Chapter 10 | Ay, Marry is't; Crowner's Quest Law | The Bag of Diamonds

A jury of men, chosen with the careful selection always made by the coroner’s officer, and with such extraordinary happy results, sat solemnly and listened to the evidence, after hearing the coroner’s preliminary address, and viewing the body of the deceased.

Witness by witness, all were examined. John Whyley told all he knew, and produced the life-preserver; Richmond Chartley, brought from her father’s bedside, where he lay perfectly insensible, gave her account of the proceedings, and directly after joined Janet Heath, who was her companion, and sat down to try once more to disentangle her thoughts, which, from the time she had left the surgery with the bottle of chloral till she was alarmed by the persistent ringing of the doctor’s night-bell, had been in a state of wild confusion.

Hendon Chartley gave his evidence. How he had been spending the evening with a gentleman of his acquaintance, and on letting himself in with his latch-key he had heard voices in the surgery, and gone there.

Mr James Poynter, the gentleman with whom Hendon Chartley had been dining corroborated the last witness, and seemed disgusted that he had not a better part to play, especially after his announcement to the coroner that he was a great friend of the family.

For some reason of their own, the sapient jurymen exchanged glances several times during the evidence of the last two witnesses, and shook their heads, while one man began to make notes on the sheet of paper before him with a very scratchy pen, whereupon two more immediately caught the complaint, and the foreman regretted to himself that he wasn’t as handy with ink as he could wish.

The surgeon was of course a very important witness, and he told how the man upon whose body the inquest was being held had undoubtedly died of an excessive dose of hydrocyanic acid, of which poison there was, naturally enough, a bottle in the doctor’s surgery; but how it had been administered, whether by accident, purposely, or with suicidal intent, it was impossible to say; and apparently the only man who could throw any light upon the subject was Doctor Chartley himself, who was now lying in a precarious state, perfectly insensible from the pressure of bone upon the brain, and too feeble for an operation to be performed.

“Not the only man,” said one of the jury; “three men were seen by the policeman to leave the surgery.”

The coroner said “Exactly;” and there was a murmur of assent; while, after stating that it was impossible to say how long Dr Chartley would be before he could appear, and that it was quite possible that he would never be able to give evidence at all, the surgeon’s evidence came to an end.

Elizabeth Gundry was called; and a frightened-looking smudgy woman came forward, trembling and fighting hard not to burst into tears, hysterical sobbing having filled up so much of her time since the foggy night that her voice had degenerated into an appealing whine. She was smudgy-looking, but undoubtedly clean; only life in underground kitchens, and the ingraining of London blacks with the baking process of cookery, had given her skin an unwholesome tinge, which her reddened eyes did not improve.

Questioned, she knew nothing but that she thought she had heard the doctor’s bell ring; but that she always put her head under the clothes if she did hear it, and she did so that night. Further questioned why, she said with sobs that it was a very large house, and nobody was kept but her and Bob; and she was “that tired when she went to bed that she thought it weren’t fair to expect her to get up and answer the night-bell, and so she never would hear it if it rang. It warn’t her place; for though she did housemaid’s work, and there was two sets of front-doorsteps, she considered herself a cook.”

Here there was a furious burst of sobbing, and the foreman of the jury wanted to know why.

Now he, being a pleasant-looking man, won upon Elizabeth Gundry more than the coroner did, that gentleman being suggestive of an extremely sharp ratting terrier grown fat. So Elizabeth informed the foreman that her grief was, of course, partly on account of master, and she thought it very shocking for there to be a murder in “our house;” but what she wanted to know was what had become of Bob, whom she was sure one of those bad men had smuggled away under his coat.

Of course, this brought Bob to the front, and, growing garrulous now, Elizabeth informed everybody that Bob was a regular limb, but evidently a favourite; and since Bob had answered her out of the surgery regarding his supper, Bob had not been seen or heard of, and it was her opinion that he had been killed, so as not to tell all he knew.

Bob’s bed had not been slept in; Bob’s hat was hanging in the pantry, and the police had not been able to discover where Bob had gone.

The mystery seemed to thicken, and Elizabeth was questioned till she broke down sobbing once more, after declaring that Bob was the mischievousest young imp as ever lived, but she was very fond of him; and if it hadn’t been for his wicked old tipsy mother, who was no better than a thief, there weren’t a dearer, more lovable boy in the “old world.”

The sergeant of police and John Whyley made notes, afterwards compared, about Bob and his mother, and Elizabeth went off crying and refusing to be comforted because of Bob.

Then the sergeant stated perspiringly in the hot room, buttoned up in his coat, that the cabman had been found; and in due course a red-nosed, prominent-eyed member of the four-wheeled fraternity corroborated John Whyley’s evidence as to the three men whom he took in his cab. He reiterated the statement that “one on ’em was very tight;” told that he drove them to an hotel in Surrey Street, close to the Embankment, and corrected himself as to the driving, because “You see, gents, it was like this here: the fog was that thick, if you sat on the box you couldn’t see the ’oss’s tail, let alone his ears, and you had to lead him all the way.”

Did the men go into the hotel?

He couldn’t say; they helped out the one as was so very tight, and they gave him arf-suffrin—first money he’d took that night, and the last, on account of the fog.

And where did the three men go—into the hotel?

He didn’t know; they seemed to him to go into the fog. Everythink went into the fog that night or come out on it. It was all fog as you might ’most ha’ cut with a knife; and when he had a wash next morning, his face was that black with the sut you might ha’ took him for a sweep.

But the man who seemed to be drunk, did he say anything?

Not a word.

“Would he know the men again?”

Not likely; and besides, if he took notice of all parties as was very tight, and as he took home in his keb, he’d have enough to do. That there fog was so thick that—

The coroner said that would do, and after the people at the hotel had been called to prove that no one had entered their place after eleven o’clock that night, and that the bell had not been rung, the coroner said that the case would have for the present to be left in the hands of the police, who would, he hoped, elucidate what was at present one of the mysteries of our great city. He did not think he was justified in starting a theory of his own as to the causes of the dramatic scene that must have taken place in Dr Chartley’s surgery. They were met to investigate the causes of the death of this man, who was at present unknown. No doubt the police would be able to trace the three men who left the surgery that night, and during the adjournment Dr Chartley would probably recover; and so on, and so on; a long harangue in which it seemed as if the fog, of which so much mention had been made, had got into the evidence.

Finally the coroner said that he did not think he should be doing his duty if he did not mark the feeling he had with respect to the conduct of the police-constable John Whyley.

The gentleman in question glowed, for he felt that he had suddenly become a prominent personage, with chevrons upon his arm to denote his rise in rank. Then he froze, and his face assumed a terribly blank expression, for the coroner went on to say that never in the whole course of his experience, which now extended over a quarter of a century, had he been cognisant of such utterly crass stupidity as that of this policeman—a man who, in his opinion, ought to be dismissed from the force.

John Whyley wished a wicked wish after the jury had been dismissed, and orders given for the burial of the Mephistophelean-looking man, lying so stiff and ghastly in the parish shell—and John Whyley’s wish was that it had been the coroner instead of Doctor Chartley who had got “that one—two on the nob.”