The Old Man in the Corner HTML version

II. A Millionaire In The Dock
The man in the corner had finished his glass of milk. His watery blue eyes looked across
at Miss Polly Burton's eager little face, from which all traces of severity had now been
chased away by an obvious and intense excitement.
"It was only on the 31st," he resumed after a while, "that a body, decomposed past all
recognition, was found by two lightermen in the bottom of a disused barge. She had been
moored at one time at the foot of one of those dark flights of steps which lead down
between tall warehouses to the river in the East End of London. I have a photograph of
the place here," he added, selecting one out of his pocket, and placing it before Polly.
"The actual barge, you see, had already been removed when I took this snapshot, but you
will realize what a perfect place this alley is for the purpose of one man cutting another's
throat in comfort, and without fear of detection. The body, as I said, was decomposed
beyond all recognition; it had probably been there eleven days, but sundry articles, such
as a silver ring and a tie pin, were recognizable, and were identified by Mrs. Kershaw as
belonging to her husband.
"She, of course, was loud in denouncing Smethurst, and the police had no doubt a very
strong case against him, for two days after the discovery of the body in the barge, the
Siberian millionaire, as he was already popularly called by enterprising interviewers, was
arrested in his luxurious suite of rooms at the Hotel Cecil.
"To confess the truth, at this point I was not a little puzzled. Mrs. Kershaw's story and
Smethurst's letters had both found their way into the papers, and following my usual
method--mind you, I am only an amateur, I try to reason out a case for the love of the
thing--I sought about for a motive for the crime, which the police declared Smethurst had
committed. To effectually get rid of a dangerous blackmailer was the generally accepted
theory. Well! did it ever strike you how paltry that motive really was?"
Miss Polly had to confess, however, that it had never struck her in that light.
"Surely a man who had succeeded in building up an immense fortune by his own
individual efforts, was not the sort of fool to believe that he had anything to fear from a
man like Kershaw. He must have _known_ that Kershaw held no damning proofs against
him--not enough to hang him, anyway. Have you ever seen Smethurst?" he added, as he
once more fumbled in his pocket-book.
Polly replied that she had seen Smethurst's picture in the illustrated papers at the time.
Then he added, placing a small photograph before her:
"What strikes you most about the face?"