The Old Man in the Corner
XXXVI. The End
He had paused, absorbed in meditation. The young girl also was silent. Some memory too
vague as yet to take a definite form was persistently haunting her--one thought was
hammering away in her brain, and playing havoc with her nerves. That thought was the
inexplicable feeling within her that there was something in connection with that hideous
crime which she ought to recollect, something which--if she could only remember what it
was--would give her the clue to the tragic mystery, and for once ensure her triumph over
this self-conceited and sarcastic scarecrow in the corner.
He was watching her through his great bone-rimmed spectacles, and she could see the
knuckles of his bony hands, just above the top of the table, fidgeting, fidgeting, fidgeting,
till she wondered if there existed another set of fingers in the world which could undo the
knots his lean ones made in that tiresome piece of string.
Then suddenly--_à propos_ of nothing, Polly _remembered_--the whole thing stood
before her, short and clear like a vivid flash of lightning:--Mrs. Owen lying dead in the
snow beside her open window; one of them with a broken sash-line, tied up most
scientifically with a piece of string. She remembered the talk there had been at the time
about this improvised sash-line.
That was after young Greenhill had been discharged, and the question of suicide had been
voted an impossibility.
Polly remembered that in the illustrated papers photographs appeared of this wonderfully
knotted piece of string, so contrived that the weight of the frame could but tighten the
knots, and thus keep the window open. She remembered that people deduced many things
from that improvised sash-line, chief among these deductions being that the murderer
was a sailor--so wonderful, so complicated, so numerous were the knots which secured
But Polly knew better. In her mind's eye she saw those fingers, rendered doubly nervous
by the fearful cerebral excitement, grasping at first mechanically, even thoughtlessly, a
bit of twine with which to secure the window; then the ruling habit strongest through all,
the girl could see it; the lean and ingenious fingers fidgeting, fidgeting with that piece of
string, tying knot after knot, more wonderful, more complicated, than any she had yet
"If I were you," she said, without daring to look into that corner where he sat, "I would
break myself of the habit of perpetually making knots in a piece of string."
He did not reply, and at last Polly ventured to look up--the corner was empty, and
through the glass door beyond the desk, where he had just deposited his few coppers, she