Chapter III

A Gleam of Light

In the meantime, the greatest excitement had been created, not only in Kensington, but throughout the metropolis. The most absurd rumours were afloat, and the ingenuity of the penny-a-liners had already created the most astounding theories. Some of the stories put the affair down as a mystery, certainly, but still only as an ordinary crime committed for the sake of robbery; and the assertion that a rough-looking man in workman’s dress had been seen two or three days previous to the murder hanging about the road lent weight to the supposition. Others, on the contrary, hinted at a much deeper motive than that of gain, but nothing more tangible than vaguely-worded paragraphs had yet appeared, and for a good reason​—​not a soul knew a particle more than Detective Forrest had yet discovered, and this, as we are aware, did not amount to much. However, on the afternoon of the day when Forrest made his report to the superintendent, some evidence unexpectedly turned up which seemed to promise a clue; and, indeed, if it were reliable, it almost appeared at first sight as if the services of Kraker would not be necessary.

When Forrest returned to the scene of the tragedy on the afternoon in question, he called at the station and found there awaiting him two persons who said they had something to tell concerning the murder. One of these persons was the wife of a cheesemonger, who supplied the deceased with goods, and the other a lad about nine years. The woman was first examined, but her evidence did not add a great deal to what was already known. The only item of absolutely fresh intelligence was that she had heard Mrs. Rennett speak two or three times of a son yet living.

“You’re sure of that, are you?” asked Forrest.

“I’m positive of it. I remember once particularly, because she’d had just a little too much, and stood talking in our shop more than half-an-hour. She used to come in frequently to gossip, especially when she had a glass.”

“Do you know whether she used to drink?”

“She never, so to speak, got drunk; but I know she was fond of a glass.”

“Can you remember exactly what took place on the occasion you mention?”

“As near as I can recollect,” said the woman, “she was leaning against the counter, near the scales, talking to a neighbour of mine who’d been fishing up the river. I remember it very well, because she called him a fresh water sailor. ‘My husband,’ says she, ‘was a real Jack-tar, and so was my son like him. If he hadn’t died with his father in China sea he’d have been five-and-twenty this very day.’”

“Did she ever tell you the name of this son?”

“Not on this occasion, but on another. She said his name was James, and that she had not seen him for many years.”

“Did she ever talk about her husband?”

“Very rarely. She once said he was very jealous and unkind to her, and had rather a soft brain, which made him have all kinds of strange notions.”

“Do you mean that he was mad?”

“No, I don’t think she meant that. He was a little bit touched, you know, jealous and fault-finding without a cause, and all that.”

“I suppose she never told you how long her husband and son had been dead.”


“Do you know if her son had ever visited her at Kensington?”

“I don’t. She never told me at all events.”

“She was a pretty good customer?”

“About six shillings a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. She always paid ready money.”

This was all the woman had to tell. The boy who followed her was a very intelligent-looking little fellow, bright eyed, bold looking, and tall for his age. He was, like most London street boys, cool and self-possessed, and did not seem much dismayed at the presence of the detective. He was very poorly dressed, and was without shoes and stockings. As he subsequently explained, he was in no regular employment, but passed his time in lounging about the river side, near the mouths of the sewers, on the watch for any treasure which was left on the mud banks. In a word, he was a mudlark. The detective looked at him rather superciliously, for his appearance certainly did not hold out the hope that his information would be of much use.

“Well, sir, the other day,” the boy began.

“What day was it?” interrupted the detective.

“It was Sunday, I think, sir,” returned the mudlark.


“And I saw a cove near the door of Ivy Cottage.”

“At what time was this?”

“Early in the morning​—​’cos why? I was-a-goin’ down to the river at low water.”

“You’re sure of this, are you, my kiddy?”

“Sure as ——,” said the boy boldly. “I was agin’ the cottage when I sees him a-standin’ at the door​—​the garden door it was.”

“What sort of a man was he?”

“Short and fat, and rather old.”

“Did he speak to you?”

“Didn’t he just! He called out to me, and I goes up to him. He says​—​says he, ‘you’ve got a good pair of eyes,’ and I says ‘yes,’ says I. Then he collars hold of my ear, and says, ‘If you can go an errand for me quick I’ll give you sixpence.’”

“Yes, and what happened then​—​out with it.”

“Says I, ‘I’m your Moses,’ and says he, ‘I wants yer to run to Hammersmith Pier; when you gets there you’ll see a boat moored off the end near the bridge. All you’ve got to do is just to tell the man you’ll see inside as I’m ready.’ So with it he puts a tanner into my hand, and off I goes.”

“If every witness was as sharp as this boy,” muttered the detective, “we should be able to do some good;” and then he added aloud, “Did you do what you were told?”

“In course I did, your honour​—​found the boat, and told the man.”

“Very well,” replied Forrest. “Now, if you saw that man again, do you think you’d know him?”

“Shouldn’t I just?” replied the mudlark, winking desperately.

“Was there anything particular about him?”

“Well, he looked very much like a sailor.”

“Is that all? Don’t you know how he was dressed, my boy? Did he have a jacket on, for instance?”

“No, it wasn’t a jacket​—​it was one of them blue things.”

“Do you mean a guernsey?”

“Right you are, yer honour.”

“What were his trousers like?”

“I never took no notice of his trousers.”

“Had he a hat or a cap on?”

The boy thought for a moment, and then replied that the man was wearing a cap.

“Is there anything else you remember?” said the detective.

Again the mudlark appeared to reflect deeply.

“Yes,” he said at last, “there was summat else.”

“Well, what was it?”

“He’d got large earrings​—​just like a gal​—​blowed if he hadn’t,” and the boy laughed heartily, as if tickled by the reminiscence.

An expression of satisfaction passed over the features of the detective.

“That will do,” he muttered half audibly; “I shall find him.”

“Did you notice the way the boat’s head was turned?” he said, continuing his interrogation.

The boy did not seem to understand the drift of this question.

“It was tied to the pier​—​same as other boats,” he answered.

“Yes, yes,” exclaimed Forrest, impatiently; “but was the stern​—​you know what a stern of a boat is​—​towards Hammersmith Bridge or London Bridge?”

“Don’t know, s’elp me,” replied the mudlark; “both ends was jolly well alike.”

Forrest was evidently disappointed. “You know how to read?” he said.

“Not as I ever heard on, yer honour.”

“Ah! then we shan’t get at the name,” he soliloquized again.

This seemed to be about all the boy had to tell, and he turned to take his leave.

“Stop a moment, youngster,” said the detective, as the boy was moving off. “Have you said anything about this to anybody else?”

“Why, in course, I told my mother. ’Cos why? I give her threepence out of the tanner.”

“Have you told me everything you know? If you’ve kept anything back it’ll go hard with you. I suppose you’re aware of that?”

The sheepface of the young Arab of gutters flushed, and he cast down his eyes.

“You have kept back something,” said the detective, instantly.

“I didn’t go for to do it, yer honour,” whined the boy, and he brushed his sleeve over his dirty face.

“Very well, then, what more have you to say?”

“Well, sir, it wasn’t a tanner the cove gave me; it was a bob.”

“Ah! that will do,” replied Forrest; “you can go.” And the mudlark glad to be released took the hint, and instantly disappeared, vanishing with a brilliant display of evolutions known to the London boy as “Catherine wheels.”