Herman Ludolphus Prior.

Six months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) online

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to indicate that he had been there, or what had since
become of him. The drawing-room, is at some dis-
tance from this temporary nursery, but the passage
between them is well lighted, and the child was
constantly in the habit of running from one room to
the other.

"Altogether the occurrence is a complete puzzle.
In addition to the most minute further scrutiny
indoors, the police, on receiving information next
day, examined in detail the whole of the grounds,


as well as the great portion of East Cliff, on which
the Villa is situated ; but, as was to be expected,
without results of any kind. Had it been possible
for the boy to have quitted the house, it is of course
intelligible that he might have fallen into some drift
or hollow, and that, when the snow melts, some
painful tragedy may still have to be revealed. But,
for the reasons above stated, any supposition of the
kind seems untenable. Whatever the mystery is, it
is one which lies wholly within doors. It is hardly
necessary for us to express our sincere commiseration
for the family who have experienced such an addition
to their recent heavy loss."

Thus far the " Gazette."

Our next intelligence was from the "Times"
again, in the copy which reached Dalemain the day
following. It was short enough; not quoted, as
before, from the county paper, but in the journal's
own words.

We regret to learn that no trace of the missing child
has yet been discovered. The details given by the
local press make it impossible that the loss can have
been accidental. At the same time, it is very diffi-


cult to understand how any one could have entered
or left the premises undetected ; or what motive
there could have been for carrying off a child under
circumstances of such unusual difficulty. The most
searching scrutiny is obviously required into the
whole matter."

Two days later, the " Times " was followed by the
" Sussex Express " again. After giving the particulars
to the same effect as its competitor, this journal
proceeded :

" The inquiries set afoot are still, we lament to say,
unsuccessful. The rapid thaw which set in here
last night has allowed of a more complete and effec-
tual search than before ; and we believe we may say
that every inch of ground in the town and neigh-
bourhood to which the little boy could possibly have
strayed has now been explored. So that any sur-
mise of that kind, if it could ever have been enter-
tained, must now be dismissed.

" On the other hand, no clue whatever has been
obtained as to the parties who may have been con-
cerned in the abstraction, if such it was, or their pos-
sible object. The servants at Harcourt Villa have
been repeatedly and strictly questioned, but they all


concur in the same account. The Villa, they state,
was secured in the usual way at dusk, and was so
found when the child was discovered to be missing,
and no stranger of any kind was in the house, or,
to their knowledge, about the grounds during the
whole day. In fact, owing to the violence of the
storm, very few, even of the ordinary tradespeople,
had called that day. We should add that, on the loss
becoming known to the police, they carefully searched
for footprints outside the house ; but the deep snow
which fell throughout the night must have obliterated
every trace of the kind as soon as made.

" In concluding, it becomes our duty to advert
to the painful, and we may add, highly improper
surmises which, during the last day or two have been
mooted in some quarters in reference to this matter,
but which we certainly do not intend to particularize.
Such suggestions are no less wicked than absurd,
and we only give them this degree of prominence in
consequence of the currency which they have obtained,
and in order to express our sympathy with the highly
respectable family whose domestic circumstances have
thus needlessly been made the subject of public


Twenty-four hours more elapsed. And then, the
post came again, and the " Times " Avith it. This
time with news sufficiently startling.

There were two paragraphs headed " HASTINGS,"
in the day's impression. The first consisted of two
lines only, merely stating that nothing had yet been
discovered. The second was contained in a portion
of the leading journal reserved for intelligence re-
ceived on the eve of publication. As before, it con-
tained an extract from one of the local papers : the
" Sussex Express " again : a supplement, printed off
hurriedly at a later hour on the day of the issue from
which the paragraph last quoted was taken, and for-
warded to the " Times " office by special despatch.
The extract ran as follows :

" Since our going to press this morning, a dis-
covery has been made of a most painful and exciting
character. The body of the missing child, Frederick
Poynder, has been found under circumstances which
add greatly to the mystery in which the whole matter
is involved.

"It seems that, owing probably to the severity of
the late frost, followed by the rapid thaw we have
experienced, and the loosening and melting of large


masses of snow in consequence, a kind -of landslip
took place yesterday on the side of the ' Castle
Hill ' opposite to the town. The place where it
occurred will be familiar to some of our readers, as
it was in a sand-pit, or quarry, a short distance from
the Ore lane, which forms a favourite walk for visitors.
The pit is now disused, but is conspicuously seen from
the road. The landslip which thus took place was of
considerable extent, and, in fact, carried away nearly
the entire front of the quarry ; the latter having been
cut, as is the usual practice, in a smooth scarp on
the side of the hill. Some portion of the field above
was also included in the subsidence. Beyond this
there was nothing to call for special notice in the
occurrence itself.

"At an early hour this morning, however, the
attention of some labourers passing along the road
was attracted by the violent barking of a dog in the
quarry. There was no one there at the time, and
nothing perceptible to account for the animal's
excitement, which was of the most unusual kind,
and which finally induced the labourers to enter the
sand-pit. They then found, that since the larger
landslip of the day before, a small additional fall had

VOL. i. 19


taken place, probably during the night ; leaving
exposed, behind the debris thus formed, what seemed
like the commencement of an artificial opening, or
vault. The men made their way into this with some
little difficulty; and then at once surmised, as the
fact was, that they had entered a passage commu-
nicating with the Castle Hill " cavern," probably
well known to our readers, but the regular entrance
to which is on the town side. They now sent for a
light, with the object of making their way through to
the reverse side of the hill ; but before this could be
brought, the discovery to which we have referred had
been already made. Upon an opening being effected,
the dog ran forward into the vault or passage within,
and there remained, still barking violently. When
the labourers had made sufficient headway to follow
him, and had recovered from their first surprise, they
ascertained the cause of this. The animal had
stopped a few yards within the vault ; and here, to
their horror, the men found lying a human body
which, from the description, there can be no doubt
is that of the missing child. It was quite stiff and
cold ; in fact, some days had evidently passed since
life was instinct ; although the extreme cold of the


last week, coupled with the dryness of the atmosphere
in these sandstone excavations, had arrested ihw pro-
cess of decomposition. The body was lying on the
floor of the place, and seemed to have been placed
there with the utmost care, and even reverence. It
was dressed in an ordinary child's frock and other
clothing : probably what the little boy had worn
when taken from his home. The frock was neatly
smoothed out and arranged, and the hands crossed
over the breast ; a support having been contrived for
the head on a kind of low ledge which runs round
one side of the vault.

" Information of this discovery was at once given
to the police, and the body removed to the mother's
residence, where an inquest will be held forthwith.
At present, the whole matter is inscrutable. The
proprietor of the caverns alleges his absolute ignor-
ance, which there seems no reason to doubt, either
of the body being where it was found, or of any mode
in which it could have been conveyed there. The
sole entrance to these subterranean chambers is that
in the West Hill, adjoining the proprietor's own
residence ; and they are never opened excepting for
the " illuminations," when the public are admitted


on making a trifling payment. The last time how-
ever that the place was thus illuminated was on New
Year's Eve, when the poor little fellow was safe in
his own home. And scarcely less difficult is it to
understand the motive for this act of violence, as the
post-mortem examination will doubtless show it to
be. That it could not have been cupidity is certain ;
obviously there was nothing to tempt it under the
circumstances. "We shall watch with the utmost
anxiety for the progress of inquiry in this matter.
The excitement and painful feeling in the town are
intense ; being increased, if possible, by the singular
mode in which the discovery has been effected. The
place where the body was deposited was at the
extreme end of the Castle Hill caverns ; in a vault
detached from the main excavation, and forming one
of a series which it was not the practice to illuminate
with the rest ; partly, no doubt, to save expense, and
also from some idea which seems to have prevailed of
the superstructure there being as unsafe as it has
now proved itself to be. So little visited, indeed,
was this portion of the caverns, that the proprietor,
Mr. Jameson, states that he cannot remember to
have been there more than once during nearly forty


years which he has been in occupation ; and, even then,
he recollects losing his way. Of course, since the
fatal discovery now made, these portions of the
excavation have been thoroughly searched with the
rest, but nothing has been found to throw any light
upon the tragedy. As regards the perpetrator, his
object in selecting this spot. was of course clear. Its
distance from the main body of the caverns, as well
as its unfrequented character, which he may have
known previously, or would readily have surmised,
clearly pointed it out as the locality where his
crime might remain for the longest period unde-
tected. And he was not aware that, in penetrating
thus far, he had in fact passed completely under
the Castle Hill, and reached within a few yards of
the surface on its reverse, or west, face ; a cir-
cumstance which, coupled with the landslip above
described, has alone led to the discovery of the
body. But for this, it might have lain there for

" We should add that, besides searching the
caverns, the police commenced the removal of the
mass of earth deposited by the landslip, and which
now blocks up one side of the vault in which the


body was found. It was palpable, however, after
proceeding for a short distance, that no further dis-
covery was to be made in this direction ; and as the
soil overhead is still in a dangerous state, the work
has been discontinued, the opening to the sand-pit
being closed by a hoarding of rough boards.

" P.S. Since the above was in type, we have been
informed in a reliable quarter that a small trinket
usually worn by the deceased child, and which he is
known to have had with him on the evening of his
disappearance, is now missing from the body. This
ornament was a small cross, wrought in Berlin steel,
which the boy's father, Mr. Poynder, had for several
years worn in memory of a deceased relative, by
whom it was presented to him. During Mr. Poynder's
last illness, he desired that this should be given to
the child who has now met with so tragical an end,
to be worn by him as it had been by himself ; and
this was accordingly done, the trinket being suspended
by a black ribbon round the boy's neck, and carried
by him under his dress. This cross and ribbon have
been abstracted ; and the labourers who made the
discovery are unanimous in stating that there was
nothing of the kind on the body when they first found


it ; a statement which there seems no reason to doubt.
The ornament above described was too trifling in
value, and too unattractive in every way, to tempt
their cupidity, or, in fact, that of any other person.
So that, although it may possibly give some eventual
clue to the perpetrator of the crime, it leaves its
motive still wholly unexplained."



I MUST condense in the concluding chapter of this
volume the newspaper accounts of the inquest, which
was held on the evening of the day when poor
Frederick's body was discovered. In the interval,
the body had been examined by Mr. Sims, whom
I have mentioned as the medical attendant at
Harcourt Villa. The results of this examination
formed the first evidence taken by the coroner,
after the preliminary inquiries had been disposed
of, and were listened to with breathless interest
by every one in the room. Divested of technical
details, they ran as follows.

On removing the child's clothes, Mr. Sims
stated, the cause of death had become at once
apparent. The heart had been pierced, probably
with a fine lancet, or some other delicate instru-
ment, as the wound, although clearly visible, was
of the slightest possible description. In fact,


Mr. Sims added, if the perpetrator was not a pro-
fessional man, he must have been well acquainted
with anatomy ; the instrument having heen inserted,
not only in the direction in which it would be
certainly fatal, but with exactly such an amount of
force, and no more, as would suffice to cause death,
without further lacerating the parts. The precision
and skill employed were, in short, those of a
scientific operator. The blood, too, had been care-
fully staunched as it flowed, and no traces of it
appeared, either on the child's frock, or round the
trifling incision still visible on the surface of the
skin. Altogether, the murder must have been com-
mitted by some person acting with entire delibera-
tion and coolness, and with ample time at his
disposal. And the degree of skill and knowledge
the subject involved rendered the motive for the com-
mission of such a crime more than ever inscrutable.

Who then was this person ? This was of course
the next inquiry after the medical evidence was com-

The person ? Or, was not the crime one in which
more than one must have been implicated ?

The presumptions in favour of this seemed over-


powering. How could one person, unaided, have got
the child, living or dead, out of the house, and
through the town, effected an entrance into the
" caverns," then disposed of the body in a spot care-
fully and elaborately selected, and then retreated,
without alarm or observation of any kind ? But, on
the other hand, admitting, as the fact proved, that
one person could be found capable of committing a
crime at once so atrocious and so objectless, where
was the likelihood that two would concur in it ?
Difficult of solution this question.

And still more difficult, whether this would be
settled in favour of one or more than one, to form
any guess as to who he or they were. The local
paper had stated quite correctly, that on the day
when the child was missing, and presumably, there-
fore, on the day when he met with his violent end,
no stranger had been seen anywhere about Harcourt
Villa. As there stated, the snow-storm had been so
severe, that very few persons had been to the Villa at
all that day ; most certainly, no one to excite suspicion
of any kind.

One witness only, an under housemaid, on being
closely questioned by the coroner, mentioned a cir-


" Were that you ? " she ^ for a moment's specu-

" ^W the deartn of anything like real evidence.

this, when sifted, was little enough ; apparently,
a mere mistake.

It appeared that, about five o'clock on the after-
noon of the day in question, just as it began to draw
towards dusk, the girl had slipped round to a side-
door of the Villa, to meet "a friend of hers ; "
"the grocer's young man," it soon transpired, who
had come upon an errand from the town. The door
was not the servants' entrance, but one leading into
the garden near the ground-floor rooms lately occupied
by the deceased Mr. Armitage, and which was always
kept locked ; the key, however, hanging up inside in
the passage near it. Of course, the " grocer's young
man " had no business there, nor the girl either ;
and as the rules and constitutions of Harcourt Villa
were peremptory against " followers," her previous
reticence on the subject was easily accounted for.

If, however, the meeting itself was contra bonos
mores, the love-making at it seemed to have been
innocent enough ; rather edifying in fact. Besides
the sugars and salt butter, the " friend " had an ulte-
rior mission. He was a preacher : a preacher on

300 ' T x MONTHS HENCE."

Sundays at the snug i* person, unaided, have got
erected in the town ; and a preauutx in sti se an( j
out of season, on all days, Sundays or working-uu^ -,
and at all hours and places when he could find any
one to listen to him. Whence it came to pass, that
on this occasion, as the girl said, " he and she had
been talking serious." How far the matters thus
propounded were interpolated with any lighter pas-
sages, the coroner forbore to inquire. It appeared,
however, that they occupied some time ; so much
time, that the young lady, hearing the housekeeper's
bell ring, and having the fear of detection visibly
before her eyes, dispatched her sedate Lothario, then
and there, and shut the door in his face.

As she turned away from it, she heard what
sounded like a groan outside. She had been too
abrupt, then, had she ? It did seem rather hard to
him ; but then the bell had frightened her so. It
hadn't rung again, however, and she felt she would
like to be assured that he " didn't really mind it."
Yielding to which suggestions, the witness stated
that she opened the door again, and called to " Mr.
Rumbold," who was already some distance down the
carriage road, pounding through the deep snow.


" Were that you ? " she asked.

" Were what me ? " was Mr. Kumbold's reply, as
also given in the girl's evidence.

" Why as groaned like that ? "

" I didn't groan, Dinah, nor I didn't hear any
one as did. I don't see though that you need have
gone and pushed me out of the house like that."
And therewith Mr. Rumbold pursued his onward

What resulted was elicited from the witness with
great difficulty. At length, however, it transpired
that, " seeing he was rather put out, and wishing to
part friends, she had gone a few steps down the path,
and called to him again." The lover's heart suc-
cumbed to this second appeal ; and, retracing his
steps, he came up to where the witness stood, and
" shook hands with her," " quite pleasant like." In
which account of this transaction, if Dinah told any-
thing less than the truth and the whole truth, it is to
be hoped the error may have passed under the general
category of human frailties. The coroner, at any
rate, discreetly let that part of the matter alone. But
he pressed the witness closely as to the time which
this shaking hands had occupied. " Was it a


minute ? " Oh ! no ; nothing like a minute. " Was
the witness quite sure ? She must remember this
was a most important matter ; could she state on
oath that it was not a minute ? " Well ; it might
have been a minute perhaps. " No more ? Still, on
oath, no more ? Not two minutes ? "

Thus pressed, the witness admitted two minutes ;
after which, and under the same process, successive
possibilities loomed into sight of three, four, and
even five minutes. But here Dinah took her stand :
that was the outside limit of all things. In fact, it
was enough for the inquiry.

"All this time 'then," continued the coroner,

" whatever the time was, you were standing

at some distance from the side-door you have men-
tioned ? "

" No distance, Sir ; only just down the gravel-
walk. At least, it weren't gravel then ; it were deep
in snow, over my ankles."

"Well, some yards off, at any rate. And how
were you standing ; had you your face to the door, or
your back towards it ? "

Witness couldn't say; didn't recollect. Well,
she supposed she was standing the same way she


caine out ; looking down the path. " She didn't see
the door, at any rate."

" And you had left it open ? "

" Yes ; the door was open."

" So that a person from the outside might have
entered the house while you were talking to your
friend ? I mean, the last time ; when you shook
hands with him, as you say ? "

" Oh ! no. Quite impossible ; nobody ever could
have come in : she should never have thought of such
a thing. Why, who was there to come ? "

" But, if there had been any one, and they had
come in, could you have seen them ? "

Oh ! to be sure, yes. Well, not perhaps seen
them, like, just the half-minute she was saying good-
bye to " him " ! But, of course, they couldn't have
come in then. At least, of course they could. But
then, as she had previously observed, there weren't

" Very well. Now, what happened when you had
done shaking hands ? "

Witness had run back to the house directly.,
locked the door, and hung up the key in its usual


"Where was that?"

" Just inside the garden-door. There was a nail
to hang it on, between that and the door of master's

" Oh ! there is another door inside, close to the
garden -door, is there ? "

" Yes, master's room. It isn't used now, since
he died."

" Was the door of that room fastened ? "

Not as witness knew of. No, she knew it was
not fastened. She had gone through it, as it was
shorter, when she went to meet Mr. Eumbold. She
had not gone through it in returning, hut kept along
the passage. If any one had got into the house,
they might have hid there, of course. But oh ! it
weren't likely.

" You saw no other footsteps in the snow when
you were coming back to the garden-door ; none
besides what you had made yourself in going out ? "

Certainly not ; none whatever. Witness had not
seen her own, for that matter. " It was 'most too
dark to see anything."

" Just so."

This last witness was about to leave the room,


but was recalled by the Coroner, who put a few
additional questions. " About this groan, which
you say you heard ; it was not Mr. Kumbold ? "

No, it was not him. Dinah had only thought it
was, in the first instance.

" And why was it not ? "

" Oh ! he was too far down the road. Besides,
I could see when he said so that it was not

" You are certain it was a groan ? might it not
have been the wind, or some other sound ? "

No ; witness was quite sure it was a groan.

" But why ? You see you were mistaken as to
its being Mr. Rumbold ; might you not have been
mistaken as to the sound itself! Was it at all like
any voice you have ever heard ? "

Witness could not say it was. At least, she
thought not. Well, it was very curious. She had
never thought of it before, but now that the gentle-
man asked her about it, it certainly was like some
voice she had heard.

" Whose voice was that ? "

Witness could not possibly say; had no idea

VOL. I. 20


" Was it a man's or a woman's ? "

" Oh ! a man's, of course. At least, it might
have been a woman's too, when you came to think of
it. But it was more like a man's. It was a very
* sad voice.' "

" How do you mean ? Any groan is sad."

"Yes; but I don't know: it was a very p,ad

And this was the ultimatum that could be ex-
tracted from Dinah ; always the same phrase; "A
sad voice ; a very sad voice." The main particulars
of her evidence on other points were afterwards cor-

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Online LibraryHerman Ludolphus PriorSix months hence : being passages from the life of Maria (née) Secretan (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 15)