|Chapter Title||FINES AND CO., STRAND.|
|Newspaper Title||Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Story of a Jewelled Belt|
the story of a jewelled BELT. BY P. E. Qitinn. (The Hights of Re-publication Reserved.) [CHAPTER V. (Continued.) FINES AND CO., STBAND.
As Chester left the establishment of pinks and Co. hid coarse seemed clear to him. All he had to do was to hunt up the man named Johnson, the artificer who had Welded the jewelled belt about Mr. Leigh. < It seemed clear to him that this man must have had some hand in the murder and robbery of Marian's father. The suspicion was justifiable from the fact that this man of all • in London, excepting Mr. Finks (who, of coarse, was out of the question), - knew of the valuable booty borne by the murdered man. But presently some doubts began to assail the amatetir detective's mind. Was it not possible that in one of those fits of mental aberration to which he was subject the unfortunate gentleman had shown, or in some way revealed, his treasure to others both in London and Melbourne P Chester conld not help feeling that this was quite possible, in which case the cocksure policy of investigation which had led him up to the conclusion that Johnson was the guilty man would be sadly shattered. And, moreover, how was he to find Johnson, even if he were the murderer P The skilful manner in which the murder had been committed, and the care with which any clue which might lead to the detection of the murderer had been concealed or foreseen and prevented, proved that Johnson was a man of more than ordinary cunning. Having secured the booty, and with several months of immunity in which to move, he had probably betaken himself to some country where he would be unknown. It was the easiest thing in the world, as Chester knew, for a man of ordinary appearance to bury himself in some centre of population where he would be unrecognisable in the midst of the mass of similar humanity about him. It is curious that the outlaw of society now secretes himself in the recesses of the very organisation he wars against. Of old when a man did a felonious thing which was discovered he accepted as its first consequence the penalty of banishment from the society he had sinned against. He outlawed himself, and from fastnesses of wood and wild hill he flung himself upon passing train or insecure hamlet, and slew and robbed, and flew back again, like an eagle to his eyrie, to enjoy his booty and plan new predaciousness. This was the way with all outlaws, from Robin Hood to Ned Kelly. But the outlaw of to-day prefers the dense companies of men in big cities. For one thing, the older way has been rendered unusually hazardous, if not altogether impossible, by the spread of settlement and the enhancement of methods of communication. The wilderness no longer wars against the town. The wolf and the bear have gone their way, and'the robber who consorted with the wild things of the forest ha's passed away with them. The enemy of society is now in its own bosom, nestling side by side with the policeman who exists to arrest him, the judge whose work is to convict, and the gloomy functionary whose hand _ is to give him the fatal shove into eternity. In the multiplicity of men he finds his safety. He carries no brand upon his brow to mark him. asrpbber or assassin. Such as he is there are hundreds of thousands, even millions,like him in great cities. If he is' clever and has not previously come, under the cognisance of the police, there is nothing to point him out as an enemy to society to the.keenest detectives, and he 'may enjoy immunity for years, until some imprudence of his own, or a visitation of tnat fatal madness in which the criminal, in nine cases out of ten, drops* his mask, overtakes him, and justice at length obtains her own ;, or a combination of apparent accidents weaves a chain of formidable evidence about .Mm against which it is vain for him to attempt to, provide or content. . . . as Chester held, there are many cri.... donein grpat.cities whose perpe-
trators are never discovered by human instruments. Who keeps count and recognition of every face, say in London, with its four millions and odd of faces P The family, it is true, is the germ of society and its cities. Each member of a family in London is bound by infallible ties to every other family. He is part of society. If he disappear there are those to know it, to set the police in motion, and to identify him should his remains be recovered. The knowledge of his habits—his associates—his connections—form a substantial groundwork upon which the officers of justice can build. But the waif, the single life, whom no family acknowledges, and who is alone in London—there are thousands such there, man and woman—may disappear without anybody knowing that to-day there iB one less than yesterday. There are none to miss him, none to search for him. He goes down, and the waters close over him, and that is all. Whither he goes, or how he fares, Nobody knows, and nobody cares. God knows, in these direlict existences, drifting in the unsunned depths of modern life, there is pathos deeper than ever poet has told or thought, and it lies in the one fact that they may go out like a farthing rushlight, and no man know. What a store of solitude and separateness that one grim fact tells—of divorce from love and home, of severed channels of kinship, of a loneliness amid teeming millions more complete than it would be in the wastes of Sahara or the ice deserts of the poles to the man who has living kindred. The loneliness of the body is nothing. It is the isolation of the soul which is so terrible. And we find that, not in the wilderness, bat in the city. And that crowd in which the identity of the victim is lost serves as the best veil for the concealment of the criminal. Chester felt, after reflections of this kind, that his task was not yet over. Johnson might have gone to America, or some other place. In that case, Chester determined to give up the whole of his data to Scotland Yard, and surrender all personal investigation. Bat he might be in London. Chester felt that the man would not stop in Melbourne or any of the Australifin colonies. He had come ont to commit the crime and gain his booty, and that done, would probably resort to his favourite haunts to enjoy 1iis evilly-acquired affluence. This would more probably be the case if he were a man advanced in life, when old associations would be more despotic and new ones harder to form. This, at any rate, was Chester's theory. His first step was to ascertain Johnson's appearance and mode of life. This he determined to do at his late lodging, and by personal inquiries. Now that he had, as he thought, the actual criminal in view, the hunting appetite in him became stronger, and he felt capable of unravelling the rest of the matter with his own hands. When be failed it would be time, enough, he argued, to call in the assistance of the police. In a comparatively quiet East End street there was a terrace of houses, old and weatherworn, but presenting no appearance of dilapidation. It was called, according to some cement lettering upon the centre house, " Wellesley Crescent," and, according to the same authority, had been built in 1830. Why it was called a crescent did not appear, because, though the street itself &rtook of the general deviousness of E iondon thoroughfares, the terrace was undeniably straight. But nomenclature of this kind is a thing apart. Builders and architects—people who are bound by rules and levels—require some imaginative freedom and irregularity as a counterpoise to the strict accuracy of their work, and perhaps the designing of the names they confer upon the structures they build is one of the few gratifications the indulgence in which saves them from some wild end. ; The ninth hodse in this terrace was kept by'Mrs. Thompson, a pleasant but Careworn-faced widow, who paid herjrent Out of the. interest on the insurance policy taken out by the late Mr. Thompson in her favour, and for the rest maintained herself and her two children by taking in boarders or letting rooms to lodgers. At the door of this house Chester knocked the morning after his visit to Pinks and Co. It was opened by Mrs. Thompson in person. The good woman had been officiating in the kitchen, and when she saw a gentleman standing before her,
attempt to wipe the smudges from heir face with a hurried sweep of her ppronj, This favourably impressed Chester, for when a woman becomes careless of he* personal appearance he held that she becomes careless of many other things besides. Without being itself a fault it is an unpleasant symptom. Of course, this is providing that she has the little time required for tidy ing operations, for— and " Oh, the pity o' it"—it is true that some women in the world have not even so little leisure left them. 'Are you Mrs. ThompsonP" inquired Chester, raising his hat. " Yes, sir," said the woman, dropping a responsive courtesy. " I don't wish to trespass on your time, Mrs. Thompson," said Chester, " but if you could spare me a few minutes you might give me some information which would be valuable to me, and " Here he paused abruptly. He had been about to mention a monetary consideration to the woman, but felt diffident. There waB a self-respecting air about her which made him feel that there would be something offensive in such an offer. And he was right. There is something brutal in the manner in which affluence seeks to purchase poverty even when only what is right is proposed, and >oyerty, though it accepts, does so when onest, only, with suffering. " Oh ! don't mind that, sir," said Mrs. Thompson, cheerfully. "I'mquite willing to tell you whatever I can. Will you come inside P" " Thank you," answered Chester. He followed into a dusky little sittingroom, clean bat thick with the odours, or, rather, the memories of odours, of a long shut apartment. Mrs. Thompson gave him a chair, and seated herself on another. " My excase for calling upon you is this, madam," Chester began. " Some months ago you had stopping here a lodger named Johnson." At the namfe Mrs. Thompson gave a slight start. " Yes," she said, quietly. "I suppose you have no idea where he can now be found P" continued Chester. "No, sir," answered the woman. " He left no address with you when he left P" Chester went on. " He did not," said Mrs. Thompson. " The fact is," she added, " he didn't feel very kindly to me before he went away." " Ah!" said Chester, with an air of surprise. " May I ask why P" Mrs. Thompson coloured slightly, and very pleasant that tinge of youth looked on the pale, careworn cheeks. " Well, it ain t a secret, sir, and I may as Tfell tell you that he wanted me to marry him. He got good wages where he worked, and hadn't many faults that one could see, being always respectful, but bless you, my poor James was a good man to me, and I told him when he was dying that I'd put no other in his place till I met him again, which I hope to do." And her voice trembled, and the tears stood in the patient-looking brown eyes. Chester was touched at this revelation of fidelity. He said nothing, however, waiting until Mrs. Thompson's momentary agitation had subsided. " Not," she resumed, " that I'd have had him, in any case, for he were a dark sort of man, and looked as if he had secrets. When he was leaving he told me that a few months would perhaps make him a rich msta, for some of his speculations were turning out well, and asked if he was rich would it make any difference, and I said no, not if he was as rich as the Queen. 'Mrs. Thompson I am going to die,' I sez, and he went away without a word of goodbye, and a look in his face that minded me of the water in dull weather—quiet, but deep and dark. It made me shiver somehow." ' And Mrs. Thompson wiped her fore, head, this time without any furtiveness, for agitation had exalted her above trivialities. . " Could you'tell me what kind of man he was to look at P" said Chester. " I can do better than that," said Mrs, Thompson. " There's a likeness of his here which I can.give you if it's any use to you. I don't want it." ." The very thing," said Chester, eagerly. Mrs. Thompson arose and turned over the leaves of an. album on the table, and presently took out a photograph, which she handed to Chester. Ho looked at it curiously. It was a strong, intelligent face, taken threequarter wise. Tfee forehead was full, the eyes small, the nose large and thin. The neck was thick and the oars prominent,
The mouth and chin were concealed by a beard and moustache, but Chester guessed that the concealed mouth would be large and thin-lipped, and the chin bony and protuberant. "His hair and eyes were brown," rs. Thompson remarked. "Yes," answered Chester, "I suposed so. He seems a man of middle ge from this portrait." " Aye," said Mrs. Thompson, " about orty years old, or a year or two more, I hink." "Were there any other peculiarities hat one would notice about him P" asked hester. "Not as I know of," answered Mrs. hompson. His 'ands (though a Lononer she seldom dropped her aspirates) as long and strong. It made me ueer to look at them." " What build was he P" asked Chester. " Oh, he were a sightly-looking man nough, about middle height, and strongly uilt, not fleshy, but broad, and with a Blight stoop in his neck from bending over his work." Did you know anything of his habits, Mrs. Thompson P Did he drink or gamble, or anything like thatP" Chester nquired. He didn't drink, as I know of, but he used to stop out very late at night, and it puzzled me what he did with his money. Sometimes he used not to have a bit of jewellery about him, and the next week he'd be wearing a watch and chain, and two or three diamond rings and a ruby scarf pin. I often thought he must gamble." " Very likely," said Chester. " That's a pursuit that brings a good many ups and downs to a man's pocket." As he spoke, he arose to leave, delighted with Mrs. Thompson's ready communicativeness and intelligence. "Has he killed anybody, sir?" The question so quietly put startled Chester. He looked at Mra. Thompson with a question in his face. "Oh, I know, sir, that no stranger would take such an interest in another, and ask such questions, unless there was somethimg important concerned," she said, with the shade of a smile. "From the first I thought you was a detective." " Ah, well," said Chester," I can't be much of a detective to show my hand so easily. But with you I don't |think it matters, as you would, I am sure, rather assist justice than defeat it." " That I would, sir," said Mrs. Thompson, promptly. " Well, you have asked me a question which I myself am trying to answer. A cruel murder has been committed which I suspect this Mr. Johnson has had a hand in. I would ask you to say nothing to other persons about my inquiries, and if you hear of Johnson I would be obliged if you would call or send to this address at once." And Chester wrote his address upon a leaf of his note-book, which he tore out and handed to Mrs. Thompson. "I'll do what you require, sir, the woman replied. " I may tell you that I'm not a detective by profession," said Chester, as he observed her eyes opening at the name of the swell club he had written down. " I am acting as one in this case for several reasons, which it is not necessary that I should mention." As Chester was about to move towards the door the clatter of light feet was heard on the pavement without, stopping at the door, and at least two small boots were applied vigorously as knockers. " The children," cried Mrs. Thompson, at once opening the door. A little boy and girl entered, and Mrs. Thompson, with a mother's pride, presented them to Chester. " These are mine," she said—'"Johnny and Susie." Chester shook hands with them, with a few kind words, and then presented his hand to the mother, saying— "I cannot tell you how much I thank you for your information." " Oh, don't mention it, sir," said the good woman, who felt this genuine thanks quite sufficient reward. Nevertheless, Chester had left a £6 note in each of the children's right hand. " It's worth that," he said to himself as he walked homewards; " but what a fool I am as. a detective. That woman dropped to me like a shot. Supposing she a a friendly feeling or affection for Johnson, why, the whole business would have been exploded, and all through my own blundering. However, all's well that ends well. I have an idea that Mr. Johnson will turn up one of these days at the widow's. Well see." (To be continued,)