Chapter X.

Mr. Forrest Gains Some Information

Eleven o’clock struck as Matthew Kraker left the house of the Delannes. Compelled as he had been to restrain himself, he inhaled with great vigour the fresh air, and enjoyed the sensation of being alone with exquisite pleasure. His first thought was to at once go to Scotland Yard, but on reflection he remembered the superintendent would more likely be found at his private house in Camden Town, and thither he bent his steps. In spite of the lateness of the hour he would not ride, and determined to take his chance of finding the official in bed. He was one of those to whom exercise gave lucidity of idea, and as he walked along, finding his way more by instinct than by taking heed of the streets, the elucidation of the mysterious crime gradually began to shape itself in his brain.

“Who the deuce could have foretold such an extraordinary slice of luck?” he soliloquised. “I was not so far from the truth after all, although I did not dream of the substitution of one child for another. This kind of thing is so old that it was not surprising I should have missed it; but that’s always the way. When an object’s too near to the eyes it’s more invisible than afar off. I wouldn’t have lost this evening for £100. I’ve scored two points, spotted the guilty man, and helped Gerald out of his difficulty. I wonder how, shrewd fellow as he is, he got himself into such a scrape? Well, well, he’ll get out of it. But his mother​—​that beats everything I’ve heard for some time. Truth, indeed, is stranger than fiction.”

Thus musing, he arrived at last at the house of Superintendent Parkinson, which was in Pratt Street, Camden Town, and rang the bell. After some little delay a footstep was heard in the passage, and Mr. Parkinson, in shirt and trousers only, opened the door.

“I had only just got into bed, but I suspected it was you, Kraker. Come in here will you?”

He showed the way into a little parlour, and lit the gas.

“Well,” said he, “you’ve something to tell me, I suppose? Have you found a clue?”

“Better than that,” replied Mr. Kraker, with a quiet smile.

“The deuce you have! What?”

“Simply that I’ve tracked the murderer!”

The superintendent started.

“Already!” he exclaimed. “Impossible!”

“But quite true.”

“Then all I have to say, Mr. Kraker, is, that you are one of the best detectives that ever was or is likely to be.”

Mr. Kraker smiled again.

“Well,” said he, with a kind of modest triumph, “there was a good deal of chance about it. There always is, you know, in these things.”

“Exactly; but it is the keen man who knows how to turn a chance to his advantage. But just tell me all you’ve found out.”

Clearly and without hesitation, Mr. Kraker went over the scene with Gerald; and so well had he charged his memory will all the important facts, that he even repeated word for word certain portions of the letters, and as an additional proof produced the letter he had appropriated.

“By Jove, Kraker, you have certainly hit upon the right man!” said Mr. Parkinson, who had eagerly drank in every word. “There is only one thing you have omitted. You have not told me the name either of the father or the son.”

“I have them,” replied the amateur detective calmly. “Probably it will surprise you to hear that the father who has sacrificed his legitimate to his illegitimate son is the Earl of Annesley, and the murderer of Matilda Rennett is no other than Viscount Morleigh!”

“Phew!” said the superintendent, giving a long whistle, “this is no end of a big case. For heaven’s sake, Kraker, be careful over this matter. A little slip when nobody’s concerned does not matter, but a swell is a different affair altogether. Why, all England will ring with it.”

“Precisely, and so more credit will redound to Scotland Yard.”

“And to Matthew Kraker, eh?”

The little man coughed. He was too modest to acquiesce in words.

“Well, and now, having gone so far, what do you propose to do?” asked the superintendent.

“Arrest the Viscount at once,” replied Mr. Kraker promptly.

“No, no, that will never do. I don’t doubt that what you say is perfectly right, but I think we ought to have just a little more evidence.”

“What more evidence do you require?” returned Kraker with warmth. “Who has committed this murder if he has not? Who had an interest in keeping the mouth of Mrs. Rennett closed, in destroying her papers, her letters? No one else. My friend Gerald, like a fool, went and warned him unconsciously, and he acted immediately upon the warning. By Jove! it was a bold stroke, and only one which a thoroughly determined and unscrupulous man would have taken. We haven’t got a child to deal with, Mr. Parkinson, take my word for it.”

“That’s all very well, but I think we ought to proceed with safe caution. I’ve seen cases before now when presumptive evidence such as this is has totally failed in fixing the guilt on the right person. Now, suppose we make a mistake​—​why, bless my soul, I should never get over it. I should have almost to send in my resignation.”

Mr. Parkinson, I declare to you solemnly that if we delay, the chance we have will be gone. Depend upon it that if the Viscount once has the least suspicion we are upon his heels, he will take such precaution as will baffle us entirely. I suppose you know what money can do? What is to prevent him from an alibi? On the very night and at the very hour he will have gone to theatre with this person, had a game of billiards with this one, dined with someone else, will he not? You must know this better than I. No, our only chance is to anticipate him before he has any time to put himself on his guard.”

The superintendent was half convinced, but he was afraid to give his consent. He rubbed his chin, looked puzzled, but held his tongue.

“Do you know what I should do if I had my will?” continued Kraker. “I should arrest him to-night, aye, even though he might be in bed, and should say to him, ‘My Lord, about half-past eight on the 29th May, you took a hansom to Hammersmith. At a few minutes before nine you were knocking at the shutter of a house in Water Lane. You were admitted by a woman, of whom you asked something to eat and drink. At twenty-five minutes past you stabbed her between the shoulders with a broken foil, you rummaged the house from top to bottom, and burnt certain papers​—​you know how. Then you tied up in a sheet all the things you saw worth taking, so as to make the affair look like a robbery, and went out, double-locking the door behind you. When you came to Hammersmith Bridge you threw your bundle into the water. You took another hansom, and at eleven you were back in town. So far you have been clever, but you did not reckon all the possibilities. For instance, you were wrong to wear such fashionably-shaped boots, you should not have wore grey kid gloves, and it was a mistake to burden yourself with a silk hat and an umbrella. Now, confess everything, and you shall smoke in prison some of those excellent cigars you always smoke in a holder.’”

The superintendent was almost lost at the little man’s enthusiasm.

“Yes,” said he, “that is all very fine, but you know that we can do nothing of the kind. It isn’t the law.”

“No, and more’s the pity,” rejoined Mr. Kraker, drily.

“And, besides, supposing he should deny everything instead of confessing?”

This view of the matter had not occurred to the amateur detective.

“Oh,” he replied, in something like confusion, “he would be bound to confess; he couldn’t help it.”

“I’m not so sure. However——”

But at that moment the sound of a horse’s feet at full gallop was heard in the street, and a few seconds afterwards stopped outside the house.

“A messenger from Scotland Yard,” exclaimed Mr. Parkinson. “Excuse me, Mr. Kraker.”

He went to the street door and found, as he expected, a mounted constable. The latter handed him a letter marked outside “Special and private. To be forwarded at once.”

“Hallo!” thought the superintendent, “Forrest’s writing. What has he found?”

He returned with the letter to Kraker, and telling him who the missive was from, opened it, and read the following:​—​

“Sir,​—​I have to inform you that I am upon the track of the man with the earrings. I find that he went into a beershop near the river side on Sunday morning previous to the Thursday, the day the murder was discovered, half tipsy. He muttered a good deal about being disappointed of some money he expected, and afterwards went down to the river back and got into a boat, where a companion was waiting for him. The boat was hired from a boat builder near Westminster Bridge, on the Surrey side. I expect to send you more intelligence soon.​—​I am, yours truly, John Forrest.”

Mr. Kraker heard the recital of this letter with a quiet smile, and without saying a word.

“Until Forrest’s scent turns out unmistakeably a false scent, I shall certainly hold my hand as to the arrest of the Viscount,” said Superintendent Parkinson, “but you will probably hear from me to-morrow.”

“Very good,” replied Kraker. “We shall see who is right, you or I.” And somewhat disappointedly he bade Mr. Parkinson good-night, and make his way home.