Chapter II

At Scotland Yard

One of the most experienced and astute of the Scotland Yard detectives of that day was a man to whom, for the purposes of this story, we may give the name of Forrest. Undoubtedly an able man in his profession, but apt to be blinded by his obstinacy. If he came to a wrong conclusion, he could hardly bring himself to own it, still less could he retrace any false step. Full of audacity and coolness, it was scarcely possible to disconcert him, and, being possessed of herculean strength, he was never afraid to grapple with any prisoner, no matter how powerful in the way of thews and sinews; but his special gift, his glory, and his triumph, was his extraordinary memory of faces. Let him but see a person’s countenance for five minutes, and the features were burnt indelibly into his brain. No matter the surrounding, no matter the time and place, no matter the disguise, his hawk’s eye penetrated the veil of deceit, and triumphantly detected the reality beneath. To Forrest the care of the Hammersmith tragedy was committed, and he at once visited Ivy Cottage and diligently prosecuted his inquiries. Sergeant Scott had made a note of the evidence he had been able to collect, and this, of course, was handed to the detective. He read it carefully, and expressed his approval.

“There is one thing though, sergeant, which you seem to have omitted,” said he.

“What is that?”

“The day and hour when the woman was last seen alive.”

“Ah, I’ve not forgotten that. She was seen on the evening of the Tuesday previous to the discovery, at twenty minutes to five. She then returned from Chelsea, carrying a small basket.”

“You are quite sure about the hour?” asked Forrest.

“Quite. Two witnesses who rode with her in the same omnibus, and who got out at the same time, have fixed it beyond a doubt. Not only this, if I am not mistaken​—​ah, here is a memorandum to this effect​—​they had some conversation, and left her at her own door.”

“Do you know what the basket contained?”

“No, the woman could not tell me. All they knew was that she had a bottle of wine and another, apparently, of brandy. She complained of a headache, and said that directly she got in doors she should go to bed.”

Provided with this information, Forrest proceeded to Ivy Cottage, in company with Scott, and minutely inspected the first or larger room. After pursuing his work silently for some minutes, he said suddenly to the sergeant, “Did not the weather change on Tuesday? It was fine all day, and in the evening turned out wet. What time did the rain begin here?”

The sergeant thought for a moment. “Half-past nine,” he replied, at length. “I was going my rounds, and I noticed the clock chiming when I took out my cape and unrolled it. It came on to rain very suddenly, for in less then ten minutes puddles were in the road.”

“Good,” remarked Forrest; “then it is plain if the fellow came here after half-past nine, he must have had muddy boots. The ground, you see, is muddy, and there should be some foot-prints. Have you searched for any?”

The sergeant replied in the negative.

“Ah,” returned the detective, in a tone of vexation, “that is a pity.”

“Stop a moment,” suddenly exclaimed Scott, “there is yet time to see. Everything remains exactly as it was; we have touched nothing, and you will easily be able to tell my footsteps and those of my man​—​they are none of the smallest.”

They commenced with the bed-room. In the middle of the apartment was a dressing-table, covered with a toilet cloth white as snow; on the left hand side stood an old-fashioned four-post bedstead; the sheets and blankets were tumbled into a heap, and the pillows and bolsters were in an arm chair at the side; a feather bed, and even the mattress beneath, had been half removed and were hanging over the edge of the bedstead. Forrest anxiously searched the carpet and the clothes strewn about for the sign of a foot-print, but not one could he see.

“Ah,” he muttered to himself, “he must have come before half-past nine. Well, that is one point settled.” But, to make the matter more certain, he continued the search in an outer room. Here a table was spread as if for a meal. There was a glass tumbler standing by the side of a china plate and a knife and fork. Near the tumbler was a bottle of wine just opened, and a bottle of brandy, from which perhaps a couple of glasses had been taken. On one side of the fireplace was a cupboard, the door of which was wide open, containing glass and china, and on the other an old escritoire, which had been forced and doubtless ransacked in every cranny. The lid hung by a single hinge; the drawers had been pulled out and thrown on the ground. The detective walked across the room to the corpse of the murdered woman, and knelt beside it.

“One can’t say the job hasn’t been well done,” he muttered. “The fellow was no apprentice at his work.”

Then, looking right and left, continued, “Look here, the poor creature was cooking when she was struck down; here is the frying pan on the ground with some ham and eggs in it.”

“Ah,” returned the sergeant, “it didn’t take him long to make off with the swag. Halloa! what’s this? The beggar was either a bungler or else he did not come to steal. See here, Mr. Forrest,” and going up to the escritoire, the sergeant took from the top a leather purse, in which were eight sovereigns and some loose silver.

“Humph! that’s curious,” returned the detective, a little disconcerted, for he had made up his mind that robbery was the motive for the crime. “He must have forgotten the purse. Perhaps he lost his head. I remember where a burglar committed a murder and took to his heels without pocketing a single thing. Besides, he may have been disturbed. What makes me think so is that he had not left the candle burning, but had taken the trouble to blow it out.”

“I can’t see as that proves anything,” rejoined the sergeant in a slightly sarcastic tone, for he was somewhat jealous of the affected superiority of the Scotland Yard official; “he may perhaps be a careful man, one of those who didn’t like to waste anything.”

Forrest did not deign to reply, but continued his search. However, after going through the house from top to bottom, after ransacking every hole and corner, and scarcely leaving a square inch unturned, he failed to find the least trace of the murderer’s presence, or anything which would furnish a clue to his discovery. One fact was singular, not a single scrap of paper having writing on it was to be found anywhere. If the widow had possessed such papers they had certainly been destroyed or carried off; and with this scanty collection of fact the detective set off to Scotland Yard, there to make his report to his superior officer.

For three days he diligently pursued his inquiries, and left no stone unturned, or anything which his experience could suggest undone, to find a trace of the murderer; but he was baffled at every point. The entire absence of materials to work upon fairly paralysed him, and he owned to himself that he had very little hope of success.

On reporting this failure to the Scotland Yard superintendent, Mr. Parkinson, the latter thought for a moment.

“I almost think, Forrest,” he said, “that you had better have some help in the matter; it is no ordinary murder, as you yourself must own.”

“That’s true, sir; at the same time I don’t see what anyone can do more than I have done.”

Naturally, Mr. Forrest did not like being interfered with. Should anyone succeed where he had failed, it would be a reflection upon his reputation, and hence he did not receive the suggestion of the superintendent very favourably.

The superintendent read his thoughts and continued in a conciliatory tone, “You see the case is so exceptional; and without in any way trenching upon your ground, I should like to try what a new man, who has been strongly recommended to me, is made of.”

“One of those private inquiry fellows, I suppose, sir?” inquired Forrest, throwing himself back in his chair with an air of dissatisfaction; “it seems to me that they’re ruining the regular business.”

“Perhaps so, but we need not discuss that,” observed Superintendent Parkinson drily. “The question now is the discovery of this murder, and in the face of public opinion we are bound to make every effort.”

“Certainly, sir,” replied the detective, in a tone of ill-concealed vexation.

“Very well, then, I will send at once for this man, and you can confer together.”

As he spoke, he touched a brass knob in the wall by his side, and in a few seconds a constable appeared. Writing a few words on a piece of notepaper, he placed the letter in an envelope, and gave it to the policeman. The letter was addressed to Mr. Matthew Kraker, 102, Hunter Street, Bloomsbury.

“Take a cab, and if Mr. Kraker is at home bring him back with you,” said the superintendent.

The man saluted his superior, and went. In a little more than half-an-hour the constable returned, but without Matthew Kraker.

“He is in the country, sir, and will not be home till to-morrow morning at about ten.”

“That will do. He is certain to come here on his return,” said the superintendent to the detective, “so you be here at half-past ten.”

“Very good, sir.”