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Tracked by a TattooA MysteryByFergus Hume
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Tracked by a Tattoo
CHAPTER I. THE CRIME.
CHAPTER II. A RECOGNITION.
CHAPTER III. THE RESULT OF THE CRIME.
CHAPTER IV. ANOTHER DISCOVERY.
CHAPTER V. THE RED STAR ADVERTISEMENT.
CHAPTER VI. A STARTLING INCIDENT.
CHAPTER VII. DIFFICULTIES.
CHAPTER VIII. A MYSTERIOUS PARCEL.
CHAPTER IX. VAUD AND VAUD.
CHAPTER X. EXIT DR. RENSHAW.
CHAPTER XI. ANOTHER LINK IN THE CHAIN.
CHAPTER XII. THE INTERVENTION OF CHANCE.
CHAPTER XIII. THE TATTOOED CROSS.
CHAPTER XIV. FANKS MAKES UP HIS MIND.
CHAPTER XV. COMING EVENTS.
CHAPTER XVI. UNHAPPY LOVERS.
CHAPTER XVII. TWO AGAINST ONE.
CHAPTER XVIII. ON THE TWENTY-FIRST OF JUNE.
CHAPTER XIX. THE DEFIANCE OF ANNE COLMER.
CHAPTER XX. THE GREEN OVERCOAT.
CHAPTER XXI. THE EIGHT BELLS ENIGMA.
CHAPTER XXII. MRS. BOAZOPH RECEIVES A SHOCK.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE CONFESSION OF HERSHAM.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE CLUE OF THE HANDWRITING.
CHAPTER XXV. AT MERE HALL, HANTS.
CHAPTER XXVI. MRS. PRISOM'S STORY.
CHAPTER XXVII. MRS. PRISOM'S STORY.—CONTINUED.
CHAPTER XXVIII. SIR LOUIS EXPLAINS.
CHAPTER XXIX. DR. BINJOY PROTESTS.
CHAPTER XXX. A LETTER FROM HERSHAM, SENIOR.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE SECRET IS REVEALED.
CHAPTER XXXII. MRS. BOAZOPH TELLS THE TRUTH.
CHAPTER XXXIII. HOW AND WHY THE DEED WAS DONE.
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE SAME.
CHAPTER XXXV. THE OPINION OF OCTAVIUS FANKS.
On the twenty-first of June, in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-four Mr. Fanks, of New Scotland Yard, detective, was walking down the Strand, between the hours of seven and eight in the evening, in the character of Octavius Rixton, of the West End, idler. It may be as well to repeat here, what is no doubt already known—that this individual led a dual existence. He earned his money as a detective, and spent it as a man about town. East of Trafalgar Square he was called Fanks; westward he was known by his real name of Rixton. But few people, were aware that the idler and the worker were one and the same. Nevertheless of necessity four or five persons possessed this knowledge, and of these one was Crate, a brother officer of Fanks, who had worked with him in many cases, and who had a profound respect for his capabilities. Fanks had obtained this ascendancy over Crate's mind by his skilful unravelling of the Chinese Jar mystery.
This especial evening Rixton had cast off the name, clothes, and personality of Fanks; and in "propriâ personâ," he was about to treat himself to a melodrama at the Adelphi Theatre. As he was passing through the vestibule, at a quarter to eight, a man came forward and touched him on the arm. To the surprise of Rixton he recognised Crate.
"You mentioned that you were coming here this evening, Mr. Rixton," said this latter, who had been instructed to so address his chief on particular occasions. "And I have been waiting for the last half hour to see you."
"What is the matter, Crate?"
The subordinate beckoned Rixton to a quiet corner, and in a low tone said one word, which made him dismiss from his mind the idea of attending the theatre on that evening. The whispered word was "murder."
"Where?" asked Fanks, assuming the detective on the instant.
"Down Tooley's Alley."
"Man or woman or child?"
"Man! I think a gentleman."
"When was the crime committed?"
"Between six and seven this evening."
"In a house or on the street?"
"In a house. The Red Star public-house."
"I know it," said Fanks, with a sharp nod, "a cut-throat place at the bottom of Tooley's Alley. The assassin chose an excellent locality. Poison, steel, or bludgeon?"
"The first I fancy; there are no marks of violence on the body. But you had better come and see for yourself."
"I agree with you. Return to the Red Star, Crate, while I go to my rooms to change my clothes. I am Rixton at present, and I don't want to mix up my two personalities. Expect me in half an hour."
Crate departed with prompt obedience, and Rixton drove off in a swift hansom to his chambers in Duke Street, St. James. In ten minutes he had assumed his detective clothes and Fanks personality; in twenty he was returning eastward; and at the expiration of half an hour he was standing at the door of the house wherein the crime had been committed. Such promptitude was characteristic of the man.
Tooley's Alley is a narrow zig-zag street, which, beginning at a point in Drury Lane, twists its way through a mass of malodorous houses until blocked finally by the Red Star Hotel. It is a famous Rialto of rogues and vagabonds, for here "they most do congregate;" and here come the police, when any especial criminal is wanted by the law. An evil district with an evil name; a plague spot, which cannot be eradicated either by law or by religion. There are many such in London, and of all Tooley's Alley is the worst. It was plausible enough that a gentleman should be trapped, robbed, and murdered in this quarter; but it was more difficult to surmise what errand had brought a gentleman into so dangerous a neighbourhood. A gentleman done to death in Tooley's Alley! Fanks scented a mystery.
The Red Star was a gorgeous gin-palace, all gas, and glare, and glitter. It was licensed to Mrs. Boazoph, a widow, whose character was more than suspected by the police; but who contrived by a circumspect demeanour to keep on the right side of the law. By virtue of her position, her supposed wealth, and above all by reason of her talents, she was quite the queen of Tooley's Alley. Why she should have been permitted to hold her disreputable court in this hotbed of crime was best known to the authorities; but hold it she did, and made money out of her ragged subjects. In the neighbourhood she was popularly known as Queen Beelzeebub.
Attracted by the news of the murder, a mob of raffish men and slatternly women had collected round the Red Star, but the presence of four policemen prevented them from entering the bar and drinking, as they desired to do.
Fanks had no need to push through the crowd, for on recognising him they fell to right and left to leave him a free passage. Under his keen gaze a quiver of fear passed over many of the brutalised faces; and here and there some especial rogue, scared by the memory of lately committed crimes, shrank back into the shadows, lest this man, who personified the law, should discover and punish. Fanks was the Nemesis of Tooley's Alley; the god they desired to propitiate, and he was at once hated and feared by his debased worshippers.
After exchanging a few words with the guardian policemen, Fanks entered the house, and was met in the passage by Crate and by Mrs. Boazoph. This latter, who appeared to be between forty and fifty years of age, was a slender and pallid-faced woman, with almost white hair smoothed back from her high forehead. She spoke habitually with folded hands and downcast eyes, and her voice was low and soft, with a refined accent. One would have taken this demure figure, clad in a plain dress of lustreless black, for an hospital nurse, or for a housekeeper. Yet she was—as the police asserted—the most dangerous woman in London, hand and glove with thieves and rogues: not for nothing had she gained her reputation and queenly title.
"Well, Mrs. Boazoph," said Fanks, abruptly, "this last scandal will add largely to the excellent reputation already gained by your house."
"No doubt of it, sir," replied the landlady, without raising her eyes; "it is most unfortunate."
"And most unexpected?"
"Certainly most unexpected, sir."
The detective looked at her sharply, and noticed that her fingers played nervously with the stuff of her gown. Also he heard a tremor in her voice as she answered. Now Mrs. Boazoph was not easily upset; yet, as Fanks well saw, only her unusual self-control prevented her from having an attack of hysteria. To many men the circumstance of the crime having been committed in the house would have accounted for this. Fanks was too well acquainted with Queen Beelzeebub to give her the benefit of the doubt. She was disturbed by something more than the mere fact of the murder.
"Do you know the man?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on her face.
"No!" retorted Mrs. Boazoph, with suspicious promptitude. "I never set eyes on him until this evening."
And with this hinted defiance she stared Fanks boldly in the face. When she saw that he was watching her twitching fingers, they became motionless on the instant. Only one conclusion could the detective draw from this behaviour; she knew more than she would own to, and she was afraid lest he should find it out. After another look, which discovered nothing—for she was now on her guard—Fanks turned sharply to Crate.
"Where is the body?"
"Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms."
"Was the murder committed in one of the bedrooms?"
"No, Mr. Fanks. It was committed in the room at the end of this passage."
"And why was the body removed out of that room?"
"I removed the body," said Mrs. Boazoph, in a low voice.
"You had no right to do so," rebuked Fanks, sharply. "It was your duty to leave things as they were, when you discovered that a crime had been committed, and to give immediate information to the police."
"I did do so, sir. The police were in this house ten minutes after I saw the dead body."
"Nevertheless, you found time to remove it in that ten minutes."
"I thought it best to do so," said Mrs. Boazoph, obstinately.
"No doubt. I shall not forget your zeal," was Fanks' rejoinder.
The woman could not repress a shudder at the ironical tone of the detective, and her pale face turned yet paler. However, she passed discreetly over the remark and turned the conversation briskly.
"Shall I take you upstairs to see the body, sir?
"No; I shall first examine the room. Afterwards I shall hear your story and inspect the corpse. Come with me, Crate."
Still preserving an impenetrable countenance, Mrs. Boazoph preceded the two men into the little room at the end of the passage. It was an apartment of no great size, furnished in a scanty, almost in a penurious fashion. A window draped with faded curtains of red rep faced the entrance there was no fireplace, and the furniture consisted of a mahogany horse-hair sofa placed against the right-hand wall looking from the door, a round table covered with a stained red cloth, which stood in the centre of the room, and on either side of this two chairs. A crimson felting carpeted the floor, and a few racing pictures, crudely coloured, adorned the salmon-tinted walls. Beyond this the room contained nothing, save an iron gas-pipe suspended from the roof, by which two jets flaring in pink globes lighted the apartment.
Fanks glanced slowly round, taking in every detail, and walked across to the window. It was locked, the curtains were drawn, the blind was down. As it was too dark to see the outlook, Fanks turned to Mrs. Boazoph for information.
"What does this window look out on to?"
"A yard, sir."
"Is there any outlet from the yard?"
"No, sir, excepting through the kitchen where the servants have been all the evening."
"When you entered the room and discovered the fact of the murder, where was the body?"
"Huddled up on yonder sofa, sir."
"Was the room in the same state as it is now?"
"In precisely the same state, Mr. Fanks."
"Wait a moment," interposed Crate; "you told me that you took some glasses out of the room."
Mrs. Boazoph darted a tigerish glance at the detective, which revealed the hidden possibilities of her nature. However, she replied with all possible meekness—
"I quite forgot that, sir I did take two glasses off that table."
Recalling Crate's remark that the deceased had probably been poisoned, Fanks was rendered angry and suspicious by this action; but as it was mere folly to quarrel with so clever a woman as Mrs. Boazoph he made light of the circumstance, and observed casually that no doubt the glasses had been washed and put away.
"Yes, sir," assented the landlady, "they were washed and put away by my own hands."
"I have always known you to be an extremely tidy woman," said Fanks, ironically. "Two glasses, you say? Then there were two gentlemen in this room between six and seven?"
"There were two men in this room between six and seven," replied Mrs. Boazoph, making the correction with emphasis.
"Two men, you say? And they came to have a chat—by appointment?"
"I think so, sir. The white man came at six, and the black man arrived an hour later."
"Ho! ho!" said Fanks, rather taken by surprise; "so one of the men was a negro. I see. And who lies dead upstairs?"
"The white man, sir."
"And the negro assassin; what of him?"
"We have no proof that the negro committed the crime, Mr. Fanks," protested Mrs. Boazoph, forgetting her caution for the moment. "There are no marks of violence on the body."
"Of course not," said Fanks, with grim humour. "No doubt the white man died a convenient and natural death, while the negro, for no reason, fled in alarm. I am obliged to you for the suggestion, Mrs. Boazoph. Probably it is as you say."
Not sufficiently clever to see the irony of this remark, Crate looked surprised. But the woman was clearer sighted; and, seeing that she had over-reached herself by saying too much, she relapsed into silence. The detective, feeling that he had scored, smiled grimly, and went on with his examination of the room.
"The body was on the sofa, you say?" he said after a pause.
"Yes; it was tumbled in a heap against the wall."
"And the glasses were on the table?"
"On the table and on the tray."
"Were there any signs of a struggle?"
"Not that I saw, Mr. Fanks."
"Can you describe the appearance of the white man; no, stop, I'll see his body when I go upstairs. What of the black man?"
"He was a tall, burly, fat creature, sir, just like any other negro."
"How was he dressed?"
"In a black opera hat, dark trousers, brown boots, and a long green overcoat with brass buttons," said Mrs. Boazoph, concisely.
"Rather a noticeable dress," said Fanks, carelessly; "had you ever seen the negro before?"
"Nor the white man?"
"I never saw white or black man in my life till this evening."
By this time the patience of Mrs. Boazoph was nearly worn out, and her self-control was gradually giving way. She evidently felt that she could hold out no longer, for, after replying to the last question, she left the room suddenly. But that Fanks interfered Crate would have stopped her.
"Let her go," said the former, "we can see her later on. In the meantime," he continued, pointing to the table, "what is all this?"
Crate bent forward, and on the dingy red tablecloth he saw a number of tiny black grains scattered about.
"It is a powder of some sort," he said; "I told you that I thought the man had been poisoned."
Even as Crate spoke the gaslight went out, leaving them in complete darkness.
"Ah!" said Fanks, rather startled by the unexpected incident, "Mrs. Boazoph is fiddling with the meter."
"What the deuce did she do that for?" asked Crate, as his superior struck a match.
"Can't you guess? She saw these black grains on the tablecloth, and wants to get rid of them. That was why she left the room and turned off the gas. She hopes that the darkness will drive us out. Then she will explain the incident by a lie, and enter before us to relight the gas."
"Well?" said Crate, stolidly.
"Well!" repeated Fanks, crossly. "I shall never make you understand anything, Crate. Before lighting the gas she will pull off the tablecloth and scatter the grains."
"Do you think she's in this, Mr. Fanks?"
"I can't say—yet. But she knows something. You get a candle, and—hang this match," cried Fanks, "it has burnt my fingers."
As he uttered the exclamation the match, still alight, dropped on the table among the black grains to which allusion has been made. There was a flicker, a sparkle of light, and when Fanks struck another match the grains had disappeared.
"Gunpowder!" said the detective, in a puzzled tone; "now, what possible connection can gunpowder have with this matter?"
To this there was no answer; and by the glimmer of the single match, the two men looked blankly at one another.
Topping this discovery came the return of Mrs. Boazoph with a candle and an apology. Her procedure was so exactly the same as that suggested by Fanks that Crate could not forbear from paying the tribute of an admiring chuckle to the perspicuity of his chief. Only in her action with the tablecloth did Mrs. Boazoph vary from the prescribed ritual.
"My regrets and apologies, sir," she said, addressing Fanks, with a side glance at the table; "but one of the servants—an idle slut, whom I have now discharged—turned off the gas at the meter by accident. I hope that you were not alarmed by the sudden darkness. Permit me to relight the burners."
And with this neat speech she mounted a chair with the activity of a girl. Having remedied the accident she stumbled—or seemed to stumble—in descending, and caught at the table to save herself, thereby dragging the cloth on to the floor. Then it was that Crate chuckled; whereupon Mrs. Boazoph was on her feet at once, with a look of startled suspicion. However, as she had accomplished her object, she recovered her equanimity speedily and made another apology, with a lie tacked on to it.
"My regrets for the second accident," she remarked glibly, "but it is due to overstrung nerves. Put it down to that gentleman, if you please, and you will put it down to the right cause."
"Pray do not mention it, Mrs. Boazoph," said Fanks, significantly; "I have already examined the cloth. And now, if you please, we will go upstairs."
The woman drew back and bit her lip. She guessed that Fanks had seen through her stratagem, and for the moment she was minded to excuse herself. Fortunately her habitual caution saved her from a second blunder; and she strove to conciliate Fanks by a piece of news.
"I trust that you will not think me presuming, sir," she said, "but in the hope that there might be some chance of life remaining in It, I sent for a doctor. He is now upstairs with It."
"Your kindness does you great credit," said Fanks, seeing his way clear to a thrust, "you could not have behaved better if you had known this man."
Holding the candle before her face, Mrs. Boazoph drew back a step, with one hand clutching the bosom of her dress. Her composure gave way.
"In one word, you suspect me," she cried with a glitter in her eyes.
"In one word, I suspect nobody," retorted Fanks. "I have not yet heard all your story, remember."
"You know all that I know," said Mrs. Boazoph. "The man who came here at six this evening—the man who lies dead upstairs, is a complete stranger to me. I caught only a glimpse of him as he entered; I did not speak to him. He asked for a private room in which to wait for a friend. He was shown into this room, and waited. The negro arrived ten minutes later. I saw him—I showed him into this room; but indeed, Mr. Fanks, I never set eyes on him before. The pair—white and black—were together till close on seven. They had something to drink, for which the dead man paid. I did not enter the room; it was the barmaid who served them with drink. I did not know when the negro went; but, wanting the room for some other gentlemen, I knocked at the door at seven o'clock to ask if they had finished their conversation. I received no reply; I opened the door; I entered; I found the white man dead, the negro absent. After removing the body upstairs and covering it with a sheet, as any decent woman would, I sent for the police. That is all; I swear that it is the truth. Say what you please; do what you please; you cannot fasten this crime on to me."
Fanks listened to this speech with great imperturbability, and made but one comment thereon.
"I took you for a clever woman, Mrs. Boazoph," he said, "evidently I have been wrong. Will you be so kind as to light us upstairs."
Mrs. Boazoph thrust the candle into his hands.
"I have seen It once; I refuse to look upon it again."
She passed out of the room shaking as with the ague. Fanks nodded in a satisfied way, and beckoning to Crate, he went upstairs. A frightened housemaid on the landing indicated the room of which they were in search; and they entered it to come face to face with the doctor summoned by the zealous landlady. He introduced himself as Dr. Renshaw, and made this announcement with a bland smile and a condescending bow. Fanks eyed his tall and burly figure; his Napoleonic countenance; his smooth, brown beard and his perfect dress. There was a look about the man which he did not like; and he mistrusted the uneasy glance of the hard, grey eyes. The detective relied largely on his instinct. In this case it warned him against the false geniality of Dr. Renshaw.
"The representatives of the law, I believe," said the medical man in a deep and rolling voice. "I was about to take my departure; but if I can be of service in the interests of justice, pray command me."
"I suppose there is no doubt that our friend there is dead," said Fanks.
"Dead as Caesar, sir," said the magnificent doctor, waving his arm.
"Caesar died by steel," remarked Fanks significantly. "It appears that this man died in an easier manner."
"There is another parallel," said the doctor, condescending to add to the historical knowledge of the detective. "If we may believe Brutus, the great Julius was slain as a traitor to the republic. This unknown man," added Renshaw, pointing to the body, "also died the death of a traitor."
"If, as you say, the dead man is unknown," said Fanks quickly, "how can you tell that he was a traitor?"
"By inference and deduction," was the reply. "You can judge for yourself. Far be it from me that I should set my opinion against that of the law; but I have a theory. Would you care to hear it? If I may venture on a jest," said Renshaw with ponderous playfulness, "the medical mouse may help the legal lion."
"Let us hear your theory by all means," said Fanks easily, "but first permit me to speak with my assistant."
The doctor bowed and passed over to the other side of the bed; while Fanks went with Crate to the door. Here he hesitated, glanced at the doctor, and finally led his subordinate into the passage.
"Crate!" he said in a rapid whisper, "I mistrust that man. He will shortly leave this place. Follow him and find out where he lives. Then set someone to watch the place, and return to me."
"Do you think that he has anything to do with it?" asked Crate.
"I can't say at present. I may to wrong about him and about Mrs. Boazoph; all the same I mistrust the pair of them. Now off with you."
When Crate departed to watch for the outcoming of the doctor, Fanks re-entered the chamber of death. Renshaw still stood beside the bed, and seemingly had not moved from that position. Nevertheless, a mat placed midway between bed and door, was rucked up. By the merest accident Fanks had previously noticed that it was lying flat. Thence he deduced that Renshaw had crossed to the door. In plain words, Renshaw had been listening. Fanks was confirmed in this opinion by the complacent smile which played round the lips of the doctor.
"Now for your theory, Doctor," said Fanks, noting all, but saying nothing.
"Certainly, sir. As a detective you know, of course, of the existence of secret societies."
"I do; and I know also that those who reveal the doings of such societies are punished. Go on, Doctor."
"First you must inspect the body," replied Renshaw.
He drew down the sheet which concealed the face of the dead. In the cruel glare of the gaslight, Fanks beheld a countenance discoloured and distorted. The head was that of a young man with brown and curly hair, well-marked eyebrows, and a moustache of the same hue as the hair. The body was clothed in moleskin trousers, and a flannel shirt. From the bedpost hung a rough, grey coat, and a cloth cap. A glance assured Fanks that these clothes of a working man were perfectly new; another glance confirmed his first belief that the dead man was a gentleman. On looking intently into the face he started back in surprise; but recovering himself, said nothing. If the doctor had observed his action, he made no pointed remark thereon; but set it down merely to a natural feeling of repulsion.
"I do not wonder that the state of the body revolts you, sir," he said. "The corpse is swollen and discoloured in a terrible manner. Of course, I can say nothing authoritatively until the post mortem has been made; but from all appearances I am inclined to ascribe the death to poison."
"Ah; then it is a case of murder?"
"So you say, sir; the secret society to which this man belongs, would call it a punishment."
"How do you know that this man belongs to a secret society. Do you recognise the body?"
"No, sir. The man is nameless so far as I am concerned. There are no marks on his linen or clothes; and there are no papers in his pockets likely to identify him. Oh, believe me, sir, the society has done its work well."
"You seem to be very confident about your secret society?"
The doctor bent over the body, and rolled up the shirt sleeve of the left arm. Between elbow and shoulder there appeared a swollen mark in the shape of a rude cross, surrounded by a wheel; violet in colour, and slashed across with a knife. To this he pointed in silence.
"I see what you mean," said Fanks, twisting his signet ring; always a sign of perplexity with him. "The secret mark of the society has been obliterated."
"Precisely. Now you can understand, sir, why I infer that this man was a traitor. Evidently the negro—of whose presence Mrs. Boazoph informed me—was the emissary of the society, and killed this traitor by poison. Afterwards, as was natural, he obliterated the secret mark by drawing his knife across it."
"He did not do his work thoroughly then, Doctor. The secret mark is a cross."
"The secret mark is more than a cross, sir," replied the doctor, "else you may be sure that the negro would have obliterated it more perfectly."
The detective replaced the sheet over the face of the dead: and prepared, as did the doctor, to leave the room. They turned down the gas and departed; but while descending the stairs, Renshaw asked Fanks a question.
"Are you satisfied that my explanation is a correct one?" he demanded.
"I am perfectly satisfied," said Fanks, looking directly at the man.
Strange to say, this unhesitating acceptance appeared to render Renshaw uneasy; and the flow of his magnificent speech broke up in confusion.
"I may be wrong," he muttered. "We are all liable to error; but such as it is, that is my opinion."
"You would be willing to repeat that opinion at the inquest, Doctor?"
Renshaw drew back with a shudder.
"Is it necessary that I should go to the inquest?" he asked faintly.
"I think so," replied Fanks significantly. "You were the first to see the corpse. You will have to describe the state in which you found it. Your address if you please?"
"Twenty-four, Great Auk Street," said Renshaw, after some hesitation. "I am staying there at present."
"Yes! I—I—not practise in London. I do not practise at all, in fact. I travel—I travel a great deal. In two weeks I go to India."
"You must go first to the inquest," responded Fanks dryly. "But if you do not practise in London, how comes it that Mrs. Boazoph sent for you?"
"She did not send for me," explained the doctor, "but for my friend, Dr. Turnor; he is absent on a holiday, and I am acting as his locum tenens for a short period."
"Thank you, Doctor; that is a thoroughly satisfactory explanation; quite as satisfactory as your theory of the death. Good evening. I should recommend a glass of brandy; you look as though you needed it."
"Weak heart!" muttered Renshaw in explanation, and took his departure with evident relief. But before he left the hotel, he acted on the detective's suggestion. Mrs. Boazoph gave him the brandy with her own hands. The action afforded her an opportunity of exchanging a few words with him. Fanks thwarted her intent by also entering the bar, and asking for refreshment; whereupon, the doctor finished his liquor and departed.
Left alone with Fanks, the landlady drew a breath of relief, and addressed herself to the detective.
"Do you wish to know anything else, sir," she said coldly. "If not, with your permission, I shall retire to bed."
"I have learned all I wish to know at present, thank you, Mrs. Boazoph. Go to bed by all means. I am sure that you need rest after your anxiety."
The landlady, looking worn out and haggard, retired, and Fanks went to the door to wait for Crate's return. In the meantime he made notes and formed theories; these will be revealed hereafter, but in the meantime the case was in too crude a state for him to come to the smallest conclusion. However, he had already decided on the next step. In the chamber of death he had made an important discovery which enabled him to move in the matter.
In half an hour Crate returned with the information that Dr. Renshaw had entered No. 24, Great Auk Street; and that he had set a detective to watch the house. Fanks smiled on receiving this report.
"He is cleverer than I thought," he murmured; and left Tooley's Alley with Crate.
"Well, Mr. Fanks, whom do you suspect?"
"No one at present, Crate."
"Oh! And what do you do next?"
"Make certain of the dead man's identity."
Crate stopped in surprise.
"Do you know who he is, Mr. Fanks?"
"Yes! He is a friend of my own. Sir Gregory Fellenger, Baronet."
A week after his discovery of the identity of the dead man, Fanks, having slipped his detective skin for the time being, was seated in the writing room of the Athenian Club, with the "Morning Planet" newspaper on his knee. He was not reading it, however, but was looking absently at a long and lean young man, who was writing letters at a near table.
Francis Garth, of the Middle Temple, barrister and journalist, was one of the few West End men who knew the real profession of Rixton, alias Fanks. In fact, there was very little he did not know; and Fanks—as it will be convenient to call the detective—was debating as to whether he should question him about the Tooley Alley crime. He was urged to this course by the remembrance that he had seen Garth at the inquest. This had been held on the previous day. The jury had brought in a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown, and the conduct of the case had been placed officially in the hands of Fanks. So far all was ship-shape.
And now the detective found himself at a standstill. No evidence had been brought forward implicating either Mrs. Boazoph or Dr. Renshaw; and, doubtful as was Fanks as to their honesty, he could gain no clue from the one or the other of them likely to elucidate the mystery. Failing this, he had determined to learn if possible all about the previous life of the deceased, and in this way discover if anyone was likely to be a gainer by his death. Garth, who had known the late Sir Gregory intimately—who had been present at the inquest—was the most likely person to furnish these details; and Fanks was waiting for an opportunity of addressing him. On the result of the projected conversation would depend his future movements.
"I say, Garth," said Fanks, "how much longer will your correspondence take?"
"I shall be at your service in ten minutes," replied Garth, without desisting from his occupation. "What do you wish to talk about?"
"About the death of your friend, Sir Gregory Fellenger."
Garth looked up and turned round with alacrity.
"Is the case in your hands, Fanks?"
"Yes; and I want some information from you."
"I shall be happy to give it. But wait for a few minutes; I am just writing about it to a friend of mine—and yours."
"Humph! And the name?"
"Ted Hersham, the journalist."
They looked at one another, the same thought occupying both their minds.
"Has your reason for writing anything to do with the left arm of our friend?" asked Fanks, after a pause.
Garth nodded and returned to his work. When he had sealed, directed, and stamped the letter Fanks spoke again.
"Garth?" he said; "I say, Garth?"
"Yes! What's the matter?"
"Don't send that letter till after our conversation."
"Ah! You guess why I am writing to him."
"My remark of a few moments ago ought to have shown you that," said Fanks, dryly. "Yes; I guess your object, and I want you to leave the case in my hands. It is too difficult a one for you to manage alone."
"I know that it is difficult, Fanks, but I wish to solve this mystery."
"Because Fellenger was your friend?" asked Fanks.
"Because Fellenger was my cousin," replied Garth.
The announcement took Fanks by surprise, as he had not known of the relationship. He was aware that Fellenger and Garth had been close friends, but he knew little of the former, save as a club acquaintance, and the latter was very reticent about his private affairs, although he was curious concerning the affairs of others.
"So you wish to revenge the death of your cousin," he remarked after a thoughtful moment.
Garth shrugged his shoulders.
"Hardly that," he replied; "between you and me, I did not care overmuch for Fellenger. He was a bad lot, and we only held together because of our relationship. But I should like to find out what took him to Tooley's Alley and who killed him."
"A laudable curiosity. Do you suspect anybody?"
"Not a soul. I am as much in the dark as—you are."
"I may not be so much in the dark as you think," said the other.
"Then why did you ask me to assist you?" retorted Garth, sharply. "See here, Fanks, tell you all that I know if you will promise to keep me posted up concerning the progress of the case."
Fanks twisted his ring and reflected.
"I agree," he said briefly, "but you must not meddle—unless I tell you to do so."
"Agreed!" And the pair shook hands on the bargain.
"And now," said Fanks, grimly, "that letter, if you please."
After a moment's hesitation Garth handed it over. He had a great respect for the mental capacity of his friend, and on the whole he judged it advisable to carry out the agreement which had been concluded.
"Though I would send that letter if I were you," he expostulated; "Hersham has—"
"I know what Hersham has," interrupted Fanks; "but I want him to see me, not you. Wait till we know how we stand at the present moment. Come into the smoking-room and answer my questions."
"What a peremptory chap you are," grumbled Garth, as they left the room. "Evidently you don't confide in my discretion."
"I am about to do so," said Fanks, who understood the art of conciliation; "we will work together, and all that I know you shall know. But you must let me manage things in my own way."
In his heart Garth was flattered that Fanks should have chosen him as his coadjutor, and, dominated by the stronger will of the detective, he quietly took up the position of an underling. Garth was self-willed and not usually amenable to reason; but Fanks had the law at his back, without which Garth could not hope to do anything. Hence his acquiescence.
"Come, now, old fellow," said Fanks, amiably, "we have a hard task before us; so you must make it easier by answering my questions."
"Go on," said Garth, lighting a cigar; "I always give in to a man who has had more experience than myself."
Fanks laughed at this delicate way of adjusting the situation, but as he wished to keep on good terms with the touchy lawyer he let the remark pass in silence. When they were fairly settled, and he saw that they had the smoking-room to themselves, he took out his pocket-book and began his examination as to the past of the dead man.
"The Fellengers are a Hampshire family, I believe?"
"Yes," replied Garth, with a nod; "Sir Gregory was the fourth baronet and only son. The family seat is Mere Hall, near Bournemouth."
"You are Sir Gregory's cousin?"
"I am, on the mother's side."
"Who is the present baronet? Yourself or somebody else?"
"Somebody else," said Garth, with a sigh. "I should have told you if I had been his heir. I wonder at so clever a man as you asking so very frivolous a question."
"I have my reasons," said Fanks calmly. "Well, and who is the heir?"
"My cousin, Louis Fellenger; he is twenty-five years of age, and as great a prig as ever lived."
"Where does he reside now?"
"I believe that he has gone to Mere Hall to take possession of the property. But he did live at Taxton-on-Thames, a village near Weybridge."
"Do you know Sir Louis intimately?"
"No. I have only seen him once or twice. He is a bookish, scientific man, and an invalid;—at least," corrected Garth, "he has always a doctor living with him; a tall, fat brute, called Binjoy, who twists him round his finger. He has been with him for years."
"A tall, fat brute," repeated Fanks, smiling at this amiable description. "Has the gentleman in question a long, brown beard?"
"No, he is clean shaven. A pompous creature, fond of using long words, and proud of his voice and oratorial powers. Something like 'Conversation Kenge' in 'Bleak House.'"
"Humph!" said Fanks, rather struck by the description, which was not unlike that of Renshaw, "we will discuss Dr. Binjoy later on. In the meantime, just enlighten me as to your precise relationship with the present baronet."
"It's easily understood. Gregory's father, Sir Francis—after whom I was named—had a brother and sister. She married my respected father, Richard Garth, and I am the sole offspring."
"And the brother was the father of the present Sir Louis?"
"Exactly. There is a great deal of similarity between all three cases. Gregory was an only child and his parents are dead; Louis is an only child, and his parents have also gone the way of all flesh; I am an only child, and I am likewise an orphan."
Fanks made a note of the family tree in his book.
"So far so good," he said, with a nod. "Sir Gregory is dead and Sir Louis has succeeded him; if Louis dies without issue, you are the heir. And failing you?"
"The property goes to the Crown," replied Garth. "Louis and I are the sole representatives of the Fellengers."
"The race has dwindled considerably. Now what about your dead cousin. He was a trifle rapid, I believe?"
"A regular bad lot; but I kept in with him because—well, because he was useful to me. Understand?"
"Perfectly," replied Fanks, who knew of Garth's financial difficulties. "We will pass that. Have you any idea what took him to Tooley's Alley?"
"Not the slightest. I saw him two days before his death—on the nineteenth—and he said nothing about going there then."
"Did he behave as usual towards you?"
"No. He was out of sorts. He had lost a lot of money at cards, I believe, and he was crabbed in consequence."
"There was no other trouble; no financial difficulty?"
"Not that I know of. Fast as he was, he could not get through ten thousand a year before the age of twenty-eight."
"I have known men who have done so," said Fanks dryly. "However, if it was not a question of money, what about the inevitable woman?"
"I don't think it was that, either," demurred Garth. "It was a man he met—a negro—not a woman."
"True. Well, you were at the inquest?"—
"How do you know?" asked Garth, starting.
"I saw you there in the crowd."
"You see everything, Fanks."
"It is my business to see everything, Garth. It is because you were at the inquest that I sought you out to-day. Now that you have explained to me your relationship to Sir Gregory I understand why you were present. But to return to the main point. You heard the theory of Dr. Renshaw?"
"Yes," replied Garth reflectively. "There might be something in that secret society business. Not, mind you, that Gregory was the man to meddle with rubbish of that kind. He was too much of a fool; but one never knows; a man does not have a cross tattooed on his arm for nothing."
"Do you think that it is the mark of a revolutionary society?"
"I can't say; I should like to know. That is why I was writing to Hersham. Of course you know that he——"
"I know that he has a cross tattooed on his arm also. And it is for that reason that I reject your secret society business."
"It isn't mine. I am merely following the lead of Renshaw."
"Then you are following a will-o-the-wisp," retorted Fanks. "See here, Garth. I have known Hersham for a long time; he is the son of a clergyman in the Isle of Wight. He was brought up to the law like yourself; and also like yourself, he left it for journalism. As you know, he is a merry, open-minded creature, who could not conceal a secret if his life depended upon it. Do you think that if he had been mixed up with secret societies that he would have been able to conceal the fact from me?"
"Then why is there a cross tattooed on his left arm?" asked Garth.
"I intend to see him and find out. I noticed it long ago; but made no remark on it, thinking that it was the result of some school-boy freak. Now it has assumed a new importance in my eyes. Therefore you must let me interview Hersham, and choose my own time and place for doing so."
"I suppose you are right. Tear up that letter, please." Fanks held out the letter.
"Tear it up yourself," he said.
This Garth did without further remark, and looked at his friend.
"What do you intend to do now?" he asked.
"Continue this conversation for a few minutes longer. You were intimate with the dead man, Garth. Did you ever notice this cross?"
"I did not," said Garth, promptly, "or I should have asked what it meant. By Jove!" he added, with a start. "Then all that obliteration business must be nonsense."
"Of course," assented Fanks, smoothly. "I came to that conclusion long ago. Fellenger had no cross on his arm when he entered Tooley's Alley. It was tattooed that night by the negro."
"What makes you think that?"
"I found a few grains of gunpowder on the tablecloth of the room in which they were together; gunpowder is used in tattooing. Again, the arm, when Renshaw showed it to me, was raw, as though the operation had been done lately."
"But why should Gregory go to Tooley's Alley to be tattooed?"
"Tell me that, and the mystery of his death is at an end," said Fanks, significantly. "But I am certain that Fellenger voluntarily let this negro tattoo his arm; and so came by his death."
"Came by his death," echoed Garth in astonishment. "What do you mean?"
"Why," answered Fanks, seriously, "I mean that the needle used for the tattooing was poisoned; and so—," he shrugged his shoulders, "—the man died."
Informed of this astounding fact, Garth stared at his friend in blank astonishment. The detective resumed his cigar, and waited.
"You cannot be in earnest," said the barrister after a pause.
"Why not? The theory is feasible enough. It was proved at the inquest that the man died from blood-poisoning."
"Yes. But it might have been administered in the liquor. The pair had drinks, remember."
"I have not forgotten," said Fanks quietly, "but on your part remember that no trace of poison was found in the stomach; while the blood was so corrupted, as to show that the deceased had been inoculated with some powerful vegetable poison. There was no mark on the body, save the cross on the left arm; and, by your own showing, it was not there when Fellenger went to Tooley's Alley. The assumption is that it was done there; as is more than confirmed by the presence of gunpowder."
"Again, according to Mrs. Boazoph, there was no struggle; therefore the deceased must have passed away quietly. My inference is that this negro desired to kill Sir Gregory—or else he was instructed to do so by some one else who wished for the death of your cousin. What then so easy, as for the negro to have a poisoned needle prepared to execute the tattooing. Quite unaware of the danger, Fellenger—for some unknown reason—would permit the insertion of the fatal needle. As the work went on, he would gradually be inoculated with the poison. When the gunpowder and acids were applied the job would be finished, and he would pull down his sleeve, quite ignorant that to all intents and purposes he was a dead man. Then he sat and chatted with the negro till the end came; when he sank into a state of coma and died. When certain that the death was an assured fact, the negro took his departure. Oh, it is all as plain as day to me;—all excepting one fact."
"And that fact?"
"Why did Fellenger get a negro in Tooley's Alley to tattoo him."
"I can only conclude that a secret—"
"Rubbish!" said Fanks, contemptuously, "you and your secret societies. I tell you that is all nonsense. Even assuming that the cross is an emblem of some association—which I do not grant for a moment—we have proved that it was not tattooed on your cousin's arm when he went to keep his appointment; therefore he could not at that time have been a member of your mythical society. If, on the other hand, he was being made a member—a ceremony which would not have taken place in a low pot-house—why should he be killed? These societies admit living men to work their ends; they have no use for dead bodies."
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