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The Four-fifteen Express






AMELIA B. EDWARDS


The events which I am about to relate took place between nine and ten
years ago. Sebastopol had fallen in the early spring, the peace of Paris
had been concluded since March, our commercial relations with the
Russian Empire were but recently renewed; and I, returning home after my
first northward journey since the war, was well pleased with the
prospect of spending the month of December under the hospitable and
thoroughly English roof of my excellent friend Jonathan Jelf, Esq., of
Dumbleton Manor, Clayborough, East Anglia. My way lay by the Great East
Anglian line as far as Clayborough station, where I was to be met by one
of the Dumbleton carriages and conveyed across the remaining nine miles
of country. Having arrived some seven minutes before the starting of the
train, and, by the connivance of the guard, taken sole possession of an
empty compartment, I lighted my travelling-lamp, made myself
particularly snug, and settled down to the undisturbed enjoyment of a
book and a cigar. Great, therefore, was my disappointment when, at the
last moment, a gentleman came hurrying along the platform, glanced into
my carriage, opened the locked door with a private key, and stepped in.

It struck me at the first glance that I had seen him before--a tall,
spare man, thin-lipped, light-eyed, with an ungraceful stoop in the
shoulders, and scant grey hair worn somewhat long upon the collar. He
carried a light waterproof coat, an umbrella, and a large brown japanned
deed-box, which last he placed under the seat.

I now recognized my companion. I had met him, as I distinctly
remembered, some three years before, at the very house for which, in all
probability, he was now bound, like myself. His name was Dwerrihouse; he
was a lawyer by profession, and, if I was not greatly mistaken, was
first cousin to the wife of my host. I thought, observing him by the
vague mixture of lamplight and twilight, that Mrs. Jelf's cousin looked
all the worse for the three years' wear and tear which had gone over his
head since our last meeting. He was very pale, and had a restless light
in his eye that I did not remember to have observed before. The anxious
lines, too, about his mouth were deepened, and there was a cavernous,
hollow look about his cheeks and temples which seemed to speak of
sickness or sorrow. When he had glanced at me for the third or fourth
time I ventured to address him.

"Mr. John Dwerrihouse, I think?"

"That is my name," he replied.

"I had the pleasure of meeting you at Dumbleton about three years ago."

Mr. Dwerrihouse bowed.

"I thought I knew your face," he said; "but your name, I regret to
say----"

"Langford--William Langford. I have known Jonathan Jelf since we were
boys together at Merchant Taylor's, and I generally spend a few weeks at
Dumbleton in the shooting season. I suppose we are bound for the same
destination?"

"Not if you are on your way to the manor," he replied. "I am travelling
upon business. You have heard perhaps that we are about to construct a
branch line from Blackwater to Stockbridge."

"You are an East Anglian director, I presume?"

"My interest in the company," replied Mr. Dwerrihouse, "is threefold. I
am a director, I am a considerable shareholder, and, as the head of the
firm of Dwerrihouse, Dwerrihouse & Craik, I am the company's principal
solicitor."

Loquacious, self-important, full of his pet project, and apparently
unable to talk on any other subject, Mr. Dwerrihouse then went on to
tell of the opposition he had encountered and the obstacles he had
overcome in the cause of the Stockbridge branch. I was entertained with
a multitude of local details and local grievances. The rapacity of one
squire, the impracticability of another, the indignation of the rector
whose glebe was threatened; and so on and on and on, till my head ached
and my attention flagged and my eyes kept closing in spite of every
effort that I made to keep them open. At length I was roused by these
words:

"Seventy-five thousand pounds, cash down."

"Seventy-five thousand pounds, cash down," I repeated, in the liveliest
tone I could assume. "That is a heavy sum."

"A heavy sum to carry here," replied Mr. Dwerrihouse, pointing
significantly to his breast-pocket, "but a mere fraction of what we
shall ultimately have to pay."

"You do not mean to say that you have seventy-five thousand pounds at
this moment upon your person?" I exclaimed.

"My good sir, have I not been telling you so for the last half-hour?"
said Mr. Dwerrihouse, testily. "That money has to be paid over at
half-past eight o'clock this evening, at the office of Sir Thomas's
solicitors, on completion of the deed of sale."

"But how will you get across by night from Blackwater to Stockbridge
with seventy-five thousand pounds in your pocket?"

"To Stockbridge!" echoed the lawyer. "I find I have made myself very
imperfectly understood. I thought I had explained how this sum only
carries us as far as Mallingford--the first stage, as it were, of our
journey--and how our route from Blackwater to Mallingford lies entirely
through Sir Thomas Liddell's property."

"I beg your pardon," I stammered. "I fear my thoughts were wandering.
So you only go as far as Mallingford tonight?"

"Precisely. I shall get a conveyance from the 'Blackwater Arms.' And
you?"

"Oh, Jelf sends a trap to meet me at Clayborough! Can I be the bearer of
any message from you?"

"You may say, if you please, Mr. Langford, that I wished I could have
been your companion all the way, and that I will come over, if possible,
before Christmas."

"Nothing more?"

Mr. Dwerrihouse smiled grimly. "Well," he said, "you may tell my cousin
that she need not burn the hall down in my honour this time, and that
I shall be obliged if she will order the blue-room chimney to be swept
before I arrive."

"That sounds tragic. Had you a conflagration on the occasion of your
last visit to Dumbleton?"

"Something like it. There had been no fire lighted in my bedroom since
the spring, the flue was foul, and the rooks had built in it; so when I
went up to dress for dinner I found the room full of smoke and the
chimney on fire. Are we already at Blackwater?"

The train had gradually come to a pause while Mr. Dwerrihouse was
speaking, and, putting my head out of the window, I could see the
station some few hundred yards ahead. There was another train before us
blocking the way, and the guard was making use of the delay to collect
the Blackwater tickets. I had scarcely ascertained our position when
the ruddy-faced official appeared at our carriage door.

"Tickets, sir!" said he.

"I am for Clayborough," I replied, holding out the tiny pink card.

He took it, glanced at it by the light of his little lantern, gave it
back, looked, as I fancied, somewhat sharply at my fellow-traveller, and
disappeared.

"He did not ask for yours," I said, with some surprise.

"They never do," replied Mr. Dwerrihouse; "they all know me, and of
course I travel free."

"Blackwater! Blackwater!" cried the porter, running along the platform
beside us as we glided into the station.

Mr. Dwerrihouse pulled out his deed-box, put his travelling-cap in his
pocket, resumed his hat, took down his umbrella, and prepared to be
gone.

"Many thanks, Mr. Langford, for your society," he said, with
old-fashioned courtesy. "I wish you a good-evening."

"Good-evening," I replied, putting out my hand.

But he either did not see it or did not choose to see it, and, slightly
lifting his hat, stepped out upon the platform. Having done this, he
moved slowly away and mingled with the departing crowd.

Leaning forward to watch him out of sight, I trod upon something which
proved to be a cigar-case. It had fallen, no doubt, from the pocket of
his waterproof coat, and was made of dark morocco leather, with a
silver monogram upon the side. I sprang out of the carriage just as the
guard came to lock me in.

"Is there one minute to spare?" I asked, eagerly. "The gentleman who
travelled down with me from town has dropped his cigar-case; he is not
yet out of the station."

"Just a minute and a half, sir," replied the guard. "You must be quick."

I dashed along the platform as fast as my feet could carry me. It was a
large station, and Mr. Dwerrihouse had by this time got more than
half-way to the farther end.

I, however, saw him distinctly, moving slowly with the stream. Then, as
I drew nearer, I saw that he had met some friend, that they were talking
as they walked, that they presently fell back somewhat from the crowd
and stood aside in earnest conversation. I made straight for the spot
where they were waiting. There was a vivid gas-jet just above their
heads, and the light fell full upon their faces. I saw both
distinctly--the face of Mr. Dwerrihouse and the face of his companion.
Running, breathless, eager as I was, getting in the way of porters and
passengers, and fearful every instant lest I should see the train going
on without me, I yet observed that the new-comer was considerably
younger and shorter than the director, that he was sandy-haired,
moustachioed, small-featured, and dressed in a close-cut suit of Scotch
tweed. I was now within a few yards of them. I ran against a stout
gentleman, I was nearly knocked down by a luggage-truck, I stumbled
over a carpet-bag; I gained the spot just as the driver's whistle warned
me to return.

To my utter stupefaction, they were no longer there. I had seen them but
two seconds before--and they were gone! I stood still. I looked to right
and left; I saw no sign of them in any direction. It was as if the
platform had gaped and swallowed them.

"There were two gentlemen standing here a moment ago," I said to a
porter at my elbow; "which way can they have gone?"

"I saw no gentlemen, sir," replied the guard.

The whistle shrilled out again. The guard, far up on the platform, held
up his arm, and shouted to me to "come on"!

"If you're going on by this train, sir," said the porter, "you must run
for it."

I did run for it, just gained the carriage as the train began to move,
was shoved in by the guard, and left breathless and bewildered, with Mr.
Dwerrihouse's cigar-case still in my hand.

It was the strangest disappearance in the world; it was like a
transformation trick in a pantomime. They were there one
moment--palpably there, talking, with the gaslight full upon their
faces--and the next moment they were gone. There was no door near, no
window, no staircase; it was a mere slip of barren platform, tapestried
with big advertisements. Could anything be more mysterious?

It was not worth thinking about, and yet, for my life, I could not help
pondering upon it--pondering, wondering, conjecturing, turning it over
and over in my mind, and beating my brains for a solution of the enigma.
I thought of it all the way from Blackwater to Clayborough. I thought of
it all the way from Clayborough to Dumbleton, as I rattled along the
smooth highway in a trim dog-cart, drawn by a splendid black mare and
driven by the silentest and dapperest of East Anglian grooms.

We did the nine miles in something less than an hour, and pulled up
before the lodge gates just as the church clock was striking half-past
seven. A couple of minutes more, and the warm glow of the lighted hall
was flooding out upon the gravel, a hearty grasp was on my hand, and a
clear jovial voice was bidding me "welcome to Dumbleton."

I am not going to describe either the guests or the dinner that night.
All provincial parties bear the strictest family resemblance, and I am
not aware that an East Anglian banquet offers any exception to the rule.
There was the usual country baronet and his wife; there were the usual
country parsons and their wives; there was the sempiternal turkey and
haunch of venison. Vanitas vanitatum. There is nothing new under the
sun.

At length there came a pause. The entrees had just been removed, and the
turkey had come upon the scene. The conversation had all along been of
the languidest, but at this moment it happened to have stagnated
altogether. Moved by an unlucky impulse, I thought I would relate my
adventure.

"By the way, Jelf," I began, "I came down part of the way today with a
friend of yours."

"Indeed!" said the master of the feast, slicing scientifically into the
breast of the turkey. "With whom, pray?"

"It was no less a person than your wife's cousin, Mr. John Dwerrihouse."

Jonathan Jelf laid down his knife and fork. Mrs. Jelf looked at me in a
strange, startled way, and said never a word.

"And he desired me to tell you, my dear madam, that you need not take
the trouble to burn the hall down in his honour, this time, but only to
have the chimney of the blue room swept before his arrival."

Before I had reached the end of my sentence I became aware of something
ominous in the faces of the guests. I felt I had said something which I
had better have left unsaid, and that for some unexplained reason my
words had evoked a general consternation. I sat confounded, not daring
to utter another syllable, and for at least two whole minutes there was
dead silence round the table. The guests hitherto had been simply dull,
but now they were evidently uncomfortable and embarrassed.

The dessert had scarcely been placed upon the table when the ladies left
the room. I seized the opportunity to select a vacant chair next a
certain Captain Prendergast.

"In Heaven's name," I whispered, "what was the matter just now? What had
I said?"

"You mentioned the name of John Dwerrihouse."

"What of that? I had seen him not two hours before."

"It is a most astounding circumstance that you should have seen him,"
said Captain Prendergast. "Are you sure it was he?"

"As sure as of my own identity. We were talking all the way between
London and Blackwater. But why does that surprise you?"

"Because," replied Captain Prendergast, dropping his voice to the lowest
whisper--"because John Dwerrihouse absconded three months ago with
seventy-five thousand pounds of the company's money, and has never been
heard of since."

John Dwerrihouse had absconded three months ago--and I had seen him only
a few hours back! John Dwerrihouse had embezzled seventy-five thousand
pounds of the company's money, yet told me that he carried that sum upon
his person! Were ever facts so strangely incongruous, so difficult to
reconcile? How should he have ventured again into the light of day? How
dared he show himself along the line? Above all, what had he been doing
throughout those mysterious three months of disappearance?

Perplexing questions these--questions which at once suggested themselves
to the minds of all concerned, but which admitted of no easy solution. I
could find no reply to them. Captain Prendergast had not even a
suggestion to offer. Jonathan Jelf, who seized the first opportunity of
drawing me aside and learning all that I had to tell, was more amazed
and bewildered than either of us. He came to my room that night, when
all the guests were gone, and we talked the thing over from every point
of view; without, it must be confessed, arriving at any kind of
conclusion.

"I do not ask you," he said, "whether you can have mistaken your man.
That is impossible."

"As impossible as that I should mistake some stranger for yourself."

"It is not a question of looks or voice, but of facts. That he should
have alluded to the fire in the blue room is proof enough of John
Dwerrihouse's identity. How did he look?"

"Older, I thought; considerably older, paler, and more anxious."

"He has had enough to make him look anxious, anyhow," said my friend,
gloomily, "be he innocent or guilty."

"I am inclined to believe that he is innocent," I replied. "He showed no
embarrassment when I addressed him, and no uneasiness when the guard
came round. His conversation was open to a fault. I might almost say
that he talked too freely of the business which he had in hand."

"That again is strange, for I know no one more reticent on such
subjects. He actually told you that he had the seventy-five thousand
pounds in his pocket?"

"He did."

"Humph! My wife has an idea about it, and she may be right----"

"What idea?"

"Well, she fancies--women are so clever, you know, at putting themselves
inside people's motives--she fancies that he was tempted, that he did
actually take the money, and that he has been concealing himself these
three months in some wild part of the country, struggling possibly with
his conscience all the time, and daring neither to abscond with his
booty nor to come back and restore it."

"But now that he has come back?"

"That is the point. She conceives that he has probably thrown himself
upon the company's mercy, made restitution of the money, and, being
forgiven, is permitted to carry the business through as if nothing
whatever had happened."

"The last," I replied, "is an impossible case. Mrs. Jelf thinks like a
generous and delicate-minded woman, but not in the least like a board of
railway directors. They would never carry forgiveness so far."

"I fear not; and yet it is the only conjecture that bears a semblance of
likelihood. However, we can run over to Clayborough tomorrow and see if
anything is to be learned. By the way, Prendergast tells me you picked
up his cigar-case."

"I did so, and here it is."

Jelf took the cigar-case, examined it by the light of the lamp, and said
at once that it was beyond doubt Mr. Dwerrihouse's property, and that he
remembered to have seen him use it.

"Here, too, is his monogram on the side," he added--"a big J.
transfixing a capital D. He used to carry the same on his note-paper."

"It offers, at all events, a proof that I was not dreaming."

"Ay, but it is time you were asleep and dreaming now. I am ashamed to
have kept you up so long. Good-night."

"Good-night, and remember that I am more than ready to go with you to
Clayborough, or Blackwater, or London, or anywhere, if I can be of the
least service."

"Thanks! I know you mean it, old friend, and it may be that I shall put
you to the test. Once more, good-night."

So we parted for that night, and met again in the breakfast-room at
half-past eight the next morning. It was a hurried, silent,
uncomfortable meal; none of us had slept well, and all were thinking of
the same subject. Within twenty minutes after we had left the
breakfast-table the dog-cart was brought round, and my friend and I were
on the road to Clayborough.

"Tell you what it is, Langford," he said, as we sped along between the
wintry hedges, "I do not much fancy to bring up Dwerrihouse's name at
Clayborough. All the officials know that he is my wife's relation, and
the subject just now is hardly a pleasant one. If you don't much mind,
we will take the 11:10 to Blackwater. It's an important station, and we
shall stand a far better chance of picking up information there than at
Clayborough."

So we took the 11:10, which happened to be an express, and, arriving at
Blackwater about a quarter before twelve, proceeded at once to prosecute
our inquiry.

We began by asking for the station-master, a big, blunt, businesslike
person, who at once averred that he knew Mr. John Dwerrihouse perfectly
well, and that there was no director on the line whom he had seen and
spoken to so frequently.

"He is not known to have been down the line any time yesterday, for
instance?"

The station-master shook his head.

"The East Anglian, sir," said he, "is about the last place where he
would dare to show himself. Why, there isn't a station-master, there
isn't a guard, there isn't a porter who doesn't know Mr. Dwerrihouse by
sight as well as he knows his own face in the looking-glass, or who
wouldn't telegraph for the police as soon as he had set eyes on him at
any point along the line. Bless you, sir! there's been a standing order
out against him ever since the 25th of September last."

"Can you tell me who took the Blackwater tickets of that train?"

"I can, sir. It was the guard, Benjamin Somers."

"And where can I find him?"

"You can find him, sir, by staying here, if you please, till one
o'clock. He will be coming through with the up express from Crampton,
which stays at Blackwater for ten minutes."

We waited for the up express, beguiling the time as best we could by
strolling along the Blackwater road till we came almost to the
outskirts of the town, from which the station was distant nearly a
couple of miles. By one o'clock we were back again upon the platform and
waiting for the train. It came punctually, and I at once recognized the
ruddy-faced guard who had gone down with my train the evening before.

"The gentlemen want to ask you something about Mr. Dwerrihouse, Somers,"
said the station-master, by way of introduction.

The guard flashed a keen glance from my face to Jelf's and back again to
mine.

"Mr. John Dwerrihouse, the late director?" said he, interrogatively.

"The same," replied my friend. "Should you know him if you saw him?"

"Anywhere, sir."

"Do you know if he was in the 4:15 express yesterday afternoon?"

"He was not, sir."

"How can you answer so positively?"

"Because I looked into every carriage and saw every face in that train,
and I could take my oath that Mr. Dwerrihouse was not in it. This
gentleman was," he added, turning sharply upon me. "I don't know that I
ever saw him before in my life, but I remember his face perfectly. You
nearly missed taking your seat in time at this station, sir, and you got
out at Clayborough."

"Quite true, guard," I replied; "but do you not also remember the face
of the gentleman who travelled down in the same carriage with me as far
as here?"

"It was my impression, sir, that you travelled down alone," said Somers,
with a look of some surprise.

"By no means. I had a fellow-traveller as far as Blackwater, and it was
in trying to restore him the cigar-case which he had dropped in the
carriage that I so nearly let you go on without me."

"I remember your saying something about a cigar-case, certainly,"
replied the guard; "but----"

"You asked for my ticket just before we entered the station."

"I did, sir."

"Then you must have seen him. He sat in the corner next the very door to
which you came."

"No, indeed; I saw no one."

I looked at Jelf. I began to think the guard was in the ex-director's
confidence, and paid for his silence.

"If I had seen another traveller I should have asked for his ticket,"
added Somers. "Did you see me ask for his ticket, sir?"

"I observed that you did not ask for it, but he explained that by
saying----" I hesitated. I feared I might be telling too much, and so
broke off abruptly.

The guard and the station-master exchanged glances. The former looked
impatiently at his watch.

"I am obliged to go on in four minutes more, sir," he said.

"One last question, then," interposed Jelf, with a sort of desperation.
"If this gentleman's fellow-traveller had been Mr. John Dwerrihouse and
he had been sitting in the corner next the door by which you took the
tickets, could you have failed to see and recognize him?"

"No, sir; it would have been quite impossible."

"And you are certain you did not see him?"

"As I said before, sir, I could take my oath I did not see him. And if
it wasn't that I don't like to contradict a gentleman, I would say that
I could also take my oath that this gentleman was quite alone in the
carriage the whole way from London to Clayborough. Why, sir," he added,
dropping his voice so as to be inaudible to the station-master, who had
been called away to speak to some person close by, "you expressly asked
me to give you a compartment to yourself, and I did so. I locked you in,
and you were so good as to give me something for myself."

"Yes, but Mr. Dwerrihouse had a key of his own."

"I never saw him, sir; I saw no one in that compartment but yourself.
Beg pardon, sir; my time's up."

And with this the ruddy guard touched his cap and was gone. In another
minute the heavy panting of the engine began afresh, and the train
glided slowly out of the station.

We looked at each other for some moments in silence. I was the first to
speak.

"Mr. Benjamin Somers knows more than he chooses to tell," I said.

"Humph! do you think so?"

"It must be. He could not have come to the door without seeing him; it's
impossible."

"There is one thing not impossible, my dear fellow."

"What is that?"

"That you may have fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing."

"Could I dream of a branch line that I had never heard of? Could I dream
of a hundred and one business details that had no kind of interest for

me? Could I dream of the seventy-five thousand pounds?"

"Perhaps you might have seen or heard some vague account of the affair
while you were abroad. It might have made no impression upon you at the
time, and might have come back to you in your dreams, recalled perhaps
by the mere names of the stations on the line."

"What about the fire in the chimney of the blue room--should I have
heard of that during my journey?"

"Well, no; I admit there is a difficulty about that point."

"And what about the cigar-case?"

"Ay, by Jove! there is the cigar-case. That is a stubborn fact. Well,
it's a mysterious affair, and it will need a better detective than
myself, I fancy, to clear it up. I suppose we may as well go home."

A week had not gone by when I received a letter from the secretary of
the East Anglian Railway Company, requesting the favour of my attendance
at a special board meeting not then many days distant. No reasons were
alleged and no apologies offered for this demand upon my time, but they
had heard, it was clear, of my inquiries anent the missing director, and
had a mind to put me through some sort of official examination upon the
subject. Being still a guest at Dumbleton Hall, I had to go up to London
for the purpose, and Jonathan Jelf accompanied me. I found the direction
of the Great East Anglian line represented by a party of some twelve or
fourteen gentlemen seated in solemn conclave round a huge green baize
table, in a gloomy board-room adjoining the London terminus.

Being courteously received by the chairman (who at once began by saying
that certain statements of mine respecting Mr. John Dwerrihouse had come
to the knowledge of the direction, and that they in consequence desired
to confer with me on those points), we were placed at the table, and the
inquiry proceeded in due form.

I was first asked if I knew Mr. John Dwerrihouse, how long I had been
acquainted with him, and whether I could identify him at sight. I was
then asked when I had seen him last. To which I replied "On the 4th of
this present month, December, 1856." Then came the inquiry of where I
had seen him on the fourth day of December; to which I replied that I
met him in a first-class compartment of the 4:15 down express, that he
got in just as the train was leaving the London terminus, and that he
alighted at Blackwater station. The chairman then inquired whether I had
held any communication with my fellow-traveller, whereupon I related, as
nearly as I could remember it, the whole bulk and substance of Mr. John
Dwerrihouse's diffuse information respecting the new branch line.

To all this the board listened with profound attention, while the
chairman presided and the secretary took notes. I then produced the
cigar-case. It was passed from hand to hand, and recognized by all.
There was not a man present who did not remember that plain cigar-case
with its silver monogram, or to whom it seemed anything less than
entirely corroborative of my evidence. When at length I had told all
that I had to tell, the chairman whispered something to the secretary;
the secretary touched a silver hand-bell, and the guard, Benjamin
Somers, was ushered into the room. He was then examined as carefully as
myself. He declared that he knew Mr. John Dwerrihouse perfectly well,
that he could not be mistaken in him, that he remembered going down with
the 4:15 on the afternoon in question, that he remembered me, and that,
there being one or two empty first-class compartments on that special
afternoon, he had, in compliance with my request, placed me in a
carriage by myself. He was positive that I remained alone in that
compartment all the way from London to Clayborough. He was ready to take
his oath that Mr. Dwerrihouse was neither in that carriage with me, nor
in any compartment of that train. He remembered distinctly to have
examined my ticket at Blackwater; was certain that there was no one else
at that time in the carriage; could not have failed to observe a second
person, if there had been one; had that second person been Mr. John
Dwerrihouse should have quietly double-locked the door of the carriage
and have at once given information to the Blackwater station-master. So
clear, so decisive, so ready was Somers with this testimony, that the
board looked fairly puzzled.

"You hear this person's statement, Mr. Langford," said the chairman. "It
contradicts yours in every particular. What have you to say in reply?"

"I can only repeat what I said before. I am quite as positive of the
truth of my own assertions as Mr. Somers can be of the truth of his."

"You say that Mr. Dwerrihouse alighted at Blackwater, and that he was in
possession of a private key. Are you sure that he had not alighted by
means of that key before the guard came round for the tickets?"

"I am quite positive that he did not leave the carriage till the train
had fairly entered the station, and the other Blackwater passengers
alighted. I even saw that he was met there by a friend."

"Indeed! Did you see that person distinctly?"

"Quite distinctly."

"Can you describe his appearance?"

"I think so. He was short and very slight, sandy-haired, with a bushy
moustache and beard, and he wore a loosely fitting suit of grey tweed.
His age I should take to be about thirty-eight or forty."

"Did Mr. Dwerrihouse leave the station in this person's company?"

"I cannot tell. I saw them walking together down the platform, and then
I saw them standing aside under a gas-jet, talking earnestly. After
that I lost sight of them quite suddenly, and just then my train went
on, and I with it."

The chairman and secretary conferred together in an undertone. The
directors whispered to one another. One or two looked suspiciously at
the guard. I could see that my evidence remained unshaken, and that,
like myself, they suspected some complicity between the guard and the
defaulter.

"How far did you conduct that 4:15 express on the day in question,
Somers?" asked the chairman.

"All through, sir," replied the guard, "from London to Crampton."

"How was it that you were not relieved at Clayborough? I thought there
was always a change of guards at Clayborough."

"There used to be, sir, till the new regulations came in force last
midsummer, since when the guards in charge of express trains go the
whole way through."

The chairman turned to the secretary.

"I think it would be as well," he said, "if we had the day-book to refer
to upon this point."

Again the secretary touched the silver hand-bell, and desired the porter
in attendance to summon Mr. Raikes. From a word or two dropped by
another of the directors I gathered that Mr. Raikes was one of the
under-secretaries.

He came, a small, slight, sandy-haired, keen-eyed man, with an eager,
nervous manner, and a forest of light beard and moustache. He just
showed himself at the door of the board-room, and, being requested to
bring a certain day-book from a certain shelf in a certain room, bowed
and vanished.

He was there such a moment, and the surprise of seeing him was so great
and sudden, that it was not till the door had closed upon him that I
found voice to speak. He was no sooner gone, however, than I sprang to
my feet.

"That person," I said, "is the same who met Mr. Dwerrihouse upon the
platform at Blackwater!"

There was a general movement of surprise. The chairman looked grave and
somewhat agitated.

"Take care, Mr. Langford," he said; "take care what you say."

"I am as positive of his identity as of my own."

"Do you consider the consequences of your words? Do you consider that
you are bringing a charge of the gravest character against one of the
company's servants?"

"I am willing to be put upon my oath, if necessary. The man who came to
that door a minute since is the same whom I saw talking with Mr.
Dwerrihouse on the Blackwater platform. Were he twenty times the
company's servant, I could say neither more nor less."

The chairman turned again to the guard.

"Did you see Mr. Raikes in the train or on the platform?" he asked.

Somers shook his head.

"I am confident Mr. Raikes was not in the train," he said, "and I
certainly did not see him on the platform."

The chairman turned next to the secretary.

"Mr. Raikes is in your office, Mr. Hunter," he said. "Can you remember
if he was absent on the 4th instant?"

"I do not think he was," replied the secretary, "but I am not prepared
to speak positively. I have been away most afternoons myself lately, and
Mr. Raikes might easily have absented himself if he had been disposed."

At this moment the under-secretary returned with the day-book under his
arm.

"Be pleased to refer, Mr. Raikes," said the chairman, "to the entries of
the 4th instant, and see what Benjamin Somers's duties were on that
day."

Mr. Raikes threw open the cumbrous volume, and ran a practised eye and
finger down some three or four successive columns of entries. Stopping
suddenly at the foot of a page, he then read aloud that Benjamin Somers
had on that day conducted the 4:15 express from London to Crampton.

The chairman leaned forward in his seat, looked the under-secretary full
in the face, and said, quite sharply and suddenly:

"And where were you, Mr. Raikes, on the same afternoon?"

"I, sir?"

"You, Mr. Raikes. Where were you on the afternoon and evening of the 4th
of the present month?"

"Here, sir, in Mr. Hunter's office. Where else should I be?"

There was a dash of trepidation in the under-secretary's voice as he
said this, but his look of surprise was natural enough.

"We have some reason for believing, Mr. Raikes, that you were absent
that afternoon without leave. Was this the case?"

"Certainly not, sir. I have not had a day's holiday since September. Mr.
Hunter will bear me out in this."

Mr. Hunter repeated what he had previously said on the subject, but
added that the clerks in the adjoining office would be certain to know.
Whereupon the senior clerk, a grave, middle-aged person in green
glasses, was summoned and interrogated.

His testimony cleared the under-secretary at once. He declared that Mr.
Raikes had in no instance, to his knowledge, been absent during office
hours since his return from his annual holiday in September.

I was confounded. The chairman turned to me with a smile, in which a
shade of covert annoyance was scarcely apparent.

"You hear, Mr. Langford?" he said.

"I hear, sir; but my conviction remains unshaken."

"I fear, Mr. Langford, that your convictions are very insufficiently
based," replied the chairman, with a doubtful cough. "I fear that you
'dream dreams,' and mistake them for actual occurrences. It is a
dangerous habit of mind, and might lead to dangerous results. Mr. Raikes
here would have found himself in an unpleasant position had he not
proved so satisfactory an alibi."

I was about to reply, but he gave me no time.

"I think, gentlemen," he went on to say, addressing the board, "that we
should be wasting time to push this inquiry further. Mr. Langford's
evidence would seem to be of an equal value throughout. The testimony of
Benjamin Somers disproves his first statement, and the testimony of the
last witness disproves the second. I think we may conclude that Mr.
Langford fell asleep in the train on the occasion of his journey to
Clayborough, and dreamed an unusually vivid and circumstantial dream, of
which, however, we have now heard quite enough."

There are few things more annoying than to find one's positive
convictions met with incredulity. I could not help feeling impatient at
the turn that affairs had taken. I was not proof against the civil
sarcasm of the chairman's manner. Most intolerable of all, however, was
the quiet smile lurking about the corners of Benjamin Somers's mouth,
and the half-triumphant, half-malicious gleam in the eyes of the
under-secretary. The man was evidently puzzled and somewhat alarmed. His
looks seemed furtively to interrogate me. Who was I? What did I want?
Why had I come there to do him an ill turn with his employers? What was
it to me whether or no he was absent without leave?

Seeing all this, and perhaps irritated by it more than the thing
deserved, I begged leave to detain the attention of the board for a
moment longer. Jelf plucked me impatiently by the sleeve.

"Better let the thing drop," he whispered. "The chairman's right enough;
you dreamed it, and the less said now the better."

I was not to be silenced, however, in this fashion. I had yet something
to say, and I would say it. It was to this effect: that dreams were not
usually productive of tangible results, and that I requested to know in
what way the chairman conceived I had evolved from my dream so
substantial and well-made a delusion as the cigar-case which I had had
the honour to place before him at the commencement of our interview.

"The cigar-case, I admit, Mr. Langford," the chairman replied, "is a
very strong point in your evidence. It is your only strong point,
however, and there is just a possibility that we may all be misled by a
mere accidental resemblance. Will you permit me to see the case again?"

"It is unlikely," I said, as I handed it to him, "that any other should
bear precisely this monogram, and yet be in all other particulars
exactly similar."

The chairman examined it for a moment in silence, and then passed it to
Mr. Hunter. Mr. Hunter turned it over and over, and shook his head.

"This is no mere resemblance," he said. "It is John Dwerrihouse's
cigar-case to a certainty. I remember it perfectly; I have seen it a
hundred times."

"I believe I may say the same," added the chairman; "yet how account
for the way in which Mr. Langford asserts that it came into his
possession?"

"I can only repeat," I replied, "that I found it on the floor of the
carriage after Mr. Dwerrihouse had alighted. It was in leaning out to
look after him, that I trod upon it, and it was in running after him for
the purpose of restoring it that I saw, or believed I saw, Mr. Raikes
standing aside with him in earnest conversation."

Again I felt Jonathan Jelf plucking at my sleeve.

"Look at Raikes," he whispered; "look at Raikes!"

I turned to where the under-secretary had been standing a moment before,
and saw him, white as death, with lips trembling and livid, stealing
toward the door.

To conceive a sudden, strange, and indefinite suspicion, to fling myself
in his way, to take him by the shoulders as if he were a child, and turn
his craven face, perforce, toward the board, were with me the work of an
instant.

"Look at him!" I exclaimed. "Look at his face! I ask no better witness
to the truth of my words."

The chairman's brow darkened.

"Mr. Raikes," he said, sternly, "if you know anything you had better
speak."

Vainly trying to wrench himself from my grasp, the under-secretary
stammered out an incoherent denial.

"Let me go," he said. "I know nothing--you have no right to detain
me--let me go!"

"Did you, or did you not, meet Mr. John Dwerrihouse at Blackwater
station? The charge brought against you is either true or false. If
true, you will do well to throw yourself upon the mercy of the board and
make full confession of all that you know."

The under-secretary wrung his hands in an agony of helpless terror.

"I was away!" he cried. "I was two hundred miles away at the time! I
know nothing about it--I have nothing to confess--I am innocent--I call
God to witness I am innocent!"

"Two hundred miles away!" echoed the chairman. "What do you mean?"

"I was in Devonshire. I had three weeks' leave of absence--I appeal to
Mr. Hunter--Mr. Hunter knows I had three weeks' leave of absence! I was
in Devonshire all the time; I can prove I was in Devonshire!"

Seeing him so abject, so incoherent, so wild with apprehension, the
directors began to whisper gravely among themselves, while one got
quietly up and called the porter to guard the door.

"What has your being in Devonshire to do with the matter?" said the
chairman. "When were you in Devonshire?"

"Mr. Raikes took his leave in September," said the secretary, "about the
time when Mr. Dwerrihouse disappeared."

"I never even heard that he had disappeared till I came back!"

"That must remain to be proved," said the chairman. "I shall at once put
this matter in the hands of the police. In the meanwhile, Mr. Raikes,
being myself a magistrate and used to deal with these cases, I advise
you to offer no resistance, but to confess while confession may yet do
you service. As for your accomplice----"

The frightened wretch fell upon his knees.

"I had no accomplice!" he cried. "Only have mercy upon me--only spare my
life, and I will confess all! I didn't mean to harm him! I didn't mean
to hurt a hair of his head! Only have mercy on me, and let me go!"

The chairman rose in his place, pale and agitated. "Good Heavens!" he
exclaimed, "what horrible mystery is this? What does it mean?"

"As sure as there is a God in heaven," said Jonathan Jelf, "it means
that murder has been done."

"No! no! no!" shrieked Raikes, still upon his knees, and cowering like a
beaten hound. "Not murder! No jury that ever sat could bring it in
murder. I thought I had only stunned him--I never meant to do more than
stun him. Manslaughter--manslaughter--not murder!"

Overcome by the horror of this unexpected revelation, the chairman
covered his face with his hand and for a moment or two remained silent.

"Miserable man," he said at length, "you have betrayed yourself."

"You bade me confess! You urged me to throw myself upon the mercy of the
board!"

"You have confessed to a crime which no one suspected you of having
committed," replied the chairman, "and which this board has no power
either to punish or forgive. All that I can do for you is to advise you
to submit to the law, to plead guilty, and to conceal nothing. When did
you do this deed?"

The guilty man rose to his feet, and leaned heavily against the table.
His answer came reluctantly, like the speech of one dreaming.

"On the 22nd of September."

"On the 22nd of September!" I looked in Jonathan Jelf's face, and he in
mine. I felt my own paling with a strange sense of wonder and dread. I
saw him blanch suddenly, even to the lips.

"Merciful heaven!" he whispered. "What was it, then, that you saw in
the train?"

* * * * *

What was it that I saw in the train? That question remains unanswered to
this day. I have never been able to reply to it. I only know that it
bore the living likeness of the murdered man, whose body had then been
lying some ten weeks under a rough pile of branches and brambles and
rotting leaves, at the bottom of a deserted chalk-pit about half-way
between Blackwater and Mallingford. I know that it spoke and moved and
looked as that man spoke and moved and looked in life; that I heard, or
seemed to hear, things related which I could never otherwise have
learned; that I was guided, as it were, by that vision on the platform
to the identification of the murderer; and that, a passive instrument
myself, I was destined, by means of these mysterious teachings, to bring
about the ends of justice. For these things I have never been able to
account.

As for that matter of the cigar-case, it proved, on inquiry, that the
carriage in which I travelled down that afternoon to Clayborough had not
been in use for several weeks, and was, in point of fact, the same in
which poor John Dwerrihouse had performed his last journey. The case had
doubtless been dropped by him, and had lain unnoticed till I found it.

Upon the details of the murder I have no need to dwell. Those who desire
more ample particulars may find them, and the written confession of
Augustus Raikes, in the files of the "Times" for 1856. Enough that the
under-secretary, knowing the history of the new line, and following the
negotiation step by step through all its stages, determined to waylay
Mr. Dwerrihouse, rob him of the seventy-five thousand pounds, and escape
to America with his booty.

In order to effect these ends he obtained leave of absence a few days
before the time appointed for the payment of the money, secured his
passage across the Atlantic in a steamer advertised to start on the
23rd, provided himself with a heavily loaded "life-preserver," and went
down to Blackwater to await the arrival of his victim. How he met him on
the platform with a pretended message from the board, how he offered to
conduct him by a short cut across the fields to Mallingford, how, having
brought him to a lonely place, he struck him down with the
life-preserver, and so killed him, and how, finding what he had done, he
dragged the body to the verge of an out-of-the-way chalk-pit, and there
flung it in and piled it over with branches and brambles, are facts
still fresh in the memories of those who, like the connoisseurs in De
Quincey's famous essay, regard murder as a fine art. Strangely enough,
the murderer, having done his work, was afraid to leave the country. He
declared that he had not intended to take the director's life, but only
to stun and rob him; and that, finding the blow had killed, he dared not
fly for fear of drawing down suspicion upon his own head. As a mere
robber he would have been safe in the States, but as a murderer he would
inevitably have been pursued and given up to justice. So he forfeited
his passage, returned to the office as usual at the end of his leave,
and locked up his ill-gotten thousands till a more convenient
opportunity. In the meanwhile he had the satisfaction of finding that
Mr. Dwerrihouse was universally believed to have absconded with the
money, no one knew how or whither.

Whether he meant murder or not, however, Mr. Augustus Raikes paid the
full penalty of his crime, and was hanged at the Old Bailey in the
second week of January, 1857. Those who desire to make his further
acquaintance may see him any day (admirably done in wax) in the Chamber
of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's exhibition, in Baker Street. He is there
to be found in the midst of a select society of ladies and gentlemen of
atrocious memory, dressed in the close-cut tweed suit which he wore on
the evening of the murder, and holding in his hand the identical
life-preserver with which he committed it.





Next: The Were-wolf

Previous: Green Branches



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