Chapter II.

THE train sped on through the strong, stifling atmosphere of its dark, subterranean way. Fit scene for what had been done, if scene could be fit for such a deed! Portland Road and Baker Street were passed, and still no one broke or looked in upon the solitude of the dead man. At Edgware Road, however, a lady entered the compartment. The next moment there was a scream, and a rush of officials to the spot. The lady, half-fainting, was helped on to the platform; station-master, inspectors, and police were called, and messages were despatched along the line to temporarily suspend the traffic. It was all done in a very few minutes. The body, after a rapid but keen survey of its position and surroundings, was carefully removed, and the news flew like wild-fire that what was evidently a ghastly suicide had been discovered on the Underground Railway. Then the carriage door was locked, and the passengers were briefly interrogated, without, however, any light being thrown on the case. Their names and addresses were taken

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as a precautionary measure. Among them there was but one first-class traveller, a tall man, who, directly the excitement arose, emerged from a compartment three removed from that in which the tragedy had been enacted. Probably it was the fact of his being a passenger in the same class as the deceased that brought upon him a closer examination at the hands of a police-sergeant than the others had been subjected to.

Where had he entered the train?

At Baker Street; there was his ticket from that station to Notting Hill Gate clipped in the usual way.

Had he seen or heard anything unusual?

Nothing whatever.

Would he oblige with his name and address?

Certainly. There was his card: Mr. Jules Merlin, Chepstow Villas, W.

This on the sergeant's part was all for the sake of doing something. He was perfectly satisfied in his mind that the case in hand was one of determined suicide; still caution and diligence, even if aimless, looked well, and were regarded as praiseworthy even if profitless at headquarters. It was to the persistent application of very commonplace abilities that he owed his promotion from the ranks. On this occasion he even went so far as to take down a description of Mr. Merlin; thus—face narrow, good-looking, clean-shaven, and dark. Hair also dark. Age about forty. Figure, tall, thin, straight, and

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strong-looking. Clothes, check trousers, dark overcoat with velvet collar, brown kid gloves, silk neckerchief, low hard felt black hat, and umbrella very wet.

Mr. Merlin, having borne the sergeant's inquisition with patient amiability, looked again at the body and said, “Poor devil! he must have been out of his mind.” Then he re-entered the train as it started again on its way.

The dead man's identity was very quickly established. Letters were found upon him addressed to David Cowen, Esq., with the names of a house and street at Kensington, and his card bore the same name and address. The discovery upon him of valuable jewellery and a fairly large sum of money went towards confirming the police in their theory that it was not a murder they were investigating. The body was conveyed to the morgue, where, within two hours, it was visited by a woman, tall and beautiful, but with wild terror-filled eyes, and face pale as the quiet dead.

Yes, it was her husband, the body they showed her. He was a well-known merchant of Melbourne, and they had but recently come over, to spend a year partly on business and partly on pleasure in the “old country.” And this was the end of it.

“Suicide. A clear case. Temporary insanity. Murder impossible on the Underground Railway.”

So the murderer had said; so the police said;

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and so also said the public. This general verdict was gratifying to all three. But it was doomed to be disturbed, if not utterly shaken. At the coroner's inquest a clerk of the Farringdon Street Station came forward and spoke of the bearded man who, on the night in question, as nearly as possible at half-past seven, had taken a first-class ticket for Gower Street. He remembered the circumstance perfectly, because the gentleman had forgotten his umbrella, which was dry and furled, and which he, the witness, had called him back to receive. The ticket-collector at Gower Street did not remember a person of that description (how could he remember every one that passed through the gates?), but a first-class ticket from Farringdon had been collected at that time.

The evidence of the doctor who examined the body was still more disturbing to the popular theory. Dr. Ford was a man in the prime of life, and a widower. He possessed a considerable practice, was practical, hard-headed, and, like all practical men, somewhat obstinate, and he had the reputation of being keen and clever. When, therefore, he stood up in the witness-box and gave it as his positive conviction that the fatal wound in the dead man's breast could not possibly have been self-inflicted, he inspired some belief, at least in the minds of people who knew him well.

The coroner, sceptical but courteous, asked what grounds the witness had for his opinion.

“I compared the deceased's arm with the

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depth of the wound,” replied the doctor, “and found that his strength could not have been sufficient to drive the knife so far.”

It should be mentioned that the weapon was a common dagger, such as may be seen in the window of any cutler's shop.

It was here suggested that the knife was not driven in by one blow, but pressed in; but Dr. Ford very readily confuted that theory. He began by pointing out the depth of the wound; much deeper than was necessary to kill—the steel had cleft the heart in twain. Then as to character: it was perfectly even and direct; self-inflicted, it would in the highest probability have been irregular. But that was not all. The suspicions excited by the circumstances already stated had urged Dr. Ford to a closer examination than he might otherwise have made, with the result that he discovered on the skin around the incision a bruise, slight, but sufficiently palpable, which clearly demonstrated the force with which the heft of the knife had come in contact with the surface of the body. To have occasioned even a slight bruise through thick clothing that force must have been very considerable, far too great, the doctor argued, to admit of the blow having been self-inflicted.

“A man, although weak, might be capable of inflicting such a blow upon another,” added the witness. “In that case he would have the advantage of distance, in which to give impetus

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to the thrust, which would be denied him in an attempt against himself.”

These interesting arguments, although listened to with patience and courtesy, failed to shake the opinion of the authorities. The inquest, however, was adjourned for a few days so that inquiries might be made concerning the bearded man described by the railway clerk.

When the proceedings were resumed nothing had been heard of the mysterious stranger. There was nothing unusual about that, said the police. A man of an extremely nervous and retiring disposition would instinctively avoid being mixed up in an affair of the kind, and, having no important testimony to offer, would probably keep out of the way.

As it was considered that further inquiry was unnecessary, the facts at the disposal of the police being sufficient, the inquest was brought to a conclusion. In summing up for the jury the coroner weighed the evidence for the theory of suicide against the medical opinion, very much in favour of the former. The strong points in that evidence were three, viz. (1) the attitude of the dead man; (2) the absence of any signs of a struggle; and (3) the fact that Mr. Cowen had, since his arrival in England, suffered severe financial losses through speculation in gold mines. On this last point several of the deceased's city friends gave testimony. Mr. Cowen, it appeared, had been induced to try his luck on the Stock

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Exchange. The results were unfortunate, and it was asserted that when he met his fate he was returning home after a very “bad day.”

This evidence was permitted to overweigh that of Dr. Ford, which was scientific and positive. Assuming the latter to be correct, it was argued Mr. Cowen was murdered. Was such a thing conceivable, possible? Could a man be stabbed to death in that big artery of human motion, the Underground Railway, and the murderer, red-handed, walk off undetected? Certainly not! The idea was too absurd to admit of argument!

So thought the police; so thought the coroner; so thought the majority of the public; and so thought the jury, who returned a verdict of suicide while temporarily insane.

But Dr. Ford was unshaken, and he had at least one sincere adherent—the murdered man's widow. Mrs. Cowen understood nothing of medical science; but she knew her husband, and her sublime faith in him was unshaken by his death. Her evidence would have touched any thirteen men less wooden than the coroner and his jury, and, supporting as it did the medical testimony, have convinced any less self-opinionated persons than the police authorities. She stated, with an air of simple conviction that should have been irresistible, that her husband was the last man in the world to have attempted his own life. His disposition was too hopeful, too buoyant and sanguine, to admit of such an idea. His

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pecuniary losses did not appear to vex him in the slightest degree. They were heavy, but to a man of his fortune not absolutely serious. He was sunshine itself, she declared, and during the twelve years of their married life she had never known him to experience an hour's gloom. Finally, he was too fond of his home, of his two children, of his wife, of all that made life beautiful for him, to have taken that life himself.

Mr. Jules Merlin attended the inquest as a witness. His evidence was of a slight and negative character. He had heard no cry or noise of any unusual kind, and had seen no bearded man. The tragedy, however, had doubtless taken place before he entered the train. Mr. Merlin followed the proceedings with considerable interest, and after the verdict he sought an interview with Dr. Ford.

“Your arguments interested me profoundly, doctor,” he said; “and under the circumstances I scarcely think the verdict was a proper one.”

“It was a d—d improper one,” declared the doctor, bluntly. “As surely as the coroner is an ass and the jury idiots, Mr. Cowen was murdered.”

“But the motive?” asked the other.

“Excuse me, sir,” replied the doctor; “but that question is more like that of an imbecile police inspector than of a man of sense. How am I to tell you the motive? I'm not the murderer. I don't know him, and I can't get inside his mind. There was no evidence of motive.”

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“That was the strong point against you,” said Mr. Merlin, with a smile. “It was not robbery, for the man's jewellery and money were untouched. It was not revenge, for the man apparently had no enemies. It had nothing to do with secret societies, for he belonged to none.”

“All very true, Mr. Merlin, and yet the man was murdered.'

“You think so?”

“I'll swear it.”

Mr. Merlin started.

“You scientists are very positive,” he said.

“We are able to be, sir. Now evidence of motive is a very good thing for the police to work upon if they can get it. When they have it, I believe they generally hunt down their man. A murder, however, does not necessarily bear the motive upon its face. Yet, judging by this case, ‘no apparent motive, no murder,’ seems to be a police axiom.”

“But the knife was found in the dead man's hand,” urged Mr. Merlin.

“A hand powerless to inflict the death-blow. The murderer put it there.”

“And there was no appearance of a struggle,” added Mr. Merlin, after a thoughtful pause.

“You would not be able to struggle if a knife were suddenly plunged in your heart,” was the reply.

“True, true; but I'm still a doubter. I cannot conceive of such a thing being done under

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the circumstances, and the murderer getting off unperceived.”

“Nor can the police,” replied the doctor. “Nor could I, but that I examined the murdered man. Two things the murderer must have had—fearful, devilish craft, and wonderful luck.”

“True again; wonderful luck!” assented Mr. Merlin. “And assuming your theory to be correct, the murderer has at any rate succeeded in proving the possibility of a thing which everybody doubted, and still doubts. As to motive,” he added slowly, “I believe—yes, I really believe that I could assign a motive.”

“You could? What is it?” asked the doctor, quickly.

But Mr. Merlin said “Good-day,” and, politely raising his hat, disappeared.