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The Indian BangleByFergus Hume
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The Indian Bangle
THE FIRST SCENE: AT CASTERWELL.
CHAPTER I. DAVID AND JONATHAN.
CHAPTER II. THE SEALED LETTER.
CHAPTER III. AT THE MANOR HOUSE.
CHAPTER IV. A QUEER COINCIDENCE.
CHAPTER V. THE SUSPICIONS OF LAURENCE MALLOW.
CHAPTER VI. THE REVEREND MANNERS BROCK.
CHAPTER VII. MARGERY.
CHAPTER VIII. JEPHTHAH'S DAUGHTER.
CHAPTER IX. "TWENTY-ONE."
CHAPTER X. A PRE-NUPTIAL CONTRACT.
CHAPTER XI. THE NEW MAID.
CHAPTER XII. "WEDDING-BELLS."
THE SECOND SCENE: AT SANDBEACH.
CHAPTER I. "THE HAPPY PAIR."
CHAPTER II. "THE BROOCH."
CHAPTER III. "CLARA'S LETTER!"
CHAPTER IV. "MORE MYSTERY."
THE THIRD SCENE: IN LONDON.
CHAPTER I. "MYSTERIOUS MRS. ARNE."
CHAPTER II. "MRS. PURCELL."
CHAPTER III. "A PRIVATE INQUIRY AGENT."
CHAPTER IV. "ONE OF US."
CHAPTER V. "MADAME DEATH-IN-LIFE."
CHAPTER VI. "ANOTHER LINK."
CHAPTER VII. "AN UNEXPECTED MEETING."
CHAPTER VIII. "THE LIGHT-HAIRED MAN."
CHAPTER IX. "MAN PROPOSES."
CHAPTER X. "WOMAN DISPOSES."
THE FOURTH SCENE: IN FLORENCE.
CHAPTER I. "ON THE LONG TRAIL."
CHAPTER II. "ONE PORTION OF THE CONSPIRACY."
CHAPTER III. THE SANDAL-WOOD CHEST.
CHAPTER IV. "ANOTHER PORTION OF THE CONSPIRACY."
THE FIFTH SCENE: IN LONDON.
CHAPTER I. "THE MISSING MAN."
CHAPTER II. "MONSIEUR ROUGE IS CONFIDENTIAL."
CHAPTER III. "A TERRIBLE ADVENTURE."
CHAPTER IV. "THE ISHMAELS OF HUMANITY."
THE SIXTH SCENE: AT CASTERWELL.
CHAPTER I. "AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL."
CHAPTER II. "THE PENANCE OF MARGERY."
CHAPTER III. "MR. BROCK AND THE LETTER."
CHAPTER IV. "THE TREASURES AT KIKAT."
CHAPTER V. "LET THE DEAD PAST BURY ITS DEAD."
CHAPTER VI. "MR. BROCK'S ADDENDA."
CHAPTER VII. "THE CIPHER DIARY."
CHAPTER VIII. "A ROGUE'S MEMOIRS."
A letter from Mrs. Purcell, of Bombay, to Miss Slarge, of Casterwell, England:—
"29th of May, 189—.
"My Dear Sister,
"By this time you will have received my previous epistle, in which I announced the apoplectic seizure and subsequent demise of my beloved husband, Joshua Ezekiel Purcell, lately a faithful and distinguished servant in the Indian Civil Service of her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen and Empress. As over a month has elapsed since my lifelong companion joined the angelic choir, I am now becoming more resigned to my widowed condition, and I begin to contemplate with equanimity the prospect of a solitary future, enlivened, I trust, by the acceptable companionship of sympathizing friends. In thus submitting myself to the inevitable, I have obeyed the inspired advice of the great lexicographer, as expressed in his masterly ethic poem 'The Vanity of Human Wishes':—
'Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind, Obedient passions, and a will resigned.'
Thus in some measure I may emulate, as a Christian gentlewoman should, the philosophic composure of the sage Doctor Johnson.
"Passing to more mundane considerations, I may mention that the late partner of my joys and sorrows has left me fairly well endowed with worldly wealth. Notwithstanding his elegant hospitality, and the regrettable depreciation of the rupee, he contrived to save and invest considerable sums of money, the interest on which has been assured for life to his mourning widow by a generous and provident testament.
"On entering into the necessary details with my worldly adviser—Mr. Deson, the lawyer—I find that my income will slightly exceed the yearly sum of two thousand pounds sterling, an amount which will amply suffice to maintain me in the dignified and easy position to which I have hitherto been accustomed. On my decease these moneys will be divided amongst the relatives of my late husband. Thus I shall be unable to devise any personal property by will other than that which I save or become possessed of during my widowhood.
"This consideration troubles me but in a minor degree, for, as you—my sole surviving relative—are in no need of pecuniary aid, it is only just that, after I have done with earthly vanities, my late husband's riches should benefit those of his blood who deserve well of his generosity.
"My position being thus assured, I have decided to leave the 'gorgeous pd home of my youth, to lay in due time my bones with those of my kindred in the family vault at Casterwell. But, prior to my departure from this torrid clime, it is my dutiful intention to erect over the remains of the most beloved and generous of men a monument of stainless marble, inscribed with an appropriate tribute to his excellent qualities, and an explanatory inscription of his widow's grief.
"And now—to touch on lighter topics, and thus relieve my mournful mind—let me inquire, my dearest sister, about your health, and concerning your interesting attempt to prove that the Romish Church is the inheritrix of the Babylonian superstitions so frequently condemned by the Hebrew prophets. Also, I must not omit to request special information regarding your charge, Olive, the daughter of my dear, but, alas! departed friend, Mr. Bellairs. I trust that the girl, who was singularly controllable, if I remember rightly, is growing in beauty and wisdom, and that she is beginning to reflect on the responsibilities of wealth and position which the near approach of her twenty-first birthday will shortly render it incumbent upon her to assume. With such a companion as you, my dear Rubina, and with so admirable and conscientious a guardian as the rector of Casterwell, I feel satisfied that our beloved Olive has become possessed of those elegant and necessary accomplishments which should embellish the character of a young gentlewoman.
"The moral Mr. Brock, in his double capacity of clergyman and adviser, must also have succeeded in impressing on her plastic mind the sacred precepts of the Established Church, and the needful principles for the guidance of her conduct towards virtue and discretion.
"When I meet her again—if an over-ruling Providence should permit the occurrence of so much-desired an event—I shall expect to find Miss Olive Bellairs the model and paragon of our sex. Do not let us forget, my dear Rubina, that as a twig is bent so does the tree grow, and that early moral training in a refined and Christian circle is invariably productive of a happy result in those fortunate enough to have been placed by their Maker is so enviable a position.
"The mention of Olive leads me by an obvious sequence of thought to speak of Mr. Angus Carson, to whom—by a family arrangement—she has been engaged since her early childhood. I have lately had the gratification of a somewhat lengthy interview with that young gentleman, and I made use of my opportunity to observe and question him closely, so that I might transmit to you an accurate estimate of his character. He informed me that his respected father lately departed this life, and that he—young Mr. Carson—was passing through Bombay on his way to England by the Peninsular and Oriental steamship Pharaoh. It is his declared intention to complete the family arrangement, spoken of above, entered into so many years ago between Mr. Bellairs and Dr. Carson, both now deceased.
"As it is not improbable that in your arduous studies you may have forgotten the precise details of this matrimonial scheme which concerns so nearly your charge, and thereby yourself, I think it advisable to recapitulate the same, that it may be freshly impressed upon your mind. This long and explicit letter is mainly written with this object in view, and I beg that, for your own sake, and for the sake of Olive, you will give your whole attention to the details which I am about to recount concerning the physical and mental attributes of Angus Carson. We are informed by a very excellent proverb that 'forewarned is forearmed,' therefore my communication—if read with due care—will place you in the position of knowing Mr. Carson, so to speak, before you make his personal acquaintance.
"The benefit of such knowledge—having regard to the fact that neither one of this engaged pair has seen the other—will be of incalculable value to you, their well-wisher and supervisor. This being the case, I shall proceed to relate, firstly, the details of the domestic contract entered into between the parents of our young friends; and, secondly, the impressions I derived after conversing for two hours—not unprofitably—with young Mr. Carson.
"It is a matter of general knowledge that between the years '57 and '59 of this century, our supremacy in Hindostan was endangered by the revolt of the native troops. During that disturbed period, Mr. Mark Bellairs and Dr. Alfred Carson, then young and ambitious soldiers, were united in the bonds of ardent friendship; and afterwards they gave their affection to Mr. Julian Brock, then a missionary labouring amongst the benighted heathen. These three friends were together during the time of the disturbance, and side by side they witnessed the horrors of Cawnpore and Lucknow, as you have often heard the ingenious Mr. Bellairs relate, when, to quote Dr. Goldsmith, 'he fought his battles o'er again,' in the retirement of his luxurious and stately home. In the year '60 these comrades on many a field were parted by the exigencies of existence; and, while Mr. Bellairs and the Rev. Mr. Brock returned to settle on their native shores, Dr. Carson, having an unconquerable passion for Orientalism, preferred to remain in India. However, no doubt wearied of warfare, he beat his sword into a ploughshare, and, withdrawing himself from public life, secluded himself in the near neighbourhood of the gigantic range of mountains which are known to geography as the Himalayas. I understand that he dwelt there as a solitary for ten years, at the end of which time, feeling that it was not good for man to live alone, he contracted a marriage with a young Eurasian lady. It is sad to state that his marital happiness was not destined to continue more than twelve months, for, in the year '71, his wife died in child-bed, leaving behind her a son—the Angus I speak of—to solace his distracted surviving parent.
"In the meantime Mr. Bellairs, by the death of his father, had become possessed of the ancestral acres at Casterwell, and had taken up his abode in the family mansion to superintend his heritage and enact the agreeable part of an English squire. As a mark of his constant friendship for Mr. Brock, and in token of his appreciation of a blameless and moral character, he presented him with the living of Casterwell, a position which our reverend friend has held these many years to the satisfaction of all who are acquainted with his manifold good qualities. Mr. Bellairs, as you know, also remained single for a considerable period, but, bethinking himself that for the dignity of his name and the welfare of his tenants it was incumbent upon him to beget heirs of his body, he followed the example of his medical friend, and married the accomplished Miss Sophia Seymour in the year '74. By a strange coincidence—which you, my dear sister, will have no difficulty in recalling—the lady of Mr. Bellairs also died within a year of her nuptials, leaving, as a pledge of love to her sorrowing husband, our dear Olive. On hearing of his friend's loss and gain, Dr. Carson wrote a kind and judicious letter, in which he proposed that, further to cement their early friendship, his son Angus should be contracted in marriage with Mr. Bellairs's daughter Olive. To this proposition Mr. Bellairs readily agreed, with the proviso that the ceremony should not take place until his child attained the age of twenty-one years. On this basis the matter was arranged, and for the last twenty years Olive and Angus have been betrothed, although—the first dwelling in England, and the second restrained by filial duty in India—they have never met to enjoy in one another's company the pre-nuptial pleasures of Cupid's votaries. But these chaste delights will no longer be deferred, for, now that the lamented father of young Mr. Carson has journeyed to that bourne whence no traveller returns,' the impatient lover is hastening to greet his lovely, but, alas! Fatherless, mistress. What joy it will be to you, my dear Rubina, to witness the coming together of these young hearts, to contemplate their amiable qualities, and discreetly to superintend their joyous meeting.
"Mr. Carson is a gentle and well-bred youth of twenty-five, not without parts, although of too retiring a nature to display them in company. He is tall, slender, elegant in shape, and from his mother inherits a somewhat swart complexion. Indeed, so apparent are the traces of his foreign blood, that in England, doubtless, he will be taken for a native of Italy. His hair and eyes, and the thick moustache which adorns his upper lip, are black in the extreme, resembling in their hue that 'raven down which clothes the night's vast wings;' and although I own to a predilection for the golden fairness of our Saxon race, yet I cannot deny that this young gentleman is prepossessing in no ordinary degree. I regret to say, however, that, like many half-castes, he is delicate in health, and owns that his heart is weak, so much so, indeed, that when excited in any violent degree, he is liable to be so overcome by emotion as to lapse into a state of insensibility. Therefore, my dear sister, when he greets your charge, be careful that you restrain his transports of joy, else it's more than probable that you will see him extended at your feet—a calamity which may cast a shadow over the united pair. I must admit that Mr. Carson is somewhat effeminate in his dress and looks. He even goes so far as to wear a bracelet of gold on his right wrist. In India we term this a bangle, and frequently such an ornament is worn by native princes who yet retain barbaric tastes; but I ventured to remark to Mr. Carson, that in England the wearing of a bangle by one of the male sex would not be looked upon with favour. I am bound to say that he took my expostulation in the most good-humoured manner, and he explained that the bangle was a sacred ornament taken from a Hindoo idol. It had been presented to his late lamented father by a certain notability, or Rajah, whose son he had skilfully cured of a deadly disease, upon the symptoms of which young Mr. Carson did not dilate. He also informed me that the bracelet had originally been placed on his arm above the elbow by his ayah, or Indian nurse, when he was a boy. As gradually he attained to the full size of manhood, the bangle was slipped down by degrees to the wrist, whence it cannot now be removed without filing through the broad band of gold of which it is composed—no very easy operation, as you may guess. Moreover quite recently Mr. Carson hurt his hand while out shooting in the hills, whereby some of the small bones have become diseased, and the breadth of the member much extended; indeed, the whole hand is largely swollen. I advised him to undergo an operation in England, and at the same time have the bracelet removed; in fact, I imagine this would be necessary. He promised me the suggestion should receive his most careful consideration. He was then pleased to exhibit the bracelet for my inspection, and I examined it with much interest and curiosity.
"It is a broad band of ductile gold, wrought with the idol figures of the Hindoo trinity—Bramah, Siva, and Vishnu—interwoven with the sacred lotus-flower and other heathen symbols. I confess that I was weak enough to covet this work of art, for it is not only extremely beautiful as an exhibition of how exquisitely a goldsmith can manipulate the precious metal, but it is also an ornament of great antiquity, and, being sacred, no doubt there is attached to it a strange and eventful history. Mr. Carson has had golden wrist-buttons made to match this unique bracelet, wrought after the same style, but of vastly inferior workmanship.
"On the whole, my dear Rubina, I am prepossessed in favour of my visitor, as he appears to be modest and intelligent and high-principled. Notwithstanding his delicate health and effeminate looks, I am confident that he has a strong will and a somewhat stubborn nature, both of which may be productive in the future of either good or evil. If Olive be soft and yielding, her married life with young Mr. Carson will no doubt be happy and easy, as he requires, I suspect, to be deferred to in every way, having full confidence in his own judgment. If, on the contrary, she be wilful, and refuse to acknowledge her husband as the head of the house, I fear that their union will not be so perfect a one as we could wish. To use a trite image, Mr. Carson resembles the iron hand in a velvet glove, so of this you will do well to warn Olive. 'Verbum sat sapienti,' as the Latin poet has it; the same may be stretched, my dear, to include our own sex, although in the estimation of the male, we are not considered to be gifted greatly with wisdom. Of course, I dissent from this view, and—but you know full well my opinion on the subject; therefore, I will not add to this already lengthy epistle by enlarging upon it.
"Mr. Carson is accompanied to England by a certain Major Horace Semberry, who is, I understand, an officer in one of our native regiments. He has obtained leave of absence in order to act as a kind of social tutor to our young friend. I was informed that the Major met Dr. Carson whilst shooting in the Himalaya Mountains, and so won his goodwill by an attractive exterior and fascinating manners, that the doctor asked him to conduct Angus to Europe, and arranged, most generously, that he should be paid a handsome stipend for his services.
"Thus it comes about that young Mr. Carson and Major Semberry are travelling in company; but I must confess that the late Dr. Carson might easily have shown more wisdom in the selection of a companion for his son. Major Semberry is a fair, handsome man, an excellent sportsman, a well-bred gentleman, and he is possessed of a charm of manner which would impose upon many people. However, it did not impose upon me, my dear, for I judge this Horace Semberry to be one of those plausible scamps who roam the world like social Satans, seeking whom they may devour.
"This is a strong sentiment, I admit, but no stronger than is necessary, for you know that I am an excellent judge of character, and that it is not my habit to quote Holy Writ unless the occasion demand: it. The occasion, my dear Rubina, demands it now, and my earnest advice to you is to discourage the visits of Major Semberry to the Manor, and to break off; if possible, the intimacy which now exists—to my great regret—between him and Olive's future husband. I speak for his sake as I speak for hers, and you may take my word for it that the less they see of this military Belial, the better it will be for both of them.
"And now, my dear sister, I must conclude my long but, I hope, not uninteresting letter, by inquiring after our mutual friends and acquaintances. I trust that young Lord Aldean is in good health, and that he is benefiting to the utmost extent of his mental powers—not that I think much of them—by the instruction of his tutor, the amiable Mr. Mallow, whom I esteem greatly for his many admirable qualities. If Lord Aldean only emulates the moral and social and scholastic example of his friend and tutor, I am convinced that he will prove a useful and ornamental member of our House of Peers, in which, doubtless, he will shortly take his seat.
"Let me also inquire after Miss Ostergaard, the young lady of Danish extraction, from New Zealand; you will remember how highly I approved of her on the occasion of my last visit to Casterwell. It is to be desired that Olive should make an intimate friend of this charming young gentlewoman, in order that she may have constantly before her eyes a character of such sterling merit. Miss Ostergaard is a particular pet of mine, and I could wish our dear Olive no better fortune than that she should become just such another delightful girl.
"I presume that Dr. Drabble is still in our parish, practising his profession during his intervals from political excitement and Radical speeches. It is to be regretted that such a firebrand should endanger the peace and rustic charm of our quiet corner of England, and, as I always said, it would be much more to Dr. Drabble's credit if, instead of promulgating dangerous dogma, he gave more attention to his hard-working wife and her too-numerous family. The man is a red Anarchist, a subverter of law and order, and I fully expect that he will end by throwing a bomb into Casterwell Church—a circumstance which is the more likely to occur from the fact that he is an atheist and an ardent follower of Monsieur Voltaire, to say nothing of the infidel Thomas Payne, and that abominable American, Colonel Ingersoll.
"Concerning myself, my dear sister, I am in moderately good health, considering the recent loss of my beloved husband, for my friends here are all that can be desired in the way of sympathy and kindness. Also I have the company of Pontius Pilate, who, though only a dog, is so intelligent as to afford me the greatest comfort in my terrible and overwhelming affliction. The dumb animal seems to be aware of my bereavement, and in his own way tries to solace me with caresses and canine attentions generally. Therefore, you will see that the solitariness of my position is in some degree mitigated.
"And here I must conclude this long letter with the hope that we shall shortly meet again in England, when I can find in you, my dearest sister, a relative upon whose bosom I can recline, and pour out my sorrow for the loss of the best and most excellent of men.
"God bless you, my dear, and may His shield be extended in protection of our dear Olive. Such, my dear Rubina, is the heartfelt prayer of
"Your affectionate and resigned sister,
"P.S.—On my arrival in England, I wish you to accompany me to Paris, in order to assist me in the choice of my widow's garb of woe, for I am but ill-pleased with such garments as I have been able to procure here."
"Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., Ltd.,
"Head Office: Leadenhall Street, London, E.C.
"June 24, 189—.
"R.M.S. Pharaoh arrived this morning at Gravesend. She is expected to dock by the afternoon tide in the Royal Albert Docks."
Extract from The Morning Planet, dated June 29, 189—:—
"A startling discovery was made yesterday at No. 64A, Athelstane Place, Bloomsbury. Thomas Gale, a baker, of Tottenham-court Road, complained at the local police station that for two consecutive days he had been unable to see the occupant of the house. As the window blinds were drawn, and the doors locked, he believed something to be wrong. Inspector Jain, and a constable proceeded at once to Athelstane Place, and, after vainly ringing and knocking, forced the area door. The house proved to be empty, but in the drawing-room the dead body of a young man was found, mutilated in a shocking manner. On an examination being made by Dr. Rayner, of Bloomsbury Square, it was discovered that a steel knitting-needle had been thrust into his heart, and that the right hand had been cut off at the wrist. The missing hand was afterwards found in the grate. Dr. Rayner is of opinion that the deceased was murdered about two days prior to the discovery of the body. The police have taken possession of the house and corpse, and are actively searching for evidence which shall throw light upon this atrocious crime. The result of their inquiries will be made known at the inquest, which is to be held to-morrow in the Bloomsbury Coroner's Court."
Extract from The Morning Planet, June 30, 189—:—
"Mr. Mappin held an inquiry yesterday afternoon in the Bloomsbury Coroner's Court into the circumstances attending the death of the unknown man who was found dead in the drawing-room of No. 64A, Athelstane Place. Mr. Julian Pyke, owner of the house in question, deposed that it was rented from him on June 19th last by a tall, fair-haired man with a beard, who wore smoke-coloured spectacles, and gave his name as Francis Hain. He informed witness that he was a scientist, and that he required a quiet retreat in London in order to carry out certain experiments, the nature of which he did not disclose. Mr. Hain took the house furnished for six months and paid a quarter's rent in advance, an arrangement which was considered entirely satisfactory by the landlord. Witness saw the man but once, as the agreement (on a printed form) was approved and executed at one interview. He knew nothing of the man's antecedents, and his business with him was confined solely to the business as between landlord and tenant.
"Thomas Gale, of Tottenham-court Road, baker, deposed that on June 20th a woman called at his shop. She stated that she was the housekeeper of Mr. Hain, 64A, Athelstane Place, and requested him to supply the house with bread. She did not give her own name. Her appearance was refined and ladylike. She spoke excellent English, though she had a foreign accent. Witness concluded that she was either Italian or French. She was of medium height with a particularly pale face, large black eyes, and smooth black hair untouched with grey. She was not a young woman—about forty, witness thought. Her hair was worn in bands, and she was dressed entirely in black. Witness presumed she was a widow—at all events, she looked like one. She herself took in the bread each day, and paid for it on the spot. He saw no one else in the house, although he called there up to June 29th. Witness never saw deceased.
"Richard Brass, of Tottenham-court Road, butcher, gave much the same evidence. The same woman called on him, and gave a similar account of herself. He was to call each morning for orders at 64A, Athelstane Place. He did so up to June 29th, and was paid cash on delivery of the meat up to the 26th. The woman appeared to be the only person in the house, and he saw her last on June 26th. But on the 27th and 28th no meat was taken in, and the house appeared to be deserted. He thereupon informed the police. Witness never saw either Mr. Hain or the deceased.
"Amelia Rankin said that she was employed as a domestic servant at the house opposite to No. 64A. She saw a tall, fair-bearded man enter it on several occasions; also a pale, dark-haired woman, but she did not pay much attention to either. Once she noticed a young gentleman with a dark moustache looking out of the first-floor front window. He was laughing and talking with some one inside whom she did not see. He appeared to be quite happy. She believed, after viewing the corpse, that the young gentleman she saw was the deceased. She heard no noise, and saw nothing likely to arouse suspicion in any way. As a rule she was in the kitchen with her mistress (who kept a boarding-house), and it was seldom either of them was in the front of the house during the day. It was possible many people might have gone in and out without her being aware of it.
"Several witnesses resident in Athelstane Place gave much the same evidence. Some saw Mr. Hain, some the housekeeper, but none save Amelia Rankin caught a glimpse of the deceased. Nearly all the houses on either side of and opposite to No. 64A are boarding-houses, from which the lodgers are absent all day, and as the landladies and their servants are mostly occupied in the back premises, No. 64A was not observed in any special degree. Indeed, there was nothing about the house to arouse remark in any way.
"Dr. Rayner, of Bloomsbury Square, stated as the result of a post-mortem examination that in his opinion death was caused by a wound in the heart, apparently inflicted by some such instrument as a steel knitting-needle. The clothes over the breast: that is to say, the waistcoat, shirt, and undervest, were unbuttoned, tending to show that the deceased was unconscious when the wound was inflicted. With an instrument of the kind supposed, it would probably be necessary to open the clothes. The right hand had been cut off, and, judging from the neatness of the operation, a surgical instrument would seem to have been used for this purpose. The hand itself, distorted and swollen, was found in the grate. The bones of the hand were diseased, but not sufficiently so to warrant amputation. Witness was of opinion that the hand had been cut off by a surgeon. He did not believe that an untrained person could have performed the operation with the requisite skill. Deceased had been murdered—judging from the condition of the body—two days before the discovery of the remains on June 28th; that is to say, on June 26th. In answer to a question put by one of the jury, witness stated that there was no smell of chloroform perceptible about the clothes of the deceased or in the room.
"Inspector Jain, who discovered the body, said that it was lying on a sofa placed behind the drawing-room door. The clothing over the chest and region of the heart had been disturbed, and the collar and necktie removed. The shirt-studs, sleeve-links, and watch of the deceased were missing, and the pockets were empty. The marks on the linen had been cut out. There were no rings on the fingers of the left hand. The deceased was tall and dark-complexioned, with smooth dark hair and a small black moustache.
"From the condition of the body—the nails, for instance, were extremely well-cared for—deceased had evidently been a man accustomed to the refinements of life. His underlinen was of the finest quality, and the suit of grey tweed was evidently the work of a high-class tailor. The boots were of Russia leather, and were particularly well-shaped. Witness thought deceased must have been a gentleman in easy circumstances. On searching the house neither trunk, clothes, linen, nor papers of any kind were to be found; in fact, nothing which would be likely to reveal deceased's name or position. The only strange thing he had noticed was the fact that the clothes smelled strongly of sandal-wood. The furniture and appointments of the house were the property of the landlord, but neither Mr. Hain nor the housekeeper had left anything behind them by which they could be traced. Up to the present, in spite of all efforts, no clue to the whereabouts of either the tenant or his housekeeper had been found.
"After a brief deliberation the jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder' against some person or persons unknown."
Extract from The Morning Planet, July 1, 1891—:—
"Despite the triteness of the proverb, We are constrained to remark with regard to the Athelstane Place murder that once again truth is stranger than fiction. Had one of our writers of detective stories imagined so extraordinary a crime as having taken place in the heart of a busy neighbourhood, within hearing, almost within sight of hundreds of people, he would have been scoffed at for exceeding the bounds of probability. It would, we assert, have been termed exaggeration of the wildest order. But it has been proved possible in fact, and No. 64A, Athelstane Place, Bloomsbury, now enjoys the distinction, albeit no enviable one, of having provided London with a mystery so unfathomable that it is extremely doubtful whether it will ever be plumbed by the keenest of detectives. For the unravelling of so complex a riddle we need the Sergeant Cuff of Wilkie Collins, or the Monsieur Dupin of Edgar Allen Poe—in a word, a fabulous detective such as we have not at the present time amongst us.
"Plainly stated, the facts are these:—A house is taken by a man who calls himself by the, to us, obviously false name of Francis Hain. Beyond the fact that he wore a pair of smoked-glass spectacles, there appears to have been little about him to cause remark. The payment of a quarter's rent in advance appears to have answered satisfactorily those questions which the landlord would otherwise surely have felt it incumbent upon him to ask; at all events, the usual formalities with respect to references were in this case entirely dispensed with. Ostensibly, the house was rented with the object of carrying out certain experiments of a scientific nature. A nameless woman, calling herself the housekeeper, is the active agent between Mr. Hain, so called, and the local tradesmen. Observe, the butcher and the baker see no one but this woman; they neither of them see the tenant of 64A or the deceased. By chance a domestic servant sees both, but naturally enough takes small notice of either. Up to June 26th the housekeeper herself receives the food from the tradesmen, and pays them for it in cash. This, of itself, might or might not be indicative of a preconceived intention to leave the house suddenly. After the 26th the housekeeper is seen no more, and on the 28th the house is broken into, and the dead man's body is discovered. The medical evidence goes to prove that he was done to death on the 26th, and it is from that day also that we lose sight of Mr. Hain. Both tenant and housekeeper vanish as completely as if the earth had swallowed them up. Thus we are deprived of the only two persons who at this time seem to have had any connection with the dead man. Their disappearance, coincident as it is, of itself arouses suspicion. Moreover, by the careful removal of all marks from the linen of the deceased, we are left without what otherwise might have lent an important clue to his identity.
"Here, then, is the problem with which our detective force is confronted. For ourselves, in a case like this, where the elementary facts are so completely concealed, we can at most theorise and surmise. For some reason, impossible to guess, the victim would seem to have been inveigled into the Athelstane Place house. As his right hand was diseased, it is not impossible that he went there, or, as we think, is more likely, was taken there by some accomplice ostensibly to have an operation performed. That a surgical instrument was used we may safely conclude from the evidence of Dr. Rayner. Mr. Hain called himself a scientist, and he may have been that, and that only; but at all events he, if he it was, was evidently skilled in surgery so far as to be able to accomplish an amputation at the wrist neatly. Let us then assume that Mr. Hain was to operate upon the hand of the deceased. The first thing he would do would be to administer an anæsthetic. This in all probability would be chloroform, for as the body was not discovered until two days after death, and as the air was warm during the interval, it is likely that the chloroform would evaporate. We take it, therefore, that the deceased was choloroformed by Mr. Hain with his own consent, since he was about to undergo a painful operation.
"Up to this point our assumption is comparatively clear; but, when we are asked to say why this Mr. Hain should have preferred a knitting-needle to either of the two means which were at his disposal for the accomplishment of his end (we refer, of course, to the instruments which he must have had at hand, and to the chloroform), and further, why the diseased hand, when amputated, should have been thrown into the grate, we confess ourselves absolutely in the dark.
"In short, our assumption, such as it is, becomes hopelessly worthless when separated from evidence wholly circumstantial; and circumstantial evidence is, as we know, frequently misleading. Before we can hope to obtain data more reliable it is necessary first that the deceased be identified, and further, that one, if not both of the persons who were known to be occupants of the house, be traced. We presume that in the ordinary course a full and sufficiently minute description of the deceased man will be disseminated by the police. He is apparently a gentleman, and may be said, therefore, to have occupied a certain social position. It is fair to assume that he has friends and acquaintances who will recognize some, if not all, of the characteristics put forth in the description. Further, he probably has a home if not relatives somewhere in the kingdom, and if he does not return within a reasonable time, inquiries will doubtless be made. It is probably by some such means as this that the deceased will be identified. Once that is done, there may be some chance of capturing his murderer.
"It is remarkable that the deceased's clothes smelled of sandal-wood. This is essentially an Eastern perfume, and a man, especially a gentleman living in England, would hardly be in the habit of using it. We are not aware, indeed, if it is used even in the East as a scent, though many nations of the Far East, such as the Indians and the Chinese—particularly the latter—make chests of sandal-wood. If, then, this unknown man had at any time lived in the East, it is possible he might have been in the habit of keeping his clothes in such a chest, which would account for the odour detected by Inspector Jain.
"This clue is slight; still it is tangible, and it is moreover possible to assume from it that the unknown man came from the East, and further, that his arrival in England must have been comparatively recent, since, had he been here for any length of time he would surely have exchanged this cumbersome box for the portmanteau of Western civilization. We suggest, therefore, to the police that, supposing, of course, nothing be forthcoming from the deceased's relatives or friends, a thorough search be made through the shipping offices and the neighbourhood of the docks for the existence of any passenger answering to the description of the deceased, who might recently have disembarked from one of our great liners.
"Again, we say, the clue is a slight one; but in such a case as this no fact, however insignificant, is unimportant, and the most slender circumstance may, if rigorously followed up, ultimately lead to results wholly unlooked for and disproportionate to it.
"Here, then, is a splendid opportunity for our detectives to cover themselves with glory, and, by the capture of the perpetrator, to prevent this—one of the most terrible crimes of recent days—from being relegated to the already too well-filled limbo of unfathomable mysteries."
Towards the first week in July two young men were seated in a smoking-carriage on the midday express from Paddington to Reading. They were alone in the compartment, and at the moment there existed between them that peculiar silence of sympathy which can be only the outcome of a perfect friendship. The Jonathan of the pair was slim, tall, and dark, with a military uprightness of bearing, and a somewhat haughty expression on his clean-shaven face. His David was younger in years, but considerably greater in size, and like his namesake of Judah, was ruddy and of a fair countenance. The one was an eager, anxious, highly-strung Celt, with his Irish impulse and impetuosity trained into well-nigh complete obedience by years of experience; the other a phlegmatic Saxon, of small brain and much muscle. Jonathan's nineteenth-century name was Laurence Mallow. David answered to the title of Lord Aldean. They had been tutor and pupil respectively, and they were still fast friends. The elder possessing the stronger and more imperious will, continued to control the younger.
Mallow was not popular, nor did he wish to be so. He chose to be feared rather than loved. He was brilliantly clever, and, therefore, had many admirers; on the other hand, his intolerance of stupidity lost him many friends, so that to his expressed satisfaction he moved more or less isolated amid a crowd of fair-spoken, back-biting acquaintances. And yet perhaps it was a knowledge of the guarded manner in which he was received that made him cling the more to the solitary friend he possessed. People thought and people said that there was but little about good-natured, thick-headed Aldean to attract the brilliant young Irishman. There were those who went so far as to hint that the boy's title and wealth explained all that, albeit Mallow was well-nigh aggressively independent.
Left an orphan with comparatively little money at an early age, he had won prizes and taken scholarships at a great public school, and had maintained himself at Oxford by these early efforts. He left the University with a full brain and empty pockets, and he had undertaken the tutorship of Aldean to gain breathing-time while he cast around him for choice of a career. When Aldean came of age, Mallow left him, a fair enough scholar and an admirable athlete, and went himself to London. He became a journalist and a power with his pen. He attached himself to a weekly publication of high aim and small circulation, conducted by a genius who had failed to profit by his pen because he could not write obviously enough for the taste of the general public.
Mallow became one of the props of this journal. When it failed, by reason of its too lofty aims, he went to India to write letters about the incomprehensible East, for a newspaper. A while after he returned, and published a novel which was much condemned and widely circulated. At the present time, having netted a few hundreds out of the book, he was going down to Casterwell to stay with Aldean, and to renew his friendship with Olive Bellairs, whom he loved ardently, though—knowing full well that she was engaged to a certain Mr. Carson—hopelessly, in his own peculiar, wrong-headed way.
Aldean, who was now twenty-four, and as good-naturedly stupid as ever, was in truth more akin to Goliath than to David. He was a gigantic son of Anak, considerably over six feet in height, and as wide as a church door. He was sparing of his words, and he usually assented to whatever was said to him as the safest way out of an argument. But in spite of his lack of conversation, and the rareness with which he gave expression to such ideas as he possessed, he had a fund of shrewd common sense, which, in his position, was worth far more to him than genius would have been. It was with all his heart and soul that he admired Mallow, and the very naivetéwith which he would express his admiration endeared him to the young Irishman. Habitually Mallow's tongue was razor-like in its acerbity, but Aldean—though he took full advantage of the friendship between them, and spoke pretty plainly when he judged his lordship deserved correction—he invariably spared where he would have spared none else. They had indeed established their friendship on a very durable basis, by the extremely simple process of shutting their eyes to one another's faults and opening them very wide to one another's virtues. The young Irishman had his brilliant flashes of silence. It was on these occasions that he found Aldean so agreeable a companion—in fact, the boy was as a pet dog to Mallow; agreeable company, and not given to criticism.
"Eh yes, what?" asked his lordship, looking up from Ally Sloper.
"Have you read the account of this Athelstane Place murder?"
"Yes—fellow killed with a knitting-needle, isn't it?"
"Yes, thrust into the heart—devilish queer case. The Morning Planet seems to think the unfortunate beggar came from India."
"Who told the 'M.P.' so?"
"No one, apparently; it is a theory based on the fact that the man's clothes smelled of sandal-wood."
"Bosh! There's plenty of sandal-wood in England."
"No doubt; but Englishmen are not by way of scenting their clothes with it. I shouldn't be surprised to find that the Planet was right. At all events it's some sort of clue."
Aldean shook his head. "I thought you said it was a theory?"
"So it is; but a theory may develop into a clue," retorted Mallow, lighting another cigarette. "If only I had the time, there is nothing I would like better than to follow up a case like this."
"Well, surely you have the time?"
"I have not; I am giving you what spare moments I have."
"You are—now. But at Casterwell Miss Bellairs, I guess, will see a good deal more of you than I shall. The moth and the candle, eh?"
"Not at all, Aldean; your simile is quite inapt. I am not a moth, neither can Miss Bellairs be compared to a candle. She is not the kind of girl to scorch any poor butterfly that flutters round her."
"All right, old chap, you needn't take one quite so seriously. But as you do, I may as well be serious too. Do you know I am thinking of getting married?"
"No; that's news to me. And whom do you intend to honour so far, may I ask?"
"Miss Ostergaard, if she concurs." Aldean heaved a huge sigh. "By George! she's a ripping girl."
"Certainly, you might do worse," replied Laurence, musingly. "She's a very good girl, and clever too. Does she reciprocate?"
"I don't know; she laughs at me."
"That may be just her method of showing her affection. She will be hard to please if she is not satisfied with a titled Hercules like you."
"Oh, I don't think she bothers in the least about the title," said his lordship, dolefully, "she is quite a radical, a—a—what do you call it—Anarchist, you know. Dr. Drabble has been converting her. He's a proselytising beast, that Drabble."
"Oh, that's all rubbish. 'In the spring a young girl's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love'—not anarchy."
"But it isn't spring," said the literal Aldean, "and Miss Ostergaard isn't the girl to marry for rank."
"Then make love to her properly, and she'll marry you for love."
"I wish I could; but I'm not a clever chap like you, Mallow."
"My dear boy, I'm not clever; on the contrary, I'm a fool—a perfect fool, for do I not love Miss Bellairs like an idiot, when all the while I know well she is going to marry this Carson man from India?"
"So she is; that's queer," said Aldean, reflectively.
"Queer! How do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing, old man. I am thinking of this murder case; and the fact of both men coming from India struck me, that's all. You see Carson's just on his way home now."
"Is he? I didn't know that," said Mallow, alertly.
"Yes; Miss Slarge—you know, the Babylonian, mark-of-the-beast woman—told me that her sister in Bombay had written Carson was on his way home by the P. and O. liner Pharaoh."
"The Pharaoh arrived some time back," said Mallow, gloomily. "He must be at Casterwell by this time."
"He was not there two days ago when I ran up to town."
"Well, it must be quite two weeks since the Pharaoh arrived. What an ardent lover the chap must be. I wish I stood in his shoes, that's all. I wouldn't let the grass grow under them on the way to my 'own true love'—not that Miss Bellairs can strictly be said to stand in that relation to a man she has never set eyes upon. The very fact that she has to marry him should be sufficient to make her hate him."
"By Jove! What a rum go it would be if Carson turned out to be the man murdered in Athelstane Place!"
Mallow stared. "What on earth put such a wild idea into your head?" he said.
"I don't know; nor do I know why you should be so ready to call it wild. The man who was killed came from India—as you say——"
"I don't say so. It is the theory of the Morning Planet."
"It is just possible that it might be Carson, seeing that he hasn't turned up at Casterwell," continued Aldean, not heeding Mallow's interruption.
"Really, Jim, I didn't credit you with such a vivid imagination."
"Oh, of course it's merely an idea, Mallow. But what strikes me is that if Carson arrived two weeks ago, he certainly ought to have put in an appearance at Casterwell before this, if only out of curiosity to see his future wife."
"My dear fellow, Carson may need a kit before he calls on Miss Bellairs. He surely would wish to create a good impression, and I don't suppose he would present himself in sandal-wood scented clothes."
"I never said he would. But even so, that wouldn't take him a fortnight."
Mallow leaned back and pinched his chin reflectively. He had no great faith in his friend's prognostications, still he could not help being struck by the suggestion coupling Carson with the victim of Athelstane Place. It was certainly queer that this man from India should be two weeks in England without fulfilling the very object for which his journey had been made. He had arrived in the Pharaoh on the 24th of June the murder had been committed on the 26th, yet so far he had not presented himself at Casterwell. The prime facts certainly coincided. It was very odd; Mallow could not deny that.
"But the idea is incredible," he said aloud. "Hundreds of men arrive from India every week; besides, Carson never was in England in his life—Miss Bellairs told me so. Why should he be murdered immediately on his arrival—where was the motive? You have found a mare's nest, Jim."
"I dare say," replied Aldean, stolidly: "it's a bare idea."
"A very wild and a very absurd one, my boy. There is nothing to connect the sandal-wood man (as you call him) with Carson."
"Perhaps not, Mallow. But if Carson does not turn up soon I shall begin to think that my idea is not so ridiculous as you say."
"If he does not turn up," repeated Mallow with emphasis, "that's just it, but he will turn up if it is only to take from me the only girl I ever really cared about—a trite saying no doubt, but a true one in this case."
"Every fellow says the same thing," said Aldean, as the train slowed down into Reading Station. "Here we are."
Casterwell lies—as every one knows or should know, seeing that it is one of the prettiest villages in the home counties—amongst the Berkshire hills, some ten miles from Reading. Lord Aldean's cart was waiting for himself and his friend. Mallow walked leisurely out of the station into the sunshine, and watched the porter transfer his portmanteau to Aldean's groom. Whilst he was standing on the edge of the pavement a plump little man, rosy in face and neat in dress, stopped short before him. He carried a black bag, but dropped this to hold out a friendly hand to Mallow.
"Well, well," he chirped, just like an amiable robin; "and who would have thought of seeing you here, Mr. Mallow? You're here on business, I presume?"
"I have come down to stay with Lord Aldean at Casterwell, Mr. Dimbal," replied Mallow, graciously.
"Miss Bellairs' busi—— Ah, here is his lordship. How d'ye do, my lord? On the road to Casterwell, eh? I'm going there myself."
"To see Miss Bellairs, did you say?" asked Mallow, impatiently. "There's nothing wrong, I hope?"
"Good gracious, no. Why should there be anything wrong?"
"Why, indeed," said Aldean, laughing. "Lawyers and wrong never go together."
"Ha, ha! Very good, my lord; but we are a much-maligned profession. No, Mr. Mallow, nothing is wrong with Miss Bellairs. On the contrary, everything is very right. I bring her the good news that Mr. Carson has arrived."
"Oh," said Mallow, with a glance at Aldean, "have you seen him?"
"Yes, he called yesterday at my office, and to-morrow he comes to Casterwell to see his future wife. Well, well; good-day, good-day, I see my fly, I must be off. Good-day, Mr. Mallow; my lord, good-day," and the little lawyer bustled off.
"So Carson isn't the sandal-wood man, after all," observed Aldean.
"No, God forgive me! I wish he were," replied Mallow, and frowned.
Casterwell is an aggressively antique village, the delight of landscape painters and enthusiasts of the hand camera. It has been painted and photographed times without number, and its two crooked streets, its market cross, its mediæval church and ruined castle are all of them familiar enough to the frequenters of London art galleries. Bicycles converge to it from the four quarters of England, transatlantic tourists twang the melodious American tongue under the gabled roof of its principal inn, the omnivorous kodaker clicks his shutter at donjon, battlement, and ivy-covered tower, and unscrupulous authors thieve its local legends for the harrowing of the public in Christmas numbers and magazines. The name is obviously of Latin origin, and from the Castraville of the middle ages we have the Casterwell of to-day. On the brow of an adjoining hill the circumvallations of the ubiquitous Romans show that the village originally received its name from a military post of the days of Caractacus and Boadicea. But the Imperial legions have marched into the outer darkness, the baron of the castle is a handful of dust, the founders of the church lie mouldering in their ornate tombs, and Casterwell survives them all: a quaint, pretty, peaceful spot, beautiful even in its decay.
The village lies in a dip of the ground—hardly to be called a valley—between two wooded hills swelling gently from the surrounding plain. On one of these rises a square palace of white free-stone ornate, and conspicuous by force of its many windows and lofty tower—this latter well-nigh offensively incongruous with the general architectural design. This grandiose barrack is "Kingsholme," the country seat of Lord Aldean. In it he lives like a mouse in a haystack. It is many times too large for a single young orphan, and it takes much more of the orphan's income to keep up than he likes.
Thither Aldean and his friend spun as fast as a quick-trotting mare could take them. As they turned into the park Mallow cast a wistful look towards the other hill, where, surrounded by its ancient woods, lay embosomed the dwelling of Miss Olive Bellairs—the lady of Casterwell Manor. The soul of this hapless lover was full of regret in that he was not the occupant of Mr. Dimbal's fly, and he sighed as he mastered his feelings, in subservience to the exigencies of social intercourse—a necessity for the moment, but one by no means to his taste.
Meanwhile the fly—the tortoise to the Aldean hare—crawled doggedly along the dusty road. Mr. Dimbal, with a complacent smile on his rosy face, and his black bag established safely on his knees, glanced absently out of the window. Through incessant clouds of dust he caught glimpses of the flowering hedges, and now and again behind them of the corn waving in the hot wind. Then a cottage or so with its thatched roof and tiny garden marked the proximity to the village, and soon he was rumbling through Casterwell High Street. At last the avenue leading to the Manor House came in sight, and, as his eye rested on the mansion, Mr. Dimbal heaved a sigh of relief to think that he was at his journey's end. Three hours of continuous travelling on a hot midsummer day are not exactly the height of bliss to a comfortable elderly gentleman.
The house was typical of its kind. Here were diamond-paned casements, tall oriel windows, lofty-tiled roofs surmounted by stacks of twisting chimneys, terraces of grey stone with urns and statues—in fact, all and everything which we are accustomed to associate with the conventional old English manor-house.
The whole place was radiant with roses. The walls of the house were draped with them; they clambered over the balustrades of the terraces; they flamed in the wide-mouthed urns; they clothed the antique statues, and rioted round the lawn in prodigal profusion, dazzling the eye with their glorious tints, and filling the air with their perfume. "A dwelling fit for Flora, truly"—it was an unusual flight of fancy for Dimbal, but he gave way to it even as he stepped from out his dusty old fly. He raised his eyes, and lo! the "lady of flowers" was waiting to greet him. In truth she was comely enough, this young woman, for the most beautiful of goddesses. Not an ideal Venus perhaps, or an imperial Juno, but an eminently healthy and withal dainty goddess of spring was Olive Bellairs—a trifle reminiscent maybe of Hebe, the girlish and ever young.
Neither divinely tall nor unduly slender, her figure was neatness exemplified. Her hair was brown, so were her eyes; while, did you seek to compare her complexion, you must perforce fall back upon the well-worn simile of the rose-leaf.
She was dressed in pure white. "And how are you, Mr. Dimbal?" she said. "For a whole hour have I been watching for you."
"If', like the Lord Chancellor in 'Iolanthe,' I were possessed of wings, my dear, you would not have had to wait at all."
"Well, now you are here, I'm sure you're very hungry. Lunch is quite ready; come along!"
"Yes, my dear, and I am quite ready, too; but I should not eat my luncheon in peace did I not first discharge, at least, the more important part of my mission."
"Oh dear," pouted Olive, "won't the horrid thing keep for an hour?"
"My dear," said Dimbal, taking the girl's hand in his own, "let me make myself quite clear. I am here to impress upon you the terms of your father's will, which, as you know, has been in my possession since you were a baby, and to hand to you a sealed letter which he left for you. Until this is done, I cannot eat my meal in comfort."
"A sealed letter?" queried Olive, leading the way into the drawing-room; "why was it not given to me before?"
"Because your father's instructions were that you were not to have possession of this letter until after the arrival of Mr. Carson in England. Well, Mr. Carson has arrived. He was in my office yesterday; so, you see, I have lost no time."
Olive sat down and took off her sun-bonnet. She looked put out. "I know that Mr. Carson is in England," she said; "I got a letter from him three or four days ago, in which he says he is coming down here at the end of the week."
"Oh, well, I hope you are pleased," said Dimbal, looking dubiously at her. The kind-hearted little lawyer feared, from her expression that she was not.
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