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Chapter 7 THE YORK MYSTERY

  • The man in the corner looked quite cheerful that morning; he had had tw_lasses of milk and had even gone to the extravagance of an extra cheese-cake.
  • Polly knew that he was itching to talk police and murders, for he cast furtiv_lances at her from time to time, produced a bit of string, tied and untied i_nto scores of complicated knots, and finally, bringing out his pocket-book,
  • he placed two or three photographs before her.
  • "Do you know who that is?" he asked, pointing to one of these.
  • The girl looked at the face on the picture. It was that of a woman, no_xactly pretty, but very gentle and childlike, with a strange pathetic look i_he large eyes which was wonderfully appealing.
  • "That was Lady Arthur Skelmerton," he said, and in a flash there flitte_efore Polly's mind the weird and tragic history which had broken this lovin_oman's heart. Lady Arthur Skelmerton! That name recalled one of the mos_ewildering, most mysterious passages in the annals of undiscovered crimes.
  • "Yes. It was sad, wasn't it?" he commented, in answer to Polly's thoughts.
  • "Another case which but for idiotic blunders on the part of the police mus_ave stood clear as daylight before the public and satisfied general anxiety.
  • Would you object to my recapitulating its preliminary details?"
  • She said nothing, so he continued without waiting further for a reply.
  • "It all occurred during the York racing week, a time which brings to the quie_athedral city its quota of shady characters, who congregate wherever mone_nd wits happen to fly away from their owners. Lord Arthur Skelmerton, a ver_ell-known figure in London society and in racing circles, had rented one o_he fine houses which overlook the racecourse. He had entered Peppercorn, b_t. Armand—Notre Dame, for the Great Ebor Handicap. Peppercorn was the winne_f the Newmarket, and his chances for the Ebor were considered a practica_ertainty.
  • "If you have ever been to York you will have noticed the fine houses whic_ave their drive and front entrances in the road called 'The Mount.' and th_ardens of which extend as far as the racecourse, commanding a lovely vie_ver the entire track. It was one of these houses, called 'The Elms,' whic_ord Arthur Skelmerton had rented for the summer.
  • "Lady Arthur came down some little time before the racing week with he_ervants—she had no children; but she had many relatives and friends in York,
  • since she was the daughter of old Sir John Etty, the cocoa manufacturer, _igid Quaker, who, it was generally said, kept the tightest possible hold o_is own purse-strings and looked with marked disfavour upon his aristocrati_on-in-law's fondness for gaming tables and betting books.
  • "As a matter of fact, Maud Etty had married the handsome young lieutenant i_he Hussars, quite against her father's wishes. But she was an only child, an_fter a good deal of demur and grumbling, Sir John, who idolized his daughter,
  • gave way to her whim, and a reluctant consent to the marriage was wrung fro_im.
  • "But, as a Yorkshireman, he was far too shrewd a man of the world not to kno_hat love played but a very small part in persuading a Duke's son to marry th_aughter of a cocoa manufacturer, and as long as he lived he determined tha_ince his daughter was being wed because of her wealth, that wealth should a_east secure her own happiness. He refused to give Lady Arthur any capital,
  • which, in spite of the most carefully worded settlements, would inevitably,
  • sooner or later, have found its way into the pockets of Lord Arthur's racin_riends. But he made his daughter a very handsome allowance, amounting to over
  • £3000 a year, which enabled her to keep up an establishment befitting her ne_ank.
  • "A great many of these facts, intimate enough as they are, leaked out, yo_ee, during that period of intense excitement which followed the murder o_harles Lavender, and when the public eye was fixed searchingly upon Lor_rthur Skelmerton, probing all the inner details of his idle, useless life.
  • "It soon became a matter of common gossip that poor little Lady Arthu_ontinued to worship her handsome husband in spite of his obvious neglect, an_ot having as yet presented him with an heir, she settled herself down into _ife of humble apology for her plebeian existence, atoning for it by condonin_ll his faults and forgiving all his vices, even to the extent of cloakin_hem before the prying eyes of Sir John, who was persuaded to look upon hi_on-in-law as a paragon of all the domestic virtues and a perfect model of _usband.
  • "Among Lord Arthur Skelmerton's many expensive tastes there was certainly tha_or horseflesh and cards. After some successful betting at the beginning o_is married life, he had started a racing-stable which it was generall_elieved—as he was very lucky—was a regular source of income to him.
  • "Peppercorn, however, after his brilliant performances at Newmarket did no_ontinue to fulfil his master's expectations. His collapse at York wa_ttributed to the hardness of the course and to various other causes, but it_mmediate effect was to put Lord Arthur Skelmerton in what is popularly calle_ tight place, for he had backed his horse for all he was worth, and must hav_tood to lose considerably over £5000 on that one day.
  • "The collapse of the favourite and the grand victory of King Cole, a ran_utsider, on the other hand, had proved a golden harvest for the bookmakers,
  • and all the York hotels were busy with dinners and suppers given by th_onfraternity of the Turf to celebrate the happy occasion. The next day wa_riday, one of few important racing events, after which the brilliant and th_hady throng which had flocked into the venerable city for the week would fl_o more congenial climes, and leave it, with its fine old Minster and it_ncient walls, as sleepy, as quiet as before.
  • "Lord Arthur Skelmerton also intended to leave York on the Saturday, and o_he Friday night he gave a farewell bachelor dinner party at 'The Elms,' a_hich Lady Arthur did not appear. After dinner the gentlemen settled down t_ridge, with pretty stiff points, you may be sure. It had just struck eleve_t the Minster Tower, when constables McNaught and Murphy, who were patrollin_he racecourse, were startled by loud cries of 'murder' and 'police.'
  • "Quickly ascertaining whence these cries proceeded, they hurried on at _allop, and came up—quite close to the boundary of Lord Arthur Skelmerton'_rounds—upon a group of three men, two of whom seemed to be wrestlin_igorously with one another, whilst the third was lying face downwards on th_round. As soon as the constables drew near, one of the wrestlers shouted mor_igorously, and with a certain tone of authority:
  • "'Here, you fellows, hurry up, sharp; the brute is giving me the slip!'
  • "But the brute did not seem inclined to do anything of the sort; he certainl_xtricated himself with a violent jerk from his assailant's grasp, but made n_ttempt to run away. The constables had quickly dismounted, whilst he who ha_houted for help originally added more quietly:
  • "'My name is Skelmerton. This is the boundary of my property. I was smoking _igar at the pavilion over there with a friend when I heard loud voices,
  • followed by a cry and a groan. I hurried down the steps, and saw this poo_ellow lying on the ground, with a knife sticking between his shoulder-blades,
  • and his murderer,' he added, pointing to the man who stood quietly by wit_onstable McNaught's firm grip upon his shoulder, 'still stooping over th_ody of his victim. I was too late, I fear, to save the latter, but just i_ime to grapple with the assassin—"
  • "'It's a lie!' here interrupted the man hoarsely. 'I didn't do it, constable;
  • I swear I didn't do it. I saw him fall—I was coming along a couple of hundre_ards away, and I tried to see if the poor fellow was dead. I swear I didn'_o it.'
  • "'You'll have to explain that to the inspector presently, my man,' wa_onstable McNaught's quiet comment, and, still vigorously protesting hi_nnocence, the accused allowed himself to be led away, and the body wa_onveyed to the station, pending fuller identification.
  • "The next morning the papers were full of the tragedy; a column and a half o_he _York Herald_ was devoted to an account of Lord Arthur Skelmerton's pluck_apture of the assassin. The latter had continued to declare his innocence,
  • but had remarked, it appears, with grim humour, that he quite saw he was in _ight place, out of which, however, he would find it easy to extricat_imself. He had stated to the police that the deceased's name was Charle_avender, a well-known bookmaker, which fact was soon verified, for many o_he murdered man's 'pals' were still in the city.
  • "So far the most pushing of newspaper reporters had been unable to glea_urther information from the police; no one doubted, however, but that the ma_n charge, who gave his name as George Higgins, had killed the bookmaker fo_urposes of robbery. The inquest had been fixed for the Tuesday after th_urder.
  • "Lord Arthur had been obliged to stay in York a few days, as his evidenc_ould be needed. That fact gave the case, perhaps, a certain amount o_nterest as far as York and London 'society' were concerned. Charles Lavender,
  • moreover, was well known on the turf; but no bombshell exploding beneath th_alls of the ancient cathedral city could more have astonished its inhabitant_han the news which, at about five in the afternoon on the day of the inquest,
  • spread like wildfire throughout the town. That news was that the inquest ha_oncluded at three o'clock with a verdict of 'Wilful murder against som_erson or persons unknown,' and that two hours later the police had arreste_ord Arthur Skelmerton at his private residence, 'The Elms,' and charged hi_n a warrant with the murder of Charles Lavender, the bookmaker."