Read CHAPTER THIRTY TWO - Something in the sawdust. of Blind Policy , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Highcombe Street gradually became blocked by the eager crowd always ready to gather, discuss and microscopically magnify the event that has been the attraction, and in a very short time it was current that a dreadful deed had been perpetrated in open daylight at the window of the ground floor room on the left of the front door.  The victim was said to have been seen shrieking wildly for help, till a man had dragged her away, closing the window afterward and shutting the shutters, so that, with the blinds of the upstairs windows drawn down, the whole of the mansion had a strangely-mysterious aspect which, to the over-heated brains of many of the lookers-on, exactly suggested the place where, a murder might have been committed.

It did not occur to the wonder-gulpers that there were several houses in the same street presenting precisely the same aspect consequent upon their owners being out of town, and that the mansion next door, with its gloomy, unkempt aspect and soot-coated windows, was much more forbidding; but then it had no policeman stationed at the area gate and two more at the front door, who objected vigorously to boys climbing over the railings and others trying to peer through the long, slit-like windows on either side of the entrance.

An Englishman’s house is said to be his castle, and serious steps generally have to be taken by the police before they break in, the great exception to the rule being in the case of firemen, who as soon as they are convinced that their enemy is in the place, make no scruple about using their axes against door or window, setting up a ladder, and climbing in.

In this case, in despite of the excitement, matters moved slowly, the principal steps taken being upon the arrival of more police, the stationing of these at the back where there was the mews, and an attempt to get in through the garden; but here a difficulty presented itself at once; there was no garden, the space existing between the houses and stables at the bottom being built entirely over, and the stables swept away.  There was no back exit, but constables were stationed in the mews all the same so as to keep an eye upon the stabling to right and left.

Soon after, while the superintendent and sergeant were discussing proceedings, an occupant of the opposite house pointed out the fact that one of the drawing-room window blinds was flapping to and fro, suggesting that a French window in the balcony was a little way open.

The suggestion was acted upon at once.  A ladder from the nearest fire station was brought, and the police were watched with breathless interest and cheered as they mounted and reached the balcony, another cheer following as half a dozen entered the great mansion and disappeared to commence searching the house, the excitement increasing as they were seen to throw open the shutters of the library windows, in which room not so much as an overturned chair caught their attention.

It due course the magnificently-furnished place was searched, the only thing peculiar there being that the bed in a quiet-looking chamber on the third floor had been evidently made that morning, but lain upon since, while the key of the door was outside.

No way out at the back was discovered from the ground floor, and after a careful search for the missing occupants in every room, the police descended to the basement, everything above being in so quiet and orderly a state that the whole affair began to assume the aspect of imagination on the part of the constable who had given the alarm.

“Didn’t dream you’d got a case on, Dick, did you?” said the superintendent, banteringly, as the pantry was entered.

“Don’t look like it, do it, sir?” replied the man, triumphantly pointing to the table, on which lay the freshly-cut rope which had bound the housekeeper.

“Humph!  Don’t see much in that,” said the superintendent.  “There’s the plate-closet.  Well, that’s all right.  Someone’s been having wine.  Nothing to wonder at in that when there’s plenty.  Splendid place; but the case begins to look to me like a flam.”

“Why, there’s plenty outside saw the lady, too, sir,” grumbled the constable.

“Then where is she?”

There was no answer, and the various domestic offices were examined, everything being in perfect order, and the only exit apparent being through the area door, which was locked, bolted and barred, as were all the windows.

“Where does this lead?” said the superintendent, as he entered the passage farther back.  “Another cellar, perhaps.”  They followed to the end, one of the men striking a match or two, for the extreme part was dark.  “Humph! locked.  Well, that can’t be a way out, for there is no mat.”  Sniff, sniff!  “What’s that ­powder? and what’s that empty Gladstone doing there?”

Just then the constable who had given the alarm suddenly stepped forward and stooped down.

“What is it, Dick?  One of the straws out of the mare’s nest?” said the superintendent.

For answer, the man drew at something quite low down by the floor, and it came away in his hand, to prove, on being held to the light of a wax match, a mere scrap of a handsomely-braided silk dress.

“Ah!” cried the superintendent, showing the first signs of excitement, “smell of powder ­that bit of silk!”

He thumped with his knuckles on the panel of the door, and exclaimed ­

“There’s an iron inside; dress caught as they passed through, and as the door was shut the edge cut that off like a pair of shears.  There’s a way out here, my lads, and we’ve got hold of the clue.”

It seemed easier to point out the clue than to follow it, for the door was strong, and it was not until suitable implements had been fetched, to further excite the crowd, and a sturdy attack made at the end of the passage, that the outer door gave way, the bolts of the strongly-made lock being broken right off.

“By George! you’ve got hold of a case this time, my lad,” cried the superintendent; “but it’s an attempt at a big burglary.  This isn’t a way out; it’s the principal plate-closet, and they’ve been trying to get it open, and failed.  Hammer leather-covered, wedges, pistols, dark lantern smashed, tin of powder, and marks on the front of the safe door where the wedges have been.  Powder smells quite strong here.  They must have tried to blast the door open.  Out, all of you; they’re hiding somewhere.  They can’t have got away.”

The men turned back, all but the one who had given the alarm, and he had struck a fresh match, for the bulb in the ceiling gave forth no light, and was stooping down to sweep away some of the sawdust on the floor.

“Come along, Dick,” cried the superintendent.  “What have you got there?”

“Look, sir,” said the man, holding out a handful of the sawdust he had scraped up.  “There’s a bottle yonder that’s had port wine in it, but this looks to me like blood.”