The Piccadilly Puzzle - Fergus Hume - ebook

The Piccadilly Puzzle: A Mysterious Story  written by Fergus Hume who was a prolific English novelist. This book was published in 1889. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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The Piccadilly Puzzle

A Mysterious Story


Fergus Hume

Table of Contents























At two o'clock in the morning during the month of August sounds of music could be heard proceeding from a brilliantly lighted house in Park Lane, where a ball was being given by the Countess of Kerstoke. True, the season was long since over, and though the greater part of London Society had migrated swallow-like to the South of Europe in search of warm weather, still there were enough people in town to justify the ball being given, and a number of celebrities were present.

Outside it was dull and chill with a thick yellow fog pervading the atmosphere, but within the great ball-room it was like fairy-land with the brilliant light of the lamps, the profusion of bright flowers, and the gay dresses worn by the ladies. The orchestra hidden behind a gorgeous screen of tropical plants was playing the latest waltz, "A Friend of Mine," and the sigh and sob of the melody as it stole softly through the room seemed to inspire the dancers with a voluptuous languor as they glided over the polished floor. The soft frou-frou of women's dresses mingled with the light laughter of young girls and the whispered confidences of their partners, while over all dominated the haunting melody with its weird modulations and suggestions of sensuous passion.

Near the door of the ball-room a young man of about thirty years of age was leaning against the wall in a lazy attitude, idly watching the dancers swinging past him; but judging from the preoccupied expression of his face his thoughts were evidently far away. He was tall, dark-haired, with a short cut well-trimmed beard, piercing dark eyes, a firmly compressed mouth, and judging from his swarthy complexion together with a certain crisp curl in his hair he evidently had some negro blood in his veins. Suddenly he was roused from his meditations by a touch on his shoulder, and on glancing up saw before him a stout elderly gentleman with white hair, a ruddy face, and rather a Silenus cast of countenance.

The one was Spenser Ellersby, only son of a wealthy West Indian planter, and the other Horace Marton a well-known society man generally called The Town-crier, from the fact that he knew all the current scandals and retailed them with elaborate embellishments to his numerous circle of friends.

"Hey! Ellersby, my boy," said The Town-crier, on the alert to acquire fresh information "have you come back once more to England, home and beauty—hey? been all over the world I suppose, hey?—going to publish a book of travels—hey?"

"Not me," replied Ellersby in the slow, languid manner habitual to him, "everyone who goes half-a-dozen miles now-a-days publishes a book of travels under some fantastic title. I prefer to be renowned for not having done so."

"Broke no new ground—hey?"

"No," indifferently. "I haven't the instincts of Columbus so the old ground was good enough for me. I've done Africa in a superficial manner, called on our American cousins, passed the same compliment to our Australian ditto, in fact done the usual thing with the usual result."

"Hey! What's that?"

"A sense of being bored—I agree with Voltaire to a certain extent, 'this is the best of all possible worlds,' but one does get and little tired of it—however I have satisfied your curiosity, now return the compliment. I've been away from England for two years so know nothing of life in town—come unfold—tell me all—scandals, deaths, marriages, divorces, in fact all the gossip of the hour."

This was an occupation after The Town-crier's own heart, so he launched out into a long description of folly and fashion varied by sermons and scandal, which being spiced with a little maliciousness proved quite an amusing discourse. Ellersby listened in silence with a quiet smile on his lips, every now and then giving vent to an ejaculation as he heard some special morsel of news.

"You ought to write your memoirs, Marton," he said drily, "they would be as gossiping as Pepys, as scandalous De Grammont, and as amusing as either, but go on—anything more? Who are the new beauties?"

"Hey! Oh! One was here to-night, Lady Balscombe."

"What! Old Balscombe married," said Ellersby in a surprised tone. "I thought he loved no one but himself—so!—and who is my lady?"

"That's what everyone wants to know," replied Marton eagerly, "he picked her up down in the country somewhere, but she's got no pedigree—no money, no talents—nothing but personal beauty."

"Which is worth all the rest put together, to a woman," interrupted Ellersby cynically. "What is she like?"

The Town-crier reeled off an auctioneer-like description at once.

"Tall, fair, blue eyes, beautiful complexion, magnificent figure, and the devil's own temper."

"Nice set of qualifications, especially the latter," murmured Ellersby. "Balscombe fond of her?"

"Hey! Oh yes—madly! won't let her out of his sight, but he had to to-night as he's off down to his place in Berkshire on business, tried to make her ladyship come to but she wouldn't because of this dance—good Lord—fancy a dance at this time of the year!—but Kerstoke's wife was always slightly cracked!"

"Does Lady Balscombe reciprocate her husband's adoration?"

Marton raised his eyebrows, rubbed his hands and leered significantly.

"Not exactly! Hey!" he replied chuckling. "Calliston is first favourite there."

"Eh!—the deuce—I thought he was in love with old Balscombe's ward, Miss Penfold."

"So he is—but he makes love to the wife just to keep his hand in—I wouldn't be surprised if it ended in the Divorce Court."

"Well you are generally right in your surmises," retorted Ellersby, "but what would Miss Penfold say to that?"

"Hey! Oh, she'd be glad," replied Marton, "bless you she cares more for Myles Desmond's little finger than she does for the whole body of Calliston."

"Oh I know Myles," said Ellersby promptly, "a rattling good fellow, was with him at Cambridge but we somehow never hit it off—trying to make a fortune by his pen I hear."

"Yes! And hasn't made a penny yet, so he acts as secretary to his cousin Lord Calliston—he's next heir to the title you know, hey!"

"Much chance he'll have of it," replied Ellersby, contemptuously. "Calliston's sure to marry and have heirs, unless he kills himself in the meantime with drink—but, to revert to our former conversation—the Balscombe ménage seems slightly mixed."

"Hey! rather—it stands this way," explained Marton, eagerly; "Balscombe's jealous of his wife on account of Calliston—Lady B. is jealous of Calliston on account of Miss Penfold, and that young lady does not care two straws for the whole lot of them in comparison to Myles Desmond."

"Sounds like the second act of a French play," murmured Ellersby, yawning. "Well, when I see Lady Balscombe, I'll give you my opinion of her looks; meantime, you must be dry after all that talking, so come and have a drink."

"Where are you stopping?" asked Marton, as they went to the supper-room.

"Guelph Hotel, Jermyn Street," said Ellersby, "only for a few days till I get my rooms fixed up; I've brought such a lot of things home that my chambers look like an old curiosity shop. What are you having?"

"Champagne," replied Marton. "Oh, I say, dear boy," seeing his companion with a small glass full of brandy, "that looks bad at this hour! Hey—you haven't——

"No, I haven't," interrupted Ellersby impatiently, "I'm only taking this to-night because I don't feel up to the mark."

Marton said no more, but after parting with his companion went back to the ball-room, and meeting a friend, confided to him that poor Ellersby was going to the dogs through drink.

"Brandy neat, dear boy, hey!" said the old reprobate. "Bad habits these young fellows pick up abroad, hey! Look used up, by Jove! Gal in it, dear boy, hey!—oh, shocking!"

So The Town-crier evidently did not intend to give the returned wanderer a good character.

Ellersby was now tired of the ball, so bade good-night to his hostess, who was a queer, thin little woman, wearing a wig, a low-cut dress, and many jewels, giving one the general impression that she was mostly bones and diamonds.

After taking leave of this bizarre figure Ellersby put on his coat and went outside into the street, where he stood for a few moments, undecided whether to take a cab to his hotel or to walk. The fog was very thick, and the gas-lamps shone through it like dull yellow stars, while the chill breezes of the night seemed to penetrate the body of the young man, accustomed as he had been of late to tropical climates.

In spite of the apparent discomforts offered by a walk at such a time, Ellersby determined to risk it, thinking it would give him a certain amount of amusement, akin somewhat to the unravelling of a puzzle, to find his way through the fog to Jermyn Street. Smiling at the oddity of the idea of finding pleasure in a cold walk on a foggy night, he lighted a cigar and, buttoning up his coat, took his way down Park Lane towards Piccadilly.

There is a strange feeling in the complete isolation one experiences in fog-land—the thick yellow mist hiding everything under its jealous veil until the pedestrian finds himself adrift as it were on a lonely sea, and though on every side he is environed by millions of human beings, yet the fog creates for the moment a solitude as in those enchanted cities of the Arabian Nights.

Ellersby managed to find his way to Piccadilly, and was soon swinging along the pavement at a good round pace. Every now and then ragged figures with sinister faces would loom suddenly out of the fog on the watch for unwary wanderers, but the nomadic life of Ellersby having wonderfully sharpened his faculties, he was always on his guard against the evil advances of these night-birds. Occasionally he could hear a cab drive slowly past, the driver cautiously steering his horse down the familiar street, which as if by magic had suddenly assumed an unreal appearance, transforming Piccadilly into a vague immensity resembling the Steppes of Russia.

With his ears alert for every sound, and his eyes peering anxiously into the veil of grey mist, Ellersby hurried along, managed to cross the street, and, by some miracle of dexterity which he placed at once to the credit of instinct, turned down St. James' Street, and it was here his first mishap occurred, for just as he rounded the corner he came against a young man hastening in the opposite direction at a rapid pace.

"I beg your pardon," said the stranger quickly, "but the fog is so dense I could not see—excuse me."

And he was about to hurry away, when Ellersby, recognising the voice, stopped him.

"Wait a moment, Desmond," he said, gaily, "and give an old friend a word."

Desmond seemed annoyed at being recognised, and looking sharply at the face of the other gave vent to an ejaculation of surprise, which, however, had not a very delighted ring in it.

"Ellersby, by Jove!" he said in a hesitating manner, "I thought you were in Persia or in Patagonia. Who the deuce would have expected to see you in Piccadilly on such a devil of a night?"

"I've been to a ball," explained Ellersby, "and thought I'd walk back to my hotel just to renew my acquaintance with London fogs. It was a mad freak, but amusing. Come to my hotel and have a nightcap."

"Thanks, awfully," said Desmond, hurriedly, "but I can't. I'm—I'm in a hurry. Where are you stopping?"

"Guelph Hotel, Jermyn Street."

"Eh!" said Desmond, with a start. "Jermyn Street—all right, look you up to-morrow."

"Wait a moment," observed Ellersby, detaining him. "Tell me, where is Calliston? I want to see him."

"Not much chance," replied Desmond, shaking his head, "he's—gone off to-night down to Shoreham—yachting, you know. Wants to go to the Azores; well, see you to-morrow; good-night—I'm in a deuce of a hurry."

He spoke rapidly, with nervous agitation quite at variance with his usual demeanour, as Ellersby knew, and as he went off quickly and was swallowed up by the fog, the latter resumed his walk with a quiet laugh.

"A woman, I bet," he said to himself as he made his way cautiously along. "Fancy Venus on such a discouraging night as this—the rosy mists enveloping the goddess are charming, but a London fog—ah, bah!"

He stood on the pavement, wondering how he could strike Jermyn Street, and was about to attempt to cross on the chance of his luck guiding him, when suddenly the tall form of a policeman loomed out of the fog and flashed the bright light of a lantern on him.

"Ah, just in time, policeman," said Ellersby in a relieved tone. "I've got slightly astray in this fog, so you must guide me to the Guelph Hotel."

"Just across the street, sir," replied the policeman, touching his helmet, and he stepped off the pavement, followed by Ellersby.

They soon got into Jermyn Street, and went along the left-hand side towards the hotel. Though the fog was still thick, Ellersby in the vanity of his heart thought he could now find the way for himself. He gave the policeman half-a-crown, and going along a few yards went up what he supposed were the steps of the hotel. The policeman stood in the same place, ready to render his services as a guide, should he be required, when suddenly he was startled by a cry from Ellersby.

The young man had gone up the wrong steps, and was standing on the top when the policeman hurried up, while at his feet was a bundle of what looked like clothes.

"I say, policeman," said Ellersby in an agitated tone, "here is a woman—I believe she's dead."

"Dead drunk, more like, sir," replied the policeman, sceptically, ascending the steps.

"No," said Ellersby, "I have shaken her and she will not waken. Her face is quite cold—just look!"

The policeman, somewhat startled out of his professional phlegm, turned the light down on the figure of the woman, which was lying in the doorway. It was that of a female with a fair face and golden hair, dressed in a long sealskin jacket, and a silk dress, with a fashionably shaped hat on her head. Her well-gloved hands were tightly clenched, and her eyes, wide open, were staring straight up at the horrified discoverers. There did not seem to be any wound or blood about, but her face was swollen, and appeared to be of a dark purple colour, with the tongue slightly protruding between the teeth. It was not by any means a pleasant sight, and both men felt a sensation of horror as they looked at the body.

"She's dead, sure enough, sir," said the policeman at length, and blew a whistle. To this call there was an answer, and soon another policeman made his appearance.

"She looks as if she had been strangled," said Ellersby, who was much upset by the discovery, "her face is so purple and her tongue protruding."

The first policeman bent down and looked at the neck of the corpse, but could see no marks of violence, so he shook his head.

"Don't know, sir," he answered. "It looks a queer sort of case. We'll take the body to the hospital, and see what the doctors say."

In the meantime the other policeman had gone for aid, and in a few minutes two more made their appearance with a stretcher, upon which the body was placed and taken to the nearest hospital.

In accordance with a request made by the policeman, Ellersby gave his card, so that he could be called on to appear at the inquest, and then went to the Guelph Hotel, which was only a short distance up the street.

When he arrived he had a glass of brandy neat, for he felt quite sick with the horrible sight he had witnessed, and all through the night his sleep was broken by visions of the beautiful face distorted with agony.

In truth it was a tragical termination to a night's pleasure.


"Hash" was a weekly paper, owned by one American, edited by another, and conducted on strictly American principles. It mostly consisted of sharp, incisive paragraphs, strongly epigrammatic in their phraseology, and attention was drawn to these by startling sensational headings. The staff of this journal comprised two men besides the editor, and there was a good deal of paste and scissors work in connection with the production of a number. As to the name Hash, it requires some explanation.

The word "hash" is used in America to designate a certain dish much in favour with lodging-house keepers in the land of the free, wherein all the unconsidered trifles left over from the six dinners of the week are made into a savoury stew to serve for the seventh, and, being highly spiced and deftly concocted, is apt to deceive an inexperienced novice in lodging-house cookery, inasmuch as he deems it a dish formed of new ingredients, a mistaken view, as can be seen from the foregoing explanation.

The proprietor of Hash, therefore, did in a literary sense that which is often done in a culinary one, for, by stealing items of news from other sources and making them into spicy little paragraphs, he succeeded in producing a very readable paper, much in favour with Londoners.

If there was any new scandal, or shocking occurrence, Hash was sure to have a bright and witty description of it, and consequently sold capitally. It was in this paper that the following items of interest were told to the public a week after the discovery of the body in Jermyn Street:


"They're at it again. When will the British aristocracy learn that they must not covet their neighbour's wife? Another elopement has taken place, which will, doubtless, end as usual in the Divorce Court. Same old game.

"Last Monday Lady B—— left her home and went off with Lord C—— an intimate friend of the lady's husband. It generally is the intimate friend who is on the racket.

"The guilty couple have sailed in a yacht for foreign climes, and the indignant husband, Sir R—— B—— is inquiring for their whereabouts. If he calls at our office, we will lend him articles of warfare, and do our best to put him on the track. There is nothing new or original about this comedy—they all do it. It's getting a trifle monotonous, and we should suggest something new in the elopement line—a mother-in-law, for instance. Good old mother-in-law!

"When the pursuing husband comes up with the flying lovers, we will give a report of the inquest."

In the same number of Hash a longer article appeared, headed:


Cain was an amateur in the art of murder, but then he had no one to copy from, so his clumsiness must be excused. The crime of Jermyn Street, however, is an admirable example how civilization can improve the difficult art of taking life in a skilful manner. The whole affair is quite dramatic, so we will divide this tragedy into acts, and place it before our readers.

Act I.—Scene, Jermyn Street; foggy morning; half-past two.

Enter Spencer Ellersby on his way to hotel from ball. In dense fog he mistakes his hotel—goes up wrong steps; there finds dead body of woman. Utters a cry of horror—cue for policeman, who enters; views body by lantern light—sealskin jacket, silk dress, fair hair, beautiful face—sounds whistle; enter other policemen, who exeunt with body in one direction, while Spencer Ellersby goes off in the other.

Act II.—Scene, hospital. Present, inspector, policeman, and doctor.

Doctor examines body—finds no evidence of violence, except slight discoloured mark on one side of neck—opinion of inspector that something, chain probably, has been wrenched off by assassin—is also of opinion that death could not have been thus caused. Doctor says death is caused by blood-poisoning—evidence being, swollen condition of body, protruding tongue, discolouration of skin—thinks it must be poison—makes minute examination—finds on neck slight scratch just on jugular vein, greatly inflamed—is of opinion that assassin has wounded victim in neck with poisoned dagger or knife. Inspector takes description of body for purpose of having hand-bills printed to distribute about city—exeunt omnes with body to Morgue.

Act III. is so long that we will drop the dramatic style and tell it in our own fashion. Our special reporter was at the inquest, and the following are the result of his inquiries:

The body of the deceased was examined by the jury, and the following articles of clothing were put in evidence:

1. Sealskin jacket. 2. Silk dress. Gloves. 3. Under linen (not marked). 4. Hat (brown and blue velvet intertwined, clasped with silver crescent).

Evidence of Spencer Ellersby:

Independent gentleman. Been travelling for some years, and only returned to England a month ago. Was at Countess of Kerstoke's ball on Monday last left at a few minutes past two o'clock—walked along Piccadilly; met a friend in St. James's Street—spoke to him for a few moments. When he left him, met policeman, who guided him through fog to Jermyn Street—left policeman and went up steps, thinking it was Guelph Hotel—found there body of deceased—called policeman, and body was taken to hospital. Does not know deceased in any way.

Evidence of Constable Batter:

Corroboration of evidence of former witness.

Evidence of Dr. Fanton:

Examined body of deceased—well nourished. Deceased had evidently been in good health. Should say she had been dead at time of examination about three hours. Death appeared to have been caused by paralysis. The blood was disorganised, therefore he judged deceased had been poisoned, and disorganisation was caused by action of virus. The veins were congested—lungs full of blood, congealed and of a dark colour. The face was swollen, and of a dark purple appearance—tongue also protruded. Small wound on neck over jugular vein, in itself not sufficient to cause death. Thought from all appearances that the assassin had inflicted wound with poisoned dagger or knife, hence appearance of body. If a powerful poison, it would act in a very short time, as the blood in jugular vein went straight to the heart. Poison would act in about ten minutes—if deceased had been excited, in even a shorter time.

This closed the evidence.

Inspector said all inquiries had been made to find name of deceased, but no clue had as yet been obtained. The case had been placed in the hands of Detective Dowker who was present.

Coroner summed up.

Woman had been found dead—proved by evidence of Policeman Batter and Mr. Ellersby.

Death had been caused by poison—proved by evidence of Dr. Fanton.

Poison administered through wound in neck by means of dagger, knife, or lancet. No evidence to show who had inflicted wound.

Jury would please return verdict in accordance with evidence.

The jury consulted for a few minutes and returned verdict. That deceased had come to her death by violence by the hand of some person or persons unknown.

This is the whole statement of the case which we have entitled The Piccadilly Puzzle, and we will now make our comments thereon.