The Problem of Dead Wood Hall
by Dick Donovan
"MYSTERIOUS CASE IN CHESHIRE." So ran the heading to a paragraph in
all the morning papers some years ago, and prominence was given to the
A gentleman, bearing the somewhat curious name of Tuscan Trankler,
resided in a picturesque old mansion, known as Dead Wood Hall, situated
in one of the most beautiful and lonely parts of Cheshire, not very far
from the quaint and old-time village of Knutsford. Mr. Trankler had
given a dinner-party at his house, and amongst the guests was a very
well-known county magistrate and landowner, Mr. Manville Charnworth. It
appeared that, soon after the ladies had retired from the table, Mr.
Charnworth rose and went into the grounds, saying he wanted a little
air. He was smoking a cigar, and in the enjoyment of perfect health. He
had drunk wine, however, rather freely, as was his wont, but though on
exceedingly good terms with himself and every one else, he was
perfectly sober. An hour passed, but Mr. Charnworth had not returned to
the table. Though this did not arouse any alarm, as it was thought that
he had probably joined the ladies, for he was what is called "a ladies'
man," and preferred the company of females to that of men. A tremendous
sensation, however, was caused when, a little later, it was announced
that Charnworth had been found insensible, lying on his back in a
shrubbery. Medical assistance was at once summoned, and when it arrived
the opinion expressed was that the unfortunate gentleman had been
stricken with apoplexy. For some reason or other, however, the doctors
were led to modify that view, for symptoms were observed which pointed
to what was thought to be a peculiar form of poisoning, although the
poison could not be determined. After a time, Charnworth recovered
consciousness, but was quite unable to give any information. He seemed
to be dazed and confused, and was evidently suffering great pain. At
last his limbs began to swell, and swelled to an enormous size; his
eyes sunk, his cheeks fell in, his lips turned black, and mortification
appeared in the extremities. Everything that could be done for the
unfortunate man was done, but without avail. After six hours'
suffering, he died in a paroxysm of raving madness, during which he had
to be held down in the bed by several strong men.
The post-mortem examination, which was necessarily held, revealed
the curious fact that the blood in the body had become thin and
purplish, with a faint strange odour that could not be identified. All
the organs were extremely congested, and the flesh presented every
appearance of rapid decomposition. In fact, twelve hours after death
putrefaction had taken place. The medical gentlemen who had the case in
hand were greatly puzzled, and were at a loss to determine the precise
cause of death. The deceased had been a very healthy man, and there was
no actual organic disease of any kind. In short, everything pointed to
poisoning. It was noted that on the left side of the neck was a tiny
scratch, with a slightly livid appearance, such as might have been made
by a small sharply pointed instrument. The viscera having been secured
for purposes of analysis, the body was hurriedly, buried within thirty
hours of death.
The result of the analysis was to make clear that the unfortunate
gentleman had died through some very powerful and irritant poison being
introduced into the blood. That it was a case of blood-poisoning there
was hardly room for the shadow of a doubt, but the science of that day
was quite unable to say what the poison was, or how it had got into the
body. There was no reason — so far as could be ascertained to suspect
foul play, and even less reason to suspect suicide. Altogether,
therefore, the case was one of profound mystery, and the coroner's jury
were compelled to return an open verdict. Such were the details that
were made public at the time of Mr. Charnworth's death; and from the
social position of all the parties, the affair was something more than
a nine days' wonder; while in Cheshire itself, it created a profound
sensation. But, as no further information was forthcoming, the matter
ceased to interest the outside world, and so, as far as the public were
concerned, it was relegated to the limbo of forgotten things.
Two years later, Mr. Ferdinand Trankler, eldest son of Tuscan
Trankler, accompanied a large party of friends for a day's shooting in
Mere Forest. He was a young man, about five and twenty years of age;
was in the most perfect health, and had scarcely ever had a day's
illness in his life. Deservedly popular and beloved, he had a large
circle of warm friends, and was about to be married to a charming young
lady, a member of an old Cheshire family who were extensive landed
proprietors and property owners. His prospects therefore seemed to be
unclouded, and his happiness complete.
The shooting-party was divided into three sections, each agreeing
to shoot over a different part of the forest, and to meet in the
afternoon for refreshments at an appointed rendezvous.
Young Trankler and his companions kept pretty well together for
some little time, but ultimately began to spread about a good deal At
the appointed hour the friends all met, with the exception of Trankler.
He was not there. His absence did not cause any alarm, as it was
thought he would soon turn up. He was known to be well acquainted with
the forest, and the supposition was he had strayed further afield than
the rest. By the time the repast was finished, however, he had not put
in an appearance. Then, for the first time, the company began to feel
some uneasiness, and vague hints that possibly an accident had happened
were thrown out. Hints at last took the form of definite expressions of
alarm, and search parties were at once organized to go in search of the
absent young man, for only on the hypothesis of some untoward event
could his prolonged absence be accounted for, inasmuch as it was not
deemed in the least likely that he would show such a lack of courtesy
as to go off and leave his friends without a word of explanation. For
two hours the search was kept up without any result. Darkness was then
closing in, and the now painfully anxious searchers' began to feel that
they would have to desist until daylight; returned. But at last some of
the more energetic and active, members of the party came upon Trankler
lying on his sides and nearly entirely hidden by masses of half
withered bracken. He was lying near a little stream that meandered
through the forest, and near a keeper's shelter that was constructed
with logs and thatched with pine boughs. He was stone dead, and his
appearance caused his friends to shrink back with horror, for he was
not only black in the face, but his body was bloated, and his limbs
seemed swollen to twice their natural size.
Amongst the party were two medical men, who, being hastily
summoned, proceeded at once to make an examination. They expressed an
opinion that the young man had been dead for some time, but they could
not account for his death, as there was no wound to be observed. As a
matter of fact, his gun was lying near him with both barrels loaded.
Moreover, his appearance was not compatible at all with death from a
gun-shot wound. How then had he died? The consternation amongst those
who had known him can well be imagined, and with a sense of suppressed
horror, it was whispered that the strange condition of the dead man
coincided with that of Mr. Manville Charnworth, the county magistrate
who had died so mysteriously two years previously.
As soon as it was possible to do so, Ferdinand Trankler's body was
removed to Dead Wood Hall, and his people were stricken with profound
grief when they realized that the hope and joy of their house was dead.
Of course an autopsy had to be performed, owing to the ignorance of the
medical men as to the cause of death. And this post-mortem examination
disclosed the fact that all the extraordinary appearances which had
been noticed in Mr. Charnworth's case were present in this one. There
was the same purplish coloured blood; the same gangrenous condition of
the limbs; but as with Charnworth, so with Trankler, all the organs
were healthy. There was no organic disease to account for death. As it
was pretty certain, therefore, that death was not due to natural
causes, a coroner's inquest was held, and while the medical evidence
made it unmistakably clear that young Trankler had been cut down in the
flower of his youth and while he was in radiant health by some powerful
and potent means which had suddenly destroyed his life, no one had the
boldness to suggest what those means were, beyond saying that
blood-poisoning of a most violent character had been set up. Now, it
was very obvious that blood-poisoning could not have originated without
some specific cause, and the most patient investigation was directed to
trying to find out the cause, while exhaustive inquiries were made, but
at the end of them, the solution of the mystery was as far off as ever,
for these investigations had been in the wrong channel, not one scrap
of evidence was brought forward which would have justified a definite
statement that this or that had been responsible for the young man's
It was remembered that when the post-mortem examination of Mr.
Charnworth took place, a tiny bluish scratch was observed on the left
side of the neck. But it was so small, and apparently so unimportant
that it was not taken into consideration when attempts were made to
solve the problem of "How did the man die?" When the doctors examined
Mr. Trankler's body, they looked to see if there was a similar puncture
or scratch, and, to their astonishment, they did find rather a curious
mark on the left side of the neck, just under the ear. It was a slight
abrasion of the skin, about an inch long as if he had been scratched
with a pin, and this abrasion was a faint blue, approximating in colour
to the tattoo marks on a sailor's arm. The similarity in this scratch
to that which had been observed on Mr. Charnworth's body, necessarily
gave rise to a good deal of comment amongst the doctors, though they
could not arrive at any definite conclusion respecting it. One man went
so far as to express an opinion that it was due to an insect or the
bite of a snake. But this theory found no supporters, for it was argued
that the similar wound on Mr. Charnworth could hardly have resulted
from an insect or snake bite, for he had died in his friend's garden.
Besides, there was no insect or snake in England capable of killing a
man as these two men had been killed. That theory, therefore, fell to
the ground; and medical science as represented by the local gentlemen.
had to confess itself baffled; while the coroner's jury were forced to
again return an open verdict.
"There was no evidence to prove how the deceased had come by his
This verdict was considered highly unsatisfactory, but what other
could have been returned. There was nothing to support the theory of
foul play; on the other hand, no evidence was forthcoming to explain
away the mystery which surrounded the deaths of Charnworth and
Trankler. The two men had apparently died from precisely the same
cause, and under circumstances which were as mysterious as they were
startling, but what the cause was, no one seemed able to determine.
Universal sympathy was felt with the friends and relatives of young
Trankler, who had perished so unaccountably while in pursuit of
pleasure. Had he been taken suddenly ill at home and had died in his
bed, even though the same symptoms and morbid appearances had
manifested themselves, the mystery would not have been so great. But as
Charnworth's end came in his host's garden after a dinner-party, so
young Trankler died in a forest while he and his friends were engaged
in shooting. There was certainly something truly remarkable that two
men, exhibiting all the same post-mortem effects, should have died in
such a way; their deaths, in point of time, being separated by a period
of two years. On the face of it, it seemed impossible that it could be
merely a coincidence. It will be gathered from the foregoing, that in
this double tragedy were all the elements of a romance well calculated
to stimulate public curiosity to the highest pitch; while the friends
and relatives of the two deceased gentlemen were of opinion that the
matter ought not to be allowed to drop with the return of the verdict
of the coroner's jury. An investigation seemed to be urgently called
for. Of course, an investigation of a kind had taken place by the local
police, but something more than that was required, so thought the
friends. And an application was made to me to go down to Dead Wood
Hall; and bring such skill as I possessed to bear on the case, in the
hope that the veil of mystery might be drawn aside, and light let in
where all was then dark.
Dead Wood Hall was a curious place, with a certain gloominess of
aspect which seemed to suggest that it was a fitting scene for a
tragedy. It was a large, massive house, heavily timbered in front in a
way peculiar to many of the old Cheshire mansions. It stood in
extensive grounds, and being situated on a rise commanded a very fine
panoramic view which embraced the Derbyshire Hills. How it got its name
of Dead Wood Hall no one seemed to know exactly. There was a tradition
that it had originally been known as Dark Wood Hall; but the word
"Dark" had been corrupted into "Dead". The Tranklers came into
possession of the property by purchase, and the family had been the
owners of it for something like thirty years.
With great circumstantiality I was told the story of the death of
each man, together with the results of the post mortem examination, and
the steps that had been taken by the police. On further inquiry I found
that the police, in spite of the mystery surrounding the case, were
firmly of opinion that the deaths of the two men were, after all, due
to natural causes, and that the similarity in the appearance of the
bodies after death was a mere coincidence. The superintendent of the
county constabulary, who had had charge of the matter, waxed rather
warm; for he said that all sorts of ridiculous stories had been set
afloat, and absurd theories had been suggested, not one of which would
have done credit to the intelligence of an average schoolboy.
"People lose their heads so, and make such fools of themselves in
matters of this kind," he said warmly; "and of course the police are
accused of being stupid, ignorant, and all the rest of it. They seem,
in fact, to have a notion that we are endowed with superhuman
faculties, and that nothing should baffle us. But, as a matter of fact,
it is the doctors who are at fault in this instance. They are
confronted with a new disease, about which they are ignorant; and, in
order to conceal their want of knowledge, they at once raise the cry of
"Then you are clearly of opinion that Mr. Charnworth and Mr.
Trankler died of a disease," I remarked.
"Undoubtedly I am."
"Then how do you explain the rapidity of the death in each case,
and the similarity in the appearance of the dead bodies?"
"It isn't for me to explain that at all. That is doctors' work not
police work. If the doctors can't explain it, how can I be expected to
do so? I only know this, I've put some of my best men on to the job,
and they've failed to find anything that would suggest foul play."
"And that convinces you absolutely that there has been no foul
"I suppose you were personally acquainted with both gentlemen? What
sort of man was Mr. Charnworth?"
"Oh, well, he was right enough, as such men go. He made a good many
blunders as a magistrate; but all magistrates do that. You see, fellows
get put on the bench who are no more fit to be magistrates than you
are, sir. It's a matter of influence more often as not. Mr. Charnworth
was no worse and no better than a lot of others I could name."
"What opinion did you form of his private character?"
"Ah, now, there, there's another matter," answered the
superintendent, in a confidential tone, and with a smile playing about
his lips. "You see, Mr. Charnworth was a bachelor."
"So are thousands of other men," I answered. "But bachelorhood is
not considered dishonourable in this country."
"No, perhaps not. But they say as how the reason was that Mr.
Charnworth didn't get married was because he didn't care for having
only one wife."
"You mean he was fond of ladies generally. A sort of general
"I should think he was," said the superintendent, with a twinkle in
his eye, which was meant to convey a good deal of meaning. "I've heard
some queer stories about him."
"What is the nature of the stories?" I asked, thinking that I might
get something to guide me.
"Oh, well, I don't attach much importance to them myself," he said,
half-apologetically; "but the fact is, there was some social scandal
talked about Mr. Charnworth."
"What was the nature of the scandal?"
"Mind you," urged the superintendent, evidently anxious to be freed
from any responsibility for the scandal whatever it was, "I only tell
you the story as I heard it. Mr. Charnworth liked his little
flirtations, no doubt, as we all do; but he was a gentleman and a
magistrate, and I have no right to say anything against him that I know
nothing about myself."
"While a gentleman may be a magistrate, a magistrate is not always
a gentleman," I remarked.
"True, true; but Mr. Charnworth was. He was a fine specimen of a
gentleman, and was very liberal. He did me many kindnesses."
"Therefore, in your sight, at least, sir, he was without blemish."
"I don't go as far as that," replied the superintendent, a little
warmly; "I only want to be just."
"I give you full credit for that," I answered; "but please do tell
me about the scandal you spoke of. It is just possible it may afford me
"I don't think that it will. However, here is the story. A young
lady lived in Knutsford by the name of Downie. She is the daughter of
the late George Downie, who for many years carried on the business of a
miller. Hester Downie was said to be one of the prettiest girls in
Cheshire, or, at any rate, in this part of Cheshire, and rumour has it
that she flirted with both Charnworth and Trankler."
"Is that all that rumour says?" I asked.
"No, there was a good deal more said. But, as I have told you, I
know nothing for certain, and so must decline to commit myself to any
statement for which there could be no better foundation than common
"Does Miss Downie still live in Knutsford?"
"No; she disappeared mysteriously soon after Charnworth's death."
"And you don't know where she is?"
"No; I have no idea."
As I did not see that there was much more to be gained from the
superintendent I left him, and at once sought a interview with the
leading medical man who had made the autopsy of the two bodies. He was
a man who was somewhat puffed up with the belief in his own cleverness,
but he gave me the impression that, if anything, he was a little below
the average country practitioner. He hadn't a single theory to advance
to account for the deaths of Charnworth and Trankler. He confessed that
he was mystified; that all the appearances were entirely new to him,
for neither in his reading nor his practice had he ever heard of a
"Are you disposed to think, sir, that these two men came to their
end by foul play?" I asked.
"No, I am not," he answered definitely, "and I said so at the
inquest. Foul play means murder, cool and deliberate; and planned and
carried out with fiendish cunning. Besides, if it was murder how was
the murder committed?"
"If it was murder?" I asked significantly. "I shall hope to answer
that question later on."
"But I am convinced it wasn't murder," returned the doctor, with a
self-confident air. "If a man is shot, or bludgeoned, or poisoned,
there is something to go upon. I scarcely know of a poison that cannot
be detected. And not a trace of poison was found in the organs of
either man. Science has made tremendous strides of late years, and I
doubt if she has much more to teach us in that respect. Anyway, I
assert without fear of contradiction that Charnworth and Trankler did
not die of poison."
"What killed them, then?" I asked, bluntly and sharply.
The doctor did not like the question, and there was a roughness in
his tone as he answered —
"I'm not prepared to say. If I could have assigned a precise cause
of death the coroner's verdict would have been different."
"Then you admit that the whole affair is a problem which you are
incapable of solving?"
"Frankly, I do," he answered, after a pause. "There are certain
peculiarities in the case that I should like to see cleared up. In
fact, in the interests of my profession, I think it is most desirable
that the mystery surrounding the death of the unfortunate men should be
solved. And I have been trying experiments recently with a view to
attaining that end, though without success."
My interview with this gentleman had not advanced matters, for it
only served to show me that the doctors were quite baffled, and I
confess that that did not altogether encourage me. Where they had
failed, how could I hope to succeed? They had the advantage of seeing
the bodies and examining them, and though they found themselves
confronted with signs which were in themselves significant, they could
not read them. All that I had to go upon was hearsay, and I was asked
to solve a mystery which seemed unsolvable. But, as I have so often
stated in the course of my chronicles, the seemingly impossible is
frequently the most easy to accomplish, where a mind specially trained
to deal with complex problems is brought to bear upon it.
In interviewing Mr. Tuscan Trankler, I found that he entertained a
very decided opinion that there had been foul play, though he admitted
that it was difficult in the extreme to suggest even a vague notion of
how the deed had been accomplished. If the two men had died together or
within a short period of each other, the idea of murder would have
seemed more logical. But two years had elapsed, and yet each man had
evidently died from precisely same cause. Therefore, if it was murder,
the same hand that had slain Mr. Charnworth slew Mr. Trankler. There
was no getting away from that; and then of course arose the question of
motive. Granted that the same hand did the deed, did the same motive
prompt in each case? Another aspect of the affair that presented itself
to me was that the crime, if crime it was, was not the work of any
ordinary person. There was an originality of conception in it which
pointed to the criminal being, in certain respects, a genius. And,
moreover, the motive underlying it must have been a very powerful one;
possibly, nay probably, due to a sense of some terrible wrong
inflicted, and which could only be wiped out with death of the wronger.
But this presupposed that each man, though unrelated, had perpetrated
the same wrong. Now, it was within the grasp of intelligent reasoning
that Charnworth, in his capacity of a county justice, might have given
mortal offence to someone, who, cherishing the memory of it, until a
mania had been set up, resolved that the magistrate should die. That
theory was reasonable when taken singly, but it seemed to lose its
reasonableness when connected with young Trankler, unless it was that
he had been instrumental in getting somebody convicted. To determine
this I made very pointed inquiries, but received the most positive
assurances that never in the whole course of his life had he directly
or indirectly been instrumental in prosecuting any one. Therefore, so
far as he was concerned, the theory fell to the ground; and if the same
person killed both men, the motive prompting in each case was a
different one, assuming that Charnworth's death resulted from revenge
for a fancied wrong inflicted in the course of his administration of
Although I fully recognized all the difficulties that lay in the
way of a rational deduction that would square in with the theory of
murder, and of murder committed by one any the same hand, I saw how
necessary it was to keep in view the points I have advanced as factors
in the problem the had to be worked out, and I adhered to my first
impression, and felt tolerably certain that, granted the men had been
murdered, they were murdered by the same hand. It may be said that this
deduction required no great mental effort. I admit that that is so; but
it is strange that nearly all the people in the district were opposed
to the theory. Mr. Tuscan Trankler spoke very highly of Charnworth. He
believed him to be an upright, conscientious man, liberal to a fault
with his means, and in his position of magistrate erring on the side of
mercy. In his private character he was a bon vivant; fond of a good
dinner, good wine, and good company. He was much in request at
dinner-parties and other social gatherings, for he was accounted a
brilliant raconteur, possessed of an endless fund of racy jokes and
anecdotes. I have already stated that with ladies he was an especial
favourite, for he had a singularly suave, winning way, which with most
women was irresistible. In age he was more than double that of young
Trankler, who was only five and twenty at the time of his death,
whereas Charnworth had turned sixty, though I was given to understand
that he was a well-preserved, good-looking man, and apparently younger
than he really was.
Coming to young Trankler, there was a consensus of opinion that he
was an exemplary young man. He had been partly educated at home and
partly at the Manchester Grammar School; and, though he had shown a
decided talent for engineering, he had not gone in for it seriously,
but had dabbled in it as an amateur, for he had ample means and good
prospects, and it was his father's desire that he should lead the life
of a country gentleman, devote himself to country pursuits, and to
improving and keeping together the family estates. To the lady who was
to have become his bride, he had been engaged but six months, and had
only known her a year. His premature and mysterious death had caused
intense grief in both families; and his intended wife had been so
seriously affected that her friends had been compelled to take her
With these facts and particulars before me, I had to set to work
and try to solve the problem which was considered unsolvable by most of
the people who knew anything about it. But may I be pardoned for saying
very positively that, even at this point, I did not consider it so. Its
complexity could not be gainsaid; nevertheless, I felt that there were
ways and means of arriving at a solution, and I set to work in my own
fashion. Firstly, I started on the assumption that both men had been
deliberately murdered by the same person. If that was not so, then they
had died of some remarkable and unknown disease which had stricken them
down under a set of conditions that were closely allied, and the
coincidence in that case would be one of the most astounding the world
had ever known. Now, if that was correct, a pathological conundrum was
propounded which, it was for the medical world to answer, and
practically I was placed out of the running, to use a sporting phrase.
I found that, with few exceptions — the exceptions being Mr. Trankler
and his friends — there was an undisguised. opinion that what the
united local wisdom and skill had failed to accomplish, could not be
accomplished by a stranger. As my experience, however, had inured me
against that sort of thing, it did not affect me. Local prejudices and
jealousies have always to be reckoned with, and it does not do to be
thin-skinned. I worked upon my own lines, thought with my own thoughts,
and, as an expert in the art of reading human nature, I reasoned from a
different set of premises to that employed by the irresponsible
chatterers, who cry out "Impossible," as soon as the first difficulty
presents itself. Marshalling all the facts of the case so far as I had
been able to gather them, I arrived at the conclusion that the problem
could be solved, and, as a preliminary step to that end, I started off
to London, much to the astonishment of those who had secured my
services. But my reply to the many queries addressed to me was, "I hope
to find the key-note to the solution in the metropolis." This reply
only increased the astonishment, but later on I will explain why I took
the step, which may seem to the reader rather an extraordinary one.
After an absence of five days I returned to Cheshire, and I was
then in a position to say, "Unless a miracle has happened, Charnworth
and Trankler were murdered beyond all doubt, and murdered by the same
person in such a cunning, novel and devilish manner, that even the most
astute inquirer might have been pardoned for being baffled." Of course
there was a strong desire to know my reasons for the positive
statement, but I felt that it was in the interests of justice itself
that I should not allow them to be known at that stage of the
The next important step was to try and find out what had become of
Miss Downie, the Knutsford beauty, with whom Charnworth was said to
have carried on a flirtation. Here, again, I considered secrecy of
Hester Downie was about seven and twenty years of age. She was an
orphan, and was believed to have been born in Macclesfield, as her
parents came from there. Her father's calling was that of a miller. He
had settled in Knutsford about fifteen years previous to the period I
am dealing with, and had been dead about five years. Not very much was
known about the family, but it was thought there were other children
living. No very kindly feeling was shown for Hester Downie, though it
was only too obvious that jealousy was at the bottom of it. Half the
young men, it seemed, had lost their heads about her, and all the girls
in the village were consumed with envy and jealousy. It was said she
was "stuck up," "above her position," "a heartless flirt," and so
forth. From those competent to speak, however, she was regarded as a
nice young woman, and admittedly good-looking. For years she had lived
with an old aunt, who bore the reputation of being rather a sullen sort
of woman, and somewhat eccentric. The girl had a little over fifty
pounds a year to live upon, derived from a small property left to her
by her father; and she and her aunt occupied a cottage just on the
outskirts of Knutsford. Hester was considered to be very exclusive, and
did not associate much with the people in Knutsford. This was
sufficient to account for the local bias, and as she often went away
from her home for three and four weeks at a time, it was not considered
extraordinary when it was known that she had left soon after Trankler's
death. Nobody, however, knew where she had gone to; it is right,
perhaps, that I should here state that not a soul breathed a syllable
of suspicion against her, that either directly or indirectly she could
be connected with the deaths of Charnworth or Trankler. The aunt, a
widow by the name of Hislop, could not be described as a pleasant or
genial woman, either in appearance or manner. I was anxious to
ascertain for certain whether there was any truth in the rumour or not
that Miss Downie had flirted with Mr. Charnworth. If it was true that
she did, a clue might be afforded which would lead to the ultimate
unravelling of the mystery. I had to approach Mrs. Hislop with a good
deal of circumspection, for she showed an inclination to resent any
inquiries being made into her family matters. She gave me the
impression that she was an honest woman, and it was very apparent that
she was strongly attached to her niece Hester. Trading on this fact, I
managed to draw her out. I said that people in the district were
beginning to say unkind things about Hester, and that it would be
better for the girl's sake that there should be no mystery associated
with her or her movements.
The old lady fired up at this, and declared that she didn't care a
jot about what the "common people" said. Her niece was superior to all
of them, and she would "have the law on any one who spoke ill of
"But there is one thing, Mrs. Hislop," I replied, "that ought to be
set at rest. It is rumoured — in fact, something more than rumoured —
that your niece and the late Mr. Charnworth were on terms of intimacy,
which, to say the least, if it is true, was imprudent for a girl in her
"Them what told you that," exclaimed the old woman, "is like the
adders the woodmen get in Delamere forest: they're full of poison. Mr.
Charnworth courted the girl fair and square, and led her to believe he
would marry her. But, of course, he had to do the thing in secret. Some
folk will talk so, and if it had been known that a gentleman like Mr.
Charnworth was coming after a girl in Hester's position, all sorts of
things would have been said."
"Did she believe that he was serious in his intentions towards
"Of course she did."
"Why was the match broken off?"
"Because he died."
"Then do you mean to tell me seriously, Mrs. Hislop, that Mr.
Charnworth, had he lived, would have married your niece?"
"Yes, I believe he would."
"Was he the only lover the girl had?"
"Oh dear no. She used to carry on with a man named Job Panton. But,
though they were engaged to be married, she didn't like him much, and
threw him up for Mr. Charnworth."
"Did she ever flirt with young Mr. Trankler?"
"I don't know about flirting; but he called here now and again, and
made her some presents. You see, Hester is a superior sort of girl, and
I don't wonder at gentlefolk liking her."
"Just so," I replied; "beauty attracts peasant and lord alike. But
you will understand that it is to Hester's interest that there should
be no concealment — no mystery; and I advise that she return here, for
her very presence would tend to silence the tongue of scandal. By the
way, where is she?"
"She's staying in Manchester with a relative, a cousin of hers,
named Jessie Turner."
"Is Jessie Turner a married woman?"
"Oh yes: well, that is, she has been married; but she's a widow
now, and has two little children. She is very fond of Hester, who often
goes to her."
Having obtained Jessie Turner's address in Manchester, I left Mrs.
Hislop, feeling somehow as if I had got the key of the problem, and a
day or two later I called on Mrs. Jessie Turner, who resided in a small
house, situated in Tamworth Street, Hulme, Manchester.
She was a young woman, not more than thirty years of age, somewhat
coarse, and vulgar-looking in appearance, and with an unpleasant,
self-assertive manner. There was a great contrast between her and her
cousin, Hester Downie, who was a remarkably attractive and pretty girl,
with quite a classical figure, and a childish, winning way, but a
painful want of education which made itself very manifest when she
spoke; and a harsh, unmusical voice detracted a good deal from her
winsomeness, while in everything she did, and almost everything she
said, she revealed that vanity was her besetting sin.
I formed my estimate at once of this young woman indeed, of both of
them. Hester seemed to me to be shallow, vain, thoughtless, giddy; and
her companion, artful, cunning, and heartless.
"I want you, Miss Downie," I began, "to tell me truthfully the
story of your connection, firstly, with Job Panton; secondly, with Mr.
Charnworth; thirdly, with Mr. Trankler."
This request caused the girl to fall into a condition of amazement
and confusion, for I had not stated what the nature of my business was,
and, of course, she was unprepared for the question.
"What should I tell you my business for?" she cried snappishly, and
growing very red in the face.
"You are aware," I remarked, "that both Mr. Charnworth and Mr.
Trankler are dead?"
"Of course I am."
"Have you any idea how they came by their death?"
"Not the slightest."
"Will you be surprised to hear that some very hard things are being
said about you?"
"About me!" she exclaimed, in amazement.
"Why about me?"
"Well, your disappearance from your home, for one thing."
She threw up her hands and uttered a cry of distress and horror,
while sudden paleness took the place of the red flush that had dyed her
cheeks. Then she burst into almost hysterical weeping, and sobbed out:
"I declare it's awful. To think that I cannot do anything or go
away when I like without all the old cats in the place trying to
blacken my character! It's a pity that people won't mind their own
business, and not go out of the way to talk about that which doesn't
"But, you see, Miss Downie, it's the way of the world," I answered,
with a desire to soothe her; "one mustn't be too thin-skinned. Human
nature is essentially spiteful. However, to return to the subject, you
will see, perhaps, the importance of answering my questions. The
circumstances of Charnworth's and Trankler's deaths are being closely
inquired into, and I am sure you wouldn't like it to be thought that
you were withholding information which, in the interest of law and
justice, might be valuable."
"Certainly not," she replied, suppressing a sob. "But I have
nothing to tell you."
"But you knew the three men I have mentioned."
"Of course I did, but Job Panton is an ass. I never, could bear
"He was your sweetheart, though, was he not?"
"He used to come fooling about, and declared that he couldn't live
"Did you never give him encouragement?"
"I suppose every girl makes a fool of herself sometimes."
"Then you did allow him to sweetheart you?"
"If you like to call it sweethearting you can," she answered, with
a toss of her pretty head. "I did walk out with him sometimes. But I
didn't care much for him. You see, he wasn't my sort at all."
"In what way?"
"Well, surely I couldn't be expected to marry a gamekeeper, could
"He is a gamekeeper, then?"
"In whose employ is he?"
"Was he much disappointed when he found that you would have nothing
to do with him?"
"I really don't know. I didn't trouble myself about him," she
answered, with a coquettish heartlessness.
"Did you do any sweethearting with Mr. Trankler?"
"No, of course not. He used to be very civil to me, and talk to me
when he met me."
"Did you ever walk out with him?"
The question brought the colour back to her face, and her manner
grew confused again,
"Once or twice I met him by accident, and he strolled along the
road with me — that's all."
This answer was not a truthful one. Of that I was convinced by her
very manner. But I did not betray my mistrust or doubts. I did not
think there was any purpose to be served in so doing. So far the object
of my visit was accomplished, and as Miss Downie seemed disposed to
resent any further. questioning, I thought it was advisable to bring
the interview to a close; but before doing so, I said:
"I have one more question to ask you, Miss Downie. Permit me to
preface it, however, by saying I am afraid that, up to this point, you
have failed to appreciate the situation, or grasp the seriousness of
the position in which you are placed. Let me, therefore, put it before
you in a somewhat more graphic way. Two men — gentlemen of good social
position with whom you seem to have been well acquainted, and whose
attentions you encouraged — pray do not look at me so angrily as that;
I mean what I say. I repeat that you encouraged their attentions,
otherwise they would not have gone after you." Here Miss Downie's
nerves gave way again, and she broke into a fit of weeping, and,
holding her handkerchief to her eyes, she exclaimed with almost
"Well, whatever I did, I was egged on to do it by my cousin, Jessie
Turner. She always said I was a fool not to aim at high game."
"And so you followed her promptings, and really thought that you
might have made a match with Mr. Charnworth; but, he having died, you
turned your thoughts to young Trankler." She did not reply, but sobbed
behind her handkerchief. So I proceeded. "Now the final question I want
to ask you is this: Have you ever had anyone who has made serious love
to you but Job Panton?"
"Mr. Charnworth made love to me," she sobbed out.
"He flirted with you," I suggested.
"No; he made love to me," she persisted. "He promised to marry me."
"And you believed him?"
"Of course I did."
"Did Trankler promise to marry you?"
"Then I must repeat the question, but will add Mr. Charnworth's
name. Besides him and Panton, is there anyone else in existence who has
courted you in the hope that you would become his wife?"
"No — no one," she mumbled in a broken voice.
As I took my departure I felt that I had gathered up a good many
threads, though they wanted arranging, and, so to speak, classifying;
that done, they would probably give me the clue I was seeking. One
thing was clear, Miss Downie was a weak-headed, giddy, flighty girl,
incapable, as it seemed to me, of seriously reflecting on anything. Her
cousin was crafty and shallow, and a dangerous companion for Downie,
who was sure to be influenced and led by a creature like Jessie Turner.
But, let it not be inferred from these remarks that I had any suspicion
that either of the two women had in any way been accessory to the
crime, for crime I was convinced it was. Trankler and Charnworth had
been murdered, but by whom I was not prepared to even hint at at that
stage of the proceedings. The two unfortunate gentlemen had, beyond all
possibility of doubt, both been attracted by the girl's exceptionally
good looks, and they had amused themselves with her. This fact
suggested at once the question, was Charnworth in the habit of seeing
her before Trankler made her acquaintance? Now, if my theory of the
crime was correct, it could be asserted with positive certainty, that
Charnworth was the girl's lover before Trankler. Of course it was
almost a foregone conclusion that Trankler must have been aware of her
existence for along time. The place, be it remembered, was small; she,
in her way, was a sort of local celebrity, and it was hardly likely
that young Trankler was ignorant of some of the village gossip in which
she figured. But, assuming that he was, he was well acquainted with
Charnworth, who was looked upon in the neighbourhood as "a gay dog".
The female conquests of such men are often matters of notoriety;
though, even if that was not the case, it was likely enough that
Charnworth may have discussed Miss Downie in Trankler's presence. Some
men — especially those of Charnworth's characteristics — are much given
to boasting of their flirtations, and Charnworth may have been rather
prow of his ascendency over the simple village beauty. Of course, all
this, it will be said, was mere theorizing. So it was; but it will
presently be seen how it squared in with the general theory of the
whole affair, which I had worked out after much pondering, and a
careful weighing and nice adjustment of all the evidence, such as it
was, I had been able to gather together, and the various parts which
were necessary before the puzzle could be put together.
It was immaterial, however, whether Trankler did or did not know
Hester Downie before or at the same time as Charnworth. A point that
was not difficult to determine was this — he did not make himself
conspicuous as her admirer until after his friend's death, probably not
until some time afterwards. Otherwise, how came it about that the
slayer of Charnworth waited two years before he took the life of young
Trankler? The reader will gather from this remark how my thoughts ran
at that time. Firstly, I was clearly of opinion that both men had been
murdered. Secondly, the murder in each case was the outcome of
jealousy. Thirdly, the murderer must, as a logical sequence, have been
a rejected suitor. This would point necessarily to Job Panton as the
criminal, assuming my information was right that the girl had not had
any other lover. But against that theory this very strong argument
could be used: By what extraordinary and secret means — means that had
baffled all the science of the district — had Job Panton, who occupied
the position of a gamekeeper, been able to do away with his victims,
and bring about death so horrible and so sudden as to make one shudder
to think of it? Herein was displayed a devilishness of cunning, and a
knowledge which it was difficult to conceive that an ignorant and
untravelled man was likely to be in possession of. Logic, deduction,
and all the circumstances of the case were opposed to the idea of
Panton being the murderer at the first blush; and yet, so far as I had
gone, I had been irresistibly drawn towards the conclusion that Panton
was either directly or indirectly responsible for the death of the two
gentlemen. But, in order to know something more of the man whom I
suspected, I disguised myself as a travelling showman on the look-out
for a good pitch for my show, and I took up my quarters for a day or
two at a rustic inn just on the skirts of Knutsford, and known as the
Woodman. I had previously ascertained that this inn was a favourite
resort of the gamekeepers for miles round about, and Job Panton was to
be found there almost nightly.
In a short time I had made his acquaintance. He was a young,
big-limbed, powerful man, of a pronounced rustic type. He had the face
of a gipsy — swarthy and dark, with keen, small black eyes, and a mass
of black curly hair, and in his ears he wore tiny, plain gold rings.
Singularly enough his expression was most intelligent; but allied with
— as it seemed to me — a certain suggestiveness of latent ferocity.
That is to say, I imagined him liable to outbursts of temper and
passion, during which he might be capable of anything. As it was, then,
he seemed to me subdued, somewhat sullen, and averse to conversation.
He smoked heavily, and I soon found that he guzzled beer at a terrible
rate. He had received, for a man in his position, a tolerably good
education. By that I mean he could write a fair hand, he read well, and
had something more than a smattering of arithmetic. I was told also
that he was exceedingly skilful with carpenter's tools, although he had
had no training that way; he also understood something about plants,
while he was considered an authority on the habit, and everything
appertaining to game. The same informant thought to still further
enlighten me by adding:
"Poor Job beän't the chap he wur a year or more ago. His gal cut
un, and that kind a took a hold on un. He doän't say much; but it wur a
terrible blow, it wur."
"How was it his girl cut him?" I asked.
"Well, you see, maäster, it wur this way; she thought hersel' a bit
too high for un. Mind you, I bäan't a saying as she wur; but when a gel
thinks hersel' above a chap, it's no use talking to her."
"What was the girl's name?"
"They call her Downie. Her father was a miller here in Knutsford,
but his gal had too big notions of hersel'; and she chucked poor Job
Panton overboard, and they do say as how she took on wi' Meäster
Charnworth and also wi' Meäster Trankler. I doän't know nowt for
certain myself, but there wursome rum kind o' talk going about.
Leastwise, I know that job took it badly, and he ain't been the same
kind o' chap since. But there, what's the use of a braking one's 'art
about a gal? Gals is a queer lot, I tell you. My old grandfaither used
to say, 'Women folk be curious folk. They be necessary evils, they be,
and pleasant enough in their way, but a chap mustn't let 'em get the
upper hand. They're like harses, they be, and if you want to manage
'em, you must show 'em you're their meäster.'"
The garrulous gentleman who entertained me thus with his views on
women, was a tough, sinewy, weather-tanned old codger, who had lived
the allotted span according to the psalmist, but who seemed destined to
tread the earth for a long time still; for his seventy years had
neither bowed nor shrunk him. His chatter was interesting to me because
it served to prove what I already suspected, which was that Job Panton
had taken his jilting very seriously indeed. Job was by no means a
communicative fellow. As a matter of fact, it was difficult to draw him
out on any subject; and though I should have liked to have heard his
views about Hester Downie, I did not feel warranted in tapping him
straight off. I very speedily discovered, however, that his weakness
was beer. His capacity for it seemed immeasurable. He soaked himself
with it; but when he reached the muddled stage, there was a tendency on
his part to be more loquacious, and, taking advantage at last of one of
these opportunities, I asked him one night if he had travelled. The
question was an exceedingly pertinent one to my theory, and I felt that
to a large extent the theory I had worked out depended upon the answers
he gave. He turned his beady eyes upon me, and said, with a sort of
sardonic grin --
"Yes, I've travelled a bit in my, time, meäster. I've been to
Manchester often, and I once tramped all the way to Edinburgh. I had to
rough it, I tell thee."
"Yes, I dare say," I answered. "But what I mean is, have you ever
been abroad? Have you ever been to sea?"
"No, meäster, not me."
"You've been in foreign countries?"
"No. I've never been out of this one. England was good enough for
me. But I would like to go away now to Australia, or some of those
"Well, meäster, I have my own reasons."
"Doubtless," I said, "and no doubt very sound reasons."
"Never thee mind whether they are, or whether they beän't," he
retorted warmly. "All I've got to say is, I wouldn't care where I went
to if I could only get far enough away from this place. I'm tired of
In the manner of giving his answer, he betrayed the latent fire
which I had surmised, and showed that there was a volcanic force of
passion underlying his sullen silence, for he spoke with a suppressed
force which clearly indicated the intensity of his feelings, and his
bright eyes grew brighter with the emotion he felt. I now ventured upon
another remark. I intended it to be a test one.
"I heard one of your mates say that you had been jilted. I suppose
that's why you hate the place?"
He turned upon me suddenly. His tanned, ruddy face took on a deeper
flush of red; his upper teeth closed almost savagely on his nether lip;
his chest heaved, and his great, brawny hands clenched with the working
of his passion. Then, with one great bang of his ponderous fist, he
struck the table until the pots and glasses on it jumped as if they
were sentient and frightened; and in a voice thick with smothered
passion, he growled, "Yes, damn her! She's been my ruin."
"Nonsense!" I said. "You are a young man and a young man should not
talk about being ruined because a girl has jilted him."
Once more he turned that angry look upon me, and said fiercely —
"Thou knows nowt about it, governor. Thou're a stranger to me; and
I doän't allow no strangers to preach to me. So shut up! I'll have nowt
more to say to thee."
There was a peremptoriness, a force of character, and a display of
firmness and self-assurance in his tone and manner, which stamped him
with a distinct individualism, and made it evident that in his own
particular way he was distinct from the class in which his lot was
cast. He, further than that, gave me the idea that he was designing and
secretive; and given that he had been educated and well trained, he
might have made his mark in the world. My interview with him had been
instructive, and my opinion that he might prove a very important factor
in working out the problem was strengthened; but at that stage of the
inquiry I would not have taken upon myself to say, with anything like
definiteness, that he was directly responsible for the death of the two
gentlemen, whose mysterious ending had caused such a profound
sensation. But the reader of this narrative will now see for himself
that of all men, so far as one could determine then, who might have
been interested in the death of Mr. Charnworth and Mr. Trankler, Job
Panton stood out most conspicuously. His motive for destroying them was
one of the most powerful of human passions — namely, jealousy, which in
his case was likely to assume a very violent form, inasmuch as there
was no evenly balanced judgement, no capability of philosophical
reasoning, calculated to restrain the fierce, crude passion of the
determined and self-willed man.
A wounded tiger is fiercer and more dangerous than an unwounded
one, and an ignorant and unreasoning man is far more likely to be led
to excess by a sense of wrong, than one who is capable of reflecting
and moralizing. Of course, if I had been the impossible detective of
fiction, endowed with the absurd attributes of being able to tell the
story of a man's life from the way the tip of his nose was formed, or
the number of hairs on his head, or by the shape and size of his teeth,
or by the way he held his pipe when smoking, or from the kind of liquor
he consumed, or the hundred and one utterly ridiculous and burlesque
signs which are so easily read by the detective prig of modern
creation, I might have come to a different conclusion with reference to
Job Panton. But my work had to be carried out on very different lines,
and I had to be guided by certain deductive inferences, aided by an
intimate knowledge of human nature, and of the laws which, more or less
in every case of crime, govern the criminal.
I have already set forth my unalterable opinion that Charnworth and
Trankler had been murdered; and so far as I had proceeded up to this
point, I had heard and seen enough to warrant me, in my own humble
judgement, in at least suspecting rob Panton of being guilty of the
murder. But there was one thing that puzzled me greatly. When I first
commenced my inquiries, and was made acquainted with all the
extraordinary medical aspects of the case, I argued with myself that if
it was murder, it was murder carried out upon very original lines. Some
potent, swift and powerful poison must have been suddenly and secretly
introduced into the blood of the victim. The bite of a cobra, or of the
still more fearful and deadly Fer de lance of the West Indies, might
have produced symptoms similar to those observed in the two men; but
happily our beautiful and quiet woods and gardens of England are not
infested with these deadly reptiles, and one had to search for the
causes elsewhere. Now everyone knows that the notorious Lucrezia
Borgia, and the Marchioness of Brinvilliers, made use of means for
accomplishing the death of those whom they were anxious to get out of
the way, which were at once effective and secret. These means
consisted, amongst others, of introducing into the blood of the
intended victim some subtle poison, by the medium of a scratch or
puncture. This little and fatal wound could be given by the scratch of
a pin, or the sharpened stone of a ring, and in such a way that the
victim would be all unconscious of it until the deadly poison so
insidiously introduced began to course through his veins, and to sap
the props of his life. With these facts in my mind, I asked myself if
in the Dead Wood Hall tragedies some similar means had been used; and
in order to have competent and authoritative opinion to guide me, I
journeyed back to London to consult the eminent chemist and scientist,
Professor Lucraft. This gentleman had made a lifelong study of the
toxic effect of ptomaines on the human system, and of the various
poisons used by savage tribes for tipping their arrows and spears.
Enlightened as he was on the subject, he confessed that there were
hundreds of these deadly poisons, of which the modern chemist knew
absolutely nothing; but he expressed a decided opinion that there were
many that would produce all the effects and symptoms observable in the
cases of Charnworth and Trankler. And he particularly instanced some of
the, herbal extracts used by various tribes of Indians, who wander in
the interior of the little known country of Ecuador, and he cited as an
authority Mr. Hart Thompson, the botanist who travelled from Quito
right through Ecuador to the Amazon. This gentleman reported that he
found a vegetable poison in use by the natives for poisoning the tips
of their arrows and spears of so deadly and virulent a nature, that a
scratch even on a panther would bring about the death of the animal
within an hour.
Armed with these facts, I returned to Cheshire, and continued my
investigations on the assumption that some sir deadly destroyer of life
had been used to put Charnworth and Trankler out of the way. But
necessarily I was led to question whether or not it was likely that an
untravelled and ignorant man like Job Panton could have known anything
about such poisons and their uses. This was a stumbling block; and
while I was convinced that Panton had a strong motive for the crime, I
was doubtful if he could have been in possession of the means for
committing it. At last, in order to try and get evidence on this point,
I resolved to search the place in which he lived. He had for along time
occupied lodgings in the house of a widow woman in Knutsford, and I
subjected his rooms to a thorough and critical search, but without
finding a sign of anything calculated to justify my suspicion.
I freely confess that at this stage I began to feel that the
problem was a hopeless one, and that I should fail to work it out. My
depression, however, did not last long. It was not my habit to
acknowledge defeat so long as there were probabilities to guide me, so
I began to make inquiries about Panton's relatives, and these inquiries
elicited the fact that he had been in the habit of making frequent
journeys to Manchester to see an uncle. I soon found that this uncle
had been a sailor, and had been one of a small expedition which had
travelled through Peru and Ecuador in search of gold. Now, this was a
discovery indeed, and the full value of it will be understood when it
is taken in connection with the information given to me by Professor
Lucraft. Let us see how it works out logically.
Panton's uncle was a sailor and a traveller. He had travelled
through Peru, and had been into the interior of Ecuador.
Panton was in the habit of visiting his uncle.
Could the uncle have wandered through Ecuador without hearing
something of the marvellous poisons used by the natives?
Having been connected with an exploring expedition, it was
reasonable to assume that he was a man of good intelligence, and of an
inquiring turn of mind.
Equally probable was it that he had brought home some of the deadly
poisons or poisoned implements used by the Indians. Granted that, and
what more likely than that he talked of his knowledge and possessions
to his nephew? The nephew, brooding on his wrongs, and seeing the means
within his grasp of secretly avenging himself on those whom he counted
his rivals, obtained the means from his uncle's collection of putting
his rivals to death, in a way which to him would seem to be impossible
to detect. I had seen enough of Panton to feel sure that he had all the
intelligence and cunning necessary for planning and carrying out the
A powerful link in the chain of evidence had now been forged, and I
proceeded a step further. After a consultation with the chief inspector
of police, who, however, by no means shared my views, I applied for a
warrant for Panton's arrest, although I saw that to establish legal
proof of his guilt would be extraordinarily difficult, for his uncle at
that time was at sea, somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Moreover,
the whole case rested upon such a hypothetical basis, that it seemed
doubtful whether, even supposing a magistrate would commit, a jury
would convict. But I was not daunted; and, having succeeded so far in
giving a practical shape to my theory, I did not intend to draw back.
So I set to work to endeavour to discover the weapon which had been
used for wounding Charnworth and Trankler, so that the poison, might
take effect. This, of course, was the crux of the whole affair. The
discovery of the medium by which the death-scratch was given would
forge almost the last link necessary to ensure a conviction.
Now, in each case there was pretty conclusive evidence that there
had been no struggle. This fact justified the belief that the victim
was struck silently, and probably unknown to himself. What were the
probabilities of that being the case? Assuming that Panton was guilty
of the crime, how was it that he, being an inferior, was allowed to
come within striking distance of his victims? The most curious thing
was that both men had been scratched on the left side of the neck.
Charnworth had been killed in his friend's garden on a summer night.
Trankler had fallen in mid-day in the depths of a forest. There was an
interval of two years between the death of the one man and the death of
the other, yet each had a scratch on the left side of the neck. That
could not have been a mere coincidence. It was design.
The next point for consideration was, how did Panton — always
assuming that he was the criminal — get access to Mr. Trankler's
grounds? Firstly, the grounds were extensive, and in connection with a
plantation of young fir trees. When Charnworth was found, he was lying
behind a clump of rhododendron bushes, and near where the grounds were
merged into the plantation, a somewhat dilapidated oak fence separating
the two. These details before us make it clear that Panton could have
had no difficulty in gaining access to the plantation, and thence to
the grounds. But how came it that he was there just at the time that
Charnworth was strolling about? It seemed stretching a point very much
to suppose that he could have been loafing about on the mere chance of
seeing Charnworth. And the only hypothesis that squared in with
intelligent reasoning, was that the victim had been lured into the
grounds. But this necessarily presupposed a confederate. Close inquiry
elicited the fact that Panton was in the habit of going to the house.
He knew most of the servants, and frequently accompanied young Trankler
on his shooting excursions, and periodically he spent half a day or so
in the gun room at the house, in order that he might clean up all the
guns, for which he was paid a small sum every month. These
circumstances cleared the way of difficulties to a very considerable
extent. I was unable, however, to go beyond that, for I could not
ascertain the means that had been used to lure Mr. Charnworth into the
garden — if he had been lured; and I felt sure that he had been. But so
much had to remain for the time being a mystery.
Having obtained the warrant to arrest Panton, I proceeded to
execute it. He seemed thunderstruck when told that he was arrested on a
charge of having been instrumental in bringing about the death of
Charnworth and Trankler. For a brief space of time he seemed to
collapse, and lose his presence of mind. But suddenly, with an apparent
effort, he recovered himself, and said, with a strange smile on his
"You've got to prove it, and that you can never do."
His manner and this remark were hardly compatible with innocence,
but I clearly recognized the difficulties of proof. From that moment
the fellow assumed a self-assured air, and to those with whom he was
brought in contact he would remark:
"I'm as innocent as a lamb, and them as says I done the deed have
got to prove it."
In my endeavour to get further evidence to strengthen my case, I
managed to obtain from Job Panton's uncle's brother, who followed the
occupation of an engine-minder in a large cotton factory in Oldham, an
old chest containing a quantity of lumber. The uncle, on going to sea
again, had left this chest in charge of his brother. A careful
examination of the contents proved that they consisted of a very
miscellaneous collection of odds and ends, including two or three
small, carved wooden idols from some savage country; some stone
weapons, such as are used by the North American Indians; strings of
cowrie shells, a pair of moccasins, feathers of various kinds; a few
dried specimens of strange birds; and last, though not least, a small
bamboo case containing a dozen tiny sharply pointed darts, feathered at
the thick end; while in a stone box, about three inches square, was a
viscid thick gummy looking substance of a very dark brown colour, and
giving off a sickening and most disagreeable, though faint odour. These
things I at once submitted to Professor Lucraft, who expressed an
opinion that the gummy substance in the stone box was a vegetable
poison, used probably to poison the dares with. He lost no time in
experimentalizing with this substance, as well as with the darts. With
these darts he scratched guinea-pigs, rabbits, a dog, a cat, a hen, and
a young pig, and in each case death ensued in periods of time ranging
from a quarter of an hour to two hours. By means of a subcutaneous
injection into a rabbit of a minute portion of the gummy substance,
about the size of a pea, which had been thinned with alcohol, he
produced death in exactly seven minutes. A small monkey was next
procured, and slightly scratched on the neck with one of the poisoned
darts. In a very short time the poor animal exhibited the most
distressing symptoms, and in half an hour it was dead, and a
post-mortem examination revealed many of the peculiar effect which had
been observed. in Charnworth's and Trankler's bodies. Various other
exhaustive experiments were carried out, all of which confirmed the
deadly nature of these minute poison-darts, which could be puffed
through a hollow tube to a great distance, and after some practice,
with unerring aim. Analysis of the gummy substance in the box proved it
to be a violent vegetable poison; innocuous when swallowed, but
singularly active and deadly when introduced direct into the blood.
On the strength of these facts, the magistrate duly committed Job
Panton to take his trial at the next assizes, on a charge of murder,
although there was not a scrap of evidence forthcoming to prove that he
had ever been in possession of any of the darts or the poison; and
unless such evidence was forthcoming, it was felt that the case for the
prosecution must break down, however clear the mere guilt of the man
In due course, Panton was put on his trial at Chester, and the
principal witness against him was Hester Downie, who was subjected to a
very severe cross-examination, which left not a shadow of a doubt that
she and Panton had at one time been close sweethearts. But her cousin
Jessie Turner proved a tempter of great subtlety. It was made clear
that she poisoned the girl's mind against her humble lover. Although it
could not be proved, it is highly probable that Jessie Turner was a
creature of and in the pay of Mr. Charnworth, who seemed to have been
very much attracted by him. Hester's connection with Charnworth half
maddened Panton, who made frantic appeals to her to be true to him,
appeals to which she turned a deaf ear. That Trankler knew her in
Charnworth's time was also brought out, and after Charnworth's death
she smiled favourably on the young man. On the morning that Trankler's
shooting-party went out to Mere Forest, Panton was one of the beaters
employed by the party.
So much was proved; so much was made as clear as daylight, and it
opened the way for any number of inferences. But the last and most
important link was never forthcoming. Panton was defended by an able
and unscrupulous counsel, who urged with tremendous force on the notice
of the jury, that firstly, not one of the medical witnesses would
undertake to swear that the two men had died from the effects of poison
similar to that found in the old chest which had belonged to the
prisoner's uncle; and secondly, there was not one scrap of evidence
tending to prove that Panton had ever been in possession of poisoned
darts, or had ever had access to the chest in which they were kept.
These two points were also made much of by the learned judge in his
summing up. He was at pains to make clear that there was a doubt
involved, and that mere inference ought not to be allowed to outweigh
the doubt when a human being was on trial for his life. Although
circumstantially the evidence very strongly pointed to the probability
of the prisoner having killed both men, nevertheless, in the absence of
the strong proof which the law demanded, the way was opened for the
escape of a suspected man, and it was far better to let the law be
cheated of its due, than that an innocent man should suffer. At the
same time, the judge went on, two gentlemen had met their deaths in a
manner which had baffled medical science, and no one was forthcoming
who would undertake to say that they had been killed in the manner
suggested by the prosecution, and yet it had been shown that the
terrible and powerful poison found in the old chest, and which there
was reason to believe had been brought from some part of the little
known country near the sources of the mighty Amazon, would produce all
the effects which were observed in they bodies of Charnworth and
Trankler. The chest, furthermore, in which the poison was discovered,
was in the possession of Panton's uncle. Panton had a powerful motive
in the shape of consuming jealousy for getting rid of his more favoured
rivals; and though he was one of the shooting-party in Mere Forest on
the day that Trankler lost his life, no evidence had been produced to
prove that he was on the premises of Dead Wood Hall, on the night that
Charnworth died. If, in weighing all these points of evidence, the jury
were of opinion circumstantial evidence was inadequate, then it was
their duty to give the prisoner — whose life was in their hands the
benefit of the doubt.
The jury retired, and were absent three long hours, and it became
known that they could not agree. Ultimately, they returned into court,
and pronounced a verdict of "Not guilty." In Scotland the verdict must
and would have been non proven.
And so Job Panton went free, but an evil odour seemed to cling
about him; he was shunned by his former companions, and many a
suspicious glance was directed to him, and many a bated murmur was
uttered as he passed by, until in a while he went forth beyond the
seas, to the far wild west, as some said, and his haunts knew him no
The mystery is still a mystery; but how near I came to solving the
problem of Dead Wood Hall it is for the reader to judge.