By the sight of it

On the night of July 24th, in the year 1896, between the hours of
eleven and twelve, Grangebury, a little-known suburb of London, was
wrapped in slumber, as became a respectable neighbourhood whose
inhabitants retired regularly shortly after sunset. Not that they had
done so on this particular night, for the unusual excitement of a
lecture on Dickens, delivered in the tiny Town Hall, had kept them
from their beds later than was customary. At a quarter to eleven, a
stream of instructed pleasure-seekers, discussing lecture and
lecturer, filled the narrow streets; but gradually the crowd
diminished until highways and byways were left deserted, save by
watchful policemen and vagrant cats. The lamps were then extinguished
by order of an economical municipality, the few lights still twinkling
from the upper windows of various houses disappeared, and the little
town lay under moon and stars as silent and almost as lonely as the
spell-bound cities in eastern fables.

Every now and then the footsteps of policemen making their rounds,
could be heard echoing along the streets, and sometimes an official
lantern would be flashed into dark corners to search out possible
burglars or homeless beggars. But no thieves or vagabonds could be
discovered; for, on the whole, Grangebury, being a comparatively new
suburb, was free from such criminal pests, and the police force there,
under the command of Mr. Inspector Lackland had a very easy time.
There was nothing on this night to indicate any ending to this
Arcadian Age of security and innocence; yet, shortly after eleven
o’clock a yawning policeman, leaning against a convenient wall, heard
a word cried aloud which told him of crime and danger. The word was

“Murder!” repeated the constable, looking up and down the street.

“Murder!” shrieked the voice again; and then there came the sound of
running feet, cries for help, and the quick panting of an exhausted
creature. Before the policeman could decide in which direction to
move, a dishevelled woman, screaming and gesticulating, came at full
speed round the corner, and almost fell into his arms. Her face was
pearly white in the moonlight, her eyes were filled with terror, and
an almost continuous cry issued from her open mouth without any motion
of the lips.

“‘Ere! ‘ere, wot’s this?” said the policeman, seizing the flying
creature by the arm. “Wot d’ye mean, screeching out murder like a
loonatic? Come now!”

Trembling violently, the woman grappled with the policeman, shrieking
the while, and evidently beside herself with terror. Not being gifted
with brains, the officer of the law shook her vigorously to brighten
her intellect; and she wavered limply in his grasp like a dummy

“Murder!” she whimpered, clawing and clutching at the man. “Lord! it’s
awful! Ugh! Ugh! I’ve seen her dead!”

“Seen ‘oo dead?” demanded the policeman, stolidly.

“My lodger! Dead! Strangled! Ugh! Ugh!” cried the woman, breathlessly,
raising her voice higher at each word. “A corpse in the Yellow Room!
Paradise Row! Come and see–come and—- Oh, poor soul!” and she fell
to wringing her hands again, quivering and panting.

“Wait a bit!” said the jack-in-office, bound by red-tapeism, “the
police station is just roun’ th’ corner. Kim up an’ see th’

“I–I–I am innocent!” gasped the woman, hanging back. “Neither ‘Tilda
nor I laid a finger on her.”

“‘Oo said y’ did?” retorted the man, suspiciously; and, for his own
protection he recited an official formula, “Wot y’ say now ‘ull be
used in hevidence agin y’. Kim up, I tell y’.” And, grasping her arm,
he hurried her fighting and crying round the near corner, and into a
red-brick building, over the door of which was a lamp inscribed
“Police Station.”

In a stuffy room, rendered almost unbearable by the heat of the
flaring gas, two men were talking earnestly together, notwithstanding
the lateness of the hour. The one in uniform was a burly, red-faced
martinet known in Grangebury as Inspector Lackland. He was too
completely hemmed in by red tapeism to count for much; but the other
in plain clothes was Absolom Gebb, well known in Scotland Yard as a
capable detective, but not so infallible as the miracle-monger of
fiction. It was Gebb who brought home the theft of Lady Daleshire’s
diamonds to herself; who proved Dr. Marner to be guilty of poisoning
his wife, in spite of strong evidence to the contrary; who solved nine
out of every ten criminal problems submitted to him, and who was the
terror of all evil-doers. This tall, lean man with his clean-shaven
face and black, observant eyes was an enthusiast in his profession,
and loved to ponder over and follow out the intricacies of criminal
mysteries. At the present moment he was conversing with Lackland about
a recent Anarchist conspiracy, and therefore happened to be in the
Grangebury Police Office when the zealous policeman appeared with his
terrified prisoner. She cried out when she was thrust into the room,
and, confronted by inspector and detective, covered her face with her

“Hey! What!” said Lackland, in his rasping voice. “What’s all this

“Case of murder, sir,” jerked out the policeman, pushing forward the
prisoner. “Paradise Row! Woman strangled!”

“Murder?” cried Gebb, pricking up his ears at the ominous word.

“Murder!” screeched the woman, and fell into a chair. Evidently she
had received a shock and was on the verge of hysterics, for she began
to babble and weep copiously. Accustomed to deal with this sort of
emotion, Lackland seized a jug of water standing near his desk, and
dashed the contents into her face. The remedy was efficacious, for
with a gasp and a shiver the woman recovered her self-control and
tongue, also her inherent feminine vanity. “You brute!” she screamed,
jumping up wrathfully. “My best bonnet’s spoilt.”

“Attention!” roared the inspector in his sternest military manner;
“none of this nonsense here. What about this murder in—-”

“I didn’t kill her!” interrupted the woman, wiping her face. “‘Tilda
and me knew nothing about it till we found her strangled when we came
back from the lecture.”

“Did you attend the lecture on Dickens in the Town Hall?” asked Gebb.

“Yes, I did, sir; both me and ‘Tilda, who is my servant, went.”

“What is your name?” asked the detective, with professional sharpness.

“Maria Presk.”

“Married or single?”

“Married once, single now,” sighed the woman. “I am what you call a
widow, sir; and I let lodgings in Paradise Row.”

“Was this dead woman a lodger of yours?”

“Miss Ligram, you mean? Yes. Miss Ligram was in the first floor

“And who killed Miss Ligram?” asked Gebb, looking keenly at Mrs.

The good lady turned ever paler than before.

“I–I don’t know, sir,” she stammered, with a scared look. “I can take
my stand in any court of—-”

“Face this way, ma’am!” interrupted Lackland, who was indignant at the
way in which Gebb was usurping his authority. “I’m in charge of this
office. I’m the officer to take your evidence. Mr. Gebb! Discipline!”

“Alright! Go ahead!” replied the detective, inwardly cursing the too
methodical procedure of his superior, “I don’t want to interfere.
But,” he added with emphasis, “I think we should go at once and look
at the corpse.”

“All in good time, Mr. Gebb. More haste, less speed!” said Lackland,

“And the more delay, the less chance of getting at the truth,”
retorted Gebb.

The fact was that Gebb’s sporting instincts were roused, and he wanted
to be off on the trail while it was yet fresh. Every moment was of
importance. Yet, as he was not in charge of the case, he was forced to
stand idly by and hear the blundering inspector putting a lot of
irrelevant questions–good for nothing, but wasting time. However,
Gebb managed to extract some grains of wheat out of a vast quantity of
chaff, and in a roundabout way–thanks to the inspector’s method of
questioning–learned the following facts, which were sufficient to
inform him how matters stood at present.

Miss Ligram was–or rather, had been, since she no longer existed–a
lodger in the house of Mrs. Presk, No. 13, Paradise Row. She was a
quiet, inoffensive old lady, who gave little trouble, and who remained
by preference in her own room. On the night of the 24th July, Mrs.
Presk and her servant, Matilda Crane, had attended a lecture delivered
in the Town Hall. The lecture–an amusing one on Charles Dickens and
his works–had afforded them much pleasure, and they returned at
eleven o’clock to Paradise Row in a state of high spirits. On passing
round to the back entrance they saw that a light was still burning in
Miss Ligram’s sitting-room, and, wondering at the sight–for the
lodger usually retired early–Mrs. Presk, on entering the house, had
gone upstairs to see if anything was wrong. To her horror she found
Miss Ligram dead, with a cord round her neck. Terrified by the sight,
she had called up Matilda Crane, who, more impressionable and less
hardened, had promptly fainted away. Mrs. Presk, a woman of energy and
resource, had immediately sought the aid of the police, and now
insisted that Lackland and his subordinates should remove the corpse
and capture the murderer.

“That last is easier said than done,” was Gebb’s comment on this
demand. “By this time the assassin is far enough away. However,
there’s no time to be lost in looking at the scene of the crime, as I

“Quite so,” said Lackland, gruffly. “No time to waste, ma’am”–to Mrs.
Presk. “March! Gebb, come with me and catch the murderer!”

This proposition recommending itself to Mrs. Presk, she left the
police-office with inspector and detective, and led the pair to her
house, which was situated down a side street no great distance away.
As the front door was closed, she conducted the men round the back
way, through the kitchen, and up the stairs into Miss Ligram’s
sitting-room. On the mat in the passage, ‘Tilda, the servant, lay
still insensible, so Mrs. Presk lifted her in her strong arms and
carried her to the kitchen to be revived as speedily as possible, in
case, as was almost certain, her evidence might be wanted. In the mean
time Lackland and Gebb had entered the room wherein the crime had been
committed, and were amazed at the splendour of the apartment. For
colouring and evidence of wealth it was like a scene out of the
Arabian Nights.

The room was of no great size, with a window looking out on to the
street, and two doors, one leading in from a narrow passage, the other
giving admittance into an inner apartment, evidently a bedroom. The
walls were draped with rich hangings of satin, yellow as a buttercup
in hue, and a tent-like roof of the same tint and material was drawn
in many folds to a dome-like centre, whence depended by a brass chain
an Arabian lantern studded with knobs of yellow glass, which,
illuminated from within, shone like pale topaz stones. Tables, chairs,
and couches were framed of gilded cane, with coverlets and quilts of
yellow silk, and the ground of the carpet was of the same colour,
embroidered with bunches of primrose flowers. Also there were tall
narrow mirrors framed in yellow satin, clusters of daffodils in
grotesque Chinese vases of a deep yellow shade, and numerous
candles–all lighted–in candelabra silver gilt. Near the window, from
a brass chafing-dish standing on a tripod of the same metal, curled up
a thin white vapour diffusing a heavy rich perfume, and everywhere lay
nicknacks of gold and silver more or less costly; fur mats and rugs
dyed yellow, and many books covered in a homely fashion with yellow
paper. The prevailing colour of the room was a violent yellow; and
this, with the glare of the candles, the glitter of the mirrors, the
scent of the flowers, and the strong perfume of the incense, made the
heads of the onlookers reel. Even the matter-of-fact inspector was
impressed by the uncanny magnificence of the place.

“By George, sir!” said he to Gebb, with the instincts of an old
soldier, “it’s like a Mandalay Pagoda. If t’was in Burmah, now,
shouldn’t mind looting it.”

Gebb was rubbing his hands, with sparkling eyes.

“By the sight of it,” he said joyfully, “this is going to be a
romantic case. I only hope I’ll be lucky enough to get charge of it.
Did you furnish this room, ma’am?” he asked, turning sharply to Mrs.
Presk, whose pale grey face appeared over the shoulder of the burly,
staring inspector.

“No, I didn’t,” retorted the landlady. “Miss Ligram furnished it
herself, and called it her Yellow Boudoir.”

If the appearance of the room was amazing, that of the dead woman was
not less so. The body was lying loosely in an armchair, with sprawling
legs and arms, like a saw-dust doll. The head lay limply on the
shoulder, and a yellow cord–evidently torn from a near curtain–was
bound tightly round the lean throat The distorted face, the protruding
tongue, the bulging eyes, and discoloured skin, all showed that the
poor creature had been strangled in the most remorseless manner.
Before her was placed a low cane table, on the yellow coverlet of
which a pack of cards was spread out face downward, but in the lap of
the dead woman lay another card with the face upward. It was the ace
of spades. Mrs. Presk noting it for the first time gave a screech of
mingled horror and surprise.

“The death-card!” she gasped, stepping back. “Lord! how awful!”

“What do you mean by the death-card?” asked Gebb, sharply.

“Why!” said Mrs. Presk, astonished at the question, which to her
seemed unnecessary, “it’s the card in the pack as stands for death.
When you turn up the ace of spades you know it’s time to order your

“Rubbish!” said Gebb. “Humbug!” roared the inspector; and they both
shrugged their shoulders to show their contempt for such superstition.

Mrs. Presk shook her head gloomily. “Talk won’t alter the matter!” she
said, pointing to the card. “There’s the death-token, and there’s the
corpse; what do you make of that?”

“I make this,” said Gebb, dryly; “that the murderer must be a person
of imagination.”

“He ought to be shot, the blackguard,” growled Lackland, “play-acting
with a corpse. I wonder what they were fooling with cards for? Looks
like a madman’s work to me. What do you say, Gebb?”

Gebb said nothing at the moment. He was examining the dead woman, who
was arrayed with unusual splendour quite in keeping with the room, yet
too richly for the front parlour of a fifth-rate lodging-house.

Miss Ligram’s body was that of an old woman close upon sixty years of
age, with a wrinkled face, and a profusion of silvery white hair
turned back in the style of Marie Antoinette. It was dressed in an
old-fashioned dinner-dress of white silk, trimmed with valuable lace,
and this was designed so as to show the lean neck and bony arms of the
wearer. Anything more incongruous than that poor clay clothed in such
costly garments can scarcely be imagined. It seemed to accentuate the
grimness of the crime, almost to elevate a sordid murder to the level
of tragedy.

“Did Miss Ligram usually dress like this?” asked Gebb, turning to Mrs.

“Every evening!” replied the landlady, promptly.

“She must have been eccentric!” was Gebb’s comment on this reply.

“Very eccentric, sir. I don’t think she was quite right here.” And the
landlady tapped her head significantly.

“A Crazy Jane?” questioned Lackland.

“She was and she wasn’t,” answered Mrs. Presk, enigmatically. “She
wasn’t mad enough to be shut up, but she acted in a queerer way than
most people. Look at this room, and all its lights; every night it was
the same. She usually dined off a chop and potatoes, yet she dressed
in silk and lace to eat them. And—-” Thus far Mrs. Presk with her
eyes on the corpse had proceeded volubly, when suddenly–still staring
at the dead woman–she stopped, and her jaw dropped. Motionless as a
stone image she stood looking; and then with an ejaculation she ran
out of the room. The detective and the inspector looked at her
vanishing form, looked at the corpse, looked at one another, and
failed to understand her action.

“What the devil does that mean?” said Gebb, with surly amazement.

“Only the devil knows,” retorted Lackland, grimly; “but if that jade
is hiding anything of importance the sooner we get it out of her the
better. You’re a bit of a lawyer, Gebb, so I’ll bring back Mrs. Presk,
and you’ll examine her!”

“No!” said Gebb, detaining his friend; “let her go now. I’ll get the
truth out of her to-morrow.”

“By George you will, will you!” grumbled Lackland, annoyed that his
advice was not taken; “and what if you don’t get charge of the case?”

“I’ll grin and bear it, I suppose!” retorted the other; “but I’ll work
my hardest to be given the handling of this affair, for it strikes me
that it will prove a sight more difficult than either of us guesses.
This room’s a rum one, ain’t it? And that pack of cards aren’t there
for nothing. Then there is the dead woman’s dress, and the landlady’s
queer conduct. Oh, you can bet, inspector, there’s a jolly lot more in
these things than meets the eye, and I’m the man to find out what they
all mean.”

“You can blow your own trumpet, I see!” said Lackland, dryly.

Gebb laughed, in nowise embarrassed. “My trumpeter’s dead from
over-work,” he replied coolly. “If I don’t praise myself no one else
will. However, I’ll see to-morrow if the big wigs will let me run this
show in my own way. Now you go and look round the house, Lackland, and
leave me here to examine the room.”

“What about the body?” asked the inspector, dominated by Gebb’s strong

“We’ll let it lie here as it is, until the doctor comes. I told that
policeman who brought Mrs. Presk to the station to knock up an M.D.”

“By George, sir, one would think you were inspector here!” spluttered
the indignant Lackland. “Am I nobody?”

“You’re a good fellow–too good to get your monkey up for nothing. You
let me look after this murder myself. I’ll do you a good turn some
other time.”

“Well, I’ll let you have your own way for once. You’re no fool, I will
say,” muttered Lackland, and withdrew to look through the house. He
knew that Gebb was very clever, and in his heart was not unwilling to
avail himself of the detective’s assistance. Therefore, he left him to
his own devices, and set out to seek Mrs. Presk in the kitchen. Having
found her, he made her show him the house, but judiciously refrained
from commenting on her late conduct. He left the elucidation of that
to Gebb.

Left to himself, the detective examined the dead woman and the room
with minute attention to detail, keeping up a running commentary the
while on his discoveries. He had a habit of talking aloud when alone,
as if to emphasize his opinions, and, while examining the boudoir,
soliloquized with appropriate actions like a stage-player.

“The furniture is quite in order,” he murmured, his keen eyes roving
hither and thither. “Therefore there can have been no struggle. The
murderer was no intruder, but was expected. A visitor! perhaps a
friend! He–let me presume the criminal to be a man–he no doubt
entered, and was kindly received by the deceased. Here is a bottle,
and two glasses with wine in each; so the two were friendly enough to
drink in company. There is a chair on either side of this table
whereon the cards are laid out The dead body remains in the one
nearest the wall; so I expect the visitor sat in the other with his
back to the door. Were they playing cards? I think not, as in that
case the whole pack would not be laid out in this fashion. I have it!”
cried Gebb, smiting his open palm with his fist, “the visitor was
telling Miss Ligram’s fortune. He placed the cards in that position
and told her to draw one. She drew the ace of spades, which yet lies
in her lap, and when face to face with the omen of death he killed

Here the detective paused to consider if he was correct in assuming
the assassin to be a man. Fortune-telling–especially by cards–is
usually indulged in by the other sex. But would a woman, however
cruel, have so brutally strangled her unsuspecting hostess, and–as it
may be assumed–friend? Gebb examined the chair on which the visitor
had sat, and found traces of tobacco ash.

“Cigarette ash?” he pronounced it after an examination, “the quality
is fine and quantity small. The visitor was a man and he was smoking.
H’m! That is not like a professional fortune-teller. Such a one would
be too desirous of impressing his dupe to spoil the gravity of the
situation by smoking. The man must have been a friend, and he probably
told the woman’s fortune in this way to throw her off her guard. Let
us look further.”

The chair in which the dead body was lying, stood some little distance
from the hangings of the wall. These, as Gebb discovered on further
examination, had been draped back with a cord to reveal a small oil
painting; but the cord–which had a loop at either end to slip over a
brass nail, concealed beneath the hangings of satin–had been deftly
removed (not torn) from its peg, and flung round the victim’s neck. On
the floor behind the chair Gebb picked up a half-burnt cigarette,
which had smouldered out. With this in his hand he returned to the
centre of the room and looked once more at the cards. These attracted
him strangely.

“Without doubt the fortune-telling was a trick,” he said aloud. “The
man set out the cards, and while his victim was selecting one he
lighted a cigarette, and rose to stroll round the room. Not suspecting
any danger–which shows, by the way, that she must have trusted
him–his victim let him pass behind her chair. While there, he slipped
the loops of the cord off the nail. Then when she turned up the
death-card–a pure coincidence, no doubt–he threw the cord over her
head and choked her before the poor wretch had time to call out for
assistance. He then robbed the body at his leisure, and left the
house. It’s as clear as day.”

Presuming that the murderer had gone out by the front door, Gebb left
the room and went into the passage. To his surprise he found that the
front door was locked, but, as the detective noted, not bolted.

“He must have locked it after he left the house,” thought Gebb, “and
no doubt did so to prevent intrusion and a too sudden discovery of his
crime. I expect he threw away the key when outside. In the front
garden most probably; I’ll look.”

Before he could put his design into execution, which he intended doing
by passing out the back way, Mrs. Presk arrived downstairs with the
intelligence that Inspector Lackland was still searching the upper
portion of the house for traces of the assassin, but could find
nothing and no one. “So,” said she, “I expect the wretch ran away
after killing poor Miss Ligram.”

“By the front door,” Gebb informed her, “and he locked it after him.”

“Did he?” said Mrs. Presk, with a stare; “now that’s queer.”

“Why?” asked the detective, sharply.

“Because Miss Ligram always kept the front door locked, and the key in
her pocket. That was one of her queer ways which I never could abide.”

Without a word Gebb returned to the Yellow Boudoir, and searched in
the pocket of the dead woman. Sure enough he found therein a large key
which Mrs. Presk immediately declared to be that of the front door.
Gebb was puzzled, as this discovery upset much of his previous

“In that case the man could not have cleared out by the front,” he
said, “as not having the key he could not lock the door after him. Let
us see the back door; he may have escaped in that direction.”

“The back door was locked,” said Mrs. Presk, promptly. “I had the key
in my pocket when I went to the lecture.”

“Was the door locked when you returned?” asked Gebb, more puzzled than

“Yes, sir, it was. I had no thought that anything was wrong until I
came upstairs and saw the corpse; though, to be sure,” added Mrs.
Presk, suddenly, “I fancied it strange that the lights should be
burning so late in Miss Ligram’s boudoir. I saw them from the road,
you know, Mr. Gebb; and the sight gave me a turn, I can tell you.”

“He must have got out through a back window,” murmured Gebb.

“Indeed, he didn’t, sir. When I brought ‘Tilda out of her faint in the
kitchen I looked at all the windows in the basement; they are all
bolted and barred proper. ‘Tilda and me’s both careful on account of

Gebb pinched his chin and shook his head in a perplexed manner; after
which he walked to the window of the yellow room and examined it
carefully. It was fastened by a snick, the position of which showed
that the window was closed, and could not have been used as an exit.

“Let alone the danger of the cove being seen by a chance policeman,
and taken up as a burglar,” mused Gebb, “what about the upstairs
windows, Mrs. Presk?”

“They’re all locked, sir. Mr. Inspector examined every one.”

“Then the man must be in the house still,” was Gebb’s final

“He isn’t,” insisted Mrs. Presk, with a startled glance over her
shoulder; “we’ve looked under all the beds, and into all the rooms and
cupboards. Unless he is like a sparrow on the house-top, I don’t know
where he can be.”

“Well, there doesn’t seem any way by which he could get out,” said
Gebb, in a vexed tone. “Did you hear any sound in the house when you
arrived home?”

“No, I didn’t, sir. I went up to see if Miss Ligram was ill, as I
noticed that her room was lighted up, then I saw the corpse, and
called ‘Tilda, who ran up and fainted. She ain’t got my nerves, Mr.

“Did you lock the back door when you came in?”

“Lawks, no, sir! ‘Tilda and me was in such a flurry to see if Miss
Ligram was ill that we just left the door anyhow.

“When you went upstairs was the door closed to?”

“I think so,” replied Mrs. Presk, after a pause, “for ‘Tilda banged
it to; but it wasn’t locked, I’ll take my dying word on that.”

“When you came for the police did you leave by that door?”

“Yes, I did; by the back door, as Miss Ligram kept the front one

“Was it closed when you went out?”

Mrs. Presk looked up suddenly, rather alarmed. “No sir, it wasn’t,”
said she in startled tones, “It was–as you might say–ajar.”

“Aha!” said Gebb, triumphantly, “then you may depend upon it, Mrs.
Presk, that when you came home the assassin was in the house.”

“In the house!” gasped Mrs. Presk. “Lor, sir! it ain’t possible.”

“Yes! he did not know where to find the front-door key; and
discovering that the back door was locked, he just hid himself in the
kitchen until you and the servant went upstairs to look on his
handiwork. Then he slipped out to escape the consequences.”

Mrs. Presk’s knees gave way, and she was fain to sit down–as far away
from the dead body as possible however. “It’s past believing,” she
moaned, rocking herself to and fro. “Lord! what an escape ‘Tilda and
me’s had from being strangulated. Ugh!” she shuddered, “look at that
poor soul, sir, ain’t it enough to freeze your blood.”

“Did it freeze yours, that you ran out of the room?” asked Gebb,
hoping to take her unawares.

“No! a’wasn’t that!” whispered Mrs. Presk, turning pale, “but I was

“Of what?” asked the detective, rather puzzled.

“Of you, sir,” was the unexpected reply.

“Indeed! then you know something about the matter?”

“Yes!” issued from the landlady’s pale lips, “I–I noticed something.”

“What did you notice?”

“I daren’t tell you.”

“You must!”

Mrs. Presk rose and hastily made for the door. Before she could reach
it Gebb had placed his back against it. “You don’t leave this room
until I know what you are hiding.”

“I’m hiding nothing!” burst out Mrs. Presk, “haven’t you got eyes?”
She pointed towards the dead woman. “Look!” she cried “Look!”