In a quarter of an hour more, the cab stopped in Shore Lane, and Gooseberry opened the door for us to get out.
"All right?" asked the Sergeant.
"All right," answered the boy.
The moment we entered "The Wheel of Fortune" it was plain even to my inexperienced eyes that there was something wrong in the house.
The only person behind the counter at which the liquors were served, was a bewildered servant girl, perfectly ignorant of the business. One or two customers, waiting for their morning drink, were tapping impatiently on the counter with their money. The bar-maid appeared from the inner regions of the parlour, excited and preoccupied. She answered Sergeant Cuff's inquiry for the landlord, by telling him sharply that her master was up-stairs, and was not to be bothered by anybody.
"Come along with me, sir," said Sergeant Cuff, coolly leading the way up-stairs, and beckoning to the boy to follow him.
The barmaid called to her master, and warned him that strangers were intruding themselves into the house. On the first floor we were encountered by the Landlord, hurrying down, in a highly irritated state, to see what was the matter.
"Who the devil are you? and what do you want here?" he asked.
"Keep your temper," said the Sergeant, quietly. "I'll tell you who I am to begin with. I am Sergeant Cuff."
The illustrious name instantly produced its effect. The angry landlord threw open the door of a sitting-room, and asked the Sergeant's pardon.
"I am annoyed and out of sorts, sir - that's the truth," he said. "Something unpleasant has happened in the house this morning. A man in my way of business has a deal to upset his temper, Sergeant Cuff."
"Not a doubt of it," said the Sergeant. "I'll come at once, if you will allow me, to what brings us here. This gentleman and I want to trouble you with a few inquiries, on a matter of some interest to both of us."
"Relating to what, sir?" asked the landlord.
"Relating to a dark man, dressed like a sailor, who slept here last night."
"Good God! that's the man who is upsetting the whole house at this moment!" exclaimed the landlord. "Do you, or does this gentleman know anything about him?"
"We can't be certain till we see him," answered the Sergeant.
"See him?" echoed the landlord. "That's the one thing that nobody has been able to do since seven o'clock this morning. That was the time when he left word, last night, that he was to be called. He WAS called - and there was no getting an answer from him, and no opening his door to see what was the matter. They tried again at eight, and they tried again at nine. No use! There was the door still locked - and not a sound to be heard in the room! I have been out this morning - and I only got back a quarter of an hour ago. I have hammered at the door myself - and all to no purpose. The potboy has gone to fetch a carpenter. If you can wait a few minutes, gentlemen, we will have the door opened, and see what it means."
"Was the man drunk last night?" asked Sergeant Cuff.
"Perfectly sober, sir - or I would never have let him sleep in my house."
"Did he pay for his bed beforehand?"
"Could he leave the room in any way, without going out by the door?"
"The room is a garret," said the landlord. "But there's a trap-door in the ceiling, leading out on to the roof - and a little lower down the street, there's an empty house under repair. Do you think, Sergeant, the blackguard has got off in that way, without paying?"
"A sailor," said Sergeant Cuff, "might have done it - early in the morning, before the street was astir. He would be used to climbing, and his head wouldn't fail him on the roofs of the houses."
As he spoke, the arrival of the carpenter was announced. We all went up-stairs, at once, to the top story. I noticed that the Sergeant was unusually grave, even for him. It also struck me as odd that he told the boy (after having previously encouraged him to follow us), to wait in the room below till we came down again.
The carpenter's hammer and chisel disposed of the resistance of the door in a few minutes. But some article of furniture had been placed against it inside, as a barricade. By pushing at the door, we thrust this obstacle aside, and so got admission to the room. The landlord entered first; the Sergeant second; and I third. The other persons present followed us.
We all looked towards the bed, and all started.
The man had not left the room. He lay, dressed, on the bed - with a white pillow over his face, which completely hid it from view.
"What does that mean?" said the landlord, pointing to the pillow.
Sergeant Cuff led the way to the bed, without answering, and removed the pillow.
The man's swarthy face was placid and still; his black hair and beard were slightly, very slightly, discomposed. His eyes stared wide-open, glassy and vacant, at the ceiling. The filmy look and the fixed expression of them horrified me. I turned away, and went to the open window. The rest of them remained, where Sergeant Cuff remained, at the bed.
"He's in a fit!" I heard the landlord say.
"He's dead," the Sergeant answered. "Send for the nearest doctor, and send for the police."
The waiter was despatched on both errands. Some strange fascination seemed to hold Sergeant Cuff to the bed. Some strange curiosity seemed to keep the rest of them waiting, to see what the Sergeant would do next.
I turned again to the window. The moment afterwards, I felt a soft pull at my coat-tails, and a small voice whispered, "Look here, sir!"
Gooseberry had followed us into the room. His loose eyes rolled frightfully - not in terror, but in exultation. He had made a detective-discovery on his own account. "Look here, sir," he repeated - and led me to a table in the corner of the room.
On the table stood a little wooden box, open, and empty. On one side of the box lay some jewellers' cotton. On the other side, was a torn sheet of white paper, with a seal on it, partly destroyed, and with an inscription in writing, which was still perfectly legible. The inscription was in these words:
"Deposited with Messrs. Bushe, Lysaught, and Bushe, by Mr. Septimus Luker, of Middlesex Place, Lambeth, a small wooden box, sealed up in this envelope, and containing a valuable of great price. The box, when claimed, to be only given up by Messrs. Bushe and Co. on the personal application of Mr. Luker."
Those lines removed all further doubt, on one point at least. The sailor had been in possession of the Moonstone, when he had left the bank on the previous day.
I felt another pull at my coat-tails. Gooseberry had not done with me yet.
"Robbery!" whispered the boy, pointing, in high delight, to the empty box.
"You were told to wait down-stairs," I said. "Go away!"
"And Murder!" added Gooseberry, pointing, with a keener relish still, to the man on the bed.
There was something so hideous in the boy's enjoyment of the horror of the scene, that I took him by the two shoulders and put him out of the room.
At the moment when I crossed the threshold of the door, I heard Sergeant Cuff's voice, asking where I was. He met me, as I returned into the room, and forced me to go back with him to the bedside.
"Mr. Blake!" he said. "Look at the man's face. It is a face disguised - and here's a proof of it!"
He traced with his finger a thin line of livid white, running backward from the dead man's forehead, between the swarthy complexion, and the slightly-disturbed black hair. "Let's see what is under this," said the Sergeant, suddenly seizing the black hair, with a firm grip of his hand.
My nerves were not strong enough to bear it. I turned away again from the bed.
The first sight that met my eyes, at the other end of the room, was the irrepressible Gooseberry, perched on a chair, and looking with breathless interest, over the heads of his elders, at the Sergeant's proceedings.
"He's pulling off his wig!" whispered Gooseberry, compassionating my position, as the only person in the room who could see nothing.
There was a pause - and then a cry of astonishment among the people round the bed.
"He's pulled off his beard!" cried Gooseberry.
There was another pause - Sergeant Cuff asked for something. The landlord went to the wash-hand-stand, and returned to the bed with a basin of water and a towel.
Gooseberry danced with excitement on the chair. "Come up here, along with me, sir! He's washing off his complexion now!"
The Sergeant suddenly burst his way through the people about him, and came, with horror in his face, straight to the place where I was standing.
"Come back to the bed, sir!" he began. He looked at me closer, and checked himself "No!" he resumed. "Open the sealed letter first - the letter I gave you this morning."
I opened the letter.
"Read the name, Mr. Blake, that I have written inside."
I read the name that he had written. It was GODFREY ABLEWHITE.
"Now," said the Sergeant, "come with me, and look at the man on the bed."
I went with him, and looked at the man on the bed.GODFREY ABLEWHITE!