Chapter 1 | In A Fog | The Bag of Diamonds

“Ugh! what a night! And I used to grumble about Hogley Marsh! Why, it’s like living in a drain!”

Ramillies Street, W.C., was certainly not attractive at twelve o’clock on that December night, for it had been snowing in the early part of the evening; that snow was suffering from a fall of blacks: and as evil communications corrupt good manners, the evil communication of the London soot was corrupting the good manners of the heavenly snow, which had become smirched by the town’s embrace, and was sorrowfully weeping itself away in tears beneath a sky—

No, there was not any sky. For four days there had not been a breath of air to dissipate the heavy mist, and into this mist the smoke of a million chimneys had rolled, mingled, and settled down in the streets in one horrible yellowish-black mirk.

There were gas lamps in Ramillies Street—here and there distinguishing themselves by a faint glow overhead; but John Whyley, policeman on the beat, was hardly aware of their existence till he laid his hand upon each post.

“Now, only that Burglar Bill and Company aren’t such fools as to come out on such a night as this, here’s their chance. Why, they might burgle every house on one side of the street while the whole division was on the other. Blest if I know hardly where I am!”

J.W. stopped and listened, but it seemed as if utter silence as well as utter darkness had descended upon the great city. But few people were about, and where a vehicle passed along a neighbouring street the patter of hoofs and roll of wheels was hushed by the thick snow.

“It is a puzzler,” muttered the man. “Blind man’s buff’s nothing to it, and no pretty gals to catch. Now, whereabouts am I? I should say I’m just close to the corner by the square, and—well, now, look at that!”

He uttered a low chuckle, and stared up from the curbstone at a dull, red glare that seemed like the eye of some fierce monster swimming in the sea of fog, and watching the man upon his beat.

“And if I didn’t think I was t’other side of the street! Ah, how you do ’member me of old times,” he continued, apostrophising the red glare; “seems like being back at Hogley, and looking off the station platform to see if you was burning all right after I’d been and lit you up. Red signals for trains—red signals for them as wants help,” he muttered as, with his hands within his belt, he stepped slowly up under an arch of iron scroll-work rusting away, a piece of well-forged ornamentation, which had once borne an oil lamp, and at whose sides were iron extinguishers, into which, in the bygone days when Ramillies was a fashionable street, footmen had thrust their smoking links. But fashion had gone afar, and Ichabod was written metaphorically upon the door of that old Queen Anne house, while really there was a tarnished brass plate bearing the inscription “Dr Chartley,” with blistered panels above and below. Arched over the doorstep was an architect’s idea of a gigantic shell, supported by two stout boys, whom a lively imagination might have thought to be suffering from the doctor’s prescriptions, as they glared wildly at the red bull’s-eye in the centre of the fanlight above the door.

“Nothing like a red signal to show you where you are,” said John Whyley, stepping slowly back on to the pavement, to the very edge of the curbstone, and then keeping to it as his guide for a few yards, till he had passed a second door, also displaying the red light, and beneath it, in letters nearly rubbed away, though certainly not from cleaning, the word “Surgery.”

“That’s where that young nipper of a buttons lives, him as took a sight at me when I ketched him standing on his head a-top of the dustbin down the area. Hullo!”

John Whyley stood perfectly still and invisible in the fog, as the surgery door was opened; there was a low scuffling noise, and a hurried whispering.

“Get your arm well under him. Hold hard? Shut the door. Mind he don’t slip down. It’s dark as pitch. Now then, come on.”

At that moment a bright light shone upon the scene in front of Dr Chartley’s surgery door, for John Whyley gave a turn to the top of the bull’s-eye lantern looped on to his belt, and threw up the figures of three men, two of whom were supporting on either side another, whose head hung forward and sidewise, whose legs were bent, and his body in a limp, helpless state, which called forth all the strength of the others to keep him from subsiding in a heap upon the snow. He seemed to be young, heavily bearded, and, as far as his costume could be seen in the yellow glare, he wore high boots and a pea-jacket; while his companions, one of whom was a keen-faced man, with clean-shaved face and a dark moustache, the other rather French-looking from his shortly cropped beard, wore ulsters and close travelling-caps.

As the light flashed upon the group, one of the men drew his breath sharply between his teeth, and for a space no one stirred.

“Acciden’, gentlemen?” said John Whyley, giving a sniff as if he smelt a warm sixpence, but it was only caused by the soot-charged fog.

The constable’s speech seemed to break the spell, and one of the men spoke out thickly:

“Axe’den’, constable? Yes, it’s all right. Hold him up, Smith. Wants to lie down, constable. Thinks snow is clean sheets.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it, sir?” said John Whyley, examining each face in turn a little suspiciously. “Thought as it was a patient—”

“Yes,” said the man with the moustache, speaking in a high-pitched voice, “doctor keeps some good stuff. Not all physic, policeman. Here, hold up.” This last to the man he was supporting, and upon whose head he now placed a soft felt hat, which he had held in his hand.

“Gent seems rather on, sir,” said John Whyley, going up more closely.

“Ah!” said the first speaker, “you smelt his breath.”

“’Nough to knock you down, sir,” said the constable. “He’ll want to come and see the doctor again to-morrow morning.”

There was a very strong odour of spirits, and in the gloom it did not occur to the constable that the two men who seemed most intoxicated were very bright-eyed, and yet ghastly pale. He merely drew back for the group to pass.

“Got to take him far, sir?”

“Far? No, constable. Let him lie down and go to sleep. Dishgusting thing man can’t come to see friend without getting drunk. Look at me—and Shmith.”

“Yes, sir; you’re all right enough,” said the constable. “Shall I lend you a hand?”

“No,” said the man with the moustache, “we’re all right; get us a cab.”

“Where, sir?” said the constable, with a grin; “don’t believe such a thing’s to be got, sir, a night like this. All gone home.”

At that moment from out of the fog there was a sudden jolt and the whish of a whip.

“Hullo?” shouted the policeman.

“Hullo!” came back in a husky voice, as if spoken through layers of flannel, “what street’s this?”

“Ramillies. Here’s a fare.”

There was a muttering, then a bump, jolt, and jangle of a cab heard, and a huge figure slowly seemed to loom up out of the fog in a spectral way, leading a gigantic horse, beyond which was something dark.

“What’s the row?” said the husky voice.

“These gents want a cab.”

“Oh, but I can’t drive nowheres to-night. I drove right into one pub, and then nearly down two areas. Where do you want to go.”

“John’s Hotel, Surrey Street, old man. Look sharp. Five bob.”

“Five what, sir? Why, I wouldn’t stir a step under ten. I’m just going to get my old horse into the first mews, shove on his nosebag and then get inside and go to sleep. I can’t drive. I shall have to lead him.”

“Give him ten,” said the man with the sharp voice.

“All right. Here, hold up, old man,” said the other. “Look sharp! See never I come out with him again.”

“Yes, don’t make a noise, or you’ll bring out the doctor,” said the other man, and the policeman went to the cab door.

The cab evidently objected to the fare, for the door stuck, and only yielded at last with a rattle, and so suddenly that John Whyley nearly went on his back. But he recovered himself, and held his light so that the utterly helpless man, who seemed as if composed of jelly, was pulled by one of his companions, thrust by the other, into the cab, and forced up on the back seat. “There y’are, const’ble,” said the man with the thick voice, “there’s something to get glass; but don’t take too much—like that chap—my deares’ frien’, it’s s’prising ain’t it? Tell cabman John’s Hotel.”

“All right, sir, he knows. Go ahead, cabby.”

He took a few slow steps towards where the cabman stood by the horse’s head.

“Think they’re all right?” said the cabman, in a husky whisper.

“Give me half-a-crown,” said John Whyley.

“Did they? Wish I’d stood out for a sovereign.”

As he spoke he started his horse slowly, and the cab went by the constable, whose lamp showed the interior very indistinctly, the cab window being drawn up, and then the sight and sound of the vehicle died out in the fog, and all was once more still.

“Ill wind as blows no one any good!” said the constable, slowly continuing his beat. “Rather have my half-crown than their sick headaches in the morning. Rather rum that no one came out with all that talking.”

John Whyley hummed a tune and tried two or three front-doors and area gates, and then he took off his helmet and scratched his head as if puzzled.

“Now, have I done right?” he said suddenly. “Seemed to be square. Smelt of drink horrid. Other two ’peared to be on all but once or twice. I say! Was it acting?”

He gave his helmet a sharp blow with his doubled fist, stuck it on tightly, and took a few quick steps in the direction in which the cab had moved off.

“Tchah!” he ejaculated, stopping short; “that’s the worst o’ my trade; makes a man suspicious of everything and everybody. Why, I nearly accused the missus of picking my pockets of that sixpence I forgot I spent with a mate. It’s all right. They were as tight as tight. Ugh! What a night.”

John Whyley’s beat took him in another direction, but something—a feeling of dissatisfaction with his late act, or the suspicion engendered by his calling made him turn back and go slowly to the doctor’s door.

All was perfectly still; the red lamp burned over the principal door, while over the surgery door the three last letters were more indistinct than ever, and “Surg” somehow looked like a portion of “Resurgam” on a memorial stone.

John Whyley went close up to the latter door, and listened. All was still.

He hesitated a few moments, and then tapped and listened again, when there seemed to be a slight rustling sound within, but he could not be sure.

Turning on his light, there, beside him, was a bell-pull with the hole half-filled with snow.

“Shall I?” he said, hesitating. “People don’t like being called up for a cock-and-bull story, and what have I got to say? These gents came away tight.”

He paused and removed his helmet for another refreshing scratch.

“Was it acting? I’ve heerd a chap on the stage drawl just like that one with the thick voice. Now, stop a moment. Let’s argufy. Couldn’t be burglary. Yes, it could—body burglary!”

John Whyley grew excited as a strange train of thought ran through his head in connection with what he had heard tell about surgeons and their investigations, and purchases delivered in the dead of night.

“I don’t care,” he said; “wrong or right, I wish I hadn’t let that cab go, and I’ll get to the bottom of it before I’ve done.”

It might have been connected with visions of another possible half-crown, or it might have been in an honest desire to do his duty as a guardian of the public safety. At any rate, John Whyley gave a vigorous tug at Dr Chartley’s night-bell and waited.

“No answer; that’s a suspicious fact,” he said to himself; and he rang again, listened, waited, and rang again.

Hardly had the wire ceased to grate, when a curious whispering voice, close to his ear, said “What is it?” so strangely that John, who had only been a year in London, bounded back into the snow, and half drew his truncheon.

“What is it? Who’s there?” came then.

“What a fool I am! Speaking trumpet!” muttered the man, and directing his light toward the doorpost he saw a raised patch of snow, which upon being removed displayed a hole.

To this, full of confidence now, John Whyley applied his lips.

“Police!” he said. “Anything wrong?” There was a pause, and then the same strange voice came again.

“Wait. I’ll come down.”

Waiting was cold work, and John Whyley took at trot up, and was returning when he saw a dim light shine through the long glazed slits at the sides of the principal door, and directly after he heard a click a if a candlestick were set down on a marble slab, and one of the narrow windows showed a human shape in a misty way.

The bull’s-eye was turned on, and, after the momentary glimpse of a face, the rattling of a chain was heard and the front-door was opened a few inches to reveal a pale, haggard, but very handsome face, with large lustrous eyes, which looked dilated and strange.

“I did not understand you, policeman. Is anything the matter?”

“Well, Miss, that’s for you to say;” and he related what he had seen.

“It is very strange. My father’s door is locked, and there is no light.”

“Yes, Miss—one over the door.”

“Yes, but that only shines into the surgery. My brother has not come back.”

“But the doctor had company, Miss: that gentleman who had taken too much.”

“Oh, no; impossible.”

“Then I have been done!” cried the man, striking his left hand a blow with his fist, as if to clinch the thought which had been troubling him.

“I don’t understand you.”

“Well, Miss, I’m afraid there’s something wrong. But the doctor?”

“He is not in his room.”

“But how about the speaking trumpet?”

“I heard the night-bell. He is not in his chamber, and the passage door is locked. Perhaps—” a few moments’ pause; then in a firm decided tone, “Yes, you had better come in.”

The door was closed, so that the chain could be unfastened; and as the door was being reopened, John Whyley pulled himself together, and cleared his throat.

“Don’t be alarmed, Miss,” he said, as he stood in the large blank hall, and rubbed his shoes upon a very old mat. “I don’t like scaring you but its better to make sure than to let anything go wrong. That’s partly, you see, Miss, what we’re for.”

“Yes, yes, but come at once to the surgery.”

“One minute, Miss,” said the constable, examining carefully the handsome frightened face, and noting that its owner was tall, graceful, rather dark, and about three or four and twenty, while though her hair was in disorder as if from lying down, the lady was fully dressed.

“What do you want?” she said, with the wild look in her eyes intensifying.

“To do everything in order, Miss. First, who lives here?”

“My father, Dr Chartley.”

“Who else on the premises?”

“The servant-girl. Our boy. My brother, a medical student, lives here, but he has not yet returned. He is at a friend’s house—a little party.”

“And you’ve had a party here, Miss?”

“Oh, no; we never have company.”

“That’ll do, Miss. Now for the surgery. One moment: your name, please?”

“Richmond Chartley.”

“That’ll do. Rum name,” he muttered; and following the lady, who led the way with a chamber candlestick in past the open door of a gloomy-looking dining-room, constable John Whyley found himself at the end of a passage to the left, in front of a half-glass door, whose panes were covered on the other side by a thick dark blind.

“My father’s surgery,” said the lady in answer to an inquiring look.

The constable nodded, and tried the door twice before kneeling down and holding his light to the key hole.

“Key in,” he said gruffly, “locked inside. Who’s likely to be here?”

“My father. He always sits in the consulting-room beyond at night—studying.”

Another short nod, and the constable rapped loudly. No response.

He rapped again, with the same result. Then he drew a long breath, and the man showed that he possessed feeling as well as decision.

“I don’t want to alarm you, Miss, but I ought to force open this door.”

“But you do alarm me, man. Yes, you are right. No! let me come.”

She rapped smartly on the door.

“Father! Father! Are you here?”

Still no reply; and she drew back, looking wildly in the constable’s eyes, while her hands seemed as if drawn together to clasp each other and cheek the nervous trembling and be of mutual support.

“Yes,” she said, “force it open. Stop! break one of the panes.”

The constable leaned his shoulder against the pane nearest the lock, and there was a sharp crackling noise, the splintered glass being caught by the blind inside; but as the man thrust his hand through the great hole he had made, to draw the blind on one side, a fragment or two fell, making a musical tinkling.

The man’s next act was to take his lantern from his belt, and pass it through, directing the light in all directions, as he peered through the glass above, and then he withdrew the light with a low “Ha!”

“What can you see?”

“Hold hard, please, Miss, and keep back. This isn’t ladies’ work. I want some help here.”

“Then something has happened?”

“Well, Miss, seeing what I did see to-night, it may be nothing worse than a drop too much, but it looks ugly.”

“Who is it? My father?”

“Can’t say, Miss. Elderly gent with bald head.”

“Oh, what you say is possible! Quick! burst open the door!”

The constable placed his shoulder to the door, but drew back with an angry gesture.

“Of course!” he muttered, and thrusting his arm through, he reached the lock, turned the key, and the door swung open with a dismal creak.

“Now, Miss, I’ll see first, and come back and tell you.”

“Man! do you think I am a child?” was the sharp reply; and rushing by him, the speaker passed into the room, and went down upon her knees directly beside a figure in a shabby old dressing-gown, lying face downward on the floor.

“Is he—”

“Quick! turn on that gas.”

The constable took a step to obey, and kicked against something which rattled as it flew forward, and struck the wainscot board, while the next moment a dim, blue spark of light in a ground-glass burst into a flame, and lit up a dingy-looking, old-fashioned surgery just as the kneeling girl uttered a piteous cry.

“That’s enough,” muttered the constable, stooping and picking up the object he had kicked against—a short whalebone-handled life-preserver, and slipping it into his pocket. “Tells tales. Now, Miss,” he continued aloud, bending over the prostrate figure. “Hah! yes! I thought as much.”

It was plain enough. A slight thread of blood was trickling slowly from a spot on the smooth glistening bald head of the prostrate man, while as, with a moan of anguish, the girl thrust her arm softly beneath his neck, and raised the head, the mark of another blow was visible above the temple.

“Now, Miss, I can’t leave you like this. Let me stay while you go for help. We must have some one here.”

These words seemed to rouse the girl into fierce action, and she gently supported the wounded head, her hand sought the injured man’s wrist, and seized it in a professional way.

“Man,” she cried with angry energy, “while we are seeking help he may—Yes; still beating. Quick! Open that door. No, no; that’s the way into the street! The other door—the consulting-room. Prop it open with a chair. We must get him on to the sofa, and do something at once.”

“Yes, Miss; but a doctor.”

“I am a doctor’s daughter, man, and know what to do. Quick!”

“Well, of all—” muttered the constable, as he proceeded to the door in question; and then, without finishing the sentence, “Well, she is a plucked one!”

He stepped into a shabbily furnished room, in whose grate a fire was just aglow; and as the door swung to, and he cast the light round to seek for a chair, he caught sight of a vacant couch, a table with bottle, glasses, and sugar thereon, and the cover drawn all on one side, so that the glasses were within an ace of being off; and then, drawing in his breath, he stepped to the other side of the table, and held down the light, which fell upon a drawn and ghastly face, while, hidden by the table-cover, there lay the figure of a well-dressed man.

“Fit,” muttered the constable, bending lower. “No; I ain’t a doctor, but I know what that means.”

He stepped back quickly, and shut the door after him.

“No, no! prop it open.”

“Let it be, Miss,” he replied sternly. “There’s something else wrong there.”

The girl stared up at him aghast.

“Here’s a sofy will do,” he continued, pointing to a kind of settee, cushioned, and with a common moreen valance hanging down, while a rough kind of pillow was fastened to one end. “You get up, Miss, and lift a bit. I won’t hurt him more than I can help. That’s it. Sorry, Miss, I thought what I did.”

A low moan escaped the sufferer as he was lifted with difficulty upon the rough settee, and this being done, the constable renewed his request.

“Now, Miss, it’s a thing as wants doing at once. Call help.”

“Hold up his head,” was the quick imperious reply; and as the man obeyed, he saw to his surprise the girl go quickly to the row of shelves at one side of the room, take down a labelled bottle, remove the stopper, and pour some of its contents into a graduated glass. To this she added a portion of the contents of another bottle, taking them down, replacing stoppers, and proceeding in the most matter-of-fact, businesslike way, as if accustomed to the task, and returning to try and trickle a little fluid between the patient’s lip, supplementing it by bathing his temples.

This done, she ran to a drawer, to return with a roll and scissors; then getting sponge, water, and basin, and proceeding deftly to bathe and strap up the bleeding wound, before turning to her assistant, who looked dim, as the fog seemed to have filtered into the room. “Now,” she said sharply, “is there some one injured in that room?”

“Yes, Miss; but stop. I will have help now,” said the constable hoarsely. “You shan’t go in there!”

At that moment, as the man stepped before the consulting-room door, there was the quick rattle of a latch-key heard faintly from the front-door, and as the opening door affected that of the surgery, and made it swing slightly and creak, the girl ran to it.

“Here, Hendon! quick!”

There was a heavy step in the passage, and a young man, who looked flushed, hurried into the surgery, hat in hand, his ulster over his arm.

“What’s the matter?” he said thickly. The constable directed at him a sharp glance.

“I don’t know. Look! My father attacked, and—Oh? Hendon, pray, pray see!”

The young man had evidently been drinking; and the suddenness of this encounter seemed for a moment to confuse him; but as he caught sight of the injured doctor, the policeman peering at him with a sternly inquiring look, and the tall, handsome girl, with wild eyes and parted lips, pointing towards the consulting-room door, he threw back his head, gave it a shake as if to clear it, and spoke more clearly.

“Accident?” he said. “Look?”

“Yes, for pity’s sake, look.”

He strode to the consulting-room door, stepped in and was turning to come back, but the policeman was following.

“What is it?” he said. “Here! a light.”

He snatched the lantern from the constable’s hand, and the light fell directly upon the face of the prostrate figure beyond the table.

“Who’s this?” he said, going down on one knee. “Why, constable, what’s up? This man is dead!”

“Yes, sir, I see that.”

“Yes, quite dead. But what does it mean? Has my sister—”

“Seen him? No, sir, I wouldn’t let her come. Now, then, as you’re here, I’ll go for a doctor and some of our men.”

“One minute. I’m a medical student—bit thick, constable—been at a party—but I know what I’m doing. Yes, this man’s dead—shot, I think. But my father? Here, come back. That poor girl must be half wild.”

He ran back into the surgery.

“Here, Rich, my girl, this is a terrible business. Yes, yes,” he added, slowly examining what his sister had done, and then drawing in his breath, as he passed his hand over the smooth bald head. “How did it happen?”

“I—I don’t know,” gasped the girl, wildly; and now that the burden was partly shifted from her shoulders, her feminine nature began to reassert itself, and she uttered a low wail.

“But—here, constable, how did this come about?”

The man explained in a few words, all the time gazing searchingly at the inquirer, but shaking his head to himself, as if feeling that the suspicions he harboured were wrong.

“And now, sir, I must have some one in,” said the man in conclusion.

“Yes; of course, of course. But my father? We cannot leave him like that. To take him up to his bedroom would not be wise, and we cannot—here, Rich, I say, where are you? Constable, help me carry out this sofa.”

John Whyley followed, and the comfortable couch was carried from its neighbourhood by the ghastly figure lying beyond the table, into the surgery, placed close to the wall, and the wounded man carefully placed upon it in an easier position.

“Now, sir, just one look round,” said the constable, as Richmond knelt down, weeping silently by her father’s side, “and then I’m off. Got this, sir.”

He drew out the life-preserver, and showed it to the young student before going into the consulting-room, and after a glance round, kneeling by the dead man to make a rapid search of his pockets.

“Surely this is not necessary now?”

“Yes, sir, it is. One of the first questions my sergeant will ask me will be about recognitions. That will do, sir. Not a scrap of anything about him after a sooperficial search. Now the other place.”

He returned to the surgery, looked round, peered into a closet, and then examined the door.

“No signs of violence,” he said; and then the settee caught his attention, and he advanced cautiously, drew up the valance, but only to reveal that it was a great chest, and had not harbour beneath for concealment of person or article connected with the case. “Chest, eh?” he said; and placing his hand to the cushion, he found that it was fastened to the great lid, which he raised with one hand, and directed the light into it with the other; but before it was open many inches he banged it down and started away as if horrified.

“Bah, man! scared by a few bones. Articulations, and preparations used in surgical lectures.”

“Yes, I see,” said the man, recovering himself, “but coming upon ’em sudden like, they looked rather horrid. Now, sir, I’m off. I shall send on the first of our men I see, and come back with the doctor. One two streets off, ain’t there? if I can find him in the fog.”

“Yes; Mr Clayton Bell. Be quick.”

The man hurried off, and in a remarkably short time, or so it seemed to the brother and sister, who were conversing in whispers as they strove to restore the unconscious man to consciousness, there was a ring at the bell, and the constable had returned with a grave, portly-looking surgeon and a sergeant of police.

“Yes,” said the newcomer, after a careful examination, “two heavy blows, given, I should say, the first from behind, the second as Dr Chartley was turning round. As you surmised, Mr Chartley, the skull is fractured, and there is a severe pressure upon the brain. And the other case?”

The surgeon was led into the next room, where a long and careful examination was made.

“No, Mr Chartley, no firearms here; the man has been poisoned.”

“Poisoned!” cried Hendon Chartley, turning to the table, and taking up one of the glasses to raise it to his nose, and then touch the liquid in the bottom with the tip of his finger and taste it. “Brandy,” he said, “only pure brandy.”

He set it down, and took up the second glass, which he smelt.

“Ha! there’s something here,” he cried; and dipping his finger again, he tasted it, and spat quickly two or three times, before passing the glass to the surgeon, who contented himself with raising it to his nostrils.

“Yes; Mr Chartley; no doubt about that,” he said. “How did all this come about?”

He turned to the young student, who looked at the sergeant, and the sergeant at John Whyley, while the latter stared stolidly at the surgeon.

“That’s what we’re going to see, sir,” said Whyley.

“Quite right, my man, quite right. Now, Mr Chartley, I can do no more here. I should like to have in a colleague in consultation over your father’s case. Nothing more can be done now. We will be here quite early.”

He gave a few directions as he passed through the consulting-room, and then son and daughter were left to their painful vigil, and the thick fog covered all as with a funeral pall.