R. Austin Freeman.

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"That is an encouraging start," Thorndyke remarked. "It leaves me
unembarrassed by the possibility of failure. But meanwhile you are
arousing in me a devouring curiosity as to the nature of the case. Is it
highly confidential? Because if not, I would mention that Jervis has now
joined me as my permanent colleague."

"It isn't confidential at all," said Marchmont. "The public are in full
possession of the facts, and we should be only too happy to put them in
still fuller possession, through the medium of the Probate Court, if we
could find a reasonable pretext. But we can't."

Here the waiter charged our table with the fussy rapidity of the

"Sorry to keep you waiting, sir. Rather early, sir. Wouldn't like it
underdone, sir."

Marchmont inspected his plate critically and remarked:

"I sometimes suspect these oysters of being mussels; and I'll swear the
larks are sparrows."

"Let us hope so," said Thorndyke. "The lark is better employed 'at
Heaven's gate singing' than garnishing a beef-steak pudding. But you
were telling us about your case."

"So I was. Well it's just a matter of - ale or claret? Oh, claret, I
know. You despise the good old British John Barleycorn."

"He that drinks beer thinks beer," retorted Thorndyke. "But you were
saying that it is just a matter of - ?"

"A matter of a perverse testator and an ill-drawn will. A peculiarly
irritating case, too, because the defective will replaces a perfectly
sound one, and the intentions of the testator were - er - were - excellent
ale, this. A little heady, perhaps, but sound. Better than your sour
French wine, Thorndyke - were - er - were quite obvious. What he evidently
desired was - mustard? Better have some mustard. No? Well, well! Even a
Frenchman would take mustard. You can have no appreciation of flavour,
Thorndyke, if you take your victuals in that crude, unseasoned state.
And, talking of flavour, do you suppose that there is really any
difference between that of a lark and that of a sparrow?"

Thorndyke smiled grimly. "I should suppose," said he, "that they were
indistinguishable; but the question could easily be put to the test of

"That is true," agreed Marchmont, "and it would really be worth trying,
for, as you say, sparrows are more easily obtainable than larks. But,
about this will. I was saying - er - now, what was I saying?"

"I understood you to say," replied Thorndyke, "that the intentions of
the testator were in some way connected with mustard. Isn't that so,

"That was what I gathered," said I.

Marchmont gazed at us for a moment with a surprised expression and then,
laughing good-humouredly, fortified himself with a draught of ale.

"The moral of which is," Thorndyke added, "that testamentary
dispositions should not be mixed up with beef-steak pudding."

"I believe you're right, Thorndyke," said the unabashed solicitor.
"Business is business and eating is eating. We had better talk over our
case in my office or your chambers after lunch."

"Yes," said Thorndyke, "come over to the Temple with me and I will give
you a cup of coffee to clear your brain. Are there any documents?"

"I have all the papers here in my bag," replied Marchmont; and the
conversation - such conversation as is possible "when beards wag all"
over the festive board - drifted into other channels.

As soon as the meal was finished and the reckoning paid, we trooped out
of Wine Office Court, and, insinuating ourselves through the line of
empty hansoms that, in those days, crawled in a continuous procession
on either side of Fleet Street, betook ourselves by way of Mitre Court
to King's Bench Walk. There, when the coffee had been requisitioned and
our chairs drawn up around the fire, Mr. Marchmont unloaded from his bag
a portentous bundle of papers, and we addressed ourselves to the
business in hand.

"Now," said Marchmont, "let me repeat what I said before. Legally
speaking, we have no case - not the ghost of one. But my client wished to
take your opinion, and I agreed on the bare chance that you might detect
some point that we had overlooked. I don't think you will, for we have
gone into the case very thoroughly, but still, there is the
infinitesimal chance and we may as well take it. Would you like to read
the two wills, or shall I first explain the circumstances?"

"I think," replied Thorndyke, "a narrative of the events in the order of
their occurrence would be most helpful. I should like to know as much as
possible about the testator before I examine the documents."

"Very well," said Marchmont. "Then I will begin with a recital of the
circumstances, which, briefly stated, are these: My client, Stephen
Blackmore, is the son of Mr. Edward Blackmore, deceased. Edward
Blackmore had two brothers who survived him, John, the elder, and
Jeffrey, the younger. Jeffrey is the testator in this case.

"Some two years ago, Jeffrey Blackmore executed a will by which he made
his nephew Stephen his executor and sole legatee; and a few months later
he added a codicil giving two hundred and fifty pounds to his brother

"What was the value of the estate?" Thorndyke asked.

"About three thousand five hundred pounds, all invested in Consols. The
testator had a pension from the Foreign Office, on which he lived,
leaving his capital untouched. Soon after having made his will, he left
the rooms in Jermyn Street, where he had lived for some years, stored
his furniture and went to Florence. From thence he moved on to Rome and
then to Venice and other places in Italy, and so continued to travel
about until the end of last September, when it appears that he returned
to England, for at the beginning of October he took a set of chambers in
New Inn, which he furnished with some of the things from his old rooms.
As far as we can make out, he never communicated with any of his
friends, excepting his brother, and the fact of his being in residence
at New Inn or of his being in England at all became known to them only
when he died."

"Was this quite in accordance with his ordinary habits?" Thorndyke

"I should say not quite," Blackmore answered. "My uncle was a studious,
solitary man, but he was not formerly a recluse. He was not much of a
correspondent but he kept up some sort of communication with his
friends. He used, for instance, to write to me sometimes, and, when I
came down from Cambridge for the vacations, he had me to stay with him
at his rooms."

"Is there anything known that accounts for the change in his habits?"

"Yes, there is," replied Marchmont. "We shall come to that presently. To
proceed with the narrative: On the fifteenth of last March he was found
dead in his chambers, and a more recent will was then discovered, dated
the twelfth of November of last year. Now no change had taken place in
the circumstances of the testator to account for the new will, nor was
there any appreciable alteration in the disposition of the property. As
far as we can make out, the new will was drawn with the idea of stating
the intentions of the testator with greater exactness and for the sake
of doing away with the codicil. The entire property, with the exception
of two hundred and fifty pounds, was, as before, bequeathed to Stephen,
but the separate items were specified, and the testator's brother, John
Blackmore, was named as the executor and residuary legatee."

"I see," said Thorndyke. "So that your client's interest in the will
would appear to be practically unaffected by the change."

"Yes. There it is," exclaimed the lawyer, slapping the table to add
emphasis to his words. "That is the pity of it! If people who have no
knowledge of law would only refrain from tinkering at their wills, what
a world of trouble would be saved!"

"Oh, come!" said Thorndyke. "It is not for a lawyer to say that."

"No, I suppose not," Marchmont agreed. "Only, you see, we like the
muddle to be made by the other side. But, in this case, the muddle is on
our side. The change, as you say, seems to leave our friend Stephen's
interests unaffected. That is, of course, what poor Jeffrey Blackmore
thought. But he was mistaken. The effect of the change is absolutely


"Yes. As I have said, no alteration in the testator's circumstances had
taken place at the time the new will was executed. But only two days
before his death, his sister, Mrs. Edmund Wilson, died; and on her will
being proved it appeared that she had bequeathed to him her entire
personalty, estimated at about thirty thousand pounds."

"Heigho!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "What an unfortunate affair!"

"You are right," said Mr. Marchmont; "it was a disaster. By the original
will this great sum would have accrued to our friend Mr. Stephen,
whereas now, of course, it goes to the residuary legatee, Mr. John
Blackmore. And what makes it even more exasperating is the fact that
this is obviously not in accordance with the wishes and intentions of
Mr. Jeffrey, who clearly desired his nephew to inherit his property."

"Yes," said Thorndyke; "I think you are justified in assuming that. But
do you know whether Mr. Jeffrey was aware of his sister's intentions?"

"We think not. Her will was executed as recently as the third of
September last, and it seems that there had been no communication
between her and Mr. Jeffrey since that date. Besides, if you consider
Mr. Jeffrey's actions, you will see that they suggest no knowledge or
expectation of this very important bequest. A man does not make
elaborate dispositions in regard to three thousand pounds and then leave
a sum of thirty thousand to be disposed of casually as the residue of
the estate."

"No," Thorndyke agreed. "And, as you have said, the manifest intention
of the testator was to leave the bulk of his property to Mr. Stephen. So
we may take it as virtually certain that Mr. Jeffrey had no knowledge of
the fact that he was a beneficiary under his sister's will."

"Yes," said Mr. Marchmont, "I think we may take that as nearly certain."

"With reference to the second will," said Thorndyke, "I suppose there is
no need to ask whether the document itself has been examined; I mean as
to its being a genuine document and perfectly regular?"

Mr. Marchmont shook his head sadly.

"No," he said, "I am sorry to say that there can be no possible doubt as
to the authenticity and regularity of the document. The circumstances
under which it was executed establish its genuineness beyond any

"What were those circumstances?" Thorndyke asked.

"They were these: On the morning of the twelfth of November last, Mr.
Jeffrey came to the porter's lodge with a document in his hand. 'This,'
he said, 'is my will. I want you to witness my signature. Would you mind
doing so, and can you find another respectable person to act as the
second witness?' Now it happened that a nephew of the porter's, a
painter by trade, was at work in the Inn. The porter went out and
fetched him into the lodge and the two men agreed to witness the
signature. 'You had better read the will,' said Mr. Jeffrey. 'It is not
actually necessary, but it is an additional safeguard and there is
nothing of a private nature in the document.' The two men accordingly
read the document, and, when Mr. Jeffrey had signed it in their
presence, they affixed their signatures; and I may add that the painter
left the recognizable impressions of three greasy fingers."

"And these witnesses have been examined?"

"Yes. They have both sworn to the document and to their own signatures,
and the painter recognized his finger-marks."

"That," said Thorndyke, "seems to dispose pretty effectually of any
question as to the genuineness of the will; and if, as I gather, Mr.
Jeffrey came to the lodge alone, the question of undue influence is
disposed of too."

"Yes," said Mr. Marchmont. "I think we must pass the will as absolutely

"It strikes me as rather odd," said Thorndyke, "that Jeffrey should have
known so little about his sister's intentions. Can you explain it, Mr.

"I don't think that it is very remarkable," Stephen replied. "I knew
very little of my aunt's affairs and I don't think my uncle Jeffrey knew
much more, for he was under the impression that she had only a life
interest in her husband's property. And he may have been right. It is
not clear what money this was that she left to my uncle. She was a very
taciturn woman and made few confidences to anyone."

"So that it is possible," said Thorndyke, "that she, herself, may have
acquired this money recently by some bequest?"

"It is quite possible," Stephen answered.

"She died, I understand," said Thorndyke, glancing at the notes that he
had jotted down, "two days before Mr. Jeffrey. What date would that be?"

"Jeffrey died on the fourteenth of March," said Marchmont.

"So that Mrs. Wilson died on the twelfth of March?"

"That is so," Marchmont replied; and Thorndyke then asked:

"Did she die suddenly?"

"No," replied Stephen; "she died of cancer. I understand that it was
cancer of the stomach."

"Do you happen to know," Thorndyke asked, "what sort of relations
existed between Jeffrey and his brother John?"

"At one time," said Stephen, "I know they were not very cordial; but the
breach may have been made up later, though I don't know that it actually

"I ask the question," said Thorndyke, "because, as I dare say you have
noticed, there is, in the first will, some hint of improved relations.
As it was originally drawn that will makes Mr. Stephen the sole legatee.
Then, a little later, a codicil is added in favour of John, showing that
Jeffrey had felt the necessity of making some recognition of his
brother. This seems to point to some change in the relations, and the
question arises: if such a change did actually occur, was it the
beginning of a new and further improving state of feeling between the
two brothers? Have you any facts bearing on that question?"

Marchmont pursed up his lips with the air of a man considering an
unwelcome suggestion, and, after a few moments of reflection, answered:

"I think we must say 'yes' to that. There is the undeniable fact that,
of all Jeffrey's friends, John Blackmore was the only one who knew that
he was living in New Inn."

"Oh, John knew that, did he?"

"Yes, he certainly did; for it came out in the evidence that he had
called on Jeffrey at his chambers more than once. There is no denying
that. But, mark you!" Mr. Marchmont added emphatically, "that does not
cover the inconsistency of the will. There is nothing in the second will
to suggest that Jeffrey intended materially to increase the bequest to
his brother."

"I quite agree with you, Marchmont. I think that is a perfectly sound
position. You have, I suppose, fully considered the question as to
whether it would be possible to set aside the second will on the ground
that it fails to carry out the evident wishes and intentions of the

"Yes. My partner, Winwood, and I went into that question very carefully,
and we also took counsel's opinion - Sir Horace Barnaby - and he was of
the same opinion as ourselves; that the court would certainly uphold the

"I think that would be my own view," said Thorndyke, "especially after
what you have told me. Do I understand that John Blackmore was the only
person who knew that Jeffrey was in residence at New Inn?"

"The only one of his private friends. His bankers knew and so did the
officials from whom he drew his pension."

"Of course he would have to notify his bankers of his change of

"Yes, of course. And à propos of the bank, I may mention that the
manager tells me that, of late, they had noticed a slight change in the
character of Jeffrey's signature - I think you will see the reason of the
change when you hear the rest of his story. It was very trifling; not
more than commonly occurs when a man begins to grow old, especially if
there is some failure of eyesight."

"Was Mr. Jeffrey's eyesight failing?" asked Thorndyke.

"Yes, it was, undoubtedly," said Stephen. "He was practically blind in
one eye and, in the very last letter that I ever had from him, he
mentioned that there were signs of commencing cataract in the other."

"You spoke of his pension. He continued to draw that regularly?"

"Yes; he drew his allowance every month, or rather, his bankers drew it
for him. They had been accustomed to do so when he was abroad, and the
authorities seem to have allowed the practice to continue."

Thorndyke reflected a while, running his eye over the notes on the slips
of paper in his hand, and Marchmont surveyed him with a malicious smile.
Presently the latter remarked:

"Methinks the learned counsel is floored."

Thorndyke laughed. "It seems to me," he retorted, "that your proceedings
are rather like those of the amiable individual who offered the bear a
flint pebble, that he might crack it and extract the kernel. Your
confounded will seems to offer no soft spot on which one could commence
an attack. But we won't give up. We seem to have sucked the will dry.
Let us now have a few facts respecting the parties concerned in it; and,
as Jeffrey is the central figure, let us begin with him and the tragedy
at New Inn that formed the starting-point of all this trouble."

Chapter VI

Jeffrey Blackmore, Deceased

Having made the above proposition, Thorndyke placed a fresh slip of
paper on the blotting pad on his knee and looked inquiringly at Mr.
Marchmont; who, in his turn, sighed and looked at the bundle of
documents on the table.

"What do you want to know?" he asked a little wearily.

"Everything," replied Thorndyke. "You have hinted at circumstances that
would account for a change in Jeffrey's habits and that would explain an
alteration in the character of his signature. Let us have those
circumstances. And, if I might venture on a suggestion, it would be that
we take the events in the order in which they occurred or in which they
became known."

"That's the worst of you, Thorndyke," Marchmont grumbled. "When a case
has been squeezed out to the last drop, in a legal sense, you want to
begin all over again with the family history of every one concerned and
a list of his effects and household furniture. But I suppose you will
have to be humoured; and I imagine that the best way in which to give
you the information you want will be to recite the circumstances
surrounding the death of Jeffrey Blackmore. Will that suit you?"

"Perfectly," replied Thorndyke; and thereupon Marchmont began:

"The death of Jeffrey Blackmore was discovered at about eleven o'clock
in the morning of the fifteenth of March. It seems that a builder's man
was ascending a ladder to examine a gutter on number 31, New Inn, when,
on passing a second-floor window that was open at the top, he looked in
and perceived a gentleman lying on a bed. The gentleman was fully
clothed and had apparently lain down on the bed to rest; at least so the
builder thought at the time, for he was merely passing the window on
his way up, and, very properly, did not make a minute examination. But
when, some ten minutes later, he came down and saw that the gentleman
was still in the same position, he looked at him more attentively; and
this is what he noticed - but perhaps we had better have it in his own
words as he told the story at the inquest.

"'When I came to look at the gentleman a bit more closely, it struck me
that he looked rather queer. His face looked very white, or rather pale
yellow, like parchment, and his mouth was open. He did not seem to be
breathing. On the bed by his side was a brass object of some kind - I
could not make out what it was - and he seemed to be holding some small
metal object in his hand. I thought it rather a queer affair, so, when I
came down I went across to the lodge and told the porter about it. The
porter came out across the square with me and I showed him the window.
Then he told me to go up the stairs to Mr. Blackmore's chambers on the
second pair and knock and keep on knocking until I got an answer. I went
up and knocked and kept on knocking as loud as I could, but, though I
fetched everybody out of all the other chambers in the house, I couldn't
get any answer from Mr. Blackmore. So I went downstairs again and then
Mr. Walker, the porter, sent me for a policeman.

"'I went out and met a policeman just by Dane's Inn and told him about
the affair, and he came back with me. He and the porter consulted
together, and then they told me to go up the ladder and get in at the
window and open the door of the chambers from the inside. So I went up;
and as soon as I got in at the window I saw that the gentleman was dead.
I went through the other room and opened the outer door and let in the
porter and the policeman.'

"That," said Mr. Marchmont, laying down the paper containing the
depositions, "is the way in which poor Jeffrey Blackmore's death came to
be discovered.

"The constable reported to his inspector and the inspector sent for the
divisional surgeon, whom he accompanied to New Inn. I need not go into
the evidence given by the police officers, as the surgeon saw all that
they saw and his statement covers everything that is known about
Jeffrey's death. This is what he says, after describing how he was sent
for and arrived at the Inn:

"'In the bedroom I found the body of a man between fifty and sixty years
of age, which has since been identified in my presence as that of Mr.
Jeffrey Blackmore. It was fully dressed and wore boots on which was a
moderate amount of dry mud. It was lying on its back on the bed, which
did not appear to have been slept in, and showed no sign of any struggle
or disturbance. The right hand loosely grasped a hypodermic syringe
containing a few drops of clear liquid which I have since analysed and
found to be a concentrated solution of strophanthin.

"'On the bed, close to the left side of the body, was a brass opium-pipe
of a pattern which I believe is made in China. The bowl of the pipe
contained a small quantity of charcoal, and a fragment of opium
together with some ash, and there was on the bed a little ash which
appeared to have dropped from the bowl when the pipe fell or was laid
down. On the mantelshelf in the bedroom I found a small glass-stoppered
jar containing about an ounce of solid opium, and another, larger jar
containing wood charcoal broken up into small fragments. Also a bowl
containing a quantity of ash with fragments of half-burned charcoal and
a few minute particles of charred opium. By the side of the bowl were a
knife, a kind of awl or pricker and a very small pair of tongs, which I
believe to have been used for carrying a piece of lighted charcoal to
the pipe.

"'On the dressing-table were two glass tubes labelled "Hypodermic
Tabloids: Strophanthin 1/500 grain," and a minute glass mortar and
pestle, of which the former contained a few crystals which have since
been analysed by me and found to be strophanthin.

"'On examining the body, I found that it had been dead about twelve
hours. There were no marks of violence or any abnormal condition
excepting a single puncture in the right thigh, apparently made by the
needle of the hypodermic syringe. The puncture was deep and vertical in
direction as if the needle had been driven in through the clothing.

"'I made a post-mortem examination of the body and found that death was
due to poisoning by strophanthin, which appeared to have been injected
into the thigh. The two tubes which I found on the dressing-table would
each have contained, if full, twenty tabloids, each tabloid
representing one five-hundredth of a grain of strophanthin. Assuming
that the whole of this quantity was injected the amount taken would be
forty five-hundredths, or about one twelfth of a grain. The ordinary
medicinal dose of strophanthin is one five-hundredth of a grain.

"'I also found in the body appreciable traces of morphine - the principal
alkaloid of opium - from which I infer that the deceased was a confirmed
opium-smoker. This inference was supported by the general condition of
the body, which was ill-nourished and emaciated and presented all the
appearances usually met with in the bodies of persons addicted to the
habitual use of opium.'

"That is the evidence of the surgeon. He was recalled later, as we shall
see, but, meanwhile, I think you will agree with me that the facts
testified to by him fully account, not only for the change in Jeffrey's
habits - his solitary and secretive mode of life - but also for the
alteration in his handwriting."

"Yes," agreed Thorndyke, "that seems to be so. By the way, what did the

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Online LibraryR. Austin FreemanThe Mystery of 31 New Inn → online text (page 6 of 18)