Fenchurch Street Mystery, p.1Emmuska Orczy
Fenchurch Street Mystery
Fenchurch Street Mystery
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CHAPTER I. THE FENCHURCH STREET MYSTERY
CHAPTER II. A MILLIONAIRE IN THE DOCK
CHAPTER III. HIS DEDUCTION
CHAPTER I. THE FENCHURCH STREET MYSTERY
THE man in the corner pushed aside his glass, and leant across the table.
"Mysteries!" he commented. "There is no such thing as a mystery in connection
with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon its
Very much astonished Polly Burton looked over the top of her newspaper, and
fixed a pair of very severe, coldly inquiring brown eyes upon him.
She had disapproved of the man from the instant when he shuffled across the shop
and sat down opposite to her, at the same marble-topped table which already held
her large coffee (3d.), her roll and butter (2d.), and plate of tongue (6d.).
Now this particular corner, this very same table, that special view of the
magnificent marble hallknown as the Norfolk Street branch of the Aërated Bread
Company's depôtswere Polly's own corner, table, and view. Here she had partaken
of eleven pennyworth of luncheon and one pennyworth of daily information ever
since that glorious never-to-be-forgotten day when she was enrolled on the staff
of the Evening Observer (we'll call it that, if you please), and became a member
of that illustrious and world-famed organization known as the British Press.
She was a personality, was Miss Burton of the Evening Observer. Her cards were
MISS MARY J. BURTON.
She had interviewed Miss Ellen Terry and the Bishop of Madagascar, Mr. Seymour
Hicks and the Chief Commissioner of Police. She had been present at the last
Marlborough House garden partyin the cloak-room, that is to say, where she
caught sight of Lady Thingummy's hat, Miss What-you-may-call's sunshade, and of
various other things modistical or fashionable, all of which were duly described
under the heading "Royalty and Dress" in the early afternoon edition of the
(The article itself is signed M. J. B., and is to be found in the files of that
For these reasonsand for various others, tooPolly felt irate with the man in
the corner, and told him so with her eyes, as plainly as any pair of brown eyes
She had been reading an article in the Daily Telegraph. The article was
palpitatingly interesting. Had Polly been commenting audibly upon it? Certain it
is that the man over there had spoken in direct answer to her thoughts.
She looked at him and frowned; the next moment she smiled. Miss Burton (of the
Evening Observer) had a keen sense of humour, which two years' association with
the British Press had not succeeded in destroying, and the appearance of the man
was sufficient to tickle the most ultra-morose fancy. Polly thought to herself
that she had never seen any one so pale, so thin, with such funny light-coloured
hair, brushed very smoothly across the top of a very obviously bald crown. He
looked so timid and nervous as he fidgeted incessantly with a piece of string;
his long, lean, and trembling fingers tying and untying it into knots of
wonderful and complicated proportions.
Having carefully studied every detail of the quaint personality Polly felt more
"And yet," she remarked kindly but authoritatively, "this article, in an
otherwise well-informed journal, will tell you that, even within the last year,
no fewer than six crimes have completely baffled the police, and the
perpetrators of them are still at large."
"Pardon me," he said gently, "I never for a moment ventured to suggest that
there were no mysteries to the police; I merely remarked that there were none
where intelligence was brought to bear upon the investigation of crime."
"Not even in the Fenchurch Street mystery, I suppose," she asked sarcastically.
"Least of all in the so-called Fenchurch Street mystery," he replied quietly.
Now the Fenchurch Street mystery, as that extraordinary crime had popularly been
called, had puzzledas Polly well knewthe brains of every thinking man and
woman for the last twelve months. It had puzzled her not inconsiderably; she had
been interested, fascinated; she had studied the case, formed her own theories,
thought about it all often and often, had even written one or two letters to the
Press on the subjectsuggesting, arguing, hinting at possibilities and
probabilities, adducing proofs which other amateur detectives were equally ready
to refute. The attitude of that timid man in the corner, therefore, was
peculiarly exasperating, and she retorted with sarcasm destined to completely
annihilate her self-complacent interlocutor.
"What a pity it is, in that case, that you do not offer your priceless services
to our misguided though well-meaning police."
"Isn't it?" he replied with perfect good-humour. "Well, you know, for one thing
I doubt if they would accept them; and in the second place my inclinations and
my duty wouldwere I to become an active member of the detective forcenearly
always be in direct conflict. As often as not my sympathies go to the criminal
who is clever and astute enough to lead our entire police force by the nose.
"I don't know how much of the case you remember," he went on quietly. "It
certainly, at first, began even to puzzle me. On the 12th of last December a
woman, poorly dressed, but with an unmistakable air of having seen better days,
gave information at Scotland Yard of the disappearance of her husband, William
Kershaw, of no occupation, and apparently of no fixed abode. She was accompanied
by a frienda fat, oily-looking Germanand between them they told a tale which
set the police immediately on the move.
"It appears that on the 10th of December, at about three o'clock in the
afternoon, Karl Müller, the German, called on his friend, William Kershaw, for
the purpose of collecting a small debtsome ten pounds or sowhich the latter
owed him. On arriving at the squalid lodging in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy
Square, he found William Kershaw in a wild state of excitement, and his wife in
tears. Müller attempted to state the object of his visit, but Kershaw, with wild
gestures, waved him aside, andin his own wordsflabbergasted him by asking him
point-blank for another loan of two pounds, which sum, he declared, would be the
means of a speedy fortune for himself and the friend who would help him in his
"After a quarter of an hour spent in obscure hints, Kershaw, finding the
cautious German obdurate, decided to let him into the secret plan, which, he
averred, would place thousands into their hands."
air and timid, watery eyes, had a peculiar way of telling his tale, which
somehow fascinated her.
"I don't know," he resumed, "if you remember the story which the German told to
the police, and which was corroborated in every detail by the wife or widow.
Briefly it was this: Some thirty years previously, Kershaw, then twenty years of
age, and a medical student at one of the London hospitals, had a chum named
Barker, with whom he roomed, together with another.
"The latter, so it appears, brought home one evening a very considerable sum of
money, which he had won on the turf, and the following morning he was found
murdered in his bed. Kershaw, fortunately for himself, was able to prove a
conclusive alibi; he had spent the night on duty at the hospital; as for Barker,
he had disappeared, that is to say, as far as the police were concerned, but not
as far as the watchful eyes of his friend Kershaw were able to spyat least, so
the latter said. Barker very cleverly contrived to get away out of the country,
and, after sundry vicissitudes, finally settled down at Vladivostok, in Eastern
Siberia, where, under the assumed name of Smethurst, he built up an enormous
fortune by trading in furs.
"Now, mind you, every one knows Smethurst, the Siberian millionaire. Kershaw's
story that he had once been called Barker, and had committed a murder thirty
years ago, was never proved, was it? I am merely telling you what Kershaw said
to his friend the German and to his wife on that memorable afternoon of December
"According to him Smethurst had made one gigantic mistake in his clever
careerhe had on four occasions written to his late friend, William Kershaw. Two
of these letters had no bearing on the case, since they were written more than
twenty-five years ago, and Kershaw, moreover, had lost themso he saidlong ago.
According to him, however, the first of these letters was written when
Smethurst, alias Barker, had spent all the money he had obtained from the crime,
and found himself destitute in New York.
"Kershaw, then in fairly prosperous circumstances, sent him a £10 note for the
sake of old times. The second, when the tables had turned, and Kershaw had begun
to go downhill, Smethurst, as he then already called himself, sent his whilom
friend £50. After that, as Müller gathered, Kershaw had made sundry demands on
Smethurst's ever-increasing purse, and had accompanied these demands by various
threats, which, considering the distant country in which the millionaire lived,
were worse than futile.
"But now the climax had come, and Kershaw, after a final moment of hesitation,
handed over to his German friend the two last letters purporting to have been
written by Smethurst, and which, if you remember, played such an important part
in the mysterious story of this extraordinary crime. I have a copy of both these
letters here," added the man in the corner, as he took out a piece of paper from
a very worn-out pocket-book, and, unfolding it very deliberately, he began to
"'SIR,Your preposterous demands for money are wholly unwarrantable. I have
already helped you quite as much as you deserve. However, for the sake of old
times, and because you once helped me when I was in a terrible difficulty, I am
willing to once more let you impose upon my good nature. A friend of mine here,
a Russian merchant, to whom I have sold my business, starts in a few days for an
extended tour to many European and Asiatic ports in his yacht, and has invited
me to accompany him as far as England. Being tired of foreign parts, and
desirous of seeing the old country once again after thirty years absence, I have
decided to accept his invitation I don t know when we may actually be in Europe,
but I promise you that as soon as we touch a suitable port I will write to you
again, making an appointment for you to see me in London. But remember that if
your demands are too preposterous I will not for a moment listen to them, and
that I am the last man in the world to submit to persistent and unwarrantable
"'I am, sir,
"The second letter was dated from Southampton," continued the old man in the
corner calmly, "and, curiously enough, was the only letter which Kershaw
professed to have received from Smethurst of which he had kept the envelope, and
which was dated. It was quite brief," he added, referring once more to his piece
"'DEAR SIR,Referring to my letter of a few weeks ago, I wish to inform you that
the Tsarskoe Selo will touch at Tilbury on Tuesday next, the 10th. I shall land
there, and immediately go up to London by the first train I can get. If you
like, you may meet me at Fenchurch Street Station, in the first-class
waiting-room in the late afternoon. Since I surmise that after thirty years'
absence my face may not be familiar to you, I may as well tell you that you will
recognize me by a heavy Astrakhan fur coat, which I shall wear, together with a
cap of the same. You may then introduce yourself to me and I will personally
listen to what you may have to say.
" FRANCIS SMETHURST.
"It was this last letter which had caused William Kershaw's excitement and his
wife's tears In the German's own words, he was walking up and down the room like
a wild beast, gesticulating wildly, and muttering sundry exclamations. Mrs.
Kershaw, however, was full of apprehension. She mistrusted the man from foreign
partswho, according to her husband's story, had already one crime upon his
consciencewho might, she feared, risk another, in order to be rid of a
dangerous enemy. Woman-like, she thought the scheme a dishonourable one, for the
law, she knew, is severe on the blackmailer.
"The assignation might be a cunning trap, in any case it wag a curious one; why,
she argued, did not Smethurst elect to see Kershaw at his hotel the following
day? A thousand whys and wherefores made her anxious, but the fat German had
been won over by Kershaw's visions of untold gold, held tantalizingly before his
eyes. He had lent the necessary £2, with which his friend intended to tidy
himself up a bit before he went to meet his friend the millionaire. Half an hour
afterwards Kershaw had left his lodgings, and that was the last the unfortunate
woman saw of her husband, or Müller, the German, of his friend.
"Anxiously his wife waited that night, but he did not return; the next day she
seems to have spent in making purposeless and futile inquiries about the
neighbourhood of Fenchurch Street; and on the 12th she went to Scotland Yard,
gave what particulars she knew, and placed in the hands of the police the two
letters written by Smethurst."
CHAPTER II. A MILLIONAIRE IN THE DOCK
THE man in the corner had finished his glass of milk. His watery blue eyes
looked across at Miss Polly Burton's eager little face, from which all traces of
severity had now been ch
"It was only on the 31st," he resumed after a while, "that a body, decomposed
past all recognition, was found by two lightermen in the bottom of a disused
barge. She had been moored at one time at the foot of one of those dark flights
of steps which lead down between tall warehouses to the river in the East End of
London. I have a photograph of the place here," he added, selecting one out of
his pocket, and placing it before Polly.
"The actual barge, you see, had already been removed when I took this snapshot,
but you will realize what a perfect place this alley is for the purpose of one
man cutting another's throat in comfort, and without fear of detection. The
body, as I said, was decomposed beyond all recognition; it had probably been
there eleven days, but sundry articles, such as a silver ring and a tie pin,
were recognizable, and were identified by Mrs. Kershaw as belonging to her
"She, of course, was loud in denouncing Smethurst, and the police had no doubt a
very strong case against him, for two days after the discovery of the body in
the barge, the Siberian millionaire, as he was already popularly called by
enterprising interviewers, was arrested in his luxurious suite of rooms at the
"To confess the truth, at this point I was not a little puzzled. Mrs. Kershaw's
story and Smethurst's letters had both found their way into the papers, and
following my usual methodmind you, I am only an amateur, I try to reason out a
case for the love of the thingI sought about for a motive for the crime, which
the police declared Smethurst had committed. To effectually get rid of a
dangerous blackmailer was the generally accepted theory. Well! did it ever
strike you how paltry that motive really was?"
Miss Polly had to confess, however, that it had never struck her in that light.
"Surely a man who had succeeded in building up an immense fortune by his own
individual efforts, was not the sort of fool to believe that he had anything to
fear from a man like Kershaw. He must have known that Kershaw held no damning
proof~ against himnot enough to hang him, anyway. Have you ever s~en
Smethurst?" he added, as he once more fumbled in his pocket-book.
Polly replied that she had seen Smethurst's picture in the illustrated papers at
the time. Then he added, placing a small photograph before her:
"What strikes you most about the face?"
"Well, I think its strange, astonished expression, due to the total absence of
eyebrows, and the funny foreign cut of the hair."
"So close that it almost looks as if it had been shaved. Exactly. That is what
struck me most when I elbowed my way into the court that morning and first
caught sight of the millionaire in the dock. He was a tall, soldierly-looking
man, upright in stature, his face very bronzed and tanned. He wore neither
moustache nor beard, his hair was cropped quite close to his head, like a
Frenchman's; but, of course, what was so very remarkable about him was that
total absence of eyebrows and even eyelashes, which gave the face such a
peculiar appearanceas you say, a perpetually astonished look.
"He seemed, however, wonderfully calm; he had been accommodated with a chair in
the dockbeing a millionaireand chatted pleasantly with his lawyer, Sir Arthur
Inglewood, in the intervals between the calling of the several witnesses for the
prosecution; whilst during the examination of these witnesses he sat quite
placidly, with his head shaded by his hand.
"Müller and Mrs. Kershaw repeated the story which they had already told to the
police. I think you said that you were not able, owing to pressure of work, to
go to the court that day, and hear the case, so perhaps you have no recollection
of Mrs. Kershaw. No? Ah, well! Here is a snapshot I managed to get of her once.
That is her. Exactly as she stood in the boxover-dressedin elaborate crape,
with a bonnet which once had contained pink roses, and to which a remnant of
Fenchurch Street Mystery by Emmuska Orczy / Romance & Love / Actions & Adventure / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes