Skin o' My Tooth/The Case of the Polish Prince
II.—THE CASE OF THE POLISH PRINCE
I DOUBT whether full credit was given to Skin o' my Tooth for the solution of that mysterious incident in the Saltashe Woods, which he—and no one else—brought about. Personally, I firmly believe that Kelly, of Saltashe Park, would have allowed his brother to hang, sooner than confess, if Skin o' my Tooth had not succeeded in absolutely cornering him. Now, in the case of the Polish Prince, no one could deny—but perhaps I had better say how it all happened.
The Swanborough tragedy was filling all London and provincial papers with its gruesome mysteries. Early on Tuesday morning, March 18th, the body of a man, shockingly mutilated, was found on the level crossing, just below the Swanborough station of the London and North-Western Railway. It is always difficult to dwell on the grim details which are the usual accompaniment to this type of drama; sufficient to say, in this instance, that the body was found lying straight along the metals, so that the passing express had gone clean over the trunk and face. What mutilation the train had left unaccomplished had been completed by the sparks from the engine. The face was unrecognisable, the hair had been singed, the flesh on hands and neck had been charred. The peculiar position of the body, so carefully laid down, with the feet pointing towards Swanborough station, and the head towards Bletchley, disposed of any theory of accident that may at first have suggested itself. It was clearly either a case of murder—the unfortunate man having, presumably, been rendered unconscious and then placed on the metals—or one of deliberate suicide.
The grim tragedy immediately assumed the appearance of complete mystery. Though Swanborough is but a tiny, straggling village, and this part of Buckinghamshire but scantily populated, no one seemed to have missed a relative or friend, or to recognise the clothes and sundry small articles of jewellery, etc., found upon the mutilated body. The police had published a description of these clothes and articles, and of the body, as far as this could be done. The unfortunate man seemed to be about thirty-five years of age, five feet nine inches in height, and of slight build. He was evidently in the habit of wearing a green silk shade over one eye, for one was found lying on the ground quite close to the head; the right forearm showed a very recent wound cruised by the burning of some acid—probably vitriol.
The people of Swanborough, however, in spite of the horrible gruesomeness of the tragedy, seemed to take very little interest in the elucidation of its mysteries; perhaps, too, they had the average English yokel's horror of having anything to do with the police. Be that as it may, it was not until the following day that a more enlightened or more enterprising villager bethought himself of walking to the police-station and informing the inspector there that "maybe the murdered man was Mrs. Stockton's lodger."
It appears that Mrs. Stockton, who rented a small cottage not far from the railway, had had a lodger on and off for the past six months. No one in the village had ever seen him; if he ever went outside the cottage, he must have done so at nights; but young Stockton had sometimes talked to the neighbours about his mother's lodger. He was a foreigner, he said, and "no end of a swell," with a name no decent body could pronounce, as it was about half a yard long. He was certainly very odd in his ways, for he used to go away quite suddenly, and not come home for a week or so on end. Mrs. Stockton never knew where he went to; and then he would turn up again, mostly iu the very early mornings.
Life in rural districts is wonderfully self-centred; still, the police thought it odd that this tardy information did not come from Mrs. Stockton herself or from her son, if, indeed, her lodger were missing just now. The detective-inspector immediately went down to the cottage. Finding the door locked, and getting no answer to his repeated knocks, he forced his way in, followed by two constables. Parlour and kitchen were empty, but up on the floor above, in one of the three little bedrooms, the men found the unfortunate woman lying in bed with her throat cut. There was no sign or trace anywhere of young Stockton.
The mystery, of course, had deepened more and more. Nothing in the cottage seemed to have been touched; there were even a couple of sovereigns and some silver lying in a money-box. So far, it appeared that two purposeless and shocking murders had been committed probably within a few moments of each other, as Mrs. Stockton had evidently been dead a good many hours. The detective-inspector instituted immediate inquiries in the neighbourhood on the subject of young Stockton, who certainly had unaccountably disappeared. It seems that he was a platelayer by trade, lately in the employ of the North-Western Railway, but recently dismissed owing to ill-conduct.
A description of the missing man was telegraphed to every police and railway station in the kingdom, but so far not a trace of him had been found. The theory of the police was that he had boarded the very train which had mangled the body of his victim, and then dropped off it again a good deal further down the line. Whether he had murdered the "foreign swell" for purposes of robbery, and killed his mother in order to get rid of an inconvenient witness, was, of course, a mere matter of conjecture; certain it is that he had vanished, almost as if the earth had swallowed him up.
From the first, Skin o' my Tooth was greatly interested in the Swanborough tragedy. The enigmatic personality of one of the victims, the veil of complete mystery which the murderer had succeeded in throwing over his crime, the "foreign swell" who lived in the English cottage, all appealed to my chief's dramatic and love for what was mysterious.
It was on the afternoon of the 20th, just after I had come in with the evening papers, that there was a timid rap at an outer office door. I went to open it, and, to my amazement, saw before me the daintiest vision that had ever graced our fusty old office in Finsbury Square.
It was a lovely young girl, scarcely out of her teens, dressed in deep black, who asked me if she could speak to Mr. Mulligan immediately. It is such an unusual thing for ns to receive the visits of charming young ladies that for the moment I quite forgot to ask for her name.
However, Skin o' my Tooth was quite ready to receive her, whoever she was, and the next moment I had shown the lady into the private office.
She walked up to my esteemed employer and held out a daintily gloved hand to him.
"My name is quite unknown to you, Mr. Mulligan," she began. "I am Miss Marion Calvert, and I would not have ventured to come like this to your office without any introduction, and all alone, but I want the best possible legal advice, and——"
"My friend, Miss Morton, who is engaged to Mr. Edward Kelly, of Saltashe Park, told me all about you once, a long time ago, and how much you had done for Mr. Kelly. I remember then making up my mind that if ever I were in trouble and wanted a lawyer, I would come to you; and now——"
She had undone her furs and seated herself beside the desk. Skin o' my Tooth gave me a wink. I knew what that meant. I was to sit in my usual corner behind the wooden partition and take shorthand notes of everything the lady said.
"Mr. Mulligan," she resumed very abruptly, "I was engaged to Prince Sierotka, who was murdered the other day on the railway near Swanborough."
"Then, indeed, you are in trouble," said Skin o' my Tooth very gently, "and that is why you have come to consult me. Tell me what I can do for you."
"I am afraid that my story will seem a very foolish one to you. I was only a school-girl then. It was six months ago," she explained with touching naïveté. "I had just left school, and was going down to Buckinghamshire to stay with my guardian, Mr. Percival Lake and his wife, when I first met Prince Sierotka. It was in the train between Euston and Swanborough, and he was so kind and attentive, and oh! so interesting. He told me that he was a Pole, and he talked about his country, and the revolution, and the Polish martyrs who had suffered in the cause of freedom. He himself was an exile from the country he loved so well, because he had taken part in the revolution. He had large estates, but they were temporarily confiscated by the Czar; so he had to come to England, which he loved, and he lived in a small cottage amidst roses and lilies, and dreamt there of Poland and her liberty.
"You may imagine how delighted I was when he told me that this ideal cottage was in Swanborough, close to where my guardian lived, for I had hopes then that I should see him again. Well, Mr. Mulligan, I won't bore you with all the details of what was the happiest time of my life. Miss Lake was kindness itself, but she kept rather a strict eye over my movements. However, very soon I discovered that I could always slip out in the evenings, while she went to sleep over her game of 'patience,' and then I used to meet Constantine—Prince Sierotka—in the fields at the bottom of the garden. Very soon we had both realised that we loved one another passionately."
"But surely your guardian——" suggested Skin o' my Tooth.
"My guardian was away during the first fortnight of my stay in Swanborough. When he came, things were very much altered. Someone—one of the servants, perhaps—had evidently spied upon me and had told him of my meetings with Prince Sierotka, for he read me a long lecture on the subject of foreign adventurers and English girls with money, and forbade me ever to see this Polish Prince again. Of course, I was obliged to obey him then, as he kept a pretty sharp look-out over my movements, and I saw nothing of Constantine for a week; but the moment Mr. Lake went back to town, we were able to resume our happy evening meetings in the fields.
"This went on for some time, during which my love for my future husband grew with every obstacle my guardian placed in my way. But Mr. Lake was often obliged to be absent from home on business, and you may be sure that Constantine and I made the most of these happy intervals. We had agreed that we should be married as soon as I was of age and free to do as I pleased.
"During all this time, Mr. Mulligan, I was in absolute ignorance of my future financial position, and Constantine, with a delicacy that was positively sublime, and which put to shame Mr. lake's cynical insinuations, had never asked me any questions on the subject. I knew vaguely that my father had left me a considerable fortune, under the trusteeship of Mr. Lake, and I concluded that I should have the use of that fortune when I came of age.
"To my astonishment, however, on my eighteenth birthday, which was the ninth of this month, my guardian informed me that by the terms of my father's will, I was now to become sole mistress of the £40,000 he had left me. The next day Mr. Lake took me up to his office in London and rendered me an account of his guardianship; he then placed into my hands three large packets, which contained my £40,000 worth of securities, chiefly railway and mining shares, he said, and told me that I was free now to do with them what I pleased. It had been ostensibly arranged that I should stay in London a few days with some school friends of mine, but, secretly, Constantine and I had planned to spend long, happy days together. I took a room in Victoria Street, and he used to come up from Swanborough in the mornings sometimes, and we would go out to see the sights of London. We meant to get married almost immediately, and go and live abroad. I was rich now, and we could afford to live in the style befitting Prince Sierotka's rank."
She paused. It seemed as if she could not continue her narrative; so far it had been one of simple, delicate love romance, in which only the mysterious personality of the foreign adventurer appeared as a dim presage of coming evil; now, for the first time since the terrible tragedy occurred, the young girl—little more than a child—found herself forced to speak of it to a stranger, and her very nerves must have quivered at the ordeal. But Skin o' my Tooth did not speak. He sat in the shadow, watching the play of every emotion upon the delicately chiseled face before him.
"Last Monday, Mr. Mulligan," she resumed at last, with an effort at self-control, "Constantine went down to Swanborough in the afternoon, after having spent the day in town with me. He meant to settle what small accounts he had in the village, and stay in London until our marriage. I was sitting quietly at tea at a shop yesterday, when I heard someone close to me read aloud from a newspaper the account of the mysterious tragedy at Swanborough. A man had been found killed on the level crossing, his body and head shockingly mutilated. A description of his clothes followed—one or two articles found near the body. Oh! It was terrible, Mr. Mulligan! From those descriptions I knew that the murdered man must be my fiancé, Prince Sierotka."
There was a long silence in the fusty old office. Skin o' my Tooth was giving the young girl time to recover herself, when he said quietly: "It must indeed have been hard to bear in your peculiarly isolated position. But you have not yet told me how I can be of service to you."
"Oh! it's about the money, Mr. Mulligan—my whole fortune. Prince Sierotka had charge of it all, of course, and now I am penniless."
"You need have no fear; we can easily trace those securities for you; the thief won't be able to negotiate them."
"Oh, the securities!" she said naïvely, "they were all sold."
"Indeed?" was Skin o' my Tooth's very dry comment.
"Yes. At Constantine's suggestion, I instructed the brokers, Messrs. Furnival and Co., to sell my shares for me. They sent me a cheque for £38,000, which I endorsed, and Prince Sierotka cashed the cheque. He had all the money in notes, and he told me to write my name at the back of each. On the Monday we went round together to several foreign banks, where we changed our English notes into foreign money. You see, we intended to live in Russia, and meant to start for Paris almost immediately."
I wished then that I could have caught a glimpse of Skin o' my Tooth's face; as it is, I thought I heard the peculiar low whistle he usually gives when a point in a case particularly strikes bis fancy.
"I see," he said at last. "And that money? Did the Prince carry it about with him?"
"He gave me fifty pounds, as I meant to go shopping after he left me; the remainder he kept in his pocket-book."
"Hm! Life's strange ironic!"
But, fortunately for her many illusions, the young girl did not catch the drift of this last remark, for she said with great vehemence: "You see, now, Mr. Mulligan, that there could be no question of accident or suicide. Prince Sierotka was murdered and robbed, and I have come to you so that you may help me to track his murderer."
"I will do my best," said Skin o' my Tooth, with a smile; "and at the same time, we must hope to track your lost fortune for you. But I think that is all I need trouble you about this morning. Where are you staying?"
"I am still at 182, Victoria Street."
"Then I can easily communicate with you. I will see the detective-inspector in charge of the case, and, of course, let him know about the money, which should be found in the murderer's possession. Was the money French or Russian?"
She shook her head.
"I really couldn't tell you. You see, Constantine saw to everything."
Skin o' my Tooth sighed. So much naïvete and blind confidence would be ridiculous were it not sublime.
Five minutes later I had shown the lady downstairs, and when I returned, I found Skin o' my Tooth lounging in his big arm-chair.
"It was a case of biter bit, with a vengeance, wasn't it, sir?" I said, with a laugh, whilst I carefully collected my notes. "This so-called Prince seems to have been as complete a scoundrel as the man who murdered him."
"Muggins, you're an ass!" was the only comment my esteemed employer made during the whole of the rest of that afternoon.
In the meanwhile the evening papers had brought no further news of the Swanborough mystery. No trace of the missing platelayer had been found, and it was pretty clear that at the inquest, which was fixed for to-morrow (Friday), the police would have no important evidence to add to the scanty scraps already collected and published.
"The authorities at Scotland Yard will resent my interference in this case," said Skin o' my Tooth to me; "but I must chance that. If I leave them to blunder on, as they have done over this murder, I shall never get Miss Calvert's money for her, for the scoundrel will succeed in slipping through our fingers."
He sent me down to Scotland Yard the next morning, to make the necessary declaration with regard to Prince Sierotka's antecedents as related to us by Miss Calvert, and also to the missing quantity of foreign money. The detective-inspector who was looking after the case was greatly excited to hear my news.
"This gives us the motive for the crime," he said, "and the foreign money in the possession of an uneducated Buckinghamshire yokel like Stockton is sure to lead to his discovery and speedy arrest. At any rate, now that we have so much fresh data, I will send one of our men—Mason is very capable—down to Swanborough again. I will give him instructions to place himself at Mr. Mulligan's disposal should he require any local information."
When I went back to the office, I found a hansom at the door, and Skin o' my Tooth waiting for me with his hat on.
"Come down to Swanborough with me, Muggins," he said. "I have worked out this case in my own mind, and I want to ascertain, by studying the geography of the place, whether I am right or wrong."
We went down to Swanborough, catching the 12.5 p.m. from Euston. It is a couple of hours' run on the North-Western line, but during the whole of the journey Skin o' my Tooth never spoke a word. He sat leaning back in his corner, with that funny little smile of his playing round the corners of his fat month, and the thick lids drooping as if in semi-somnolence. But every now and then I caught a flash, a steely, almost cruel look in his lazy blue eyes, and then his nostrils would quiver like those of a hound who has just found a scent. I knew those symptoms well. I had seen them in him whenever the sharp and astute lawyer was for the time being merged in the tracker of crime. Skin o' my Tooth had all the instincts of a bloodhound. Placed face to face with a murder, he would follow the trail of the assassin with almost superhuman cunning. He did not deduce, he seldom reasoned; he felt the criminal. I believe firmly that he scented him.
When we steamed into the small country station, a little after 2 p.m., we found that Mason, the detective, who was personally known to Skin o' my Tooth, had come down by the previous train. He was standing talking to the booking-clerk when my chief went up to speak to him.
I think that he was none too pleased to see a lawyer mixed up in a case which he no doubt considered strictly the business of the police; but Skin o' my Tooth seemed to have armed himself for the afternoon with a limitless fund of Irish urbanity.
"I won't detain you long, Mason," he said, with a bland smile. "I should presently like to have a look at the body, with you; and in the meanwhile, I daresay, while we walk through the village, you will put me au fait of the latest news in connection with this interesting case."
"There is very little news," said Mason, with marked impatience. "The case is a very troublesome one; and if it is meddled with, I don't believe we shall ever get at the rights of it."
"I see that you were having a chat with the young booking-clerk here," said Skin o' my Tooth, quietly ignoring the detective's rudeness. "I wonder what his impression was of the Polish Prince. So few people seem to have seen him; but, of course, at the railway-station they must have known him by sight."
"The porters and the booking-clerk only saw him once, and that was on the Monday, when he came down by an afternoon train, and one man saw him soon after eleven the name evening. It was just after the last slow train had gone through, and they were closing the booking-office; he was then walking along the line with young Stockton, towards the level crossing."
"What sort of a looking man was he?"
"Oh! a regular foreigner, it appears, with thick black hair falling back over his forehead, and a heavy black moustache. He had a huge scar right across the left side of his face—from a wound, I suppose. They say it looked like a sabre cut, and it seems to have injured his eye as well, for he wore a guard over the left one. Anyway, he is quite unrecognisable now," he added grimly.
Mason had led the way along the platform while he was talking, and we had followed him. He was now walking along the railway line, about two paces in front of us. On our left a tall and neat hedge fenced off a field, and some two hundred yards ahead was the level crossing, where a road cut the line at right angles.
About twenty yards from the level crossing there was a wide gap in the hedge. Mason pointed this out to us.
"It is supposed that Stockton enticed his victim into the field under some pretence or other, and rendered him unconscious there, then he dragged him on to the metals. This gap, Mr. Lake tells me, used to be quite a small one. It has obviously been broken and widened quite recently."
"Mr. Lake?" queried Skin o' my Tooth.
"Mr. Percival Lake. This field is his property; his house and grounds are at the opposite end of it."
"Oh! All, yes! I am glad to hear that, as I should like to call on Mr. Lake before I leave Swanborough to-day."
We had come to a standstill on the very spot where the awful and gruesome murder of the mysterious foreign prince had been perpetrated. Skin o' my Tooth was looking at the surroundings and at the ground before him, and every now and then I could hear him snorting, and caught sight of that weird and quick flash in his eyes which gave his jovial, fat face such a cruel look. Then, without word or warning, he suddenly darted through the gap in the hedge, into the field beyond. With an impatient shrug of the shoulders, Mason followed him, and I brought up the rear.
It was mid-December, and the ground was as hard as nails; a few patches of dead grass only showed here and there. We were in a field of about thirty acres, triangular in shape, with the same tall hedge surrounding it, and the house and grounds forming its apex. A road ran on either side of it, converging towards one another on the other side of the house.
The afternoon had rapidly drawn in. It was past three o'clock, and a thick mist had descended. Mason followed, with evident and unconcealed ill-humour, Skin o' my Tooth's peregrinations through that field. At first he had offered certain hints and volunteered some information, but at last he seemed to have resigned himself to the part of a bad-tempered man in charge of a lunatic.
We walked straight across the field to where the house and its thick shrubbery formed its extreme boundary. There, too, a small gate led to a cottage and tiny garden, which occupied, a piece of ground that seemed to have been sliced out of Mr. Lake's property.
"It is Mrs. Stockton's cottage," explained Mason, in answer to Skin o' my Tooth's inquiry. Quite close to the gate there was a tool-shed, which seemed to interest Skin o' my Tooth immensely, for he lighted match after match in order to examine it inside and out. However, he expressed no desire to view the interior of the cottage, and at last, when I was quite numb with fatigue and cold, he turned to Mason and said quietly: "I am quite ready to go to the station now and have a look at the body."
For a moment I thought that Mason meant to go on strike; but evidently he had had his orders, or perhaps he, too, began to feel, as I had done so often, that curious magnetic influence of Skin o' my Tooth's personality, which commands obedience at strange moments and in strange places. Be that as it may, he refrained from making any remark, but passing through the gate and cottage garden, he went out into the road. About five minutes' brisk and silent walk brought us to the village, and then on to the little police-station. Still without a word, Mason led the way into an inner room. There upon a deal table, and covered over with a sheet, lay the body of the murdered man.
It is not often—thank Heaven for that!—that I have to go through such unpleasant moments in my faithful adherence to my duty towards my employer. I shall never forget the terrible feeling and sickly horror which overcame me when Skin o' my Tooth so quietly lifted the sheet which covered the dead man. The whole scene is even now vividly impressed upon my mind—the small, low-raftered room, the oil-lamp hanging from the ceiling and throwing its feeble light upon the gruesome thing on which I dared not look, and upon the strange, bulky figure, so strangely impressive at this moment, of my chief. Mason stood close by in the shadow. I could see that even he did not care to cast too long a look at the hopelessly mutilated face of the murdered man. Skin o' my Tooth, however, was quite unmoved. He had dropped the sheet, and calmly, one by one, he took up each garment from the pile of clothes which lay neatly folded beside the body.
"These were found upon the deceased, I understand?" he asked. The detective nodded.
"All," he replied, "except the gloves, which were in the grip of the hand."
"And which this man could never have worn," commented Skin o' my Tooth drily, "though they are quite old; they are two sizes too small for the hand."
There was silence again for a few moments; then Skin o' my Tooth, having carefully examined each individual garment, put the last one down; then, placing his hand upon the pile, he said: "I hope for your sake, Mason—and for mine, too, for that matter, since it would save arguments—that you have arrived at the only possible and complete solution of the so-called mystery."
"The only mystery in this matter," retorted Mason gruffly, "is the real personality of the deceased. We know who murdered him all right enough, though we don't know where the murderer may be at the present moment."
"The personality of the deceased is no mystery to me. He was a young man named Stockton, a platelayer by trade, and an inhabitant of this village," said Skin o' my Tooth, making this extraordinary announcement as if he were stating the most obvious and commonplace fact.
Mason shrugged his shoulders and looked almost appealingly at me, as if he wanted me to take charge of this raving lunatic.
"The only thing that puzzles me," continued Skin o' my Tooth imperturbably, "is that it never struck any of you gentlemen in charge of this case how very badly some of these clothes must have fitted this man."
"People don't always have their clothes cut by a London tailor," muttered Mason sarcastically.
"Undoubtedly. But in this case the fit is so erratic; while the trousers would be at least three-quarters of an inch too long in the leg, the coat-sleeves would be at least an inch too short. This man could not have had these gloves on at all; and every time he wore these boots, which are not new, he must have endured positive tortures, yet he has no corns on his feet."
"The clothes might have been a scratch lot, bought at a second-hand clothes shop," suggested Mason.
"A man does not buy second-hand boots that are much too small for him."
"What is your idea, then?"
"That they are another man's clothes," said Skin o' my Tooth quietly.
"Note one thing more. The suit of clothes are good, such as a gentleman might wear; boots, gloves, hat, all are of an expensive kind; but the underclothes are of the commonest and coarsest make."
"That often happens," muttered Mason obstinately.
"It certainly in itself would mean but little were it not for the fact that with almost superhuman cunning everything has been devised in order to completely destroy the identity of the victim. From the clothes, every tag and some buttons have been removed which might bear the tailor's name; on the forearm, vitriol was used, in order, obviously, to obliterate some mark—tattoo perhaps—which might have made the body recognisable, whilst the same corrosive substance destroyed the finger-nails, which might have told a tale."
"The accepted theory is that deceased was engaged in some work which necessitated the use of sulphuric acid."
"That might account for the corroded finger-nails, if the man was particularly careless, but not for the wound on the forearm. Think of it all carefully, Mason, and then bear in mind the fact that the only person who might by chance have identified the body, in spite of its mutilation, was also murdered."
"You mean Mrs. Stockton?"
"The mother undoubtedly," replied Skin o' my Tooth quietly. "Surely you see for yourself now that the body we have here before us is that of Stockton, the platelayer, whereas it is this so-called Prince Sierotka, this arch-scoundrel thief, liar, and assassin, who so far has escaped the vigilance of the police."
"You may be right," murmured Mason, convinced, as I could see, in spite of himself with the firm logic of Skin o' ny Tooth's arguments; "but, as far as I can see, you have not by any means solved our difficulty. It was quite one thing to hunt for a Buckinghamshire yokel, who would be trying to pass a quantity of foreign money and could not speak any language but his own, and quite another to search through the Continent of Europe now for a foreigner, of whose real appearance I presume even your client, his sweetheart, is ignorant."
"You won't have to search through the Continent of Europe, my man," said Skin o' my Tooth, with a jovial laugh. "You just apply—as quickly as you can, too, for the gentleman may slip through your fingers yet—for a search-warrant and warrant for the arrest of Mr. Percival Lake, of Swanborough. You will find most of the £38,000 there, in foreign money, Russian or French. That money belongs to my client, Miss Marion Calvert, who will file affidavits to this effect to-morrow."
"You are mad!" retorted Mason.
"Mad, am I?" laughed Skin o' my Tooth jovially. "Why, man, you know as well as I do by now that I am right. Why, I guessed the trick the moment Miss Calvert told me her pathetic little history; then I came down here, and I saw how admirably the geography of the place was adapted to that arch-villain's infamous plot for robbing his young ward. Why, you have only to remember three points to realise how absolutely right I am. Point number one: Whenever Mr. Percival Lake was at home, Miss Calvert could never see her sweetheart. The moment he was supposed to go back to town she found him at the trysting-place in the field; but always at night, remember, when the disguise, the scar, the black hair, would more easily deceive the young girl. It was only when he had got her money absolutely in his possession that he became more audacious and saw her in London in broad daylight."
"I have always thought that that scar and the thick, black hair meant a disguise," muttered Mason. "Some people are so clever at making up, and Mr, Lake is a little bald and clean-shaved."
"The change of costume was so easy of execution with that convenient little tool-shed in his own shrubbery, secluded from all eyes and, until recently, fitted with a good lock and key, which have since, very obviously, been removed. Why, nothing in the world could be more easy than for an arch-scoundrel like that man Lake to ostensibly leave for town in the evening;, carrying his bag, and, walking through his field, to spend the night in the tool-shed, and emerge therefrom in the very early morning as Prince Sierotka; then to repeat this performance whenever the foreign adventurer had to resume his original part of Mr. Percival Lake, Miss Calvert's stern guardian. Add to this point number two—that the man who played the trick on Miss Calvert must have known all about her financial position and the full terms of her father's will, by which she came of age at eighteen."
"That certainly brings it nearer home to Lake than ever. And your third point, Mr. Mulligan?"
"That this so-called foreigner was supposed to have gone up to London from Swanborough very frequently during the week, when he met Miss Calvert in town nearly every day, and helped her to transfer her English securities into foreign money, and yet no one at the Swanborough railway-station had ever seen him before the night of the murder. Then, he wished to show himself, openly, in the company of the platelayer, so that, when he had murdered Stockton and dressed up his body in his own cast-off disguise, everyone should fancy that they recognised in the mangled remains the personality of the Polish Prince. He did the murder at dead of night, of coarse, and in the privacy of his own fields; he used vitriol where marks of identification might reveal the platelayer; then he murdered Mrs. Stockton and slipped home quietly to bed. I dare say his wife was an accomplice. Some women are very loyal or very obedient to their husbands. But come along, Muggins," he said, suddenly altering the tone of his voice and turning to me; "we shall miss that 6.30 up to London. It must be nearly that now, and Mason will want to think all this over."
"No, I don't, sir," said Mason firmly. "I am going up to town with you, if you will allow me."
"To report myself and to get a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Percival Lake."
Everyone remembers the arrest of Mr. Percival Lake on a double charge of murder. In his safe at his house in Swanborough were found French and Russian notes amounting in value to about £38,000. Tracked to earth, the scoundrel made but a poor defence. Fortunately for his relations, since he was well connected, he died of sudden heart failure during the subsequent magisterial inquiry, and was never committed for trial.
This all happened three years ago. Miss Calvert is married now, and has evidently forgotten her former passionate love for the mysterious Polish patriot.