Chapter VI. The Inquest

Like a geographical Lord Byron, the isolated village of Gartley awoke one morning to find itself famous. Previously unknown, save to the inhabitants of Brefort, Jessum, and the surrounding country, and to the soldiers stationed in the Fort, it became a nine days' centre of interest. Inspector Date of Pierside arrived with his constables to inquire into the reported crime, and the local journalists, scenting sensation, came flying to Gartley on bicycles and in traps. Next morning London was duly advised that a valuable mummy was missing, and that the assistant of Professor Braddock, who had been sent to fetch it from Malta, was murdered by strangulation. In a couple of days the three kingdoms were ringing with the news of the mystery.

And a mystery it proved, to be, for, in spite of Inspector Date's efforts and the enterprise of Scotland Yard detectives summoned by the Professor, no clue could be found to the identity of the assassin. Briefly, the story told by the newspapers ran as follows:

The tramp steamer Diver - Captain George Hervey in command - had berthed alongside the Pierside jetty at four o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-September, and some two hours later Sidney Bolton removed the case, containing the green mummy, ashore.

As it was impossible to carry the case to the Pyramids on that night, Bolton had placed it in his bedroom at the Sailor's Rest, a mean little public-house of no very savory reputation near the water's edge. He was last seen alive by the landlord and the barmaid, when, after a drink of harmless ginger-beer, he retired to bed at eight, leaving instructions to the landlord - overheard by the barmaid - that the case was to be sent on next day to Professor Braddock of Gartley. Bolton hinted that he might leave the hotel early and would probably precede the case to its destination, so as to advise Professor Braddock - necessarily anxious - of its safe arrival. Before retiring he paid his bill, and deposited in the landlord's hand a small sum of money, so that the case might be sent across stream to Brefort, thence to be taken in a lorry to the Pyramids. There was no sign, said the barmaid and the landlord, that Bolton contemplated suicide, or that he feared sudden death. His whole demeanor was cheerful, and he expressed himself exceedingly glad to be in England once more.

At eleven on the ensuing morning, a persistent knocking and a subsequent opening of the door of Bolton's bedroom proved that he was not in the room, although the tumbled condition of the bed-clothes proved that he had taken some rest. No one in the hotel thought anything of Bolton's absence, since he had hinted at an early departure, although the chamber-maid considered it strange that no one had seen him leave the hotel. The landlord obeyed Bolton's instructions and sent the case, in charge of a trustworthy man, to Brefort across the river. There a lorry was procured, and the case was taken to Gartley, where it arrived at three in the afternoon,. It was then that Professor Braddock , in opening the case, discovered the body of his ill-fated assistant, rigid in death, and with a red window cord tightly bound round the throat of the corpse. At once, said the newspapers, the Professor sent for the police, and later insisted that the smartest Scotland Yard detectives should come down to elucidate the mystery. At present both police and detectives were engaged in searching for a needle in a haystack, and so far had met with no success.

Such was the tale set forth in the local and London and provincial journals. Widely as it was discussed, and many as were the theories offered, no one could fathom the mystery. But all agreed that the failure of the police to find a clue was inexplicable. It was difficult enough to understand how the assassin could have murdered Bolton and opened the packing case, and removed the mummy to replace it by the body of his victim in a house filled with at least half a dozen people; but it was yet more difficult to guess how the criminal had escaped with so noticeable an object as the mummy, bandaged with emerald-hued woollen stuff woven from the hair of Peruvian llamas. If the culprit was one who thieved and murdered for gain, he could scarcely sell the mummy without being arrested, since all England was ringing with the news of its disappearance; if a scientist, impelled to robbery by an archaeological mania, he could not possibly keep possession of the mummy without someone learning that he possessed it. Meanwhile the thief and his plunder had vanished as completely as if the earth had swallowed both. Great was the wonder at the cleverness of the criminal, and many were the solutions offered to account for the disappearance. One enterprising weekly paper, improving on the Limerick craze, offered a furnished house and three pounds a week for life to the fortunate person who could solve the mystery. As yet no one had won the prize, but it was early days yet, and at least five thousand amateur detectives tried to work out the problem.

Naturally Hope was sorry for the untimely death of Bolton, whom he had known as an amiable and clever young man. But he was also annoyed that his loan of the money to Braddock should have been, so to speak, nullified by the loss of the mummy. The Professor was perfectly furious at his double loss of assistant and embalmed corpse, and was only prevented from offering a reward for the discovery of the thief and assassin by the painful fact that he had no money. He hinted to Archie that a reward should be offered, but that young man, backed by Lucy, declined to throw away good money after bad. Braddock took this refusal so ill, that Hope felt perfectly convinced he would try and wriggle out of his promise to permit the marriage and persuade Lucy to engage herself to Sir Frank Random, should the baronet be willing to offer a reward. And Hope was also certain that Braddock, a singularly obstinate man, would never rest until he once more had the mummy in his possession. That the murderer of !Sidney Bolton should be hanged was quite a minor consideration with the Professor.

Meanwhile Widow Anne had insisted on the dead body being taken to her cottage, and Braddock, with the consent of Inspector Date, willingly agreed, as he did not wish a newly dead corpse to remain under his roof. Therefore, the remains of the unfortunate young man were taken to his humble home, and here the body was inspected by the jury when the inquest took place in the coffee-room of the Warrior Inn, immediately opposite Mrs. Bolton's abode. There was a large crowd round the inn, as people had come from far and wide to hear the verdict of the jury, and Gartley, for the first and only time in its existence, presented the aspect of an August Bank Holiday.

The Coroner - an elderly doctor with a short temper; caused by the unrealized ambition of a country practitioner - opened the proceedings by a snappy speech, in which he set forth the details of the crime in the same bold fashion in which they had been published by the newspapers. A plan of the Sailor's Rest was then placed before the jury, and the Coroner drew the attention of the twelve good and lawful men to the fact that the bedroom occupied by deceased was on the ground floor, with a window looking out on to the river, merely a stone-throw away.

"So you will see, gentlemen," said the Coroner, "that the difficulty of the assassin in leaving the hotel with his plunder was not so great as has been imagined. He had merely to open the window in the quiet hours of the night, when no one was about, and pass the mummy through to his accomplice, who probably waited without. It is also probable that a boat was waiting by the bank of the river, and the mummy having been placed in this, the assassin and his friend could row away into the unknown without the slightest chance of discovery."

Inspector Date - a tall, thin, upright man with an iron jaw and a severe expression - drew the Coroner's attention to the fact that there was no evidence to show that the assassin had an accomplice.

"What you have stated, sir, may have occurred," rasped Date in a military voice, "but we cannot prove the truth of your assumption, since the evidence at our disposal is merely circumstantial."

"I never suggested that it was anything else," snapped the Coroner. "You waste time in traversing my statements. Say what you have to say, Mr. Inspector, and produce your witnesses - if you have any."

There are no witnesses who can swear to the identity of the murderer," said Inspector Date coldly, and determined not to be ruffled by the apparent antagonism of the Coroner. "The criminal has vanished, and no one can guess his name or occupation, or even the reason which led him to slay the deceased."

Coroner: "The reason is plain. He wanted the mummy."

Inspector: "Why should he want the mummy?"

Coroner: "That is what we wish to find out."

Inspector: "Exactly, sir. We wish to learn the reason why the murderer strangled the deceased."

Coroner: "We know that reason. What we wish to know is why the murderer stole the mummy. And I would point out to you, Mr. Inspector, that, as yet, we do not even know the sex of the assassin. It might be a woman who murdered the deceased."

Professor Braddock, who was seated near the door of the coffee-room, being even more irascible than usual, rose to contradict.

"There isn't a scrap of evidence to show that the murderer was a woman."

Coroner: "You are out of order, sir. And I would point out that, as yet, Inspector Date has produced no witnesses."

Date glared. He and the Coroner were old enemies, and always sparred when they met. It seemed likely, that the peppery little Professor would join in the quarrel and that there would be a duel of three; but Date, not wishing for an adverse report in the newspapers as to his conduct of the case, contented himself with the glare aforesaid, and, after a short speech, called Braddock. The Professor, looking more like a cross cherub than ever, gave his evidence tartly. It seemed ridiculous to his prejudiced mind that all this fuss should be made over Bolton's body, when the mummy; was still missing. However, as the discovery of the criminal would assuredly lead to the regaining of that precious Peruvian relic, he curbed his wrath and answered the Coroner's questions in a fairly amiable fashion.

And, after all, Braddock had very little to tell. He had, so he stated, seen an advertisement in a newspaper that a mummy, swathed in green bandages, was to be sold in Malta; and had sent his assistant to buy it and bring it home. This was done, and what happened after the mummy left the tramp steamer was known to everyone, through the medium of the press.

"With which," grumbled the Professor, "I do not agree."

"What do you mean by that?" asked the Coroner sharply.

"I mean, sir," snapped Braddock, equally sharply, "that the publicity given by the newspapers to these details will probably place the assassin on his guard."

"Why not on her guard?" persisted the Coroner wilfully.

"Rubbish! rubbish! rubbish! My mummy wasn't stolen by a woman. What the devil would a woman want with my mummy?"

"Be more respectful, Professor."

"Then talk sense, doctor," and the two glared at one another.

After a moment or two the situation was adjusted in silence, and the Coroner asked a few questions, pertinent to the matter in hand.

"Had the deceased any enemies?"

"No, sir, he hadn't, not being famous enough, or rich enough, or clever enough to excite the hatred of mankind. He was simply an intelligent young man, who worked excellently when supervised by me. His mother is a washerwoman in this village, and the lad brought washing to my house. Noting that he was intelligent and was anxious to rise above his station, I engaged him as my assistant and trained him to do my work."

"Archaeological work?"

"Yes. I don't wash, whatever Bolton's mother may, do. Don't ask silly questions."

"Be more respectful," said the Coroner again, and grew red. "Have you any idea as to the name of anyone who desired to obtain possession of this mummy?"

"I daresay dozens of scientists in my line of business would have liked to get the corpse of Inca Caxas. Such as - " and he reeled out a list of celebrated men.

"Nonsense," growled the Coroner. "Famous men like those you mention would not murder even for the sake of obtaining this mummy."

"I never said that they would," retorted Braddock, "but you wanted to hear who would like to have the mummy; and I have told you."

The Coroner waived the question.

"Was there any jewelry on the mummy likely to attract a thief?" he asked.

"How the devil should I know?" fumed the Professor. "I never unpacked the mummy; I never even saw it. Any jewelry buried with Inca Caxas would be bound up in the bandages. So far as I know those bandages were never unwound."

"You can throw no light on the subject?"

"No, I can't. Bolton went to get the mummy and brought it home. I understood that he would personally bring his precious charge to my house; but he didn't. Why, I don't know."

When the Professor stepped down, still fuming at what he considered were the unnecessary questions of the Coroner, the young doctor who had examined the corpse was called. Robinson deposed that deceased had been strangled by means of a red window cord, and that, from the condition of the body, he would judge death had taken place some twelve hours more or less before the opening of the packing case by Braddock. That was at three o'clock on Thursday afternoon, so in witness's opinion the crime was committed between two and three on the previous morning.

"But I can't be absolutely certain as to the precise hour," added witness; "at any rate poor Bolton was strangled after midnight and before three o'clock."

"That is a wide margin," grumbled the Coroner, jealous of his brother-practitioner. "Were there any, other wounds on the body?"

"No. You can see for yourself, if you have inspected the corpse."

The Coroner, thus reproved, glared, and Widow Anne appeared after Robinson retired. She stated, with many sobs, that her son had no enemies and was a good, kind young man. She also related her dream, but this was flouted by the Coroner, who did not believe in the occult. However, the narration of her premonition was listened to with deep interest by those in the court. Widow Anne concluded her evidence by asking how she was to live now that her boy Sid was dead. The Coroner professed himself unable to answer this question, and dismissed her.

Samuel Quass, the landlord of the Sailor's Rest, was next called. He proved to be a big, burly, red-haired, red-whiskered man, who looked like a sailor. And indeed a few questions elicited the information that he was a retired sea-captain. He gave his evidence gruffly but honestly, and although he kept so shady a public-house, seemed straightforward enough. He told much the same tale as had appeared in the newspapers. In the hotel on that night there was only himself, his wife and two children, and the staff of servants. Bolton retired to bed saying that he might start early for Gartley, and paid one pound to get the case taken across to river and placed on a lorry. As Bolton had vanished next morning, Quass obeyed instructions, with the result which everyone knew. He also stated that he did not know the case contained a mummy.

"What did you think it contained?" asked the Coroner quickly.

"Clothes and curios from foreign parts," said the witness coolly.

"Did Mr. Bolton tell you so?"

"He told me nothing about the case," growled the witness, "but he chatted a lot about Malta, which I know well, having put into that port frequent when a sailor."

"Did he hint at any rows taking place at Malta?"

"No, he didn't."

"Did he say that he had enemies?"

"No, he didn't."

"Did he strike you as a man who was in fear of heath?"

"No, he didn't," said the witness for the third time. "He seemed happy enough. I never thought for one moment that he was dead until I heard how his body had been found in the packing case."

The Coroner asked all manner of questions, and so did Inspector Date; but all attempts to incriminate Quass were vain. He was bluff and straightforward, and told - so far as could be judged - everything he knew. There was nothing for it but to dismiss him, and Eliza Flight was called as the last witness.

She also proved to be the most important, as she knew several things which she had not told to her master, or to the reporters, or even to the police. On being asked why she had kept silence, she said that her desire was to obtain any reward that might be offered; but as she had heard that there would be no reward, she was willing to tell what she knew. It was an important piece of evidence.

The girl stated that Bolton had retired to bed at eight on the ground floor, and the bedroom had a window - as marked in the plan - which looked on to the river a stone-throw distant. At nine or a trifle later witness went out to have a few words with her lover. In the darkness she saw that the window was open and that Bolton was talking to an old woman muffled in a shawl. She could not see the woman's face, nor judge of her stature, as she was stooping down to listen to Bolton. Witness did not take much notice, as she was in a hurry to see her lover. When she returned past the window at ten o'clock it was closed and the light was extinguished, so she thought that Mr. Bolton was asleep.

"But, to tell the truth," said Eliza Flight, "I never thought anything of the matter at all. It was only after the murder that I saw how important it was I should remember everything."

"And you have?"

"Yes, sir," said the girl, honestly enough. "I have told you everything that happened on that night. Next Morning - " She hesitated.

"Well, what about next morning?"

"Mr. Bolton had locked his door. I know that, because a few minutes after eight on the night before, not knowing he had retired. I tried to enter the room and make ready the bed for the night. He sang out through the door - which was locked, for I tried it - that he was in bed. That was a lie also, as after nine I saw him talking to the woman at the window."

"You previously said an old woman," said the Coroner, referring to his notes. "How do you know she was old?"

"I can't say if she was old or young," said the witness candidly; "it's only a manner of speaking. She had a dark shawl over her head and a dark dress. I couldn't say if she was old or young, fair or dark, stout or lean, tall or short. The night was dark."

The Coroner referred to the plan.

"There is a gas-lamp near the window of the bedroom. Did you not see her in that light?"

"Oh, yes, sir; but just for a moment. I took very little notice. Had I known that the gentleman was to be murdered, I should have taken a great deal of notice."

"Well, about this locked door?"

"It was locked over-night, sir, but when I went next morning, it was not locked. I knocked and knocked, but could get no answer. As it was eleven, I thought the gentleman was sleeping very long, so I tried to open the door. It was not locked, as I say - but," added witness with emphasis, "the window was snibbed and the blind was down."

"That is natural enough," said the Coroner. "Mr: Bolton, after his interview with the woman, would of course snib the window, and pull down the blind. When he went away next morning he would unlock the door."

"Begging your pardon, sir, but, as we know, he didn't go away next morning, being in the packing case, nailed down."

The Coroner could have kicked himself for the very natural mistake he had made, for he saw a derisive grin on the faces around him, and particularly on that of Inspector Date.

"Then the assassin must have gone out by the door," he said weakly.

"Then I don't know how he got out," cried Eliza Flight, "for I was up at six and the front and back doors of the hotel were locked. And after six I was about in passages and rooms doing my work, and master and missus and others were all over the place. How could the murderer walk out, sir, without some of us seeing him?"

"Perhaps you did, and took no notice?"

"Oh, sir, if a stranger was around we should all have taken notice."

This concluded the evidence, which was meagre enough. Widow Anne was indeed recalled to see if Miss Flight could identify her as the woman who, had been talking to Bolton, but witness failed to recognize her, and the widow herself proved, by means of three friends, that she had been imbibing gin at home on the night and at the hour in question. Also, there was no evidence to connect this unknown woman with the murder, and no sound - according to the unanimous testimony of the inmates of the Sailor's Rest - had been heard in the bedroom of Bolton. Yet, as the Coroner observed, there must have been some knocking and hammering and ripping going on. But of this nothing could be proved, and although several witnesses were examined again, not one could throw light on the mystery. Under these circumstances the jury could only bring in a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown, which was done. And it may be mentioned that the cord with which Bolton had been strangled was identified by the landlord and the chamber-maid as belonging to the blind of the bedroom window.

"Well," said Hope, when the inquest was over, "so nothing can be proved against anyone. What is to be done next?"

"I'll tell you after I have seen Random," said the Professor curtly.