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."