The Old Man in the Corner
XXXIII. The Living And The Dead
The man in the corner blinked across at Polly with his funny mild blue eyes.
"No wonder you are puzzled," he continued, "so was everybody in the court that day,
every one save myself. I alone could see in my mind's eye that gruesome murder such as
it had been committed, with all its details, and, above all, its motive, and such as you will
see it presently, when I place it all clearly before you.
"But before you see daylight in this strange case, I must plunge you into further darkness,
in the same manner as the coroner and jury were plunged on the following day, the
second day of that remarkable inquest. It had to be adjourned, since the appearance of
Mr. Timothy Beddingfield had now become of vital importance. The public had come to
regard his absence from Birmingham at this critical moment as decidedly remarkable, to
say the least of it, and all those who did not know the lawyer by sight wished to see him
in his Inverness cape and Glengarry cap such as he had appeared before the several
witnesses on the night of the awful murder.
"When the coroner and jury were seated, the first piece of information which the police
placed before them was the astounding statement that Mr. Timothy Beddingfield's
whereabouts had not been ascertained, though it was confidently expected that he had not
gone far and could easily be traced. There was a witness present who, the police thought,
might throw some light as to the lawyer's probable destination, for obviously he had left
Birmingham directly after his interview with the deceased.
"This witness was Mrs. Higgins, who was Mr. Beddingfield's housekeeper. She stated
that her master was in the constant habit--especially latterly--of going up to London on
business. He usually left by a late evening train on those occasions, and mostly was only
absent thirty-six hours. He kept a portmanteau always ready packed for the purpose, for
he often left at a few moments' notice. Mrs. Higgins added that her master stayed at the
Great Western Hotel in London, for it was there that she was instructed to wire if
anything urgent required his presence back in Birmingham.
"'On the night of the 14th,' she continued, 'at nine o'clock or thereabouts, a messenger
came to the door with the master's card, and said that he was instructed to fetch Mr.
Beddingfield's portmanteau, and then to meet him at the station in time to catch the 9.35
p.m. up train. I gave him the portmanteau, of course, as he had brought the card, and I
had no idea there could be anything wrong; but since then I have heard nothing of my
master, and I don't know when he will return.'
"Questioned by the coroner, she added that Mr. Beddingfield had never stayed away quite
so long without having his letters forwarded to him. There was a large pile waiting for
him now; she had written to the Great Western Hotel, London, asking what she should do
about the letters, but had received no reply. She did not know the messenger by sight who