* A Distributed Proofreaders Canada eBook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the ebook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the ebook. If either of these conditions applies, please contact a FP administrator before proceeding.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. IF THE BOOK IS UNDER COPYRIGHT IN YOUR COUNTRY, DO NOT DOWNLOAD OR REDISTRIBUTE THIS FILE.

Title: The Mysterious Visitor

Date of first publication: 1929

Author: Richard Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

Date first posted: Oct. 5, 2018

Date last updated: Oct. 5, 2018

Faded Page eBook #20181009

This ebook was produced by: Delphine Lettau, Mark Akrigg, Jen Haines & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net


So,” said Thorndyke, looking at me reflectively, “you are a full-blown medical practitioner with a practice of your own. How the years slip by! It seems but the other day that you were a student, gaping at me from the front bench of the lecture theatre.”

“Did I gape?” I asked incredulously.

“I use the word metaphorically,” said he, “to denote ostentatious attention. You always took my lectures very seriously. May I ask if you have ever found them of use in your practice?”

“I can’t say that I have ever had any very thrilling medico-legal experiences since that extraordinary cremation case that you investigated—the case of Septimus Maddock, you know. But that reminds me that there is a little matter that I meant to speak to you about. It is of no interest, but I just wanted your advice, though it isn’t even my business, strictly speaking. It concerns a patient of mine, a man named Crofton, who has disappeared rather unaccountably.”

“And do you call that a case of no medico-legal interest?” demanded Thorndyke.

“Oh, there’s nothing in it. He just went away for a holiday and he hasn’t communicated with his friends very recently. That is all. What makes me a little uneasy is that there is a departure from his usual habits—he is generally a fairly regular correspondent—that seems a little significant in view of his personality. He is markedly neurotic and his family history is by no means what one would wish.”

“That is an admirable thumb-nail sketch, Jardine,” said Thorndyke; “but it lacks detail. Let us have a full-size picture.”

“Very well,” said I, “but you mustn’t let me bore you. To begin with Crofton: he is a nervous, anxious, worrying sort of fellow, everlastingly fussing about money affairs, and latterly this tendency has been getting worse. He fairly got the jumps about his financial position; felt that he was steadily drifting into bankruptcy and couldn’t get the subject out of his mind. It was all bunkum. I am more or less a friend of the family, and I know that there was nothing to worry about. Mrs. Crofton assured me that, although they were a trifle hard up, they could rub along quite safely.

“As he seemed to be getting the hump worse and worse, I advised him to go away for a change and stay in a boarding-house where he would see some fresh faces. Instead of that, he elected to go down to a bungalow that he has at Seasalter, near Whitstable, and lets out in the season. He proposed to stay by himself and spend his time in sea-bathing and country walks. I wasn’t very keen on this, for solitude was the last thing that he wanted. There was a strong family history of melancholia and some unpleasant rumours of suicide. I didn’t like his being alone at all. However, another friend of the family, Mrs. Crofton’s brother in fact, a chap named Ambrose, offered to go down and spend a week-end with him to give him a start, and afterwards to run down for an afternoon whenever he was able. So off he went with Ambrose on Friday, the sixteenth of June, and for a time all went well. He seemed to be improving in health and spirits and wrote to his wife regularly two or three times a week. Ambrose went down as often as he could to cheer him up, and the last time brought back the news that Crofton thought of moving on to Margate for a further change. So, of course, he didn’t go down to the bungalow again.

“Well, in due course, a letter came from Margate; it had been written at the bungalow, but the postmark was Margate and bore the same date—the sixteenth of July—as the letter itself. I have it with me. Mrs. Crofton sent it for me to see and I haven’t returned it yet. But there is nothing of interest in it beyond the statement that he was going on to Margate by the next train and would write again when he had found rooms there. That was the last that was heard of him. He never wrote and nothing is known of his movements excepting that he left Seasalter and arrived at Margate. This is the letter.”

I handed it to Thorndyke, who glanced at the postmark and then laid it on the table for examination later.

“Have any inquiries been made?” he asked.

“Yes. His photograph has been sent to the Margate police, but, of course—well, you know what Margate is like in July. Thousands of strangers coming and going every day. It is hopeless to look for him in that crowd; and it is quite possible that he isn’t there now. But his disappearance is most inopportune, for a big legacy has just fallen in, and, naturally, Mrs. Crofton is frantically anxious to let him know. It is a matter of about thirty thousand pounds.”

“Was this legacy expected?” asked Thorndyke.

“No. The Croftons knew nothing about it. They didn’t know that the old lady—Miss Shuler—had made a will or that she had very much to leave; and they didn’t know that she was likely to die, or even that she was ill. Which is rather odd; for she was ill for a month or two, and, as she suffered from a malignant abdominal tumour, it was known that she couldn’t recover.”

“When did she die?”

“On the thirteenth of July.”

Thorndyke raised his eyebrows. “Just three days before the date of this letter,” he remarked; “so that, if he should never reappear, this letter will be the sole evidence that he survived her. It is an important document. It may come to represent a value of thirty thousand pounds.”

“It isn’t so important as it looks,” said I. “Miss Shuler’s will provides that if Crofton should die before the testatrix, the legacy should go to his wife. So whether he is alive or not, the legacy is quite safe. But we must hope that he is alive, though I must confess to some little anxiety on his account.”

Thorndyke reflected awhile on this statement. Presently he asked:

“Do you know if Crofton has made a will?”

“Yes, he has,” I replied; “quite recently. I was one of the witnesses and I read it through at Crofton’s request. It was full of the usual legal verbiage, but it might have been stated in a dozen words. He leaves practically everything to his wife, but instead of saying so it enumerates the property item by item.”

“It was drafted, I suppose, by the solicitor?”

“Yes; another friend of the family named Jobson, and he is the executor and residuary legatee.”

Thorndyke nodded and again became deeply reflective. Still meditating, he took up the letter, and as he inspected it, I watched him curiously and not without a certain secret amusement. First he looked over the envelope, back and front. Then he took from his pocket a powerful Coddington lens and with this examined the flap and the postmark. Next, he drew out the letter, held it up to the light, then read it through and finally examined various parts of the writing through his lens.

“Well,” I asked, with an irreverent grin, “I should think you have extracted the last grain of meaning from it.”

He smiled as he put away his lens and handed the letter back to me.

“As this may have to be produced in proof of survival,” said he, “it had better be put in a place of safety. I notice that he speaks of returning later to the bungalow. I take it that it has been ascertained that he did not return there?”

“I don’t think so. You see, they have been waiting for him to write. You think that some one ought——”

I paused; for it began to be borne in on me that Thorndyke was taking a somewhat gloomy view of the case.

“My dear Jardine,” said he, “I am merely following your own suggestion. Here is a man with an inherited tendency to melancholia and suicide who has suddenly disappeared. He went away from an empty house and announced his intention of returning to it later. As that house is the only known locality in which he could be sought, it is obvious that it ought to have been examined. And even if he never came back there, the house might contain some clues to his present whereabouts.”

This last sentence put an idea into my mind which I was a little shy of broaching. What was a clue to Thorndyke might be perfectly meaningless to an ordinary person. I recalled his amazing interpretations of the most commonplace facts in the mysterious Maddock case and the idea took fuller possession. At length I said tentatively:

“I would go down myself if I felt competent. Tomorrow is Saturday, and I could get a colleague to look after my practice; there isn’t much doing just now. But when you speak of clues, and when I remember what a duffer I was last time—I wish it were possible for you to have a look at the place.”

To my surprise, he assented almost with enthusiasm.

“Why not?” said he. “It is a week-end. We could put up at the bungalow, I suppose, and have a little gipsy holiday. And there are undoubtedly points of interest in the case. Let us go down to-morrow. We can lunch in the train and have the afternoon before us. You had better get a key from Mrs. Crofton, or, if she hasn’t got one, an authority to visit the house. We may want that if we have to enter without a key. And we go alone, of course.”

I assented joyfully. Not that I had any expectations as to what we might learn from our inspection. But something in Thorndyke’s manner gave me the impression that he had extracted from my account of the case some significance that was not apparent to me.

The bungalow stood on a space of rough ground a little way behind the sea-wall, along which we walked towards it from Whitstable, passing on our way a ship-builder’s yard and a slipway, on which a collier brigantine was hauled up for repairs. There were one or two other bungalows adjacent, but a considerable distance apart, and we looked at them as we approached to make out the names painted on the gates.

“That will probably be the one,” said Thorndyke, indicating a small building enclosed within a wooden fence and provided, like the others, with a bathing-hut, just above high-water mark. Its solitary, deserted aspect and lowered blinds supported his opinion, and when we reached the gate, the name “Middlewick” painted on it settled the matter.

“The next question is,” said I, “how the deuce we are going to get in? The gate is locked, and there is no bell. Is it worth while to hammer at the fence?”

“I wouldn’t do that,” replied Thorndyke. “The place is pretty certainly empty or the gate wouldn’t be locked. We shall have to climb over unless there is a back gate unlocked, so the less noise we make the better.”

We walked round the enclosure, but there was no other gate, nor was there any tree or other cover to disguise our rather suspicious proceedings.

“There’s no help for it, Jardine,” said Thorndyke, “so here goes.”

He put his green canvas suit-case on the ground, grasped the top of the fence with both hands and went over like a harlequin. I picked up the case and handed it over to him, and, having taken a quick glance round, followed my leader.

“Well,” I said, “here we are. And now, how are we to get into the house?”

“We shall have to pick a lock if there is no door open, or else go in by a window. Let us take a look round.”

We walked round the house to the back door, but found it not only locked, but bolted top and bottom, as Thorndyke ascertained with his knifeblade. The windows were all casements and all fastened with their catches.

“The front door will be the best,” said Thorndyke. “It can’t be bolted unless he got out by the chimney, and I think my ‘smoker’s companion’ will be able to cope with an ordinary door-lock. It looked like a common builder’s fitting.”

As he spoke, we returned to the front of the house and he produced the “smoker’s companion” from his pocket (I don’t know what kind of smoker it was designed to accompany). The lock was apparently a simple affair, for the second trial with the “companion” shot back the bolt, and when I turned the handle, the door opened. As a precaution, I called out to inquire if there was anybody within, and then, as there was no answer, we entered, walking straight into the living-room, as there was no hall or lobby.

A couple of paces from the threshold we halted to look round the room, and on me the aspect of the place produced a vague sense of discomfort. Though it was early in a bright afternoon, the room was almost completely dark, for not only were the blinds lowered, but the curtains were drawn as well.

“It looks,” said I, peering about the dim and gloomy apartment with sun-dazzled eyes, “as if he had gone away at night. He wouldn’t have drawn the curtains in the daytime.”

“One would think not,” Thorndyke agreed; “but it doesn’t follow.”

He stepped to the front window and drawing back the curtains pulled up the blind, revealing a half-curtain of green serge over the lower part of the window. As the bright daylight flooded the room, he stood with his back to the window looking about with deep attention, letting his eyes travel slowly over the walls, the furniture, and especially the floor. Presently he stooped to pick up a short match-end which lay just under the table opposite the door, and as he looked at it thoughtfully, he pointed to a couple of spots of candle grease on the linoleum near the table. Then he glanced at the mantelpiece and from that to an ash-bowl on the table.

“These are only trifling discrepancies,” said he, “but they are worth noting. You see,” he continued in response to my look of inquiry, “that this room is severely trim and orderly. Everything seems to be in place. The match-box, for instance, has its fixed receptacle above the mantelpiece, and there is a bowl for the burnt matches, regularly used, as its contents show. Yet there is a burnt match thrown on the floor, although the bowl is on the table quite handy. And the match, you notice, is not of the same kind as those in the box over the mantelpiece, which is a large Bryant and May, or as the burnt matches in the bowl which have evidently come from it. But if you look in the bowl,” he continued, picking it up, “you will see two burnt matches of this same kind—apparently the small size Bryant and May—one burnt quite short and one only half burnt. The suggestion is fairly obvious, but, as I say, there is a slight discrepancy.”

“I don’t know,” said I, “that either the suggestion or the discrepancy is very obvious to me.”

He walked over to the mantelpiece and took the match-box from its case.

“You see,” said he, opening it, “that this box is nearly full. It has an appointed place and it was in that place. We find a small match, burnt right out, under the table opposite the door, and two more in the bowl under the hanging lamp. A reasonable inference is that some one came in in the dark and struck a match as he entered. That match must have come from a box that he brought with him in his pocket. It burned out and he struck another, which also burned out while he was raising the chimney of the lamp, and he struck a third to light the lamp. But if that person was Crofton, why did he need to strike a match to light the room when the match-box was in its usual place; and why did he throw the match-end on the floor?”

“You mean that the suggestion is that the person was not Crofton; and I think you are right. Crofton doesn’t carry matches in his pocket. He uses wax vestas and carries them in a silver case.”

“It might possibly have been Ambrose,” Thorndyke suggested.

“I don’t think so,” said I. “Ambrose uses a petrol lighter.”

Thorndyke nodded. “There may be nothing in it,” said he, “but it offers a suggestion. Shall we look over the rest of the premises?”

He paused for a moment to glance at a small key-board on the wall on which one or two keys were hanging, each distinguished by a little ivory label and by the name written underneath the peg; then he opened a door in the corner of the room. As this led into the kitchen, he closed it and opened an adjoining one which gave access to a bedroom.

“This is probably the extra bedroom,” he remarked as we entered. “The blinds have not been drawn down and there is a general air of trimness that suggests a tidy up of an unoccupied room. And the bed looks as if it had been out of use.”

After an attentive look round, he returned to the living-room and crossed to the remaining door. As he opened it, we looked into a nearly dark room, both the windows being covered by thick serge curtains.

“Well,” he observed, when he had drawn back the curtains and raised the blinds, “there is nothing painfully tidy here. That is a very roughly-made bed, and the blanket is outside the counterpane.”

He looked critically about the room and especially at the bedside table.

“Here are some more discrepancies,” said he. “There are two candlesticks, in one of which the candle has burned itself right out, leaving a fragment of wick. There are five burnt matches in it, two large ones from the box by its side and three small ones, of which two are mere stumps. The second candle is very much guttered, and I think”—he lifted it out of the socket—“yes, it has been used out of the candlestick. You see that the grease has run down right to the bottom and there is a distinct impression of a thumb—apparently a left thumb—made while the grease was warm. Then you notice the mark on the table of a tumbler which had contained some liquid that was not water, but there is no tumbler. However, it may be an old mark, though it looks fresh.”

“It is hardly like Crofton to leave an old mark on the table,” said I. “He is a regular old maid. We had better see if the tumbler is in the kitchen.”

“Yes,” agreed Thorndyke. “But I wonder what he was doing with that candle. Apparently he took it out-of-doors, as there is a spot on the floor of the living-room; and you see that there are one or two spots on the floor here.” He walked over to a chest of drawers near the door and was looking into a drawer which he had pulled out, and which I could see was full of clothes, when I observed a faint smile spreading over his face. “Come round here, Jardine,” he said in a low voice, “and take a peep through the crack of the door.”

I walked round, and, applying my eye to the crack, looked across the living-room at the end window. Above the half-curtain I could distinguish the unmistakable top of a constabulary helmet.

“Listen,” said Thorndyke. “They are in force.”

As he spoke, there came from the neighbourhood of the kitchen a furtive scraping sound, suggestive of a pocket-knife persuading a window-catch. It was followed by the sound of an opening window and then of a stealthy entry. Finally, the kitchen door opened softly, some one tip-toed across the living-room and a burly police-sergeant appeared, framed in the bedroom doorway.

“Good afternoon, sergeant,” said Thorndyke, with a genial smile.

“Yes, that’s all very well,” was the response, “but the question is, who might you be, and what might you be doing in this house?”

Thorndyke briefly explained our business, and, when we had presented our cards, and Mrs. Crofton’s written authority, the sergeant’s professional stiffness vanished like magic.

“It’s all right, Tomkins,” he sang out to an invisible myrmidon. “You had better shut the window and go out by the front door. You must excuse me, gentlemen,” he added; “but the tenant of the next bungalow cycled down and gave us the tip. He watched you through his glasses and saw you pick the front-door lock. It did look a bit queer, you must admit.”

Thorndyke admitted it freely with a faint chuckle, and we walked across the living-room to the kitchen. Here, the sergeant’s presence seemed to inhibit comments, but I noticed that my colleague cast a significant glance at a frying-pan that rested on a Primus stove. The congealed fat in it presented another “discrepancy”; for I could hardly imagine the fastidious Crofton going away and leaving it in that condition.

Noting that there was no unwashed tumbler in evidence, I followed my friend back to the living-room, where he paused with his eye on the key-board.

“Well,” remarked the sergeant, “if he ever did come back here, it’s pretty clear that he isn’t here now. You’ve been all over the premises, I think?”

“All excepting the bathing-hut,” replied Thorndyke; and, as he spoke, he lifted the key so labelled from its hook.

The sergeant laughed softly. “He’s not very likely to have taken up quarters there,” said he. “Still, there’s nothing like being thorough. But you notice that the key of the front door and that of the gate have both been taken away, so we can assume that he has taken himself away too.”

“That is a reasonable inference,” Thorndyke admitted; “but we may as well make our survey complete.”

With this he led the way out into the garden and to the gate, where he unblushingly produced the “smoker’s companion” and insinuated its prongs into the keyhole.

“Well, I’m sure!” exclaimed the sergeant as the lock clicked and the gate opened. “That’s a funny sort of tool; and you seem quite handy with it, too. Might I have a look at it?”

He looked at it so very long and attentively, when Thorndyke handed it to him, that I suspected him of an intention to infringe the patent. By the time he had finished his inspection we were at the bottom of the bank below the sea-wall and Thorndyke had inserted the key into the lock of the bathing-hut. As the sergeant returned the “companion” Thorndyke took it and pocketed it; then he turned the key and pushed the door open; and the officer started back with a shout of amazement.

It was certainly a grim spectacle that we looked in on. The hut was a small building about six feet square, devoid of any furniture or fittings, excepting one or two pegs high up the wall. The single, unglazed window was closely shuttered, and on the bare floor in the farther corner a man was sitting, leaning back into the corner, with his head dropped forward on his breast. The man was undoubtedly Arthur Crofton. That much I could say with certainty, notwithstanding the horrible changes wrought by death and the lapse of time. “But,” I added when I had identified the body, “I should have said that he had been dead more than a fortnight. He must have come straight back from Margate and done this. And that will probably be the missing tumbler,” I concluded, pointing to one that stood on the floor close to the right hand of the corpse.

“No doubt,” replied Thorndyke, somewhat abstractedly. He had been looking critically about the interior of the hut, and now remarked: “I wonder why he did not shoot the bolt instead of locking himself in; and what has become of the key? He must have taken it out of the lock and put it in his pocket.”

He looked interrogatively at the sergeant, who having no option but to take the hint, advanced with an expression of horrified disgust and proceeded very gingerly to explore the dead man’s clothing.

“Ah!” he exclaimed at length, “here we are.” He drew from the waistcoat pocket a key with a small ivory label attached to it. “Yes, this is the one. You see, it is marked ‘Bathing-hut.’ ”

He handed it to Thorndyke, who looked at it attentively, and even with an appearance of surprise, and then, producing an indelible pencil from his pocket, wrote on the label, “Found on body.”

“The first thing,” said he, “is to ascertain if it fits the lock.”

“Why, it must,” said the sergeant, “if he locked himself in with it.”

“Undoubtedly,” Thorndyke agreed, “but that is the point. It doesn’t look quite similar to the other one.”

He drew out the key which we had brought from the house and gave it to me to hold. Then he tried the key from the dead man’s pocket; but it not only did not fit, it would not even enter the keyhole.

The sceptical indifference faded suddenly from the sergeant’s face. He took the key from Thorndyke, and having tried it with the same result, stood up and stared, round-eyed, at my colleague.

“Well!” he exclaimed. “This is a facer! It’s the wrong key!”

“There may be another key on the body,” said Thorndyke. “It isn’t likely, but you had better make sure.”

The sergeant showed no reluctance this time. He searched the dead man’s pockets thoroughly and produced a bunch of keys. But they were all quite small keys, none of them in the least resembling that of the hut door. Nor, I noticed, did they include those of the bungalow door or the garden gate. Once more the officer drew himself up and stared at Thorndyke.

“There’s something rather fishy about this affair,” said he.

“There is,” Thorndyke agreed. “The door was certainly locked; and as it was not locked from within, it must have been locked from without. Then that key—the wrong key—was presumably put in the dead man’s pocket by some other person. And there are some other suspicious facts. A tumbler has disappeared from the bedside table, and there is a tumbler here. You notice one or two spots of candle-grease on the floor here, and it looks as if a candle had been stood in that corner near the door. There is no candle here now; but in the bedroom there is a candle which has been carried without a candlestick and which, by the way, bears an excellent impression of a thumb. The first thing to do will be to take the deceased’s finger-prints. Would you mind fetching my case from the bedroom, Jardine?”

I ran back to the house (not unobserved by the gentleman in the next bungalow) and, catching up the case, carried it down to the hut. When I arrived there I found Thorndyke holding the tumbler delicately in his gloved left hand while he examined it against the light with the aid of his lens. He handed the latter to me and observed.

“If you look at this carefully, Jardine, you will see a very interesting thing. There are the prints of two different thumbs—both left hands, and therefore of different persons. You will remember that the tumbler stood by the right hand of the body and that the table, which bore the mark of a tumbler, was at the left-hand side of the bed.”

When I had examined the thumb-prints he placed the tumbler carefully on the floor and opened his “research-case,” which was fitted as a sort of portable laboratory. From this he took a little brass box containing an ink-tube, a tiny roller and some small cards, and, using the box-lid as an inking plate, he proceeded methodically to take the dead man’s finger-prints, writing the particulars on each card.

“I don’t quite see what you want with Crofton’s finger-prints,” said I. “The other man’s would be more to the point.”

“Undoubtedly,” Thorndyke replied. “But we have to prove that they are another man’s—that they are not Crofton’s. And there is that print on the candle. That is a very important point to settle; and as we have finished here, we had better go and settle it at once.”

He closed his case, and, taking up the tumbler with his gloved hand, led the way back to the house, the sergeant following when he had locked the door. We proceeded direct to the bedroom, where Thorndyke took the candle from its socket and, with the aid of his lens, compared it carefully with the two thumb-prints on the card, and then with the tumbler.

“It is perfectly clear,” said he. “This is a mark of a left thumb. It is totally unlike Crofton’s and it appears to be identical with the strange thumb-print on the tumbler. From which it seems to follow that the stranger took the candle from this room to the hut and brought it back. But he probably blew it out before leaving the house and lit it again in the hut.”

The sergeant and I examined the cards, the candle and the tumbler, and then the former asked:

“I suppose you have no idea whose thumb-print that might be? You don’t know, for instance, of anyone who might have had any motive for making away with Mr. Crofton?”

“That,” replied Thorndyke, “is rather a question for the coroner’s jury.”

“So it is,” the sergeant agreed. “But there won’t be much question about their verdict. It is a pretty clear case of wilful murder.”

To this Thorndyke made no reply excepting to give some directions as to the safe-keeping of the candle and tumbler; and our proposed “gipsy holiday” being now evidently impossible, we took our leave of the sergeant—who already had our cards—and wended back to the station.

“I suppose,” said I, “we shall have to break the news to Mrs. Crofton.”

“That is hardly our business,” he replied. “We can leave that to the solicitor or to Ambrose. If you know the lawyer’s address, you might send him a telegram, arranging a meeting at eight o’clock to-night. Give no particulars. Just say ‘Crofton found,’ but mark the telegram ‘urgent’ so that he will keep the appointment.”

On reaching the station, I sent off the telegram, and very soon afterwards the London train was signalled. It turned out to be a slow train, which gave us ample time to discuss the case and me ample time for reflection. And, in fact, I reflected a good deal; for there was a rather uncomfortable question in my mind—the very question that the sergeant had raised and that Thorndyke had obviously evaded. Was there anyone who might have had a motive for making away with Crofton? It was an awkward question when one remembered the great legacy that had just fallen in and the terms of Miss Shuler’s will; which expressly provided that, if Crofton died before his wife, the legacy should go to her. Now, Ambrose was the wife’s brother; and Ambrose had been in the bungalow alone with Crofton, and nobody else was known to have been there at all. I meditated on these facts uncomfortably and would have liked to put the case to Thorndyke; but his reticence, his evasion of the sergeant’s question and his decision to communicate with the solicitor rather than with the family showed pretty clearly what was in his mind and that he did not wish to discuss the matter.

Promptly at eight o’clock, having dined at a restaurant, we presented ourselves at the solicitor’s house and were shown into the study, where we found Mr. Jobson seated at a writing-table. He looked at Thorndyke with some surprise, and when the introductions had been made, said somewhat dryly:

“We may take it that Dr. Thorndyke is in some way connected with our rather confidential business?”

“Certainly,” I replied. “That is why he is here.”

Jobson nodded. “And how is Crofton?” he asked, “and where did you dig him up?”

“I am sorry to say,” I replied, “that he is dead. It is a dreadful affair. We found his body locked in the bathing-hut. He was sitting in a corner with a tumbler on the floor by his side.”

“Horrible! horrible!” exclaimed the solicitor. “He ought never to have gone there alone. I said so at the time. And it is most unfortunate on account of the insurance, though that is not a large amount. Still the suicide clause, you know——”

“I doubt whether the insurance will be affected,” said Thorndyke. “The coroner’s finding will almost certainly be wilful murder.”

Jobson was thunderstruck. In a moment his face grew livid and he gazed at Thorndyke with an expression of horrified amazement.

“Murder!” he repeated incredulously. “But you said he was locked in the hut. Surely that is clear proof of suicide.”

“He hadn’t locked himself in, you know. There was no key inside.”

“Ah!” The solicitor spoke almost in a tone of relief. “But, perhaps—did you examine his pockets?”

“Yes; and we found a key labelled ‘Bathing-hut.’ But it was the wrong key. It wouldn’t go into the lock. There is no doubt whatever that the door was locked from the outside.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Jobson, in a faint voice. “It does look suspicious. But still, I can’t believe—it seems quite incredible.”

“That may be,” said Thorndyke, “but it is all perfectly clear. There is evidence that a stranger entered the bungalow at night and that the affair took place in the bedroom. From thence the stranger carried the body down to the hut and he also took a tumbler and a candle from the bedside table. By the light of the candle—which was stood on the floor of the hut in a corner—he arranged the body, having put into its pocket a key from the board in the living-room. Then he locked the hut, went back to the house, put the key on its peg and the candle in its candlestick. Then he locked up the house and the garden gate and took the keys away with him.”

The solicitor listened to this recital in speechless amazement. At length he asked:

“How long ago do you suppose this happened?”

“Apparently on the night of the fifteenth of this month,” was the reply.

“But,” objected Jobson, “he wrote home on the sixteenth.”

“He wrote,” said Thorndyke, “on the sixth. Somebody put a one in front of the six and posted the letter at Margate on the sixteenth. I shall give evidence to that effect at the inquest.”

I was becoming somewhat mystified. Thorndyke’s dry, stern manner—so different from his usual suavity—and the solicitor’s uncalled-for agitation, seemed to hint at something more than met the eye. I watched Jobson as he lit a cigarette—with a small Bryant and May match, which he threw on the floor—and listened expectantly for his next question. At length he asked:

“Was there any sort of—er—clue as to who this stranger might be?”

“The man who will be charged with the murder? Oh, yes, The police have the means of identifying him with absolute certainty.”

“That is, if they can find him,” said Jobson.

“Naturally. But when all the very remarkable facts have transpired at the inquest, that individual will probably come pretty clearly into view.”

Jobson continued to smoke furiously with his eyes fixed on the floor, as if he were thinking hard. Presently he asked, without looking up:

“Supposing they do find this man. What then? What evidence is there that he murdered Crofton?”

“You mean direct evidence?” said Thorndyke. “I can’t say, as I did not examine the body; but the circumstantial evidence that I have given you would be enough to convict unless there were some convincing explanation other than murder. And I may say,” he added, “that if the suspected person has a plausible explanation to offer, he would be well advised to produce it before he is charged. A voluntary statement has a good deal more weight than the same statement made by a prisoner in answer to a charge.”

There was an interval of silence, in which I looked in bewilderment from Thorndyke’s stern visage to the pale face of the solicitor. At length the latter rose abruptly, and, after one or two quick strides up and down the room, halted by the fireplace, and, still avoiding Thorndyke’s eye, said, somewhat brusquely, though in a low, husky voice:

“I will tell you how it happened. I went down to Seasalter, as you said, on the night of the fifteenth, on the chance of finding Crofton at the bungalow. I wanted to tell him of Miss Shuler’s death and of the provisions of her will.”

“You had some private information on that subject, I presume?” said Thorndyke.

“Yes. My cousin was her solicitor and he kept me informed about the will.”

“And about the state of her health?”

“Yes. Well, when I arrived at the bungalow, it was in darkness. The gate and the front door were unlocked, so I entered, calling out Crofton’s name. As no one answered, I struck a match and lit the lamp. Then I went into the bedroom and struck a match there; and by its light I could see Crofton lying on the bed, quite still. I spoke to him, but he did not answer or move. Then I lighted a candle on his table; and now I could see what I had already guessed, that he was dead, and that he had been dead some time—probably more than a week.

“It was an awful shock to find a dead man in this solitary house, and my first impulse was to rush out and give the alarm. But when I went into the living-room, I happened to see a letter lying on the writing-table and noticed that it was in his own handwriting and addressed to his wife. Unfortunately, I had the curiosity to take it out of the unsealed envelope and read it. It was dated the sixth and stated his intention of going to Margate for a time and then coming back to the bungalow.

“Now, the reading of that letter exposed me to an enormous temptation. By simply putting a one in front of the six and thus altering the date from the sixth to the sixteenth and posting the letter at Margate, I stood to gain thirty thousand pounds. I saw that at a glance. But I did not decide immediately to do it. I pulled down the blinds, drew the curtains and locked up the house while I thought it over. There seemed to be practically no risk, unless someone should come to the bungalow and notice that the state of the body did not agree with the altered date on the letter. I went back and looked at the dead man. There was a burnt-out candle by his side and a tumbler containing the dried-up remains of some brown liquid. He had evidently poisoned himself. Then it occurred to me that, if I put the body and the tumbler in some place where they were not likely to be found for some time, the discrepancy between the condition of the body and the date of the letter would not be noticed.

“For some time I could think of no suitable place, but at last I remembered the bathing-hut. No one would look there for him. If they came to the bungalow and didn’t find him there, they would merely conclude that he had not come back from Margate. I took the candle and the key from the key-board and went down to the hut; but there was a key in the door already, so I brought the other key back and put it in Crofton’s pocket, never dreaming that it might not be the duplicate. Of course, I ought to have tried it in the door.

“Well, you know the rest. I took the body down about two in the morning, locked up the hut, brought away the key and hung it on the board, took the counterpane off the bed, as it had some marks on it, and re-made the bed with the blanket outside. In the morning I took the train to Margate, posted the letter, after altering the date, and threw the gate-key and that of the front door into the sea.

“That is what really happened. You may not believe me; but I think you will as you have seen the body and will realise that I had no motive for killing Crofton before the fifteenth, whereas Crofton evidently died before that date.”

“I would not say ‘evidently,’ ” said Thorndyke; “but, as the date of his death is the vital point in your defence, you would be wise to notify the coroner of the importance of the issue.”

“I don’t understand this case,” I said, as we walked homewards (I was spending the evening with Thorndyke). “You seemed to smell a rat from the very first. And I don’t see how you spotted Jobson. It is a mystery to me.”

“It wouldn’t be if you were a lawyer,” he replied. “The case against Jobson was contained in what you told me at our first interview. You yourself commented on the peculiarity of the will that he drafted for Crofton. The intention of the latter was to leave all his property to his wife. But instead of saying so, the will specified each item of property, and appointed a residuary legatee, which was Jobson himself. This might have appeared like mere legal verbiage; but when Miss Shuler’s legacy was announced, the transaction took on a rather different aspect. For this legacy was not among the items specified in the will. Therefore it did not go to Mrs. Crofton. It would be included in the residue of the estate and would go to the residuary legatee—Jobson.”

“The deuce it would!” I exclaimed.

“Certainly; until Crofton revoked his will or made a fresh one. This was rather suspicious. It suggested that Jobson had private information as to Miss Shuler’s will and had drafted Crofton’s will in accordance with it; and as she died of malignant disease, her doctor must have known for some time that she was dying and it looked as if Jobson had information on that point, too. Now the position of affairs that you described to me was this: Crofton, a possible suicide, had disappeared, and had made no fresh will.

“Miss Shuler died on the thirteenth, leaving thirty thousand pounds to Crofton, if he survived her, or if he did not, then to Mrs. Crofton. The important question then was whether Crofton was alive or dead; and if he was dead, whether he had died before or after the thirteenth. For if he died before the thirteenth the legacy went to Mrs. Crofton, but if he died after that date the legacy went to Jobson.

“Then you showed me that extraordinarily opportune letter dated the sixteenth. Now, seeing that that date was worth thirty thousand pounds to Jobson, I naturally scrutinised it narrowly. The letter was written with ordinary blue-black ink. But this ink, even in the open, takes about a fortnight to blacken completely. In a closed envelope it takes considerably longer. On examining this date through a lens, the one was very perceptibly bluer than the six. It had therefore been added later. But for what reason? And by whom?

“The only possible reason was that Crofton was dead and had died before the thirteenth. The only person who had any motive for making the alteration was Jobson. Therefore, when we started for Seasalter I already felt sure that Crofton was dead and that the letter had been posted at Margate by Jobson. I had further no doubt that Crofton’s body was concealed somewhere on the premises of the bungalow. All that I had to do was to verify those conclusions.”

“Then you believe that Jobson has told us the truth?”

“Yes. But I suspect that he went down there with the deliberate intention of making away with Crofton before he could make a fresh will. The finding of Crofton’s body must have been a fearful disappointment, but I must admit that he showed considerable resource in dealing with the situation; and he failed only by the merest chance. I think his defence against the murder charge will be admitted; but, of course, it will involve a plea of guilty to the charge of fraud in connection with the legacy.”

Thorndyke’s forecast turned out to be correct. Jobson was acquitted of the murder of Arthur Crofton, but is at present “doing time” in respect of the forged letter and the rest of his too-ingenious scheme.



This story is Number Thirty from the book

“The Famous Cases of Dr. Thorndyke

 Thirty-seven of his criminal

 investigations as set down by

 R. Austin Freeman.”


also known as


“Dr. Thorndyke His Famous Cases as

 Described by R. Austin Freeman”.


First published July 1929

Hodder & Stoughton, London




Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.

Book name and author have been added to the original book cover, together with the name and number of this story. The resulting cover is placed in the public domain.

[The end of The Mysterious Visitor by Richard Austin Freeman]