would have to be very active, dexterous, and cool. So he would. And that very fact helps us, because it narrows the field of inquiry. We know the sort of man to look for. Because, being certain (as I am) that the man was in the room, I know that he left in the way I am telling you. He must have left in some way, and, all the other ways being impossible, this alone remains, difficult as the feat may seem. The fact of his shutting the window behind him further proves his coolness and address at so great a height from the ground.”
All this was very plain, but the main point was still dark.
“You say you know that another man was in the room,” I said; “how do you know that?”
“As I said, by an obvious inference. Come, now, you shall guess how I arrived at that inference. You often speak of your interest in my work, and the attention with which you follow it. This shall be a simple exercise for you. You saw everything in the room as plainly as I myself. Bring the scene back to your memory, and think over the various small objects littering about, and how they would affect the case. Quick observation is the first essential for my work. Did you see a newspaper, for instance?”
“Yes. There was an evening paper on the floor, but I didn’t examine it.”
“On the table there was a whisky decanter, taken from the tantalus-stand on the sideboard, and one glass. That, by the by,” I added, “looked as though only one person were present.”
“So it did, perhaps, although the inference wouldn’t be very strong. Go on!”
“There was a fruit-stand on the sideboard, with a plate beside it containing a few nutshells, a piece of apple, a pair of nut-crackers, and, I think, some orange peel. There was, of course, all the ordinary furniture, but no chair pulled up to the table, except that used by Foggatt himself. That’s all I noticed, I think. Stay — there was an ash-tray on the table, and a partly burned cigar near it — only one cigar, though.”
“Excellent — excellent, indeed, as far as memory and simple observation go. You saw everything plainly, and you remember everything. Surely now you know how I found out that another man had just left?”
“No, I don’t; unless there were different kinds of ash in the ash-tray.”
“That is a fairly good suggestion, but there were not — there was only a single ash, corresponding in every way to that on the cigar. Don’t you remember everything that I did as we went down-stairs?”
“You returned a bottle of oil to the housekeeper’s daughter, I think.”
“I did. Doesn’t that give you a hint? Come, you surely have it now?”
“Then I sha’n’t tell you; you don’t deserve it. Think, and don’t mention the subject again till you have at least one guess to make. The thing stares you in the face; you see it, you remember it, and yet you won’t see it. I won’t encourage your slovenliness of thought, my boy, by telling you what you can know for yourself if you like. Good-by — I’m off now. There’s a case in hand I can’t neglect.”
“Don’t you propose to go further into this, then?”
Hewitt shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not a policeman,” he said. “The case is in very good hands. Of course, if anybody comes to me to do it as a matter of business, I’ll take it up. It’s very interesting, but I can’t neglect my regular work for it. Naturally, I shall keep my eyes open and my memory in order. Sometimes these things come into the hands by themselves, as it were; in that case, of course, I am a loyal citizen, and ready to help the law. Au revoir!”
I am a busy man myself, and thought little more of Hewitt’s conundrum for some time; indeed, when I did think, I saw no way to the answer. A week after the inquest I took a holiday (I had written my nightly leaders regularly every day for the past five years), and saw no more of Hewitt for six weeks. After my return, with still a few days of leave to run, one evening we together turned into Luzatti’s, off Coventry Street, for dinner.
“I have been here several times lately,” Hewitt said; “they feed you very well. No, not that table”— he seized my arm as I turned to an unoccupied corner —“I fancy it’s draughty.” He led the way to a longer table where a dark, lithe, and (as well as could be seen) tall young man already sat, and took chairs opposite him.
We had scarcely seated ourselves before Hewitt broke into a torrent of conversation on the subject of bicycling. As our previous conversation had been of a literary sort, and as I had never known Hewitt at any other time to show the slightest interest in bicycling, this rather surprised me. I had, however, such a general outsider’s grasp of the subject as is usual in a journalist-of-all-work, and managed to keep the talk going from my side. As we went on I could see the face of the young man opposite brighten with interest. He was a rather fine-looking fellow, with a dark, though very clear skin, but had a hard, angry look of eye, a prominence of cheek-bone, and a squareness of jaw that gave him a rather uninviting aspect. As Hewitt rattled on, however, our neighbor’s expression became one of pleasant interest merely.
“Of course,” Hewitt said, “we’ve a number of very capital men just now, but I believe a deal in the forgotten riders of five, ten, and fifteen years back. Osmond, I believe, was better than any man riding now, and I think it would puzzle some of them to beat Furnivall as he was, at his best. But poor old Cortis — really, I believe he was as good as anybody. Nobody ever beat Cortis — except — let me see — I think somebody beat Cortis once — who was it now? I can’t remember.”
“Liles,” said the young man opposite, looking up quickly.
“Ah, yes — Liles it was; Charley Liles. Wasn’t it a championship?”
“Mile championship, 1880; Cortis won the other three, though.”
“Yes, so he did. I saw Cortis when he first broke the old 2.46 mile record.” And straightway Hewitt plunged into a whirl of talk of bicycles, tricycles, records, racing cyclists, Hillier, and Synyer and Noel Whiting, Taylerson and Appleyard — talk wherein the young man opposite bore an animated share, while I was left in the cold.
Our new friend, it seems, had himself been a prominent racing bicyclist a few years back, and was presently, at Hewitt’s request, exhibiting a neat gold medal that hung at his watch-guard. That was won, he explained, in the old tall bicycle days, the days of bad tracks, when every racing cyclist carried cinder scars on his face from numerous accidents. He pointed to a blue mark on his forehead, which, he told us, was a track scar, and described a bad fall that had cost him two teeth, and broken others. The gaps among his teeth were plain to see as he smiled.
Presently the waiter brought dessert, and the young man opposite took an apple. Nut-crackers and a fruit-knife lay on our side of the stand, and Hewitt turned the stand to offer him the knife.
“No, thanks,” he said; “I only polish a good apple, never peel it. It’s a mistake, except with thick-skinned foreign ones.”
And he began to munch the apple as only a boy or a healthy athlete can. Presently he turned his head to order coffee. The waiter’s back was turned, and he had to be called twice. To my unutterable amazement Hewitt reached swiftly across the table, snatched the half-eaten apple from the young man’s plate and pocketed it, gazing immediately, with an abstracted air, at a painted Cupid on the ceiling.
Our neighbor turned again, looked doubtfully at his plate and the table-cloth about it, and then shot a keen glance in the direction of Hewitt. He said nothing, however, but took his coffee and his bill, deliberately drank the former, gazing quietly at Hewitt as he did it, paid the latter, and left.
Immediately Hewitt was on his feet and, taking an umbrella, which stood near, followed. Just as he reached the door he met our late neighbor, who had turned suddenly back.
“Your umbrella, I think?” Hewitt asked, offering it.
“Yes, thanks.” But the man’s eye had more than its former hardness, and his jaw muscles tightened as I looked. He turned and went. Hewitt came back to me. “Pay the bill,” he said, “and go back to your rooms; I will come on later. I must follow this man — it’s the Foggatt case.” As he went out I heard a cab rattle away, and immediately after it another.
I paid the bill and went home. It was ten o’clock before Hewitt turned up, calling in at his office below on his way up to me.
“Mr. Sidney Mason,” he said, “is the gentleman the police will be wanting to-morrow, I expect, for the Foggatt murder. He is as smart a man as I remember ever meeting, and has done me rather neatly twice this evening.”
“You mean the man we sat opposite at Luzatti’s, of course?”
“Yes, I got his name, of course, from the reverse of that gold medal he was good enough to show me. But I fear he has bilked me over the address. He suspected me, that was plain, and left his umbrella by way of experiment to see if I were watching him sharply enough to notice the circumstance, and to avail myself of it to follow him. I was hasty and fell into the trap. He cabbed it away from Luzatti’s, and I cabbed it after him. He has led me a pretty dance up and down London to-night, and two cabbies have made quite a stroke of business out of us. In the end he entered a house of which, of course, I have taken the address, but I expect he doesn’t live there. He is too smart a man to lead me to his den; but the police can certainly find something of him at the house he went in at — and, I expect, left by the back way. By the way, you never guessed that simple little puzzle as to how I found that this was a murder, did you? You see it now, of course?”
“Something to do with that apple you stole, I suppose?”
“Something to do with it? I should think so, you worthy innocent. Just ring your bell; we’ll borrow Mrs. Clayton’s sewing-machine oil again. On the night we broke into Foggatt’s room you saw the nutshells and the bitten remains of an apple on the sideboard, and you remembered it; and yet you couldn’t see that in that piece of apple possibly lay an important piece of evidence. Of course I never expected you to have arrived at any conclusion, as I had, because I had ten minutes in which to examine that apple, and to do what I did with it. But, at least, you should have seen the possibility of evidence in it.
“First, now, the apple was white. A bitten apple, as you must have observed, turns of a reddish brown color if left to stand long. Different kinds of apples brown with different rapidities, and the browning always begins at the core. This is one of the twenty thousand tiny things that few people take the trouble to notice, but which it is useful for a man in my position to know. A russet will brown quite quickly. The apple on the sideboard was, as near as I could tell, a Newtown pippin or other apple of that kind, which will brown at the core in from twenty minutes to half an hour, and in other parts in a quarter of an hour more. When we saw it, it was white, with barely a tinge of brown about the exposed core. Inference, somebody had been eating it fifteen or twenty minutes before, perhaps a little longer — an inference supported by the fact that it was only partly eaten.
“I examined that apple, and found it bore marks of very irregular teeth. While you were gone, I oiled it over, and, rushing down to my rooms, where I always have a little plaster of Paris handy for such work, took a mold of the part where the teeth had left the clearest marks. I then returned the apple to its place for the police to use if they thought fit. Looking at my mold, it was plain that the person who had bitten that apple had lost two teeth, one at top and one below, not exactly opposite, but nearly so. The other teeth, although they would appear to have been fairly sound, were irregular in size and line. Now, the dead man had, as I saw, a very excellent set of false teeth, regular and sharp, with none missing. Therefore it was plain that somebody else had been eating that apple. Do I make myself clear?”
“Quite! Go on!”
“There were other inferences to be made — slighter, but all pointing the same way. For instance, a man of Foggatt’s age does not, as a rule, munch an unpeeled apple like a school-boy. Inference, a young man, and healthy. Why I came to the conclusion that he was tall, active, a gymnast, and perhaps a sailor, I have already told you, when we examined the outside of Foggatt’s window. It was also pretty clear that robbery was not the motive, since nothing was disturbed, and that a friendly conversation had preceded the murder — witness the drinking and the eating of the apple. Whether or not the police noticed these things I can’t say. If they had had their best men on, they certainly would, I think; but the case, to a rough observer, looked so clearly one of accident or suicide that possibly they didn’t.
“As I said, after the inquest I was unable to devote any immediate time to the case, but I resolved to keep my eyes open. The man to look for was tall, young, strong and active, with a very irregular set of teeth, a tooth missing from the lower jaw just to the left of the center, and another from the upper jaw a little farther still toward the left. He might possibly be a person I had seen about the premises (I have a good memory for faces), or, of course, he possibly might not.
“Just before you returned from your holiday I noticed a young man at Luzatti’s whom I remembered to have seen somewhere about the offices in this building. He was tall, young, and so on, but I had a client with me, and was unable to examine him more narrowly; indeed, as I was not exactly engaged on the case, and as there are several tall young men about, I took little trouble. But to-day, finding the same young man with a vacant seat opposite him, I took the opportunity of making a closer acquaintance.”
“You certainly managed to draw him out.”
“Oh, yes; the easiest person in the world to draw out is a cyclist. The easiest cyclist to draw out is, of course, the novice, but the next easiest is the veteran. When you see a healthy, well-trained-looking man, who, nevertheless, has a slight stoop in the shoulders, and, maybe, a medal on his watch-guard, it is always a safe card to try him first with a little cycle-racing talk. I soon brought Mr. Mason out of his shell, read his name on his medal, and had a chance of observing his teeth — indeed, he spoke of them himself. Now, as I observed just now, there are several tall, athletic young men about, and also there are several men who have lost teeth. But now I saw that this tall and athletic young man had lost exactly two teeth — one from the lower jaw, just to the left of the center, and another from the upper jaw, farther still toward the left! Trivialities, pointing in the same direction, became important considerations. More, his teeth were irregular throughout, and, as nearly as I could remember it, looked remarkably like this little plaster mold of mine.”
He produced from his pocket an irregular lump of plaster, about three inches long. On one side of this appeared in relief the likeness of two irregular rows of six or eight teeth, minus one in each row, where a deep gap was seen, in the position spoken of by my friend. He proceeded:
“This was enough at least to set me after this young man. But he gave me the greatest chance of all when he turned and left his apple (eaten unpeeled, remember! — another important triviality) on his plate. I’m afraid I wasn’t at all polite, and I ran the risk of arousing his suspicions, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to steal it. I did, as you saw, and here it is.”
He brought the apple from his coat-pocket. One bitten side, placed against the upper half of the mold, fitted precisely, a projection of apple filling exactly the deep gap. The other side similarly fitted the lower half.
“There’s no getting behind that, you see,” Hewitt remarked. “Merely observing the man’s teeth was a guide, to some extent, but this is as plain as his signature or his thumb impression. You’ll never find two men bite exactly alike, no matter whether they leave distinct teeth-marks or not. Here, by the by, is Mrs. Clayton’s oil. We’ll take another mold from this apple, and compare them.”
He oiled the apple, heaped a little plaster in a newspaper, took my water-jug, and rapidly pulled off a hard mold. The parts corresponding to the merely broken places in the apple were, of course, dissimilar; but as to the teeth-marks, the impressions were identical.
“That will do, I think,” Hewitt said. “Tomorrow morning, Brett, I shall put up these things in a small parcel, and take them round to Bow Street.”
“But are they sufficient evidence?”
“Quite sufficient for the police purpose. There is the man, and all the rest — his movements on the day and so forth — are simple matters of inquiry; at any rate, that is police business.”
I had scarcely sat down to my breakfast on the following morning when Hewitt came into the room and put a long letter before me.
“From our friend of last night,” he said; “read it.”
This letter began abruptly, and undated, and was as follows:
“TO MARTIN HEWITT, ESQ.
“SIR: I must compliment you on the adroitness you exhibited this evening in extracting from me my name. The address I was able to balk you of for the time being, although by the time you read this you will probably have found it through the Law List, as I am an admitted solicitor. That, however, will be of little use to you, for I am removing myself, I think, beyond the reach even of your abilities of search. I knew you well by sight, and was, perhaps, foolish to allow myself to be drawn as I did. Still, I had no idea that it would be dangerous, especially after seeing you, as a witness with very little to say, at the inquest upon the scoundrel I shot. Your somewhat discourteous seizure of my apple at first amazed me — indeed, I was a little doubtful as to whether you had really taken it — but it was my first warning that you might be playing a deep game against me, incomprehensible as the action was to my mind. I subsequently reflected that I had been eating an apple, instead of taking the drink he first offered me, in the dead wretch’s rooms on the night he came to his merited end. From this I assume that your design was in some way to compare what remained of the two apples — although I do not presume to fathom the depths of your detective system. Still, I have heard of many of your cases, and profoundly admire the keenness you exhibit. I am thought to be a keen man myself, but, although I was able, to some extent, to hold my own to-night, I admit that your acumen in this case alone is something beyond me.
“I do not know by whom you are commissioned to hunt me, nor to what extent you may be acquainted with my connection with the creature I killed. I have sufficient respect for you, however, to wish that you should not regard me as a vicious criminal, and a couple of hours to spare in which to offer you an explanation that will convince you that such is not altogether the case. A hasty and violent temper I admit possessing; but even now I can not forget the one crime it has led me into — for it is, I suppose, strictly speaking, a crime. For it was the man Foggatt who made a felon of my father before the eyes of the world, and killed him with shame. It was he who murdered my mother, and none the less murdered her because she died of a broken heart. That he was also a thief and a hypocrite might have concerned me little but for that.
“Of my father I remember very little. He must, I fear, have been a weak and incapable man in many respects. He had no business abilities — in fact, was quite unable to understand the complicated business matters in which he largely dealt. Foggatt was a consummate master of all those arts of financial jugglery that make so many fortunes, and ruin so many others, in matters of company promoting, stocks, and shares. He was unable to exercise them, however, because of a great financial disaster in which he had been mixed up a few years before, and which made his name one to be avoided in future. In these circumstances he made a sort of secret and informal partnership with my father, who, ostensibly alone in the business, acted throughout on the directions of Foggatt, understanding as little what he did, poor, simple man, as a schoolboy would have done. The transactions carried on went from small to large, and, unhappily from honorable to dishonorable. My father relied on the superior abilities of Foggatt with an absolute trust, carrying out each day the directions given him privately the previous evening, buying, selling, printing prospectuses, signing whatever had to be signed, all with sole responsibility and as sole partner, while Foggatt, behind the scenes absorbed the larger share of the profits. In brief, my unhappy and foolish father was a mere tool in the hands of the cunning scoundrel who pulled all the wires of the business, himself unseen and irresponsible. At last three companies, for the promotion of which my father was responsible, came to grief in a heap. Fraud was written large over all their history, and, while Foggatt retired with his plunder, my father was left to meet ruin, disgrace, and imprisonment. From beginning to end he, and he only, was responsible. There was no shred of evidence to connect Foggatt with the matter, and no means of escape from the net drawn about my father. He lived through three years of imprisonment, and then, entirely abandoned by the man who had made use of his simplicity, he died — of nothing but shame and a broken heart.
“Of this I knew nothing at the time. Again and again, as a small boy, I remember asking of my mother why I had no father at home, as other boys had — unconscious of the stab I thus inflicted on her gentle heart. Of her my earliest, as well as my latest, memory is that of a pale, weeping woman, who grudged to let me out of her sight.
“Little by little I learned the whole cause of my mother’s grief, for she had no other confidant, and I fear my character developed early, for my first coherent remembrance of the matter is that of a childish design to take a table-knife and kill the bad man who had made my father die in prison and caused my mother to cry.
“One thing, however, I never knew — the name of that bad man. Again and again, as I grew older, I demanded to know, but my mother always withheld it from me, with a gentle reminder that vengeance was for a greater hand than mine.
“I was seventeen years of age when my mother died. I believe that nothing but her strong attachment to myself and her desire to see me safely started in life kept her alive so long. Then I found that through all those years of narrowed means she had contrived to scrape and save a little money — sufficient, as it afterward proved, to see me through the examinations for entrance to my profession, with the generous assistance of my father’s old legal advisers, who gave me my articles, and who have all along treated me with extreme kindness.
“For most of the succeeding years my life does not concern the matter in hand. I was a lawyer’s clerk in my benefactors’ service, and afterward a qualified man among their assistants. All through the firm were careful, in pursuance of my poor mother’s wishes, that I should not learn the name or whereabouts of the man who had wrecked her life and my father’s. I first met the man himself at the Clifton Club, where I had gone with an acquaintance who was a member. It was not till afterward that I understood his curious awkwardness on that occasion. A week later I called (as I had frequently done) at the building in which your office is situated, on business with a solicitor who has an office on the floor above your own. On the stairs I almost ran against Mr. Foggatt. He started and turned pale, exhibiting signs of alarm that I could not understand, and asked me if I wished to see him.
“‘No,’ I replied, ‘I didn’t know you lived here. I am after somebody else just now. Aren’t you well?’
“He looked at me rather doubtfully, and said he was not very well.
“I met him twice or thrice after that, and on each occasion his manner grew more friendly, in a servile, flattering, and mean sort of way — a thing unpleasant enough in anybody, but doubly so in the intercourse of a man with another young enough to be his own son. Still, of course, I treated the man civilly enough. On one occasion he asked me into his rooms to look at a rather fine picture he had lately bought, and observed casually, lifting a large revolver from the mantel-piece:
“‘You see, I am prepared for any unwelcome visitors to my little den! He! He!’ Conceiving him, of course, to refer to burglars, I could not help wondering at the forced and hollow character of his laugh. As we went down the stairs he said: ‘I think we know one another pretty well now, Mr. Mason, eh? And if I could do anything to advance your professional prospects, I should be glad of the chance, of course. I understand the struggles of a young professional man — he! he!’ It was the forced laugh again, and the man spoke nervously. ‘I think,’ he added, ‘that if you will drop in to-morrow evening, perhaps I may have a little proposal to make. Will you?’
“I assented, wondering what this proposal could be. Perhaps this eccentric old gentleman was a good fellow, after all, anxious to do me a good turn, and his awkwardness was nothing but a natural delicacy in breaking the ice. I was not so flush of good friends as to be willing to lose one. He might be desirous of putting business in my way.
“I went, and was received with cordiality that even then seemed a little over-effusive. We sat and talked of one thing and another for a long while, and I began to wonder when Mr. Foggatt was coming to the point that most interested me. Several times he invited me to drink and smoke, but long usage to athletic training has given me a distaste for both practices, and I declined. At last he began to talk about myself. He was afraid that my professional prospects in this country were not great, but he had heard that in some of the colonies — South Africa, for example — young lawyers had brilliant opportunities.
“‘If you’d like to go there,’ he said, ‘I’ve no doubt, with a little capital, a clever man like you could get a grand practice together very soon. Or you might buy a share in some good established practice. I should be glad to let you have £500, or even a little more, if that wouldn’t satisfy you, and ——’
“I stood aghast. Why should this man, almost a stranger, offer me £500, or even more, ‘if that wouldn’t satisfy’ me? What claim had I on him? It was very generous of him, of course, but out of the question. I was, at least, a gentleman, and had a gentleman’s self-respect. Meanwhile, he had gone maundering on, in a halting sort of way, and presently let slip a sentence that struck me like a blow between the eyes.
“‘I shouldn’t like you to bear ill-will because of what has happened in the past,’ he said. ‘Your late — your late lamented mother — I’m afraid — she had unworthy suspicions — I’m sure — it was best for all parties — your father always appreciated ——’
“I set back my chair and stood erect before him. This groveling wretch, forcing the words through his dry lips, was the thief who had made another of my father and had brought to miserable ends the lives of both my parents! Everything was clear. The creature went in fear of me, never imagining that I did not know him, and sought to buy me off — to buy me from the remembrance of my dead mother’s broken heart for £500 —£500 that he had made my father steal for him! I said not a word. But the memory of all my mother’s bitter years, and a savage sense of this crowning insult to myself, took a hold upon me, and I was a tiger. Even then I verily believe that one word of repentance, one tone of honest remorse, would have saved him. But he drooped his eyes, snuffled excuses, and stammered of ‘unworthy suspicions’ and ‘no ill-will.’ I let him stammer. Presently he looked up and saw my face; and fell back in his chair, sick with terror. I snatched the pistol from the mantel-piece, and, thrusting it in his face, shot him where he sat.
“My subsequent coolness and quietness surprise me now. I took my hat and stepped toward the door. But there were voices on the stairs. The door was locked on the inside, and I left it so. I went back and quietly opened a window. Below was a clear drop into darkness, and above was plain wall; but away to one side, where the slope of the gable sprang from the roof, an iron gutter ended, supported by a strong bracket. It was the only way. I got upon the sill and carefully shut the window behind me, for people were already knocking at the lobby door. From the end of the sill, holding on by the reveal of the window with one hand, leaning and stretching my utmost, I caught the gutter, swung myself clear, and scrambled on the roof. I climbed over many roofs before I found, in an adjoining street, a ladder lashed perpendicularly against the front of a house in course of repair. This, to me, was an easy opportunity of descent, notwithstanding the boards fastened over the face of the ladder, and I availed myself of it.
“I have taken some time and trouble in order that you (so far as I am aware the only human being beside myself who knows me to be the author of Foggatt’s death) shall have at least the means of appraising my crime at its just value of culpability. How much you already know of what I have told you I can not guess. I am wrong, hardened, and flagitious, I make no doubt, but I speak of the facts as they are. You see the thing, of course, from your own point of view — I from mine. And I remember my mother!
“Trusting that you will forgive the odd freak of a man — a criminal, let us say — who makes a confidant of the man set to hunt him down, I beg leave to be, sir, your obedient servant,
I read the singular document through and handed it back to Hewitt.
“How does it strike you?” Hewitt asked.
“Mason would seem to be a man of very marked character,” I said. “Certainly no fool. And, if his tale is true, Foggatt is no great loss to the world.”
“Just so — if the tale is true. Personally I am disposed to believe it is.”
“Where was the letter posted?”
“It wasn’t posted. It was handed in with the others from the front-door letter-box this morning in an unstamped envelope. He must have dropped it in himself during the night. Paper,” Hewitt proceeded, holding it up to the light, “Turkey mill, ruled foolscap. Envelope, blue, official shape, Pirie’s watermark. Both quite ordinary and no special marks.”
“Where do you suppose he’s gone?”
“Impossible to guess. Some might think he meant suicide by the expression ‘beyond the reach even of your abilities of search,’ but I scarcely think he is the sort of man to do that. No, there is no telling. Something may be got by inquiring at his late address, of course; but, when such a man tells you he doesn’t think you will find him, you may count upon its being a difficult job. His opinion is not to be despised.”
“What shall you do?”
“Put the letter in the box with the casts for the police. Fiat justitia, you know, without any question of sentiment. As to the apple, I really think, if the police will let me, I’ll make you a present of it. Keep it somewhere as a souvenir of your absolute deficiency in reflective observation in this case, and look at it whenever you feel yourself growing dangerously conceited. It should cure you.”
This is the history of the withered and almost petrified half apple that stands in my cabinet among a number of flint implements and one or two rather fine old Roman vessels. Of Mr. Sidney Mason we never heard another word. The police did their best, but he had left not a track behind him. His rooms were left almost undisturbed, and he had gone without anything in the way of elaborate preparation for his journey, and without leaving a trace of his intentions.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58