The Case of the White Footprints
by R. Austin Freeman
"WELL," said my friend
Foxton, pursuing a familiar and apparently inexhaustible
topic, "I'd sooner have your job than my own."
"I've no doubt you would," was my
unsympathetic reply. "I never met a man who wouldn't.
We all tend to consider other men's jobs in terms of their
advantages and our own in terms of their drawbacks. It is
"Oh, it's all very well for you to be so
beastly philosophical," retorted Foxton. "You
wouldn't be if you were in my place. Here, in Margate, it's
measles, chicken-pox and scarlatina all the summer, and
bronchitis, colds and rheumatism an the winter. A deadly
monotony. Whereas you and Thorndyke sit there in your
chambers and let your clients feed you up with the raw
material of romance. Why, your life is a sort of everlasting
"You exaggerate, Foxton," said I.
"We, like you, have our routine work, only it is never
heard of outside the Law Courts; and you, like every other
doctor, must run up against mystery and romance from time to
Foxton shook his head as he held out his hand
for my cup. "I don't," said be. "My practice
yields nothing but an endless round of dull routine."
And then, as if in commentary on this last
statement, the housemaid burst into the room and, with
hardly dissembled agitation, exclaimed:
"If you please, sir, the page from
Beddingfield's Boarding-house says that a lady has been
found dead in her bed and would you go round there
"Very well, Jane," said Foxton, and
as the maid retired, he deliberately helped himself to
another fried egg and, looking across the table at me,
exclaimed: "Isn't that always the way? Come
immediately--now--this very instant, although the patient
may have been considering for a day or two whether he'll
send for you or not. But directly he decides you must spring
out of bed, or jump up from your breakfast, and run."
"That's quite true," I agreed;
"but this really does seem to be an urgent case."
"What's the urgency?" demanded
Foxton. "The woman is already dead. Anyone would think
she was in imminent danger of coming to life again and that
my instant arrival the only thing that could prevent such a
"You've only a third-hand statement that
she is dead," said I. "It is just possible that
she isn't; and even if she is, as you will have to give
evidence at the inquest, you do want the police to get there
first and turn out the room before you've made your
"Gad!" exclaimed Foxton. "I
hadn't thought of that. Yes. You're right. I'll hop round at
He swallowed the remainder of the egg at a
single gulp rose from the table. Then he paused and stood
for a few moments looking down at me irresolutely.
"I wonder, Jervis," he said,
"if you would mind coming round with me. You know all
the medico-legal ropes, and I don't. What do you say?"
I agreed instantly, having, in fact, been
restrained only by delicacy from making the suggestion
myself; and when I had fetched from my room my pocket camera
and telescopic tripod, we set forth together without further
Beddingfield's Boarding-house was but a few
minutes walk from Foxton's residence being situated near the
middle of Ethelred Road, Cliftonville, a quiet, suburban
street which abounded in similar establishments, many of
which, I noticed, were undergoing a spring-cleaning and
renovation to prepare them for the approaching season.
"That's the house," said Foxton,
"where that woman is standing at the front door. Look
at the boarders, collected at the dining-room window.
There's a rare commotion in that house, I'll warrant."
Here, arriving at the house, he ran up the
steps and accosted in sympathetic tones the elderly woman
who stood by the open street door.
"What a dreadful thing this is, Mrs.
Beddingfield! Terrible! Most distressing for you!"
"Ah, you're right, Dr. Foxton," she
replied. "It's an awful affair. Shocking. So bad for
business, too. I do hope, and trust there won't be any
"I'm sure I hope not," said Foxton.
"There shan't be I can help it. And as my friend Dr.
Jervis, who is staying with me for a few days, is a lawyer
as well as a doctor, we shall have the best advice. When was
the affair discovered?"
"Just before I sent for you, Dr. Foxton.
The maid, noticed that Mrs. Toussaint--that is the poor
creature's name--had not taken in her hot water, so she
knocked at the door. As she couldn't get any answer, she
tried the door and found it bolted on the inside, and then
she came and told me. I went up and knocked loudly, and
then, as I couldn't get any reply, I told our boy, James, to
force the door open with a case-opener, which he did quite
easily as the bolt was only a small one. Then I went in, all
of a tremble, for I had a presentiment that there was
something wrong; and there she was lying stone dead, with a
most 'orrible stare on her face and an empty bottle in her
"A bottle, eh!" said Foxton.
"Yes. She'd made away with herself, poor
thing; and all on account of some silly love affair--and it
was hardly even that."
"Ah," said Foxton. "The usual
thing. You must tell us about that later. Now we'd better go
up and see the patient--at least the--er--perhaps you'll
show us the room, Mrs. Beddingfield."
The landlady turned and preceded us up the
stairs to the first-floor back, where she paused, and softly
opening a door, peered nervously into the room. As we
stepped past her and entered, she seemed inclined to follow,
but, at a significant glance from me, Foxton persuasively
ejected her and closed the door. Then we stood silent for a
while and looked about us.
In the aspect of the room there was something
strangely incongruous with the tragedy that had been enacted
within its walls ; a mingling of the commonplace and the
terrible that almost amounted to anticlimax. Through the
wide-open window the bright spring sunshine streamed in on
the garish wallpaper and cheap furniture; from the street
below, the periodic shouts of a man selling "sole and
mack-ro!" broke into the brisk staccato of a
barrel-organ and both sounds mingled with a raucous voice
close at hand, cheerfully trolling a popular song, and
accounted for by a linen-clad elbow that bobbed in front of
the window and evidently appertained to a house-painter on
an adjacent ladder.
It was all very commonplace and familiar and
discordantly out of character with the stark figure that lay
on the bed like a waxen effigy symbolic of tragedy. Here was
none of that gracious somnolence in which death often
presents itself with a suggestion of eternal repose. This
woman was dead; horribly, aggressively dead. The thin,
sallow face was rigid as stone, the dark eyes stared into
infinite space with a horrid fixity that was quite
disturbing to look on. And yet the posture of the corpse was
not uneasy, being, in fact, rather curiously symmetrical,
with both arms outside the bedclothes and both hands closed,
the right grasping, as Mrs. Beddingfield had said, an empty
"Well," said Foxton, as he stood
looking down on the dead woman, "it seems a pretty
clear case. She appears to have laid herself out and kept
hold of the bottle so that there should be no mistake. How
long do you suppose this woman has been dead, Jervis?"
I felt the rigid limbs and tested the
temperature of the body surface.
"Not less than six hours," I
replied. "Probably more. I should say that she died
about two o'clock this morning."
"And that is about all we can say,"
said Foxton, "until the post-mortem has been made.
Everything looks quite straightforward. No signs of a
struggle or marks of violence. That blood on the mouth is
probably due to her biting her lip when she drank from the
bottle. Yes; here's a little cut on the inside of the lip,
corresponding to the upper incisors. By the way, I wonder if
there is anything left in the bottle."
As he spoke, he drew the small, unlabelled,
green glass phial from the closed hand--out of which it
slipped quite easily--and held it up to the light.
"Yes," he exclaimed, "there's
more than a drachm left; quite enough for an analysis. But I
don't recognize the smell. Do you?"
I sniffed at the bottle and was aware of a
faint unfamiliar vegetable odour.
"No," I answered. "It appears
to be a watery solution of some kind, but I can't give it a
name. Where is the cork?"
"I haven't seen it," he replied.
"Probably it is on the floor somewhere."
We both stooped to look for the missing cork
and presently found it in the shadow, under the little
bedside table. But, in the course of that brief search, I
found something else, which had indeed been lying in full
view all the time--a wax match. Now a wax match is a
perfectly innocent and very commonplace object, but yet the
presence of this one gave me pause. In the first place,
women do not, as a rule, use wax matches, though there was
not much in that. What was more to the point was that the
candlestick by the bedside contained a box of safety
matches, and that, as the burnt remains of one lay in the
tray, it appeared to have been used to light the candle.
Then why the wax match?
While I was turning over this problem Foxton
had corked the bottle, wrapped it carefully in a piece of
paper which he took from the dressing-table and bestowed it
in his pocket.
"Well, Jervis," said he, "I
think we've seen everything. The analysis and the
post-mortem will complete the case. Shall we go down and
hear what Mrs. Beddingfield has to say?"
But that wax match, slight as was its
significance, taken alone, had presented itself to me as the
last of a succession of phenomena each of which was
susceptible of a sinister interpretation; and the cumulative
effect of these slight suggestions began to impress me
"One moment, Foxton," said I.
"Don't let us take anything for granted. We are here to
collect evidence, and we must go warily. There is such a
thing as homicidal poisoning, you know."
"Yes, of course," he replied,
"but there is nothing to suggest it in this case; at
least, I see nothing. Do you?"
"Nothing very positive," said I;
"but there are some facts that seem to call for
consideration. Let us go over what we have seen. In the
first place, there is a distinct discrepancy in the
appearance of the body. The general easy, symmetrical
posture, like that of a figure on a tomb, suggests the
effect of a slow, painless poison. But look at the face.
There is nothing reposeful about that. It is very strongly
suggestive of pain or terror or both."
"Yes," said Foxton, "that is
so. But you can't draw any satisfactory conclusions from the
facial expression of dead bodies. Why, men who have been
hanged, or even, stabbed, often look as peaceful as
"Still," I red "it is a fact
to be noted. Then there is that cut on the lip. It may have
been produced in the way you suggest; but it may equally
well he the result of pressure on the mouth."
Foxton made no comment on this beyond a
slight shrug of the shoulders, and I continued:
"Then there is the state of the band. It
was closed, but, it did not really grasp the object it
contained. You drew the bottle out without any resistance.
It simply lay in the closed hand. But that is not a normal
state of affairs. As you know, when a person dies grasping
any object, either the hand relaxes and lets it drop, or the
muscular action passes into cadaveric spasm and grasps the
object firmly. And lastly, there is this wax match. Where
did it come from? The dead woman apparently lit her candle
with a safety match from the box. It is a small matter, but
it wants explaining."
Foxton raised his eyebrows protestingly.
"You're like all specialists, Jervis," said he.
"You see your speciality in everything. And while you
are straining these flimsy suggestions to turn a simple
suicide into murder, you ignore the really conclusive fact
that the door was bolted and had to be broken open before
anyone could get in."
"You are not forgetting, I
suppose," said I, "that the window was wide open
and that there were house-painters about and possibly a
ladder left standing against the house."
"As to the ladder," said Foxton,
"that is a pure assumption; but we can easily settle
the question by asking that fellow out there if it was or
was not left standing last night."
Simultaneously we moved towards the window;
but halfway we both stopped short. For the question of the
ladder had in a moment became negligible. Staring up at us
from the dull red linoleum which covered the floor were the
impressions of a pair of bare feet, imprinted in white paint
with the distinctness of a woodcut. There was no need to ask
if they had been made by the dead woman: they were
unmistakably the feet of a man, and large feet at that. Nor
could there be any doubt as to whence those feet had come.
Beginning with startling distinctness under the window, the
tracks shed rapidly in intensity until they reached the
carpeted portion of the room, where they vanished abruptly;
and only by the closest scrutiny was it possible to detect
the faint traces of the retiring tracks.
Foxton and I stood for some moments gazing
in, silence at the sinister white shapes; then we looked at
"You've saved me from a most horrible
blunder, Jervis," said Foxton. "Ladder or no
ladder, that fellow came in at the window; and he came in
last night, for I saw them painting these window-sills
yesterday afternoon. Which side did he come from, I
We moved to the window and looked out on the
sill. A set of distinct, though smeared impressions on the
new paint gave unneeded confirmation and showed that the
intruder had approached from the left side, close to which
was a cast-iron stack-pipe, now covered with fresh green
"So," said Foxton, "the
presence or absence of the ladder is of no significance. The
man got into the window somehow, and that's all that
"On the contrary," said I,
"the point may be of considerable importance in
identification. It isn't everyone who could climb up a
stack-pipe, whereas most people could make shift to climb a
ladder, even if it were guarded by a plank. But the fact
that the man took off his boots and socks suggests that he
came up by the pipe. If he had merely aimed at silencing his
footfalls, he would probably have removed his boots
From the window we turned to examine more
closely the footprints on the floor, and while I took a
series of measurements with my spring tape Foxton entered
them in my notebook.
"Doesn't it strike you as rather odd,
Jervis," said he, "that neither of the little toes
has made any mark?"
"It does indeed," I replied.
"The appearances suggest that the little toes were
absent, but I have never met with such a condition. Have
"Never. Of course one is acquainted with
the supernumerary toe deformity, but I have never heard of
congenitally deficient little toes."
Once more we scrutinized the footprints, and
even examined those on the window-sill, obscurely marked on
the fresh paint; but, exquisitely distinct as were those on
the linoleum, showing every wrinkle and minute skin-marking,
not the faintest hint of a little toe was to be seen on
"It's very extraordinary," said
Foxton. "He has certainly lost his little toes, if he
ever had any. They couldn't have failed to make some mark.
But it's a queer affair. Quite a windfall for the police, by
the way; I mean for purposes of identification."
"Yes," I agreed, "and having
regard to the importance of the footprints, I think it would
be wise to get a photograph of them."
"Oh, the police will see to that,"
said Foxton. "Besides, we haven't got a camera, unless
you thought of using that little toy snapshotter of
As Foxton was no photographer I did not
trouble to explain that my camera, though small, had been
specially made for scientific purposes.
"Any photograph is better than
none," I said, and with this I opened the tripod and
set it over one of the most distinct of the footprints,
screwed the camera to the goose-neck, carefully framed the
footprint in the finder and adjusted the focus, finally
making the exposure by means of an antinous release. This
process I repeated four times, twice on a right footprint
and twice on a left.
"Well," Foxton remarked, "with
all those photographs the police ought to be able to pick up
"Yes, they've got something to go on;
but they'll have to catch their hare before they can cook
him. He won't be walking about barefooted, you know."
"No. It's a poor clue in that respect.
And now we may as well be off as we've seen all there is to
see. I think we won't have much to say to Mrs. Beddingfield.
This is a police case, and the less I'm mixed up in it the
better it will be for my practice."
I was faintly amused at Foxton's caution when
considered by the light of his utterances at the
breakfast-table. Apparently his appetite for mystery and
romance was easily satisfied. But that was no affair of
mine. I waited on the doorstep while he said a few--probably
evasive--words to the landlady and then, as we started off
together in the direction of the police station, I began to
turn over in my mind the salient features of the case. For
some time we walked on in silence, and must have been
pursuing a parallel train of thought for, when he at length
spoke, he almost put my reflections into words.
"You know, Jervis," said he,
"there ought to be a clue in those footprints. I
realize that you can't tell how many toes a man has by
looking at his booted feet. But those unusual footprints
ought to give an expert a hint as to what sort of man to
look for. Don't they convey any hint to you?"
I felt that Foxton was right; that if my
brilliant colleague, Thorndyke, had been in my place he
would have extracted from those footprints some leading fact
that would have given the police a start along some definite
line of inquiry; and that belief, coupled with Foxton's
challenge, put me on my mettle.
"They offer no particular suggestions to
me at this moment," said I, "but I think that, if
we consider them systematically, we may be able to draw some
"Very well," said Foxton,
"then let us consider them systematically. Fire away. I
should like to hear how you work these things out."
Foxton's frankly spectatorial attitude was a
little disconcerting, especially as it seemed to commit me
to a result that I was by no means confident of attaining. I
therefore began a little diffidently.
"We are assuming that both the feet that
made those prints were from some cause devoid of little
toes. That assumption--which is almost certainly correct--we
treat as a fact, and, taking it as our starting point, the
first step in the inquiry is to find some explanation of it.
Now there are three possibilities, and only three:
deformity, injury, and disease. The toes may have been
absent from birth, they may have been lost as a result of
mechanical injury, or they may have been lost by disease.
Let us take those possibilities in order.
"Deformity we exclude since such a
malformation is unknown to us.
"Mechanical injury seems to be excluded
by the fact that the two little toes are on opposite sides
of the body and could not conceivably be affected by any
violence which left the intervening feet uninjured. This
seems to narrow the possibilities down to disease; and the
question that arises is, What diseases are there which might
result in the loss of both little toes?"
I looked inquiringly at Foxton, but he merely
nodded encouragingly. His rôle was that of listener.
"Well," I pursued, "the loss
of both toes seems to exclude local disease, just as it
excluded local injury; and as to general diseases, I can
think only of three which might produce this
condition--Raynaud's disease, ergotism, and
"You don't call frost-bite a general
disease, do you objected Foxton.
"For our present purpose, I do. The
effects are local, but the cause--low external
temperature--affects the whole body and is a general cause.
Well, now, taking the diseases in order. I think we can
exclude Raynaud's disease. It does, it is true,
occasionally cause the fingers or toes to die and drop off,
and the little toes would be especially liable to be
affected as being most remote from the heart. But in such a
severe case the other toes would be affected. They would be
shrivelled and tapered, whereas, if you remember, the toes
of these feet were quite plump and full, to judge by the
large impressions they made. So I think we may safely reject
Raynaud's disease. There remain ergotism and frost-bite; and
the choice between them is just a question of relative
frequency. Frost-bite is more common; therefore frost-bite
is more probable."
"Do they tend equally to affect the
little toes?" asked Foxton.
"As a matter of probability, yes. The
poison of ergot acting from within, and intense cold acting
from without, contract the small blood-vessels and arrest,
the circulation. The feet, being the most distant parts of
the body from the heart, are the first to feel the effects;
and the little toes, which are the most distant parts of the
feet, are the most susceptible of all."
Foxton reflected awhile, and then remarked:
"This is all very well, Jervis, but I
don't see that you are much forrarder. This man has lost
both his little toes and on your showing, the probabilities
are that the loss was due either to chronic ergot poisoning
or to frost-bite, with a balance of probability in favour of
frost-bite. That's all. No proof, no verification, just the
law of probability applied to a particular case, which is
always unsatisfactory. He may have lost his toes in some
totally different way. But even if the probabilities work
out correctly, I don't see what use your conclusions would
be to the police. They wouldn't tell them what sort of man
to look for."
There was a good deal of truth in Foxton's
objection. A man who has suffered from ergotism or
frost-bite is not externally different from any other man.
Still, we had not exhausted the case, as I ventured to point
"Don't be premature, Foxton," said
I. "Let us pursue our argument a little farther. We
have established a probability that this unknown man has
suffered either from ergotism or frost-bite. That, as you
say, is of no use by itself; but supposing we can show that
these conditions tend to affect a particular class of
persons, we shall have established a fact that will indicate
a line of investigation. And I think we can. Let us take the
case of ergotism first.
"Now how is chronic ergot poisoning
caused? Not by the medicinal use of the drug, but, by the
consumption of the diseased rye in which ergot occurs. It is
therefore peculiar to countries in which rye is used
extensively as food. Those countries, broadly speaking, are
the countries of North-Eastern Europe, and especially Russia
"Then take the case of frost-bite.
Obviously, the most likely person to get frost-bitten is
the inhabitant of a country with a cold climate. The most
rigorous climates inhabited by white people are North
America and North-Eastern Europe, especially Russia and
Poland. So you see, the areas associated with ergotism and
frost-bite overlap to some extent. In fact they do more thin
overlap; for a person even slightly affected by ergot would
be specially liable to frost-bite, owing to the impaired
circulation. The conclusion is that, racially, in both
ergotism and frost-bite, the balance of probability is in
favour of a Russian, a Pole, or a Scandinavian.
"Then in the case of frost-bite there is
the occupation factor. What class of men tend most to become
frost-bitten? Well, beyond all doubt, the greatest sufferers
from frost-bite are sailors, especially those on sailing
ships, and, naturally, on ships trading to Arctic and
sub-Arctic countries. But the bulk of such sailing ships are
those engaged in the Baltic and Archangel trade; and the
crews of those ships are almost exclusively Scandinavians,
Finns, Russians and Poles. So that, again, the probabilities
point to a native of North-Eastern Europe, and, taken as a
whole, by the over-lapping of factors, to a Russian, a Pole,
or a Scandinavian."
Foxton smiled sardonically. "Very
ingenious, Jervis," said he. "Most ingenious. As
an academic statement of probabilities, quite excellent. But
for practical purposes absolutely useless. However, here we
are at the police-station. I'll just run in and give them
the facts and then go on to the coroner's office."
"I suppose I'd better not come in with
you?" I said.
"Well, no," he replied. "You
see, you have no official connection with the case, and they
mightn't like it. You'd better go and amuse yourself while I
get the morning's visits done. We can talk things over at
With this he disappeared into the
police-station, and I turned away with a smile of grim
amusement. Experience is apt to make us a trifle
uncharitable, and experience had taught me that those who
are the most scornful of academic reasoning are often not
above retailing it with some reticence as to its original
authorship. I had a shrewd suspicion that Foxton was at this
very moment disgorging my despised "academic statement
of probabilities" to an admiring police-inspector.
My way towards the sea lay through Ethelred
Road, and I had traversed about half its length and was
approaching the house of the tragedy when I observed Mrs.
Beddingfield at the bay window. Evidently she recognized me,
for a few moments later she appeared in outdoor clothes on
the doorstep and advanced to meet me.
"Have you seen the police?" she
asked, as we met.
I replied that Dr. Foxton was even now at the
"Ah!" she said, "it's a
dreadful affair; most unfortunate, too, just at the
beginning of the season. A scandal is absolute ruin to a
boarding-house. What do you think of the case? Will it be
possible to hush it up? Dr. Foxton said you were a lawyer, I
think, Dr. Jervis?"
"Yes, I am a lawyer, but really I know
nothing of the circumstances of this case. Did I understand
that there had been something in the nature of a love
"Yes--at least--well, perhaps I oughtn't
to have said that. But hadn't I better tell you the whole
story?--that is, if I am not taking up too much of your
"I should be interested to hear what led
to the disaster," said I.
"Then," she said, "I will tell
you all about it. Will you come indoors, or shall I walk a
little way with you?"
As I suspected that the police were at that
moment on their way to the house, I chose the latter
alternative and led her away seawards at a pretty brisk
"Was this poor lady a widow?" I
asked, as we started up the street.
"No, she wasn't," replied Mrs.
Beddingfield, "and that was the trouble. Her husband
was abroad--at least, he had been, and he was just coming
home. A pretty home-coming it will be for him, poor man. He
is an officer in the Civil Police at Sierra Leone, but he
hasn't been there long. He went there for his health."
"What! To Sierra Leone!" I
exclaimed, for the "White Man's Grave" seemed a
queer health resort.
"Yes. You see, Mr. Toussaint is a French
Canadian, and it seems that he has always been somewhat of a
rolling stone. For some time he was in the Klondyke, but he
suffered so much from the cold that he had to come away. It
injured his health very severely; I don't quite know in what
way, but I do know that he was quite a cripple for a time.
When he got better he looked out for a post in a warm
climate and eventually obtained the appointment of Inspector
of Civil Police at Sierra Leone. That was about ten months
ago, and when he sailed for Africa his wife came to stay
with me, and has been here ever since."
"And this love affair that you spoke
"Yes, but I oughtn't to have called it
that. Let me explain what happened. About three months ago a
Swedish gentleman--a Mr. Bergson--came to stay here, and he
seemed to be very much smitten with Mrs. Toussaint."
"Oh, she liked him well enough. He is a
tall, good-looking man-though for that matter he is no
taller than her husband, nor any better-looking. Both men
are over six feet. But there was no harm so far as she was
concerned, excepting that she didn't see the position quite
soon enough. She wasn't very discreet, in fact I thought it
necessary to give her a little advice. However, Mr. Bergson
left here and went to live at Ramsgate to superintend the
unloading of the iceships (he came from Sweden in one), and
I thought the trouble was at an end. But it wasn't, for he
took to coming over to see Mrs. Toussaint, and of course I
couldn't have that. So at last I had to tell him that he
mustn't come to the house again. It was very unfortunate,
for on that occasion I think he had been 'tasting', as they
say in Scotland. He wasn't drunk, but he was excitable and
noisy, and when I told him he mustn't come again he made
such a disturbance that two of the gentlemen boarders--Mr.
Wardale and Mr. Macauley--had to interfere. And then he was
most insulting to them, especially to Mr. Macauley, who is a
coloured gentleman; called him a 'buck nigger' and all sorts
of offensive names."
"And how did the coloured gentleman take
"Not very well, I am sorry to say,
considering that he is a gentleman--a law student with
chambers in the Temple. In fact, his language was so
objectionable that Mr. Wardale insisted on my giving him
notice on the spot. But I managed to get him taken in next
door but one; you see, Mr. Wardale had been a Commissioner
at, Sierra Leone--it was through him that Mr. Toussaint got
his appointment--so I suppose he was rather on his dignity
with coloured people."
"And was that the last you heard of Mr.
"He never came here again, but he wrote
several times to Mrs. Toussaint, asking her to meet him. At
last, only a few days ago, she wrote to him and told him
that the acquaintance must cease."
"And has it ceased?"
"As far as I know, it has."
"Then, Mrs. Beddingfield," said I,
"what makes you connect the affair with-with what has
"Well, you see," she explained,
"there is the husband. He was coming home, and is
probably in England already."
"Indeed!" said I.
"Yes," she continued. "He went
up into the bush to arrest some natives belonging to one of
these gangs of murderers--Leopard Societies, I think they
are called--and he got seriously wounded. He wrote to his
wife from hospital saying that he would be sent home as soon
as he was fit to travel, and about ten days ago she got a
letter from him saying that he was coming by the next ship.
"I noticed that she seemed very nervous
and upset when she got the letters from hospital, and still
more so when the last letter came. Of course, I don't know
what he said to her in those letters. It may be that he had
heard something about Mr. Bergson, and threatened to take
some action. Of course, I can't say. I only know that she
was very nervous and restless, and when we saw in the paper
four days ago that the ship he would be coming by had
arrived in Liverpool she seemed dreadfully upset. And she
got worse and worse until--well, until last night."
"Has anything been heard of the husband
since the ship arrived?" I asked.
"Nothing whatever," replied Mrs.
Beddingfield, with a meaning look at me which I had no
difficulty in interpreting. "No letter, no telegram,
not a word. And you see, if he hadn't come by that ship he
would almost certainly have sent a letter to her. He must
have arrived in England, but why hasn't he turned up, or at
least sent a wire? What is he doing? Why is be staying away?
Can he have heard something? And what does he mean to do?
That's what kept the poor thing on wires, and that, I feel
certain, is what drove her to make away with herself."
It was not my business to contest Mrs.
Beddingfield's erroneous deductions. I was seeking
information--it seemed that I had nearly exhausted the
present source. But one point required amplifying.
"To return to Mr. Bergson, Mrs.
Beddingfield," said I "Do I understand that he is
a seafaring man?"
"He was," she replied. "At
present he is settled at Ramsgate as manager of a company in
the ice trade, but formerly he was a sailor. I have heard
him say that he was one, of the crew of an exploring ship
that went in search of the North Pole and that he was locked
up in the ice for months and months. I should have thought
he would have had enough of ice after that."
With this view I expressed warm agreement,
and having now obtained all the information that appeared to
be available I proceeded to bring the interview to an end.
"Well, Mrs. Beddingfield," I said,
"it is a rather mysterious affair. Perhaps more light
may be thrown on it at the inquest. Meanwhile, I should
think that it will be wise of you to keep your own counsel
as far as outsiders are concerned."
The remainder of the morning I spent pacing
the smooth stretch of sand that lies to the east of the
jetty, and reflecting on the evidence that I had acquired in
respect of this singular crime. Evidently there was no lack
of clues in this case. On the contrary, there were two quite
obvious lines of inquiry, for both the Swede and the missing
husband presented the characters of the hypothetical
murderer. Both had been exposed to the conditions which tend
to produce frost-bite; one of them had probably been a
consumer of rye meal, and both might be said to have a
motive--though, to be sure, it was a very insufficient
one--for committing the crime. Still in both cases the
evidence was merely speculative; it suggested a line of
investigation but it did nothing more.
When I met Foxton at lunch I was sensible of
a curious change in his manner. His Previous expansiveness
had given place to marked reticence and a certain official
"I don't think, you know, Jervis,"
he said, when I opened the subject "that we had better
discuss this affair. You see, I am the principal witness,
and while the case is sub judice--well, in fact the
police don't want the case talked about."
"But surely I am a witness, too, and in
expert witness, moreover----"
"That isn't the view of the police. They
look on you as more or less of an amateur, and as you have
no official connection with the case, I don't think they
propose to subpna you. Superintendent Platt, who is in
charge of the case, wasn't very pleased at my having taken
you to the house. Said it was quite irregular. Oh, and by
the way, he says you must hand over those photographs."
"But isn't Platt going to have the
footprints photographed on his own account?" I
"Of course he is. He is going to have a
set of proper photographs taken by an expert
photographer--he was mightily amused when he heard about
your little snapshot affair. Oh, you can trust Platt. He is
a great man. He has had a course of instruction at the
Fingerprint Department in London."
"I don't see how that is going to help
him, as there aren't any fingerprints in this case."
This was a mere fly-cast on my part, but
Foxton rose at once at the rather clumsy bait.
"Oh, aren't there?" he exclaimed.
"You didn't happen to spot them, but they were there.
Platt has got the prints of a complete right hand. This is
in strict confidence, you know," he added, with
somewhat belated caution.
Foxton's sudden reticence restrained me from
uttering the obvious comment on the superintendent's
achievement. I returned to the subject of the photographs.
"Supposing I decline to hand over my
film?" said I.
"But I hope you won't--and in fact you
mustn't. I am officially connected with the case, and I've
got to live with these people. As the police-surgeon, I am
responsible for the medical evidence, and Platt expects me
to get those photographs from you. Obviously you can't keep
them. It would be most irregular."
It was useless to argue. Evidently the police
did not want me to be introduced into the case, and after
all the superintendent was within his rights, if he chose to
regard me, as a private individual and to demand the
surrender of the film.
Nevertheless I was loth to give up the
photographs, at least until I had carefully studied them.
The, case was within my own speciality of practice, and was
a strange and interesting one. Moreover, it appeared to be
in unskilful hands, judging from the fingerprint episode,
and then experience had taught me to treasure up small
scraps of chance evidence, since one never knew when one
might be drawn into a case in a professional capacity. In
effect, I decided not to give up the photographs, though
that decision committed me to a ruse that I was not very
willing to adopt. I would rather have acted quite
"Well if you insist, Foxton," I
said, "I will hand over the film or, if you like, I
will destroy it in your presence."
"I think Platt would rather have the
film uninjured," said Foxton. "Then he'll know,
you know," he added, with a sly grin.
In my heart, I thanked Foxton for that grin.
It made my own guileful proceedings so much easier; for a
suspicious man invites you to get the better of him if you
After lunch I went up to my room, locked the
door and took the little camera from my pocket. Having fully
wound up the film, I extracted it, wrapped it up carefully
and bestowed it in my inside breast-pocket. Then I inserted
a fresh film, and going to the open window, took four
successive snapshots of the sky. This done, I closed the
camera, slipped it into my pocket and went downstairs.
Foxton was in the hall, brushing his hat, as I descended,
and at once renewed his demand.
"About those photographs, Jervis,"
said he; "I shall be looking in at the police-station
presently, so if you wouldn't mind----"
"To be sure," said I. "I will
give you the film now if you like."
Taking the camera from my pocket, I solemnly
wound up the remainder of the film, extracted it, stuck down
the loose end with ostentatious care, and handed it to him.
"Better not expose it to the
light," I said, going the whole hog of deception,
"or you may fog the exposures."
Foxton took the spool from me as if it were
hot--he was not a photographer--and thrust it into his
handbag. He was still thanking me the front-door rang quite
profusely when the visitor who stood revealed when Foxton
opened door was a small, spare gentleman with a complexion
of peculiar brown-papery quality that suggests long
residence the tropics. He stepped in briskly and introduced
him and his business without preamble.
"My name is Wardale--boarder at
Beddingfield's. I called with reference to the tragic event
Here Foxton interposed in his frostiest
official tone. "I am afraid, Mr. Wardale, I can't give
you any information about the case at present."
"I saw you two gentlemen at the house
this morning--" Mr. Wardale continued, but Foxton again
cut him short.
"You did. We were there--or at least, I
was--as representative of the Law, and while the case is
"It isn't yet," interrupted
"Well, I can't enter into any discussion
"I am not asking you to," said
Wardale a little impatiently "But I understand that one
of you is Dr. Jervis."
"I am," said I.
"I must really warn you----" Foxton
began again; but Mr. Wardale interrupted testily:
"My dear sir, I am a lawyer and a
magistrate and understand perfectly well what is and what is
not permissible. I have come simply to make a professional
engagement with Dr. Jervis."
"In what way can I be of service to
you," I asked.
"I will tell you," said Mr.
Wardale. "This poor lady, whose death has occurred in
so mysterious a manner, was the wife of a man who was, like
myself a servant of the Government of Sierra Leone. I was
the friend of both of them, and in the absence of the
husband I should like to have the inquiry into the
circumstances of this lady's death watched by a competent
lawyer with the necessary special knowledge of medical
evidence. Will you or your colleague, Dr. Thorndyke,
undertake to watch the case for me?"
Of course I was willing to undertake the case
and said so.
"Then," said Mr. Wardale, "I
will instruct my solicitor to write to you and formally
retain you in the case. Here is my card. You will find my
name in the Colonial Office List, and you know my address
He handed me his card, wished us both good
afternoon, and then, with a stiff little bow, turned and
took his departure.
"I think I had better run up to town and
confer with Thorndyke," said I. "How do the trains
"There is a good train in about
three-quarters of an hour," replied Foxton.
"Then I will go by it, but I shall come
down again to-morrow or the next day, and probably Thorndyke
will come down with me."
"Very well," said Foxton.
"Bring him in to lunch or dinner, but I can't put him
up, I am afraid."
"It would be better not," said I.
"Your friend Platt wouldn't like it. He won't want
Thorndyke--or me either for that matter. And what about
those photographs, Thorndyke will want them, you know."
"He can't have them," said Foxton.
doggedly, "unless Platt is willing to hand them back;
which I don't suppose he will be."
I had private reasons for thinking otherwise,
but I kept them to myself; and as Foxton went forth on his
afternoon round, I returned upstairs to pack my suitcase and
write the telegram to Thorndyke informing him of my
It was only a quarter past five when I let
myself into our chambers in King's Bench Walk. To my relief
I found my colleague at home and our laboratory assistant,
Polton, in the act of laying tea, for two.
"I gather," said Thorndyke, as we
shook hands, "that my learned brother brings grist to
"Yes," I replied. "Nominally a
watching brief, but I think you will agree with me that it
is a case for independent investigation."
"Will there be anything in my line,
sir?" inquired Polton, who was always agog at the word
"There is a film to be developed. Four
exposures of white footprints on a dark ground."
"Ah!" said Polton, "you'll
want good strong negatives, and they ought to be enlarged if
they are, from the little camera. Can you give me the
I wrote out the measurements from my notebook
and handed him the paper together with the spool of film,
with which he retired gleefully to the laboratory.
"And now, Jervis," said Thorndyke,
"while Polton is operating on the film and we are
discussing our tea, let us have a sketch of the case."
I gave him more than a sketch, for the events
were recent and I had carefully sorted out the facts during
my journey to town, making rough notes, which I now
consulted. To my rather lengthy recital he listened in his
usual attentive manner, without any comment, excepting in
regard to my manuvre to retain possession of the
"It's almost a pity you didn't
refuse?" said he. "They could hardly have enforced
their demand, and my feeling is that it is more convenient
as well as more dignified to avoid direct deception unless
one is driven to it. But perhaps you considered that you
As a matter of fact I had at the time, but I
had since come to Thorndyke's opinion. My little
manuvre was going to be a source of inconvenience
"Well," said Thorndyke, when I had
finished my recital, "I think we may take it that the
police theory is, in the main, your own theory derived from
"I think so, excepting that I learned
from Foxton that Superintendent Platt has obtained the
complete fingerprints of a right hand."
Thorndyke raised his eyebrows.
"Fingerprints!" he exclaimed. "Why, the
fellow must be a mere simpleton. But there," he added,
"everybody--police, lawyers, judges, even Galton
himself--seems to lose every vestige of common sense as soon
as the subject of fingerprints is raised. But it would be
interesting to know how he got them and what they are like.
We must try to find that out. However, to return to your
case, since your theory and the police theory are probably
the same, we may as well consider the value of your
"At present we are dealing with the case
in the abstract. Our data are largely assumptions, and our
inferences are largely derived from an application of the
mathematical laws of probability. Thus we assume that a
murder has been committed, whereas it may turn out to have
been suicide. We assume the murder to have been committed by
the person, who made the footprints, and we assume that that
person has no little toes, whereas he may have retracted
little toes which do not touch the ground and so leave no
impression. Assuming the little toes to be absent, we
account for their absence by considering known causes in the
order of their probability. Excluding--quite properly, I
think--Raynaud's disease, we arrive at frost-bite and
"But two persons, both of whom are of a
stature corresponding to the size of the footprints, may
have had a motive though a very inadequate one--for
committing the crime, and both have been exposed to the
conditions which tend to produce frost-bite, while one of
them has probably, been exposed to the conditions which tend
to produce ergotism. The laws of probability point to both
of these two men; and the chances in favour of the Swede
being the murderer rather than the Canadian would be
represented by the common factor--frost-bite--multiplied by
the additional factor, ergotism. But this is purely
speculative at present. There is no evidence that either man
has ever been frost-bitten or has ever eaten spurred rye.
Nevertheless, it is a perfectly sound method at this stage.
It indicates a line of investigation. If it should transpire
that either man has suffered from frost-bite or ergotism, a
definite advance would have been made. But here is Polton
with a couple of finished prints. How on earth did you
manage it in the time, Polton?"
"Why, you see, sir, I just dried the
film with spirit," replied Polton. "It saved a lot
of time. I will let you have a pair of enlargements in about
a quarter of an hour."
Handing us the two wet prints, each stuck on
a glass plate, he retired to the laboratory, and Thorndyke
and I proceeded to scrutinize the photographs with the aid
of our pocket lenses. The promised enlargements were really
hardly necessary excepting for the purpose of comparative
measurements, for the image of the white footprint, fully
two inches long, was so microscopically sharp that, with the
assistance of the lens, the minutest detail could be clearly
"There is certainly not a vestige of
little toe," remarked Thorndyke, "and the plump
appearance of the other toes supports your rejection of
Raynaud's disease. Does the character of the footprint
convey any other suggestion to you, Jervis?"
"It gives me the impression that the man
had been accustomed to go bare-footed in early life and had
only taken to boots comparatively recently. The position of
the great toe suggests this, and the presence of a number of
small scars on the toes and ball of the foot seems to
confirm it. A person walking bare-foot would sustain
innumerable small wounds from treading on small, sharp
Thorndyke looked dissatisfied. "I agree
with you " he said, "as to the suggestion offered
by the undeformed state of the great toes; but those little
pits do not convey to me the impression of scars produced as
you suggest. Still, you may be right."
Here our conversation was interrupted by a
knock on the outer oak. Thorndyke stepped out through the
lobby and I heard him open the door. A moment or two later
he re-entered, accompanied by a short, brown-faced gentleman
whom I instantly recognized as Mr. Wardale.
"I must have come up by the same train
as you," he remarked, as we shook hands, "and to a
certain extent, I suspect, on the same errand. I thought I
would like to put our arrangement on a business footing, as
I am a stranger to both of you."
"What do you want us to do?" asked
"I want you to watch the case, and, if
necessary, to look into the facts independently."
"Can you give us any information that
may help us?"
Mr. Wardale reflected. "I don't think I
can," he said at length. "I have no facts that you
have not, and any surmises of mine might be misleading. I
had rather you kept an open mind. But perhaps we might go
into the question of costs."
This, of course, was somewhat difficult, but
Thorndyke contrived to indicate the probable liabilities
involved, to Mr. Wardale's satisfaction.
"There is one other little matter,"
said Wardale, as he rose to depart. "I have got a
suitcase here which Mrs. Beddingfield lent me to bring some
things up to town. It is one that Mr. Macauley left behind
when he went away from the boarding-house. Mrs. Beddingfield
suggested that I might leave it at his chambers when I had
finished with it; but I don't know his address, excepting
that it is somewhere in the Temple, and I don't want to meet
the fellow if he should happen to have come up to
"Is it empty?" asked Thorndyke.
"Excepting for a suit of pyjamas and a
pair of shocking old slippers." He opened the suitcase
as he spoke and exhibited its contents with a grin.
"Characteristic of a negro, isn't it?
Pink silk pyjamas and slippers about three sizes too
"Very well," said Thorndyke.
"I will get my man to find out the address and leave it
As Mr. Wardale went out, Polton entered with
the enlarged photographs, which showed the footprints the
natural size. Thorndyke handed them to me, and as I sat down
to examine them he followed his assistant to the laboratory.
He returned in a few minutes, and after a brief inspection
of the photographs, remarked:
"They show us nothing more than we have
seen, though they may be useful later. So your stock of
facts is all we have to go on at present. Are you going home
"Yes, I shall go back to Margate
"Then, as I have to call at Scotland
Yard, we may as well walk to Charing Cross together."
As we walked down the Strand we gossiped on
general topics, but before we separated at Charing Cross,
Thorndyke reverted to the case.
"Let me know the date of the
inquest," said he, "and try to find out what the
poison was--if it was really a poison."
"The liquid that was left in the bottle
seemed to be a watery solution of some kind," said I,
"as I think I mentioned."
"Yes," said Thorndyke.
"Possibly a watery infusion of strophanthus."
"Why strophanthus?" I asked.
"Why not?" demanded Thorndyke. And
with this and an inscrutable smile, he turned and walked
Three days later I found myself at Margate--
sitting beside Thorndyke in a room adjoining the Town Hall,
in which the inquest on the death of Mrs. Toussaint was to
be held. Already the coroner was in his chair, the jury were
in their seats and the witnesses assembled in a group of
chairs apart. These included Foxton, a stranger who sat by
him--presumably the other medical witness--Mrs.
Beddingfield, Mr. Wardale, the police superintendent and a
well-dressed coloured man, whom I correctly assumed to be
As I sat by my-rather sphinx-like colleague
my mind recurred for the hundredth time to his extraordinary
powers of mental synthesis. That parting remark of his as to
the possible nature of the poison had brought home to me in
a flash the fact that he already had a definite theory of
this crime, and that his theory was not mine nor that of the
police. True, the poison might not be strophanthus, after
all, but that would not alter the position. He had a theory
of the crime, but yet he was in possession of no facts
excepting those with which I had supplied him. Therefore
those facts contained the material for a theory, whereas I
had deduced from them nothing but the bald, ambiguous
The first witness called was naturally Dr.
Foxton, who described the circumstances already known to me.
He further stated that he bad been present at the autopsy,
that he had found on the throat and limbs of the deceased
bruises that suggested a struggle and violent restraint. The
immediate cause of death was heart failure, but whether that
failure was due to shock, terror, or the action of a poison
he could not positively say.
The next witness was a Dr. Prescott, an
expert pathologist and toxicologist. He had made the autopsy
and agreed with Dr. Foxton as to the cause of death. He had
examined the liquid contained in the bottle taken from the
hand of the deceased and found it to be a watery infusion or
decoction of strophanthus seeds. He had analysed the fluid
contained in the stomach and found it to consist largely of
the same infusion.
"Is infusion of strophanthus seeds used
in medicine?" the coroner asked.
"No," was the reply. "The
tincture is the form in which strophanthus is administered
unless it is given in the form of strophanthine."
"Do you consider that the strophanthus
caused or contributed to death?"
"It is difficult to say," replied
Dr. Prescott. "Strophanthus is a heart poison, and
there was a very large poisonous dose. But very little had
been absorbed, and the appearances were not inconsistent
with death from shock."
"Could death have been self-produced by
the voluntary taking of the poison?" asked the coroner.
"I should say, decidedly not. Dr.
Foxton's evidence shows that the bottle was almost certainly
placed in the hands of the deceased after death, and this is
in complete agreement with the enormous dose and small
"Would you say that appearances point to
suicidal or homicidal poisoning?"
"I should say that they point to
homicidal poisoning, but that death was probably due mainly
This concluded the expert's evidence. It was
followed by that of Mrs. Beddingfield, which brought out
nothing new to me but the fact that a trunk had been broken
open and a small attaché-case belonging to the
deceased abstracted and taken away.
"Do you know what the deceased kept in
that case?" the coroner asked.
"I have seen her put her husband's
letters into it. She had quite a number of them. I don't
know what else she kept in it except, of course, her
"Had she any considerable balance at the
"I believe she had. Her husband used to
send most of his pay home and she used to pay it in and
leave it with the bank. She might have two or three hundred
pounds to her credit."
As Mrs. Beddingfield concluded Mr. Wardale
was called, and he was followed by Mr. Macauley. The
evidence of both was quite brief and concerned entirely with
the disturbance made by Bergson, whose absence from the
court I had already noted.
The last witness was the police
superintendent, and he, as I had expected, was decidedly
reticent. He did refer to the footprints, but, like
Foxton--who presumably had his instructions--he abstained
from describing their peculiarities. Nor did he say anything
about fingerprints. As to the identity of the criminal, that
had to be further inquired into. Suspicion had at first
fastened upon Bergson, but it had since transpired that the
Swede sailed from Ramsgate on an ice-ship two days before
the occurrence of the tragedy. Then suspicion had pointed to
the husband, who was known to have landed at Liverpool four
days before the death of his wife and who had mysteriously
disappeared. But he (the superintendent) had only that
morning received a telegram from the Liverpool police
informing him that the body of Toussaint had been found
floating in the Mersey, and that it bore a number of wounds
of an apparently homicidal character. Apparently he had been
murdered and his corpse thrown into the river.
"This is very terrible," said the
coroner. "Does this second murder throw any light on
the case which we are investigating?"
"I think it does," replied the
officer, without any great conviction, however; "but it
is not advisable to go into details."
"Quite so," agreed the coroner.
"Most inexpedient. But are we to understand that you
have a clue to the perpetrator of this crime--assuming a
crime to have been committed?"
"Yes," replied Platt. "We have
several important clues."
"And do they point to any particular
The superintendent hesitated. "Well . .
." he began with some embarrassment, but the coroner
"Perhaps the question is indiscreet. We
mustn't hamper the police, gentlemen, and the point is not
really material to our inquiry. You would rather we waived
that question Superintendent?"
"If you please, sir," was the
"Have any cheques from the deceased
woman's cheque book been presented at the bank?"
"Not since her death. I inquired at the
bank only this morning."
This concluded the evidence, and after a
brief but capable summing-up by the coroner, the jury
returned a verdict of "Wilful murder against some
As the proceedings terminated, Thorndyke rose
and turned round, and then to my surprise I perceived
Miller, of the Criminal Investigation Department, who had
come in unperceived by me and was sitting immediately behind
"I have followed your instructions,
sir," said he, addressing Thorndyke, "but before
we take any definite action I should like to have a few
words with you."
He led the way to an adjoining room and, as
we entered we were followed by Superintendent Platt and Dr.
"Now, Doctor," said Miller,
carefully closing the door, "I have carried out your
suggestions. Mr. Macauley is being detained, but before we
commit ourselves to an arrest we must have something to go
upon. I shall want you to make out a prima facie
"Very well," said Thorndyke, laying
upon the table the small green suitcase that was his almost
"I've seen that prima facie case
before," Miller remarked with a grin, as Thorndyke
unlocked it and drew out a large envelope. "Now, what
have you got there?"
As Thorndyke extracted from the envelope
Polton's enlargements of my small photographs, Platt's eyes
appeared to bulge, while Foxton gave me a quick glance of
"These," said Thorndyke "are
the full-sized photographs of the footprints of the
suspected murderer. Superintendent Platt can probably verify
Rather reluctantly Platt produced from his
pocket a pair of whole-plate photographs, which he laid
beside the enlargements.
"Yes," said Miller, after comparing
them, "they are the same footprints. But You say,
Doctor, that they are Macauley's footprints. Now, what
evidence have you?"
Thorndyke again had recourse to the green
case, from which he produced two copper plates mounted on
wood and coated with printing ink.
"I propose," said he, lifting the
plates out of their protecting frame, "that we take
prints of Macauley's feet and compare them with the
"Yes," said Platt. "And then
there are the fingerprints that we've got. We can test
"You don't want fingerprints if you've
got a set of toeprints," objected Miller.
"With regard to those fingerprints, said
Thorndyke. "May I ask if they were obtained from the
"They were," Platt admitted.
"And were there any other
"No," replied Platt. "These
were the only ones."
As he spoke he laid on the table a photograph
showing the prints of the thumb and fingers of a right hand.
Thorndyke glanced at the photograph and,
turning to Miller, said:
"I suggest that those are Dr. Foxton's
"Impossible!" exclaimed Platt, and
then suddenly fell silent.
"We can soon see," said Thorndyke,
producing from the case a pad of white paper. "If Dr.
Foxton will lay the finger-tips of his right hand first on
this inked plate and then on the paper, we can compare the
prints with' the photograph."
Foxton placed his fingers on the blackened
plate and then pressed them on the paper pad, leaving on the
latter four beautifully clear, black fingerprints. These
Superintendent Platt scrutinized eagerly, and as his glance
travelled from the prints to the photographs he broke into a
"Sold again!" he muttered.
"They are the same prints."
"Well," said Miller, in a tone of
disgust, "you must have been a mug not to have thought
of that when you knew that Dr. Foxton had handled the
"The fact, however, is important,"
said Thorndyke. "The absence of any fingerprints but
Dr. Foxton's not only suggests that the murderer took the
precaution to wear gloves, but especially it proves that the
bottle was not handled by the deceased during life. A
suicide's hands will usually be pretty moist and would leave
conspicuous, if not very clear, impressions."
"Yes," agreed Miller, "that is
quite true. But with regard to these footprints. We can't
compel this man to let us examine his feet without arresting
him. Don't think, Dr. Thorndyke, that I suspect you of
guessing. I've known you too long for that. You've got your
facts all right, I don't doubt, but you must let us have
enough to justify our arrest."
Thorndyke's answer was to plunge once more
into the inexhaustible green case, from which he now
produced two objects wrapped in tissue-paper. The paper
being removed, there was revealed what looked like a model
of an excessively shabby Pair of brown shoes.
"These," said Thorndyke, exhibiting
the "models" to Superintendent Miller--who viewed
them with an undisguised grin---"are plaster casts of
the interiors of a pair of slippers--very old and much too
tight-belonging to Mr. Macauley. His name was written inside
them. The casts have been waxed and painted with raw umber,
which has been lightly rubbed off, thus accentuating the
prominences and depressions. You will notice that the
impressions of the toes on the soles and of the 'knuckles'
on the uppers appear as prominences; in fact we have in
these casts a sketchy reproduction of the actual feet.
"Now, first as to dimensions. Dr.
Jervis's measurements of the footprints give us ten inches
and three-quarters as, the extreme length and four inches
and five-eighths as the extreme width at the heads of the
metatarsus. On these casts, as you see, the extreme length
is ten inches and five-eighths--the loss of one-eighth being
accounted for by the curve of the sole--and the extreme
width is four inches and a quarter--three-eighths being
accounted for by the lateral compression of a tight slipper.
The agreement of the dimensions is remarkable, considering
the unusual size. And now as to the peculiarities of the
"You notice that each toe has made a
perfectly distinct impression on the sole, excepting the
little toe; of which there is no trace in either cast. And,
turning to the uppers, you notice that the knuckles of the
toes appear quite distinct and prominent--again excepting
the little toes, which have made no impression at all. Thus
it is not a case of retracted little toes, for they would
appear as an extra prominence. Then, looking at the feet as
a whole, it is evident that the little toes are absent;
there is a distinct hollow, where there should be a
"M'yes," said Miller dubiously,
"it's all very neat. But isn't it just a bit
"Oh, come, Miller," protested
Thorndyke; "just consider the facts. Here is a
suspected murderer known to have feet of an unusual size and
presenting a very rare deformity; and they are the feet of a
man who had actually lived in the same house as the murdered
woman and who, at the date of the crime, was living only two
doors away. What more
would you have?"
"Well, there is the question of
motive," objected Miller.
"That hardly belongs to a prima
facie case," said Thorndyke, "But even if it
did, is there not ample matter for suspicion? Remember who
the murdered woman was, what her husband was, and who this
Sierra Leone gentleman is."
"Yes, yes; that's true," said
Miller somewhat hastily, either perceiving the drift of
Thorndyke's argument (which I did not), or being unwilling
to admit that he was still in the dark. "Yes, we'll
have the fellow in and get his actual footprints."
He went to the door and, putting his head
out, made some sign, which was almost immediately followed
by a trampling of feet, and Macauley entered the room,
followed by two large plain-clothes policemen. The negro was
evidently alarmed, for he looked about him with the wild
expression of a hunted animal. But his manner was aggressive
"Why am I being interfered with in this
impertinent manner?" he demanded in the deep buzzing
voice characteristic of the male negro.
"We want to have a look at your feet,
Mr. Macauley," said Miller. "Will you kindly take
off your shoes and socks?"
"No," roared Macauley. "I'll
see you damned first!"
"Then," said Miller, "I arrest
you on a charge of having murdered----"
The rest of the sentence was drowned in a
sudden uproar. The tall, powerful negro, bellowing like an
angry bull, had whipped out a large, strangely-shaped knife
and charged furiously at the Superintendent. But the two
plain-clothes men had been watching him from behind and now
sprang upon him, each seizing an arm. Two sharp, metallic
clicks in quick succession, a thunderous crash and an
ear-splitting yell, and the formidable barbarian lay
prostrate on the floor with one massive constable sitting
astride his chest and the other seated on his knees.
"Now's your chance, Doctor," said
Miller. "I'll get his shoes and socks off."
As Thorndyke re-inked his plates, Miller and
the local superintendent expertly removed the smart patent
shoes and the green silk socks from the feet of the
writhing, bellowing negro. Then Thorndyke rapidly and
skilfully applied the inked plates to the soles of the
feet--which I steadied for the purpose-and followed up with
a dexterous pressure of the paper pad, first to one foot and
then--having torn off the printed sheet-to the other. In
spite of the difficulties occasioned by Macauley's
struggles, each sheet presented a perfectly clear and sharp
print of the sole of the foot, even the ridge-patterns of
the toes and ball of the foot being quite distinct.
Thorndyke laid each of the new prints on the table beside
the corresponding large photograph, and invited the two
superintendents to compare them.
"Yes," said Miller--and
Superintendent Platt nodded his acquiescence--"there
can't be a shadow of a doubt. The ink-prints and the
photographs are identical, to every line and skin-marking.
You've made out your case, Doctor, as you always do."
"So you see," said Thorndyke, as we
smoked our evening pipes on the old stone pier, "your
method was a perfectly sound one, only you didn't apply it
properly. Like too many mathematicians, you started on your
calculations before you had secured your data. If you had
applied the simple laws of probability to the real data,
they would have pointed straight to Macauley."
"How do you suppose he lost his little
toes?" I asked.
"I don't suppose at all. Obviously it
was a clear case of double ainhum."
"Ainhum!" I exclaimed with a sudden
flash of recollection.
"Yes; that was what you overlooked, you
compared the probabilities of three diseases either of which
only very rarely causes the loss of even one little toe and
infinitely rarely causes the loss of both, and none of which
conditions is confined to any definite class of persons; and
you ignored ainhum, a disease which attacks almost
exclusively the little toe, causing it to drop off, and
quite commonly destroys both little toes--a disease,
moreover, which is confined to the black-skinned races. In
European practice ainhum is unknown, but in Africa, and to a
less extent in India, it is quite common.
"If you were to assemble all the men in
the world who have lost both little toes more than
nine-tenths of them would be suffering from ainhum; so that,
by the laws of probability, your footprints were, by nine
chances to one, those of a man who had suffered from ainhum,
and therefore a black-skinned man. But as soon as you had
established a black man as the probable criminal, you
opened up a new field of corroborative evidence. There was a
black man on the spot. That man was a native of Sierra
Leone and almost certainly a man of importance there. But
the victim's husband had deadly enemies in the native
secret societies of Sierra Leone. The letters of the husband
to the wife probably contained matter incriminating
certain natives of Sierra Leone. The evidence became
cumulative, you see. Taken as a whole, it pointed plainly to
Macauley, apart from the new fact of the murder of Toussaint
in Liverpool, a city with a considerable floating population
of West Africans."
"And I gather from your reference to the
African poison, strophanthus, that you fixed on Macauley at
once when I gave you my sketch of the case?"
"Yes; especially when I saw your
photographs of the footprints with the absent little toes
and those characteristic chigger-scars on the toes that
remained. But it was sheer luck that enabled me to fit the
keystone into its place and turn mere probability into
virtual certainty. I could have embraced the magician
Wardale when he brought us the magic slippers. Still, it
isn't an absolute certainty, even now, though I expect it
will be by to-morrow."
And Thorndyke was right. That very evening
the police entered Macauley's chambers in Tanfield Court,
where they discovered the dead woman's attaché-case.
It still contained Toussaint's letters to his wife, and one
of those letters mentioned by name, as members of a
dangerous secret society, several prominent Sierra Leone
men, including the accused, David Macauley.