|Newspaper Title||Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Brought to Book|
BROUGHT TO BOOK.
It was at a carpet dance at the house of Mrs Venable, a friend of his uncle, Mr John Orde, that Marcus Gray, a young American over on his travels, having screwed his courage to the sticking place, proposed to Mary Lumsden, the eldest daughter of a well-to-do city merchant. They had met several times in the course of the preceding month, and it had not taken Gray long to discover that in Miss Lumsden he had lighted on the girl who, for him, was " the fairest flower the sun shone on." His opportunity had come to him this evening, when he and Mary by some happy chance found themselves alone in the curtained embayment of a projecting window. At any moment they might be disturbed by some stray couple in search of a quiet nook, and what Gray had to say, if he did not wish the occasion to slip through his fingers, must be brief and to the point. Presumably it was so, in view of the fact that not more than three minutes elapsed from the time of our people finding themselves alone in the alcove to that of their emergence. It may further be assumed that their conversation, brief as it was, had not proved unsatisfactory to either of them, seeing that, as Miss Lumsden's partner for the next dance came up to claim her. Gray contrived to whisper in her ear, " I will call upon your father in the course of tomorrow." Mention has been made of Marcus Gray's uncle, Mr Orde. John Orde's dearest friend was Edward Lumsden, Mary's father. Their friendship dated back to their school days. They took to each other, as the saying is, from the first - so much so indeed that some portion of the holiday of each was generally spent at the home of the other. When the time came for them to push their fortunes in the world the city of London acted as a loadstone to both ; Lumsden found a stool in the office of a drysaltery firm in Upper Thames street, while Orde went under the tutelage of his father, whose business was that of a shipbroker. Years passed, bringing with them their inevitable change and vicissitudes, but in no wise interrupting the current of their friendship. In the course of time Orde suceeeded to his father's position, while Lumsden started in business on his own account, and to neither of them did fortune prove unkind. We come now to a certain memorable ninth of June, the day immediately following that of Mrs Venable's carpet dance. Both Lumsden and Orde had deemed it advisable a little while before to put themselves in telephonic connection with such of of their customers and agents as preferred to specify their wants and wishes through that ready medium of communication, and accordingly a wire had been laid on the premises of each. Although Lumsden and Orde were in no way related in business affairs, they frequently used the telephone for messages about private matters, such as a little while before would have facilitated the writing of a note or the transmission of a telegram. For instance, Lumsden, having got himself "switched on" at the exchange, would telephone Orde an invitation to dinner, or a request to join him at his club at a certain hour, while Orde, on his part, would inform Lumsden through the same medium that he had just had tickets sent to him for a concert or the theatre, and would specify when and where he would look to meet his friend and wife unless they happened to be otherwise engaged. At twenty minutes to two o'clock on the afternoon of the aforesaid June 9, the telephone bell in Mr Orde's private office signalled that someone was desirous of speaking with him. Mr Max, one of the staff, whose duty it was to attend to the instrument during his employer's absence, at once responded to the summons, which was followed up after the usual preliminary question, "Are you there ?*
To this Max replied with the stereotyped, " Yes ; who are you ?" " Lumsden," was the answer. Then, evidently recognising that the voice was not his friend's, " Is Mr Orde not there ?" he queried.
" At present he is out, sir," replied Max ; " but I am expecting him back any moment." " In that case I will keep the connection open for a few minutes. Tell him to signal me immediately he returns." " All right, sir," responded Max, and with that the conversation came to an end for the time being. So far as could be ascertained afterward, it would seem to have been Lumsden's intention to ask Orde to meet him at his club and dine with him, his wife and daughter being under an engagement to accompany some friends that evening to a concert. Four minutes later, Mr Orde pushed open the swing doors of the outer office and was at once informed by Max of the conversation that had passed between himself and Mr Lumiden. Going forward into his room he took up the telephone tube with the intention of signalling to his friend that he was there and at his service. The tube was in his hand, and he was on the point of putting it to his lips when a sound which reached him through it arrested his attention and caused him to clap it to his ear instead. What we heard sounded to him like an inarticulate cry, as it might be, of surprise or fear, followed, the moment the tube touched his ear by the words, " Oh, Harry, Harry - this from you." Close upon which came a groan, then a dull thud as of some heavy body falling, and last of all, after a brief silence, but very faintly, what seemed like the closing of a door. For a few moments longer Mr Orde stood with the tube glued to his ear like a man stupefied, but no further sound of any kind reaohed him. Then his wits came back to him in some measure. He gave the signal he had been on the point of giving before and waited, with a sickening suspense impossible to describe, for a response. But none came. Again he signalled, and again he waited : but with a like result, or with no result at all. The tube dropped from his fingers and he sank into his chair uttterly dazed and confounded. What has happened to his friend ? Had he been the unwitting auditor of a tragedy in which Lumsden had played the part of victim ? If nothing had happened, why had the latter failed to respond to his summons ? But the need for ascertaining, beyond the possibility of doubt, whether his fears had any foundation in fact was a spur to immediate action. He rang and ordered a hansom to be fetched with all speed. While waiting for it he signalled again through the instrument, hoping against hope to hear his friend's cheery " Halloo " in return, but the silence that ensued was as the silence of the grave. It was with a heart replete with foreboding the most dire that, a few minutes later, he found himself on his way to Saint Augustine's alley, in which narrow but important thoroughfare Lumsden'a offices were situated. But quick as he had been in reaching the scene, the tragedy which had been enacted there - for nothing less did it prove to be - had already become public property. The premises were in charge of the police, while the alley itself was blocked by a surging crowd of men and youths, each and all anxious to glean the late particulars of a crime so startling and mysterious, for it is not often that a merchant of the city of London is, murdered in his own office in broad daylight. On the oblong mahogany table, at which he had sat for so many hours every week day, lay the dead body of Edward Lumsden a terrible wound on his left temple, as if caused by some blunt instrument, revealing to all present the nature of the foul play to which he had fallen a victim. The particulars of the affair, so far as they had yet been ascertained, were as follows : It had been Mr Lumsden's practice to charge himself with the care of the establishment during luncheon time which was limited to half an hour, when, as a rule, he and an office boy were the sole occupants of the ground floor, which comprised a couple of rooms - Lumsden's own office and a much larger one for the use of the staff. On this 9th of June, about five minutes after the half-dozen clerks had left in a body, the office boy, Houghton by name, was sent by his master with a note to the head of a firm some distance away, and, according to his own account, was gone just quarter of an hour, during which time it must have been that Lumsden tried to open up a communication with his friend by telephone. On the lad's return he was horrified at finding his master's body stretched lifeless on the floor. It was evident that Lumsden had been struck down while seated close to the telephone waiting for the signal that Orde had returned. Appearances led to the conclusion that the safe had been hurriedly rifled of whatever notes and gold it might have contained, the door being open and the
floor littered with documents of various kinds. So far all inquiries had failed to elicit the slightest evidence ol anyone, either a stranger or otherwise, having been seen to enter or leave the premises between the time of Houghton's quitting them and his return. And there, for the present, the affair rested.
As the dead man's oldest friend, it now became James Orde's unenviable duty to break the terrible tidings to his wife and family.