THE IVY COTTAGE MYSTERY.
I had been working double tides for a month: at night on my morning paper, as usual; and in the morning on an evening paper as locum tenens for another man who was taking a holiday. This was an exhausting plan of work, although it only actually involved some six hours’ attendance a day, or less, at the two offices. I turned up at the headquarters of my own paper at ten in the evening, and by the time I had seen the editor, selected a subject, written my leader, corrected the slips, chatted, smoked, and so on, and cleared off, it was very usually one o’clock. This meant bed at two, or even three, after supper at the club.
This was all very well at ordinary periods, when any time in the morning would do for rising, but when I had to be up again soon after seven, and round at the evening paper office by eight, I naturally felt a little worn and disgusted with things[Pg 2] by midday, after a sharp couple of hours’ leaderette scribbling and paragraphing, with attendant sundries.
But the strain was over, and on the first day of comparative comfort I indulged in a midday breakfast and the first undisgusted glance at a morning paper for a month. I felt rather interested in an inquest, begun the day before, on the body of a man whom I had known very slightly before I took to living in chambers.
His name was Gavin Kingscote, and he was an artist of a casual and desultory sort, having, I believe, some small private means of his own. As a matter of fact, he had boarded in the same house in which I had lodged myself for a while, but as I was at the time a late homer and a fairly early riser, taking no regular board in the house, we never became much acquainted. He had since, I understood, made some judicious Stock Exchange speculations, and had set up house in Finchley.
Now the news was that he had been found one morning murdered in his smoking-room, while the room itself, with others, was in a state of confusion. His pockets had been rifled, and his watch and chain were gone, with one or two other small articles of value. On the night of the tragedy a friend had sat smoking with him in the room where the murder took place, and he had been the last person to see[Pg 3] Mr. Kingscote alive. A jobbing gardener, who kept the garden in order by casual work from time to time, had been arrested in consequence of footprints exactly corresponding with his boots, having been found on the garden beds near the French window of the smoking-room.
I finished my breakfast and my paper, and Mrs. Clayton, the housekeeper, came to clear my table. She was sister of my late landlady of the house where Kingscote had lodged, and it was by this connection that I had found my chambers. I had not seen the housekeeper since the crime was first reported, so I now said:
“This is shocking news of Mr. Kingscote, Mrs. Clayton. Did you know him yourself?”
She had apparently only been waiting for some such remark to burst out with whatever information she possessed.
“Yes, sir,” she exclaimed: “shocking indeed. Pore young feller! I see him often when I was at my sister’s, and he was always a nice, quiet gentleman, so different from some. My sister, she’s awful cut up, sir, I assure you. And what d’you think ‘appened, sir, only last Tuesday? You remember Mr. Kingscote’s room where he painted the woodwork so beautiful with gold flowers, and blue, and pink? He used to tell my sister she’d always have something to remember him by. Well, two young[Pg 4] fellers, gentlemen I can’t call them, come and took that room (it being to let), and went and scratched off all the paint in mere wicked mischief, and then chopped up all the panels into sticks and bits! Nice sort o’ gentlemen them! And then they bolted in the morning, being afraid, I s’pose, of being made to pay after treating a pore widder’s property like that. That was only Tuesday, and the very next day the pore young gentleman himself’s dead, murdered in his own ‘ouse, and him going to be married an’ all! Dear, dear! I remember once he said——”
Mrs. Clayton was a good soul, but once she began to talk some one else had to stop her. I let her run on for a reasonable time, and then rose and prepared to go out. I remembered very well the panels that had been so mischievously destroyed. They made the room the show-room of the house, which was an old one. They were indeed less than half finished when I came away, and Mrs. Lamb, the landlady, had shown them to me one day when Kingscote was out. All the walls of the room were panelled and painted white, and Kingscote had put upon them an eccentric but charming decoration, obviously suggested by some of the work of Mr. Whistler. Tendrils, flowers, and butterflies in a quaint convention wandered thinly from panel to panel, giving the otherwise rather uninteresting[Pg 5] room an unwonted atmosphere of richness and elegance. The lamentable jackasses who had destroyed this had certainly selected the best feature of the room whereon to inflict their senseless mischief.
I strolled idly downstairs, with no particular plan for the afternoon in my mind, and looked in at Hewitt’s offices. Hewitt was reading a note, and after a little chat he informed me that it had been left an hour ago, in his absence, by the brother of the man I had just been speaking of.
“He isn’t quite satisfied,” Hewitt said, “with the way the police are investigating the case, and asks me to run down to Finchley and look round. Yesterday I should have refused, because I have five cases in progress already, but to-day I find that circumstances have given me a day or two. Didn’t you say you knew the man?”
“Scarcely more than by sight. He was a boarder in the house at Chelsea where I stayed before I started chambers.”
“Ah, well; I think I shall look into the thing. Do you feel particularly interested in the case? I mean, if you’ve nothing better to do, would you come with me?”
“I shall be very glad,” I said. “I was in some doubt what to do with myself. Shall you start at once?”
“I think so. Kerrett, just call a cab. By the way, Brett, which paper has the fullest report of the inquest yesterday? I’ll run over it as we go down.”
As I had only seen one paper that morning, I could not answer Hewitt’s question. So we bought various papers as we went along in the cab, and I found the reports while Martin Hewitt studied them. Summarised, this was the evidence given—
Sarah Dodson, general servant, deposed that she had been in service at Ivy Cottage, the residence of the deceased, for five months, the only other regular servant being the housekeeper and cook. On the evening of the previous Tuesday both servants retired a little before eleven, leaving Mr. Kingscote with a friend in the smoking or sitting room. She never saw her master again alive. On coming downstairs the following morning and going to open the smoking-room windows, she was horrified to discover the body of Mr. Kingscote lying on the floor of the room with blood about the head. She at once raised an alarm, and, on the instructions of the housekeeper, fetched a doctor, and gave information to the police. In answer to questions, witness stated she had heard no noise of any sort during the night, nor had anything suspicious occurred.
Hannah Carr, housekeeper and cook, deposed that she had been in the late Mr. Kingscote’s service since he had first taken Ivy Cottage—a period of[Pg 7] rather more than a year. She had last seen the deceased alive on the evening of the previous Tuesday, at half-past ten, when she knocked at the door of the smoking-room, where Mr. Kingscote was sitting with a friend, to ask if he would require anything more. Nothing was required, so witness shortly after went to bed. In the morning she was called by the previous witness, who had just gone downstairs, and found the body of deceased lying as described. Deceased’s watch and chain were gone, as also was a ring he usually wore, and his pockets appeared to have been turned out. All the ground floor of the house was in confusion, and a bureau, a writing-table, and various drawers were open—a bunch of keys usually carried by deceased being left hanging at one keyhole. Deceased had drawn some money from the bank on the Tuesday, for current expenses; how much she did not know. She had not heard or seen anything suspicious during the night. Besides Dodson and herself, there were no regular servants; there was a charwoman, who came occasionally, and a jobbing gardener, living near, who was called in as required.
Mr. James Vidler, surgeon, had been called by the first witness between seven and eight on Wednesday morning. He found the deceased lying on his face on the floor of the smoking-room, his feet being about eighteen inches from the window, and[Pg 8] his head lying in the direction of the fireplace. He found three large contused wounds on the head, any one of which would probably have caused death. The wounds had all been inflicted, apparently, with the same blunt instrument—probably a club or life preserver, or other similar weapon. They could not have been done with the poker. Death was due to concussion of the brain, and deceased had probably been dead seven or eight hours when witness saw him. He had since examined the body more closely, but found no marks at all indicative of a struggle having taken place; indeed, from the position of the wounds and their severity, he should judge that the deceased had been attacked unawares from behind, and had died at once. The body appeared to be perfectly healthy.
Then there was police evidence, which showed that all the doors and windows were found shut and completely fastened, except the front door, which, although shut, was not bolted. There were shutters behind the French windows in the smoking-room, and these were found fastened. No money was found in the bureau, nor in any of the opened drawers, so that if any had been there, it had been stolen. The pockets were entirely empty, except for a small pair of nail scissors, and there was no watch upon the body, nor a ring. Certain footprints were found on the garden beds, which had led the police to take[Pg 9] certain steps. No footprints were to be seen on the garden path, which was hard gravel.
Mr. Alexander Campbell, stockbroker, stated that he had known deceased for some few years, and had done business for him. He and Mr. Kingscote frequently called on one another, and on Tuesday evening they dined together at Ivy Cottage. They sat smoking and chatting till nearly twelve o’clock, when Mr. Kingscote himself let him out, the servants having gone to bed. Here the witness proceeded rather excitedly: “That is all I know of this horrible business, and I can say nothing else. What the police mean by following and watching me——”
The Coroner: “Pray be calm, Mr. Campbell. The police must do what seems best to them in a case of this sort. I am sure you would not have them neglect any means of getting at the truth.”
Witness: “Certainly not. But if they suspect me, why don’t they say so? It is intolerable that I should be——”
The Coroner: “Order, order, Mr. Campbell. You are here to give evidence.”
The witness then, in answer to questions, stated that the French windows of the smoking-room had been left open during the evening, the weather being very warm. He could not recollect whether or not deceased closed them before he left, but he certainly[Pg 10] did not close the shutters. Witness saw nobody near the house when he left.
Mr. Douglas Kingscote, architect, said deceased was his brother. He had not seen him for some months, living as he did in another part of the country. He believed his brother was fairly well off, and he knew that he had made a good amount by speculation in the last year or two. Knew of no person who would be likely to owe his brother a grudge, and could suggest no motive for the crime except ordinary robbery. His brother was to have been married in a few weeks. Questioned further on this point, witness said that the marriage was to have taken place a year ago, and it was with that view that Ivy Cottage, deceased’s residence, was taken. The lady, however, sustained a domestic bereavement, and afterwards went abroad with her family: she was, witness believed, shortly expected back to England.
William Bates, jobbing gardener, who was brought up in custody, was cautioned, but elected to give evidence. Witness, who appeared to be much agitated, admitted having been in the garden of Ivy Cottage at four in the morning, but said that he had only gone to attend to certain plants, and knew absolutely nothing of the murder. He however admitted that he had no order for work beyond what he had done the day before. Being further pressed,[Pg 11] witness made various contradictory statements, and finally said that he had gone to take certain plants away.
The inquest was then adjourned.
This was the case as it stood—apparently not a case presenting any very striking feature, although there seemed to me to be doubtful peculiarities in many parts of it. I asked Hewitt what he thought.
“Quite impossible to think anything, my boy, just yet; wait till we see the place. There are any number of possibilities. Kingscote’s friend, Campbell, may have come in again, you know, by way of the window—or he may not. Campbell may have owed him money or something—or he may not. The anticipated wedding may have something to do with it—or, again, that may not. There is no limit to the possibilities, as far as we can see from this report—a mere dry husk of the affair. When we get closer we shall examine the possibilities by the light of more detailed information. One probability is that the wretched gardener is innocent. It seems to me that his was only a comparatively blameless manœuvre not unheard of at other times in his trade. He came at four in the morning to steal away the flowers he had planted the day before, and felt rather bashful when questioned on the point. Why should he trample on the beds, else? I wonder if the police thought to examine the beds for traces of rooting[Pg 12] up, or questioned the housekeeper as to any plants being missing? But we shall see.”
We chatted at random as the train drew near Finchley, and I mentioned inter alia the wanton piece of destruction perpetrated at Kingscote’s late lodgings. Hewitt was interested.
“That was curious,” he said, “very curious. Was anything else damaged? Furniture and so forth?”
“I don’t know. Mrs. Clayton said nothing of it, and I didn’t ask her. But it was quite bad enough as it was. The decoration was really good, and I can’t conceive a meaner piece of tomfoolery than such an attack on a decent woman’s property.”
Then Hewitt talked of other cases of similar stupid damage by creatures inspired by a defective sense of humour, or mere love of mischief. He had several curious and sometimes funny anecdotes of such affairs at museums and picture exhibitions, where the damage had been so great as to induce the authorities to call him in to discover the offender. The work was not always easy, chiefly from the mere absence of intelligible motive; nor, indeed, always successful. One of the anecdotes related to a case of malicious damage to a picture—the outcome of blind artistic jealousy—a case which had been hushed up by a large expenditure in compensation. It would considerably startle most people, could it be[Pg 13] printed here, with the actual names of the parties concerned.
Ivy Cottage, Finchley, was a compact little house, standing in a compact little square of garden, little more than a third of an acre, or perhaps no more at all. The front door was but a dozen yards or so back from the road, but the intervening space was well treed and shrubbed. Mr. Douglas Kingscote had not yet returned from town, but the housekeeper, an intelligent, matronly woman, who knew of his intention to call in Martin Hewitt, was ready to show us the house.
“First,” Hewitt said, when we stood in the smoking-room, “I observe that somebody has shut the drawers and the bureau. That is unfortunate. Also, the floor has been washed and the carpet taken up, which is much worse. That, I suppose, was because the police had finished their examination, but it doesn’t help me to make one at all. Has anything—anything at all—been left as it was on Tuesday morning?”
“Well, sir, you see everything was in such a muddle,” the housekeeper began, “and when the police had done——”
“Just so. I know. You ‘set it to rights,’ eh? Oh, that setting to rights! It has lost me a fortune at one time and another. As to the other rooms, now, have they been set to rights?”
“Such as was disturbed have been put right, sir, of course.”
“Which were disturbed? Let me see them. But wait a moment.”
He opened the French windows, and closely examined the catch and bolts. He knelt and inspected the holes whereinto the bolts fell, and then glanced casually at the folding shutters. He opened a drawer or two, and tried the working of the locks with the keys the housekeeper carried. They were, the housekeeper explained, Mr. Kingscote’s own keys. All through the lower floors Hewitt examined some things attentively and closely, and others with scarcely a glance, on a system unaccountable to me. Presently, he asked to be shown Mr. Kingscote’s bedroom, which had not been disturbed, “set to rights,” or slept in since the crime. Here, the housekeeper said, all drawers were kept unlocked but two—one in the wardrobe and one in the dressing-table, which Mr. Kingscote had always been careful to keep locked. Hewitt immediately pulled both drawers open without difficulty. Within, in addition to a few odds and ends, were papers. All the contents of these drawers had been turned over confusedly, while those of the unlocked drawers were in perfect order.
The housekeeper doubtless took the remark as a reference to the entire unimportance of a bent nail, but I noticed that Hewitt dropped the article quietly into his pocket.
We came away. At the front gate we met Mr. Douglas Kingscote, who had just returned from town. He introduced himself, and expressed surprise at our promptitude both of coming and going.
“You can’t have got anything like a clue in this short time, Mr. Hewitt?” he asked.
“Well, no,” Hewitt replied, with a certain dryness, “perhaps not. But I doubt whether a month’s visit would have helped me to get anything very striking out of a washed floor and a houseful of carefully cleaned-up and ‘set-to-rights’ rooms. Candidly, I don’t think you can reasonably expect much of me. The police have a much better chance—they had the scene of the crime to examine. I have seen just such a few rooms as any one might see in the first well-furnished house he might enter. The trail of the housemaid has overlaid all the others.”
“I’m very sorry for that; the fact was, I expected rather more of the police; and, indeed, I[Pg 16] wasn’t here in time entirely to prevent the clearing up. But still, I thought your well-known powers——”
“My dear sir, my ‘well-known powers’ are nothing but common sense assiduously applied and made quick by habit. That won’t enable me to see the invisible.”
“But can’t we have the rooms put back into something of the state they were in? The cook will remember——”
“No, no. That would be worse and worse; that would only be the housemaid’s trail in turn overlaid by the cook’s. You must leave things with me for a little, I think.”
“Then you don’t give the case up?” Mr. Kingscote asked anxiously.
“Oh, no! I don’t give it up just yet. Do you know anything of your brother’s private papers—as they were before his death?”
“I never knew anything till after that. I have gone over them, but they are all very ordinary letters. Do you suspect a theft of papers?”
Martin Hewitt, with his hands on his stick behind him, looked sharply at the other, and shook his head. “No,” he said, “I can’t quite say that.”
We bade Mr. Douglas Kingscote good-day, and walked towards the station. “Great nuisance, that[Pg 17] setting to rights,” Hewitt observed, on the way. “If the place had been left alone, the job might have been settled one way or another by this time. As it is, we shall have to run over to your old lodgings.”
“My old lodgings?” I repeated, amazed. “Why my old lodgings?”
Hewitt turned to me with a chuckle and a wide smile. “Because we can’t see the broken panel-work anywhere else,” he said. “Let’s see—Chelsea, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Chelsea. But why—you don’t suppose the people who defaced the panels also murdered the man who painted them?”
“Well,” Hewitt replied, with another smile, “that would be carrying a practical joke rather far, wouldn’t it? Even for the ordinary picture damager.”
“You mean you don’t think they did it, then? But what do you mean?”
“My dear fellow, I don’t mean anything but what I say. Come now, this is rather an interesting case despite appearances, and it has interested me: so much, in fact, that I really think I forgot to offer Mr. Douglas Kingscote my condolence on his bereavement. You see a problem is a problem, whether of theft, assassination, intrigue, or anything else, and I only think of it as one. The work very[Pg 18] often makes me forget merely human sympathies. Now, you have often been good enough to express a very flattering interest in my work, and you shall have an opportunity of exercising your own common sense in the way I am always having to exercise mine. You shall see all my evidence (if I’m lucky enough to get any) as I collect it, and you shall make your own inferences. That will be a little exercise for you; the sort of exercise I should give a pupil if I had one. But I will give you what information I have, and you shall start fairly from this moment. You know the inquest evidence, such as it was, and you saw everything I did in Ivy Cottage?”
“Yes; I think so. But I’m not much the wiser.”
“Very well. Now I will tell you. What does the whole case look like? How would you class the crime?”
“I suppose as the police do. An ordinary case of murder with the object of robbery.”
“It is not an ordinary case. If it were, I shouldn’t know as much as I do, little as that is; the ordinary cases are always difficult. The assailant did not come to commit a burglary, although he was a skilled burglar, or one of them was, if more than one were concerned. The affair has, I think, nothing to do with the expected wedding, nor had Mr. Campbell anything to do in it—at any rate, personally[Pg 19]—nor the gardener. The criminal (or one of them) was known personally to the dead man, and was well-dressed: he (or again one of them, and I think there were two) even had a chat with Mr. Kingscote before the murder took place. He came to ask for something which Mr. Kingscote was unwilling to part with,—perhaps hadn’t got. It was not a bulky thing. Now you have all my materials before you.”
“But all this doesn’t look like the result of the blind spite that would ruin a man’s work first and attack him bodily afterwards.”
“Spite isn’t always blind, and there are other blind things besides spite; people with good eyes in their heads are blind sometimes, even detectives.”
“But where did you get all this information? What makes you suppose that this was a burglar who didn’t want to burgle, and a well-dressed man, and so on?”
Hewitt chuckled and smiled again.
“I saw it—saw it, my boy, that’s all,” he said. “But here comes the train.”
On the way back to town, after I had rather minutely described Kingscote’s work on the boarding-house panels, Hewitt asked me for the names and professions of such fellow lodgers in that house as I might remember. “When did you leave yourself?” he ended.
“Three years ago, or rather more. I can re[Pg 20]member Kingscote himself; Turner, a medical student—James Turner, I think; Harvey Challitt, diamond merchant’s articled pupil—he was a bad egg entirely, he’s doing five years for forgery now; by the bye he had the room we are going to see till he was marched off, and Kingscote took it—a year before I left; there was Norton—don’t know what he was; ‘something in the City,’ I think; and Carter Paget, in the Admiralty Office. I don’t remember any more at this moment; there were pretty frequent changes. But you can get it all from Mrs. Lamb, of course.”
“Of course; and Mrs. Lamb’s exact address is—what?”
I gave him the address, and the conversation became disjointed. At Farringdon station, where we alighted, Hewitt called two hansoms. Preparing to enter one, he motioned me to the other, saying, “You get straight away to Mrs. Lamb’s at once. She may be going to burn that splintered wood, or to set things to rights, after the manner of her kind, and you can stop her. I must make one or two small inquiries, but I shall be there half an hour after you.”
“Shall I tell her our object?”
“Only that I may be able to catch her mischievous lodgers—nothing else yet.” He jumped into the hansom and was gone.
I found Mrs. Lamb still in a state of indignant perturbation over the trick served her four days before. Fortunately, she had left everything in the panelled room exactly as she had found it, with an idea of the being better able to demand or enforce reparation should her lodgers return. “The room’s theirs, you see, sir,” she said, “till the end of the week, since they paid in advance, and they may come back and offer to make amends, although I doubt it. As pleasant-spoken a young chap as you might wish, he seemed, him as come to take the rooms. ‘My cousin,’ says he, ‘is rather an invalid, havin’ only just got over congestion of the lungs, and he won’t be in London till this evening late. He’s comin’ up from Birmingham,’ he ses, ‘and I hope he won’t catch a fresh cold on the way, although of course we’ve got him muffled up plenty.’ He took the rooms, sir, like a gentleman, and mentioned several gentlemen’s names I knew well, as had lodged here before; and then he put down on that there very table, sir.”—Mrs. Lamb indicated the exact spot with her hand, as though that made the whole thing much more wonderful—”he put down on that very table a week’s rent in advance, and ses, ‘That’s always the best sort of reference, Mrs. Lamb, I think,’ as kind-mannered as anything—and never ‘aggled about the amount nor nothing. He only had a little black bag, but he said his cous[Pg 22]in had all the luggage coming in the train, and as there was so much p’r’aps they wouldn’t get it here till next day. Then he went out and came in with his cousin at eleven that night—Sarah let ’em in her own self—and in the morning they was gone—and this!” Poor Mrs. Lamb, plaintively indignant, stretched her arm towards the wrecked panels.
“If the gentleman as you say is comin’ on, sir,” she pursued, “can do anything to find ’em, I’ll prosecute ’em, that I will, if it costs me ten pound. I spoke to the constable on the beat, but he only looked like a fool, and said if I knew where they were I might charge ’em with wilful damage, or county court ’em. Of course I know I can do that if I knew where they were, but how can I find ’em? Mr. Jones he said his name was; but how many Joneses is there in London, sir?”
I couldn’t imagine any answer to a question like this, but I condoled with Mrs. Lamb as well as I could. She afterwards went on to express herself much as her sister had done with regard to Kingscote’s death, only as the destruction of her panels loomed larger in her mind, she dwelt primarily on that. “It might almost seem,” she said, “that somebody had a deadly spite on the pore young gentleman, and went breakin’ up his paintin’ one night, and murderin’ him the next!”
I examined the broken panels with some care,[Pg 23] having half a notion to attempt to deduce something from them myself, if possible. But I could deduce nothing. The beading had been taken out, and the panels, which were thick in the centre but bevelled at the edges, had been removed and split up literally into thin firewood, which lay in a tumbled heap on the hearth and about the floor. Every panel in the room had been treated in the same way, and the result was a pretty large heap of sticks, with nothing whatever about them to distinguish them from other sticks, except the paint on one face, which I observed in many cases had been scratched and scraped away. The rug was drawn half across the hearth, and had evidently been used to deaden the sound of chopping. But mischief—wanton and stupid mischief—was all I could deduce from it all.
Mr. Jones’s cousin, it seemed, only Sarah had seen, as she admitted him in the evening, and then he was so heavily muffled that she could not distinguish his features, and would never be able to identify him. But as for the other one, Mrs. Lamb was ready to swear to him anywhere.
Hewitt was long in coming, and internal symptoms of the approach of dinner-time (we had had no lunch) had made themselves felt before a sharp ring at the door-bell foretold his arrival. “I have had to wait for answers to a telegram,” he said in explanation, “but at any rate I have the information I[Pg 24] wanted. And these are the mysterious panels, are they?”
Mrs. Lamb’s true opinion of Martin Hewitt’s behaviour as it proceeded would have been amusing to know. She watched in amazement the antics of a man who purposed finding out who had been splitting sticks by dint of picking up each separate stick and staring at it. In the end he collected a small handful of sticks by themselves and handed them to me, saying, “Just put these together on the table, Brett, and see what you make of them.”
I turned the pieces painted side up, and fitted them together into a complete panel, joining up the painted design accurately. “It is an entire panel,” I said.
“Good. Now look at the sticks a little more closely, and tell me if you notice anything peculiar about them—any particular in which they differ from all the others.”
I looked. “Two adjoining sticks,” I said, “have each a small semi-circular cavity stuffed with what seems to be putty. Put together it would mean a small circular hole, perhaps a knot-hole, half an inch or so in diameter, in the panel, filled in with putty, or whatever it is.”
“A knot-hole?” Hewitt asked, with particular emphasis.
“Anything else? Look at the whole appearance of the wood itself. Colour, for instance.”
“It is certainly darker than the rest.”
“So it is.” He took the two pieces carrying the puttied hole, threw the rest on the heap, and addressed the landlady. “The Mr. Harvey Challitt who occupied this room before Mr. Kingscote, and who got into trouble for forgery, was the Mr. Harvey Challitt who was himself robbed of diamonds a few months before on a staircase, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Lamb replied in some bewilderment. “He certainly was that, on his own office stairs, chloroformed.”
“Just so, and when they marched him away because of the forgery, Mr. Kingscote changed into his rooms?”
“Yes, and very glad I was. It was bad enough to have the disgrace brought into the house, without the trouble of trying to get people to take his very rooms, and I thought——”
“Yes, yes, very awkward, very awkward!” Hewitt interrupted rather impatiently. “The man who took the rooms on Monday, now—you’d never seen him before, had you?”
“Then is that anything like him?” Hewitt held a cabinet photograph before her.
“Why—why—law, yes, that’s him!”
Hewitt dropped the photograph back into his breast pocket with a contented “Um,” and picked up his hat. “I think we may soon be able to find that young gentleman for you, Mrs. Lamb. He is not a very respectable young gentleman, and perhaps you are well rid of him, even as it is. Come, Brett,” he added, “the day hasn’t been wasted, after all.”
We made towards the nearest telegraph office. On the way I said, “That puttied-up hole in the piece of wood seems to have influenced you. Is it an important link?”
“Well—yes,” Hewitt answered, “it is. But all those other pieces are important, too.”
“Because there are no holes in them.” He looked quizzically at my wondering face, and laughed aloud. “Come,” he said, “I won’t puzzle you much longer. Here is the post-office. I’ll send my wire, and then we’ll go and dine at Luzatti’s.”
He sent his telegram, and we cabbed it to Luzatti’s. Among actors, journalists, and others who know town and like a good dinner, Luzatti’s is well known. We went upstairs for the sake of quietness, and took a table standing alone in a recess just in[Pg 27]side the door. We ordered our dinner, and then Hewitt began:
“Now tell me what your conclusion is in this matter of the Ivy Cottage murder.”
“Mine? I haven’t one. I’m sorry I’m so very dull, but I really haven’t.”
“Come, I’ll give you a point. Here is the newspaper account (torn sacrilegiously from my scrap-book for your benefit) of the robbery perpetrated on Harvey Challitt a few months before his forgery. Read it.”
“Oh, but I remember the circumstances very well. He was carrying two packets of diamonds belonging to his firm downstairs to the office of another firm of diamond merchants on the ground-floor. It was a quiet time in the day, and half-way down he was seized on a dark landing, made insensible by chloroform, and robbed of the diamonds—five or six thousand pounds’ worth altogether, of stones of various smallish individual values up to thirty pounds or so. He lay unconscious on the landing till one of the partners, noticing that he had been rather long gone, followed and found him. That’s all, I think.”
“Yes, that’s all. Well, what do you make of it?”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite see the connection with this case.”
“Well, then, I’ll give you another point. The telegram I’ve just sent releases information to the police, in consequence of which they will probably apprehend Harvey Challitt and his confederate, Henry Gillard, alias Jones, for the murder of Gavin Kingscote. Now, then.”
“Challitt! But he’s in gaol already.”
“Tut, tut, consider. Five years’ penal was his dose, although for the first offence, because the forgery was of an extremely dangerous sort. You left Chelsea over three years ago yourself, and you told me that his difficulty occurred a year before. That makes four years, at least. Good conduct in prison brings a man out of a five years’ sentence in that time or a little less, and, as a matter of fact, Challitt was released rather more than a week ago.”
“Still, I’m afraid I don’t see what you are driving at.”
“Whose story is this about the diamond robbery from Harvey Challitt?”
“Exactly. His own. Does his subsequent record make him look like a person whose stories are to be accepted without doubt or question?”
“Why, no. I think I see—no, I don’t. You mean he stole them himself? I’ve a sort of dim perception of your drift now, but still I can’t fix it. The whole thing’s too complicated.”
“It is a little complicated for a first effort, I admit, so I will tell you. This is the story. Harvey Challitt is an artful young man, and decides on a theft of his firm’s diamonds. He first prepares a hiding-place somewhere near the stairs of his office, and when the opportunity arrives he puts the stones away, spills his chloroform, and makes a smell—possibly sniffs some, and actually goes off on the stairs, and the whole thing’s done. He is carried into the office—the diamonds are gone. He tells of the attack on the stairs, as we have heard, and he is believed. At a suitable opportunity he takes his plunder from the hiding-place, and goes home to his lodgings. What is he to do with those diamonds? He can’t sell them yet, because the robbery is publicly notorious, and all the regular jewel buyers know him.
“Being a criminal novice, he doesn’t know any regular receiver of stolen goods, and if he did would prefer to wait and get full value by an ordinary sale. There will always be a danger of detection so long as the stones are not securely hidden, so he proceeds to hide them. He knows that if any suspicion were aroused his rooms would be searched in every likely place, so he looks for an unlikely place. Of course, he thinks of taking out a panel and hiding them behind that. But the idea is so obvious that it won’t do; the police would certainly take those panels out[Pg 30] to look behind them. Therefore he determines to hide them inthe panels. See here—he took the two pieces of wood with the filled hole from his tail pocket and opened his penknife—the putty near the surface is softer than that near the bottom of the hole; two different lots of putty, differently mixed, perhaps, have been used, therefore, presumably, at different times.”
“But to return to Challitt. He makes holes with a centre-bit in different places on the panels, and in each hole he places a diamond, embedding it carefully in putty. He smooths the surface carefully flush with the wood, and then very carefully paints the place over, shading off the paint at the edges so as to leave no signs of a patch. He doesn’t do the whole job at once, creating a noise and a smell of paint, but keeps on steadily, a few holes at a time, till in a little while the whole wainscoting is set with hidden diamonds, and every panel is apparently sound and whole.”
“But, then—there was only one such hole in the whole lot.”
“Just so, and that very circumstance tells us the whole truth. Let me tell the story first—I’ll explain the clue after. The diamonds lie hidden for a few months—he grows impatient. He wants the money, and he can’t see a way of getting it. At last he determines to make a bolt and go abroad to sell his[Pg 31] plunder. He knows he will want money for expenses, and that he may not be able to get rid of his diamonds at once. He also expects that his suddenly going abroad while the robbery is still in people’s minds will bring suspicion on him in any case, so, in for a penny in for a pound, he commits a bold forgery, which, had it been successful, would have put him in funds and enabled him to leave the country with the stones. But the forgery is detected, and he is haled to prison, leaving the diamonds in their wainscot setting.
“Now we come to Gavin Kingscote. He must have been a shrewd fellow—the sort of man that good detectives are made of. Also he must have been pretty unscrupulous. He had his suspicions about the genuineness of the diamond robbery, and kept his eyes open. What indications he had to guide him we don’t know, but living in the same house a sharp fellow on the look-out would probably see enough. At any rate, they led him to the belief that the diamonds were in the thief’s rooms, but not among his movables, or they would have been found after the arrest. Here was his chance. Challitt was out of the way for years, and there was plenty of time to take the house to pieces if it were necessary. So he changed into Challitt’s rooms.
“How long it took him to find the stones we shall never know. He probably tried many other[Pg 32] places first, and, I expect, found the diamonds at last by pricking over the panels with a needle. Then came the problem of getting them out without attracting attention. He decided not to trust to the needle, which might possibly leave a stone or two undiscovered, but to split up each panel carefully into splinters so as to leave no part unexamined. Therefore he took measurements, and had a number of panels made by a joiner of the exact size and pattern of those in the room, and announced to his landlady his intention of painting her panels with a pretty design. This to account for the wet paint, and even for the fact of a panel being out of the wall, should she chance to bounce into the room at an awkward moment. All very clever, eh?”
“Ah, he was a smart man, no doubt. Well, he went to work, taking out a panel, substituting a new one, painting it over, and chopping up the old one on the quiet, getting rid of the splinters out of doors when the booty had been extracted. The decoration progressed and the little heap of diamonds grew. Finally, he came to the last panel, but found that he had used all his new panels and hadn’t one left for a substitute. It must have been at some time when it was difficult to get hold of the joiner—Bank Holiday, perhaps, or Sunday, and he was impatient. So he scraped the paint off, and went care[Pg 33]fully over every part of the surface—experience had taught him by this that all the holes were of the same sort—and found one diamond. He took it out, refilled the hole with putty, painted the old panel and put it back. These are pieces of that old panel—the only old one of the lot.
“Nine men out of ten would have got out of the house as soon as possible after the thing was done, but he was a cool hand and stayed. That made the whole thing look a deal more genuine than if he had unaccountably cleared out as soon as he had got his room nicely decorated. I expect the original capital for those Stock Exchange operations we heard of came out of those diamonds. He stayed as long as suited him, and left when he set up housekeeping with a view to his wedding. The rest of the story is pretty plain. You guess it, of course?”
“Yes,” I said, “I think I can guess the rest, in a general sort of way—except as to one or two points.”
“It’s all plain—perfectly. See here! Challitt, in gaol, determines to get those diamonds when he comes out. To do that without being suspected it will be necessary to hire the room. But he knows that he won’t be able to do that himself, because the landlady, of course, knows him, and won’t have an ex-convict in the house. There is no help for it; he must have a confederate, and share the spoil. So[Pg 34] he makes the acquaintance of another convict, who seems a likely man for the job, and whose sentence expires about the same time as his own. When they come out, he arranges the matter with this confederate, who is a well-mannered (and pretty well-known) housebreaker, and the latter calls at Mrs. Lamb’s house to look for rooms. The very room itself happens to be to let, and of course it is taken, and Challitt (who is the invalid cousin) comes in at night muffled and unrecognisable.
“The decoration on the panel does not alarm them, because, of course, they suppose it to have been done on the old panels and over the old paint. Challitt tries the spots where diamonds were left—there are none—there is no putty even. Perhaps, think they, the panels have been shifted and interchanged in the painting, so they set to work and split them all up as we have seen, getting more desperate as they go on. Finally they realize that they are done, and clear out, leaving Mrs. Lamb to mourn over their mischief.
“They know that Kingscote is the man who has forestalled them, because Gillard (or Jones), in his chat with the landlady, has heard all about him and his painting of the panels. So the next night they set off for Finchley. They get into Kingscote’s garden and watch him let Campbell out. While he is gone, Challitt quietly steps through the French win[Pg 35]dow into the smoking-room, and waits for him, Gillard remaining outside.
“Kingscote returns, and Challitt accuses him of taking the stones. Kingscote is contemptuous—doesn’t care for Challitt, because he knows he is powerless, being the original thief himself; besides, knows there is no evidence, since the diamonds are sold and dispersed long ago. Challitt offers to divide the plunder with him—Kingscote laughs and tells him to go; probably threatens to throw him out, Challitt being the smaller man. Gillard, at the open window, hears this, steps in behind, and quietly knocks him on the head. The rest follows as a matter of course. They fasten the window and shutters, to exclude observation; turn over all the drawers, etc., in case the jewels are there; go to the best bedroom and try there, and so on. Failing (and possibly being disturbed after a few hours’ search by the noise of the acquisitive gardener), Gillard, with the instinct of an old thief, determines they shan’t go away with nothing, so empties Kingscote’s pockets and takes his watch and chain and so on. They go out by the front door and shut it after them. Voilà tout.“
I was filled with wonder at the prompt ingenuity of the man who in these few hours of hurried inquiry could piece together so accurately all the materials of an intricate and mysterious affair such as[Pg 36] this; but more, I wondered where and how he had collected those materials.
“There is no doubt, Hewitt,” I said, “that the accurate and minute application of what you are pleased to call your common sense has become something very like an instinct with you. What did you deduce from? You told me your conclusions from the examination of Ivy Cottage, but not how you arrived at them.”
“They didn’t leave me much material downstairs, did they? But in the bedroom, the two drawers which the thieves found locked were ransacked—opened probably with keys taken from the dead man. On the floor I saw a bent French nail; here it is. You see, it is twice bent at right angles, near the head and near the point, and there is the faint mark of the pliers that were used to bend it. It is a very usual burglars’ tool, and handy in experienced hands to open ordinary drawer locks. Therefore, I knew that a professional burglar had been at work. He had probably fiddled at the drawers with the nail first, and then had thrown it down to try the dead man’s keys.
“But I knew this professional burglar didn’t come for a burglary, from several indications. There was no attempt to take plate, the first thing a burglar looks for. Valuable clocks were left on mantelpieces, and other things that usually go in an[Pg 37] ordinary burglary were not disturbed. Notably, it was to be observed that no doors or windows were broken, or had been forcibly opened; therefore, it was plain that the thieves had come in by the French window of the smoking-room, the only entrance left open at the last thing. Therefore, they came in, or one did, knowing that Mr. Kingscote was up, and being quite willing—presumably anxious—to see him. Ordinary burglars would have waited till he had retired, and then could have got through the closed French window as easily almost as if it were open, notwithstanding the thin wooden shutters, which would never stop a burglar for more than five minutes. Being anxious to see him, they—or again, one of them—presumably knew him. That they had come to get something was plain, from the ransacking. As, in the end, they did steal his money, and watch, but did nottake larger valuables, it was plain that they had no bag with them—which proves not only that they had not come to burgle, for every burglar takes his bag, but that the thing they came to get was not bulky. Still, they could easily have removed plate or clocks by rolling them up in a table-cover or other wrapper, but such a bundle, carried by well-dressed men, would attract attention—therefore it was probable that they were well dressed. Do I make it clear?”
“There was nothing more to be got at the house. I had already in my mind the curious coincidence that the panels at Chelsea had been broken the very night before that of the murder, and determined to look at them in any case. I got from you the name of the man who had lived in the panelled room before Kingscote, and at once remembered it (although I said nothing about it) as that of the young man who had been chloroformed for his employer’s diamonds. I keep things of that sort in my mind, you see—and, indeed, in my scrap-book. You told me yourself about his imprisonment, and there I was with what seemed now a hopeful case getting into a promising shape.
“You went on to prevent any setting to rights at Chelsea, and I made enquiries as to Challitt. I found he had been released only a few days before all this trouble arose, and I also found the name of another man who was released from the same establishment only a few days earlier. I knew this man (Gillard) well, and knew that nobody was a more likely rascal for such a crime as that at Finchley. On my way to Chelsea I called at my office, gave my clerk certain instructions, and looked up my scrap-book. I found the newspaper account of the chloroform business, and also a photograph of Gil[Pg 39]lard—I keep as many of these things as I can collect. What I did at Chelsea you know. I saw that one panel was of old wood and the rest new. I saw the hole in the old panel, and I asked one or two questions. The case was complete.”
We proceeded with our dinner. Presently I said: “It all rests with the police now, of course?”
“Of course. I should think it very probable that Challitt and Gillard will be caught. Gillard, at any rate, is pretty well known. It will be rather hard on the surviving Kingscote, after engaging me, to have his dead brother’s diamond transactions publicly exposed as a result, won’t it? But it can’t be helped. Fiat justitia, of course.”
“How will the police feel over this?” I asked. “You’ve rather cut them out, eh?”
“Oh, the police are all right. They had not the information I had, you see; they knew nothing of the panel business. If Mrs. Lamb had gone to Scotland Yard instead of to the policeman on the beat, perhaps I should never have been sent for.”
The same quality that caused Martin Hewitt to rank as mere “common-sense” his extraordinary power of almost instinctive deduction, kept his respect for the abilities of the police at perhaps a higher level than some might have considered justified.
We sat some little while over our dessert, talking[Pg 40] as we sat, when there occurred one of those curious conjunctions of circumstances that we notice again and again in ordinary life, and forget as often, unless the importance of the occasion fixes the matter in the memory. A young man had entered the dining-room, and had taken his seat at a corner table near the back window. He had been sitting there for some little time before I particularly observed him. At last he happened to turn his thin, pale face in my direction, and our eyes met. It was Challitt—the man we had been talking of!
I sprang to my feet in some excitement.
“That’s the man!” I cried. “Challitt!”
Hewitt rose at my words, and at first attempted to pull me back. Challitt, in guilty terror, saw that we were between him and the door, and turning, leaped upon the sill of the open window, and dropped out. There was a fearful crash of broken glass below, and everybody rushed to the window.
Hewitt drew me through the door, and we ran downstairs. “Pity you let out like that,” he said, as he went. “If you’d kept quiet we could have sent out for the police with no trouble. Never mind—can’t help it.”
Below, Challitt was lying in a broken heap in the midst of a crowd of waiters. He had crashed through a thick glass skylight and fallen, back downward, across the back of a lounge. He was[Pg 41] taken away on a stretcher unconscious, and, in fact, died in a week in hospital from injuries to the spine.
During his periods of consciousness he made a detailed statement, bearing out the conclusions of Martin Hewitt with the most surprising exactness, down to the smallest particulars. He and Gillard had parted immediately after the crime, judging it safer not to be seen together. He had, he affirmed, endured agonies of fear and remorse in the few days since the fatal night at Finchley, and had even once or twice thought of giving himself up. When I so excitedly pointed him out, he knew at once that the game was up, and took the one desperate chance of escape that offered. But to the end he persistently denied that he had himself committed the murder, or had even thought of it till he saw it accomplished. That had been wholly the work of Gillard, who, listening at the window and perceiving the drift of the conversation, suddenly beat down Kingscote from behind with a life-preserver. And so Harvey Challitt ended his life at the age of twenty-six.
Gillard was never taken. He doubtless left the country, and has probably since that time become “known to the police” under another name abroad. Perhaps he has even been hanged, and if he has been, there was no miscarriage of justice, no matter what the charge against him may have been.
Categories: English Literature