Arthur Morrison.

The Dorrington Deed-Box



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There was but one door leading into Mr. Deacon's rooms from the open corridor of the building, and this was immediately opposite the large street door. When one entered from the street one ascended three or four broad marble steps, pushed open one of a pair of glazed swing doors and found oneself facing the door by which Mr. Deacon entered and left his quarters. There had originally been other doors into the corridor from some of the rooms, but those Mr. Deacon had had blocked up, so making the flat entirely self-contained. Just by the glazed swing doors which I have spoken of, and in full view of the old gentleman's door, the hall-porter's box stood. It was glazed on all sides, and the porter sat so that Mr. Deacon's door was always before his eyes, and, so long as he was there, it was very unlikely that anybody or anything could leave or enter by that door unobserved by him. It is important to remember this, in view of what happened on the occasion I am writing of. There was one other exterior door to Mr. Deacon's flat, and one only. It gave upon the back spiral staircase, and was usually kept locked. This staircase had no outlet to the corridors, but merely extended from the housekeeper's rooms at the top of the building to the basement. It was little used, and then only by servants, for it gave access only to the rooms on its own side. There was no way from this staircase to the outer street except through the private rooms of the tenants, or through those of the housekeeper.

That Wednesday morning things had happened precisely in the ordinary way. Mr. Deacon had risen and breakfasted as usual. He was alone, with his newspaper and his morning letters, when his breakfast was taken in and when it was removed. He had remained in his rooms till between twelve and one o'clock. Goods had arrived for him (this was an almost daily occurrence), and one or two ordinary visitors had called and gone away again. It was Mr. Deacon's habit to lunch at his club, and at about a quarter to one, or thereabout, he had come out, locked his door, and leaving his usual message that he should be at the club for an hour or two, in case anybody called, he had left the building. At about one, however, he had returned hurriedly, having forgotten some letters. "I didn't give you any letters for the post, did I, Beard, before I went out?" he asked the porter. And the porter replied that he had not. Mr. Deacon thereupon croosed the corridor, entered his door, and shut it behind him.

He had been gone but a few seconds, when there arose an outcry from within the rooms – a shout followed in a breath by a loud cry of pain, and then silence. Beard, the porter, ran to the door and knocked, but there was no reply. "Did you call, sir?" he shouted, and knocked again, but still without response. The door was shut, and it had a latch lock with no exterior handle. Beard, who had had an uncle die of apoplexy, was now thoroughly alarmed, and shouted up the speaking-tube for the housekeeper's keys.

In course of a few minutes they were brought, and Beard and the housekeeper entered.

The lobby was as usual, and the sitting-room was in perfect order. But in the room beyond Mr. Loftus Deacon lay in a pool of blood, with two large and fearful gashes in his head. Not a soul was in any of the rooms, though the two men, first shutting the outer door, searched diligently. All windows and doors were shut, and the rooms were tenantless and undisturbed, except that on the floor lay Mr. Deacon in his blood at the foot of a pedestal whereupon there squatted, with serenely fierce grin, the god Hachiman, gilt and painted, carrying in one of his four hands a snake, in another a mace, in a third a small human figure, and in the fourth a heavy, straight, guardless sword; and all around furniture, cabinets, porcelain, lacquer and everything else lay undisturbed.

At first sight of the tragedy the porter had sent the lift-man for the police, and soon they arrived, and a surgeon with them. For the surgeon there was very little to do. Mr. Deacon was dead. Either of the two frightful gashes in the head would have been fatal, and they had obviously both been delivered with the same instrument – something heavy and exceedingly sharp.

The police now set themselves to close investigation. The porter was certain that nobody had entered the rooms that morning who had not afterwards left. He was sure that nobody had entered unobserved, and he was sure that Mr. Deacon had re-entered his chambers unaccompanied. Working, therefore, on the assumption that the murderer could not have entered by the front door, the police turned their attention to the back door and the windows. The door to the back staircase was locked, and the key was in the lock and inside. Therefore they considered the windows. There were but three of these that looked upon the street, two in one room and one in another, but these were shut and fastened within. Other rooms were lighted by windows looking upon lighting-wells, some being supplied with reflectors. All these windows were found to be quite undisturbed, and fastened within, except one. This window was in the bedroom, and, though it was shut, the catch was not fastened. The porter declared that it was Mr. Deacon's practice invariably to fasten every shut window, a thing he was always very careful about. Moreover, the window now found unfastened and shut was always left open a foot or so all day, to air the bedroom. More, a housemaid was brought who had that morning made the bed and dusted the room. The window was opened, she said, when she had entered the room, and she had left it so, as she always did. Therefore, shut as it was, but not fastened, it seemed plain that this window must have given exit to the murderer, since no other way appeared possible. Also, to shut the window behind him would be the fugitive's natural policy. The lower panes were of ground glass, and at least pursuit would be delayed.

The window looked upon a lighting-well, and the concreted floor of the basement was but fifteen or twenty feet below. Careful inquiries disclosed the fact that a man had been at work painting the joinery about this well-bottom. He was a man of very indifferent character – had in fact "done time" – and he was employed for odd jobs by way of charity, being some sort of connection of a member of the firm owning the buildings. He had, indeed, received a good education, fitted to place him in a very different position from that in which he now found himself, but he was a black sheep. He drank, he gambled, and finally he stole. His relatives helped him again and again, but their efforts were useless, and now he was indebted to one of them for his present occupation at a pound a week. The police, of course, knew something of him, and postponed questioning him directly until they had investigated a little further. It might be that Mr. Deacon's death was the work of a conspiracy wherein more than one had participated.

II

The next morning (Thursday) Mr. Henry Colson was an early caller at Dorrington's office. Mr. Colson was a thin, grizzled man of sixty or thereabout, who had been a close friend – the only intimate friend, indeed – of Mr. Loftus Deacon. He was a widower, and he lived in rooms scarce two hundred yards distant from Bedford Mansions, where his friend had died.

"My business, Mr. Dorrington," he said, "is in connection with the terrible death of my old friend Mr. Loftus Deacon, of which you no doubt have heard or read in the morning papers."

"Yes," Dorrington assented, "both in this morning's papers and the evening papers of yesterday."

"Very good. I may tell you that I am sole executor under Mr. Deacon's will. The will indeed is in my possession (I am a retired solicitor), and there happens to be a sum set apart in that will out of which I am to defray any expenses that may arise in connection with his death. It really seems to me that I should be quite justified in using some part of that sum in paying for inquiries to be conducted by such an experienced man as yourself, into the cause of my poor friend's death. At any rate, I wish you to make such inquiries, even if I have to pay the fees myself. I am convinced that there is something very extraordinary – something very deep – in the tragedy. The police are pottering about, of course, and keeping very mysterious as to the matter, but I expect that's simply because they know nothing. They have made no arrest, and perhaps every minute of delay is making the thing more difficult. As executor, of course, I have access to the rooms. Can you come and look at them now?"

"Oh yes," Dorrington answered, reaching for his hat. "I suppose there's no doubt of the case being one of murder? Suicide is not likely, I take it?"

"Oh no – certainly not. He was scarcely the sort of man to commit suicide, I should say. And he was as cheerful as he could be the afternoon before, when I last saw him. Besides, the surgeon says it's nothing of the kind. A man committing suicide doesn't gash himself twice over the head, or even once. And in this case the first blow would have made him incapable of another."

"I have heard nothing about the weapon," Dorrington remarked, as they entered a cab. "Has it been found?"

"That's a difficulty," Mr. Colson answered. "It would seem not. Of course there are numbers of weapons about the place – Japanese swords and what not – any one of which might have caused such injuries. But there are no bloodstains on any of them."

"Is any article of value missing?"

"I believe not. Everything seemed to be in its place, so far as I noticed yesterday. But then I was not there long, and was too much agitated to notice very particularly. At any rate the old gold and silver plate had not been disturbed. He kept that in a large case in his sitting-room, and it would certainly be the plate that the murderer would have made for first, if robbery had been his object."

Mr. Colson gave Dorrington the other details of the case, already set forth in this account, and presently the cab stopped before No. 2, Bedford Mansions. The body, of course, had been removed, but otherwise the rooms had not been disturbed. The porter let them into the chambers by aid of the housekeeper's key.

"They don't seem to have found his keys," Mr. Colson explained, "and that will be troublesome for me, I expect, presently. He usually carried them with him, but they were not on the body when found."

"That may be important," Dorrington said. "But let us look at the rooms."

They walked through the large apartments one after the other, and Dorrington glanced casually about him as he went. Presently Mr. Colson stopped, struck with an idea. "Ah!" he said, more to himself than to Dorrington. "I will just see."

He turned quickly back into the room they had just quitted, and made for the broad shelf that ran the length of the wall at about the height of an ordinary table. "Yes!" he cried. "It is! It's gone!"

"What is gone?"

"The sword – the Masamun?!"

The whole surface of the shelf, covered with a silk cloth, was occupied by Japanese swords and dirks with rich mountings. Most lay on their sides in rows, but two or three were placed in the lacquered racks. Mr. Colson stood and pointed at a rack which was standing alone and swordless. "That is where it was," he said. "I saw it – was talking about it, in fact – the afternoon before. No, it's nowhere about. It's not like any of the others. Let me see." And Mr. Colson, much excited, hurried from room to room wherever swords were kept, searching for the missing specimen.

"No," he said at last, looking strangely startled; "It's gone. And I think we are near the soul of the mystery." He spoke in hushed, uneasy tones, and his eyes gave token of strange apprehension.

"What is it?" Dorrington asked. "What about this sword?"

"Come into the sitting-room." Mr. Colson led Dorrington away from the scene of Mr. Deacon's end, away from the empty sword rack and from under the shadow of the grinning god with its four arms, its snake, and its threatening sword. "I don't think I'm very superstitious," Mr. Colson proceeded, "but I really feel that I can talk more freely about the matter in here."

They sat at the table, over against the case of plate, and Mr. Colson went on. "The sword I speak of," he said, "was much prized by my poor friend, who brought it with him from Japan nearly twenty years back – not many years after the civil war there, in fact. It was a very ancient specimen – of the fourteenth century, I think – and the work of the famous swordsmith Masamun?. Masamun?'s work is very rarely met with, it seems, and Mr. Deacon felt himself especially fortunate in securing this example. It is the only piece of Masamun?'s work in the collection. I may tell you that a sword by one of the great old masters is one of the rarest of all the rarities that come from Japan. The possessors of the best keep them rather than sell them at any price. Such swords were handed down from father to son for many generations, and a Japanese of the old school would have been disgraced had he parted with his father's blade even under the most pressing necessity. The mounts he might possibly sell, if he were in very bad circumstances, but the blade never. Of course, such a thing has occurred – and it occurred in this very case, as you shall hear. But as an almost invariable rule the Japanese samurai would part with his life by starvation rather than with his father's sword by sale. Such swords would never be stolen, either, for there was a firm belief that a faithful spirit resided in each, which would bring terrible disaster on any wrongful possessor. Each sword had its own name, just as the legendary sword of King Arthur had, and a man's social standing was judged, not by his house nor by his dress, but by the two swords in his girdle. The ancient sword-smiths wore court dress and made votive offerings when they forged their best blades, and the gods were supposed to assist and to watch over the career of the weapon. Thus you will understand that such an article was apt to become an object almost of worship among the samurai or warrior-class in Old Japan. And now to come to the sword in question. It was a long sword or katana (the swords, as you know, were worn in pairs, and the smaller was called the wakizashi), and it was mounted very handsomely with fittings by a great metal worker of the Goto family. The signature of the great Masamun? himself was engraved in the usual place – on the iron tang within the hilt. Mr. Deacon bought the weapon of its possessor, a man of some distinction before the overthrow of the Shogun in 1868, but who was reduced to deep poverty by the change in affairs. Mr. Deacon came across him in his direst straits, when his children were near to starvation, and the man sold the sword for a sum that was a little fortune to him, though it only represented some four or five pounds of our money. Mr. Deacon was always very proud of his treasure – indeed it was said to be the only blade by Masamun? in Europe; and the two Japanese things that he had always most longed for, I have heard him say, were a Masamun? sword and a piece of violet lacquer – that precious lacquer the secret of making which died long ago. The Masamun? he acquired, as I have been telling you, but the violet lacquer he never once encountered.

"Six months or so back, Deacon received a visit from a Japanese – taller than usual for a Japanese (I have seen him myself) and with the refined type of face characteristic of some of the higher class of his country. His name was Keigo Kanamaro, his card said, and he introduced himself as the son of Keigo Kiyotaki, the man who had sold Deacon his sword. He had come to England and had found my friend after much inquiry, he said, expressly to take back his father's katana. His father was dead, and he desired to place the sword in his tomb, that the soul of the old man might rest in peace, undisturbed by the disgrace that had fallen upon him by the sale of the sword that had been his and his ancestors' for hundreds of years back. The father had vowed when he had received the sword in his turn from Kanamaro's grandfather, never to part with it, but had broken his vow under pressure of want. He (the son) had earned money as a merchant (an immeasurable descent for a samurai with the feelings of the old school), and he was prepared to buy back the Masamun? blade with the Goto mountings for a much higher price than his father had received for it."

"And I suppose Deacon wouldn't sell it?" Dorrington asked.

"No," Mr. Colson replied. "He wouldn't have sold it at any price, I'm sure. Well, Kanamaro pressed him very urgently, and called again and again. He was very gentlemanly and very dignified, but he was very earnest. He apologised for making a commercial offer, assured Deacon that he was quite aware that he was no mere buyer and seller, but pleaded the urgency of his case. 'It is not here as in Japan,' he said, 'among us, the samurai of the old days. You have your beliefs, we have ours. It is my religion that I must place the katana in my father's grave. My father disgraced himself and sold his sword in order that I might not starve when I was a little child. I would rather that he had let me die, but since I am alive, and I know that you have the sword, I must take it and lay it by his bones. I will make an offer. Instead of giving you money, I will give you another sword – a sword worth as much money as my father's – perhaps more. I have had it sent from Japan since I first saw you. It is a blade made by the great Yukiyasu, and it has a scabbard and mountings by an older and greater master than the Goto who made those for my father's sword.' But it happened that Deacon already had two swords by Yukiyasu, while of Masamun? he had only the one. So he tried to reason the Japanese out of his fancy. But that was useless. Kanamaro called again and again and got to be quite a nuisance. He left off for a month or two, but about a fortnight ago he appeared again. He grew angry and forgot his oriental politeness. 'The English have the English ways,' he said, 'and we have ours – yes, though many of my foolish countrymen are in haste to be the same as the English are. We have our beliefs, and we have our knowledge, and I tell you that there are things which you would call superstition, but which are very real! Our old gods are not all dead yet, I tell you! In the old times no man would wear or keep another man's sword. Why? Because the great sword has a soul just as a man has, and it knows and the gods know! No man kept another's sword who did not fall into terrible misfortune and death, sooner or later. Give me my father's katana and save yourself. My father weeps in my ears at night, and I must bring him his katana!' I was talking to poor Deacon, as I told you, only on Tuesday afternoon, and he told me that Kanamaro had been there again the day before, in a frantic state – so bad, indeed, that Deacon thought of applying to the Japanese legation to have him taken care of, for he seemed quite mad. 'Mind, you foolish man!' he said. 'My gods still live, and they are strong! My father wanders on the dark path and cannot go to his gods without the swords in his girdle. His father asks of his vow! Between here and Japan there is a great sea, but my father may walk even here, looking for his katana, and he is angry! I go away for a little. But my gods know, and my father knows!' And then he took himself off. And now" – Mr. Colson nodded towards the next room and dropped his voice – "now poor Deacon is dead and the sword is gone!"

"Kanamaro has not been seen about the place, I suppose, since the visit you speak of, on Monday?" Dorrington asked.

"No. And I particularly asked as to yesterday morning. The hall-porter swears that no Japanese came to the place."

"As to the letters, now. You say that when Mr. Deacon came back, after having left, apparently to get his lunch, he said he came for forgotten letters. Were any such letters afterwards found?"

"Yes – there were three, lying on this very table, stamped ready for postage."

"Where are they now?"

"I have them at my chambers. I opened them in the presence of the police in charge of the case. There was nothing very important about them – appointments and so forth, merely – and so the police left them in my charge, as executor."

"Nevertheless I should like to see them. Not just now, but presently. I think I must see this man presently – the man who was painting in the basement below the window that is supposed to have been shut by the murderer in his escape. That is if the police haven't frightened him."

"Very well, we'll see after him as soon as you like. There was just one other thing – rather a curious coincidence, though of course there can't be anything in such a superstitious fancy – but I think I told you that Deacon's body was found lying at the feet of the four-handed god in the other room?"



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