Chapter IV

Mr. Matthew Kraker’s Theory

The superintendent at Scotland Yard was not disappointed in his amateur detective. Precisely as the clock struck, a little man, about five-and-forty years of age, clean shaved, quiet plump, and rosy, a soft-spoken little man, whose only distinguished feature was a pair of rather prominent bead-like, and restless black eyes, which seemed perpetually on the watch for something, entered the superintendent’s private room. He was respectably dressed, his shirt cuffs and collar were of the whitest, he wore kid gloves, and he carried a substantial silk umbrella. This was no less a personage than Mr. Matthew Kraker. On entering the room he bowed to the superintendent, and also, though more slightly, to Forrest, who was likewise punctual, being, indeed, rather contemptuously curious to know how an amateur would set about this business.

“I wish to see you, Mr. Kraker,” said the superintendent, “On a matter of some importance, in which I think it possible you may, if you feel disposed, be of considerable assistance to us.”

“If you will let me know the nature of the difficulty, I shall be glad to be of service.”

“I felt sure we might count upon you, and I will at once put you in possession of the facts.”

The superintendent then gave Mr. Kraker all the information with reference to the murder which had come to his knowledge. While the officer of police was speaking, Mr. Kraker’s curious eyes, not restless now, glittered like carbuncles. His face wore an expression of extreme satisfaction, and one might almost go as far as to say it almost beamed. This incomprehensible man​—​at least to Forrest​—​heard all the superintendent had to say without speaking a word himself; and then, after an interval of silence, without making any comments, asked permission to have a man placed at his disposal and to be allowed, in conducting the inquiry, to act entirely at his own discretion.

The superintendent, after an instant’s pause, said, “I think I can grant you this; but remember that you take upon yourself a considerable responsibility, and I also, to a certain extent, am involved in the result.”

“That is quite true,” said Mr. Kraker, “but you may trust me for knowing what I am about.”

To this the police functionary made no reply, except to take up a sheet of paper and write a few words instructing the authorities at Hammersmith to give Mr. Kraker every facility for pursuing his investigations into the matter of the mysterious murder of Mrs. Rennett. This paper once in his hand, the amateur detective rose, and, saying he should return before the day was over, at once quitted the room, being joined at the door by a man who had been instructed to accompany him. Taking a hansom cab, the strangely-assorted pair proceeded towards Hammersmith, Mr. Kraker, maintaining a profound silence by the way, as far as his companion was concerned, but every now and then muttering to himself, and moving his head very much in the fashion of a dog scenting its prey. On arriving at the police station he maintained the same air of reserve, asking only for paper and pencil, some plaster of Paris, water, and oil. He then proceeded, accompanied by his attendant satellite, to Ivy Cottage. At about six the same evening, his face glowing with pride and satisfaction, Mr. Matthew Kraker entered the superintendent’s office. The policeman who had accompanied him to Hammersmith, and who had been profoundly puzzled by his proceedings, followed carefully, carrying a large basket.

“I have the thing completely at my fingers’ ends,” was his informal greeting to the superintendent as soon as the office door was closed; “it’s all as clear as daylight. Johnson,” he added, addressing the constable, “let us show something for our day’s work. Put the basket on the table.”

At this moment Forrest, who had just returned from the expedition he had undertaken on the faith of the evidence of the woman and the young mudlark, entered the room in some excitement, and with a face no less triumphant that that of his amateur rival, exclaimed eagerly​—​

“I am on the track of the man with the earrings.”

The superintendent looked at his usually calm subordinate with astonishment.

“And who the deuce,” he said, “may the man with the earrings be?”

“The murderer! the murderer of Mrs. Rennett. Oh! I’ve spotted him safe enough; and it’s Lombard Street to a China orange that I shall clap the darbies on him before the morning.”

“Are you sure you are right about your man?” demanded the superior officer.

“As certain as that two and two make four.”

“And what sort of customer do you make him out to be?”

“Well, he is described as an elderly man, a sailor probably, wearing a blue guernsey and a pair of earrings. Two of our man are on his track, and I expect to hear of him shortly.”

“Hem!” said the inspector drily, “a great many sailors wear blue guernseys and earrings, Forrest; but we will see what comes of it. And now let us hear what Mr. Kraker has to say.”

While this dialogue was going on, Kraker, without heeding the detective’s excited statement, proceeded quietly to spread the contents of the basket on the table. These comprised a large lump of muddy earth, several sheets of paper, three or four little pieces of plaster of Paris that were still moist, and had evidently been used for taking moulds. Before the table stood Mr. Matthew Kraker, whose appearance at the moment resembled more than anything else a Cheap Jack at a country fair, who had some wonderful bargains to offer to a credulous public. His clothes, it should be remarked, had by no means so neat an appearance as in the morning, for he was covered with mud from head to foot.

“I will begin at the beginning,” he said, in a singularly gentle tone, “and first of all, gentlemen, I may as well tell you that we may quite understand each other as we go on, that robbery has nothing to do with this murder.”

“The devil it hasn’t!” growled Forrest; “that’ll hardly do for me.”

“I shall prove it,” said Kraker, taking no notice of Forrest’s interruptions, “by evidence, and afterwards explain to you what was, in my humble opinion, the motive of the murderer. In the first place,” he went on, “the murderer came to the house before the rain began to fall​—​that is to say, before half-past nine. I have been no more fortunate in this respect than Mr. Forrest. I have found no muddy footprints in the house, but, between the table and the corpse, there are traces of dust such as would naturally come off the boots of a person entering a house from a dusty lane. We thus fix the hour at which the murderer arrived. It must have been close upon half-past nine; Mrs. Rennett evidently did not expect him, as she had begun to make preparations for going to bed, and was about to wind-up a cuckoo clock when he must have knocked.”

“How do you make that out?” said Forrest, with a scarcely concealed air of contempt.

“Very easily,” was Kraker’s calm reply. “Look at this clock​—​the clock above the escritoire, I mean,” he said, turning to the detective; “It is one of those that don’t go more than fourteen or fifteen hours. Now, it is more than probably​—​nay, even certain​—​that the murdered woman wound it up the evening before that of the murder, just before going to bed. This being so, how is it, you may ask, that the clock stopped at five? The answer is obvious. Only going about fifteen, or at the outside sixteen hours, it must have run down, and Mrs. Rennett was about to wind it up when the murderer’s knock came to her door.”

“That’s all very well, but it seems to be taking a good deal for granted,” said Forrest.

“In proof of this,” proceeded Kraker, “the chair was in front of the clock, and on the stuffed seat was the distinct mark of a woman’s shoe. Then, look at Mrs. Rennett’s dress, the bodice is unfastened. That she might open the door as quickly as possible she did not stay to fasten her dress, but, instead, threw an old shawl over her shoulders.”

“There is something in that, indeed,” remarked the superintendent.

Forrest said nothing, but was evidently impressed by the astuteness of his rival.

Mrs. Rennett,” continued the amateur, “knew the person who knocked. Her eagerness to open the door makes one suspect it, and the result shows the supposition to be correct. The murderer evidently obtained admission without any difficulty; and now we come to his description. He was a young man, a little above the middle height, well dressed. He wore a silk hat, carried an umbrella, and smoked cigars through a holder.”

Forrest could no longer contain himself. “The devil!” he cried, “this is too much.”

“Probably,” returned Kraker, in the same gentle voice in which he had spoken all along​—​“probably, but it is the truth all the same. Have the kindness to look for a moment upon these pieces of damp plaster; they represent the soles of the murderer’s shoes, a capital impression of which I found in the ditch near to the spot where the discovery of the key took place. And here, upon this sheet of paper, I have drawn the entire impression of a foot which, being upon the grass, could not be taken by a mould. The same footprint I have also found in the road, and repeated five or six times in the garden, where no other person has been since the crime.”

“And what do you make out of it?” said Forrest, in a subdued tone.

“This shows,” was the reply of the amateur, “that the murderer knocked, not at the door, but at the window shutter, through a chink of which he could probably see a gleam of light. Well, in entering the garden he evidently jumped to avoid being caught by the thorns of the gooseberry bush​—​the point of a foot pressed into the ground shows this clearly enough; and as he jumped at least two yards, we have proof positive that the man is young.”

Mr. Kraker said all this in a clear, soft, sweet, modulated voice, his eyes wandering from time to time from one to the other of his auditors, as though to read their thoughts.

“Are you astonished, Mr. Forrest, that I should know what hat the murderer wore?” he continued. “Just examine the circle upon the marble of the escritoire, which was a little dirty.”

Forrest gave a dubious grunt, as though he reserved his opinion.

“Are you surprised that I should have determined so positively upon the height of the murderer? Take the trouble to notice the height of the shelves, and you will find that the man could reach them with his hand. You may say that he could have stood upon a chair, but there is no sign of a chair having been used for such a purpose, and in that case he would have seen what was on the shelves, and need not have removed them from their resting-place on the escritoire.”

Again Forrest gave a grunt, as if determined to commit himself to nothing.

“Does the umbrella puzzle you? This lump of earth bears an admirable impression, not only of the ferrule, but of the metal ring which supports the ribs. Do you wonder at the cigar? Here is the end of a cheroot which I found in the ashes. Has it been moistened by the mouth? No; it must have been smoked through a cigar-holder.”

The superintendent did not disguise his admiration of the astuteness of the amateur. As for Forrest, though in some measure impressed, he still on the whole looked on the story with a somewhat disdainful air, evidently regarding it in the light of a romance.

“So far, so good,” continued Kraker. “We will now go a little further. Please to imagine that this young man has now obtained admission to the house. What explanation there may be for his coming at such an hour I am unable to say; but it is certain that he told Mrs. Rennett he was hungry, for she prepared some supper for him.”

“Why not for herself?” asked Forrest.

“It is quite evident that the supper was not for herself alone. In the cupboard I found some fish, the remains of her dinner; and some fish, nearly digested, was proved by the post-mortem examination to be in her stomach. She was cooking ham and eggs at the time she was killed, and there were two glasses, two knives, two forks, and two plates upon the table. We now,” continued Mr. Kraker complacently, “come to the gist of the whole matter. Who was this young man, the murderer of Mrs. Rennett? It is pretty certain that the widow looked upon him as of a station superior to her own. In the dresser drawer was a fairly clean table-cloth, but for her visitor she had spread one perfectly clean, and of finer quality; she had also put a better kind of tumbler on the table than most of those in the cupboard, while the knives had ivory handles​—​those she was in the habit of using having only black bone ones.”

“You are exceedingly precise,” said the superintendent.

“I am obliged to be,” was the reply. “To continue​—​the murderer has seated himself; he begins by drinking a glass of sherry, while the hostess is busy with the frying pan in front of the fire. Then, his heart failing him, he asks for some brandy, and drinks, as we see by the appearance of the newly-opened bottle, a couple of small glasses. In about ten minutes, for the ham and eggs were just ready for the table, the man rises, creeps softly to the woman while she is kneeling over the fire, and stabs her in the back. She does not die directly, she turns half round, and clutches at the hand of the murderer, who seizes her and flings her to the ground. This is shown by the position of the corpse. Struck in the back, it is upon her back that she is discovered. The murderer was armed with a broken foil, which was afterwards wiped upon the petticoat of the murdered woman, and the trace of blood thus given shows the nature of the weapon used.”

“Confound it!” burst out Forrest, “this is more like a story out of some book. It isn’t business at all.”

“Stay,” interposed the superintendent, “let us hear Mr. Kraker to the end. It is only fair.”

The detective, after grumbling to himself, subsided, and Matthew Kraker continued as if he had not been interrupted.

“Did you notice the nails of the dead woman, Mr. Forrest?” he asked. “No! Very well, go and look at them, and tell me if I have made a mistake. Now, then, as to the motive of the murderer. What did he want? Money or valuables? Not a bit of it. What he wanted, what he came after, and what he looked for were papers​—​papers which he knew were in the possession of the deceased. In order to find them he upset everything, ransacked the drawers, unfolded the clothes, broke open the escritoire, which he hadn’t got the key of, and pulled the bed off the bedstead.”

Forrest shook his head, and smiled incredulously.

“At last he found what he was looking for, and what do you suppose he did with them? Burnt them, not in the grate, but in the frying pan; and then, his object accomplished, he fled, taking with him all that was handy, or worth carrying away, so as to give the appearance of a robbery, and throw the police off the scent.”

Mr. Kraker ceased. His story was told, and now nothing remained but to act upon the admirable and logical deductions he had evolved. For a moment the superintendent was silent. Matthew Kraker’s method of working was to him quite novel, and he was astonished at the complete chain of facts which he had presented so simply and so forcibly.

“I must confess, Mr. Kraker, you have almost persuaded me that you are right, and that robbery, after all, was not the motive for the murder.”

“But,” urged Forrest, “what about the man with the earrings? Here is an absolute statement, and what have we got against it? Nothing but a string of fanciful conjectures. Besides, how would a young swell​—​for according to Mr. Kraker’s romance he is a fashionable gent​—​load himself with all that has been taken away? Perhaps you don’t happen to know,” he added, turning to the amateur detective, and speaking in an ironical tone, “that the property taken away consisted of a plated cruet-stand, a silver teapot, a cream jug​—​old-fashioned, it’s true, but none the less bulky for that​—​a dozen spoons and forks​—​to say nothing of a large goblet won in a boat race by a certain James Rennett five-and-twenty years ago.”

Mr. Kraker stood in an attitude of attention while Forrest ran over the list, and seemed as if he were checking off the items one by one.

“Your memory is good,” he observed; “you have omitted nothing.”

“Very well, then, how do you suppose this bulky parcel was carried off?”

“Merely by tying it up in a sheet (there was no sheet on the bed, perhaps you may have noticed), walking along the road with it in the direction of Hammersmith Bridge, and when on the bridge getting rid of it by dropping it in the river. It is certain he would not ride in an omnibus or cab​—​it would have attracted attention, besides which it must have led to his discovery. No, he walked, and then threw the parcel into the Thames. Three boatmen have since mid-day been dragging for it, and if I am not very much mistaken——”

At this moment came a knock at the door. It was opened, and a policeman was was standing outside came in, and, saluting the superintendent, informed him that three men had brought a parcel for Mr. Matthew Kraker.

The superintendent turned to the amateur detective in astonishment.

“It is as I expected,” said the latter, perfectly unmoved. “They have brought the plate.”

This, indeed, was the case, and, much to Forrest’s chagrin, not an article missing. Kraker’s view of the matter was completely confirmed​—​the crime was not committed for the sake of gain.

“What do you think now?” asked Kraker, a peculiar smile lighting up his quiet features, the only sign of exultation which had hitherto escaped him.

“I am bound to admit that your penetration is marvellous,” replied the superintendent. “There is one thing, though, I should like to satisfy my mind about. Here is the result of the post-mortem examination. It would be as well to see how far it supports your theory.”

“By all means,” returned the little man, cheerfully.

The post-mortem singularly confirmed the ideas he had advanced. The doctor explained the position of the corpse in the same way as Mr. Kraker had done, and, like the latter, the opinion of the medical man was that there had been a struggle. In addition, on the neck of the deceased he had noticed a blue circle, hardly perceptible, but no doubt caused by the murderer’s grasp. He also stated that Mrs. Rennett had evidently made a hearty meal about three hours before she was stabbed. Matthew Kraker had with minute care examined the nails of the corpse, and had, after some difficultly, been able to extract some portions of skin. The largest, perhaps, was not the twentieth part of an inch, but the grey colour could be easily distinguished. These, with the marks on the petticoat, where the weapon had been wiped, the end of a cigar, and the prints of the umbrella and the feet, were all that the murderer had left behind him. It was not much, but sufficient to give hope to the superintendent.

One of the greatest obstacles in the way of the detection of mysterious crimes is an error in the motive, for if a mistake is made in the beginning, its consequences, the farther one goes, lead more and more from the truth. Thanks, however, to the decided advance made by Kraker, he was sanguine of success, and he was the more anxious that success should be attained, because of late the detective police had been very unfortunate in their inquiries. More than one crime of magnitude had gone undetected, and several newspapers had made some extremely unpleasant and caustic remarks on the subject.

“Do not hesitate to do anything you may think best,” he said at parting.

“You need not fear,” replied Kraker. “I may probably see you to-morrow, but if not do not be surprised.”

And so saying, he glided rather than walked out of the room, shutting the door softly behind him.