“This piece of iron penetrated the occipital bone at the lowest part, and injured the cerebellum, damaging all the great nerve centres at the base of the brain.”
“Would death ensue instantly?”
“Yes. Such a blow would have the effect of a high voltage electric current. Complete paralysis of the nerve centres means death.”
“Then I take it that great force must have been used?”
“Not so much, perhaps, as the nature of the wound seems to imply; but considerable – sufficient, at any rate, to break the piece of iron.”
“It was broken, you say? Was it cast-iron?”
“Yes, of good quality. Off some ornament or design, I should imagine. But it snapped off inside the head at the moment of the occurrence.”
“Curious, is it not, for a person to be killed in such a manner by such an instrument?”
“I have never before met such a case. Were it not for the way in which the body was jammed beneath a hidden drain-pipe, and the effective means taken to destroy the identity, I should have inclined to the belief that some strange accident had happened. At any rate, the murderer must have committed the crime on the spur of the moment, and seized upon the first weapon to hand.”
“You say she was forcibly placed where found?”
“Yes; the workmen’s description left no other idea.”
“Could not the tide have done this?”
“Hardly. One cannot be quite emphatic, as such odd things do happen. But it seems to be almost impossible for the tide at Putney to pack a body beneath a jutting drain-pipe in such a manner that the waist, or narrowest part, should be beneath the pipe and the body remain securely held.”
“Yet it is not so marvellous as the coincidence that this particular drain should need repairs at the precise period when this tragedy happened.”
“Quite so. It is exceedingly strange. Are you interested in the case? Have you reason to believe that this poor woman – ?”
“I hardly know,” broke in the barrister. “I have no data to go upon, but I feel convinced that I shall ultimately establish her identity. You, doctor, can help me much by telling me your surmises in addition to the known facts.”
The medico looked thoughtfully through the window before he exclaimed: “I am certain that the woman found in the Thames came from the upper walks of life. Notwithstanding the disfiguring effects of the water and rough usage, any medical man can rapidly appreciate the caste of his subject. She was, I should say, a woman of wealth and refinement, one who led an orderly, well-regulated life, whose surroundings were normal and healthy.”
Bruce thanked his informant and hurried back to London. A telegram to Inspector White preceded him. He had not long reached his Victoria-street chambers when the detective was announced. He soon made known his wishes. “I want you to give me that small piece of iron found in the head of the woman at Putney,” he said. “If necessary, I will return it in twenty-four hours.”
Mr. White’s face showed some little sign of annoyance. “It is against the rules,” he began; but Bruce curtly interrupted him.
“Very well, I will make direct application to the Commissioner.”
“I was going to say, Mr. Bruce, that although not strictly in accordance with orders, I will make an exception in your case.” And the detective slowly produced the piece de conviction from a large pocket-book.
In sober fact, the police officer was somewhat jealous of the clever lawyer, who saw so quickly through complexities that puzzled his slower brain. He was in nowise anxious to help the barrister in his inquiries, though keenly wishful to benefit by his discoveries, and follow out his theories when they were defined with sufficient clearness.
Bruce did not at first take the proffered article.
“Let me understand, Mr. White,” he said. “Do you object to my presence in this inquiry? Are you going to hinder me or help me? It will save much future misunderstanding if we have this point settled now.”
The detective flushed at this direct inquiry. “I will be candid with you, Mr. Bruce. It is true I have been vexed at times when you have overreached me; but I regret it immediately. It is foolish of me to try and solve problems by your methods. Kindly forget my momentary disinclination to hand over the only genuine link in the case.”
“In what case?”
“In the case of Lady Dyke’s disappearance.”
“Ah! Then you think it is in some way connected with the woman found at Putney?”
“I am sure of it. The woman at Putney, whether Lady Dyke herself or not I cannot tell, wore some of her ladyship’s clothes. When we have ascertained the means and the manner of the death of the woman buried at Putney we shall not be far from learning what has become of Lady Dyke.”
“How have you identified the clothes?”
“I managed to gain the confidence of the lady’s maid, who gave evidence at the inquest. She, of course, is quite positive that the body was not that of her mistress, but when I had examined some of Lady Dyke’s linen I no longer doubted the fact.”
“If you knew all this, how comes it that more did not transpire at the coroner’s inquiry?”
“In such affairs an inquest is rather a hindrance to the police. It is better to lull the guilty person or persons into the belief that the crime has passed into oblivion. They know as well as we do that Lady Dyke is buried at Putney. We have failed to establish her identity by the evidence of the husband and servants. The linen and clothes, our sole effective testimony, remain in our possession; so, taking everything into consideration, I prefer that matters should remain as they are for the present.”
“Really, Mr. White, I congratulate you. You will perhaps pardon me for saying that some of your colleagues do not usually take so sensible a view.”
The policeman smiled at the compliment. “I am learning your method, Mr. Bruce,” he said.
As he spoke, Smith entered with a note endorsed “Urgent.”
It was in the handwriting of Sir Charles Dyke, and even the imperturbable barrister could not resist an exclamation of amazement when he read:
“My Dear Bruce, – My wife’s maid has vanished. She has not been near the house for three days. The thing came to my ears owing to gossip amongst the servants. There is something maddening about these occurrences. I really cannot stand any more. Do come to see me, there’s a good fellow.”
“Well, I’m jiggered!” said the detective. “The blessed girl must have been spirited away a few hours after I saw her. Maybe, Mr. Bruce, we are all wrong. Has she gone to join her mistress?”
“Possibly – in the next world.”
Nothing would shake the barrister’s belief that Alice, Lady Dyke, was dead.
NO. 61 RALEIGH MANSIONS
Really, the maid deserved to have her ears pulled.
People in her walk in life should not ape their betters. Lady Dyke, owing to her position, was entitled to some degree of oddity or mystery in her behavior. But for a lady’s maid to so upset the entire household at Wensley House, Portman Square, was intolerable.
Sir Charles became, if possible, more miserable; the butler fumed; the housekeeper said that the girl was always a forward minx, and the footman winked at Buttons, as much as to say that he knew a good deal if he liked to talk.
The police were as greatly baffled by this latter incident as by its predecessor. The movements of the maid were quite unknown. No one could tell definitely when she left the house. Her fellow-servants described the dress she probably wore, as all her other belongings were in her bedroom; but beyond the fact that her name was Jane Harding, and that she had not returned to her home in Lincolnshire, the police could find no further clue.
So, in brief, Jane Harding quickly joined Lady Dyke in the limbo of forgetfulness.
Bruce, however, forgot nothing. Indeed, he rejoiced at this new development.
“The greater the apparent mystery,” he communed, “the less it is in reality. We now have two tracks to follow. They are both hidden, it is true, but when we find one, it will probably intersect the other.”