The Affair Of The Tortoise
Very often Hewitt was tempted, by the fascination of some particularly odd
case, to neglect his other affairs to follow up a matter that from a
business point of view was of little or no value to him. As a rule, he had
a sufficient regard for his own interests to resist such temptations, but
in one curious case, at least, I believe he allowed it largely to
influence him. It was certainly an extremely odd case--one of those
affairs that, coming to light at intervals, but more often remaining
unheard of by the general public, convince one that, after all, there is
very little extravagance about Mr. R.L. Stevenson's bizarre imaginings of
doings in London in his "New Arabian Nights." "There is nothing in this
world that is at all possible," I have often heard Martin Hewitt say,
"that has not happened or is not happening in London." Certainly he had
opportunities of knowing.
The case I have referred to occurred some time before my own acquaintance
with him began--in 1878, in fact. He had called one Monday morning at an
office in regard to something connected with one of those uninteresting,
though often difficult, cases which formed, perhaps, the bulk of his
practice, when he was informed of a most mysterious murder that had taken
place in another part of the same building on the previous Saturday
afternoon. Owing to the circumstances of the case, only the vaguest
account had appeared in the morning papers, and even this, as it chanced,
Hewitt had not read.
The building was one of a new row in a partly rebuilt street near the
National Gallery. The whole row had been built by a speculator for the
purpose of letting out in flats, suites of chambers, and in one or two
cases, on the ground floors, offices. The rooms had let very well, and to
desirable tenants, as a rule. The least satisfactory tenant, the
proprietor reluctantly admitted, was a Mr. Rameau, a negro gentleman,
single, who had three rooms on the top floor but one of the particular
building that Hewitt was visiting. His rent was paid regularly, but his
behavior had produced complaints from other tenants. He got uproariously
drunk, and screamed and howled in unknown tongues. He fell asleep on the
staircase, and ladies were afraid to pass. He bawled rough chaff down the
stairs and along the corridors at butcher-boys and messengers, and played
on errand-boys brutal practical jokes that ended in police-court
summonses. He once had a way of sliding down the balusters, shouting: "Ho!
ho! ho! yah!" as he went, but as he was a big, heavy man, and the
balusters had been built for different treatment, he had very soon and
very firmly been requested to stop it. He had plenty of money, and spent
it freely; but it was generally felt that there was too much of the
light-hearted savage about him to fit him to live among quiet people.
How much longer the landlord would have stood this sort of thing, Hewitt's
informant said, was a matter of conjecture, for on the Saturday afternoon
in question the tenancy had come to a startling full-stop. Rameau had been
murdered in his room, and the body had, in the most unaccountable fashion,
been secretly removed from the premises.
The strongest possible suspicion pointed to a man who had been employed in
shoveling and carrying coals, cleaning windows, and chopping wood for
several of the buildings, and who had left that very Saturday. The crime
had, in fact, been committed with this man's chopper, and the man himself
had been heard, again and again, to threaten Ramean, who, in his brutal
fashion, had made a butt of him. This man was a Frenchman, Victor Goujon
by name, who had lost his employment as a watchmaker by reason of an
injury to his right hand, which destroyed its steadiness, and so he had
fallen upon evil days and odd jobs.
He was a little man of no great strength, but extraordinarily excitable,
and the coarse gibes and horse-play of the big negro drove him almost to
madness. Rameau would often, after some more than ordinarily outrageous
attack, contemptuously fling Goujon a shilling, which the little
Frenchman, although wanting a shilling badly enough, would hurl back in
his face, almost weeping with impotent rage. "Pig! Canaille!" he would
scream. "Dirty pig of Africa! Take your sheelin' to vere you 'ave stole
it! Voleur! Pig!"
There was a tortoise living in the basement, of which Goujon had made
rather a pet, and the negro would sometimes use this animal as a missile,
flinging it at the little Frenchman's head. On one such occasion the
tortoise struck the wall so forcibly as to break its shell, and then
Goujon seized a shovel and rushed at his tormentor with such blind fury
that the latter made a bolt of it. These were but a few of the passages
between Rameau and the fuel-porter, but they illustrate the state of
feeling between them.
Goujon, after correspondence with a relative in France who offered him
work, gave notice to leave, which expired on the day of the crime. At
about three that afternoon a housemaid, proceeding toward Rameau's rooms,
met Goujon as he was going away. Goujon bade her good-by, and, pointing in
the direction of Rameau's rooms, said exultantly: "Dere shall be no more
of the black pig for me; vit 'im I 'ave done for. Zut! I mock me of 'im!
'E vill never tracasser me no more." And he went away.
The girl went to the outer door of Rameau's rooms, knocked, and got no
reply. Concluding that the tenant was out, she was about to use her keys,
when she found that the door was unlocked. She passed through the lobby
and into the sitting-room, and there fell in a dead faint at the sight
that met her eyes. Rameau lay with his back across the sofa and his
head--drooping within an inch of the ground. On the head was a fearful
gash, and below it was a pool of blood.
The girl must have lain unconscious for about ten minutes. When she came
to her senses, she dragged herself, terrified, from the room and up to the
housekeeper's apartments, where, being an excitable and nervous creature,
she only screamed "Murder!" and immediately fell in a fit of hysterics
that lasted three-quarters of an hour. When at last she came to herself,
she told her story, and, the hall-porter having been summoned, Rameau's
rooms were again approached.
The blood still lay on the floor, and the chopper, with which the crime
had evidently been committed, rested against the fender; but the body had
vanished! A search was at once made, but no trace of it could be seen
anywhere. It seemed impossible that it could have been carried out of the
building, for the hall-porter must at once have noticed anybody leaving
with so bulky a burden. Still, in the building it was not to be found.
When Hewitt was informed of these things on Monday, the police were, of
course, still in possession of Rameau's rooms. Inspector Nettings, Hewitt
was told, was in charge of the case, and as the inspector was an
acquaintance of his, and was then in the rooms upstairs, Hewitt went up to
Nettings was pleased to see Hewitt, and invited him to look around the
rooms. "Perhaps you can spot something we have overlooked," he said.
"Though it's not a case there can be much doubt about."
"You think it's Goujon, don't you?"
"Think? Well, rather! Look here! As soon as we got here on Saturday, we
found this piece of paper and pin on the floor. We showed it to the
housemaid, and then she remembered--she was too much upset to think of it
before--that when she was in the room the paper was laying on the dead
man's chest--pinned there, evidently. It must have dropped off when they
removed the body. It's a case of half-mad revenge on Goujon's part,
plainly. See it; you read French, don't you?"
The paper was a plain, large half-sheet of note-paper, on which a sentence
in French was scrawled in red ink in a large, clumsy hand, thus:
puni par un vengeur de la tortue.
"Puni par un vengeur de la tortue," Hewitt repeated musingly. "'Punished
by an avenger of the tortoise,' That seems odd."
"Well, rather odd. But you understand the reference, of course. Have they
told you about Rameau's treatment of Goujon's pet tortoise?"
"I think it was mentioned among his other pranks. But this is an extreme
revenge for a thing of that sort, and a queer way of announcing it."
"Oh, he's mad--mad with Rameau's continual ragging and baiting," Nettings
answered. "Anyway, this is a plain indication--plain as though he'd left
his own signature. Besides, it's in his own language--French. And there's
his chopper, too."
"Speaking of signatures," Hewitt remarked, "perhaps you have already
compared this with other specimens of Goujon's writing?"
"I did think of it, but they don't seem to have a specimen to hand, and,
anyway, it doesn't seem very important. There's 'avenger of the tortoise'
plain enough, in the man's own language, and that tells everything.
Besides, handwritings are easily disguised."
"Have you got Goujon?"
"Well, no; we haven't. There seems to be some little difficulty about
that. But I expect to have him by this time to-morrow. Here comes Mr.
Styles, the landlord."
Mr. Styles was a thin, querulous, and withered-looking little man, who
twitched his eyebrows as he spoke, and spoke in short, jerky phrases.
"No news, eh, inspector, eh? eh? Found out nothing else, eh? Terrible
thing for my property--terrible! Who's your friend?"
Nettings introduced Hewitt.
"Shocking thing this, eh, Mr. Hewitt? Terrible! Comes of having anything
to do with these blood-thirsty foreigners, eh? New buildings and
all--character ruined. No one come to live here now, eh? Tenants--noisy
niggers--murdered by my own servants--terrible! You formed any opinion,
"I dare say I might if I went into the case."
"Yes, yes--same opinion as inspector's, eh? I mean an opinion of your
own?" The old man scrutinized Hewitt's face sharply.
"If you'd like me to look into the matter----" Hewitt began.
"Eh? Oh, look into it! Well, I can't commission you, you know--matter for
the police. Mischief's done. Police doing very well, I think--must be
Goujon. But look about the place, certainly, if you like. If you see
anything likely to serve my interests, tell me, and--and--perhaps I'll
employ you, eh, eh? Good-afternoon."
The landlord vanished, and the inspector laughed. "Likes to see what he's
buying, does Mr. Styles," he said.
Hewitt's first impulse was to walk out of the place at once. But his
interest in the case had been roused, and he determined, at any rate, to
examine the rooms, and this he did very minutely. By the side of the lobby
was a bath-room, and in this was fitted a tip-up wash-basin, which Hewitt
inspected with particular attention. Then he called the housekeeper, and
made inquiries about Rameau's clothes and linen. The housekeeper could
give no idea of how many overcoats or how much linen he had had. He had
all a negro's love of display, and was continually buying new clothes,
which, indeed, were lying, hanging, littering, and choking up the bedroom
in all directions. The housekeeper, however, on Hewitt's inquiring after
such a garment in particular, did remember one heavy black ulster, which
Rameau had very rarely worn--only in the coldest weather.
"After the body was discovered," Hewitt asked the housekeeper, "was any
stranger observed about the place--whether carrying anything or not?"
"No, sir," the housekeeper replied. "There's been particular inquiries
about that. Of course, after we knew what was wrong and the body was gone,
nobody was seen, or he'd have been stopped. But the hall-porter says he's
certain no stranger came or went for half an hour or more before that--the
time about when the housemaid saw the body and fainted."
At this moment a clerk from the landlord's office arrived and handed
Nettings a paper. "Here you are," said Nettings to Hewitt; "they've found
a specimen of Goujon's handwriting at last, if you'd like to see it. I
don't want it; I'm not a graphologist, and the case is clear enough for me
Hewitt took the paper. "This" he said, "is a different sort of handwriting
from that on the paper. The red-ink note about the avenger of the tortoise
is in a crude, large, clumsy, untaught style of writing. This is small,
neat, and well formed--except that it is a trifle shaky, probably because
of the hand injury."
"That's nothing," contended Nettings. "handwriting clues are worse than
useless, as a rule. It's so easy to disguise and imitate writing; and
besides, if Goujon is such a good penman as you seem to say, why, he could
all the easier alter his style. Say now yourself, can any fiddling
question of handwriting get over this thing about 'avenging the
tortoise'--practically a written confession--to say nothing of the
chopper, and what he said to the housemaid as he left?"
"Well," said Hewitt, "perhaps not; but we'll see. Meantime"--turning to
the landlord's clerk--"possibly you will be good enough to tell me one or
two things. First, what was Goujon's character?"
"Excellent, as far as we know. We never had a complaint about him except
for little matters of carelessness--leaving coal-scuttles on the
staircases for people to fall over, losing shovels, and so on. He was
certainly a bit careless, but, as far as we could see, quite a decent
little fellow. One would never have thought him capable of committing
murder for the sake of a tortoise, though he was rather fond of the
"The tortoise is dead now, I understand?"
"Have you a lift in this building?"
"Only for coals and heavy parcels. Goujon used to work it, sometimes going
up and down in it himself with coals, and so on; it goes into the
"And are the coals kept under this building?"
"No. The store for the whole row is under the next two houses--the
"Do you know Rameau's other name?"
"Cesar Rameau he signed in our agreement."
"Did he ever mention his relations?"
"No. That is to say, he did say something one day when he was very drunk;
but, of course, it was all rot. Some one told him not to make such a
row--he was a beastly tenant--and he said he was the best man in the
place, and his brother was Prime Minister, and all sorts of things. Mere
drunken rant! I never heard of his saying anything sensible about
relations. We know nothing of his connections; he came here on a banker's
"Thanks. I think that's all I want to ask. You notice," Hewitt proceeded,
turning to Nettings, "the only ink in this place is scented and violet, and
the only paper is tinted and scented, too, with a monogram--characteristic
of a negro with money. The paper that was pinned on Rameau's breast is
in red ink on common and rather grubby paper, therefore it was written
somewhere else and brought here. Inference, premeditation."
"Yes, yes. But are you an inch nearer with all these speculations? Can you
get nearer than I am now without them?"
"Well, perhaps not," Hewitt replied. "I don't profess at this moment to
know the criminal; you do. I'll concede you that point for the present.
But you don't offer an opinion as to who removed Rameau's body--which I
think I know."
"Who was it, then?"
"Come, try and guess that yourself. It wasn't Goujon; I don't mind letting
you know that. But it was a person quite within your knowledge of the
case. You've mentioned the person's name more than once."
Nettings stared blankly. "I don't understand you in the least," he said.
"But, of course, you mean that this mysterious person you speak of as
having moved the body committed the murder?"
"No, I don't. Nobody could have been more innocent of that."
"Well," Nettings concluded with resignation, "I'm afraid one of us is
rather thick-headed. What will you do?"
"Interview the person who took away the body," Hewitt replied, with a
"But, man alive, why? Why bother about the person if it isn't the
"Never mind--never mind; probably the person will be a most valuable
"Do you mean you think this person--whoever it is--saw the crime?"
"I think it very probable indeed."
"Well, I won't ask you any more. I shall get hold of Goujon; that's simple
and direct enough for me. I prefer to deal with the heart of the case--the
murder itself--when there's such clear evidence as I have."
"I shall look a little into that, too, perhaps," Hewitt said, "and, if you
like, I'll tell you the first thing I shall do."
"I shall have a good look at a map of the West Indies, and I advise you to
do the same. Good-morning."
Nettings stared down the corridor after Hewitt, and continued staring for
nearly two minutes after he had disappeared. Then he said to the clerk,
who had remained: "What was he talking about?"
"Don't know," replied the clerk. "Couldn't make head nor tail of it."
"I don't believe there is a head to it," declared Nettings; "nor a tail
either. He's kidding us."
* * * * *
Nettings was better than his word, for within two hours of his
conversation with Hewitt, Goujon was captured and safe in a cab bound for
Bow Street. He had been stopped at Newhaven in the morning on his way to
Dieppe, and was brought back to London. But now Nettings met a check.
Late that afternoon he called on Hewitt to explain matters. "We've got
Goujon," he said, gloomily, "but there's a difficulty. He's got two
friends who can swear an alibi. Rameau was seen alive at half-past one
on Saturday, and the girl found him dead about three. Now, Goujon's two
friends, it seems, were with him from one o'clock till four in the
afternoon, with the exception of five minutes when the girl saw him, and
then he left them to take a key or something to the housekeeper before
finally leaving. They were waiting on the landing below when Goujon spoke
to the housemaid, heard him speaking, and had seen him go all the way up
to the housekeeper's room and back, as they looked up the wide well of the
staircase. They are men employed near the place, and seem to have good
characters. But perhaps we shall find something unfavorable about them.
They were drinking with Goujon, it seems, by way of 'seeing him off.'"
"Well," Hewitt said, "I scarcely think you need trouble to damage these
men's characters. They are probably telling the truth. Come, now, be
plain. You've come here to get a hint as to whether my theory of the case
helps you, haven't you?"
"Well, if you can give me a friendly hint, although, of course, I may be
right, after all. Still, I wish you'd explain a bit as to what you meant
by looking at a map and all that mystery. Nice thing for me to be taking a
lesson in my own business after all these years! But perhaps I deserve
"See, now," quoth Hewitt, "you remember what map I told you to look at?"
"The West Indies."
"Right! Well, here you are." Hewitt reached an atlas from his book-shelf.
"Now, look here: the biggest island of the lot on this map, barring Cuba,
is Hayti. You know as well as I do that the western part of that island is
peopled by the black republic of Hayti, and that the country is in a
degenerate state of almost unexampled savagery, with a ridiculous show of
civilization. There are revolutions all the time; the South American
republics are peaceful and prosperous compared to Hayti. The state of the
country is simply awful--read Sir Spenser St. John's book on it. President
after president of the vilest sort forces his way to power and commits the
most horrible and bloodthirsty excesses, murdering his opponents by the
hundred and seizing their property for himself and his satellites, who are
usually as bad, if not worse, than the president himself. Whole
families--men, women, and children--are murdered at the instance of these
ruffians, and, as a consequence, the most deadly feuds spring up, and the
presidents and their followers are always themselves in danger of
reprisals from others. Perhaps the very worst of these presidents in
recent times has been the notorious Domingue, who was overthrown by an
insurrection, as they all are sooner or later, and compelled to fly the
country. Domingue and his nephews, one of whom was Chief Minister, while
in power committed the cruellest bloodshed, and many members of the
opposite party sought refuge in a small island lying just to the north of
Hayti, but were sought out there and almost exterminated. Now, I will show
you that island on the map. What is its name?"
"It is. 'Tortuga,' however, is only the old Spanish name; the Haytians
speak French--Creole French. Here is a French atlas: now see the name of
"La Tortue it is--the tortoise. Tortuga means the same thing in Spanish.
But that island is always spoken of in Hayti as La Tortue. Now, do you see
the drift of that paper pinned to Rameau's breast?"
"Punished by an avenger of--or from--the tortoise or La Tortue--clear
enough. It would seem that the dead man had something to do with the
massacre there, and somebody from the island is avenging it. The thing's
"And now listen. The name of Domingue's nephew, who was Chief Minister,
was Septimus Rameau."
"And this was Cesar Rameau--his brother, probably. I see. Well, this is
"I think the relationship probable. Now you understand why I was inclined
to doubt that Goujon was the man you wanted."
"Of course, of course! And now I suppose I must try to get a nigger--the
chap who wrote that paper. I wish he hadn't been such an ignorant nigger.
If he'd only have put the capitals to the words 'La Tortue,' I might have
thought a little more about them, instead of taking it for granted that
they meant that wretched tortoise in the basement of the house. Well, I've
made a fool of a start, but I'll be after that nigger now."
"And I, as I said before," said Hewitt, "shall be after the person that
carried off Rameau's body. I have had something else to do this afternoon,
or I should have begun already."
"You said you thought he saw the crime. How did you judge that?"
Hewitt smiled. "I think I'll keep that little secret to myself for the
present," he said. "You shall know soon."
"Very well," Nettings replied, with resignation. "I suppose I mustn't
grumble if you don't tell me everything. I feel too great a fool
altogether over this case to see any farther than you show me." And
Inspector Nettings left on his search; while Martin Hewitt, as soon as he
was alone, laughed joyously and slapped his thigh.
* * * * *
There was a cab-rank and shelter at the end of the street where Mr.
Styles' building stood, and early that evening a man approached it and
hailed the cabmen and the waterman. Any one would have known the new-comer
at once for a cabman taking a holiday. The brim of the hat, the bird's-eye
neckerchief, the immense coat-buttons, and, more than all, the rolling
walk and the wrinkled trousers, marked him out distinctly.
"Watcheer!" he exclaimed, affably, with the self-possessed nod only
possible to cabbies and 'busmen. "I'm a-lookin' for a bilker. I'm told one
o' the blokes off this rank carried 'im last Saturday, and I want to know
where he went. I ain't 'ad a chance o' gettin' 'is address yet. Took a cab
just as it got dark, I'm told. Tallish chap, muffled up a lot, in a long
black overcoat. Any of ye seen 'im?"
The cabbies looked at one another and shook their heads; it chanced that
none of them had been on that particular rank at that time. But the
waterman said: "'Old on--I bet 'e's the bloke wot old Bill Stammers took.
Yorkey was fust on the rank, but the bloke wouldn't 'ave a 'ansom--wanted
a four-wheeler, so old Bill took 'im. Biggish chap in a long black coat,
collar up an' muffled thick; soft wide-awake 'at, pulled over 'is eyes;
and he was in a 'urry, too. Jumped in sharp as a weasel."
"Didn't see 'is face, did ye?"
"No--not an inch of it; too much muffled. Couldn't tell if he 'ad a face."
"Was his arm in a sling?"
"Ay, it looked so. Had it stuffed through the breast of his coat, like as
though there might be a sling inside."
"That's 'im. Any of ye tell me where I might run across old Bill Stammers?
He'll tell me where my precious bilker went to."
As to this there was plenty of information, and in five minutes Martin
Hewitt, who had become an unoccupied cabman for the occasion, was on his
way to find old Bill Stammers. That respectable old man gave him full
particulars as to the place in the East End where he had driven his
muffled fare on Saturday, and Hewitt then begun an eighteen, or twenty
hours' search beyond Whitechapel.
* * * * *
At about three on Tuesday afternoon, as Nettings was in the act of leaving
Bow Street Police Station, Hewitt drove up in a four-wheeler. Some
prisoner appeared to be crouching low in the vehicle, but, leaving him to
take care of himself, Hewitt hurried into the station and shook Nettings
by the hand. "Well," he said, "have you got the murderer of Rameau yet?"
"No," Nettings growled. "Unless--well, Goujon's under remand still, and,
after all, I've been thinking that he may know something----"
"Pooh, nonsense!" Hewitt answered. "You'd better let him go. Now, I have
got somebody." Hewitt laughed and slapped the inspector's shoulder. "I've
got the man who carried Rameau's body away!"
"The deuce you have! Where? Bring him in. We must have him----"
"All right, don't be in a hurry; he won't bolt." And Hewitt stepped out to
the cab and produced his prisoner, who, pulling his hat farther over his
eyes, hurried furtively into the station. One hand was stowed in the
breast of his long coat, and below the wide brim of his hat a small piece
of white bandage could be seen; and, as he lifted his face, it was seen to
be that of a negro.
"Inspector Nettings," Hewitt said ceremoniously, "allow me to introduce
Mr. Cesar Rameau!"
"What!" he at length ejaculated. "What! You--you're Rameau?"
The negro looked round nervously, and shrank farther from the door.
"Yes," he said; "but please not so loud--please not loud. Zey may be near,
and I'm 'fraid."
"You will certify, will you not," asked Hewitt, with malicious glee, "not
only that you were not murdered last Saturday by Victor Goujon, but that,
in fact, you were not murdered at all? Also, that you carried your own
body away in the usual fashion, on your own legs."
"Yes, yes," responded Rameau, looking haggardly about; "but is not
zis--zis room publique? I should not be seen."
"Nonsense!" replied Hewitt rather testily; "you exaggerate your danger and
your own importance, and your enemies' abilities as well. You're safe
"I suppose, then," Nettings remarked slowly, like a man on whose mind
something vast was beginning to dawn, "I suppose--why, hang it, you must
have just got up while that fool of a girl was screaming and fainting
upstairs, and walked out. They say there's nothing so hard as a nigger's
skull, and yours has certainly made a fool of me. But, then, somebody
must have chopped you over the head; who was it?"
"My enemies--my great enemies--enemies politique. I am a great man"--this
with a faint revival of vanity amid his fear--"a great man in my countree.
Zey have great secret club-sieties to kill me--me and my fren's; and one
enemy coming in my rooms does zis--one, two"--he indicated wrist and
head--"wiz a choppa."
Rameau made the case plain to Nettings, so far as the actual circumstances
of the assault on himself were concerned. A negro whom he had noticed near
the place more than once during the previous day or two had attacked him
suddenly in his rooms, dealing him two savage blows with a chopper. The
first he had caught on his wrist, which was seriously damaged, as well as
excruciatingly painful, but the second had taken effect on his head. His
assailant had evidently gone away then, leaving him for dead; but, as a
matter of fact, he was only stunned by the shock, and had, thanks to the
adamantine thickness of the negro skull and the ill-direction of the
chopper, only a very bad scalp-wound, the bone being no more than grazed.
He had lain insensible for some time, and must have come to his senses
soon after the housemaid had left the room. Terrified at the knowledge
that his enemies had found him out, his only thought was to get away and
hide himself. He hastily washed and tied up his head, enveloped himself in
the biggest coat he could find, and let himself down into the basement by
the coal-lift, for fear of observation. He waited in the basement of one
of the adjoining buildings till dark and then got away in a cab, with the
idea of hiding himself in the East End. He had had very little money with
him on his flight, and it was by reason of this circumstance that Hewitt,
when he found him, had prevailed on him to leave his hiding-place, since
it would be impossible for him to touch any of the large sums of money in
the keeping of his bank so long as he was supposed to be dead. With much
difficulty, and the promise of ample police protection, he was at last
convinced that it would be safe to declare himself and get his property,
and then run away and hide wherever he pleased.
Nettings and Hewitt strolled off together for a few minutes and chatted,
leaving the wretched Rameau to cower in a corner among several policemen.
"Well, Mr. Hewitt," Nettings said, "this case has certainly been a
shocking beating for me. I must have been as blind as a bat when I started
on it. And yet I don't see that you had a deal to go on, even now. What
struck you first?"
"Well, in the beginning it seemed rather odd to me that the body should
have been taken away, as I had been told it was, after the written paper
had been pinned on it. Why should the murderer pin a label on the body of
his victim if he meant carrying that body away? Who would read the label
and learn of the nature of the revenge gratified? Plainly, that indicated
that the person who had carried away the body was not the person who had
committed the murder. But as soon as I began to examine the place I saw
the probability that there was no murder, after all. There were any number
of indications of this fact, and I can't understand your not observing
them. First, although there was a good deal of blood on the floor just
below where the housemaid had seen Rameau lying, there was none between
that place and the door. Now, if the body had been dragged, or even
carried, to the door, blood must have become smeared about the floor, or
at least there would have been drops, but there were none, and this seemed
to hint that the corpse might have come to itself, sat up on the sofa,
stanched the wound, and walked out. I reflected at once that Rameau was a
full-blooded negro, and that a negro's head is very nearly invulnerable to
anything short of bullets. Then, if the body had been dragged out--as such
a heavy body must have been--almost of necessity the carpet and rugs would
show signs of the fact, but there were no such signs. But beyond these
there was the fact that no long black overcoat was left with the other
clothes, although the housekeeper distinctly remembered Rameau's
possession of such a garment. I judged he would use some such thing to
assist his disguise, which was why I asked her. Why he would want to
disguise was plain, as you shall see presently. There were no towels left
in the bath-room; inference, used for bandages. Everything seemed to show
that the only person responsible for Rameau's removal was Rameau himself.
Why, then, had he gone away secretly and hurriedly, without making
complaint, and why had he stayed away? What reason would he have for doing
this if it had been Goujon that had attacked him? None. Goujon was going
to France. Clearly, Rameau was afraid of another attack from some
implacable enemy whom he was anxious to avoid--one against whom he feared
legal complaint or defense would be useless. This brought me at once to
the paper found on the floor. If this were the work of Goujon and an open
reference to his tortoise, why should he be at such pains to disguise his
handwriting? He would have been already pointing himself out by the mere
mention of the tortoise. And, if he could not avoid a shake in his
natural, small handwriting, how could he have avoided it in a large,
clumsy, slowly drawn, assumed hand? No, the paper was not Goujon's."
"As to the writing on the paper," Nettings interposed, "I've told you how
I made that mistake. I took the readiest explanation of the words, since
they seemed so pat, and I wouldn't let anything else outweigh that. As to
the other things--the evidences of Rameau's having gone off by
himself--well, I don't usually miss such obvious things; but I never
thought of the possibility of the victim going away on the quiet and not
coming back, as though he'd done something wrong. Comes of starting with
a set of fixed notions."
"Well," answered Hewitt, "I fancy you must have been rather 'out of form,'
as they say; everybody has his stupid days, and you can't keep up to
concert pitch forever. To return to the case. The evidence of the chopper
was very untrustworthy, especially when I had heard of Goujon's careless
habits--losing shovels and leaving coal-scuttles on stairs. Nothing more
likely than for the chopper to be left lying about, and a criminal who had
calculated his chances would know the advantage to himself of using a
weapon that belonged to the place, and leaving it behind to divert
suspicion. It is quite possible, by the way, that the man who attacked
Rameau got away down the coal-lift and out by an adjoining basement, just
as did Rameau himself; this, however, is mere conjecture. The would-be
murderer had plainly prepared for the crime: witness the previous
preparation of the paper declaring his revenge, an indication of his pride
at having run his enemy to earth at such a distant place as this--although
I expect he was only in England by chance, for Haytians are not a
persistently energetic race. In regard to the use of small instead of
capital letters in the words 'La Tortue' on the paper, I observed, in the
beginning, that the first letter of the whole sentence--the 'p' in
'puni'--was a small one. Clearly, the writer was an illiterate man, and it
was at once plain that he may have made the same mistake with ensuing
"On the whole, it was plain that everybody had begun with a too ready
disposition to assume that Goujon was guilty. Everybody insisted, too,
that the body had been carried away--which was true, of course, although
not in the sense intended--so I didn't trouble to contradict, or to say
more than that I guessed who had carried the body off. And, to tell you
the truth, I was a little piqued at Mr. Styles' manner, and indisposed,
interested in the case as I was, to give away my theories too freely.
"The rest of the job was not very difficult. I found out the cabman who
had taken Rameau away--you can always get readier help from cabbies if you
go as one of themselves, especially if you are after a bilker--and from
him got a sufficiently near East End direction to find Rameau after
inquiries. I ventured, by the way, on a rather long shot. I described my
man to the cabman as having an injured arm or wrist--and it turned out a
correct guess. You see, a man making an attack with a chopper is pretty
certain to make more than a single blow, and as there appeared to have
been only a single wound on the head, it seemed probable that another had
fallen somewhere else--almost certainly on the arm, as it would be raised
to defend the head. At Limehouse I found he had had his head and wrist
attended to at a local medico's, and a big nigger in a fright, with a long
black coat, a broken head, and a lame hand, is not so difficult to find in
a small area. How I persuaded him up here you know already; I think I
frightened him a little, too, by explaining how easily I had tracked him,
and giving him a hint that others might do the same. He is in a great
funk. He seems to have quite lost faith in England as a safe asylum."
The police failed to catch Rameau's assailant--chiefly because Rameau
could not be got to give a proper description of him, nor to do anything
except get out of the country in a hurry. In truth, he was glad to be quit
of the matter with nothing worse than his broken head. Little Goujon made
a wild storm about his arrest, and before he did go to France managed to
extract twenty pounds from Rameau by way of compensation, in spite of the
absence of any strictly legal claim against his old tormentor. So that, on
the whole, Goujon was about the only person who derived any particular
profit from the tortoise mystery.
Next: The Shape Of Fear
Previous: The Stanway Cameo Mystery