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ANONYMOUS

THE MOREHAMPTON MYSTERY

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Ex Libris

First published in
Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, 23 January 1909

Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
Manawatu Times, New Zealand, 31 March 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-11-08
Produced by Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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I

RALPH CARTER was a clerk in the employment of the National Prudential Bank. He was thirty years of age, a bachelor, and lived in rooms in Havelock Street, Morehampton. On four days of the week he performed the duties of assistant-cashier at the district head office of the hank at Morehampton. On Mondays and Fridays he had charge at Cronfield of a small sub-branch, which was only open on those days, and which was located in the front sitting-room of a private house.

Cronfield was a busy little market town about ten miles from Morehampton. It was Carter's custom, on Mondays and Fridays, to go down by the train which left Morehampton at half-past nine in the morning, and to return by the train which left Cronfield at 5.40 in the evening. When he returned he had seldom less than fifteen hundred pounds in his hag, and often over two thousand. As a precaution against thieves, he always carried a revolver with him on his journeys to and from the little town.

On the day when this thing happened—a gloomy Friday towards the end of December—he arrived at Cronfield, as usual, at ten minutes to ten in the morning. He was then wearing a long dark overcoat and a bowler hat. In addition to his bag, he carried an umbrella, on the handle of which was a narrow silver band bearing his name and address.

He opened the branch at ten o'clock, and from that hour until four in the afternoon, with an interval for lunch at one, he was more or less busily engaged in paying out and receiving money.

At four he closed, and proceeded to balance his books. At quarter-past five he packed up his bag, donned his hat and overcoat, and started out for the station to catch the 5.40.

On his way to the station he called at a game-dealer's shop and purchased a pair of pheasants, which he had ordered on the previous Monday, and which were intended, he explained, for a present for one of his Morehampton friends. He reached the station just as the train steamed in, and took his seat in a first-class compartment near the middle.

As afterwards transpired, neither the stationmaster nor any of the porters noticed if there was anybody in the compartment when Carter got in, or if anybody got in after him.

The line from Cronfield to Morehampton runs through the famous Morehead tunnel, which is over two miles long, and almost immediately afterwards it is carried over the river More by means of an iron bridge. There are two stations between Cronfield and the tunnel, but the 5.40 does not stop at either of them. There is no station between the tunnel and Morehampton, for the simple reason that Morehampton station is only about three-quarters of a mile from the bridge, which is less than yards from the mouth of the tunnel.

Whilst the train was clattering through the tunnel, one of the first-class passengers, Captain Hardy, fancied he heard a revolver-shot in the next compartment. He mentioned the matter to his wife, who was with him; but she, not having heard anything, pooh-poohed the idea.

A few seconds after emerging from the tunnel the train rattled onto the bridge which crosses the More. At that moment a laborer named Macdougall, who was walking along the riverside, happened to be passing underneath the bridge. It was then quite dark, of course, and a thin drizzle of rain was falling. By the fitful illumination cast by the lights of the train, however, Macdougall dimly but undoubtedly saw a dark and shapeless object shoot over the parapet of the bridge and drop into the river.

Shortly after crossing the bridge the train began to slow down, preparatory to entering Morehampton station. At or about the same time a third-class passenger named Bowman lowered the window of his compartment and put out his head, to see if it had stopped raining. As he did so, he was astounded to see a man open the door of a first-class compartment near the middle of the train, step out on to the footboard, swing himself off, run down the embankment, and disappear into the wood which at this point borders the line.

Mr. Bowman did not see the man sufficiently distinctly to be able to describe him with any approach to minuteness. All he could say was that the man appeared to be of medium height and build, and wore a cap. He thought he had a beard and moustache, and was quite sure he had a bag in his hand when he ran down the embankment.

When the train pulled up in Morehampton station, Mr. Bowman called the guard and told him what he had seen, Meanwhile, however, one of the porters had noticed the open carriage door, and the startled shout of horror which burst from his lips when he glanced into the compartment brought the guard and everybody else in the station, including Captain Hardy and Mr. Bowman, running up in a state of indescribable excitement.

What a scene met their horrified gaze! The interior of the compartment was like a shambles. There was blood on the floor, on the cushions, on the doors, everywhere. One window was cracked, and another had been pierced by a bullet. On the floor was a bloodstained knife, and on one of the seats was a revolver containing five full cartridges and one empty one. In one corner was a battered and crumpled bowler, and on the rack was an umbrella, on the silver band of which was engraved, "R. Carter, 16, Havelock Street, Morehampton."

The police were quickly on the scene, and after Inspector Walsh had made notes of Captain Hardy's and Mr. Bowman's statements, and had taken their names and addresses.

The carriage was uncoupled from the train and shunted into a siding. Thanks to the inscription on the umbrella, Carter's identity was speedily established; and, after an interview with Mr. Penrose, the district head manager of the bank, the inspector went down to Cronfield, and obtained those particulars which have already been given of Carter's movements during the day.

It was half-past ten when the inspector returned to Morehampton, By that time Macdougall, the laboring man referred to above, had read an account of the affair in the evening paper; and when the inspector reached the police station, he found Macdougall there, in the act of describing what he had seen whilst passing the railway bridge.

"That clinches the matter," said the inspector, when Macdougall had told his story. "There can now no longer be any doubt as to what has happened.

"Some scoundrel, who was evidently well acquainted with Carter's habits," he continued, "got into the same compartment as Carter at Cronfield station. Whilst the train was passing through Morehead tunnel, he attacked Carter with the knife that was found, Carter defended himself with his revolver; but his assailant ultimately murdered him, and threw his body into the river whilst the train was on, the bridge. Then, having secured the bag, the miscreant waited until the train began to slacken speed, when he stepped out to the footboard, jumped off, and made his escape."

He repeated this theory to Mr. Penrose, who came to the police station about eleven o'clock to learn the latest news.

"I'm afraid your explanation is only too true," said Mr. Penrose. "What a pity nobody at Cronfield station noticed the man, who must, as you say, have got into the same compartment as Carter."

"A thousand pities," agreed the inspector. "Of course, we have Mr. Bowman's description of the man, which I have circulated throughout the town and district; but it's such a meagre description that I have little hope of its enabling us to trace the scoundrel!"

"You have searched the tunnel?"

"Yes; but we have been unable to discover anything of importance."

"Will you drag the river?"

"Of course. As a matter of fact, I've already made arrangements for the work to be begun at daybreak tomorrow morning."

"In the meantime," said Mr. Penrose, "would you mind giving me a copy of your report, including the statements of Hardy, Bowman, and Macdougall? I wired to Lord Milltown—he's the chairman of our London board of directors, you know—informing him of Carter's disappearance; and his lordship has wired back, asking me to send him the fullest possible particulars of what the police have done and discovered."

The inspector good-naturedly gave him a copy of his official report, and of the three statements referred to, which Mr. Penrose despatched to London by the midnight post.

And that was how matters stood when Lord Milltown, at eight o'clock on morning, routed Sexton Blake out of bed, gave him the papers, and instructed him to go down to Morehampton by the next train and investigate the case on behalf of the bank.

II

LEAVING London at half-past eight, the detective arrived at Morehampton a few minutes before ten. He was met at the station by Mr. Penrose and Inspector Walsh, the latter of whom, so far from resenting Sexton Blake's interference, welcomed his assistance.

"I've read your very lucid and complete report," said Sexton Blake to the inspector, after shaking hands with the two men. "I know everything that was known up to eleven o'clock last night. Has anything fresh been discovered since?"

"One small item," said the inspector, "Carter's overcoat was fished out of the river this morning, about half a mile below the bridge. It was cut and slashed in several places, and bore innumerable bloodstains."

"The river has been dragged?"

"They're dragging it now."

"So no trace of the body has been found up to the present?"

"None."

"Is the carriage still there in which the crime was committed?"

"Yes. Like to see it?"

"Naturally!"

The inspector led the way to the siding in which the carriage stood, guarded by a constable. The detective made a long and careful examination of the interior of the compartment in which Carter had travelled, and seemed specially interested in the numerous pools and splashes of Mood.

Presently he walked to the door or the compartment and pointed to a building on the other side of the street outside the station.

"That's the hospital, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes," said the inspector, in surprise.

The detective scribbled a note and handed it to the constable.

"Take that to the hospital and give it to the house-surgeon," he said. "Wait for an answer."

The constable departed, and presently returned, bringing with him a mahogany box containing a microscope, some slides and cover-glasses, and a flask of water.

"I'm now going to give you two an elementary lesson in physiology," he said, with a light laugh.

With the point of his pen-knife he picked up a tiny clot of blood from the carriage floor and placed it in the centre of one of the slides. He moistened it with a drop of water, pressed a cover-glass on the top of it, and placed it under the microscope. He examined it, and nodded his head.

"Just as I thought," he murmured.

He invited Mr. Penrose and the inspector to "take a squint," They did so, but were apparently no wiser.

"What do you see?" asked Sexton Blake, addressing the inspector.

"A lot of little oval discs," said the inspector, "reddish in color, with a black dot in the middle or each of them."

He looked up from the microscope, and gazed blankly at Sexton Blake.

"But what has that to do with the murder of Ralph Carter?" he asked.

By way of reply, the detective pricked his finger, squeezed out a drop of blood, placed it on another slide, covered it with a cover-glass, and placed it under the microscope.

"Now look at that and tell me what you see!" he said.

"Same as before," said the inspector "only the discs are round, instead of oval, and they haven't any black spot in the centre."

"From which you will gather," said Sexton Blake, "that the blood which is spattered about this carriage is not the same kind of blood as flows in my arteries. That is to say, it isn't human blood."

"Not human blood!" cried the inspector.

"Most certainly not," said Sexton Blake. "In all human blood, and in the blood of all mammalia except the camel tribe, those little discs—or corpuscles, as they are called—are circular in shape, and have no dark spot in the centre. In birds they are oval, and have a central dark nucleus.

"As soon as I entered the compartment," he said, "I suspected, from the color and the odor of those stains, that they were not human blood. When I came to examine the stains more closely my suspicions were confirmed. The microscope has settled the matter. This is pheasant's blood!"

"Pheasant's blood!" gasped the inspector and Mr. Penrose in the same breath.

The detective nodded. Mr. Penrose made a gesture of despair; but the inspector was more quick-witted.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, as a sudden light broke on him. "You think—"

"I do," said Sexton Blake; "in fact, I'm sure of it!"

He turned to Mr. Penrose. "When Carter purchased that brace of pheasants at Cronfield yesterday," he said, "he didn't buy them to give to a friend, as he stated, but in order to make use of them as part of a cunning scheme to rob the bank. What he did, I imagine, is this:

"He got into an empty first-class compartment at Cronfield. As soon as the train was clear of the station, he slashed at the pheasants with a knife and scattered the blood all over the compartment, He splashed some on his overcoat, and ran the knife through the cloth to make it appear that he had been stabbed.

"Whilst the train was in the tunnel he cracked one of the windows and fired a bullet through the other, Then, after trampling on his bowler, he opened the window; and when the train was on the bridge he threw his overcoat and the mangled pheasants into the river. He knew the birds would sink, but he calculated that the coat would float, would ultimately be picked up and lend added color to the theory that he had been murdered and thrown into the river.

"Doubtless he had a false beard and a cap in his bag. Donning these, he waited until the train began to slow down; then, leaving the knife and the revolver behind him, but taking the bag of money with him, be jumped out as described by Mr. Bowman, and took to his heels."

"And we shall never see him or hear of him again!" groaned Mr. Penrose, whose first thought was not of admiration for the skill with which Sexton Blake had solved the mystery but of grief for the loss of the money of the bank.

"Perhaps not," said Sexton Blake. "At the same time, I mean to have a try to trace him."

"But how? What can you do?"

The detective scribbled another note, and handed it, with a shilling, to the constable.

"Take that to the nearest telegraph office," he said, "and see that it is sent off at once."

Mr. Penrose looked more puzzled than ever. But again the inspector's wits enabled him to guess the truth.

"Bloodhound?" he said.

"Yes," said Sexton Blake. "I've wired to Tinker to send Pedro down by the next train."

III

PEDRO, the detective's famous bloodhound, arrived two hours later and was taken at once to the spot where Mr. Bowman had seen Carter run down the embankment. He was allowed to sniff at Carter's battered bowler, and then the hunt began.

As events turned out, it was not a long hunt. After leading Sexton Blake and the inspector through the wood and across a couple of fields, the bloodhound finally came to a halt on the edge of a disused quarry.

And when the two men peered over the edge of the quarry, they perceived Ralph Carter's body lying in a huddled heap at the foot of the declivity, with a false beard hanging limply round his neck, and his right hand still tightly grasping a brown leather bag.

No great acumen was needed to guess what had happened. Carter had evidently been taking a short cut across the fields—probably with the intention of making for the London and Northwest station and taking a train for Liverpool—but had lost his way in the darkness and stumbled into the quarry.

At first they thought he was dead, but on climbing down into the quarry they found that he was only unconscious. As quickly as possible he-was removed to the hospital, where he soon recovered; and at the present moment he is serving a sentence of three years penal servitude.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.