Fenchurch Street Mystery
by Baroness Orczy
CHAPTER I. THE FENCHURCH STREET MYSTERY
CHAPTER II. A MILLIONAIRE IN THE DOCK
CHAPTER III. HIS DEDUCTION
THE man in the corner pushed aside his glass, and leant across the
"Mysteries!" he commented. "There is no such thing as a mystery in
connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear
upon its investigation."
Very much astonished Polly Burton looked over the top of her
newspaper, and fixed a pair of very severe, coldly inquiring brown eyes
She had disapproved of the man from the instant when he shuffled
across the shop and sat down opposite to her, at the same marble-topped
table which already held her large coffee (3d.), her roll and butter
(2d.), and plate of tongue (6d.).
Now this particular corner, this very same table, that special view
of the magnificent marble hall—known as the Norfolk Street branch of
the Aërated Bread Company's depôts—were Polly's own corner, table, and
view. Here she had partaken of eleven pennyworth of luncheon and one
pennyworth of daily information ever since that glorious
never-to-be-forgotten day when she was enrolled on the staff of the
Evening Observer (we'll call it that, if you please), and became a
member of that illustrious and world-famed organization known as the
She was a personality, was Miss Burton of the Evening Observer. Her
cards were printed thus:
MISS MARY J. BURTON.
She had interviewed Miss Ellen Terry and the Bishop of Madagascar,
Mr. Seymour Hicks and the Chief Commissioner of Police. She had been
present at the last Marlborough House garden party—in the cloak-room,
that is to say, where she caught sight of Lady Thingummy's hat, Miss
What-you-may-call's sunshade, and of various other things modistical or
fashionable, all of which were duly described under the heading
"Royalty and Dress" in the early afternoon edition of the Evening
(The article itself is signed M. J. B., and is to be found in the
files of that leading halfpenny-worth.)
For these reasons—and for various others, too—Polly felt irate
with the man in the corner, and told him so with her eyes, as plainly
as any pair of brown eyes can speak.
She had been reading an article in the Daily Telegraph. The article
was palpitatingly interesting. Had Polly been commenting audibly upon
it? Certain it is that the man over there had spoken in direct answer
to her thoughts.
She looked at him and frowned; the next moment she smiled. Miss
Burton (of the Evening Observer) had a keen sense of humour, which two
years' association with the British Press had not succeeded in
destroying, and the appearance of the man was sufficient to tickle the
most ultra-morose fancy. Polly thought to herself that she had never
seen any one so pale, so thin, with such funny light-coloured hair,
brushed very smoothly across the top of a very obviously bald crown. He
looked so timid and nervous as he fidgeted incessantly with a piece of
string; his long, lean, and trembling fingers tying and untying it into
knots of wonderful and complicated proportions.
Having carefully studied every detail of the quaint personality
Polly felt more amiable.
"And yet," she remarked kindly but authoritatively, "this article,
in an otherwise well-informed journal, will tell you that, even within
the last year, no fewer than six crimes have completely baffled the
police, and the perpetrators of them are still at large."
"Pardon me," he said gently, "I never for a moment ventured to
suggest that there were no mysteries to the police; I merely remarked
that there were none where intelligence was brought to bear upon the
investigation of crime."
"Not even in the Fenchurch Street mystery, I suppose," she asked
"Least of all in the so-called Fenchurch Street mystery," he
Now the Fenchurch Street mystery, as that extraordinary crime had
popularly been called, had puzzled—as Polly well knew—the brains of
every thinking man and woman for the last twelve months. It had puzzled
her not inconsiderably; she had been interested, fascinated; she had
studied the case, formed her own theories, thought about it all often
and often, had even written one or two letters to the Press on the
subject—suggesting, arguing, hinting at possibilities and
probabilities, adducing proofs which other amateur detectives were
equally ready to refute. The attitude of that timid man in the corner,
therefore, was peculiarly exasperating, and she retorted with sarcasm
destined to completely annihilate her self-complacent interlocutor.
"What a pity it is, in that case, that you do not offer your
priceless services to our misguided though well-meaning police."
"Isn't it?" he replied with perfect good-humour. "Well, you know,
for one thing I doubt if they would accept them; and in the second
place my inclinations and my duty would—were I to become an active
member of the detective force—nearly always be in direct conflict. As
often as not my sympathies go to the criminal who is clever and astute
enough to lead our entire police force by the nose.
"I don't know how much of the case you remember," he went on
quietly. "It certainly, at first, began even to puzzle me. On the 12th
of last December a woman, poorly dressed, but with an unmistakable air
of having seen better days, gave information at Scotland Yard of the
disappearance of her husband, William Kershaw, of no occupation, and
apparently of no fixed abode. She was accompanied by a friend—a fat,
oily-looking German—and between them they told a tale which set the
police immediately on the move.
"It appears that on the 10th of December, at about three o'clock in
the afternoon, Karl Müller, the German, called on his friend, William
Kershaw, for the purpose of collecting a small debt—some ten pounds or
so—which the latter owed him. On arriving at the squalid lodging in
Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, he found William Kershaw in a wild
state of excitement, and his wife in tears. Müller attempted to state
the object of his visit, but Kershaw, with wild gestures, waved him
aside, and—in his own words—flabbergasted him by asking him
point-blank for another loan of two pounds, which sum, he declared,
would be the means of a speedy fortune for himself and the friend who
would help him in his need.
"After a quarter of an hour spent in obscure hints, Kershaw,
finding the cautious German obdurate, decided to let him into the
secret plan, which, he averred, would place thousands into their
Instinctively Polly had put down her paper; the mild stranger, with
his nervous air and timid, watery eyes, had a peculiar way of telling
his tale, which somehow fascinated her.
"I don't know," he resumed, "if you remember the story which the
German told to the police, and which was corroborated in every detail
by the wife or widow. Briefly it was this: Some thirty years
previously, Kershaw, then twenty years of age, and a medical student at
one of the London hospitals, had a chum named Barker, with whom he
roomed, together with another.
"The latter, so it appears, brought home one evening a very
considerable sum of money, which he had won on the turf, and the
following morning he was found murdered in his bed. Kershaw,
fortunately for himself, was able to prove a conclusive alibi; he had
spent the night on duty at the hospital; as for Barker, he had
disappeared, that is to say, as far as the police were concerned, but
not as far as the watchful eyes of his friend Kershaw were able to
spy—at least, so the latter said. Barker very cleverly contrived to
get away out of the country, and, after sundry vicissitudes, finally
settled down at Vladivostok, in Eastern Siberia, where, under the
assumed name of Smethurst, he built up an enormous fortune by trading
"Now, mind you, every one knows Smethurst, the Siberian
millionaire. Kershaw's story that he had once been called Barker, and
had committed a murder thirty years ago, was never proved, was it? I am
merely telling you what Kershaw said to his friend the German and to
his wife on that memorable afternoon of December the 10th.
"According to him Smethurst had made one gigantic mistake in his
clever career—he had on four occasions written to his late friend,
William Kershaw. Two of these letters had no bearing on the case, since
they were written more than twenty-five years ago, and Kershaw,
moreover, had lost them—so he said—long ago. According to him,
however, the first of these letters was written when Smethurst, alias
Barker, had spent all the money he had obtained from the crime, and
found himself destitute in New York.
"Kershaw, then in fairly prosperous circumstances, sent him a £10
note for the sake of old times. The second, when the tables had turned,
and Kershaw had begun to go downhill, Smethurst, as he then already
called himself, sent his whilom friend £50. After that, as Müller
gathered, Kershaw had made sundry demands on Smethurst's
ever-increasing purse, and had accompanied these demands by various
threats, which, considering the distant country in which the
millionaire lived, were worse than futile.
"But now the climax had come, and Kershaw, after a final moment of
hesitation, handed over to his German friend the two last letters
purporting to have been written by Smethurst, and which, if you
remember, played such an important part in the mysterious story of this
extraordinary crime. I have a copy of both these letters here," added
the man in the corner, as he took out a piece of paper from a very
worn-out pocket-book, and, unfolding it very deliberately, he began to
"'SIR,—Your preposterous demands for money are wholly
unwarrantable. I have already helped you quite as much as you deserve.
However, for the sake of old times, and because you once helped me when
I was in a terrible difficulty, I am willing to once more let you
impose upon my good nature. A friend of mine here, a Russian merchant,
to whom I have sold my business, starts in a few days for an extended
tour to many European and Asiatic ports in his yacht, and has invited
me to accompany him as far as England. Being tired of foreign parts,
and desirous of seeing the old country once again after thirty years
absence, I have decided to accept his invitation I don t know when we
may actually be in Europe, but I promise you that as soon as we touch a
suitable port I will write to you again, making an appointment for you
to see me in London. But remember that if your demands are too
preposterous I will not for a moment listen to them, and that I am the
last man in the world to submit to persistent and unwarrantable
"'I am, sir,
"The second letter was dated from Southampton," continued the old
man in the corner calmly, "and, curiously enough, was the only letter
which Kershaw professed to have received from Smethurst of which he had
kept the envelope, and which was dated. It was quite brief," he added,
referring once more to his piece of paper.
"'DEAR SIR,—Referring to my letter of a few weeks ago, I wish to
inform you that the Tsarskoe Selo will touch at Tilbury on Tuesday
next, the 10th. I shall land there, and immediately go up to London by
the first train I can get. If you like, you may meet me at Fenchurch
Street Station, in the first-class waiting-room in the late afternoon.
Since I surmise that after thirty years' absence my face may not be
familiar to you, I may as well tell you that you will recognize me by a
heavy Astrakhan fur coat, which I shall wear, together with a cap of
the same. You may then introduce yourself to me and I will personally
listen to what you may have to say.
" FRANCIS SMETHURST.
"It was this last letter which had caused William Kershaw's
excitement and his wife's tears In the German's own words, he was
walking up and down the room like a wild beast, gesticulating wildly,
and muttering sundry exclamations. Mrs. Kershaw, however, was full of
apprehension. She mistrusted the man from foreign parts—who, according
to her husband's story, had already one crime upon his conscience—who
might, she feared, risk another, in order to be rid of a dangerous
enemy. Woman-like, she thought the scheme a dishonourable one, for the
law, she knew, is severe on the blackmailer.
"The assignation might be a cunning trap, in any case it wag a
curious one; why, she argued, did not Smethurst elect to see Kershaw at
his hotel the following day? A thousand whys and wherefores made her
anxious, but the fat German had been won over by Kershaw's visions of
untold gold, held tantalizingly before his eyes. He had lent the
necessary £2, with which his friend intended to tidy himself up a bit
before he went to meet his friend the millionaire. Half an hour
afterwards Kershaw had left his lodgings, and that was the last the
unfortunate woman saw of her husband, or Müller, the German, of his
"Anxiously his wife waited that night, but he did not return; the
next day she seems to have spent in making purposeless and futile
inquiries about the neighbourhood of Fenchurch Street; and on the 12th
she went to Scotland Yard, gave what particulars she knew, and placed
in the hands of the police the two letters written by Smethurst."
THE man in the corner had finished his glass of milk. His watery blue
eyes looked across at Miss Polly Burton's eager little face, from which
all traces of severity had now been chased away by an obvious and
"It was only on the 31st," he resumed after a while, "that a body,
decomposed past all recognition, was found by two lightermen in the
bottom of a disused barge. She had been moored at one time at the foot
of one of those dark flights of steps which lead down between tall
warehouses to the river in the East End of London. I have a photograph
of the place here," he added, selecting one out of his pocket, and
placing it before Polly.
"The actual barge, you see, had already been removed when I took
this snapshot, but you will realize what a perfect place this alley is
for the purpose of one man cutting another's throat in comfort, and
without fear of detection. The body, as I said, was decomposed beyond
all recognition; it had probably been there eleven days, but sundry
articles, such as a silver ring and a tie pin, were recognizable, and
were identified by Mrs. Kershaw as belonging to her husband.
"She, of course, was loud in denouncing Smethurst, and the police
had no doubt a very strong case against him, for two days after the
discovery of the body in the barge, the Siberian millionaire, as he was
already popularly called by enterprising interviewers, was arrested in
his luxurious suite of rooms at the Hotel Cecil.
"To confess the truth, at this point I was not a little puzzled.
Mrs. Kershaw's story and Smethurst's letters had both found their way
into the papers, and following my usual method—mind you, I am only an
amateur, I try to reason out a case for the love of the thing—I sought
about for a motive for the crime, which the police declared Smethurst
had committed. To effectually get rid of a dangerous blackmailer was
the generally accepted theory. Well! did it ever strike you how paltry
that motive really was?"
Miss Polly had to confess, however, that it had never struck her in
"Surely a man who had succeeded in building up an immense fortune
by his own individual efforts, was not the sort of fool to believe that
he had anything to fear from a man like Kershaw. He must have known
that Kershaw held no damning proof~ against him—not enough to hang
him, anyway. Have you ever s~en Smethurst?" he added, as he once more
fumbled in his pocket-book.
Polly replied that she had seen Smethurst's picture in the
illustrated papers at the time. Then he added, placing a small
photograph before her:
"What strikes you most about the face?"
"Well, I think its strange, astonished expression, due to the total
absence of eyebrows, and the funny foreign cut of the hair."
"So close that it almost looks as if it had been shaved. Exactly.
That is what struck me most when I elbowed my way into the court that
morning and first caught sight of the millionaire in the dock. He was a
tall, soldierly-looking man, upright in stature, his face very bronzed
and tanned. He wore neither moustache nor beard, his hair was cropped
quite close to his head, like a Frenchman's; but, of course, what was
so very remarkable about him was that total absence of eyebrows and
even eyelashes, which gave the face such a peculiar appearance—as you
say, a perpetually astonished look.
"He seemed, however, wonderfully calm; he had been accommodated
with a chair in the dock—being a millionaire—and chatted pleasantly
with his lawyer, Sir Arthur Inglewood, in the intervals between the
calling of the several witnesses for the prosecution; whilst during the
examination of these witnesses he sat quite placidly, with his head
shaded by his hand.
"Müller and Mrs. Kershaw repeated the story which they had already
told to the police. I think you said that you were not able, owing to
pressure of work, to go to the court that day, and hear the case, so
perhaps you have no recollection of Mrs. Kershaw. No? Ah, well! Here is
a snapshot I managed to get of her once. That is her. Exactly as she
stood in the box—over-dressed—in elaborate crape, with a bonnet which
once had contained pink roses, and to which a remnant of pink petals
still clung obtrusively amidst the deep black.
"She would not look at the prisoner, and turned her head resolutely
towards the magistrate. I fancy she had been fond of that vagabond
husband of hers: an enormous wedding-ring encircled her finger, and
that, too, was swathed in black. She firmly believed that Kershaw's
murderer sat there in the dock, and she literally flaunted her grief
"I was indescribably sorry for her. As for Müller, he was just fat,
oily, pompous, conscious of his own importance as a witness; big fat
fingers, covered with brass rings, gripped the two incriminating
letters, which he had identified. They were his passports, as it were,
to a delightful land of importance and notoriety. Sir Arthur Inglewood,
I think, disappointed him by stating that he had no questions to ask of
him. Müller had been brimful of answers, ready with the most perfect
indictment, the most elaborate accusations against the bloated
millionaire who had decoyed his dear friend Kershaw, and murdered him
in Heaven knows what an out-of-the-way corner of the East End.
"After this, however, the excitement grew apace. Müller had been
dismissed, and had retired from the court altogether, leading away Mrs.
Kershaw, who had completely broken down.
"Constable D 21 was giving evidence as to the arrest in the
meanwhile. The prisoner, he said, had seemed completely taken by
surprise, not understanding the cause or history of the accusation
against him; however, when put in full possession of the facts, and
realizing, no doubt, the absolute futility of any resistance, he had
quietly enough followed the constable into the cab. No one at the
fashionable and crowded Hotel Cecil had even suspected that anything
unusual had occurred.
"Then a gigantic sigh of expectancy came from every one of the
spectators. The ' fun ' was about to begin. James Buckland, a porter at
Fenchurch Street railway station, had just sworn to tell all the truth,
etc. After all, it did not amount to much. He said that at six o'clock
in the afternoon of December the 10th, in the midst of one of the
densest fogs he ever remembers, the 6.5 from Tilbury steamed into the
station, being just about an hour late. He was on the arrival platform,
and was hailed by a passenger in a first-class carriage. He could see
very little of him beyond an enormous black fur coat and a travelling
cap of fur also.
"The passenger had a quantity of luggage, all marked F. S., and he
directed James Buckland to place it all upon a four-wheel cab, with the
exception of a small hand-bag, which he carried himself. Having seen
that all his luggage was safely bestowed, the stranger in the fur coat
paid the porter, and, telling the cabman to wait until he returned, he
walked away in the direction of the waiting-rooms, still carrying his
"'I stayed for a bit,' added James Buckland, ' talking to the
driver about the fog and that; then I went about my business, seein'
that the local from Southend 'ad been signalled.'
"The prosecution insisted most strongly upon the hour when the
stranger in the fur coat, having seen to his luggage, walked away
towards the waiting-rooms. The porter was emphatic. 'It was not a
minute later than 6.15,' he averred.
"Sir Arthur Inglewood still had no questions to ask, and the driver
of the cab was called.
"He corroborated the evidence of James Buckland as to the hour when
the gentleman in the fur coat had engaged him, and having filled his
cab in and out with luggage, had told him to wait. And cabby did wait.
He waited in the dense fog—until he was tired, until he seriously
thought of depositing all the luggage in the lost property office, and
of looking out for another fare—waited until at last, at a quarter
before nine, whom should he see walking hurriedly towards his cab but
the gentleman in the fur coat and cap, who got in quickly and told the
driver to take him at once to the Hotel Cecil. This, cabby declared,
had occurred at a quarter before nine. Still Sir Arthur Inglewood made
no comment, and Mr. Francis Smethurst, in the crowded, stuffy court,
had calmly dropped to sleep.
"The next witness, Constable Thomas Taylor, had noticed a shabbily
dressed individual, with shaggy hair and beard, loafing about the
station and waiting-rooms in the afternoon of December the 10th. He
seemed to be watching the arrival platform of the Tilbury and Southend
"Two separate and independent witnesses, cleverly unearthed by the
police, had seen this same shabbily dressed individual stroll into the
first-class waiting-room at about 6.15 on Wednesday, December the 10th,
and go straight up to a gentleman in a heavy fur coat and cap, who had
also just come into the room. The two talked together for a while; no
one heard what they said, but presently they walked off together. No
one seemed to know in which direction.
"Francis Smethurst was rousing himself from his apathy; he
whispered to his lawyer, who nodded with a bland smile of
encouragement. The employés the Hotel Cecil gave evidence as to the
arrival of Mr. Smethurst at about 9.30 p.m. on Wednesday, December the
10th, in a cab, with a quantity of luggage; and this closed the case
for the prosecution.
"Everybody in that court already saw Smethurst mounting the
gallows. It was uninterested curiosity which caused the elegant
audience to wait and hear what Sir Arthur Inglewood had to say. He, of
course, is the most fashionable man in the law at the present moment.
His lolling attitudes, his drawling speech, are quite the rage, and
imitated by the gilded youth of society.
" Even at this moment, when the Siberian millionaire s neck
literally and metaphorically hung in the balance, an expectant titter
went round the fair spectators as Sir Arthur stretched out his long
loose limbs and lounged across the table. He waited to make his
effect—Sir Arthur is a born actor—and there is no doubt that he made
it, when in his slowest, most drawly tones he said quietly
"'With regard to this alleged murder of one William Kershaw, on
Wednesday, December the 10th, between 6.15 and 8.45 p.m., your Honour,
I now propose to call two witnesses, who saw this same William Kershaw
alive on Tuesday afternoon, December the 16th, that is to say, six days
after the supposed murder.'
"It was as if a bombshell had exploded in the court. Even his
Honour was aghast, and I am sure the lady next to me only recovered
from the shock of the surprise in order to wonder whether she need put
off her dinner party after all.
"As for me," added the man in the corner, with that strange mixture
of nervousness and self-complacency which had set Miss Polly Burton
wondering, "well, you see, I had made up my mind long ago where the
hitch lay in this particular case, and I was not so surprised as some
of the others.
"Perhaps you remember the wonderful development of the case, which
so completely mystified the police—and in fact everybody except
myself. Torriani and a waiter at his hotel in the Commercial Road both
deposed that at about 3.30 p.m. on December the 10th a shabbily dressed
individual lolled into the coffee-room and ordered some tea. He was
pleasant enough and talkative, told the waiter that his name was
William Kershaw, that very soon all London would be talking about him,
as he was about, through an unexpected stroke of good fortune, to
become a very rich man, and so on, and so on, nonsense without end.
"When he had finished his tea he lolled out again, but no sooner
had he disappeared down a turning of the road than the waiter
discovered an old umbrella, left behind accidentally by the shabby,
talkative individual. As is the custom in his highly respectable
restaurant, Signor Torriani put the umbrella carefully away in his
office, on the chance of his customer calling to claim it when he had
discovered his loss. And sure enough nearly a week later, on Tuesday,
the 16th, at about 1 p.m., the same shabbily dressed individual called
and asked for his umbrella. He had some lunch, and chatted once again
to the waiter. Signor Torriani and the waiter gave a description of
William Kershaw, which coincided exactly with that given by Mrs.
Kershaw of her husband.
"Oddly enough he seemed to be a very absent-minded sort of person,
for on this second occasion, no sooner had he left than the waiter
found a pocket-book in the coffee-room, underneath the table. It
contained sundry letters and bills, all addressed to William Kershaw.
This pocket-book was produced, and Karl Müller, who had returned to the
court, easily identified it as having belonged to his dear and lamented
"This was the first blow to the case against the accused. It was a
pretty stiff one, you will admit. Already it had begun to collapse like
a house of cards. Still, there was the assignation, and the undisputed
meeting between Smethurst and Kershaw, and those two and a half hours
of a foggy evening to satisfactorily account for." The man in the
corner made a long pause, keeping the girl on tenterhooks. He had
fidgeted with his bit of string till there WSnot an inch of it free
from the most complicated and elaborate knots.
"I assure you," he resumed at last, "that at that very moment the
whole mystery was, to me, as clear as daylight. I only marvelled how
his Honour could waste his time and mine by putting what he thought
were searching questions to the accused relating to his past. Francis
Smethurst, who had quite shaken off his somnolence, spoke with a
curious nasal twang, and with an almost imperceptible soupçn of foreign
accent. He calmly denied Kershaw s version of his past; declared that
he had never been called Barker, and had certainly never been mixed up
in any murder case thirty years ago.
"'But you knew this man Kershaw,' persisted his Honour, 'since you
wrote to him? '
"'Pardon me, your Honour,' said the accused quietly, 'I have never,
to my knowledge, seen this man Kershaw, and I can swear that I never
wrote to him.'
"'Never wrote to him?' retorted his Honour warningly. 'That is a
strange assertion to make when I have two of your letters to him in my
hands at the present moment.
"'I never wrote those letters, your Honour,' persisted the accused
quietly, 'they are not in my handwriting.'
"'Which we can easily prove,' came in Sir Arthur Inglewood's drawly
tones, as he handed up a packet to his Honour; 'here are a number of
letters written by my client since he has landed in this country, and
some of which were written under my very eyes.'
"As Sir Arthur Inglewood had said, this could be easily proved, and
the prisoner, at his Honour's request, scribbled a few lines, together
with his signature, several times upon a sheet of note-paper. It was
easy to read upon the magistrate's astounded countenance, that there
was not the slightest similarity in the two handwritings.
"A fresh mystery had cropped up. Who, then, had made the
assignation with William Kershaw at Fenchurch Street railway station?
The prisoner gave a fairly satisfactory account of the employment of
his time since his landing in England.
"'I came over on the Tsarskoe Selo,' he said, 'a yacht belonging to
a friend of mine. When we arrived at the mouth of the Thames there was
such a dense fog that it was twenty-four hours before it was thought
safe for me to land. My friend, who is a Russian, would not land at
all; he was regularly frightened at this land of fogs. He was going on
to Madeira immediately.
"'I actually landed on Tuesday, the 10th, and took a train at once
for town. I did see to my luggage and a cab, as the porter and driver
told your Honour; then I tried to find my way to a refreshment-room,
where I could get a glass of wine. I drifted into the waiting-room, and
there I was accosted by a shabbily dressed individual, who began
telling me a piteous tale. Who he was I do not know. He said he was an
old soldier who had served his country faithfully, and then been left
to starve. He, begged of me to accompany him to his lodgings, where I
could see his wife and starving children, and verify the truth and
piteousness of his tale.
"'Well, your Honour,' added the prisoner with noble frankness, 'it
was my first day in the old country. I had come back after thirty years
with my pockets full of gold, and this was the first sad tale I had
heard; but I am a business man, and did not want to be exactly "done"
in the eye. I followed my man through the fog, out into the streets. He
walked silently by my side for a time. I had not a notion where I was.
"'Suddenly I turned to him with some question, and realized in a
moment that my gentleman had given me the slip. Finding, probably, that
I would not part with my money till I had seen the starving wife and
children, he left me to my fate, and went in search of more willing
"'The place where I found myself was dismal and deserted. I could
see no trace of cab or omnibus. I retraced my steps and tried to find
my way back to the station, only to find myself in worse and more
deserted neighbourhoods. I became hopelessly lost and fogged. I don't
wonder that two and a half hours elapsed while I thus wandered on in
the dark and deserted streets; my sole astonishment is that I ever
found the station at all that night, or rather close to it a policeman,
who showed me the way.'
"'But how do you account for Kershaw knowing all your movements?'
still persisted his Honour, 'and his knowing the exact date of your
arrival in England? How do you account for these two letters, in fact?
"'I cannot account for it or them, your Honour,' replied the
prisoner quietly. 'I have proved to you, have I not, that I never wrote
those letters, and that the man—er—Karshaw is his name?—was not
murdered by me?'
"'Can you tell me of anyone here or abroad who might have heard of
your movements, and of the date of your arrival?'
"'My late employés at Vladivostok, of course, knew of my departure,
but none of them could have written these letters, since none of them
know a word of English.'
"'Then you can throw no light upon these mysterious letters? You
cannot help the police in any way towards the clearing up of this
"'The affair is as mysterious to me as to your Honour, and to the
police of this country.'
"Francis Smethurst was discharged, of course; there was no
semblance of evidence against him sufficient to commit him for trial.
The two overwhelming points of his defence which had completely routed
the prosecution were, firstly, the proof that he had never written the
letters making the assignation, and secondly, the fact that the man
supposed to have been murdered on the 10th was seen to be alive and
well on the 16th. But then, who in the world was the mysterious
individual who had apprised Kershaw of the movements of Smethurst, the
THE man in the corner cocked his funny thin head on one side and
looked at Polly; then he took up his beloved bit of string and
deliberately untied every knot he had made in it. When it was quite
smooth he laid it out upon the table.
"I will take you, if you like, point by point along the line of
reasoning which I followed myself, and which will inevitably lead you,
as it led me, to the only possible solution of the mystery.
"First take this point," he said with nervous restlessness, once
more taking up his bit of string, and forming with each point raised a
series of knots which would have shamed a navigating instructor,
"obviously it was impossible for Kershaw not to have been acquainted
with Smethurst, since he was fully apprised of the latter's arrival in
England by two letters. Now it was clear to me from the first that no
one could have written those two letters except Smethurst. You will
argue that those letters were proved not to have been written by the
man in the dock. Exactly. Remember, Kershaw was a careless man—he had
lost both envelopes. To him they were insignificant. Now it was never
disproved that those letters were written by Smethurst."
"But—" suggested Polly.
"Wait a minute," he interrupted, while knot number two appeared
upon the scene, "it was proved that six days after the murder, William
Kershaw was alive, and visited the Torriani Hotel, where already he was
known, and where he conveniently left a pocket-book behind, so that
there should be no mistake as to his identity; but it was never
questioned where Mr. Francis Smethurst, the millionaire, happened to
spend that very same afternoon."
"Surely, you don't mean——?" gasped the girl.
"One moment, please," he added triumphantly. "How did it come about
that the landlord of the Torriani Hotel was brought into court at all?
How did Sir Arthur Inglewood, or rather his client, know that William
Kershaw had on those two memorable occasions visited the hotel, and
that its landlord could bring such convincing evidence forward that
would for ever exonerate the millionaire from the imputation of
"Surely," I argued, "the usual means, the police——" "The police
had kept the whole affair very dark until the arrest at the Hotel
Cecil. They did not put into the papers the usual: ' If anyone happens
to know of the whereabouts, etc. etc.' Had the landlord of that hotel
heard of the disappearance of Kershaw through the usual channels, he
would have put himself in communication with the police. Sir Arthur
Inglewood produced him. How did Sir Arthur Inglewood come on his
"Surely, you don't mean——?"
"Point number four," he resumed imperturbably, "Mrs. Kershaw was
never requested to produce a specimen of her husband's handwriting.
Why? Because the police, clever as you say they are, never started on
the right tack. They believed William Kershaw to have been murdered;
they looked for William Kershaw.
"On December the 31st, what was presumed to be the body of William
Kershaw was found by two lightermen: I have shown you a photograph of
the place where it was found. Dark and deserted it is in all
conscience, is it not? Just the place where a bully and a coward would
decoy an unsuspecting stranger, murder him first, then rob him of his
valuables, his papers, his very identity, and leave him there to rot.
The body was found in a disused barge which had been moored some time
against the wall, at the foot of these steps. It was in the last stages
of decomposition, and, of course, could not be identified; but the
police would have it that it was the body of William Kershaw.
"It never entered their heads that it was the body of Francis
Smethurst, and that William Kershaw was his murderer.
"Ah ! it was cleverly, artistically conceived! Kershaw is a genius.
Think of it all! His disguise! Kershaw had a shaggy beard, hair, and
moustache. He shaved up to his very eyebrows ! No wonder that even his
wife did not recognize him across the court; and remember she never saw
much of his face while he stood in the dock. Kershaw was shabby,
slouchy, he stooped. Smethurst, the millionaire, might have served in
the Prussian army.
"Then that lovely trait about going to revisit the Torriani Hotel.
Just a few days' grace, in order to purchase moustache and beard and
wig, exactly similar to what he had himself shaved off. Making up to
look like himself! Splendid! Then leaving the pocket-book behind! He!
he! he! Kershaw was not murdered! Of course not. He called at the
Torriani Hotel six days after the murder, whilst Mr. Smethurst, the
millionaire, hobnobbed in the park with duchesses! Hang such a man!
He fumbled for his hat. With nervous, trembling fingers he held it
deferentially in his hand whilst he rose from the table. Polly watched
him as he strode up to the desk, and paid twopence for his glass of
milk and his bun. Soon he disappeared through the shop, whilst she
still found herself hopelessly bewildered, with a number of snap-shot
photographs before her, still staring at a long piece of string,
smothered from end to end in a series of knots, as bewildering, as
irritating, as puzzling as the man who had lately sat in the corner.