The Old Man in the Corner

by Baroness Orczy

The Glasgow Mystery (Bonus Story)
Illustrations by P. B. Hickling

Royal Magazine April 1902. Cover illustration by P. B. Hickling
Royal Magazine
April, 1902
Illustration by P. B. Hickling

The first story from the second series of “British Cities” Old Man mysteries, “The Glasgow Mystery” provoked hundreds of angry letters from The Royal Magazine’s Scottish readers through its inaccurate account of Scots legal procedure, specifically its depiction of a coroner’s jury. As mentioned in the preface to the “Edinburgh Mystery,” (see link below) Scots law is completely different from English (being largely based on the old Roman legal system), and the coroner’s jury is one of many English legal devices non-existent in Scotland. The Baroness, as a Hungarian, was unaware of this legal divide between the British Isles’ nations, and argued thus successfully to her publishers (who really should have caught the error themselves).

The only lasting result of the controversy was the omission of “The Glasgow Mystery” from the 1908 Old Man in the Corner—a pity, since the story contains a very clever solution. The following text, which will hopefully provoke no outcry today, will give our readers a sample of the different format of the Old Man in the Corner stories in their original Royal Magazine presentation.

Dan Neyer
October, 2013
Introduction © 2013 by Dan Neyer

The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness E. Orczy Illustrations by P. B. Hickling
(Being the first of a new series of stories “The Mysteries of the Great Cities,” told by the famous “Old Man in the Corner,” who has already related the “Mysteries of London.")
The Old Man in the Corner, who tells the story to
The Lady Journalist.
Mrs. CarmichaelThe landlady who was murdered.
Mr. YardleyA poet living in her house.
Mr. James LucasAnother of her boarders.
UptonHer manservant.
Emma Her cook.
The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness E. Orczy Illustrations by P. B. Hickling
(Being the first of a new series of stories “The Mysteries of the Great Cities,” told by the famous “Old Man in the Corner,” who has already related the “Mysteries of London.")
The Old Man in the Corner, who tells the story to
The Lady Journalist.
Mrs. CarmichaelThe landlady who was murdered.
Mr. YardleyA poet living in her house.
Mr. James LucasAnother of her boarders.
UptonHer manservant.
Emma Her cook.

IT HAS OFTEN BEEN DECLARED," remarked the man in the corner, “that a murder—a successful murder, I mean—can never be committed single-handed in a busy city, and that on the other hand, once a murder is committed by more than one person, one of the accomplices is sure to betray the other, and that is the reason why comparatively so few crimes remain undetected. Now I must say I quite agree with this latter theory.”

It was some few weeks after my first introduction to the man in the corner and the inevitable bit of string he always played with when unravelling his mysteries, and some time before he recounted to me his grim version of the tragedy in Percy-street, which I have already retold in the Royal.

Now I had made it a hard and fast rule whenever he made an assertion of that kind to disagree with it. This invariably irritated him; he became comically excited, produced his bit of string, and started off at rattling speed, after a few rude remarks directed at lady journalists in general and myself in particular, on one of his madly bewildering, true cock-and-bull stories.

“What about the Glasgow murder, then?” I remarked sceptically.

“Ah, the Glasgow murder,” he repeated “Yes, what about the Glasgow murder? I see you are one of those people who, like the police, believe that Yardley was an accomplice to that murder, and you still continue to hope, as they do, that sooner or later he, and the other man, Upton, will meet, divide the spoils, and throw themselves into the expectant arms of the Glasgow police.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you don’t think Yardley had anything to do with that murder?”

“What does it matter what a humble amateur like myself thinks of that or any other case? Pshaw!” he added, breaking his bit of string between his bony fingers in his comical excitement. “Why, think a moment how simple is the whole thing! There was Mrs. Carmichael, the widow of a medical officer, young, good-looking, and fairly well-off, who for the sake of company, more than for actual profit-making, rents one of the fine houses in Woodbine Crescent with a view to taking in ‘paying guests.’ Her house is beautifully furnished—I told you she was fairly well-off. She has no difficulty in getting boarders.

“The house is soon full. At the time of which I am speaking she had ten or eleven ‘guests’—mostly men out at business all day, also a married couple, an officer’s widow with her daughter, and two journalists. At first she kept four female servants; then one day there was a complaint among the gentlemen boarders that their boots were insufficiently polished and their clothes very sketchily brushed. Chief among these complainants was Mr. Yardley, a young man who wrote verses for magazines, called himself a poet, and, in consequence, indulged in sundry eccentric habits which furnished food for gossip both in the kitchen and in the drawing-room over the coffee-cups.

“As I said before, it was he who was loudest in his complaint on the subject of his boots; it was he, again, who, when Mrs. Carmichael expressed herself willing to do anything to please her boarders, recommended her a quiet, respectable man named Upton to come in for a couple of hours daily, clean boots, knives, windows, and what-nots, and make himself ‘generally useful’—I believe that is the technical expression. Upton, it appears, had been known to Mr. Yardley for some time, had often run errands and delivered messages for him, and had even been intrusted with valuable poetical MSS. to be left at various editorial offices.

“It was in July of last year, was it not, that Glasgow—honest, stodgy, busy Glasgow—was thrilled to its very marrow by the recital in its evening papers of one of the most ghastly and most dastardly crimes?

Mrs. Carmichael was found murdered in her room
“Mrs. Carmichael was found
murdered in her room.”

“At two o’clock that afternoon, namely, Mrs. Carmichael, of Woodbine Crescent, was found murdered in her room. Her safe had been opened, and all its contents—which were presumed to include a good deal of jewellery and money—had vanished. The evening papers had also added that the murderer was known to the police, and that no doubt was entertained as to his speedy arrest.

“It appears that in the household at Woodbine Crescent it was the duty of Mary, one of the maids, to take up a cup of tea to Mrs. Carmichael every morning at seven o’clock. The girl was not supposed to go into the room, but merely to knock at the door, wait for a response from her mistress, and then leave the tray outside on the mat.

“Usually Mrs. Carmichael took the tray in immediately, and was down to breakfast with her boarders at half-past eight. But on that eventful morning Mary seems to have been in a hurry. She could not positively state afterwards whether she had heard her mistress’s answer to her knock or not; against that, she was quite sure that she had taken up the tray at seven o’clock precisely.

“When everybody went down to breakfast a couple of hours or so later, it was noticed that Mrs. Carmichael had not taken in her tea-tray as usual. A few anxious comments were made as to the genial hostess being unwell, and then the matter was dropped. The servants did not seem to have been really anxious about their mistress during the morning. Mary, who had been in the house two years, said that once before Mrs. Carmichael had stayed in bed with a bad headache until one o’clock.

“However, when the lunch hour came and went, Mrs. Tyrrell, one of the older lady boarders, became alarmed. She went up to her hostess’s door and knocked at it loudly and repeatedly, but received no reply. The door, mind you, was locked or bolted, presumably, of course, from the inside. After consultation with her fellow boarders, Mrs. Tyrrell at last, feeling that something must be very wrong, took it upon herself to call in the police. Constable Rae came in; he too knocked and called, shook the door, and finally burst it open.

“It is not for me,” continued the man in the corner, “to give you a description of that room as it appeared before the horrified eyes of the constable, the servants, and lady boarders; that lies more in your province than in mine.

“Suffice it to say that the unfortunate lady lay in her bed with her throat cut.

“No key or bolt was found on the inside of the door; the murderer, therefore, having accomplished his ghastly deed, must have locked his victim in, and probably taken the key away with him. Hardly had the terrible discovery been made than Emma the cook, half hysterical with fear and horror, rushed up to Constable Rae, and, clutching him wildly by the arm, whispered under her breath, ‘Upton, Upton; he did it, I know . . . My poor mistress; he cut her throat with that fowl carver this morning. I saw it in his hand . . . It is him, constable!’

“ ‘Where is he?’ asked the constable peremptorily. ‘See that no one leaves the house. Who has seen this man?’

“But neither the constable, nor anyone else for that matter, was much surprised to find that on searching the house throughout, the man Upton had disappeared.”


AT FIRST, OF COURSE, the case seemed simplicity itself. No doubt existed, either in the public mind or that of the police, as to Upton being the author of the grim and horrible tragedy. The only difficulty, so far, was the fact that Upton had managed not only to get away on the day of the murder, but also had contrived to evade the rigorous search instituted throughout the city after him by the police—a search, I assure you, in which many an amateur detective readily joined.

“The inquest had been put off for a day or two in the hope that Upton might be found before it occurred. However, three days had now elapsed, and it could not be put off any longer. Little did the public expect the sensational developments which the case suddenly began to assume.

“The medical evidence revealed nothing new. On the contrary, it added its usual quota of vague indefiniteness which so often helps to puzzle the police. The medical officer had been called in by Constable Rae, directly after his discovery of the murder. That was about two o’clock in the afternoon. Death had occurred a good many hours before that time, stated Dr. Dawlish—possibly nine or ten hours; but it might also have been eleven or twelve hours previously.

“Then Emma the cook was called. Her evidence was, of course, most important, as she had noticed and talked to the man Upton the very morning of the crime. He came as usual to his work, about a quarter to seven, but the cook immediately noticed that he seemed very strange and excited.

“ ‘What do you mean by strange?’ asked the coroner.

“ ‘Well, it was strange of him, sir, to start first thing in the morning cleaning knives when we had as many knives as we wanted clean for breakfast.’

“ ‘Yes? He started cleaning knives, and then what did he do?’

This fowl carver is awful blunt
“This fowl carver is awful blunt.”

“ ‘Oh, he turned and turned that there knife machine so as I told him he would be turning all the edges. Then he suddenly took up the fowl carver and said to me; “This fowl carver is awful blunt—where’s the steel?” I says to him: “In the sideboard, of course, in the dining-room,” and he goes off with the fowl carver in his hand, and that is the last I ever saw of that carver and of Upton himself.’

“ ‘Have you known Upton long?’ asked the coroner.

“ ‘No, sir, he had only been in the house two days. Mr. Yardley gave him a character, and the mistress took him on, to clean boots and knives. His hours were half-past six to ten, but he used to turn up about a quarter to seven. He seemed obliging and willing, but not much up to his work, and didn’t say much. But I hadn’t seen him so funny except that morning when the poor missus was murdered.’

“ ‘Is this the carver you speak of?’ asked the coroner, directing a constable to show one he held in his hand to the witness.

“With renewed hysterical weeping Emma identified the carver as the one she had last seen in Upton’s hand. It appears that Detective McMurdoch had found the knife, together with the key of Mrs. Carmichael’s bedroom door, under the hall mat. Sensational, wasn’t it?” laughed the man in the corner; “quite in the style of the penny novelette—sensational, but not very mysterious.

“Then Mrs. Tyrrell had to be examined, as it was she who had first been alarmed about Mrs. Carmichael, and who had taken it upon herself to call in the police. Whether through spite or merely accidentally Mrs. Tyrrell insisted in her evidence on the fact that it was Mr. Yardley who was indirectly responsible for the awful tragedy, since it was he who had introduced the man Upton into the house.

“The coroner felt more interested. He thought he would like to put a few questions to Mr. Yardley. Now Mr. Yardley when called up did not certainly look prepossessing; and from the first most persons present were prejudiced against him. He was, as I think I said before, that rara avis, a successful poet: he wrote dainty scraps for magazines and weekly journals.

“In appearance he was a short, sallow, thin man, with no body and long limbs, and carried his head so much to one side as to almost appear deformed. Here is a snapshot I got of him some time subsequently. He is no beauty, is he?

“Still his manner, his small shapely hands, and quiet voice undoubtedly proclaimed him a gentleman.

“It was very well known throughout the household that Mr. Yardley was very eccentric; being a poet he would enjoy the privilege with impunity. It appears that his most eccentric habit was to get up at unearthly hours in the morning—four o’clock sometimes—and wander about the streets of Glasgow.

“ ‘I have written my best pieces,’ he stated in response to the coroner’s astonished remark upon this strange custom of his, ‘leaning against a lamp post in Sauchiehall Street at five o’clock in the morning. I spend my afternoons in the various public libraries, reading. I have only boarded and lodged in this house for two or three months, but, as the servants will tell you, I leave it long before they are up in the morning. I am never in to breakfast or luncheon, but always in to dinner. I go to bed early, naturally, as I require several hours sleep.’

“Mr. Yardley was then very closely questioned as to his knowledge of the man Upton.

“ ‘I first met the man,’ replied Mr. Yardley,’ about a year ago. He was loafing in Buchanan Street, outside the Herald office, and spoke to me, telling me a most pitiable tale—namely, that he was an ex-compositor, had had to give up his work owing to failing eyesight, that he had striven for weeks and months to get some other kind of employment, spending in the meanwhile the hard-earned savings of many years’ toil; that he had come to his last shilling two days ago, and had been reduced to begging, not for money, but for some kind of job—anything to earn a few honest coins.

“ ‘Well, I somehow liked the look of the man; moreover, as I just happened to want to send a message to the other end of the city, I sent Upton. Since then I have seen him almost every day. He takes my manuscripts for me to the editorial offices, and runs various errands. I have recommended him to one or two of my friends, and they have always found him honest and sober. He has eked out a very meagre livelihood in this way, and when Mrs. Carmichael thought of having a man in the house to do odd jobs, I thought I should be doing a kind act by recommending Upton to her. Little did I dream then what terrible consequences such a kind act would bring in its trail. I can only account for the man’s awful crime by thinking that perhaps his mind had become suddenly unhinged.’

“All this seemed plain and straightforward enough. Mr. Yardley spoke quietly, without the slightest nervousness or agitation. The coroner and jury both pressed him with questions on the subject of Upton, but his attitude remained equally self-possessed throughout. Perhaps he felt, after a somewhat severe cross-examination on the part of the coroner, who prided himself on his talent in that direction, that a certain amount of doubt might lurk in the minds of the jury and consequently the public. Be that as it may, he certainly begged that two or three of the servants might be recalled in order to enable them to state definitely that he was out of the house, as usual, when they came downstairs that morning.

“One of the housemaids, recalled, fully corroborated that statement. Mr. Yardley’s room, she said, was on the ground floor, next to the dining-room. She went into it soon after half-past six, turned down the bed, and began tidying it up generally.

“There was only one other witness of any importance to examine. One other boarder—Mr. James Lucas, a young journalist, employed on the editorial staff of the Glasgow Banner.

“The reason why he had been called specially was because he was well known to be one of the privileged guests of the house, and had been more intimate with the deceased than any of her other boarders. This privilege, it appears, chiefly consisted in being admitted to coffee, and possibly whiskey and soda after dinner, in Mrs. Carmichael’s special private sitting-room. Moreover, there was a generally accepted theory among the other boarders that Mr. James Lucas entertained certain secret hopes with regard to his amiable hostess, and that, but for the fact that he was several years her junior, she might have encouraged these hopes.

“Now, Mr. James Lucas was the exact opposite of Mr. Yardley, the poet; tall, fair, athletic, his appearance would certainly prepossess everyone in his favour. He seemed very much upset, and recounted with much, evidently genuine, feeling, his last interview with the unfortunate lady—the evening before the murder.

“ ‘I spent about an hour with Mrs. Carmichael in her sitting-room,’ he concluded’, and parted from her about ten o’clock. I then went to my club, where I stayed pretty late, until closing time, in fact. After that I went for a stroll, and it was a quarter past two by my watch when I came in. I let myself in with my latch-key.

” ‘I saw Mr. Yardley descending the stairs.’ “

“ ‘It was pitch dark in the outer hall, and I was groping for my candle, when I heard the sound of a door opening and shutting on one of the floors above, and directly after someone coming down the stairs. As you have seen yourself, the outer hall is divided from the inner one by a glass door, which on this occasion stood open. In the inner hall there was a faint glimmer of light, which worked its way down from a skylight on one of the landings, and by this glimmer I saw Mr. Yardley descending the stairs, cross the hall, and go into his room. He did not see me, and I did not speak.’

“An extraordinary, almost breathless, hush had descended over all those assembled there. The coroner sat with his chin buried in his hand, his eyes resting searchingly on the witness who had just spoken. The jury had not uttered a sound. At last the coroner queried:

“ ‘Is the jury to understand, Mr. Lucas, that you can swear positively that at a quarter-past two in the morning, or thereabouts, you saw Mr. Yardley come down the stairs from one of the floors above and go into his own room, which is on the ground floor?’

“ ‘Positively.’

“That was enough. Mr. Lucas was dismissed and Mr. Yardley was recalled. As he once more stood before the coroner, his curious one-sided stoop, his sallowness, and length of limb seemed even more marked than before. Perhaps he was a shade or two paler, but certainly neither his hands nor his voice trembled in the slightest degree.

“Questioned by the coroner, he replied quietly:

“ ‘Mr. Lucas was obviously mistaken. At the hour he names I was in bed and asleep.’

“There had been excitement and breathless interest when Mr. James Lucas had made his statement, but that excitement and breathlessness was as nothing compared with the absolutely dumbfounded awe which fell over everyone there, as the sallow, half-deformed, little poet, gave the former witness so completely, so emphatically the lie.

“The coroner himself hardly knew how to keep up his professional dignity as he almost gasped the query:

“ ‘Then is the jury to understand that you can swear positively that at a quarter-past two o’clock on that particular morning you were in bed and asleep?’

“ ‘Positively.’

“It seemed as if Mr. Yardley had repeated purposely the other man’s emphatic and laconic assertion. Certainly his voice was as steady, his eye as clear, his manner as calm as that of Mr. Lucas. The coroner and jury were silent, and Mr. Yardley turned to where young Lucas had retired in a further corner of the room. The eyes of the two met, almost like the swords of two duellists before the great attack; neither flinched. One or the other was telling a lie. A terrible lie since it might entail loss of honour, or life perhaps to the other, yet neither flinched. One was telling a lie, remember, and in everyone’s mind there arose at once the great all absorbing queries ‘Which?’ and ‘Wherefore!’”


I HAD BEEN SO ABSORBED IN LISTENING to the thrilling narrative of that highly dramatic inquest that I really had not noticed until then that the man in the corner was recounting it as if he had been present at it himself.

“That is because I heard it all from an eye-witness,” he suddenly replied with that eerie knack he seemed to possess of reading my thoughts, “but it must have been very dramatic, and, above all, terribly puzzling. You see there were two men swearing against one another, both in good positions, both educated men; it was impossible for any jury to take either evidence as absolutely convincing, and it could not be proved that either of them lied. Mr. Lucas might have done so from misapprehension. There was just a possibility that he had had more whiskey at his club than was good for him. Mr. Yardley, on the other hand, if he lied, lied because he had something to hide, something to hide in that case which might have been terrible.

“Of course Dr. Dawlish was recalled, and with wonderful learning and wonderful precision he repeated his vague medical statements:

“ ‘When I examined the body with my colleague, Dr. Swanton, death had evidently supervened several hours ago. Personally, I believe that it must have occurred certainly more like twelve hours ago than seven.’

“More than that he could not say. After all, medical science has its limits.

“Then Emma, the cook, was again called. There was an important point which, oddly enough, had been overlooked up to this moment. The question, namely, of the doormat under which the knife (which, by the way, was blood-stained) and also the key of Mrs. Carmichael’s bedroom door was found. Emma, however, could make a very clear and very definite statement on that point. She had cleaned the hall and shaken the mat at half-past six that morning. At that hour the housemaid was making Mr. Yardley’s bed; he had left the house already. There certainly was neither key nor knife under the mat then.

“The balance of evidence, which perhaps for one brief moment had inclined oh, ever so slightly, against Mr. Yardley, returned to its original heavy weight against the man Upton. Of course there was practically nothing to implicate Mr. Yardley seriously. The coroner made a résumé of the case before his jury worthy of a judge in the High Courts.

“He recapitulated all the evidence. It was very strong, undeniable, damning against Upton, and the jury could arrive but at one conclusion with regard to him. Then there was the medical evidence. That certainly favoured Upton a very little, if at all. Remember that both the medical gentlemen refused to make a positive statement as to the time; their evidence could not, therefore, be said to weigh either for or against anyone.

“There was then the strange and unaccountably conflicting evidence between two gentlemen of the house—Mr. Lucas and Mr. Yardley. That was a matter which for the present must rest between either of these gentlemen and their conscience. There was also the fact that the man Upton—the evident actual murderer—had been introduced into the house by Mr. Yardley. The jury knew best themselves if this fact should or should not weigh with them in their decision.

“That was the sum total of the evidence. The jury held but a very brief consultation. Their foreman pronounced their verdict of ‘Wilful murder against Upton.’ Not a word about Mr. Yardley. What could they have said? There was really no evidence against him—not enough, certainly, to taint his name for ever with so hideous a blight.

“In a case like that, remember, the jury are fully aware that the police would never for a moment lose sight of a man who had so narrowly escaped a warrant as Yardley had done. Relying on the certainty that very soon Upton would be arrested, it was not to be doubted for a moment but that he would betray his accomplice, if he had one. Criminals in such a plight nearly always do. In the meanwhile, every step of Yardley’s would be dogged, unbeknown to himself, even if he attempted to leave the country. As for Upton— —”

The man in the corner paused. He was eyeing me through his great bone-rimmed spectacles, watching with ironical delight my evident breathless interest in his narrative. I remembered that Glasgow murder so well. I remember the talks, the arguments, the quarrels that would arise in every household. Was Yardley an accomplice? Did he kill Mrs. Carmichael at two in the morning? Did he tell a lie? If so, why? Did Mr. James Lucas tell a lie? Many people, I remember, held this latter theory, more particularly as Mrs. Carmichael’s will was proved some days later, and it was found that she had left all her money to him.

For a little while public opinion veered dead against him. Some people thought that if he were innocent he would refuse to touch a penny of her money; others, of a more practical turn of mind, did not see why he should not. He was a struggling young journalist; the lady had obviously been in love with him, and intended to marry him; she had a perfect right—as she had no children or any near relative—to leave her money to whom she choose, and it would indeed be hard on him, if, through the act of some miscreant, he should at one fell swoop be deprived both of wife and fortune.

Then, of course, there was Upton—Upton! Upton! whom the police could not find! who must be guilty, seeing that he so hid himself, who never would have acted the hideous comedy with the carver. Why should he have wilfully drawn attention to himself, and left, as it were, his visiting card on the scene of the murder?

Why? why? why?

“Ah, yes, why!” came as a funny, shrill echo from my eccentric vis-a-vis. “I see that in spite of my earnest endeavour to teach you to think out a case logically and clearly, you start off with a preconceived notion, which naturally leads you astray because it is preconceived, just like any blundering detective in these benighted islands.”

“Preconceived?” I retorted indignantly. “There is no question of preconception. Whether Mr. Yardley knew of the contemplated murder or not, whether he was an accomplice or Mr. Lucas, there is one thing very clear—namely, that Upton was not innocent in the matter.”

“What makes you say that?” he asked blandly.

“Obviously, because if he were innocent he would not have acted the hideous tragic comedy with the carver; he would not, above all, have absolutely damned himself by disappearing out of the house and out of sight at the very moment when the discovery of Mrs. Carmichael’s murdered body had become imminent.”

“It never struck you, I suppose,” retorted the man in the corner with quiet sarcasm, “how very damning Upton’s actions were on that particular morning?”

“Of course they were very damning. That is just my contention.”

“And you have never then studied my methods of reasoning sufficiently to understand that when a criminal—a clever criminal, mind you—appears to be damning himself in the most brainless fashion, that is the time to guard against the clever pitfalls he is laying up for the police?”

“Exactly. That is why I, as well as many people connected with journalism, believe that Upton was acting a comedy in order to save his accomplice. The question only remains as to who the accomplice was.”

“He must have been singularly unselfish and self-sacrificing, then.”

“How do you mean?”

“According to your argument, Upton heaped up every conceivable circumstantial evidence against himself in order to shield his accomplice. Firstly he acts the part of strange, unnatural excitement, he loudly proclaims the fact that he leaves the kitchen with the fowl carver in his hand, thirdly he deposits that same blood-stained knife and the key of Mrs. Carmichael’s room under the mat a few moments before he leaves the house. You must own that the man must have been singularly unselfish since, if he is ever caught, nothing would save him from the gallows, whilst, unless a great deal more evidence can be brought up, his accomplice could continue to go free.”

“Yes, that might be,” I said thoughtfully; “it was of course a part of the given plan. Many people held that Upton and Yardley were great friends—they might have been brothers, who knows?”

“Yes, who knows?” he repeated scornfully, as getting more and more excited his long thin fingers wound and unwound his bit of string, making curious complicated knots, and then undoing them feverishly.

“Do brothers usually so dote on each other, that they are content to swing for one another? And have you never wondered why the police never found Upton? How did he get away? Where is he? Has the earth swallowed him up?

“Surely a clumsy brute like that, who gives himself hopelessly away on the very day when he commits a murder, cannot have brains enough to hide altogether away from the police—a man who before a witness selects the weapon with which he means to kill his victim, and who then deliberately leaves it blood-stained there where it is sure to be found at once? Why imagine such a consummate fool evading the police, not a day, not a week, not a month, but nearly two years now, which means altogether? Why, such a fool as you, the public, and the police have branded him would have fallen into a trap within twenty-four hours of his attempt at evasion; whereas the man who planned and accomplished that murder was a genius before he became a blackguard.”

“That’s just what I said. He was doing it to shield his accomplice.”

“His accomplice!” gasped the funny creature, with ever increasing excitement. “Yes, the accomplice he loved and cherished above all—his brother you say, perhaps. No, someone he would love ten thousand times more than any brother.”

“Then you mean—”

Himself, of course! Didn’t you see it all along? Lord bless my soul! The young man—poet or blackguard, what you will—who comes into a boarding-house, then realises that its mistress is wealthy. He studies the rules of the house, the habits of its mistress, finds out about her money, her safe, her jewels, and then makes his plans. Oh, they were magnificently laid! That man ought to have been a great diplomatist, a great general—he was only a great scoundrel.

“The sort of disguise he assumed is so easy to manage. Only remember one thing: When a fool wishes to sink his identity he does so after he has committed a crime and is wanted by the police; he is bound, therefore, for the best part of the remainder of his life, to keep up the disguise he has selected at all times, every hour, every minute of the day; to alter his voice, his walk, his manners. On the other hand, how does a clever man like Yardley proceed?

“He chooses his disguise and assumes it before the execution of his crime; it is then only a matter of a few days, and when all is over, the individual, the known criminal, disappears; and, mind you, he takes great care that the criminal shall be known. Now in this case Upton is introduced into the house; say he calls one evening on Mr. Yardley’s recommendation; Mrs. Carmichael sees him in the hall for a few moments, arranges the question of work and wages, and after that he comes every morning, with a dirty face, towzled hair, false beard and moustache—the usual type of odd job man very much down in his luck—his work lies in the kitchen, no one sees him upstairs, whilst the cook and kitchen folk never see Mr. Yardley.

“After a little while something—carelessness perhaps—might reveal the trick, but the deception is only carried on two days. Then the murder is accomplished and Upton disappears. In the meanwhile Mr. Yardley continues his eccentric habits. He goes out at unearthly hours; he is a poet; he is out of the house while Upton carries on the comedy with the carving knife. He knows that there never will be any evidence against him as Yardley; he has taken every care that all should be against Upton, all; hopeless, complete, absolute, damning!

“Then he leaves the police to hunt for Upton. He ‘lies low’ for a time, after a little while he will go abroad, I dare say he has done so already. A jeweller in Vienna, or perhaps St. Petersburg, will buy some loose stones of him, the stones he has picked out of Mrs. Carmichael’s brooches and rings, the gold he will melt down and sell, the notes he can cash at any foreign watering-place, without a single question being asked of him. English banknotes find a very ready market abroad, and ‘no questions asked.’

“After that he will come back to his friends in Glasgow and write dainty bits of poetry for magazines; the only difference being that he will write them at more reasonable hours. And during all the time the police will hunt for Upton.

“It was clever, was it not? You have his photo? I gave it you just now. Clever-looking, isn’t he? As Upton he wore a beard and dyed his hair very black; it must have been a great trouble every morning, mustn’t it?”

Famous (and forgotten) Fiction
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