Murder in Cartwright Gardens - J. S. Fletcher - ebook
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All the folk who lived in No. 85 had gone to bed by that time, and the landlady, knowing that there was no late-comer to arrive, had locked and bolted her front door. It took Jennison a minute or two to turn the key and draw the two bolts, and all the time something was pulsing and throbbing in his brain, and saying over and over and over again, You’ll find the man dead! You’ll find the man dead! And when at last he had got clear of the house, and had rushed along the street to where the man lay, quiet enough, in the gutter, and had bent down and laid a hand on him, he knew that the man was dead—

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Murder in Cartwright Gardens

Joseph Smith Fletcher idb

ISBN 9783963759215

CHAPTER I THE MAN WHO SAW

Cartwright Gardens lies in the far east corner of Bloomsbury, somewhat south of the dreary Euston Road, and somewhat north of the still drearier quarter that fringes on the western confines of Clerkenwell. Whoever knows nothing of it and goes thither on a voyage of discovery must not expect what the name, taken literally, would seem to suggest—here are neither bushes nor brakes, flowers nor fruits. What is here is a drab and dismal crescent of houses, fronted by an enclosure wherein soot and grime descend on the London plane tree and the London turf; an oasis, perhaps, in the surrounding wilderness of shabby streets, but only, as things go, for the brave sparrow and his restless stalker, the lodging-house cat. Maybe the place has seen better days; in these it presents a frontage of mean houses, in each of which it is all Lombard Street to a China orange that you would find, if not more families than one, at any rate a lodger or lodgers in addition to the nominal tenant. The houses look as if they accommodated lodgers; the men who come out of them early of a morning look as if they were lodgers; the women, who, at one hour of the day or another, stand at the doors, to traffic with wandering greengrocers or itinerant fishmongers, look as if they lived by letting lodgings. And the young man who saw a certain extraordinary thing in Cartwright Gardens, at precisely fifteen minutes before midnight, on Monday, October 25th, 1920, was a lodger, and he saw it because, being a bit of a rhymster, he had been sitting up late to write verses, and, to cool his brow, had, at the moment mentioned, opened the window of his room, on the top floor of No. 85, and thrust head and shoulders into the silence of the autumn night.

The name of this young man was Albert Jennison, and by calling he was a clerk. He was at this time one and twenty years of age, and he had been a clerk for four years, and, as far as he could see, he was going to be a clerk for ever. There were clerkships and clerkships; Jennison’s job was lowish down in that scale. Its scene was a warehouse—dry goods—in the Gresham Street district of the city: he was in that warehouse, adding and subtracting, from nine o’clock in the morning until five o’clock in the afternoon. He had begun, at seventeen, at a pound a week: now he got three pounds ten, and his relations, who lived in the country and thought rustically, told him that he ought to consider himself well off, and that when he attained to just double his present stipend he would be a gentleman for the remainder of his days. Jennison had different notions: you might, perhaps, pass as a gentleman on a pound a day, but a pound a day was not everything, and to be practical, ten shillings was precisely half, and there was neither excitement nor fun in being half a gentleman. But it was not gentility that Jennison craved for, and it was not money. Three pound ten a week enabled him to live quite comfortably, but it was that easy, uneventful, smooth-running comfort that something in him objected to. He wanted adventure; any sort of adventure. Nothing ever happened to him, either at the warehouse or at the lodgings; he was one of several at the first, and a veritable hermit at the second. With him one day was as another day, and Sundays and Bank Holidays were worse than the rest. Sometimes, of course, he got a little excited over his wooings of the Muse; now and then his heart jumped when he got an oblong envelope from some magazine editor or other, and, for a few seconds, allowed himself to wonder whether it contained a proof or an oft-rejected manuscript. And sometimes he dared to let himself think of giving the firm a month’s notice, drawing his small store of saved money out of the Post Office Savings Bank, and going boldly, rashly, adventurously, into a world of which he dreamed much and knew next to nothing. But though Jennison had been four years in London, his brains were still essentially rustic, and they cooled at the motive when he fairly faced it; after all, seventy silver shillings, paid regularly every Friday afternoon, is something that you mustn’t sneeze at—besides, there was the annual rise. No! He was tied to the warehouse, and the grip of the knot didn’t hurt . . . still, he longed for adventure, wished that things would happen . . . something . . . anything . . .

If Jennison had only known it, something was just about to happen in Cartwright Gardens when he put his head out of his window and looked round. It was a clear night—for London—and the moon was at the full. Cartwright Gardens was quiet and deserted: a light shone here and there in a window, but there was not a soul to be seen on either pavement or roadway. Suddenly a man came round the corner, out of Mabledon Place. The moon shone directly upon him; Jennison saw all of him distinctly. He was a tallish, well-built man, agile of movement; he walked well and smartly; Jennison thought he was in a hurry. He carried a walking-stick, and as he came along he was swinging it jauntily. But all of a sudden, when he was some ten or twelve yards away from the house out of which Jennison watched him, he cast the stick away from him, let out a strange, half-stifled cry, and, lifting both hands, began tearing at his neckwear, as if he was being throttled. For a second or two his actions were frantic; then, still more suddenly, his uplifted hands dropped at his sides, his figure swayed this way and that, and with a scarcely-perceptible moan he plunged straight forward on the pavement and rolled over into the gutter. And there he lay as still as the stonework beneath him—and Jennison made a dive for his door and rushed headlong to the street.

All the folk who lived in No. 85 had gone to bed by that time, and the landlady, knowing that there was no late-comer to arrive, had locked and bolted her front door. It took Jennison a minute or two to turn the key and draw the two bolts, and all the time something was pulsing and throbbing in his brain, and saying over and over and over again, You’ll find the man dead! You’ll find the man dead! And when at last he had got clear of the house, and had rushed along the street to where the man lay, quiet enough, in the gutter, and had bent down and laid a hand on him, he knew that the man was dead—dead, Jennison informed himself, in non-original fashion, as a doornail.

Jennison was puzzled. He knew that a man can be all alive one minute and all dead the next. He had read—being inquisitive about such things—many newspaper reports of executions, and had gloated morbidly over the fact that from the moment of quitting the condemned cell to that in which death took place on the adjacent scaffold only thirty-five seconds had elapsed; he understood, too, that in electrocutions, the actual passage from life to death was even quicker—-far quicker. But those things weren’t close at hand—this had been. Three, or at most, five minutes previously he had seen this man marching jauntily, bravely along, swinging his stick—now he lay there at Jennison’s feet as dead as—again he caught at a hackneyed phrase—as dead as Queen Anne. And Queen Anne, reflected Jennison, thinking queerly, had been dead—oh, no end of time! Dead!—but she wasn’t any deader than this chap!

There had been no noise, and so no windows went up in Cartwright Gardens. And just then no one came along, in either direction; Jennison was alone with the man who lay there so quietly. He bent down again and looked more closely at him. As far as he could judge, in the light of the street lamp and the glow of the moon, this was a man of about thirty-five years of age, a good-looking, even handsome man, a man, evidently, of some position and means, for he was well-dressed in a smartly-cut suit of dark blue serge, and had good linen, and a gold watch chain across his vest. His hat had fallen from him when he fell, and lay a yard or two away. Jennison picked it up and looked abstractedly into the lining. There, without feeling that he saw, he read the name and address of a Liverpool hatter, and turning the hat about in his hands noticed that it was quite new—-perhaps its wearer had just come from Liverpool? But anyway, there he lay, statuesquely still . . . dead.

“Must ha’ been a fit!” mused Jennison, unable to run to great heights of speculation or theory. “A fit!—sudden. People do fall down and die in fits—die quick, too. So I’ve heard. It couldn’t be anything but a fit. And what am I to do next?”

As if in immediate answer to this question, the sound of a heavy, regular step came to Jennison’s ears. He knew that sound—a policeman was coming; he was coming into Cartwright Gardens from Marchmont Street. He came every midnight, almost to the minute, as Jennison, who often sat up late, tediously wooing the Muse, knew well. Presently he appeared, and Jennison hurried to meet him, and arrived at the point of contact breathless. The policeman halted, staring, but impassive.

“Oh, I say!” began Jennison lamely. “I—the fact is, there’s a dead man lying up there, nearly opposite our house. I—I think I saw him die. From my window, you know.”

The policeman quickened. He might have been a war-horse, sniffing the battle, or a fox-hound, catching a whiff of scent. His eyes opened wider, and he looked along the pavement, following Jennison’s ink-stained forefinger.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Just so! And———-”

At that moment he caught sight of the dark heap lying in the gutter, and he relapsed into official silence and strode off, Jennison ambling at his side.

“Yes!” said Jennison jerkily. “I—I saw him! I was looking out of the window—my window—No. 85 I live—third floor. He came along, walking quickly, swinging his stick—I’ve an idea he was whistling or humming a tune. Then—suddenly stopped! Tore at his throat—extraordinary motions! And then he fell! and rolled into the gutter. And when I got down to him he was dead; oh, quite dead. What do you think it could have been?”

But all the policeman vouchsafed to say was in the form of a question,—put staccato fashion.

“When was this?”

“Just now, two or three minutes since,” replied Jennison. He heaved a deep sigh—a sigh of speculative surprise. “Lord!” he muttered. “It doesn’t seem—it isn’t—more than five or six minutes when I first saw him!”

“Doesn’t take long to die?” observed the policeman sententiously. “Thing is—here or elsewhere, I reckon!—cause of death.” Then having a bright notion, he added, “P’raps you’re mistaken, may be unconscious?”

But they were close to the fallen man now, and the policeman, after a hasty examination, looked up at Jennison and nodded.

“You’re right,” he said. “Dead enough! And—nobody with him, eh? No attack on him?”

“Attack?” exclaimed Jennison wonderingly. “Of course not! There wasn’t a soul about.”

The policeman began to fumble for his whistle.

“Then it must ha’ been a fit,” he said. “And there’s fits and fits! However. . . .” He raised his whistle to his lips and blew. The silence seemed greater than ever when the sound had died away. Jennison stood, still staring at the inanimate thing in the gutter: the policeman fidgeted, shifting his weight from one foot to another. Suddenly he spoke, nodding at the dead man.

“You don’t know him?”

Jennison started and looked up sharply.

“I?” he exclaimed. “Good Lord, no! Don’t know him from—anybody!”

“What I meant was,” said the policeman slowly, “what I meant was—you saying as how you lived—where? No. 85?—and it being latish, and him here, I thought maybe you’d know him, say, by sight—dweller hereabouts, eh?”

“Never seen him in my life before!” declared Jennison. Then he caught sight of the dead man’s hat, which he had carefully placed aside. “That hat,” he continued, pointing to it. “I picked it up. Liverpool, it says in it—maker’s or seller’s name, you know. P’raps he’s a Liverpool man. You’d think so, wouldn’t you?—Liverpool being in the hat?”

“Oh, well, his clothing’ll be examined,” remarked the policeman easily. “There’ll be something on him, likely or not. Papers—cards—such like. He’ll be taken to the mortuary—as soon as we can get the ambulance. Doctor’ll have to see him, too. Then——”

He broke off as men came round the near corners. Jennison wondered that so many came so quickly. One—two—three—four—five policemen; a sergeant amongst them. He had to tell his tale to the sergeant; he told it in detail while others went for an ambulance. And when that came the sergeant asked Jennison to go with them: the police station and the mortuary, he said, were close together, and Jennison, as the only eye-witness, had better tell his story to the inspector. Jennison was nothing loath; here, at last, was an adventure, a mystery.

But it had drab, dismal settings, he thought, presently. The mortuary was a cold, repellent place, and it looked all the colder and more repellent, somehow, when they had laid the dead man there. A police surgeon came and examined what they had fetched him to see: he was one of those men, thought Jennison, out of whom you’re not going to extract speech if they don’t want to speak; he did his job in a silence which none of those standing by cared or dared to break. But when he had done it he turned, looking round.

“Where’s the man who saw him fall?” he asked sharply.

Jennison, who had remained hidden by the big forms around him, was shoved forward; the police surgeon sized him up in a quick glance.

“Well?” he said.

Jennison had to tell the tale again; this was the third time. The medical man listened in as grim a silence as he had kept before. But again his lips opened.

“Lifted his hands to his throat, you say?” he asked. “Suddenly?”

“All of a sudden!” answered Jennison. “One second he was walking along, ordinarily, the next, up went his hands, clutching, snatching, tearing at his throat! Like this—only worse!”

“Scream? Cry out?” asked the doctor.

“No—o” said Jennison. “Not what you’d call by either name. Made a bit of a moan—in his throat—as he went down.”

“Face first?”

“Face first it was—fell right on his face, I think. Then,” concluded Jennison, “then—well, he just rolled over into the gutter! And—lay still.”

He looked round as he said the last word, and became aware that two other men had come into the room and were listening intently. One was a tall, soldierly-looking man in an inspector’s uniform; the other was a quiet-looking, but sharp-eyed young man in civilian clothes. The surgeon turned to them, too, and after some muttered conversation about an inquest, went away. Jennison gathered that there would be a lot more to be heard about this affair—a lot more! And then, as nobody told him to go, or, indeed, took any particular notice of him, he stood by while the quiet-looking young man, whom presently he discovered to be a detective, and who answered to the name of Womersley, examined the dead man’s clothing, going through pocket after pocket, and laying out the various contents. There was nothing very remarkable. Money was there, in some quantity; a good watch and chain; a pocket-book, in which were clippings from American papers, all relating to trade matters, a cigar case; a silver matchbox; a pocket-knife. But there were no letters, nothing to give any clue to the man’s identity, until Womersley drew from a waistcoat pocket a crumpled visiting card with which, after a glance at it, he turned to the inspector.

“That’s the only thing there is that’s any use to us—now,” he said. “See? Thomas Bradmore, 157a Hunter Street. Is it—his? Or has it been given to him?”

“Close by, anyway,” remarked the inspector. “Better go round there at once.”

The detective moved off towards the door, without further words. And Jennison quietly slipped after him. It was his adventure—and he was going on with it.

CHAPTER II THE MAN WHO CAME BACK

Nobody offered any objection to Jennison’s departure. He had already given his name and address to the sergeant, and since his last statement to the police surgeon, nobody had taken any notice of him. He felt, somehow, that he was unimportant, a very minor pawn in the game: he slunk, rather than marched, out of the door and the building. All the same, once outside, he made up to the detective.

“May I go with you?” he asked, half afraid of his temerity. “I—I’d like to, if you don’t mind.”

Womersley, who seemed somewhat abstracted, half paused and stared at his interrogator—wonderingly. In the light of the neighbouring lamp, he sized up Jennison and smiled.

“Oh!” he said. “You’re the chap that saw, aren’t you? Just so!”

“I saw!” assented Jennison. “Everything!”

“Why do you want to go with me?” demanded Womersley. “Eh?”

“Because I did see,” answered Jennison. “Now I want to hear.”

Womersley laughed. The laugh was half satirical, but the other half was wholly indulgent, and he nodded his head and turned along the pavement.

“Well, I don’t know why you shouldn’t,” he said. “And, as it happens, I’m not quite sure where this Hunter Street is. I’m new to this quarter of the town—I only came here, on special business, yesterday. Now up crops this!”

“I know where Hunter Street is,” remarked Jennison, eager to be of use. “Two minutes’ walk—as a matter of fact, it’s close to Cartwright Gardens. I’ll take you straight there.” Then, when they had crossed the road and walked on a little, he said timidly, “I suppose you’re a detective, aren’t you?”

“That’s it!” answered Womersley. “Detective-Sergeant, Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland Yard—now you’ve got it!”

“It must be very interesting work,” suggested Jennison.

“Sometimes!” said Womersley, with another laugh. “And sometimes—t’other thing. Dull!”

“I should have thought it could never have been that!” remarked Jennison.

“Dare say!” replied Womersley. “Fact, though! Horribly dull—at times. Prosaic!”

Jennison ruminated over this. He had a conception of detectives—formed entirely from his own imagination; he also had an idea of what a detective ought to look like. And Womersley wasn’t a bit like it—he was quite an ordinary young man in appearance; Jennison saw thousands and thousands of his type every day in the City. But there being no doubt that Womersley was a genuine detective, he proceeded to cultivate him.

“What now,” asked Jennison, in the accents of a disciple who finds himself admitted to the presence of a known master, “what, now, would you say is the particular gift or faculty that a detective ought to possess?”

Womersley laughed again. Then he threw two words over his shoulder.

“Common sense!” he said.

“Nothing beyond?” asked Jennison, in surprise.

“If you like,” laughed Womersley, “still more common sense—and still more common sense after that. I’m not defining common sense, you know. But—common sense all the time!—that’s the ticket. This Hunter Street? Well, the number’s 157a.”

The house was close by, and it was all in darkness. But there was a bell and a knocker at the front door, and repeated recourse to each prefaced the throwing up of a window-sash on the second floor and the protrusion of a head. A man’s voice sounded above them.

“What is it?—who’s there?”

“Is this Mr. Bradmore’s?” inquired Womersley. “Mr. Thomas Bradmore?”

“I’m Mr. Bradmore,” replied the man. “What do you want?”

Womersley glanced up and down the deserted street. Then he looked up.

“Sorry to rouse you, Mr. Bradmore,” he answered. “A man died very suddenly in Cartwright Gardens about an hour ago. We found your card on him. Can you come down and tell me if you know anything of him?”

The voice spoke one word.

“Wait!”

The window snapped with a click, and Womersley turned to Jennison.

“That settles that,” he murmured. “The dead man isn’t Bradmore. Next thing is—does Bradmore know who he is?”

Before Jennison had had time to speculate on the chances for and against this, the door opened, and Bradmore himself appeared, clad in an old dressing-gown and holding a lamp above his head. He was a tall, middle-aged man, somewhat worn and melancholy of aspect, whose dark, straggling hair and beard were already shot with gray, and who looked, somehow, as if he had known trouble and anxiety. He made a steady inspection of both men before speaking; Jennison he passed over quickly; at Womersley he looked longer.

“Police?” he asked.

“Scotland Yard man, Mr. Bradmore,” replied Womersley. He drew out the crumpled card which he had found on the dead man, and thrust it into the rays of the lamp. “That’s the card I spoke of, Mr. Bradmore. Yours, isn’t it?”

Bradmore nodded, and motioned his visitors to enter. He closed the door after them, and, leading them into a room on the right hand side of the passage, set his lamp on a centre table, pointed the two men to chairs, and himself took one facing the detective. And he immediately put a direct question to Womersley.

“What like was this man?”

“Good-looking, fresh-coloured man, Mr. Bradmore,” replied Womersley, promptly. “About thirty-five years old, I should say. Well dressed—dark blue serge suit. Plenty of money in his pockets. But no papers—at least, none giving any name or address, except, of course, your card. That was in the right-hand waistcoat pocket.”

“And you say he died suddenly in Cartwright Gardens?” asked Bradmore. “Of—-what?”

Womersley shook his head and pointed to Jennison, who was listening with all his ears.

“That’s a question for the doctor, Mr. Bradmore,” he answered. “This young man saw all there was to be seen. He saw the man come along the street, apparently in the best of health and spirits, suddenly throw up his hands and clutch at his throat, and then fall to the ground and die—at once!”

Bradmore gave Jennison a glance. But it was no more than a glance. His attention went back to the detective.

“What exact time was this?” he asked.

“According to our friend here,” answered Womersley, again indicating Jennison, “just about a quarter to twelve. But—do you know who the man is, Mr. Bradmore? That’s the important thing just now.”

Bradmore nodded, slowly.

“Yes!” he answered. “It’ll be Alfred Jakyn—Alfred Jakyn!”

“Yes?” said Womersley. “And—who is Alfred Jakyn? Was, of course, I should say. Who was he, exactly?”

Bradmore began to stroke his beard, looking reflectively at his questioner.

“Do you know Holborn—I mean, do you know it well?” he asked.

“No,” replied Womersley, “I don’t; my work, as a rule, is at the other end of the town.”

“I thought not,” said Bradmore, “or you’d have known the name of Jakyn. If you go along Holborn to-morrow morning, you’ll see, at the corner of Counsel’s Passage, a chemist’s shop—well known—with the name Daniel Jakyn over it. As a matter of fact, Daniel Jakyn’s dead, and I’m his successor: I took over the business, of which I’d been manager for several years, when he died, last spring. And Alfred Jakyn was his son—only son. Only child, in fact.”

“Just so,” said Womersley. “And what do you know about Alfred, Mr. Bradmore? I mean, of course, in relation to his sudden death?”

“I can soon tell you all I know about Alfred Jakyn,” replied Bradmore. “As I’ve said, he was his father’s only child. As a boy and a young man, he was a wild and extravagant fellow—he gave his father a lot of trouble, and caused him no end of expense. About ten years ago he disappeared, and, as far as I know—in fact, I’m certain about it—his father never heard a word of him from that time until the time of his own death. I never knew of any one who ever heard of him; I certainly never did—until yesterday evening. Then—about a quarter to eight—he walked into my shop——”

“You’re speaking of last evening—present night, as you may call it?” interrupted Womersley. “Same night as that in which he died?”

“Just so,” assented Bradmore. “Last evening—the evening that’s just over. He came in, greeted me as if he’d seen me only the day before, told me he’d landed at Liverpool yesterday morning, from America—New York, I think—and asked for news of his father. He didn’t know, until I told him, that his father was dead. Hearing that, he sat down in the parlour at the back of the shop to hear all I had to tell him.”

“You’d no doubt have a good deal to tell, Mr. Bradmore?” suggested Womersley.

“Well, yes!” replied Bradmore. “He seemed to know nothing. He looked prosperous, as far as you could judge from outward appearances, but I couldn’t make out where he’d been most of the time during the ten years’ absence, for in addition to not knowing anything about his father, he seemed to be remarkably ignorant about things in general—I mean things that have happened of late years.”

“Um!” murmured Womersley. “Maybe he’s been where news doesn’t run. However——”

“I told him all there was to tell about his family affairs,” continued Bradmore. “I told him, to begin with, that his father died intestate—left no will at all——”

“Much to leave?” asked Womersley.

“Yes, a great deal—he was a well-to-do man,” replied Bradmore. “Of course, as Alfred had turned up, it would all come to him. He recognised that. But I also told him that his relations were already taking action to have his death presumed, as he hadn’t been heard of for ten years, so that they could succeed to Daniel’s property——”

“There are relations, then?” interrupted Womersley.

“Yes. Daniel Jakyn had a sister-in-law, Mrs. Nicolas Jakyn, widow of his younger brother. She has two children, a son, Nicholas, and a daughter, with the odd name of Belyna. Mrs. Nicholas Jakyn and her children—they’re both grown up—live with Mrs. Nicholas’s brother, Dr. Cornelius Syphax, in Brunswick Square, close by here. If Alfred Jakyn had died during his absence abroad, the Nicholas Jakyn family, of course, came in for Daniel’s money. And they’re now—believing Alfred to be dead, abroad—in process of trying to get it. I took over the business under arrangement with them—sanctioned by the Courts, of course.”

“You told him all this, last evening?” asked Womersley.

“Of course. He laughed at it, and said that as he was very much alive, all that would come to an end. And,” continued Bradmore, “after talking things over a little more with me, he went away to call at Brunswick Square, to let Mrs. Nicholas Jakyn and her children know that he was living and had come home again. That was the last I saw of him.”

“Just so,” said Womersley. “Um!—well, a few questions, Mr. Bradmore. To start with—what time did he leave the shop in Holborn?”

“Just about half-past eight.”

“To go straight to Brunswick Square?”

“So I understood.”

“Why did you give him your card—the card with your private address on it?”

“Because he said that he’d likely want to see me after he’d seen his aunt and his cousins, and as I was going home I told him where I lived—gave him the card you’ve brought here just now.”

“I see! Did he tell you where he was staying in London?”

“He did. At the Euston Hotel.”

“Did he ask you anything else, Mr. Bradmore?—anything that we ought to know? Because, I may as well tell you that the police-surgeon who made a preliminary examination of the body is highly suspicious—he thinks there’s been foul play—and, naturally, we want to know all we can. Did Alfred Jakyn ask you about any people he’d known in the old days?—did he give you any idea that there was anybody he wanted to see again, or wanted to find?”

“Oh, well,” answered Bradmore, after reflecting a moment, “there was just one question he asked me, as he was leaving. That was if I knew anything of the whereabouts of a young woman named Millie Clover, who at one time had been employed at the shop in Holborn as a clerk. I didn’t—hadn’t heard of her for years.”

“Nothing else?”

“Nothing!” answered Bradmore, with decision. “I’ve told you everything.”

Womersley nodded, rose, and began to button his overcoat.

“Queer business, isn’t it?” he said, in matter-of-fact tones. “You say he seemed to be in first-class condition—as regards health?”

“I should say he was certainly in the very best of health and spirits,” assented Bradmore. “Alert, vigorous, cheerful—all that. Oh, yes!”

“And then he goes and dies in the most mysterious fashion, all in a minute!” said Womersley. “Well, as it is, they’ll want you at the inquest, you know, Mr. Bradmore—you’ll be hearing about it, in due course.”

“I imagine that we shall all hear a great deal about a good many things, in due course,” remarked Bradmore, as he led his visitors to the door. “I know what I think, from what you’ve told me!”

“And that’s—what?” asked Womersley.

“No, no! I’ll keep that to myself!” said Bradmore. “Maybe the coroner’s jury will eventually be led to the same conclusion—we shall see!”

He closed the door on them, and Womersley and Jennison turned again into the night. The detective produced and lighted a pipe.

“Well, that’s a beginning!” he said as they moved away. “Easy start, too!”

“What shall you do—now?” asked Jennison, eagerly. “What next?”

“Drop in at the police station for a minute or two, and then—bed!” answered Womersley. “Just that!”

“You can sleep—after this sort of thing?” exclaimed Jennison.

“Try me!” said Womersley. “Oh, yes, I can sleep! Well—good-night.”

Their ways parted there, and Jennison moved forward slowly, through Compton Street to Cartwright Gardens. Very soon he came to the spot, close to his own house, whereat the mysterious Alfred Jakyn had fallen and died. He stood staring at it, wondering, speculating; thinking how queer it all was. Suddenly he saw something that lay in the gutter, near the place from which the policemen had lifted the dead man’s body, something that gleamed white in the moonlight. Stooping and picking it up, he found it to be a scrap of paper, tightly twisted into what one called a cocked-hat. There was writing inside—plain enough that, when he had untwisted it. But Jennison’s eyesight was not over good, and in that light he could make nothing of what he saw to be there. And at that he let himself into the house and hurried up to his own room. The light still burned above the mantelpiece, and he got beneath it, smoothed out the crumpled bit of paper, and read what was written on it. The handwriting was a woman’s—pretty, well-formed writing, even if it looked hurried. And the words were just nine in number:

West corner of Endsleigh Gardens in half an hour.

CHAPTER III. THE WITNESS-BOX

Adventures were crowding thick and fast on Jennison, but this scrap of paper business was more to his taste than any that had preceded it during that eventful midnight. This, he said to himself, was a bit of all right; it was the sort of thing you read of in newspapers and novels. He read and re-read the nine words, revelling in their mysteriousness, gloating over the fact that it was he, and he only, who had found this paper on which they were written. Suddenly a terrible suspicion over-clouded the brightness of his ideas—how did he know that this bit of writing had anything to do with the dead man? It might have been dropped into the gutter from whence he had rescued it by somebody else; it might have nothing whatever to do with Alfred Jakyn and his strange death. But considering everything, Jennison believed that it had—he cast his doubt aside. No!—the note had probably been thrust by Alfred Jakyn loosely, carelessly, into the edge of a pocket, and had fallen out on the street when he fell. And it might prove a thing of high importance—what, he believed, the detectives call a clue. He began to wonder what Womersley would say when he showed it to him. But at that point temptation assailed Jennison. Why should he tell Womersley anything about this discovery? Why should not he, Albert Jennison, take a hand himself in the solving of the mystery? Why not?—Why not, indeed? He went to bed on that, and turned and turned half the night, inventing theories and planning campaigns.

And when he woke in the morning, Jennison wished that he had nothing to do but to follow up this affair. He would have liked to go round to the police station to find Womersley and persuade that phlegmatic person to let him share in his investigations; perhaps, if Womersley had proved tractable, he might have let him into his own secret and shown him the scrap of paper. But he was a slave!—a miserable, treadmill slave—and nine o’clock found him, as usual, in the city. There he toiled all day, doing his work badly, for once, because his mind was otherwise. A thrill ran through him, however, when, as he entered his lodgings that evening, his landlady came up from her region in the basement bearing an official-looking piece of paper.

“There’s been a policeman here after you, Mr. Jennison,” she said, eyeing him closely. “He said to give you this here as soon as you come in.”

Jennison glanced at the document and held his head a couple of inches higher.

“Ah, yes, Mrs. Canby,” he answered. “Yes! It’s about an inquest to-morrow morning. I’m a witness, you know—the most important witness, I believe. That poor fellow who died outside here last night, you know—I told you about it before I went out, you know.”

“You did, Mr. Jennison, and a turn it did give me, too!” said Mrs. Canby. “To think of a feller-being falling dead outside there, and us all a-warm and snug in our beds, close by! Leastways, you weren’t, Mr. Jennison. And how will it turn, Mr. Jennison, do you think?”

But Jennison didn’t know. His only answer as he repaired to his tea-supper was to shake his head with dark and solemn meaning. What he did know, and highly appreciated, was that he was going to have a whole holiday next day. The inquest was set down for ten-thirty in the morning; of course he would have to be there, and probably the proceedings would last over several hours; anyway, being, as it were, specially commanded by the law to be present, he would certainly not be able to attend to his usual duties. It gave him a thoroughly exquisite pleasure to write a letter to the manager of the warehouse explaining why he should not be at his desk next day, and for the rest of the evening, instead of writing poetry, he rehearsed his evidence, and even studied, before his mirror, the pose and attitude he would adopt in the witness-box. Next morning he spent much time over his toilet, and when he finally reached the Coroner’s Court, a quarter of an hour earlier than he need have done, he was disgusted to find that all the other people assembled there seemed to have arrayed themselves in their oldest instead of their newest clothes: the prevailing tone of things was shabby, sordid.

Jennison had never been in a coroner’s court before. He was not impressed. The Coroner, a barrister, seemed to him too matter of fact and practical in his remarks; the jury, twelve good men and true, looked as if brains were much wanting amongst them; the police, the legal folk, the pressmen, the spectators, were all common, vulgar, material—there was too much of a business about it altogether, and none of that reserve and mystery which Jennison had hoped for. And at first the proceedings were very dull, because Jennison already knew all that came out. He had heard everything that Bradmore could tell, for instance. Bradmore, who gave formal proof of the dead man’s identity, now re-told it; Jennison knew every word that was to come from him. And somehow, when he himself got into the witness-box, his performance there seemed dull and flat, and things weren’t what he’d hoped they’d be. He had wanted to thrill the court with a thoroughly dramatic story; instead of that he found himself giving affirmatives and negatives to cut-and-dried questions. There were no thrills; no sensations; actually some of the reporters present whispered and laughed amongst themselves while he, Jennison, the only man who had actually seen, was being examined. It was all as lifeless and sterile as the voice of the man who thrust a Testament into the hand of a witness and bade him or her repeat a babble of phrases.

But Jennison, once more relegated to inconspicuousness amongst the herd of spectators, became conscious that the court was waking up when the police surgeon went into the witness-box. He had closely watched this functionary on the night of Alfred Jakyn’s death, and had said to himself since that he knew as much about it as he, Jennison, did. What Jennison did not know, however, was that since that hasty examination at the mortuary there had been an autopsy. But the Coroner knew, and the jury knew, and the legal folk present knew; so did the reporters, who, on the medical man’s appearance, took seriously to their pencils and note-books. And in a couple of minutes Jennison found himself gasping at a suddenly-sprung suggestion. It hit him full, as the result of a brief question from the coroner and a sharp reply from the witness. They had already exchanged a good deal in the way of question and answer before this came along, but when it came, the atmosphere changed from heaviness to the quick instinct of surprise.

“And the result of the post-mortem examination, now? Have you formed any opinion as to the cause of death?”

“Yes. I am firmly of opinion as to the cause of death. Poison!”