Arthur Morrison.

The Dorrington Deed-Box



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"And how did you find out?"

"When you left me here I considered the thing. I put aside all suspicions of motive, the Japanese and his sword and the rest of it, and addressed myself to the bare facts. Somebody had been in these rooms when Mr. Deacon came back, and that somebody had murdered him. The first thing was to find how this person came, and where he came from. At first, of course, one thought of the bedroom window, as the police had done. But reflection proved this unlikely. Mr. Deacon had entered his front door, was inside a few seconds, and then was murdered close by the figure of Hachiman. Now if anybody had entered by the window for purposes of robbery, his impulse on hearing the key in the outer door (and such a thing could be heard all over the rooms, as I tested for myself) – his impulse, I say, would be to retreat by the way he had come, that is by the window. If, then, Mr. Deacon had overtaken him before he could escape, the murder might have taken place just as it had done, but it would have been in the bedroom, not in a room in the opposite direction. And any thief's attention would naturally be directed at first to the gold plate – indeed, I detected a fresh knife-mark in the door of the case, which I will show you presently. Now, as you see by the arrangement of the rooms, the retreat from the plate case to the bedroom window would be a short one, whereas the murderer must in fact have taken a longer journey in the opposite direction. Why? Because he had arrived from that direction, and his natural impulse was to retreat by the way he had come. This might have been by the door to the back stairs, but a careful examination of this door and its lock and key convinced me that it had not been opened. The key was dirty, and to have turned it from the opposite side would have necessitated the forcible use of a pair of thin hollow pliers (a familiar tool to burglars), and these must have left their mark on the dirty key. So I turned back to the idol. This was the spot the intruder had made for in his retreat, and the figure had been brought into the place the very morning of the murder. Also, things had disappeared from its vicinity at Copleston's. More – it was a large thing. What if it were hollow? One has heard of such things having been invented by priests anxious for certain effects. Could not a thief smuggle himself in that way?

"The suggestion was a little startling, for if it were the right one the man might be hiding there at that moment. I gave the thing half an hour's examination, and in the end found what I have shown you. It was not the sort of thing one would have found out without looking for it. Look at it even now. Although you have seen it open, you couldn't point to the joints."

Dorrington opened it again. "Once open," he went on, "the thing was pretty plain. Here is the rag – perhaps it was Castro's pocket-handkerchief – used to wipe the weapon. It is stained all over, and cut, as you will observe, by the sharp edge.

Also, you may see a crumb or two – Slackjaw had brought food with him, in case of a long imprisonment. But chiefly observe the bottle. It is a flat, high-shouldered, 'quartern' bottle, such as publicans sell or lend to their customers in poor districts, and as usual it bears the publican's name – J. Mills. It's a most extraordinary thing, but it seems the fate of almost every murderer, no matter how cunning, to leave some such damning piece of evidence about, foolish as it may seem afterward. I've known it in a dozen cases. Probably Castro, in the dark and in his excitement, forgot it when he quitted his hiding-place. At any rate it helped me and made my course plain. Clearly this man, whoever he was, had come from Copleston's. Moreover, he was a small man, for the space he had occupied would be too little even for a man of middle height. Also he bought drink of J. Mills, a publican; if J. Mills carried on business near Copleston's so much the easier my task would seem. Before I left, however, I went to the basement and inspected the ladder, the removal of which had caused the police so much exercise. Then it was plain why Dowden had cleared out. All his prevarication and uneasiness were explained at once, as the police might have seen if they had looked behind the ladder as well as at it. For it had been lying lengthwise against the wooden partition which formed the back of the compartments put up to serve the tenants as wine-cellars. Dowden had taken three planks out of this partition, and so arranged that they could be slipped in their places and out again without attracting attention. What he had been taking through the holes he thus made I won't undertake to say, but I will make a small bet that some of the tenants find their wine short presently! And so Dowden, never an industrious person, and never at one job long, thought it best to go away when he found the police asking why the ladder had been moved."

"Yes, yes – it's very surprising, but no doubt you're right. Still, what about Kanamaro and that sword?"

"Tell me exactly what he said to you to-day."

Mr. Colson detailed the conversation at length.

Dorrington smiled. "See here," he said, "I have found out something else in these rooms. What Kanamaro said he meant in another sense to what you supposed. I wondered a little about that sword, and made a little search among some drawers in consequence. Look here. Do you see this box standing out here on a nest of drawers? That is quite unlike Mr. Deacon's orderly ways. The box contains a piece of lacquer, and it had been shifted from its drawer to make room for a more precious piece. See here." Dorrington pulled out a drawer just below where the box stood, and took from it another white wood box. He opened this box and removed a quantity of wadding. A rich brocade fukusa was then revealed, and, loosening the cord of this, Dorrington displayed a Japanese writing-case, or suzuribako, aged and a little worn at the corners, but all of lacquer of a beautiful violet hue.

"What!" exclaimed Mr. Colson. "Violet lacquer!"

"That is what it is," Dorrington answered, "and when I saw it I judged at once that Deacon had at last consented to part with his Masamun? blade in exchange for that even greater rarity, a fine piece of the real old violet lacquer. I should imagine that Kanamaro brought it on Tuesday evening – you will remember that you saw Mr. Deacon for the last time alive in the afternoon of that day. Beard seems not to have noticed him, but in the evening hall-porters are apt to be at supper, you know – perhaps even taking a nap now and then!"

"Then this is how Kanamaro 'finished his business'!" Mr. Colson observed. "And the 'very great cost' was probably what he had to pay for this."

"I suppose so. And he would not have believed it possible that he could get a piece of violet lacquer in any circumstances."

"But," Mr. Colson objected, "I still don't understand his indifference and lack of surprise when I told him of poor Deacon's death."

"I think that is very natural in such a man as Keigo Kanamaro. I don't profess to know a very great deal about Japan, but I know that a samurai of the old school was trained from infancy to look on death, whether his own or another's, with absolute indifference. They regarded it as a mere circumstance. Consider how cold-bloodedly their hari-kiri, their legalised suicide, was carried out!"

As they left the rooms and made for the street Mr. Colson said, "But now I know nothing of your pursuit of Castro."

Dorrington shrugged his shoulders. "There is little to say," he said. "I went to Copleston and asked him if any one of his men was missing all day on Wednesday. None of his regular men were, it seemed, but he had seen nothing that day of an odd man named Castro, or Slackjaw, although he had been very regular for some time before; and, indeed, Castro had not yet turned up. I asked if Castro was a tall man. No, he was a little fellow and a hunchback, Copleston told me. I asked what public-house one might find him at, and Copleston mentioned the 'Blue Anchor' – kept, as I had previously ascertained from the directory, by J. Mills. That was enough. With everything standing as it was, a few minutes' talk with the inspector in charge at the nearest police-station was all that was necessary. Two men were sent to make the arrest, and the people at the 'Blue Anchor' directed us to Martin's Wharf, where we found Castro. He had been drinking, but he knew enough to make a bolt the moment he saw the policemen coming on the wharf. He dropped on to a dummy barge and made off from one barge to another in what seemed an aimless direction, though he may have meant to get away at the stairs a little lower down the river. But he never got as far. He muddled one jump and fell between the barges. You know what a suck under there is when a man falls among barges like that. A strong swimmer with all his senses has only an off chance, and a man with bad whisky in his head – well, I left them dragging for Slackjaw when I came away."

As they turned the corner of the street they met a newsboy running. "Paper – speshal!" he cried. "The West-End murder – speshal! Suicide of the murderer!"

Dorrington's conjecture that Kanamaro had called to make his exchange on Tuesday evening proved correct. Mr. Colson saw him once more on the day of his departure, and told him the whole story. And then Keigo Kanamaro sailed for Japan to lay the sword in his father's tomb.

VI
OLD CATER'S MONEY

I

The firm of Dorrington & Hicks had not been constructed at the time when this case came to Dorrington's hand. Dorrington had barely emerged from the obscurity that veils his life before some ten years ago, and he was at this time a needier adventurer than he had been at the period of any other of the cases I have related. Indeed, his illicit gains on this occasion would seem first to have set him on his feet and enabled him first to cut a fair exterior figure. Whether or not he had developed to the full the scoundrelism that first brought me acquainted with his trade I do not know; but certain it is that he was involved at the time in transactions wretchedly ill paid, on behalf of one Flint, a shipstores dealer at Deptford; an employer whose record was never a very clean one. This Flint was one of an unpleasant family. He was nephew to old Cater the wharfinger (and private usurer) and cousin to another Cater, whose name was Paul, and who was also a usurer, though he variously described himself as a "commission agent" or "general dealer." Indeed, he was a general dealer, if the term may be held to include a dealer in whatever would bring him gain, and who made no great punctilio in regard to the honesty or otherwise of his transactions. In fact, all three of these pleasant relatives had records of the shadiest, and all three did whatever in the way of money-lending, mortgaging, and blood-sucking came in their way. It is, however, with old Cater – Jerry Cater, he was called – that this narrative is in the first place concerned. I got the story from a certain Mr. Sinclair, who for many years acted as his clerk and debt-collector.

Old Jerry Cater lived in the crooked and decaying old house over his wharf by Bermondsey Wall, where his father had lived before him. It was a grim and strange old house, with long-shut loft-doors in upper floors, and hinged flaps in sundry rooms that, when lifted, gave startling glimpses of muddy water washing among rotten piles below. Not once in six months now did a barge land its load at Cater's Wharf, and no coasting brig ever lay alongside. For, in fact, the day of Cater's Wharf was long past; and it seemed indeed that few more days were left for old Jerry Cater himself. For seventy-eight years old Jerry Cater had led a life useless to himself and to everybody else, though his own belief was that he had profited considerably. Truly if one counted nothing but the money the old miser had accumulated, then his profit was large indeed; but it had brought nothing worth having, neither for himself nor for others, and he had no wife nor child who might use it more wisely when he should at last leave it behind him; no other relative indeed than his two nephews, each in spirit a fair copy of himself, though in body a quarter of a century younger. Seventy-eight years of every mean and sordid vice and of every virtue that had pecuniary gain for its sole object left Jerry Cater stranded at last in his cheap iron bedstead with its insufficient coverings, with not a sincere friend in the world to sit five minutes by his side. Down below, Sinclair, his unhappy clerk, had the accommodation of a wooden table and a chair; and the clerk's wife performed what meagre cooking and cleaning service old Cater would have. Sinclair was a man of forty-five, rusty, starved, honest, and very cheap. He was very cheap because it had been his foolishness, twenty years ago, when in City employ, to borrow forty pounds of old Cater to get married with, and to buy furniture, together with forty pounds he had of his own. Sinclair was young then, and knew nothing of the ways of the two hundred per cent. money-lender. When he had, by three or four years' pinching, paid about a hundred and fifty pounds on account of interest and fines, and only had another hundred or two still due to clear everything off, he fell sick and lost his place. The payment of interest ceased, and old Jerry Cater took his victim's body, soul, wife, sticks, and chairs together. Jerry Cater discharged his own clerk, and took Sinclair, with a saving of five shillings a week on the nominal salary, and out of the remainder he deducted, on account of the debt and ever-accumulating interest, enough to keep his man thin and broken-spirited, without absolutely incapacitating him from work, which would have been bad finance. But the rest of the debt, capital and interest, was made into a capital debt, with usury on the whole. So that for sixteen years or more Sinclair had been paying something every week off the eternally increasing sum, and might have kept on for sixteen centuries at the same rate without getting much nearer freedom. If only there had been one more room in the house old Cater might have compulsorily lodged his clerk, and have deducted something more for rent. As it was he might have used the office for the purpose, but he could never have brought himself to charge a small rent for it, and a large one would have swallowed most of the rest of Sinclair's salary, thus bringing him below starvation point, and impairing his working capacity. But Mrs. Sinclair, now gaunt and scraggy, did all the housework, so that that came very cheap. Most of the house was filled with old bales and rotting merchandise which old Jerry Cater had seized in payment for wharfage dues and other debts, and had held to, because his ideas of selling prices were large, though his notion of buying prices were small. Sinclair was out of doors more than in, dunning and threatening debtors as hopeless as himself. And the household was completed by one Samuel Greer, a squinting man of grease and rags, within ten years of the age of old Jerry Cater himself. Greer was wharf-hand, messenger, and personal attendant on his employer, and, with less opportunity, was thought to be near as bad a scoundrel as Cater. He lived and slept in the house, and was popularly supposed to be paid nothing at all; though his patronage of the "Ship and Anchor," hard by, was as frequent as might be.

Old Jerry Cater was plainly not long for this world. Ailing for months, he at length gave in and took to his bed. Greer watched him anxiously and greedily, for it was his design, when his master went at last, to get what he could for himself. More than once during his illness old Cater had sent Greer to fetch his nephews. Greer had departed on these errands, but never got farther than the next street. He hung about a reasonable time – perhaps in the "Ship and Anchor," if funds permitted – and then returned to say that the nephews could not come just yet. Old Cater had quarrelled with his nephews, as he had with everybody else, some time before, and Greer was resolved, if he could, to prevent any meeting now, for that would mean that the nephews would take possession of the place, and he would lose his chance of convenient larceny when the end came. So it was that neither nephew knew of old Jerry Cater's shaky condition.

Before long, finding that the old miser could not leave his bed – indeed he could scarcely turn in it – Greer took courage, in Sinclair's absence, to poke about the place in search of concealed sovereigns. He had no great time for this, because Jerry Cater seemed to have taken a great desire for his company, whether for the sake of his attendance or to keep him out of mischief was not clear. At any rate Greer found no concealed sovereigns, nor anything better than might be sold for a few pence at the ragshop. Until one day, when old Cater was taking alternate fits of restlessness and sleep, Greer ventured to take down a dusty old pickle-jar from the top shelf in the cupboard of his master's bedroom. Cater was dozing at the moment, and Greer, tilting the jar toward the light, saw within a few doubled papers, very dusty. He snatched the papers out, stuffed them into his pocket, replaced the jar, and closed the cupboard door hastily. The door made some little noise, and old Cater turned and woke, and presently he made a shift to sit up in bed, while Greer scratched his head as innocently as he could, and directed his divergent eyes to parts of the room as distant from the cupboard as possible.

"Sam'l Greer," said old Cater in a feeble voice, while his lower jaw waggled and twitched, "Sam'l Greer, I think I'll 'ave some beef-tea." He groped tremulously under his pillow, turning his back to Greer, who tip-toed and glared variously over his master's shoulders. He saw nothing, however, though he heard the chink of money. Old Cater turned, with a shilling in his shaking hand. "Git 'alf a pound o' shin o' beef," he said, "an' go to Green's for it at the other end o' Grange Road, d'ye hear? It's – it's a penny a pound cheaper there than it is anywhere nearer, and – and I ain't in so much of a 'urry for it, so the distance don't matter. Go 'long." And old Jerry Cater subsided in a fit of coughing.

Greer needed no second bidding. He was anxious to take a peep at the papers he had secreted. Sinclair was out collecting, or trying to collect, but Greer did not stop to examine his prize before he had banged the street door behind him, lest Cater, listening above, should wonder what detained him. But in a convenient courtyard a hundred yards away he drew out the papers and inspected them eagerly. First, there was the policy of insurance of the house and premises. Then there was a bundle of receipts for the yearly insurance premiums. And then – there was old Jerry Cater's will.

There were two foolscap sheets, written all in Jerry Cater's own straggling handwriting. Greer hastily scanned the sheets, and his dirty face grew longer and his squint intensified as he turned over the second sheet, found nothing behind it, and stuffed the papers back in his pocket. For it was plain that not a penny of old Jerry Cater's money was for his faithful servant, Samuel Greer. "Ungrateful ole waga-bone!" mused the faithful servant as he went his way. "Not a blessed 'a'peny; not a 'a'peny! An' them as don't want it gets it, o' course. That's always the way – it's like a-greasing' of a fat pig. I shall 'ave to get what I can while I can, that's all." And so ruminating he pursued his way to the butcher's in Grange Road.

Once more on his way there, and twice on his way back, Samuel Greer stepped into retired places to look at those papers again, and at each inspection he grew more thoughtful. There might be money in it yet. Come, he must think it over.

The front door being shut, and Sinclair probably not yet returned, he entered the house by a way familiar to the inmates – a latched door giving on to the wharf. The clock told him that he had been gone nearly an hour, but Sinclair was still absent. When he entered old Cater's room upstairs he found a great change. The old man lay in a state of collapse, choking with a cough that exhausted him; and for this there seemed little wonder, for the window was open, and the room was full of the cold air from the river.

"Wot jer bin openin' the winder for?" asked Greer in astonishment. "It's enough to give ye yer death." He shut it and returned to the bedside. But though he offered his master the change from the shilling the old man seemed not to see it nor to hear his voice.

"Well, if you won't – don't," observed Greer with some alacrity, pocketing the coppers. "But I'll bet he'll remember right enough presently." "D'y'ear," he added, bending over the bed, "I've got the beef. Shall I bile it now?"

But old Jerry Cater's eyes still saw nothing and he heard not, though his shrunken chest and shoulders heaved with the last shudders of the cough that had exhausted him. So Greer stepped lightly to the cupboard and restored the fire policy and the receipts to the pickle-jar. He kept the will.



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