Chapter Thirteen. The Call for Help
 

Purdie, whose temperament inclined him to slowness and deliberation in face of any grave crisis, motioned the detective to take a seat in the quiet corner of the smoking-room, into which they had retreated, and sat down close by him.

"Now, to begin with," he said, "why do you think this affair is connected with the affair of the old pawn-broker? There must be some link."

"There is a link, sir," answered Ayscough. "The man was old Daniel Multenius's next door neighbour: name of Parslett--James Parslett, fruit and vegetable dealer. Smallish way of business, but well known enough in that quarter. Now, I'll explain something to you. I'm no hand at drawing," continued the detective, "but I think I can do a bit of a rough sketch on this scrap of paper which will make clear to you the lie of the land. These two lines represent Praed Street. Here, where I make this cross, is Daniel Multenius's pawnshop. The front part of it--the jeweller's shop-- looks out on Praed Street. At the side is a narrow passage or entry: from that you get access to the pledge-office. Now then, Multenius's premises run down one side of this passage: Parslett's run down the other. Parslett's house has a side-door into it, exactly opposite the door into Multenius's pledge office. Is that clear, Mr. Purdie?"

"Quite!" answered Purdie. "I understand it exactly."

"Then my theory is, that Parslett saw the real murderer of Daniel Multenius come out of Multenius's side-door, while he, Parslett, was standing at his own; that he recognized him, that he tried to blackmail him yesterday, and that the man contrived to poison him, in such a fashion that Parslett died shortly after leaving him," said Ayscough, confidently. "It's but a theory--but I'll lay anything I'm not far out in it!"

"What reason have you for thinking that Parslett blackmailed the murderer?" asked Purdie.

"This!" answered the detective, with something of triumph in his tone. "I've been making some enquiries already this morning, early as it is. When Parslett was picked up and carried to the hospital--this St. Mary's Hospital, close by here--he was found to have fifty pounds in gold in his pocket. Now, according to Parslett's widow, whom I've seen this morning, Parslett was considerably hard up yesterday. Trade hasn't been very good with him of late, and she naturally knows his circumstances. He went out of the house last night about nine o'clock, saying he was going to have a stroll round, and the widow says she's certain he'd no fifty pounds on him when he left her--it would be a wonder, she says, if he'd as much as fifty shillings! Now then, Mr. Purdie, where did a man like that pick up fifty sovereigns between the time he went out, and the time he was picked up, dying?"

"He might have borrowed it from some friend," suggested Purdie.

"I thought of that, sir," said Ayscough. "It seems the natural thing to think of. But Mrs. Parslett says they haven't a friend from whom he could have borrowed such an amount--not one! No, sir!--my belief is that Parslett saw some man enter and leave Multenius's shop; that he knew the man; that he went and plumped him with the affair, and that the man gave him that gold to get rid of him at the moment--and contrived to poison him, too!"

Purdie considered the proposition for awhile in silence.

"Well," he remarked at last, "if that's so, it seems to establish two facts--first, that the murderer is some man who lives in this neighbourhood, and second, that he's an expert in poisons."

"Right, sir!" agreed Ayscough. "Quite right. And it would, of course, establish another--the innocence of your friend, Lauriston."

Purdie smiled.

"I never had any doubt of that," he said.

"Between ourselves, neither had I," remarked Ayscough heartily. "I told our people that I, personally, was convinced of the young fellow's complete innocence from the very first--and it was I who found him in the shop. It's a most unfortunate thing that he was there, and a sad coincidence that those rings of his were much of a muchness with the rings in the tray in the old man's parlour--but I've never doubted him. No, sir!--I believe all this business goes a lot deeper than that! It's no common affair--old Daniel Multenius was attacked by somebody--somebody!-- for some special reason--and it's going to take a lot of getting at. And I'm convinced this Parslett affair is a development--Parslett's been poisoned because he knew too much."

"You say you don't know what particular poison was used?" asked Purdie. "It would be something of a clue to know that. Because, if it turned out to be one of a very subtle nature, that would prove that whoever administered it had made a special study of poisons."

"I don't know that--yet," answered Ayscough. "But," he continued, rising from his chair, "if you'd step round with me to the hospital, we might get to know, now. There's one or two of their specialists been making an examination. It's only a mere step along the street."

Purdie followed the detective out and along Praed Street. Before they reached the doors of the hospital, a man came up to Ayscough: a solid, substantial-looking person, of cautious manner and watchful eye, whose glance wandered speculatively from the detective to his companion. Evidently sizing Purdie up as some one in Ayscough's confidence, he spoke --in the fashion of one who has something as mysterious, as important, to communicate.

"Beg your pardon, Mr. Ayscough," he said. "A word with you sir. You know me, Mr. Ayscough?"

Ayscough looked sharply at his questioner.

"Mr. Goodyer, isn't it?" he asked. "Oh, yes, I remember. What is it? You can speak before this gentleman--it's all right."

"About this affair of last night--Parslett, you know," said Goodyer, drawing the detective aside, and lowering his voice, so that passers-by might not hear. "There's something I can tell you--I've heard all about the matter from Parslett's wife. But I've not told her what I can tell you, Mr. Ayscough."

"And--what's that?" enquired the detective.

"I'm Parslett's landlord, you know," continued Goodyer. "He's had that shop and dwelling-house of me for some years. Now, Parslett's not been doing very well of late, from one cause or another, and to put it in a nutshell, he owed me half a year's rent. I saw him yesterday, and told him I must have the money at once: in fact, I pressed him pretty hard about it.--I'd been at him for two or three weeks, and I could see it was no good going on. He'd been down in the mouth about it, the last week or so, but yesterday afternoon he was confident enough. 'Now, you needn't alarm yourself, Mr. Goodyer,' he said. 'There's a nice bit of money going to be paid to me tonight, and I'll settle up with you before I stick my head on the pillow,' he said. 'Tonight, for certain?' says I. 'Before even I go to bed!' he says. 'I can't fix it to a minute, but you can rely on me calling at your house in St. Mary's Terrace before eleven o'clock--with the money.' And he was so certain about it, Mr. Ayscough, that I said no more than that I should be much obliged, and I'd wait up for him. And," concluded Goodyer, "I did wait up--till half-past twelve--but he never came. So this morning, of course, I walked round here--and then I heard what happened--about him being picked up dying and since being dead--with fifty pounds in gold in his pocket. Of course, Mr. Ayscough, that was the money he referred to."

"You haven't mentioned this to anybody?" asked Ayscough.

"Neither to the widow nor to anybody--but you," replied Goodyer.

"Don't!" said Ayscough. "Keep it to yourself till I give you the word. You didn't hear anything from Parslett as to where the money was coming from?"

"Not one syllable!" answered Goodyer. "But I could see he was dead sure of having it."

"Well--keep quiet about it," continued Ayscough. "There'll be an inquest, you know, and what you have to tell'll come in handy, then. There's some mystery about all this affair, Mr. Goodyer, and it's going to take some unravelling."

"You're right!" said Goodyer. "I believe you!"

He went off along the street, and the detective turned to Purdie and motioned him towards the hospital.

"Queer, all that, sir!" he muttered. "Very queer! But it all tends to showing that my theory's the right one. Now if you'll just stop in the waiting-room a few minutes, I'll find out if these doctors have come to any conclusion about the precise nature of the poison."

Purdie waited for ten minutes, speculating on the curiosities of the mystery into which he had been so strangely plunged: at last the detective came back, shaking his head.

"Can't get a definite word out of 'em, yet," he said, as they went away. "There's two or three of 'em--big experts in--what do you call it--oh, yes, toxology--putting their heads together over the analysing business, and they won't say anything so far--they'll leave that to the inquest. But I gathered this much, Mr. Purdie, from the one I spoke to--this man Parslett was poisoned in some extremely clever fashion, and by some poison that's not generally known, which was administered to him probably half- an-hour before it took effect. What's that argue, sir, but that whoever gave him that poison is something of an expert? Deep game, Mr. Purdie, a very deep game indeed!--and now I don't think there's much need to be anxious about that young friend of yours. I'm certain, anyway, that the man who poisoned Parslett is the man who killed poor old Daniel Multenius. But--we shall see."

Purdie parted from Ayscough outside the hospital and walked along to Mrs. Flitwick's house in Star Street. He met Melky Rubinstein emerging from the door; Melky immediately pulled out a telegram which he thrust into Purdie's hand.

"Just come, mister!" exclaimed Melky. "There's a word for you in it--I was going to your hotel. Read what he says."

Purdie unfolded the pink paper and read.

"On the track all right understand Purdie is in town if he comes to Star Street explain all to him will wire again later in day."

"Good!" said Purdie. He handed back the telegram and looked meditatively at Melky. "Are you busy this morning?" he asked.

"Doing no business whatever, mister," lisped Melky, solemnly. "Not until this business is settled--not me!"

"Come to the hotel with me," continued Purdie. "I want to talk to you about something."

But when they reached the hotel, all thought of conversation was driven out of Purdie's mind for the moment. The hall-porter handed him a note, remarking that it had just come. Purdie's face flushed as he recognized the handwriting: he turned sharply away and tore open the envelope. Inside, on a half-sheet of notepaper, were a few lines--from the pretty governess at Mr. Spencer Levendale's.

"Can you come here at once and ask for me? There is something seriously wrong: I am much troubled and have no one in London I can consult."

With a hasty excuse to Melky, Purdie ran out of the hotel, and set off in quick response to the note.