Read CHAPTER XIV of The Old Man in the Corner, free online book, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, on ReadCentral.com.

THE EDINBURGH MYSTERY

The man in the corner had not enjoyed his lunch. Miss Polly Burton could see that he had something on his mind, for, even before he began to talk that morning, he was fidgeting with his bit of string, and setting all her nerves on the jar.

“Have you ever felt real sympathy with a criminal or a thief?” he asked her after a while.

“Only once, I think,” she replied, “and then I am not quite sure that the unfortunate woman who did enlist my sympathies was the criminal you make her out to be.”

“You mean the heroine of the York mystery?” he replied blandly. “I know that you tried very hard that time to discredit the only possible version of that mysterious murder, the version which is my own. Now, I am equally sure that you have at the present moment no more notion as to who killed and robbed poor Lady Donaldson in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, than the police have themselves, and yet you are fully prepared to pooh-pooh my arguments, and to disbelieve my version of the mystery. Such is the lady journalist’s mind.”

“If you have some cock-and-bull story to explain that extraordinary case,” she retorted, “of course I shall disbelieve it. Certainly, if you are going to try and enlist my sympathies on behalf of Edith Crawford, I can assure you you won’t succeed.”

“Well, I don’t know that that is altogether my intention. I see you are interested in the case, but I dare say you don’t remember all the circumstances. You must forgive me if I repeat that which you know already. If you have ever been to Edinburgh at all, you will have heard of Graham’s bank, and Mr. Andrew Graham, the present head of the firm, is undoubtedly one of the most prominent notabilities of ’modern Athens.’”

The man in the corner took two or three photos from his pocket-book and placed them before the young girl; then, pointing at them with his long bony finger-

“That,” he said, “is Mr. Elphinstone Graham, the eldest son, a typical young Scotchman, as you see, and this is David Graham, the second son.”

Polly looked more closely at this last photo, and saw before her a young face, upon which some lasting sorrow seemed already to have left its mark. The face was delicate and thin, the features pinched, and the eyes seemed almost unnaturally large and prominent.

“He was deformed,” commented the man in the corner in answer to the girl’s thoughts, “and, as such, an object of pity and even of repugnance to most of his friends. There was also a good deal of talk in Edinburgh society as to his mental condition, his mind, according to many intimate friends of the Grahams, being at times decidedly unhinged. Be that as it may, I fancy that his life must have been a very sad one; he had lost his mother when quite a baby, and his father seemed, strangely enough, to have an almost unconquerable dislike towards him.

“Every one got to know presently of David Graham’s sad position in his father’s own house, and also of the great affection lavished upon him by his godmother, Lady Donaldson, who was a sister of Mr. Graham’s.

“She was a lady of considerable wealth, being the widow of Sir George Donaldson, the great distiller; but she seems to have been decidedly eccentric. Latterly she had astonished all her family-who were rigid Presbyterians-by announcing her intention of embracing the Roman Catholic faith, and then retiring to the convent of St. Augustine’s at Newton Abbot in Devonshire.

“She had sole and absolute control of the vast fortune which a doting husband had bequeathed to her. Clearly, therefore, she was at liberty to bestow it upon a Devonshire convent if she chose. But this evidently was not altogether her intention.

“I told you how fond she was of her deformed godson, did I not? Being a bundle of eccentricities, she had many hobbies, none more pronounced than the fixed determination to see-before retiring from the world altogether-David Graham happily married.

“Now, it appears that David Graham, ugly, deformed, half-demented as he was, had fallen desperately in love with Miss Edith Crawford, daughter of the late Dr. Crawford, of Prince’s Gardens. The young lady, however-very naturally, perhaps-fought shy of David Graham, who, about this time, certainly seemed very queer and morose, but Lady Donaldson, with characteristic determination, seems to have made up her mind to melt Miss Crawford’s heart towards her unfortunate nephew.

“On October the 2nd last, at a family party given by Mr. Graham in his fine mansion in Charlotte Square, Lady Donaldson openly announced her intention of making over, by deed of gift, to her nephew, David Graham, certain property, money, and shares, amounting in total value to the sum of L100,000, and also her magnificent diamonds, which were worth L50,000, for the use of the said David’s wife. Keith Macfinlay, a lawyer of Prince’s Street, received the next day instructions for drawing up the necessary deed of gift, which she pledged herself to sign the day of her godson’s wedding.

“A week later The Scotsman contained the following paragraph:-

“’A marriage is arranged and will shortly take place between David, younger son of Andrew Graham, Esq., of Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, and Dochnakirk, Perthshire, and Edith Lillian, only surviving daughter of the late Dr. Kenneth Crawford, of Prince’s Gardens.’

“In Edinburgh society comments were loud and various upon the forthcoming marriage, and, on the whole, these comments were far from complimentary to the families concerned. I do not think that the Scotch are a particularly sentimental race, but there was such obvious buying, selling, and bargaining about this marriage that Scottish chivalry rose in revolt at the thought.

“Against that the three people most concerned seemed perfectly satisfied. David Graham was positively transformed; his moroseness was gone from him, he lost his queer ways and wild manners, and became gentle and affectionate in the midst of this great and unexpected happiness. Miss Edith Crawford ordered her trousseau, and talked of the diamonds to her friends, and Lady Donaldson was only waiting for the consummation of this marriage-her heart’s desire-before she finally retired from the world, at peace with it and with herself.

“The deed of gift was ready for signature on the wedding day, which was fixed for November 7th, and Lady Donaldson took up her abode temporarily in her brother’s house in Charlotte Square.

“Mr. Graham gave a large ball on October 23rd. Special interest is attached to this ball, from the fact that for this occasion Lady Donaldson insisted that David’s future wife should wear the magnificent diamonds which were soon to become hers.

“They were, it seems, superb, and became Miss Crawford’s stately beauty to perfection. The ball was a brilliant success, the last guest leaving at four a.m. The next day it was the universal topic of conversation, and the day after that, when Edinburgh unfolded the late editions of its morning papers, it learned with horror and dismay that Lady Donaldson had been found murdered in her room, and that the celebrated diamonds had been stolen.

“Hardly had the beautiful little city, however, recovered from this awful shock, than its newspapers had another thrilling sensation ready for their readers.

“Already all Scotch and English papers had mysteriously hinted at ‘startling information’ obtained by the Procurator Fiscal, and at an ‘impending sensational arrest.’

“Then the announcement came, and every one in Edinburgh read, horror-struck and aghast, that the ‘sensational arrest’ was none other than that of Miss Edith Crawford, for murder and robbery, both so daring and horrible that reason refused to believe that a young lady, born and bred in the best social circle, could have conceived, much less executed, so heinous a crime. She had been arrested in London at the Midland Hotel, and brought to Edinburgh, where she was judicially examined, bail being refused.”