The Case of the Ward Lane Tabernacle
by Arthur Morrison
AMONG the few personal friendships that Martin Hewitt has
allowed himself to make there is one for an eccentric but
very excellent old lady named Mrs. Mallett. She must be more
than seventy now, but she is of robust and active, not to
say masculine, habits, and her relations with Hewitt are
irregular and curious. He may not see her for many weeks,
perhaps for months, until one day she will appear in the
office, push Kerrett (who knows better than to attempt to
stop her) into the inner room, and salute Hewitt with a
shake of the hand and a savage glare of the eye which would
appal a stranger, but which is quite amiably meant. As for
myself, it was long ere I could find any resource but
instant retreat before her gaze, though we are on terms of
moderate toleration now.
After her first glare she sits in the chair
by the window and directs her glance at Hewitt's small gas
grill and kettle in the fireplace--a glance which Hewitt,
with all expedition, translates into tea. Slightly mollified
by the tea, Mrs. Mallett condescends to remark in tones of
tragic truculence, on passing matters of conventional
interest--the weather, the influenza, her own health,
Hewitt's health, and so forth, any reply of Hewitt's being
commonly received with either disregard or contempt. In half
an hour's time or so she leaves the office with a stern
command to Hewitt to attend at her house and drink tea on a
day and at a time named--a command which Hewitt obediently
fulfils, when he passes through a similarly exhilarating
experience in Mrs. Mallett's back drawing-room at her little
freehold house in Fulham. Altogether Mrs. Mallett, to a
stranger, is a singularly uninviting personality, and
indeed, except Hewitt, who has learnt to appreciate her
hidden good qualities, I doubt if she has a friend in the
world. Her studiously concealed charities are a matter of as
much amusement as gratification to Hewitt, who naturally, in
the course of his peculiar profession, comes across many sad
examples of poverty and suffering, commonly among the decent
sort, who hide their troubles from strangers' eyes and
suffer in secret. When such a case is in his mind it is
Hewitt's practice to inform Mrs. Mallett of it at one of the
tea ceremonies. Mrs. Mallett receives the story with snorts
of incredulity and scorn but takes care, while expressing
the most callous disregard and contempt of the troubles of
the sufferers, to ascertain casually their names and
addresses; twenty-four hours after which Hewitt need only
make a visit to find their difficulties in some mysterious
Mrs. Mallett never had any children, and was
early left a widow. Her appearance, for some reason or
another, commonly leads strangers to believe her an old
maid. She lives in her little detached house with its square
piece of ground, attended by a house-keeper older than
herself and one maid-servant. She lost her only sister by
death soon after the events I am about to set down, and now
has, I believe, no relations in the world. It was also soon after
these events that her present housekeeper first came to her in
place of an older and very deaf woman, quite useless, who
had been with her before. I believe she is moderately rich,
and that one or two charities will benefit considerably at
her death; also I should be far from astonished to find
Hewitt's own name in her will, though this is no more than
idle conjecture. The one possession to which she clings with
all her soul--her one pride and treasure--is her great-uncle
Joseph's snuff-box, the lid of which she steadfastly
believes to be made of a piece of Noah's original ark
discovered on the top of Mount Ararat by some intrepid
explorer of vague identity about a hundred years ago. This
is her one weakness, and woe to the unhappy creature who
dares hint a suggestion that possibly the wood of the ark
rotted away to nothing a few thousand years before her
great-uncle Joseph ever took snuff. I believe he would be
bodily assaulted. The box is brought for Hewitt's admiration
at every tea ceremony at Fulham, when Hewitt handles it
reverently and expresses as much astonishment and interest
as if he had never seen or heard of it before. It is on
these occasions only that Mrs. Mallett's customary stiffness
relaxes. The sides of the box are of cedar of Lebanon, she
explains (which very possibly they are), and the gold
mountings were worked up from spade guineas (which one can
believe without undue strain on the reason). And it is
usually these times, when the old lady softens under the
combined influence of tea and uncle Joseph's snuff-box, that
Hewitt seizes to lead up to his hint of some starving
governess or distressed clerk, with the full confidence that
the more savagely the story is received the better will the
poor people be treated as soon as he turns his back.
It was her jealous care of uncle Joseph's
snuff-box that first brought Mrs. Mallett into contact with
Martin Hewitt, and the occasion, though not perhaps testing
his acuteness to the extent that some did, was nevertheless
one of the most curious and fantastic on which he has ever
been engaged She was then some ten or twelve years younger
than she is now, but Hewitt assures me she looked exactly
the same; that is to say, she was harsh, angular, and seemed
little more than fifty years of age. It was before the time
of Kerrett, and another youth occupied the outer office.
Hewitt sat late one afternoon with his door ajar when he
heard a stranger enter the outer office, and a voice, which
he afterwards knew well as Mrs. Mallett's, ask "Is Mr.
Martin Hewitt in?"
"Yes, ma'am, I think so. If you will
write your name and----"
"Is he in there?" And with three
strides Mrs. Mallett was at the inner door and stood before
Hewitt himself, while the routed office-lad stared
helplessly in the rear.
"Mr. Hewitt," Mrs. Mallet said,
"I have come to put an affair into your hands, which I
shall require to be attended to at once."
Hewitt was surprised, but he bowed politely,
and said, with some suspicion of a hint in his tone,
"Yes--I rather supposed you were in a hurry."
She glanced quickly in Hewitt's face and went
on: "I am not accustomed to needless ceremony, Mr.
Hewitt. My name is Mallett--Mrs. Mallett--and here is my
card. I have come to consult you on a matter of great
annoyance and some danger to myself. The fact is I am being
watched and followed by a number of persons."
Hewitt's gaze was steadfast, but he reflected
that possibly this curious woman was a lunatic, the delusion
of being watched and followed by unknown people being
perhaps the most common of all; also it was no unusual
thing to have a lunatic visit the office with just such a
complaint. So he only said soothingly, "Indeed? That
must be very annoying."
"Yes, yes, the annoyance is bad enough
perhaps," she answered shortly, "but I am chiefly
concerned about my great-uncle Joseph's snuff-box."
This utterance sounded a trifle more insane
than the other, so Hewitt answered, a little more soothingly
still: "Ah, of course. A very important thing, the
snuff-box, no doubt."
"It is, Mr. Hewitt--it is important, as
I think you will admit when you have seen it. Here it
is," and she produced from a small handbag the article
that Hewitt was destined so often again to see and affect an
interest in. "You may be incredulous, Mr. Hewitt, but
it is nevertheless a fact that the lid of this snuff-box is
made of the wood of the original ark that rested on Mount
She handed the box to Hewitt, who murmured,
"Indeed! Very interesting--very wonderful,
really," and returned it to the lady immediately.
"That, Mr. Hewitt, was the property of
my great-uncle, Joseph Simpson, who once had the honour of
shaking hands with his late Majesty King George the Fourth.
The box was presented to my uncle by ----," and then
Mrs. Mallett plunged into the whole history and adventures
of the box, in the formula wherewith Hewitt subsequently
became so well acquainted, and which need not be here set
out in detail. When the box had been properly honoured Mrs.
Mallett proceeded with her business.
"I am convinced, Mr. Hewitt," she
said, "that systematic attempts are being made to rob
me of this snuff-box. I am not a nervous or weak-minded
woman, or perhaps I might have sought your assistance
before. The watching and following of myself I might have
disregarded, but when it comes to burglary I think it is
time to do something."
"Certainly," Hewitt agreed.
"Well, I have been pestered with demands
for the box for some time past. I have here some of the
letters which I have received, and I am sure I know at whose
instigation they were sent." She placed on the table a
handful of papers of various sizes, which Hewitt examined
one after another. They were mostly in the same handwriting,
and all were unsigned. Every one was couched in a
fanatically toned imitation of scriptural diction, and all
sorts of threats were expressed with many emphatic
underlinings. The spelling was not of the best, the writing
was mostly uncouth, aud the grammar was in ill shape in many
places, the "thous" and "thees" and
their accompanying verbs falling over each other
disastrously. The purport of the messages was rather vaguely
expressed, but all seemed to make a demand for the
restoration of some article held in extreme veneration. This
was alluded to in many figurative ways as the "token of
life," the "seal of the woman," and so forth,
and sometimes Mrs. Mallett was requested to restore it to
the "ark of the covenant." One of the least vague
of these singular documents ran thus:--
"Thou of no faith put the bond of the
woman clothed with the sun on the stoan sete in thy back
garden this night or thy blood beest on your own hed. Give
it back to us the five righteous only in this citty, give us
that what saves the faithful when the erth is swalloed
Hewitt read over these fantastic missives one
by one till he began to suspect that his client, mad or not,
certainly corresponded with mad Quakers. Then he said,
"Yes, Mrs. Mallett, these are most extraordinary
letters. Are there any more of them?"
"Bless the man, yes, there were a lot
that I burnt. All the same crack-brained sort of
"They are mostly in one
handwriting," Hewitt said, "though some are in
another. But I confess I don't see any very direct reference
to the snuff-box."
"Oh, but it's the only thing they can
mean," Mrs. Mallett replied with great positiveness.
"Why, he wanted me to sell it him; and last night my
house was broken into in my absence and everything ransacked
and turned over, but not a thing was taken. Why? Because I
had the box with me at my sister's; and this is the only
sacred relic in my possession. And what saved the faithful
when the world was swallowed up? Why, the ark of
The old lady's manner was odd, but
notwithstanding the bizarre and disjointed character of her
complaint Hewitt had now had time to observe that she had
none of the unmistakable signs of the lunatic. Her eye was
steady and clear, and she had none of the restless habits of
the mentally deranged. Even at that time Hewitt had met with
curious adventures enough to teach him not to be astonished
at a new one, and now he set himself seriously to get at his
client's case in full order and completeness.
"Come, Mrs. Mallett," he said,
"I am a stranger, and I can never understand your case
till I have it, not as it presents itself to your mind, in
the order of importance of events, but in the exact order in
which they happened. You had a great-uncle, I understand,
living in the early part of the century, who left you at his
death the snuff-box which you value so highly. Now you
suspect that somebody is attempting to extort or steal it
from you. Tell me as clearly and simply as you can whom you
suspect and the whole story of the attempts."
"That's just what I'm coming to,"
the old lady answered, rather pettishly. "My uncle
Joseph had an old housekeeper, who of course knew all about
the snuff-box, and it is her son Reuben Penner who is trying
to get it from me. The old woman was half crazy with one
extraordinary religious superstition and another, and her
son seems to be just the same. My great-uncle was a man of
strong common-sense and a churchman (though he did
think he could write plays), and if it hadn't been for his
restraint I believe--that is I have been told--Mrs. Penner
would have gone clean demented with religious mania. Well,
she died in course of time, and my great-uncle died some
time after, leaving me the most important thing in his
possession (I allude to the snuff-box of course), a good
bit of property, and a tin box full of his worthless
manuscript. I became a widow at twenty-six, and since then I
have lived very quietly in my present house in Fulham.
"A couple of years ago I received a
visit from Reuben Penner. I didn't recognise him, which
wasn't wonderful, since I hadn't seen him for thirty years
or more. He is well over fifty now, a large heavy-faced man
with uncommonly wild eyes for a greengrocer--which is what
he is, though he dresses very well, considering. He was
quite respectful at first, and very awkward in his manner.
He took a little time to get his courage, and then he began
questioning me about my religious feelings. Well, Mr.
Hewitt, I am not the sort of person to stand a lecture from
a junior and an inferior, whatever my religious opinions may
be, and I pretty soon made him realise it. But somehow he
persevered. He wanted to know if I would go to some place of
worship that he called his 'Tabernacle.' I asked him who
was the pastor. He said himself. I asked him how many
members of the congregation there were, and (the man was as
solemn as an owl. I assure you, Mr. Hewitt) he actually said
five! I kept my countenance and asked why such a small
number couldn't attend church, or at any rate attach itself
to some decent Dissenting chapel. And then the man burst
out; mad--mad as a hatter. He was as incoherent as such
people usually are, but as far as I could make out he
talked, among a lot of other things, of some imaginary
woman--a woman standing on the moon and driven into a
wilderness on the wings of an eagle. The man was so madly
possessed of his fancies that I assure you for a while he
almost ceased to look ridiculous. He was so earnest in his
rant. But I soon cut him short. It's best to be severe with
these people--it's the only chance of bringing them to their
senses. 'Reuben Penner,' I said 'shut up! Your mother was a
very decent person in her way, I believe, but she was half a
lunatic with her superstitious notions, and you're a bigger
fool than she was. Imagine a grown man, and of your age,
coming and asking me, of all people in the world, to leave
my church and make another fool in a congregation of five,
with you to rave at me about women in the moon! Go
away and look after your greengrocery, and go to church or
chapel like a sensible man. Go away and don't play the fool
any longer; I won't hear another word!'
"When I talk like this I am usually
attended to, and in this case Penner went away with scarcely
another word. I saw nothing of him for about a month or six
weeks and then he came and spoke to me as I was cutting
roses in my front garden. This time he talked--to begin
with, at least--more sensibly. 'Mrs. Mallett,' he said, 'you
have in your keeping a very sacred relic.'
"'I have,' I said, 'left me by my
great-uncle Joseph. And what then?'
"'Well'--he hummed and hawed a
little--'I wanted to ask if you might be disposed to part
"'What?' I said, dropping my scissors--
"'Well, yes,' he answered, putting on as
bold a face as he could.
"The notion of selling my uncle Joseph's
snuff-box in any possible circumstances almost made me
speechless. 'What!' I repeated. 'Sell it?--sell it?
It would be a sinful sacrilege!'
"His face quite brightened when I said
this, and he replied, 'Yes, of course it would; I think so
myself, ma'am; but I fancied you thought otherwise. In that
case, ma'am, not being a believer yourself, I'm sure you
would consider it a graceful and a pious act to present it
to my little Tabernacle, where it would be properly valued.
And it having been my mother's property----'
"He got no further. I am not a woman to
be trifled with, Mr. Hewitt, and I believe I beat him out of
the garden with my basket. I was so infuriated I can
scarcely remember what I did. The suggestion that I should
sell my uncle Joseph's snuff-box to a greengrocer was bad
enough; the request that I should actually give it
to his 'Tabernacle' was infinitely worse. But to claim that
it had belonged to his mother--well I don't know how it
strikes you, Mr. Hewitt, but to me it seemed the last insult
"Shocking, shocking, of course,"
Hewitt said, since she seemed to expect a reply. "And
he called you an unbeliever, too. But what happened after
"After that he took care not to bother
me personally again; but these wretched anonymous demands
came in, with all sorts of darkly hinted threats as to the
sin I was committing in keeping my own property. They didn't
trouble me much. I put 'em in the fire as fast as they came,
until I began to find I was being watched and followed, and
then I kept them."
"Very sensible," Hewitt observed,
"very sensible indeed to do that. But tell me as to
these papers. Those you have here are nearly all in one
handwriting, but some, as I have already said, are in
another. Now before all this business, did you ever see
Reuben Penner's handwriting?"
"Then you are not by any means sure that
he has written any of these things?"
"But then who else could?"
"That of course is a thing to be found
out. At present, at any rate, we know this: that if Penner
has anything to do with these letters he is not alone,
because of the second handwriting. Also we must not bind
ourselves past other conviction that he wrote any one of
them. By the way, I am assuming that they all arrived by
"Yes, they did."
"But the envelopes are not here. Have
you kept any of them?"
"I hardly know; there may be some at
home. Is it important?"
"It may be; but those I can see at
another time. Please go on."
"These things continued to arrive, as I
have said, and I continued to burn them till I began to find
myself watched and followed, and then I kept them. That was
two or three months ago. It is a most unpleasant sensation,
that of feeling that some unknown person is dogging your
footsteps from corner to corner and observing all your
movements for a purpose you are doubtful of. Once or twice
I turned suddenly back, but I never could catch the
creatures, of whom I am sure Penner was one."
"You saw these people, of course?"
"Well, yes, in a way---with the corner
of my eye, you know. But it was mostly in the evening. It
was a woman once, but several times I feel certain it was
Penner. And once I saw a man come into my garden at the back
in the night, and I feel quite sure that was Penner."
"Was that after you had this request to
put the article demanded on the stone seat in the
"The same night. I sat up and watched
from the bath-room window, expecting someone would come. It
was a dark night, and the trees made it darker, but I could
plainly see someone come quietly over the wall and go up to
"Could you distinguish his face?"
"No, it was too dark. But I feel sure it
"Has Penner any decided peculiarity of
form or gait?"
"No, he's just a big common sort of man.
But I tell you I feel certain it was Penner."
"For any particular reason?"
"No, perhaps not. But who else could it
have been? No, I'm very sure it must have been Penner."
Hewitt repressed a smile and went on.
"Just so," he said. "And what happened
"He went up to the seat, as I said, and
looked at it, passing his hand over the top. Then I called
out to him. I said if I found him on my premises again by
day or night I'd give him in charge of the police. I assure
you he got over the wall the second time a good deal quicker
than the first. And then I went to bed, though I got a
shocking cold in the head sitting at that open bath-room
window. Nobody came about the place after that till last
night. A few days ago my only sister was taken ill. I saw
her each day, and she got worse. Yesterday she was so bad
that I wouldn't leave her. I sent home for some things and
stopped in her house for the night. To-day I got an urgent
message to come home, and when I went I found that an
entrance had been made by a kitchen window and the whole
house had been ransacked, but not a thing was missing."
"Were drawers and boxes opened?"
"Everywhere. Most seemed to have been
opened with keys, but some were broken. The place was turned
upside down, but, as I said before, not a thing was missing.
A very old woman, very deaf, who used to be my housekeeper,
but who does nothing now, was in the house, and so was my
general servant. They slept in rooms at the top and were not
disturbed. Of course the old woman is too deaf to have heard
anything, and the maid is a very heavy sleeper. The girl was
very frightened, but I pacified her before I came away. As
it happened, I took the snuff-box with me. I had got very
suspicious of late, of course, and something seemed to
suggest that I had better so I took it. It's pretty strong
evidence that they have been watching me closely, isn't it,
that they should break in the very first night I left the
"And are you quite sure that nothing has
"Quite certain. I have spent a long time
in a very careful search."
"And you want me, I presume, to find out
definitely who these people are, and get such evidence as
may ensure their being punished?"
"That is the case. Of course I know
Reuben Penner is the moving spirit--I'm quite certain of
that. But still I can see plainly enough that as yet there's
no legal evidence of it. Mind, I'm not afraid of him--not a
bit. That is not my character. I'm not afraid of all the
madmen in England; but I'm not going to have them steal my
property--this snuff-box especially."
"Precisely. I hope you have left the
disturbance in your house exactly as you found it?"
"Oh, of course, and I have given strict
orders that nothing is to be touched. To-morrow morning I
should like you to come and look at it."
"I must look at it, certainly,"
Hewitt said, "but I would rather go at once."
"Pooh--nonsense!" Mrs. Mallett
answered, with the airy obstinacy that Hewitt afterwards
knew so well. "I'm not going home again now to spend an
hour or two more. My sister will want to know what has
become of me, and she mustn't suspect that anything is
wrong, or it may do all sorts of harm. The place will keep
till the morning, and I have the snuff-box safe with me. You
have my card, Mr. Hewitt, haven't you? Very well. Can you be
at my house to-morrow morning at half-past ten? I will be
there, and you can see all you want by daylight. We'll
consider that settled. Good-day."
Hewitt saw her to his office door and waited
till she had half descended the stairs. Then he made for a
staircase window which gave a view of the street. The
evening was coming on murky and foggy, and the street lights
were blotchy and vague. Outside a four-wheeled cab stood,
and the driver eagerly watched the front door. When Mrs.
Mallett emerged he instantly began to descend from the box
with the quick invitation, "Cab, mum, cab?" He
seemed very eager for his fare, and though Mrs. Mallett
hesitated a second she eventually entered the cab. He drove
off, and Hewitt tried in vain to catch a glimpse of the
number of the cab behind. It was always a habit of his to
note all such identifying marks throughout a case, whether
they seemed important at the time or not, and he has often
had occasion to be pleased with the outcome. Now, however,
the light was too bad. No sooner had the cab started than a
man emerged from a narrow passage opposite, and followed. He
was a large, rather awkward, heavy-faced man of middle age,
and had the appearance of a respectable artisan or small
tradesman in his best clothes. Hewitt hurried downstairs and
followed the direction the cab and the man had taken, toward
the Strand. But the cab by this time was swallowed up in the
Strand traffic, and the heavy-faced man had also
disappeared. Hewitt returned to his office a little
disappointed, for the man seemed rather closely to answer
Mrs. Mallett's description of Reuben Penner.
Punctually at half-past ten the next morning
Hewitt was at Mrs. Mallett's house at Fulham. It was a
pretty little house, standing back from the road in a
generous patch of garden, and had evidently stood there when
Fulham was an outlying village. Hewitt entered the gate, and
made his way to the front door, where two young females,
evidently servants, stood. They were in a very disturbed
state, and when he asked for Mrs. Mallett, assured him that
nobody knew where she was, and that she had not been seen
since the previous afternoon.
"But," said Hewitt, "she was
to stay at her sister's last night, I believe."
"Yes, sir," answered the more distressed of the
two girls--she in a cap--"but she hasn't been seen
there. This is her sister's servant, and she's been sent
over to know where she is, and why she hasn't been
This the other girl--in bonnet and
shawl--corroborated. Nothing had been seen of Mrs. Mallett
at her sister's since she had received the message the day
before to the effect that the house had been broken into.
"And I'm so frightened," the other
girl said, whimperingly. "They've been in the place
again last night."
"The robbers. When I came in this
"But didn't you sleep here?"
"I--I ought to ha' done sir, but--but
after Mrs. Mallett went yesterday I got so frightened I went
home at ten." And the girl showed signs of tears, which
she had apparently been already indulging in.
"And what about the old woman--the deaf
woman; where was she?"
"She was in the house, sir. There was
nowhere else for her to go, and she was deaf and didn't know
anything about what happened the night before, and confined
to her room, and--and so I didn't tell her."
"I see," Hewitt said with a slight
smile. "You left her here. She didn't see or hear
anything, did she?"
"No sir; she can't hear, and she didn't
"And how do you know thieves have been
in the house?"
"Everythink's tumbled about worse than
ever, sir, and all different from what it was yesterday; and
there's a box o' papers in the attic broke open, and all
sorts o' things."
"Have you spoken to the police?"
"No, sir; I'm that frightened I don't
know what to do. And missis was going to see a gentleman
about it yesterday, and----"
"Very well, I am that gentleman--Mr.
Martin Hewitt. I have come down now to meet her by
appointment. Did she say she was going anywhere else as well
as to my office and to her sister's?"
"No, sir. And she--she's got the
snuff-box with her and all." This latter circumstance
seemed largely to augment the girl's terrors for her
"Very well," Hewitt said, "I
think I'd better just look over the house now, and then
consider what has become of Mrs. Mallett--if she isn't heard
of in the meantime."
The girl found a great relief in Hewitt's
presence in the house, the deaf old house-keeper, who seldom
spoke and never heard, being, as she said, "worse than
"Have you been in all the rooms?"
"No, sir; I was afraid. When I came in I
went straight upstairs to my room, and as I was coming away
I see the things upset in the other attic. I went into Mrs.
Perks' room, next to mine (she's the deaf old woman), and
she was there all right, but couldn't hear anything. Then I
came down and only just peeped into two of the rooms and saw
the state they were in, and then I came out into the garden,
and presently this young woman came with the message from
"Very well, we'll look at the rooms
now," Hewitt said, and they proceeded to do so. All
were in a state of intense confusion. Drawers, taken from
chests and bureaux, littered about the floor, with their
contents scattered about them. Carpets and rugs had been
turned up and flung into corners, even pictures on the walls
had been disturbed, and while some hung awry others rested
on the floor and on chairs. The things, however, appeared to
have been fairly carefully handled, for nothing was damaged
except one or two framed engravings, the brown paper on the
backs of which had been cut round with a knife and the
wooden slats shifted so as to leave the backs of the
engravings bare. This, the girl told Hewitt, had not been
done on the night of the first burglary; the other articles
also had not on that occasion been so much disturbed as they
Mrs. Mallett's bedroom was the first floor
front. Here the confusion was, if possible, greater than in
the other rooms. The bed had been completely unmade and the
clothes thrown separately on the floor, and everything else
was displaced. It was here indeed that the most noticeable
features of the disturbance were observed, for on the side
of the looking-glass hung a very long old-fashioned gold
chain untouched, and on the dressing-table lay a purse with
the money still in it. And on the looking-glass, stuck into
the crack of the frame, was a half sheet of notepaper with
this inscription scrawled in pencil:--
To Mr. Martin Hewitt.
Mrs. Mallett is
alright and in frends hands. She will return soon alright,
if you keep quiet. But if you folloe her or take any steps
the conseqinses will be very serious.
This paper was not only curious in itself,
and curious as being addressed to Hewitt, but it was plainly
in the same handwriting as were the most of the anonymous
letters which Mrs. Mallett had produced the day before in
Hewitt's office. Hewitt studied it attentively for a few
moments and then thrust it in his pocket and proceeded to
inspect the rest of the rooms. All were the same--simply
well-furnished rooms turned upside down. The top floor
consisted of three comfortable attics, one used as a
lumber-room and the others used respectively as bedrooms for
the servant and the deaf old woman. None of these rooms
appeared to have been entered, the girl said, on the first
night, but now the lumber-room was almost as confused as the
rooms downstairs. Two or three boxes were opened and their
contents turned out. One of these was what is called a steel
trunk--a small one--which had held old papers, the others
were filled chiefly with old clothes.
The servant's room next this was quite
undisturbed and untouched; and then Hewitt was admitted to
the room of Mrs. Mallett's deaf old pensioner. The old woman
sat propped up in her bed and looked with half-blind eyes at
the peak in the bedclothes made hy her bent knees. The
servant screamed in her ear, but she neither moved nor
Hewitt laid his hand on her shoulder and
said, in the slow and distinct tones he had found best for
reaching the senses of deaf people, "I hope you are
well. Did anything disturb you in the night?"
But she only turned her head half toward him
and mumbled peevishly, "I wish you'd bring my tea.
You're late enough this morning."
Nothing seemed likely to be got from her, and
Hewitt asked the servant, "Is she altogether
"No," the girl answered;
"leastways she needn't be. She stops in bed most of the
time, but she can get up when she likes--I've seen her. But
missis humours her and lets her do as she likes--and she
gives plenty of trouble. I don't believe she's as deaf as
she makes out."
"Indeed!" Hewitt answered.
"Deafness is convenient sometimes, I know. Now I want
you to stay here while I make some inquiries. Perhaps you'd
better keep Mrs. Rudd's servant with you if you want
company. I don't expect to be very long gone, and in any
case it wouldn't do for her to go to her mistress and say
that Mrs. Mallett is missing, or it might upset her
Hewitt left the house and walked till he
found a public-house where a post-office directory was kept.
He took a glass of whisky and water, most of which he left
on the counter, and borrowed the directory. He found
"Greengrocers" in the "Trade" section
and ran his finger down the column till he came on this
"Penner, Reuben, 8, Little Marsh Row,
Then he returned the directory and found the
best cab he could to take him to Hammersmith.
Little Marsh Row was not a vastly prosperous
sort of place, and the only shops were three--all small. Two
were chandlers', and the third was a sort of semi-shed of
the greengrocery and coal persuasion, with the name
"Penner" on a board over the door.
The shutters were all up, though the door was
open, and the only person visible was a very smudgy boy who
was in the act of wheeling out a sack of coals. To the
smudgy boy Hewitt applied himself. "I don't see Mr.
Penner about," he said; "will he be back
The boy stared hard at Hewitt.
"No," he said, "he won't. 'E's guv' up the
shop. 'E paid 'is next week's rent this mornin' and retired."
"Oh!" Hewitt answered sharply.
"Retired, has he? And what's become of the stock, eh!
Where are the cabbages and potatoes?"
"'E told me to give 'em to the pore, an'
I did. There's lots o' pore lives round 'ere. My mother's
one, an' these 'ere coals is for 'er, an' I'm goin' to 'ave
the trolley for myself."
"Dear me!" Hewitt answered,
regarding the boy with amused interest. "You're a very
business-like almoner. And what will the Tabernacle do
without Mr. Penner?"
"I dunno," the boy answered,
closing the door behind him. "I dunno nothin' about the
Tabernacle--only where it is."
"Ah, and where is it? I might find him
"Ward Lane--fust on left, second on
right. It's a shop wot's bin shut up; next door to a
stable-yard." And the smudgy boy started off with his
The Tabernacle was soon found. At some very
remote period it had been an unlucky small shop, but now it
was permanently shuttered, and the interior was lighted by
holes cut in the upper panels of the shutters. Hewitt took a
good look at the shuttered window and the door beside it and
then entered the stable-yard at the side. To the left of the
passage giving entrance to the yard there was a door, which
plainly was another entrance to the house, and a still damp
mud-mark on the step proved it to have been lately used.
Hewitt rapped sharply at the door with his knuckles.
Presently a female voice from within could be
heard speaking through the keyhole in a very loud whisper.
"Who is it?" asked the voice.
Hewitt stooped to the keyhole and whispered
back, "Is Mr. Penner here now?
"Then I must come in and wait for him.
Open the door."
A bolt was pulled back and the door
cautiously opened a few inches. Hewitt's foot was instantly
in the jamb, and he forced the door back and entered.
"Come," he said in a loud voice, "I've come to find out
where Mr. Penner is, and to see whoever is in here."
Immediately there was an assault of fists on
the inside of a door at the end of the passage, and a loud
voice said, "Do you hear? Whoever you are I'll give you
five pounds if you'll bring Mr. Martin Hewitt here. His
office is 25 Portsmouth Street, Strand. Or the same if
you'll bring the police." And the voice was that of
Hewitt turned to the woman who had opened the
door, and who now stood, much frightened, in the corner
beside him. "Come," he said, "your keys,
quick, and don't offer to stir, or I'll have you brought
back and taken to the station."
The woman gave him a bunch of keys without a
word. Hewitt opened the door at the end of the passage, and
once more Mrs. Mallett stood before him, prim and rigid as
ever, except that her bonnet was sadly out of shape and her
mantle was torn. "Thank you, Mr. Hewitt," she
said. "I thought you'd come, though where I am I know
no more than Adam. Somebody shall smart severely for this.
Why, and that woman--that woman," she pointed
contemptuously at the woman in the corner, who was about
two-thirds her height, "was going to search
me--me! Why----" Mrs. Mallett, blazing with
suddenly revived indignation, took a step forward and the
woman vanished through the outer door.
"Come," Hewitt said, "no doubt
you've been shamefully treated; but we must be quiet for a
little. First I will make quite sure that nobody else is
here, and then we'll get to your house."
Nobody was there. The rooms were dreary and
mostly empty. The front room, which was lighted by the holes
in the shutters, had a rough reading-desk and a table, with
half a dozen wooden chairs. "This," said Hewitt,
"is no doubt the Tabernacle proper, and there is very
little to see in it. Come back now, Mrs. Mallett, to your
house, aud we'll see if some explanation of these things is
not possible. I hope your snuff-box is quite safe?"
Mrs. Mallett drew it from her pocket and
exhibited it triumphantly. "I told them they should
never get it," she said, "and they saw I meant it,
and left off trying."
As they emerged in the street she said:
"The first thing, of course, is to bring the police
into this place."
"No, I think we won't do that yet,"
Hewitt said. "In the first place the case is one of
assault and detention, and your remedy is by summons or
action; and then there are other things to speak of. We
shall get a cab in the High Street, and you shall tell me
what has happened to you."
Mrs. Mallett's story was simple. The cab in
which she left Hewitt's office had travelled west, and was
apparently making for the locality of her sister's house;
but the evening was dark, the fog increased greatly, and she
shut the windows aud took no particular notice of the
streets through which she was passing. Indeed with such a
fog that would have been impossible. She had a sort of
undefined notion that some of the streets were rather narrow
and dirty, but she thought nothing of it, since all cabmen
are given to selecting unexpected routes. After a time,
however, the cab slowed, made a sharp turn, and pulled up.
The door was opened, and "Here you are mum," said
the cabby. She did not understand the sharp turn, and had a
general feeling that the place could not be her sister's,
but as she alighted she found she had stepped directly upon
the threshold of a narrow door into which she was
immediately pulled by two persons inside. This, she was
sure, must have been the side-door in the stable-yard,
through which Hewitt himself had lately obtained entrance to
the Tabernacle. Before she had recovered from her surprise
the door was shut behind her. She struggled stoutly and
screamed, but the place she was in was absolutely dark; she
was taken by surprise, and she found resistance useless.
They were men who held her, and the voice of the only one
who spoke she did not know. He demanded in firm and distinct
tones that the "sacred thing" should be given up,
and that Mrs. Mallett should sign a paper agreeing to
prosecute nobody before she was allowed to go. She however,
as she asserted with her customary emphasis, was not the
sort of woman to give in to that. She resolutely declined to
do anything of the sort, and promised her captors, whoever
they were, a full and legal return for their behaviour. Then
she became conscious that a woman was somewhere present, and
the man threatened that this woman should search her. This
threat Mrs. Mallett met as boldly as the others. She should
like to meet the woman who would dare attempt to search her,
she said. She defied anybody to attempt it. As for her uncle
Joseph s snuff-box, no matter where it was, it was where
they would not be able to get it. That they should never
have, but sooner or later they should have something very
unpleasant for their attempts to steal it. This declaration
had an immediate effect. They importuned her no more, and
she was left in an inner room and the key was turned on her.
There she sat, dozing occasionally, the whole night, her
indomitable spirit remaining proof through all those
doubtful hours of darkness. Once or twice she heard people
enter and move about, and each time she called aloud to
offer, as Hewitt had heard, a reward to anybody who should
bring the police or communicate her situation to Hewitt. Day
broke and still she waited, sleepless and unfed, till Hewitt
at last arrived and released her.
On Mrs. Mallett's arrival at her house Mrs.
Rudd's servant was at once despatched with reassuring news
and Hewitt once more addressed himself to the question of
the burglars. "First, Mrs. Mallett," he said, "did
you ever conceal anything--anything at all mind--in the
frame of an engraving?"
"Were any of your engravings framed
before you had them?"
"Not one that I can remember. They were
mostly uncle Joseph's, and he kept them with a lot of others
in drawers. He was rather a collector, you know."
"Very well. Now come up to the attic.
Something has been opened there that was not touched at the
"See now," said Hewitt, when the
attic was reached, "here is a box full of papers. Do
you know everything that was in it?"
"No, I don't," Mrs. Mallett
replied. "There were a lot of my uncle's manuscript
plays. Here you see 'The Dead Bridegroom, or the Drum of
Fortune,' and so on; and there were a lot of autographs. I
took no interest in them, although some were rather
valuable, I believe."
"Now bring your recollection to bear as
strongly as you can," Hewitt said. "Do you ever
remember seeing in this box a paper bearing nothing whatever
upon it but a wax seal?"
"Oh yes, I remember that well enough.
I've noticed it each time I've turned the box over--which is
very seldom. It was a plain slip of vellum paper with a red
seal, cracked and rather worn--some celebrated person's
seal, I suppose. What about it?"
Hewitt was turning the papers over one at a
time. "It doesn't seem to be here now," he said.
"Do you see it?"
"No," Mrs. Mallett returned,
examining the papers herself, "it isn't. It appears to
be the only thing missing. But why should they take
"I think we are at the bottom of all
this mystery now," Hewitt answered quietly. "It is
the Seal of the Woman.
"The what? I don't understand.
The fact is, Mrs. Mallett, that these people
have never wanted your uncle Joseph's snuff-box at all, but
"Not wanted the snuff-box? Nonsense!
Why, didn't I tell you Penner asked for it--wanted to buy
"Yes, you did, but so far as I can
remember you never spoke of a single instance of Penner
mentioning the snuff-box by name. He spoke of a sacred
relic, and you, of course, very naturally assumed he spoke
of the box. None of the anonymous letters mentioned the box,
you know, and once or twice they actually did mention a
seal, though usually the thing was spoken of in a roundabout
and figurative way. All along, these people--Reuben Penner
and the others--have been after the seal, and you have been
defending the snuff-box."
"But why the seal?"
"Did you never hear of Joanna
"Oh yes, of course; she was an ignorant
visionary who set up as prophetess eighty or ninety years
ago or more."
"Joanna Southcott gave herself out as a
prophetess in 1790. She was to be the mother of the Messiah,
she said, and she was the woman driven into the wilderness,
as foretold in the twelfth chapter of the Book of
Revelation. She died at the end of 1814, when her followers
numbered more than 100,000, all fanatic believers. She had
made rather a good thing in her lifetime by the sale of
seals, each of which was to secure the eternal salvation of
the holder. At her death, of course, many of the believers
fell away, but others held on as faithfully as ever,
asserting that 'the holy Joanna would rise again and fulfil
all the prophecies. These poor people dwindled in numbers
gradually, and although they attempted to bring up their
children in their own faith, the whole belief has been
practically extinct for years now. You will remember that
you told me of Penner s mother being a superstitious fanatic
of some sort, and that your uncle Joseph possessed her
extravagances. The thing seems pretty plain now. Your uncle
Joseph possessed himself of Joanna Southcott s seal by way
of removing from poor old Mrs. Penner an object of a sort of
idolatry, and kept it as a curiosity. Reuben Penner grew up
strong in his mother's delusions, and to him and the few
believers he had gathered round him at his Tabernacle, the
seal was an object worth risking anything to get. First he
tried to convert you to his belief. Then he tried to buy it;
after that, he and his friends tried anonymous letters, and
at last, grown desperate, they resorted to watching you,
burglary and kidnapping. Their first night's raid was
unsuccessful, so last night they tried kidnapping you by the
aid of a cabman. When they had got you, and you had at last
given them to understand that it was your uncle Joseph's
snuff-box you were defending, they tried the house again,
and this time were successful. I guessed they had succeeded
then, from a simple circumstance. They had begun to cut out
the backs of framed engravings for purposes of search, but
only some of the engravings were so treated. That meant
either that the article wanted was found behind one of them,
or that the intruders broke off in their picture-examination
to search somewhere else, and were then successful, and so
under no necessity of opening the other engravings. You
assured me that nothing could have been concealed in any of
the engravings, so I at once assumed that they had found
what they were after in the only place wherein they had not
searched the night before--the attic--and probably among the
papers in the trunk."
"But then if they found it there why
didn't they return and let me go?"
"Because you would have found where they
had brought you. They probably intended to keep you there
till the dark of the next evening, and then take you away in
a cab again and leave you some distance off. To prevent my
following and possibly finding you they left here on your
looking-glass this note" (Hewitt produced it)
"threatening all sorts of vague consequences if you
were not left to them. They knew you had come to me, of
course, having followed you to my office. And now Penner
feels himself anything but safe. He has relinquished his
greengrocery and dispensed his stock in charity, and
probably, having got the seal he has taken himself off. Not
so much perhaps from fear of punishment as for fear the seal
may be taken from him, and with it the salvation his odd
belief teaches him it will confer."
Mrs. Mallett sat silently for a little while
and then said in a rather softened voice, "Mr. Hewitt,
I am not what is called a woman of sentiment, as you may
have observed, and I have been most shamefully treated over
this wretched seal. But if all you tell me has been actually
what has happened I have a sort of perverse inclination to
forgive the man in spite of myself. The thing probably had
been his mother's--or at any rate he believed so--and his
giving up his little all to attain the object of his
ridiculous faith, and distributing his goods among the poor
people and all that--really it's worthy of an old martyr, if
only it were done in the cause of a faith a little less
stupid--though of course he thinks his is the only religion,
as others do of theirs. But then"--Mrs. Mallett
stiffened again--"there's not much to prove your
theories, is there?"
Hewitt smiled. "Perhaps not," he
said, "except that, to my mind at any rate, everything
points to my explanation being the only possible one. The
thing presented itself to you, from the beginning, as an
attempt on the snuff-box you value so highly, and the
possibility of the seal being the object aimed at never
entered your mind. I saw it whole from the outside, and on
thinking the thing over after our first interview I
remembered Joanna Southcott. I think I am right."
"Well, if you are, as I said, I half
believe I shall forgive the man. We will advertise if you
like, telling him he has nothing to fear if he can give an
explanation of his conduct consistent with what he calls his
religious belief, absurd as it may be."
That night fell darker and foggier than the
last. The advertisement went into the daily papers, but
Reuben Penner never saw it. Late the next day a bargeman
passing Old Swan Pier struck some large object with his
boat-hook and brought it to the surface. It was the body of
a drowned man, and it was afterwards identified as that of
Reuben Penner, late greengrocer, of Hammersmith. How he came
into the water there was nothing to show. There was no money
nor any valuables found on the body, and there was a story
of a large, heavy-faced man who had given a poor woman--a
perfect stranger--a watch and chain and a handful of money
down near Tower Hill on that foggy evening. But this again
was only a story, not definitely authenticated. What was
certain was that, tied securely round the dead man's neck
with a cord, and gripped and crumpled tightly in his right
hand, was a soddened piece of vellum paper, blank, but
carrying an old red seal, of which the device was almost
entirely rubbed and cracked away. Nobody at the inquest
quite understood this.