As I pushed my way through the tangle
of weeds and undergrowth, Jack followed closely at
The dark figure leapt away in an instant,
and dashed round the corner by the ruined conservatory,
but I was too quick for him. I caught him up
when he gained the front of the house, and there, in
the light of the street-lamp, my eyes fell upon a
He proved to be a ragged, hunchbacked
youth, so deformed as to be extremely ugly, both in
face and figure. His hair, long and lank, hung
about his shoulders, while his dark eyes stood out
in terror when I ordered him to halt, and covered
him with my shining weapon.
His was the most weird figure that
I had seen for many a day. I judged him to be
about eighteen or nineteen, though he looked older.
His legs were short, his head seemed far too big for
his crooked body, while his arms were long and ape-like,
and his fingers thin, like talons.
“Now then, what are you doing
here?” I demanded in a firm, commanding voice.
But he only quivered, and crouched
against the wall like a whipped dog.
“Speak!” I said. “Who are you?”
He gave vent to a loud, harsh laugh,
almost a screech, and then grinned horribly in my
“Who are you?” I repeated. “Where
do you live?”
But though his mouth moved, as though
he replied, no sound escaped him.
I spoke again, but he only laughed
wildly, his thin fingers twitching.
“Ho! ho! ho!” he ejaculated,
pointing back to the neglected garden.
“I wonder what he means!” exclaimed Jack.
“Why, I believe he’s an idiot!”
“He has every appearance of
one,” declared my companion, who then addressed
him, with the same negative result.
Again the weird, repulsive youth pointed
back to the garden, and, laughing hideously, uttered
some words in gibberish which were quite unintelligible.
“If we remain here chattering,
the constable will find us,” I remarked, so
we all three went forth into the street, the ugly
hunchback walking at my side, quite tractable and quiet.
Presently, unable to gather a single
intelligible sentence from him, Jack and I resolved
to leave him, and afterwards follow him and ascertain
where he lived.
Why had he pointed to the garden and
laughed so hilariously? Had he witnessed any
of those nocturnal preparations or interments?
At last, at the corner of Bishop’s
Road, we wished him farewell and turned away.
Then, at a respectable distance, we drew into a gateway
to watch. He remained standing where we had left
him for some ten minutes or so, until a constable
slowly approached, and, halting, began to chat to
Apparently he was a well-known figure,
for we could hear the policeman speaking, and could
distinguish the poor fellow laughing that queer, harsh,
discordant laugh the laugh of the idiot.
Presently the constable moved forward
again, whereupon I said
“I’ll get on and have
a chat with the policeman, Jack. You follow the
hunchback if he moves away.”
“Right-ho,” replied my
friend, while I sped off, crossing the road and making
a detour until I met the constable.
Having wished him good-night, I inquired
the identity of the deformed youth.
“Oh, sir,” he laughed,
“that’s Mad ’Arry. ’E’s
quite ’armless. ’E’s out most
nights, but we never see ’im in the day, poor
chap. I’ve known ’im ever since he
was about nine.”
“Does no work, I suppose?”
“None. ’Ow can ’e?
‘E’s as mad as a hatter, as the sayin’
goes,” replied the constable, his thumbs hitched
in his belt as he stood.
“A kind of midnight wanderer, eh?”
“Yes, ‘e’s always
a-pryin’ about at night. Not long ago ’e
found burglars in a ’ouse in Gloucester Terrace,
and gave us the alarm. We copped four of ’em.
The magistrate gave ‘im a guinea out o’
“Ah! so he’s of use to you?”
“Yes, sir, ’e’s
most intelligent where there’s any suspicious
characters about. I’ve often put ’im
on the watch myself.”
“Then he’s not quite insane?”
“Not on that point, at any rate,” laughed
“Where does he live?”
“’Is father’s a
hackney-carriage driver, and ’e lives with ’im
up in Gloucester Mews, just at the back of Porchester
Mews I don’t know if you know it?”
I was compelled to confess ignorance
of the locality, but he directed me.
“Are you on night-duty in Porchester
Terrace, constable?” I asked a few moments later.
“Yes, sir, sometimes. Why?”
“You know Althorp House, of course?”
“Yes, the ’aunted ’ouse,
as some people call it. Myself, I don’t
believe in ghosts.”
“Neither do I,” I laughed,
“but I’ve heard many funny stories about
that place. Have you ever heard any?”
“Lots, sir,” replied the
man. “We’re always being told of strange
things that ’ave ’appened there, yet
when we ’ave a look around we never find
anything, so we’ve ceased to trouble. Our
inspector’s given us orders not to make any
further inquiries, ’e’s been worried too
often over idle gossip.”
“What’s the latest story
afloat concerning the place?” I asked. “I’m
always interested in mysteries of that sort.”
“Oh, I ’eard yesterday
that somebody was seen to get out of a taxi-cab and
enter. And ’e ’asn’t been seen
to come forth again.”
I said. “And haven’t you looked over
“I’m not on duty there.
Perhaps my mate ’as. I don’t know.
But, funnily enough,” added the officer, “Mad
’Arry has been tellin’ me something about
it a moment ago something I can’t
understand something about the garden.
I suppose ‘e’s been a-fancyin’ something
or other. Everybody seems to see something in
the garden, or at the windows. Why, about a week
ago, a servant from one of the ’ouses in the
Terrace came up to me at three o’clock in the
afternoon, in broad daylight, and said as how she’d
distinctly seen at the drawin’-room window the
face of a pretty, fair-haired girl a-peerin’
through the side of the dirty blind. She described
the girl, too, and said that as soon as she saw she
was noticed the inmate of the place drew back instantly.”
“A fair-haired girl!” I exclaimed, quickly
“Yes; she described her as wearin’ a black
velvet band on her hair.”
“And what did you do?” I asked anxiously.
“Why, nothing. I’ve ‘eard too
many o’ them kind o’ tales before.”
“Yes,” I said reflectively.
“Of course all kinds of legends and rumours
must naturally spring up around a house so long closed.”
“Of course. It’s
all in people’s imagination. I suppose they’ll
say next that a murder’s been committed in the
place!” he laughed.
“I suppose so,” I said,
and then, putting a shilling in his hand, wished him
good-night, and passed along.
Jack and the idiot had gone, but,
knowing the direction they had taken for
the youth was, no doubt, on his way home I
was not long before I caught up my friend, and then
together we retraced our steps towards the Bayswater
Road, in search of a taxi.
I could not forget that curious statement
that a girl’s face had been seen at the drawing-room
window a fair-headed girl with a band of
black velvet in her hair.
Could it have been Sylvia Pennington?
It was past three o’clock in
the morning before I retraced my steps to Wilton Street.
We were unable to find a cab, therefore we walked down
Park Lane together.
On the way Jack had pressed me to
tell him the reason of my visit to that weird house
and the circumstances in which my life had been attempted.
For the present, however, I refused to satisfy his
curiosity. I promised him I would tell him the
whole facts of the case some day.
“But why are you at home now?”
he asked. “I can’t really make you
out lately, Owen. You told me you hated London,
and preferred life on the Continent, yet here you
are, back again, and quite settled down in town!”
“Well, a fellow must come here
for the London season sometimes,” I said.
“I feel that I’ve been away far too long,
and am a bit out of touch with things. Why, my
tailor hardly knew me, and the hall-porter at White’s
had to look twice before he realized who I was.”
“But there’s some attraction
which has brought you to London,” he declared.
“I’m sure there is!”
It was on the tip of my tongue to
tell him how cleverly the two scoundrels had used
his name wherewith to entrap me on the previous night.
But I refrained. Instead, I asked
“Have you ever met two men named
Reckitt and Forbes, Jack?”
“Not to my knowledge,”
was his prompt reply. “Who are they?
What are they like?”
I gave him a minute description of
both, but he apparently did not recognize them.
“I suppose you’ve never
met a fellow called Pennington eh?
A stoutish, dark-haired man with a baldish head and
a reddish face?”
“Well,” he replied thoughtfully,
“I’ve met a good many men who might answer
to that description. What is he?”
“I don’t exactly know. I’ve
met him on the Continent.”
“And I suppose some people one
meets at Continental hotels are undesirables, aren’t
they?” he said.
I nodded in the affirmative.
Then I asked
“You’ve never known a
person named Shuttleworth Edmund Shuttleworth?
Lives at a little village close to Andover.”
“Shuttleworth!” he echoed,
looking straight into my face. “What do
you know of Edmund Shuttleworth?” he asked quickly.
“Very little. Do you know him?”
“Er well no,
not exactly,” was his faltering reply, and I
saw in his slight hesitation an intention to conceal
the actual knowledge which he possessed. “I’ve
heard of him through a friend of mine a
“A lady! Who’s she?” I inquired
“Well,” he laughed a trifle
uneasily, “the fact is, old chap, perhaps it
wouldn’t be fair to tell the story. You
I was silent. What did he mean?
In a second the allegation made by that pair of scoundrels
recurred to me. They had declared that Sylvia
had been in a house opposite, and that my friend had
fallen in love with her.
Yet he had denied acquaintanceship with Pennington!
No doubt the assassins had lied to
me, yet my suspicions had been aroused. Jack
had admitted his acquaintance with the thin-faced
village rector he knew of him through a
woman. Was that woman Sylvia herself?
From his manner and the great curiosity
he evinced, I felt assured that he had never known
of Althorp House before. Reckitt and Forbes had
uttered lies when they had shown me that photograph,
and told me that she was beloved by my best friend.
It had been done to increase my anger and chagrin.
Yet might there not, after all, have been some foundation
in truth in what they had said? The suggestion
gripped my senses.
Again I asked him to tell me the lady’s name.
But, quite contrary to his usual habit
of confiding in me all his most private affairs, he
“No, my dear old chap,”
he replied, “I really can’t tell you that.
Please excuse me, but it is a matter I would rather
So at the corner of Piccadilly we
parted, for it was now broad daylight, and while he
returned to his rooms, I walked down Grosvenor Place
to Wilton Street, more than ever puzzled and confounded.
Was I a fool, that I loved Sylvia
Pennington with such an all-absorbing passion?
It was strangely true, as Shuttleworth
had declared, the grave lay as a gulf between us.