no next

  ― 173 ―

An Underground Tragedy.

Chapter I.

IT was a chilly gusty night in the autumn of the year 188—. Short, sharp showers of rain occurred at intervals, when the fitful wind lulled for a space, and allowed the heavy clouds to collect in a dark mass overhead. The streets of London were slushy, and the pavements cold and slippery with a coating of soft mud. The foot-passengers jostled each other, and were rude in their struggle for the inside walking, where they might be less exposed to the unceasing sprays of slush from the remorseless wheel traffic. London, in fact, was dirty and exceedingly disagreeable.

At 7.30 p.m. the diurnal rush from city to suburb had died its usual natural death. The bearish scramble for the omnibus was over for the day; so also was the flood tide of traffic on the Underground Railway. Of toilers in the city only those who had been detained by unusual causes or by stress of work were still abroad.

  ― 174 ―

Among the stragglers who hurried into the Farringdon Street Station about the hour mentioned, a tall man with somewhat bowed shoulders might have been remarked. There was nothing particularly striking about his appearance save his beard, which was unusually thick and unkempt for these prim times. His clothes were of a cut and preservation such as to suggest the possession by their wearer of average means. He wore an ordinary felt hat, rather wide in the brim, and an overcoat of dark material, the collar of which was turned up; and in his gloveless hand he carried an umbrella dry and furled.

“Gower Street,” said the person I have described, on stooping to present his face at the window of the ticket office.

“What class?”


Then, while the clerk was stamping the ticket, the bearded man, with some deliberation, laid his umbrella on the ledge of the window and drew some money from his pocket. Having paid for and received his ticket, he hurried away.

“Hi!” shouted the clerk, “you're leaving your umbrella.”

The man came back, took his umbrella, muttered “Thank you,” in his beard, and again hurried away.

“Funny customer that!” soliloquized the clerk. “Doesn't use his umbrella, and doesn't remember it. A good gamp wasted on an idiot—and in such weather as this too!”

  ― 175 ―

Meanwhile the absent-minded stranger had had his ticket clipped, passed through the gates, and reached the platform. Here he stood motionless under the board “Wait here for first-class.” He had not long to wait. In a few moments a train drew up at the platform. It was fairly peopled in the third-class, and sparsely in the second, while the first-class compartments in the centre of the train were all unoccupied with the exception of one. That one contained a solitary man, and into that compartment the bearded traveller, after a hurried glance at the other carriages, entered. First-class passengers were not much abroad that night. No one else entered the carriage after the man whose movements we are following.

In a few moments the train moved on to King's Cross—a very short run from Farringdon: one of the shortest, in fact, on the line. The bearded man had taken the corner next the door he had entered, and fronting the engine. His face was turned towards his fellow-passenger; but its expression could not have been seen through his beard, and even his eyes were concealed by his hat, which he had pulled forward. The other occupant of the compartment sat at the far end, with his back towards the engine. He was middle-aged, very slight in figure, and well dressed. His face was thin, delicate, and extremely agreeable; the hair both of head and face was somewhat grey, short, and carefully

  ― 176 ―
trimmed. Altogether this passenger had an air of neatness and refinement about him. You would have said at once that he was a gentleman.

The train stopped at King's Cross, and then started on its longer run to Gower Street, and still these two men were alone. Perhaps the foul sulphurous atmosphere peculiar to the Underground Railway was more pronounced here, for as the train moved from the station the bearded man ejaculated “Bah!” and shifted from the window half-way along the seat. His fellow-passenger, who, with his hat pushed back from his high white forehead, was smiling over one of the comic papers, looked up for a moment, and returned to his diversion. A moment! An innocent, half-surprised glance at the man who sat with down-turned face almost exactly opposite him. That was all! No instinct of peril. No prompting to vigilance and defence!

For the bearded man's hand had crept to his pocket, and his eyes, blazing with greed for crime, had risen from the floor and fastened upon his neighbour's breast, from which the overcoat was drawn aside. And still there was no instinct of danger, no thought of ill, as the small man read his last witticism and smiled his last smile, and so smiling received to its hilt in his breast the sharp, fierce-driven knife.

A short, strange, horrible gasp, the victim's last effort at respiration, and a moving of startled, death-filled eyes, which, staring for a moment

  ― 177 ―
with no recognition, but wondering horror at the murderer, asked, “What have I done to thee?” and then the stricken man's head fell upon his breast and his life went out.

One minute only had passed since the train left King's Cross, and time was still with the murderer. Many moments would pass before Gower Street was reached, precious moments! He had done the murder; he had still to save himself. He had stood while his victim died, bent forward and motionless—eyes hidden by the muscular contraction of forehead and cheeks, and glittering white teeth showing through the thick beard and moustache. He recovered himself by a spasmodic movement. His first care was to throw the comic paper out of the window. Then he seized the warm dead body, which had slipped down along the seat, and propped it sitting and upright in the corner, while the still limp fingers of the right hand he arranged round the handle of the knife. “Suicide!” he muttered, glancing quickly at the effect. “A clear case! Temporary insanity! Murder impossible on the Underground Railway!”

Then he stood at the door. As the train emerged from the darkness into the light of the Gower Street Station he noticed blood on his right hand. But he put the hand to his mouth, and when he withdrew it the stain was gone. Before the train stopped the murderer looked back once, without a shudder, at the still body

  ― 178 ―
of the murdered man, and then he jumped on to the platform, shutting the carriage-door upon his work, and the next moment was lost in the crowd.

And the people who elbowed their way to the gates were shoulder to shoulder with a murderer hot from his crime!

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

  ― 179 ―
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

  ― 180 ―
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;

  ― 181 ―
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

  ― 182 ―
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

  ― 183 ―
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

  ― 184 ―
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

  ― 185 ―
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.”

  ― 186 ―

“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

  ― 187 ―
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.

Chapter III.

IT was the third anniversary of David Cowen's murder, and just such another evening—chill, wet, gusty, and gloomy. Doctor Ford sat alone over the bright fire in his study. A book lay on his lap; but he was not reading. He was gazing intently into the glowing fire—that unfailing inspirer of dreamy reflection—and thinking of a woman.

Dr. Ford had married early in life, and had soon become a widower. Solitary he had remained ever since—long lonely years he had gone through until middle age came and found him

  ― 188 ―
still lonely. He told people he was wedded to his profession, but some time before this night he had awakened to the fact of how cold and cheerless a wife she was. For a living, vital, absorbing love had grown into his life.

The seeds were sown when he first met Mrs. Cowen. Her beauty, her tragic sorrow, and her touching faith in the dead, all impressed him profoundly. A friendship grew up between them, which on his part developed into love. He asked Mrs. Cowen to be his wife, and her answer threw him into despair. The mystery of her husband's death stood between them. She declared that while that mystery remained unsolved her mind could know no peace, her thoughts must dwell ever in the past. That being so, to marry the doctor would have been to do him a grievous wrong.

Sharing, as he did, her conviction that David Cowen had been murdered, Dr. Ford had no arguments with which to shake this decision, the justice of which he could not but acknowledge. Feeling, too, the hopelessness of the mystery being cleared up, he despaired.

He was thinking mournfully of these things, when a servant entered and presented a card. It bore the name Mr. Jules Merlin.

“Merlin, Merlin?” muttered the doctor. “The name seems familiar enough. Show the gentleman up, please.”

When Dr. Ford saw Mr. Merlin he remembered him, for he was not a man to forget a face he

  ― 189 ―
had once seen, and Mr. Merlin's face was one not readily forgotten. Three years had wrought a change in it, however. It had grown thinner and more sallow. The features were startling in their distinctness; the eyes hollow and roving, and the lips painfully restless. Mr. Merlin looked ill, not passingly so, but organically. He looked as though some internal disease was slowly but surely consuming him. So the doctor thought, after a quick but comprehensive glance at his visitor.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Merlin?” he asked, after they had shaken hands.

“Nothing, thank you, doctor. My visit is not a professional one.”

“No! Pardon me, but as you are looking out of sorts, I thought——”

Mr. Merlin laughed strangely.

“You thought I had come for advice,” he interrupted. “No. My visit is simply a friendly one. To tell you the truth, I was never better in my life.”

“Then I pity you,” thought the doctor.

“We Merlins are queer folk,” continued the visitor, drawing his chair to the fire as if cold. “Our looks always pity us. We are thin to emaciation, and sallow to yellowness. But the thinner and yellower we are the better we feel. The worse we look, the better we are. Strange, isn't it?”

Mr. Merlin was evidently jesting, but the effect was not pleasant. His voice was high-pitched

  ― 190 ―
and somewhat grating, and there was no humour in the hard smile on his lips.

The doctor, having placed wine and cigars on the table, made a few remarks on topics of general interest. But his visitor made no reply; he had sunk into a restless silence. Presently he moved his chair from the fire, and sitting against the table drank a glass of wine.

“Try a cigar,” said the doctor. “These were sent me by a friend in Havana.”

“And you never proved the truth of your theory?” remarked Mr. Merlin, suddenly, and taking no notice of his host's invitation.

“What theory?”

“Concerning the death of that man on the Underground Railway.”

Dr. Ford was startled at this sudden broaching of a subject that lay so near his heart.

I required no proof,” he replied, slowly. “A murder was undoubtedly done. I would willingly give some years of my life to be able to lay hand on the guilty man,” he added, half to himself.

Mr. Merlin rose and walked the room. “It was an interesting case,” he said. “It fastened upon me. It has never left me night or day. So profoundly mysterious; so extraordinary in every way! If Cowen did not strike the blow, who did? I have asked myself ten thousand times. And, more interesting question still, how did the man escape? I have pictured the scene. I have been in the carriage with the two men.

  ― 191 ―
I have seen the blow struck. I have heard the dying gasp of the victim, and watched him as the death-look flooded his eyes. I hear the gasp now, and see the eyes!”

Merlin paused with his hands outstretched, and breathed heavily. His excitement was remarkable, and he had spoken as though he had no auditor. The doctor watched him with intense interest, and not without some uneasiness. He thought that the man's mind had been unhinged by dwelling upon that one terrible subject.

“You should not permit yourself to get so excited,” he said, gently.

“Then I have followed the murderer in his escape,” pursued Merlin. “Not a detail has been overlooked. I have forged and connected every link in the chain. It is complete. I know every point in the strange history. I am the only living man who does. It is all here in my brain—burning like molten iron. I must tell it, or it will kill me.”

“Tell me—quietly,” said the doctor. He himself, although outwardly calm, was now greatly excited. Mad though he appeared, there was a ring of terrible truth in Merlin's sharp voice. Despite the wildness of his words and manner, he impressed his listener with the conviction that he was about to hear truth, that light was about to be thrown on the dark mystery out of which had grown his despair. He trembled with the hope that that despair would be removed.

  ― 192 ―

Mr. Merlin again sat against the table, on which he leaned heavily.

“Yes, I'll tell you,” he said, in a lower voice. “You deserve to be told. You recognized murder when the police babbled suicide. You and I shall share and keep the secret. Listen! closer! It was the bearded man.”


“His beard was false. Oh! he laid his plans well and warily. Don't you remember saying that he must have had devilish craft and wonderful luck? Ha, ha! So he had! What is the good of the best-laid plans in the world without a little luck to back them? Our friend reckoned on his luck, and it stood by him well.”

“Who is the man?” demanded the doctor, eagerly.

“I don't know him,” replied the other, drawing back and passing his hand across his eyes. “At least not—not in tangible form. I have him in my mind though, and there he is distinct. Shall I go on?”

“If you please,” said the doctor, with decreased interest. He was practical. He wanted to be told of a real murderer, not to be introduced to a creation of a disordered intelligence.

“We will go back,” resumed Mr. Merlin, folding his arms and staring at vacancy; “back in the history of the bearded man, say an hour before he was alone in the train with—with the man he killed. He is at Baker Street. He buys a first-class

  ― 193 ―
ticket to Notting Hill Gate. He is not bearded then, mind you. He puts that ticket in his pocket, crosses the road, and takes a ticket to Aldersgate Street, which he uses. Alone in the train, he places the clipped over the unclipped ticket, and with his penknife makes them correspond in that respect. You see he has now his ticket from Baker Street to Notting Hill Gate duly clipped as though he had passed through the gates of the former station. He alights at Aldersgate and makes his way, above ground, to Farringdon Street. On the way he assumes the beard and widens out the brim of his hat—in fine, the clerk described him correctly—beard, coat-collar turned up, dry umbrella. So he entered the train—the carriage—the place where it was done.”

Here Mr. Merlin came to a full stop.

“Go on,” said the doctor, in a low voice. His interest, reawakened, was now doubly intense.

“He left the carriage at Gower Street,” continued the narrator after a long pause, “and mingling with the crowd that hurried to the gates slipped off his beard. He dropped his ticket from Farringdon Street almost at the feet of the ticket-collector, who, he was sure, would afterwards pick it up under the impression that he had dropped it himself. Then he stole out of the crowd and re-entered the train three compartments away from the one he had left. In a few moments he was a different man. He had burnt the hair of the beard, twisted up the wire and

  ― 194 ―
thrown it out of the window, turned up the brim of his hat, turned down the collar of his coat, and put on a silk muffler. Moreover, he had taken a bottle of water from his pocket, with which, leaning out of the window, he had saturated his umbrella. Oh! he was another man altogether, and a passenger from Baker Street to Notting Hill Gate. And three compartments from him was discovered a suicide, with bloody knife still in his hand.”

Dr. Ford stared at his visitor in amazement. He could not see his face, however, for the lamp was shaded and his hand was against his cheek. Was he mad? And a murderer, too? Or a victim to terrible but absurd fancies?

“And why did he do it?” asked the doctor, throwing a soothing scepticism into his voice.

Merlin's right hand slowly sank from his cheek to the table, and rested on an ivory paper-knife. At that moment his dark face was illumined by the glare from a fresh coal on the fire, which suddenly became ablaze. Seeing that face, the doctor shuddered. Its sharp lines were drawn and twisted into hideous shape by the demons within the man. Terror, hatred, and craft were all written there in intertwisted contorted characters, and the hot, sullen eyes, shifting and reasonless, glowed like fire from within dark caverns.

“The motive?” said the madman, jerking the words out, and fidgeting in his chair, while the doctor watched him, calmly but vigilantly. “A new motive! Conceit—sublime or damnable, which

  ― 195 ―
you will—but conceit. The papers, the public, and the police had said often that it could not be done; at least, not without detection. I—the bearded man, I mean—he proved that it could, and proved a great truth. Well!” he continued, after a moment's pause, his voice rising sharply and harshly, “is not that sufficient? Had you been in the carriage instead of Cowen, you would have died as he did. Why do you look at me like that? Isn't it enough that dead eyes follow me? He tries to speak—you don't. His lips move, but the blood floods his throat, and he can only gasp. Hark! can you hear it? Curses on you, sir! Speak, I say!”

Merlin rose to his feet. His thin sinewy right hand grasped the paper-knife. His eyes burned with revengeful murderous fury like those of a wild cat. The scalp and ears seemed to retreat, as might an infuriated monkey's, leaving the face more sharply prominent than before. It was almost incredible, it struck Dr. Ford—despite the critical character of the situation—that even the hell of madness could transform so handsome a man into such incarnate ugliness.

The doctor rose also, gazing firmly upon the face of his dangerous visitor.

“You have no occasion to be either annoyed or alarmed, Mr. Merlin,” he said, quietly.

“The story's not quite finished,” yelled the madman, whose eyes were fixed upon the other's breast. “You will have the rest! You shall! I struck Cowen thus!”

  ― 196 ―

There was a blow struck like lightning; but the thin brittle ivory broke harmlessly against Dr. Ford's broad chest. The doctor's strength was proverbial among his male friends. He was set up and framed like a gladiator, and gifted with extraordinary muscular development. Merlin, on the contrary, was thin and wasted; but the imps which fed on his reason combined to strengthen the madman's sinews. The struggle, then, might have been long and severe, but that assistance quickly came and Merlin was secured.

Then, shrieking and foaming, he was carried away.

However strange it may appear, it is nevertheless a fact that the police stoutly refused to accept as truth the confession made by Merlin to Dr. Ford. They maintained that it was purely a lively invention of the madman's, and, as no positive proof could be adduced to support the story, their sceptical position was really unassailable. Mrs. Cowen believed it, however, for some months later she became Mrs. Ford.

It is said that the doctor's reply to the unbelieving police was this: “The motive for the murder, and your motive for refusing to accept the confession, are identical.”

Of the truth of the whole story I can vouch. I had it from the maniac himself.

no next