The mystery of Denson’s death remained a mystery, despite all the police could do. The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of “Murder by some person or persons unknown”— which, indeed, was all that could be expected of them; for they had no more before them than the bare fact that the body, disguised in the clothes of a labourer, had been found on the steps near the Duke of York’s column, just before midnight, by a police constable. But for the housekeeper’s identification, even the name of the victim would have been unknown. The jury certainly wasted some time in idle speculation as to the strange triangular mark found on the forehead, without a speck of evidence to help them; but in the end they returned their verdict, and went home.
But the police knew a little more than the jury, though that little rather confused than helped them. They exercised their judgment at the inquest in withholding all evidence of the theft of diamonds on which the victim had been engaged, the curious particulars of which I have already related. In this they followed their usual course in cases where the evidence withheld could give the jury no help in arriving at their verdict, and at the same time might easily hamper further investigations if revealed. For the theft had been frustrated by Martin Hewitt’s exertions, as we have seen, and in any case the thief was now dead and beyond the reach of human punishment. The one matter now remaining for the police was inquiry into the murder of this same thief, and the one object of their exertions the apprehension of the murderer or murderers.
The case, as I have already said, was in the hands of Inspector Plummer, an intelligent officer and an old friend of Hewitt’s. A few days’ work after the inquest yielded Plummer so little result that he called at Hewitt’s office to talk matters over.
“I suppose,” Plummer began, “it’s no use asking if you’ve heard anything more of that matter of Denson’s murder?”
Hewitt shook his head. “I haven’t heard a word,” he said. “If I had, it would have come on to you at once. But I hope you’ve had some luck yourself?”
“Not a scrap; time wasted; and the few off-chance clues I tried have led nowhere, so that I’m where I was at the start. The thing is quite the oddest in all my experience. See how we stand. Here’s a man, Denson, who has just pulled off one of the cleverest jewel robberies ever attempted. He so arranges it that he walks safely off with fifteen thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds, leaving the victim, Samuel, stuck patiently in an office for an hour or two before he even begins to suspect anything is wrong, and then unable to set the police after him, for the reasons you discovered. But this Denson doesn’t carry the plunder off straightway, as he so easily might have done — he conceals it in the very house where the robbery was committed, taking with him a key by aid of which he may return and get it. Why? As you explained, it was probably because he feared somebody — feared being stopped and searched on the day of the robbery— not after, since it was plain he meant to return for his booty at night. Who could this have been, and why did Denson fear him? Mystery number one. Then this Denson is found dead that same night disguised in the clothes of a labourer, in a most conspicuous spot in London — the last place in the world one would expect a murderer to select for depositing his victim’s body, for it is evidently not the place where the murder was committed. More, on the forehead there is this extraordinary impressed mark of a Red Triangle. Now, what can all that mean? Robbery, perhaps one thinks. But the body isn’t robbed! There are three five-pound notes on it, besides a sovereign or two and some small change, a watch and chain, keys and all the rest of it. Then one guesses at the diamonds. Perhaps it was an accomplice in the robbery, who finds that Denson is about to bolt with the whole lot. But if there’s one thing plain in this amazing business it is that Denson had no accomplice; he did the whole thing alone, as you discovered, and he needed no help. More than that, if this were the work of an accomplice why didn’t he get the jewels? There were the keys to his hand and he left them! And would such a person actually go out of his way to put the body where it must be discovered at once, instead of concealing it till he could himself get away with the diamonds? Of course not. But there was no accomplice, and it’s useless to labour that farther. All these arguments apply equally against the theory that it was the work of some criminal gang. They would have taken all they could get, notes, keys, diamonds and all, and they wouldn’t have been so foolish as to exhibit the body with that extraordinary mark; criminal gangs are not such fools as to take unnecessary chances and gratuitously leave tracks behind them, as you know well enough. Well then, there we stand. So far, do you see any more in it than I do?”
Hewitt shook his head. “No,” he said, “I can’t say I do. All the considerations you have mentioned have already occurred to me. I talked them over, in fact, with my friend Brett. My connection with the case ceased, of course, with the discovery of the jewels, and about the murder I know no more than has been told me. I never saw the body, and so had no opportunity of picking up any overlooked clue; though doubtless you have seen to that. I know not a tittle more than you have just summarised, and on that alone the thing seems mystery pure and unadulterated.”
“All there is beyond that was ascertained by the divisional surgeon on examination of the body. The man died from strangulation, as you know, and the natural presumption from that was that the murderer must have been a powerful man. But the surgeon is of the positive opinion — he is certain, in fact — that Denson was strangled with an instrument — a tourniquet.”
“Yes, a surgeon’s tourniquet, such as is used to compress a leg or arm and so stop a flow of blood. He considers the marks unmistakable. Now that might point to the murderer being a medical man.”
“Conjecturally, yes; though, of course, it justifies nothing more than conjecture.”
“Precisely. Well, that was something, but precious little. A tourniquet is a common thing enough — no more than a band with screw fittings, and there was nothing to show that the tourniquet used was any different from a thousand others; and I can see no particular reason why a doctor should commit a murder like this any more than any other man; in which the divisional surgeon agreed with me. And doctor or none, that Red Triangle was altogether unaccounted for. About that, too, by the way, the divisional surgeon told me a little, but a very useless little. The mark was not properly dried, owing to its slightly greasy nature, and although it was almost impossible to remove it wholly, it was possible to scrape off a little of the ink, or colour. Here is a little of it on a paper — quite dried now, of course.”
Plummer carefully took from his pocket a small folded paper, unfolded it, and revealed a smaller paper within. On this were two little smears of a bright red colour. “There — that’s the stuff,” he said. “The surgeon examined it, and he reports it to be rather oddly constituted — so as to bear some affinity of meaning, possibly, to the triangle. For the stuff is a compound of three substances — animal, vegetable and mineral; there is a fine vegetable oil, he says, some waxy preparation, certainly of animal origin, and a mineral — cinnabar: vermilion, in fact. But though there may be some connection between the triangle and the substances representing the three natural kingdoms, it gives nothing practical — nothing to go on.”
Martin Hewitt had been closely examining the marks on the paper, and now he answered, “I’m not so sure of that, though, Plummer. I think at least that it gives us another conjecture. I should guess that the man you want, as well as being acquainted with the use of the tourniquet, has at some time travelled in, or to, China.”
“Unless I am wider of the mark than usual, this is the pigment used on Chinese seals. A Chinaman’s seal acts for his signature on all sorts of documents; it is impressed or printed by hand pressure from a little engraved stone die, precisely as this triangle seems to have been, and the ink or colour is almost always red, compounded of vermilion, wax, and oil of sesamum.”
Plummer sat up with a whistle. “Phew! Then it may have been done by a Chinaman!”
Hewitt shrugged his shoulders. “It’s possible,” he said; “of course, though, the sign, the triangle, is not a Chinese character. As a character, of course it is the Greek Delta. But it may be no character at all. In the signs of the ancient Cabala, the triangle, apex upward as it was in this case, was the symbol of fire; apex downward, it signified water.”
Plummer patted the side of his head distractedly. “Heavens!” he said, “don’t tell me I’m to search all China, and Greece, and — wherever the cabalistic pundits come from!”
“Well, no,” Hewitt answered with a smile. “I think I should, at any rate, begin in this country. I rather think you might make a beginning at Denson. That is what I should do if the case were mine. See if anything can be ascertained of his previous life — probably under another name or names. He may have been in China. Yes, certainly, as we stand at present, I should begin at Denson.”
“I think I will,” the inspector replied, “though there’s precious little to begin on there. I’d like to have you with me on this job, but, of course, that’s impossible, since it’s purely a police matter. But something, some information, may come your way, and in that case you’ll let me know at once, of course.”
“Of course I shall — it’s a serious matter, as well as a strange one. I wish you all luck!”
Plummer departed to grapple with his difficulties, but in fact it was Hewitt who first heard fresh news of the Red Triangle, and that from a wholly unexpected quarter.
It was, indeed, only two days after Plummer’s visit that Kerrett brought into Hewitt’s private room the card of the Rev. James Potswood, with a request for a consultation. Mr. Potswood’s name was known to Hewitt, as, indeed, it was to many people, as that of a most devoted clergyman, rector of a large parish in north-west London, who devoted not only all his time and personal strength to his work, but also spent every penny of his private income on his parish. It was not a small income that Mr. Potswood spent in this unselfish way, for he came of a wealthy family, and though a good part of his parish was inhabited by well-to-do people, there was quite enough poverty and distress in the poorer quarters to cause this excellent man often to regret that his resources were not even larger. He was a spare active grey-whiskered man of nearly sixty, with prominent and not very handsome features, though his face was full of frank and simple kindliness.
“My errand, Mr. Hewitt,” he said, “is of a rather vague, not to say visionary, character, and I doubt if you can help me. But at any rate I will explain the trouble as well as I can. In the first place, am I right in supposing that you were in some way professionally engaged in connection with that extraordinary case of murder a week or so ago — the case in which a man named Denson was found dead on the steps by the Duke of York’s column?”
“Yes — and no,” Hewitt answered. “I was professionally engaged on a certain matter about which you will not wish me to particularise — since it is the business of a client — and in course of it I came upon the other affair.”
“Then before I ask what you know of that mysterious event, Mr. Hewitt, I will tell you my story, so that you may judge whether you are able to reveal anything, or to do anything. Of course, what I say is in the strictest confidence.”
“I have a parishioner, a Mr. Jacob Mason, of whom I have seen very little of late years — scarcely anything at all, in fact, till a few days ago. He is fairly well to do, I believe, living a somewhat retired life in a house not far from my rectory. For many years he has laboured at natural science — chemistry in particular — and he has a very excellently fitted laboratory attached to his house. He is a widower, with no children of his own, but his orphan niece, a Miss Creswick, lives under his guardianship. Mr. Mason was never a very regular church-goer, but years ago I saw much more of him than I have of late. I must be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Hewitt, if you are to help me, and therefore I must tell you that we disagreed on points of religion, in such a way that I found it difficult to maintain my former regard for Mr. Mason. He had a curiously fantastic mind, and he was constantly being led to tamper with things that I think are best left alone — what is called spiritualism, for instance, and that horrible form of modern superstition which we hear whispers of at times from the Continent — the alleged devil-propitiation or worship. It was not that he did anything I thought morally wrong, you understand — except that he dabbled. And he was always running after some new thing — animal magnetism, or telepathy, or crystal-gazing, or theosophy, or some one of the score of such things that have an attraction for a mind of that sort. And it was a characteristic of each new enthusiasm with him that it prompted him to try to convert me; and that in such terms — terms often applied to the doctrines of that religion of which I am a humble minister — as I could in nowise permit in my presence. So that our friendly intercourse, though not interrupted by any definite breaking off, fell away to almost nothing. For which reason I was a little surprised to receive a visit from Mr. Mason on the afternoon of the day on which the newspapers printed the report of the finding of the body of Denson. You may remember that only one morning paper mentioned the matter, and that very briefly; but there were full reports in all the evening papers.”
“Yes, the discovery was made very late the previous night.”
“So I gathered. Well, I was told that Mr. Mason had been shown into my study, and there I found him. He was in an extremely nervous and agitated state, and he had an evening paper in his hand. With scarcely a preliminary word he burst out, ‘Have you seen this in the paper? This — this murder? There — there’s the report.’ And he thrust the paper into my hands.
“I had not seen or heard anything of the matter, in fact, till that moment, and now he gave me little leisure to read the report. He walked up and down the room, nervously clasping his hands, sometimes together, sometimes at his sides, sometimes before him, shaking his head in a shuddering sort of way, and bursting out once or twice as though the words were uncontrollable, ‘What ought I to do? What can I do?’
“I looked up from the paper, and he went on, ‘Have you read it? It’s a murder — a horrid murder. The poor wretched fellow was trying to escape, but he couldn’t. It’s a murder!’
“‘It certainly seems so,’ I said. ‘But what — did you know this man, Denson?’
“‘No, of course not,’ Mason replied, ‘but there it is, plain enough, and here’s another paper with just the same report, but a little shorter.’ He pulled the second paper from his pocket. ‘I got what different papers I could, but these are the two fullest. It’s plain enough it’s a brutal murder, isn’t it? And the man was a merchant, or an agent, or something, in Portsmouth Street, but he was found in labourer’s clothes — proof that he feared it and was trying to escape it; but he couldn’t — he couldn’t — no! nor anybody. It’s awful, awful!’
“‘But I don’t understand,’ I said. ‘Won’t you sit down?’ For Mason continued to pace distractedly about the room. ‘What is it you think this unfortunate man was trying to escape? And what am I to do in the matter?’
“He stopped, pressed both hands to his head, and seemed to control himself by a great effort. ‘You must excuse me,’ he said. ‘I’m a bit run down lately, and my nerves are all wrong. I’m talking rather wildly, I’m afraid. I really hardly know why I came to you, except that I haven’t a soul I can talk to about — well, about anything, scarcely.’
“He took a chair, and sat for a little while with his head forward on his hand and his eyes directed towards the floor. Then he said, in a musing way, rather as though he was thinking aloud than talking to me, ‘You were right, after all, Potswood, and I was a fool to disregard your warnings. I oughtn’t to have dabbled — I should have left those things alone.’
“I said nothing, thinking it best not to disturb him, but to leave him free to say what he wanted to say in his own way. He remained quiet for a minute or two more, and then sat up with an appearance of much greater composure. ‘You mustn’t mind me, Potswood,’ he said. ‘As I’ve told you, I’m in a bad state of nerves, and at best I’m an impulsive sort of person, as you know. I needn’t have bothered you like this — I came rushing round here without thinking, and if the house had been a bit farther off I should have come to my senses before I reached you. After all, there’s nothing so much to disturb one’s-self about, and this man — this Denson — may very well have deserved his fate. Don’t you think that likely?’
“He added this last question with an involuntary eagerness that scarcely accorded with the indifferent tone with which he had begun. I answered guardedly. I said of course nobody could say what the unhappy man’s sins might have been, but that whatever they were they could never justify the fearful sin of murder. ‘And,’ I added, ‘if you know anything of the matter, Mason, or have the smallest suspicion as to who is the guilty person, I’m sure you won’t hesitate in your duty.’
“‘My duty?’ he said. ‘Oh yes, of course; my duty. You mean, of course, that any law-abiding citizen who knows of evidence should bring it out. Just so. Of course I haven’t any evidence — that paper gave me the first news of the thing.’
“‘I think,’ I rejoined, ‘that anybody who was possessed of even less than evidence — of any suspicion which might lead to evidence — should go at once and place the authorities in possession of all he knows or suspects.’
“‘Yes,’ he said — very calmly now, though it seemed at cost of a great effort —‘so he should; so he should, no doubt, in any ordinary case. But sometimes there are difficulties, you know — great difficulties.’ He stopped and looked at me furtively and uneasily. ‘A man might fear for his own safety — he might even know that to say what he knew would be to condemn himself to sudden death; and more, perhaps, more. Suppose — it might be, you know — suppose, for instance, a man was placed between the alternatives of neglecting this duty and of breaking a — well an oath, a binding oath of a very serious — terrible — character? An oath, we will say, made previously, without any foreknowledge of the crime?’
“I said that any such oath taken without foreknowledge of the crime could not have contemplated such an event, and that however wrong the taking of such an oath might have been in itself, to assist in concealing such a crime as this murder was infinitely worse — infinitely worse than taking the oath, and infinitely worse than breaking it. Though as to the latter, I repeated that any such engagement made without contemplation or foreknowledge of such a crime would seem to be void in that respect. I went further — much further. I conjured him to make no secret of anything he might know, and not to burden his conscience with complicity — for that was what concealment would amount to — in such a terrible crime. I added some further exhortations which I need not repeat now, and presently his assumed calmness departed utterly, and he became even more agitated than when first he came. He would say nothing further, however, and in the end he went away, saying he would ‘think over the matter very seriously.’
“It was quite plain to me that my poor friend was suffering acutely from the burden of some terrible secret, and that in his impulsive way he had rushed to confide in me at the first shock of the news of this murder, and that afterwards his courage had failed him. But I conceived it my duty not to allow such a matter to stand thus. Therefore, giving Mason a few hours for calm consideration, I called on him in the evening. I was told that he was not very well and had gone to bed; he had, however, left a message, in case I should call, to the effect that he would come and see me in the morning. I waited the whole of that next morning and the whole of the afternoon, and saw nothing of him. In the evening urgent parish work took me away, but next morning I called again at Mason’s house and saw him. This time he avoided the subject — tried to dodge it, in fact. But I was not to be denied, and the result was another scene of alternate agitation and forced calmness. I will not weary you, Mr. Hewitt, with useless repetition, but I may say that I have seen Mason twice since then without bringing him to any definite resolve. As a matter of fact, I believe that he is restrained from saying anything further by fear — sheer terror. He has even gone so far as to deny absolutely that he knows anything of the matter — and then has contradicted himself a minute afterwards. At last, this morning, I have brought him a degree further. In the last few days I made it my business to acquaint myself, as far as possible, with the exact circumstances of the tragedy, so far as they are known, and in course of my inquiries I saw the housekeeper of the offices next door — the man who identified the body as Denson’s. He either could not, or would not, tell me very much, but he did say that you had been working in some way in connection with the case, and that you knew as much of it as anybody. That gave me an idea. This morning I told Mason that not only he, but I also had a duty in respect to this matter, and my duty was to see that nothing in connection with such a crime as this should be hushed up on any consideration or for anybody’s fancies. I said that if he liked he need tell me no more, but might take you into consultation professionally, as your client, allowing me first to see you and to assure you that, consistently with his own safety, he was anxious to further the ends of justice. I said that, as your client, your first duty would be to protect him, that your professional practice would keep your mouth absolutely sealed, and that you already knew a good deal about the crime — perhaps more than he suspected. I protested that this seemed to me the very least he could do, and I warned him that if he refused to do even this, I should have to consider whether it was consistent with my character, as a clergyman and a loyal citizen, any longer to conceal the fact that he was keeping back information that might lead to the apprehension of the murderer. This frightened him, and between the fear of the threat and the fear that you might already know more than he suspected, he authorised me — he was even eager about it — to come and see you; always, of course, under a pledge of strict professional secrecy.”
“So far your account is quite clear, Mr. Potswood,” Hewitt said. “You have done your best, now I must do mine. You wish me to see Mason at once, no doubt?”
“I arranged to bring you to his house, if you were willing and your engagements permitted, at three this afternoon. Will that do? I have been keeping you, I see — it is past one already. Will you lunch with me at my club?”
“With great pleasure — more especially as I have a few questions to ask as we go along. Is it far?”
“Just at this end of Pall Mall — we will walk, if you like.”
“Tell me now,” said Hewitt as they went, “anything you know about Mr. Mason’s habits, family connections, and so forth, as fully and as minutely as you please. Has he any friends connected with China, for instance?”
“China? Why, no, I think not; except — but I’ll tell you all I know. Mr. Mason has no family connections, so far as I am aware — at any rate, in London — except his niece, Miss Creswick. She is within a few months of twenty-one, a charming girl, but horribly shut in, for Mason has almost no visitors. Miss Creswick was his sister’s daughter; she lost her mother first and then her father, and was left to the guardianship of her uncle. He was also trustee under the will, and he has, I believe, discretion to keep charge of her property, if he thinks fit, till she reaches the age of twenty-five; though in case of his death she is to inherit in the ordinary way, on coming of age. She is a very dutiful and, indeed, an affectionate niece; though I must say he is scarcely fair to her, keeping her, as he does, so completely secluded from the society of young people of her own age. Mere thoughtlessness, I think; he has had no children of his own, his mind is wholly occupied with his science and his fads, and he makes himself a recluse without a thought of the girl. And that brings me to what I was about to say at first, when you asked me if Mr. Mason had any friends connected with China. There is a young doctor — Lawson is his name — some very distant connection of the family, I think, who had a professional appointment of some sort in Shanghai for a year or two, but who is now in London trying to work up a small practice of his own. If you hadn’t mentioned China I shouldn’t have thought of him, since he never goes to the house now — or, at any rate, is supposed not to go.”
“Doesn’t go to the house? And why is that?”
“Well, there was a disagreement. What it was I don’t quite know, but in the first place it had some connection with some of Mason’s experiments — something which Lawson declined to help him with for professional reasons, or else something he declined to do for Lawson, I don’t know which. But the thing went further, for, as a matter of fact, there was something between the young people — Lawson is only twenty-eight — and Mason put an end to that. It had been something like a formal engagement, I think, but in the quarrel — Mason was always quarrelling with somebody when he had friends, and that’s why he has so few now — in the quarrel things were said that ended in a rupture. Whether young Lawson was fortune-hunting or not I cannot say, but Mason certainly accused him of it, and promised to keep back the girl’s money as long as he could. In the meantime Mason declared an end to the engagement, and poor Helen was broken-hearted; for as I have said, she is an affectionate girl, and she hadn’t a friend to confide in. But I’m boring you — you don’t want to know all these things, surely?”
“On the contrary, I can’t possibly know too much, and the particulars can’t possibly be too minute. Nine cases out of ten I bring to an issue by means of a triviality. You were saying a little while back that there were almost no visitors at Mr. Mason’s house; but you said ‘almost,’ and that means there are some. Who are they?”
“Very occasionally — rarely, in fact — there are one or two members of learned societies with whom he had been in correspondence, or who are old friends. There is a Professor Hutton and a Dr. Burge, I believe; but they don’t appear once in six months; and there is Mr. Everard Myatt, who is more frequent. He does not profess to be a great man of science, but he is interested in chemistry as an amateur, and is, I fancy, a sort of disciple of Mason’s. He has noticed a sad difference in Mason just lately, and he even called on me yesterday, though I hardly knew him by sight, in the hope that I would back up his urgent suggestion that Mason should go off for a change and a rest. Beyond these I don’t think I know of a single visitor. But here we are at the Megatherium.”
Mr. Jacob Mason’s house stood in its own grounds in a quiet suburban road. It was not a very large house, but it straggled about comfortably in the manner of detached houses built in the suburbs at a time when space was less valuable than now, and it consisted of two floors only. The front door was not far from the road, and was clearly visible to passengers who might chance to look through either of the two iron gates that opened one on each end of the semi-circular drive.
All these things Martin Hewitt noticed as the Rev. Mr. Potswood pushed open one of these gates, and the two walked up the drive. The front door stood in a portico, and a French window gave access to the roof of this portico from a bedroom or dressing-room. As Hewitt and his companion approached the house the French window was pushed open, and a man appeared — a middle-aged, slightly stoutish man with a short, grey beard; commonplace enough in himself, but now convulsed with noisy anger, shaking his fists and stamping on the portico-roof.
“Get out!” he shouted. “Don’t come near my house again, or I’ll have you flung out! Go away and take your friends with you! D’you hear? Go away, sir, and don’t come here annoying me! Go! Go at once!”
Mr. Potswood absolutely staggered with amazement. “Why,” he gasped, “it’s Mason! He’s mad — clean mad! Why, Mason, my poor friend, don’t you know me?”
“Get out, I say!” cried Mason. “Give me no more of your talk! I won’t have you here!” And now Hewitt caught a glimpse of a girl’s face at the window behind the man — a pale and handsome face, drawn with anxiety and fear.
Hewitt seized the clergyman quickly by the arm. “Come,” he whispered hurriedly, “come away at once. There is a reason for this. Get away at once. If you can answer back angrily, do so, but at any rate, come away.”
He hurried back to the gate, half dragging the astounded rector, who was all too honest a soul to be able to counterfeit an anger he did not feel, even if his amazement had not made him speechless. Hewitt closed the gate behind him and said as he walked, “Where is the rectory? We will go there. He may have sent a message while you were out.”
Mechanically the rector took the first turning. “But he’s mad!” he protested. “Mad, poor fellow! Merciful heavens, Mr. Hewitt, his whole tale must have been a delusion! A mere madman’s fancy! Poor fellow! We must go back, Mr. Hewitt — we really must! We can’t leave that poor girl there alone with a raving maniac!”
“No,” Hewitt insisted, “come to the rectory. That is no madness, Mr. Potswood. Couldn’t you see the colour of the man under the eyes, and the shaking of his beard? That was not anger and it was not madness. It was terror, Mr. Potswood — sheer, sick terror! Terror, or some emotion very much like it.”
“But, if terror, why that outburst? What does it mean? If it were terror, why not rather welcome our company and help?”
“Don’t you see, Mr. Potswood?” answered Hewitt. “Don’t you guess? Mason is watched, and he knows it! He was acting his anger before unseen eyes — and he knew they were on him!”
“God be merciful to us all,” ejaculated the clergyman. “Poor man — poor sinner! What is this unspeakable thing which has him in its clutches? What had he done to give himself over to such a power?”
“We can tell nothing, and guess nothing, as yet,” Hewitt answered. “Let us see if he has sent you a message. It seems likely. If he has it may help us. If not — then I think we must do something decisive at once. But don’t hurry so! It is hard to restrain one’s self, I know, but there may be eyes on us, Mr. Potswood, and we must not seem to be persisting in our errand.”
So they went through the quiet streets for the two or three furlongs that seemed so many miles to the good parson. Arrived at the rectory, Mr. Potswood pushed impatiently through the gate, and was hurrying toward the house, when he perceived a bent little old man standing among some shrubs with his own gardener, who was digging.
“There’s Mason’s gardener!” the rector exclaimed, and went to meet him.
The old man touched his hat, looked sharply towards Hewitt, who was waiting near the rectory door, and then disappeared round a corner of the house, the rector following. In a few seconds Mr. Potswood reappeared, with a slip of paper in his hand. “Here,” he said, “see this! The old man was told to give it to nobody but me, and in nobody else’s presence. He’s been waiting since one o’clock.”
Scrawled on the paper, in trembling and straggling letters, were these words:—
“You must not bring Mr. Martin Hewitt to my house this afternoon. I am watched. It is hopeless. Do not desert me. Bring him to-night after dark at eight. I shall want his best skill, and you shall know all. After dark. Come to the back gate in the lane, which will be ajar, and through the conservatory at the side, where my niece will be waiting at eight, after dark. Burn this and do not let it out of your sight first. Send a line by this man to say you will do as I ask, but do not say what it is, for fear of accidents. Send at once. Do come at eight, with Mr. Hewitt.”
“We must do as he says,” remarked Hewitt. “We know nothing of this matter, and we must be guided till we do. Just write an unsigned note —‘All shall be as you request,’ or words to that effect, and be sure the man gives it to him. Let him out behind through the churchyard, if possible, and tell him not to go straight from one house to the other. Is he an intelligent man?”
“Yes — uncommonly shrewd, I believe. He says he can’t have been followed. He knows several gardeners hereabout, and he seems to have called on each of them on his way — in at the front of the garden and out at the back each time, after a few minutes’ conversation. Gipps is rather a cunning old fellow.”
“Ah,” said Hewitt admiringly, “that’s the sort of messenger I often want. I’ll give him half a crown for himself and the money to pay for a telegram on his way. He knows nothing essential, of course?”
“No — only that his master is in some sort of trouble, and warned him that he might be followed.”
“That is good. I shall telegraph to Detective–Inspector Plummer, of Scotland Yard. All right — I quite understand that all I have heard is confidential. I shall tell Plummer nothing till I may — indeed, as yet I have very little to tell that would help him. But I think it will be well to have the police within call — we may want them at a moment’s notice; I have no police powers, you see, and Plummer has the Denson case in hand. I will ask him to be here, at this house, before a quarter to eight, if you will allow me.”
And so the telegram went to Plummer, and Hewitt, accepting the rector’s invitation to an early dinner before starting on their visit, resigned himself to wait. He did not like the waste of time, as he frankly told Mr. Potswood. He would have preferred to see Mason at once, at any risk, and to take what means he thought necessary without delay. But as it seemed that the risk was to be chiefly Mason’s, and as Mason knew all of which both he and the rector were ignorant, Mason must be allowed to choose his own time.
The excellent Mr. Potswood endured agonies of suspense, though he also insisted that Mason’s wishes must be observed exactly. “What is it all — what can it be?” he ejaculated again and again. “What dreadful influence can thus compass a man about, here in London, in these times?”
It was autumn, and night fell early. Dinner was over at last, and they had scarcely left the table when Plummer arrived, anxious and eager.
“You’ll have to trust me a little, Plummer,” Hewitt said, when he had made him known to the rector. “I can tell you nothing now — know nothing, in fact, or very little more than nothing. The fact is, I’m going to see a man who promises information to me alone, in confidence, as his client, and I don’t know how long I may have to keep you in the dark. But this is where the trail lies hot, and I know that’s where you want to be. More, if you’re wanted suddenly you’ll be at hand. You have a man or two with you, I suppose, as I suggested?”
“Three of the best of them. They will follow us up. Is it far?”
“No, close enough. It is a house in a walled garden — not a high wall. We go in at a gate from the lane behind, and I think you should wait at that gate, and put your men at hand. We mustn’t go in as a crowd. The rector had better go first, and you and I will follow on the opposite side of the road.”
So the procession was formed, and it was still some three minutes short of eight o’clock when Hewitt and Plummer joined the clergyman at the door in the garden wall behind Mason’s house. The door was ajar as had been promised in Mason’s note. Leaving Plummer on guard without, Martin Hewitt and the rector stepped as silently as possible through the little kitchen garden and across a strip of lawn toward where a dull light illuminated the conservatory, at the right-hand end of the house. The door of the conservatory was ajar also, and this the rector pushed open.
“Miss Creswick!” the rector called, in a loud whisper. “Miss Creswick!” And with that a girl appeared within.
“Oh, Mr. Potswood,” she said, “I’m so glad you’ve come! I can’t think what’s wrong with poor uncle! I’m afraid he must be going mad! He is terrified at something, and he has been getting worse, till he could hardly speak or walk. Dr. Lawson has been — about an hour ago, and since then uncle has been much quieter, in his study.”
They were entering the dimly-lighted drawing-room now. “Dr. Lawson?” queried the rector. “Rather an unusual visitor, isn’t he? How long has he been gone?”
Miss Creswick flushed slightly through all her paleness and grief. “I don’t know,” she said. “He let himself out, I fancy. He said he could not stay long when he came, but I didn’t hear him go; I have been upstairs, and the servants are in the kitchen — they say uncle’s mad, and I’m really afraid he is!”
They left the drawing-room, and walked along the corridor and the hall to the opposite side of the house, where the study lay. Miss Creswick tapped gently at the door, but there was no answer. She tapped again, louder, and then came the faint sound of a quick step on the carpet, and then a slight scraping noise, as when a door is closed over a carpet it will scarcely pass. “That’s the window into the garden,” said Miss Creswick. “Why is he going out? Uncle! Uncle Jacob!”
But now the silence was wholly unbroken. Hewitt snatched quickly at the door-handle. “Locked!” he said. “Come — the quickest way into the garden!”
They ran out at the front door, and round toward the study window. It was a French window, exactly at the opposite end of the house to the conservatory, and now the gas-light streamed out through one half of it, which stood curtainless and ajar, while the curtain was drawn across the other half. Hewitt was the least familiar with the place, but he was quickest on his legs, and more seriously alarmed than the others. He reached the window first — and instantly turned and thrust the rector back against Miss Creswick. “Quick! take her away,” he said; “we are too late!” and in the same moment, even as Hewitt dashed over the threshold, he snatched a whistle from his pocket, and blew his hardest.
There on the floor lay Mason, his face dreadful and staring and black; tight in his neck was the band of a tourniquet, and fresh and wet on his forehead was the Red Triangle.
Hewitt snatched at the screw of the tourniquet behind the neck, and loosened it as quickly as hands could turn. But it was too late. Too late, the examining surgeon afterwards said, by a quarter of an hour.
Plummer was at the window with his men at his heels even before the tourniquet was half unscrewed.
“Round the wall of the garden,” shouted Hewitt, “and whistle up the police! He’s only this moment out!”
The house was alive with shouts and screams. The rector came running back, and Hewitt, busy with his useless attempt at restoration, called now for a doctor. People were scampering in the street, and Hewitt left the victim to the care of the rector, and himself joined Plummer, all in fewer seconds than it may be told in.
But Plummer and his men were beaten, for nothing — not so much as a moving shadow — was seen in the garden or about the walls. Worse, the general trampling would obliterate possible tracks. Plummer set a guard of police about the wall, and came in for consultation with Hewitt.
The body was carried into another room, and Hewitt and Plummer began an examination of the study.
“No signs of a struggle,” commented Plummer, “and there was no noise, they say. That’s very odd.”
“From what I have seen and heard to-day,” said Hewitt, “it is as I should have expected. I believe the man was almost killed by terror before he was strangled — dazed, stricken dumb, paralysed, deafened by it — everything but blinded, poor wretch. And to have been blinded would have been a mercy.”
And then, as they made their examination systematically, calmly and without flurry, Hewitt told the whole tale of his day’s adventures, together with all he had heard from the rector. “The man’s dead,” he said, “and his confidence is at an end. Indeed, I never had it — the case, so far as I am concerned, is over before I have even touched it. I haven’t had a chance, Plummer; and the thing is deep and dark, deep and dark. Oh, if only the man had let me come to him in the daylight, spite of all! This might all have been averted. . . . There has been a close search here, too. See how everything is turned over. But, stay!”
A low fire smouldered in the grate, and on it lay ashes of many burnt papers. Hewitt passed the shovel carefully under these ashes, lifted them out and placed them gently on the table under the light of the gas-pendant.
“I must leave you,” said Plummer. “There’ll be an inspector here from the station in a moment — he won’t interfere with you, and if anybody can get information out of this room it’s you. The next thing for me is plain. I must make sure of Dr. Lawson, if he can be found.”
“That is quite right, without a doubt,” Hewitt responded. “I may find anything or nothing in this room, and, meanwhile, he was the last person known to have been here, and the only visitor, and he was not heard to go out, unless we heard him go when we were outside the study door. More, it was plainly some one familiar with the place who was able to get away so quickly by the window and the garden.”
“And his interest in getting rid of Mason, too — the girl of age in a few months, and all obstacles to getting hold of her, and her money, removed. And — and the surgical tourniquet, the Chinese colour and everything!”
“Quite right, you must make sure of him, as you say. You will get his address from the rector. Meanwhile I’ll try to begin my little contribution to the case — to begin it as best I can, after all the chances have made it useless.”
It was after nine when Plummer returned. The rector had just rejoined Hewitt in the study, having left poor Miss Creswick, utterly broken down, in her room, in charge of a scarcely less terrified servant. Plummer tapped, and pushed the study door open.
“That’s done clean and sure enough,” he said, with professional calmness. “And he’s a cool hand, is that Dr. Lawson. But have you found anything more? We shall want all we can get.”
“We shall,” Hewitt assented, “and we shall find more than we’ve got now, or I’m grievously mistaken. But tell me first what you’ve done.”
He removed the blotting pad, on which the paper ashes still lay, and very carefully shut it away in a wide drawer where no draught could disturb it; he also shut another drawer which stood open.
“We had no difficulty in finding Dr. Lawson,” Plummer began. “We met him, in fact, leaving his surgery. I went back with him into the gas-light, and there put it to him plump. Well, he was staggered, badly. Any man would be, of course. But he pulled himself together wonderfully soon, and the first thing he said was that he was just on his way to Mason’s house. I thought at first, of course, that he meant to deny that he had been there already, and I gave him the usual warning about what he said being used in evidence. But he went on, and I’ve got it all safely noted. He admitted that he had been here, at about seven o’clock or just before, and he said he came because Mr. Mason sent for him. That doesn’t seem likely, does it, on the facts as we know them?”
“Why, no,” said the rector. “The last time he was here he was ordered out, and I know of no reason why he should have been asked to come to-day. We must ask if anybody was sent.”
“I have asked,” replied Plummer, “just now, and none of the servants was sent. But Lawson’s story is that he was sent for and came, though he said he shouldn’t say what Mason wanted to see him about till he knew more of the case. Looks as though he hadn’t quite got his story ready yet, doesn’t it? He had thought over the point about not being seen to go away, though; he said he had let himself out at about half-past seven, being familiar with the ways of the house. And he said that Mason was rather unwell — nervously upset — when he left him, but that was all.”
“It’s terrible,” said the rector, “terrible. It seems impossible to believe it of young Lawson; and yet — and yet!” And then after a pause —“Good heavens!” he burst out again. “Why, I only realise it now! There is the other crime, too! Denson! Two murders! Two — and most certainly by the same hand! Mr. Plummer, I can’t believe it! Oh, there’s more behind, more behind, Mr. Hewitt.”
“There is more,” said Hewitt, “as you will see when I tell you the little I have been able to ascertain. There is more behind, though I see little of it yet. First ——”
There was a sharp knock at the front door, followed by a ring, muffled in the distant kitchen. Hewitt started up. “Who is this late visitor at this unvisited house?” he said. “If it is the police, well enough. But if anybody else —anybody— you may call me Doctor, or anything you please, except Martin Hewitt. Don’t forget that!”
There were hurried steps in the hall, a question or two, and the study door was pushed open. Two servants — they would not venture from the kitchen singly this dreadful night — made a confused announcement of “Mr. Myatt,” and were instantly pushed aside by Mr. Myatt himself, anxious and agitated.
The late Mr. Mason’s closest scientific friend was a palish, black-bearded man, of above middle height, with stooping shoulders and a very quick pair of eyes. There was something about his face that somehow reminded Hewitt of portraits he had seen of John Knox, and yet it was not such a face as his; it seemed oddly unlike in its very likeness.
“What is this dreadful news, Mr. Potswood?” he cried. “I heard people talking in the next street on my way home. Is it true? But the servants have told me so. They say our poor friend — but there has been an arrest, hasn’t there?”
The rector nodded gravely.
“And who? Tell me about it, Mr. Potswood — tell me!”
“I think I must see how Miss Creswick is doing,” said Hewitt, speaking across to Plummer and making for the door.
“Certainly, doctor, certainly!” answered Plummer with a nod.
Hewitt closed the door behind him, leaving the rector in the full tide of his account of the day’s events; but Hewitt’s way took him to the kitchen, where the servants were cowering and whispering together, frightened and bewildered.
“Is there any paint or varnish of any sort in the place?” he asked sharply. “Give me anything there is — black, if possible — and a brush, quickly.”
“There’s — there’s Brunswick black, sir, for the stove,” said the cook.
“That will do; be quick. Oh, there’s Gipps, the gardener! You’re just the man I want, Gipps. Come and find me a board or a plank, quick as you please!” And Hewitt pushed the old gardener before him into the garden by the kitchen door.
A quarter of an hour later, Mr. Everard Myatt, having heard all that was to be told of his friend’s terrible death and the arrest of Mr. Lawson, turned to go, meeting Hewitt at the study door on his way.
“And how is poor Miss Creswick by now, doctor?” he asked anxiously.
Hewitt shook his head. “No better than you could expect,” he said, “but, on the whole, no worse. She mustn’t be seen to-night, of course, but, perhaps, if you could call round in the morning with the rector ——”
“Of course — of course! Poor girl — and Dr. Lawson suspected, too — what a terrible blow for her! Anything I can do, doctor, of course, as I said to Mr. Potswood — anything I can do I will do as gladly as such sad circumstances permit.”
The rector had been coming to the door with Mr. Myatt, but Plummer, catching a sign from Hewitt, restrained him unseen, and Hewitt and the visitor walked into the hall together.
“They have put out the light, it seems,” Hewitt said. “I wonder why — unless people from the crowd have been coming into the garden and staring in through the glass panels. I wonder if we can find the door-handle. Yes, here it is. Dark outside, too! Good-night — mind how you go on the steps!”
Mr. Myatt checked and stumbled in the dark porch, and reached quickly downward.
“There’s a board standing across the porch,” he said.
“A board?” replied Hewitt. “So there is. Let me move it, or it’ll upset somebody. Good-night!”
Mr. Myatt strode off into the dark night, and Hewitt, noiselessly lifting the board he had himself placed in position, hastened back to the study.
He swung up the board, all sticky and shiny with Brunswick black, and laid it across a spread newspaper, on the table. There on the top, in the midst of the black varnish, were the prints of all five finger-tips of a hand, where Mr. Myatt had felt for the obstruction in the porch.
Hewitt opened the drawer he had shut a little while back, and took therefrom a sheet of writing-paper. And when, with the lens from his pocket, he began to examine that paper in comparison with the finger-marks on the board, Plummer and the rector could see that there were also two distinct finger-marks on the paper and one faint one — all red. Plummer came to look.
“What’s this?” he said. “Was this what you were going to tell us about?”
Hewitt did not reply for a few moments, but continued his examination. Then he rose and turned to Plummer.
“You’ve still got that piece of paper in your pocket, I suppose,” he said, “with the little red smudges of colour put there by the police surgeon?”
“Yes — here it is,” and the detective took it from his waistcoat pocket.
“Thanks,” said Hewitt. “Now, see here. That is a little of the red stuff taken from the mark on Denson’s forehead a week ago, and found to consist of vermilion, oil and wax. You have seen the second impression of that awful mark on the forehead of your poor friend Mason, Mr. Potswood, to-night. This room has been searched for papers before we began, and papers have been burnt. In the search this drawer was opened — containing, as you see, nothing but a supply of new headed note-paper. The note-paper was hastily lifted to see if anything else lay beneath, and here, on the bottom sheet, these finger-marks were left in that same adhesive, freely marking red — a sort of stuff that sticks to and marks whatever it touches. The hand that lifted that paper was the hand that impressed that ghastly mark; and the hand that left its print on this black varnish was Mr. Everard Myatt’s! Now compare the two!”
Plummer had snatched the lens, and was narrowly comparing the marks ere Hewitt had well finished speaking.
“They are!” he cried, as the rector bent excitedly over him. “They are the same! See — forefinger and middle finger — the same, every line!”
“I needn’t tell you,” pursued Hewitt, “certainly I needn’t tell Plummer, that that is the most certain and scientific method of identification known. The police know that — and use it. But now there is some more. You saw me take that charred paper from the fire. Sometimes words may be read on charred paper — it depends on the paper and the ink. Most of the cinders were too much broken to yield any information, though we may try again by daylight. But one was suggestive. See it!” Hewitt very carefully pulled out the flat drawer that held the cinders.
“You see,” he went on, “that one — this — is different from the rest. It has retained its original form better, and has been less broken, because of being of thicker paper. It is a crumpled envelope. Look at the flap — it has never been closed down. Moreover, on that same flap you may read in embossed letters, still visible, part of the name of this house. Plain inference — this was an envelope intended for a letter never sent, and so crumpled up and dropped into the waste-paper basket. But why should such an apparently unimportant thing as that be carefully brought from the waste-paper basket and burnt? Somebody was anxious that the smallest scrap of paper evidencing a certain correspondence should be destroyed. But look closely at the front of the envelope — the ink shows a rather lighter grey than the paper. The address is incomplete — at any rate, no more than some of the first line and a little of the second is at all visible now; but it is plain that the first line begins with an E. The letters immediately following are not distinct, but next there is a capital M beginning a name which is clearly Myatt or Myall. Now, that is why, when Myatt came here, I took the first steps to hand to get an impression of his finger-tips, in order to compare them with the marks on that paper.”
“But why,” asked the astonished rector, “why did he come back?”
“Nothing but a bold measure to see how things were going — he came as his own spy, that’s all. He’s a keen and dangerous man. Don’t you remember telling me how he called on you yesterday, though you hardly knew him by sight, merely to ask you to persuade Mason to take a holiday? It struck me as a little odd at the time. He was pumping you, Mr. Potswood — he wanted to find what Mason had been saying! And he is not alone — plainly he is not alone, for poor Mason knew they were watching everywhere. But come — this is no time for speculation. Plummer — you must hold him safely — we’ll pick up evidence enough when you’ve got him. I wouldn’t leave it, Plummer — I’d take him to-night!”
“You’re right — right, as usual, Mr. Hewitt,” Plummer agreed. “More especially as the rector was — well, a little incautious in talking to him just now.”
“I? What did I say?” Mr. Potswood asked, astonished. “I had no suspicions — how could I have ——”
“No, Mr. Potswood,” the detective replied, “you had no suspicions, and for that very reason, in the excitement of the narrative, you called Mr. Martin Hewitt by his right name at least twice! And after I had called him ‘doctor,’ too!” he added regretfully.
“Is that so?” asked Hewitt.
The poor rector was sadly abashed. “But I really wasn’t aware of it, Mr. Hewitt!” he protested. “I hardly think I could — but, there, perhaps I did! Of course, if Inspector Plummer remembers it ——”
“He’ll be off!” exclaimed Hewitt. “With that hint, and finding the black stuff on his hands, he’ll smell a rat instantly! Come, Mr. Potswood — you can show us the nearest way to his house, at any rate! Come — we may get him yet!”
But the good rector’s slip of the tongue was fatal, and Myatt was not yet to meet the fate that fitted him. The house was not far — less than a mile away. It was a detached house, but quite a small one — smaller than Mason’s. Plummer blocked every exit with a man, but his caution was wasted. Myatt was gone.
There was the house and the furniture and two servants, just as it might have been any day in the year when Myatt was out for an hour. But now he was out for good. The police watched and waited all night, and all the next day; they waited and watched for a week, and the house was under observation after that, but Myatt never returned. He had made his plans, it was plain, for just such a flight, whenever the necessity might arise; and when he was assured that danger threatened, he simply vanished in the dark of a London night. Search brought no information — not a scrap of telltale paper lay in Calton Lodge — not a letter, not a line. Though, indeed, the police were to see more of Myatt’s work yet — and so was Hewitt.
Dr. Lawson’s detention did not last the night out. The unhappy Mason had indeed sent to him, by a chance messenger, having grown desperate in long waiting for the return of Gipps from the rectory. Mason was ready to call in any aid, to recall any of the friendships he had sacrificed in the past. But Lawson was long in coming, having received the note after a long professional round, and when at last he arrived, Mason was a little reassured by the promise of Hewitt’s visit. Therefore, he did not tell the doctor so much as he might have done. Nevertheless, he talked wildly and vaguely, so that Dr. Lawson feared some disturbance of his reason. The doctor quieted and soothed him, however, and when he left he promised to return after his consultation hour at the surgery was over. He must have been watched away from the house, and then the blow fell that sealed for ever the lips of Jacob Mason.
Poor Miss Creswick was taken from the old house in which she could no longer remain, and for a few months she stayed at the rectory, tended lovingly by the rector’s excellent wife — stayed there, in fact, till her wedding-day, which took place early the next year; so that for her and Dr. Lawson the tragedy ended in happiness, after all.
“God forgive me,” cried the rector in the grey of the morning, when it became clear that Myatt had escaped —“God forgive me! Through my stupidity a horrible creature has been set loose in the world to work his diabolical will afresh!”
“Never mind,” said Hewitt. “It was not stupidity, Mr. Potswood — nothing but your openness of character. You were not trained to the cunning that we must use in my profession. And there will be more than Myatt to take — he was not alone! It is plain that Mason was found to be wavering in whatever horrible allegiance he had bound himself, and he was watched. No, Myatt was not alone!”
“No, I fear not,” replied the clergyman. “I fear not: there is horrible mystery still. The watching and besetting that terrified him so much; the fact that he seems to have yielded up his life without a struggle — and that with help so near; and the connection — what could it have been? — between Mason and the other victim — Denson. That is a deep mystery indeed! And that horrible sign! Mr. Hewitt, you have done much — but not all!”
“No,” replied Martin Hewitt, “not nearly all. It is even doubtful whether or not it will be my lot to come across the thing again; but it will be in the hands of the police. And, after all, we have achieved something. For we know that if Myatt can be captured we shall be at the heart of the mystery.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11