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« on: August 22, 2023, 08:10:43 am »

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AT that point, Miss Hetherley went away, declaring that she had had her fill of horrors and could do no good by staying longer. Four of us, Chaney, myself, Doxford and one of the Scotland Yard men whom we had found in the flat on our arrival, went down to the basement. Outside the flat occupied by the dead woman, the Scotland Yard man pointed to its neighbour.

‘That’s empty,’ he said. ‘Consequently there was nobody in there to overhear anything. And the people in these two flats immediately underneath,’ he continued, as we went down the stone staircase, ‘they never heard anything, either. Nobody in the whole place heard anything. Nor, for the matter of that, saw anything. Whoever the man was, he must have come in and got out absolutely unobserved.’

‘If it was a man,’ remarked Chaney.

The Scotland Yard man looked his surprise.

‘Doesn’t look like a woman’s work, I think,’ he said. ‘A woman! Come!’

‘There are women and women,’ retorted Chaney. ‘It’s a woman we want to see now. Caretaker---in the basement.’

We pursued our way to the basement. That was arranged pretty much like the flats above. A sitting-room, a bedroom, a kitchen. And in the sitting-room we found the caretaker, refreshing herself, in company with an awe-struck and inquisitive neighbour, by means of a teapot. The Scotland Yard man had already possessed himself of her name. He addressed her.

‘Mrs. Goodge?’

Mrs. Goodge stood up. She was a slightly-built, middle-aged woman, who looked as if she was perpetually fighting the battle of life without much hope of coming out on top; there was a certain patient acquiescence about her which suggested that whatever came she would see things out.

‘That’s me, sir,’ she answered quietly.

‘We’re police-officers, Mrs. Goodge,’ said the Scotland Yard man. He glanced at the neighbour. ‘Friend of yours?’

‘Next door neighbour, sir, Mrs. Marrable. Which Mrs. Marrable is caretaker of the next house, sir.’

‘Does Mrs. Marrable know anything of this affair?’ asked the Scotland Yard man.

‘Not me, sir!’ replied Mrs. Marrable, promptly. ‘No more than the child unborn, ‘cept what Mrs. Goodge here----’

‘Then you can go, Mrs. Marrable,’ interrupted our spokesman. ‘We want to talk to Mrs. Goodge.’

Mrs. Marrable went---obviously more inquisitive than before. The Scotland Yard man shut the door after her and whispered to Doxford. And Doxford, motioning Mrs. Goodge to be seated, proceeded to question her.

‘Sit down and go on with your tea,’ he said. ‘We only want to ask you a few questions. What do you know about this affair in Number 12, Mrs. Goodge?’

‘Me, sir? Nothing, sir! No more than----’

‘What do you know about the dead woman? Just tell us all you know.’

‘All I know, sir, is this. Two or three of these flats are furnished flats---let furnished, you understand. About a fortnight ago, or it might be between a fortnight and three weeks, Mr. Morty, the agent what lets these flats, brought this here poor lady here and showed her Number 12, which was unlet. He come downstairs with her after, and tells me she’d taken it. She said she’d come in that afternoon, and she come, with her luggage. Not much luggage she had---a trunk and a suit-case, mainly. And settled in there and then, sir, which is all I can tell you.’

‘You must know a lot more than that, Mrs. Goodge. What was her name, now?’

‘Mrs. Clayton, sir, was the name she give me. But I never see nothing of her, or as you might say, next to nothing, from the day she come in to yesterday. Kept herself to herself, she did.’

‘Did you do no cooking for her?’

‘I did not, sir. There’s a gas cooker in the kitchens in all these here flats, and what meals she had in she did herself. But I believe she always went out to her lunch and her dinner.’

‘Didn’t you clean up for her?’

‘Once a week, sir, she had me in to do her rooms out. Otherwise she did all for herself, which, of course, there was very little to do.’

‘Didn’t she talk to you?’

‘Not much, sir. Just a bit---when I cleaned up for her.’

‘Well, now, what was she---an Englishwoman, or a Frenchwoman?’

‘She talked English to me, sir, just like you and me might be talking. But it wasn’t London English.’

‘Not London English, eh? What sort of English, then? What do you mean, exactly?’

‘Well, sir, she talked like people do who come from the North of England---Yorkshire and Lancashire people, sir. I’ve heard a many of them talk in my time.’

‘A North-country woman, eh? She never told you where she came from?’

‘She never told me anything about herself, sir, nothing at all.’

‘You’ve no idea where she came from when she came here?’

‘Oh, well, I’ve an idea of my own, sir. I’ve got eyes, same as other people, and I noticed there was French labels on her trunk and her suit-case. So I came to the conclusion that she’s come from France, recent.’

‘You never heard her speak French?’

‘I did not, sir, because I never heard her speak to anybody but myself, and it would have been no use her speaking French to me ‘cause I don’t know one word of that language.’

‘Well, did she ever have any visitors?’

‘That I can’t say, sir. The people as lives in these flats could have visitors and callers by the dozen, sir, without me knowing of it. The front door’s always open, and people have nothing to do but walk in and go up the stairs to whichever number they want. I never knew of her having visitors, but she may have had several.’

‘What about letters? What’s the arrangement about that?’

‘Just the same as regards visitors, sir. The postman, he delivers the letters at each flat. And so does the telegraph boys, if there’s telegrams.’

‘Then it really comes to this, Mrs. Goodge---you practically know nothing of this dead woman, except what you’ve told us?’

‘That’s it, sir, I know nothing about her---nothing!’

Doxford looked at Chaney. And Chaney, who had been listening carefully to Mrs. Goodge, responded to the glance by taking a hand in the game.

‘Do you know anything about last night, Mrs. Goodge?’ he asked. ‘Can you tell us anything about last night? Not necessarily about the dead woman, you know. But do you know of anything that occurred last night that you regarded as a bit out of the ordinary? Anything! Any strange persons about, you know, or---eh?’

Mrs. Goodge turned a sharp eye on her new questioner. She looked Chaney fair and square in the face, and when she answered his question there was a new inflection in her voice and a change in her manner.

‘Well, there was something!’ she said.

‘To be sure!’ responded Chaney, cheerfully. ‘There was something! And what might it be, Mrs. Goodge?’

Mrs. Goodge regarded us comprehensively; her glance round had an element of coyness in it.

‘Well, you see, mister,’ she replied, fixing the wandering glance on Chaney. ‘Last night I had what you might call a night out! Which such a thing don’t happen too often to me, I can tell you. Still, as they say, it’s a poor heart that never rejoices.’

‘Quite true, Mrs. Goodge, quite true!’ agreed Chaney. ‘A night out, eh? You weren’t here, then?’

‘Not till what you might call late last night or very early this morning I wasn’t,’ replied Mrs. Goodge. ‘You see, mister, my daughter, as is married very respectable and lives up Hampstead Road way, she asked me to go to the play with her, which it was a piece at the Marlborough Theatre what she was very desirous of seeing, her having a partiality for the stage though her husband is, of course, in the oil-and-colour line. And of course I went to tea with her before we went to the play and was out of this here house from five o’clock in the afternoon.’

‘Yes---and till when, Mrs. Goodge?’ asked Chaney, patiently.

Mrs. Goodge considered matters.

‘Well, I can’t rightly say, mister, to the minute,’ she answered. ‘But it would be nearer two o’clock this morning than one, which is, of course, uncommon late hours for me but only occurring once in a while, and as I said before, it’s a poor heart----’

‘Let’s say between one and two o’clock this morning,’ interrupted Chaney, ‘or getting towards two o’clock----’

‘Which would be nearer the mark, mister,’ said Mrs. Goodge. ‘A quarter to two it would be at any rate. ‘Cause you see, after we come out of the theatre, my daughter she would have me go home and take a bit of supper with her, and of course there was a neighbour or two of hers there and one gets talking and such like, and it was after one o’clock when her husband he see me into a late ‘bus what comes this way---which this house is in Hamilton Street and not so far----’

‘A quarter to two, then, Mrs. Goodge,’ said Chaney, ‘when you got in here, you know. And---it was then that something happened, eh?’

Mrs. Goodge gave her questioner a look which seemed to signify admiration for his penetrative powers.

‘Well, that’s just when it was, mister!’ she replied frankly. ‘You see, I was half-way down the stairs that leads to this basement—just round the corner from the first flight---when I hears somebody coming soft and quick down the stairs from the flats. So I just looked round the corner.’

‘Yes?’ said Chaney. ‘And you saw----’

‘I saw a man!’ replied Mrs. Goodge. ‘Leastway I saw the back of a man! He was just passing out of the street door. And, of course, next instant he was gone.’

‘Dear, dear!’ exclaimed Chaney. ‘You only saw---just his back?’

‘Just his back, mister, and no more,’ assented Mrs. Goodge. ‘Not one bit more.’

‘Well---what sort of man was he?’ enquired Chaney, resignedly. ‘Tall, short, fat, thin---what?’

‘I should call him one of these here middle-sized ones,’ replied Mrs. Goodge. ‘Neither high nor low, stout nor starved---judging by his build. But I see more of his clothes than of him.’

‘His clothes, eh?’ said Chaney. ‘How was he dressed, then?’

‘Black!’ replied Mrs. Goodge, with emphasis. ‘He’d a black overcoat, and one o’ them black slouch hats what actors and musicians is partial to, and a big white muffler round his neck. And of course that was all I see of him. Back view!’

‘You’d never seen him about the flats before, Mrs. Goodge?’ asked Chaney.

‘No, I’ll take my solemn ‘davit I never had, mister!’ asserted Mrs. Goodge. ‘I can speak confident about that!’

Doxford intervened.

‘Weren’t you surprised to see a man leaving the place at that hour?’ he asked. ‘Nearly two o’clock in the morning!’

‘Which I was nothing of the sort, sir,’ replied Mrs. Goodge, promptly. ‘There’s twelve separate flats in this here house, though one of ’em, Number 11, is at this present unlet. Well, there’s all sorts in them eleven flats. There’s an artist gentleman in Number 5---he ain’t particular what hours him and his friends keeps. Then there’s one or two young actress ladies---they ain’t early birds, and if, as often happens, they brings friends home with ’em, why, of course they turns night into day, as the saying is. Then there’s others as is----’

‘Then there was nothing unusual in your seeing a man leave the place at a quarter to two in the morning?’ interrupted Doxford.

‘Nothing at all, sir!’ replied Mrs. Goodge. ‘I never said there was, did I? What I said was that something happened. Well, that happened. But I didn’t consider it at all unusual. It didn’t keep me awake, I can tell you! The only unusual thing was that I didn’t know the looks of this here man in black at all---his appearance was a stranger to me. Some of the people that comes visiting and calling here I do know by sight. There’s young gentlemen drops in sometimes to see some of our ladies---well, I know them, by sight, d’ye see, though I couldn’t put a name to ’em, and----’

‘But this particular man, with his black coat, black slouch hat, and white muffler, you’d never seen before?’ said Doxford. ‘That it?’

‘That’s it, mister,’ agreed Mrs. Goodge. ‘He may ha’ been in these flats before, but if he had I’d never seen him.’

Doxford looked at Chaney, who was making notes in his memorandum book. They began whispering. The Scotland Yard man, who had quietly followed all that Mrs. Goodge had said, turned to her.

‘There’s a matter I’d like to know something about, Mrs. Goodge,’ he said. ‘That street door---through which you saw the man disappearing. Is it never fastened at night?’

Mrs. Goodge pursed up her thin lips, and made no reply.

‘Oughtn’t it to be?’ continued the Scotland Yard man. ‘Come, now?’

Mrs. Goodge spoke then, shaking her head.

‘Well, mister, it did!’ she admitted. ‘My orders was to fasten it at twelve o’clock, ‘cause every flat-holder has a latch-key to it. But you see, they was all of ’em, ‘specially them young actress ladies, a-forgetting of this latch-key, and rousing me out of bed down here at all hours of the night, so that it’s been left open for I don’t know how long. ‘Taint worth my while to lock it!’

Doxford and Chaney got up. Doxford turned to Mrs. Goodge.

‘Well, we want to see this Mr. Morty, the agent, next,’ he said. ‘What’s his address?’

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