Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/290

This page needs to be proofread.
282
[March 5, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

train inquiring of one of the porters if he could get comfortable accommodation at the hotel opposite. On the porter answering in the affirmative, he was told to carry the portmanteau across.

On the return of the porter to the station, he told the station-master and his friend that the name of the stranger just arrived was Jesse Durand, he had seen the name engraved on a brass plate beneath the handle. When the landlord went over to his house, his guest had already been shown into a sitting-room, and had ordered his dinner. He did not see him again that evening, but he heard his bell ring repeatedly, and the waiter who answered it came to the bar for sundry things which were charged to Mr. Durand's account. Between eleven and twelve o'clock the house was closed for the night.

The next morning there was a rumour in Beaglescombe that Mr. Thorold of Laverstock Grange had been found dead in his bed. Later in the day everybody knew this was a fact, and that a London doctor had been telegraphed for by Mr. Balder, the family medical attendant, which at once gave rise to surmises that there was something suspicious in the manner of his death. After the two doctors had had a consultation, the constable at Beaglescombe, who had been directed to summon the jury for the inquest, was told by them to examine the doors and windows, and by degrees it became generally reported that Mr. Thorold had been murdered. But this was not all, his daughter, a well-grown woman though scarcely seventeen years of age, had disappeared, without leaving a trace to show where she had gone, and had taken nothing with her but the clothes she had worn on the preceding day; even the hat she was in the habit of wearing lay on the floor of the hall. The constable examined the doors and windows, but could not detect any signs of a violent entry having been made into the house. Notice was sent to the nearest county police station by the doctor, that he believed Mr. Thorold had been killed, and that his daughter was missing. The superintendent hastily called in the constables on duty, and made inquiries of them if they had seen anybody about the Grange or near it on the night in question. The only one among them who could answer in the affirmative was a man named Wright. He said that between five and six o'clock in the morning he had met a young gentleman about three miles from the Grange, who told him that he had come from Wolverhampton the day before, and had been to Sefton to stay the night with a friend who was in trouble, and that he intended going back to Wolverhampton by the morning express from Beagleacombe. It was not daylight, but he had an opportunity of distinctly seeing his face by the light of the lantern he turned upon him. He also noticed that he seemed very much startled and frightened but he did not attach any importance to that, because people generally looked alarmed when the light was flashed upon them so unexpectedly. Besides, he had after this requested a light for a cigar, which he took from the lamp, the light of which shone over the greater part of his face while he was kindling it.

The description he gave of this individual was so minute as to prove that he had taken as perfect note of the appearance of the now suspected person as he represented. He was at once despatched to Beaglescombe, to ascertain if the man he spoke of had left that station. The station-master replied in the negative, as far as he could judge by the description; the only persons who had left the station that morning were two gentlemen who had come in from Lampeter Park, and a man who told the porter to carry their luggage to the van, and said he was their valet. The conversation then turned on the supposed murder of Mr. Thorold, and the mysterious disappearance of his daughter, without taking her jewellery or anything else belonging to her; and while they were talking over these matters, the porter who had carried Mr. Durand's portmanteau to the hotel, and who had been listening to what was said, suddenly interrupted the conversation by saying: "I should think, from the description the constable has given that the man he met must be very like the gentleman whose luggage I took over to the hotel yesterday."

The station-master agreed with him in this opinion, though he had not taken sufficient notice to be very positive; but this was quite enough for the constable, at such an exciting time; he went straight across to the hotel, and asked to see the gentleman who was staying there.

On being shown into Mr. Durand's sitting-room, he found that gentleman in the act of taking off his overcoat, having just returned from a walk he had taken to an inn, about two miles from the station, on the road leading to West Teynham, where it turned out he had merely called to drink a glass of ale, and had asked no questions, except one or two which had arisen incidentally out of the complaints made by the landlord respecting the want of custom. The instant he saw him, the constable said, "I beg your pardon, sir, but an unpleasant affair happened last night, not far from