The man in the corner looked quite cheerful that morning; he had had two glasses of milk and had even gone to the extravagance of an extra cheese-cake. Polly knew that he was itching to talk police and murders, for he cast furtive glances at her from time to time, produced a bit of string, tied and untied it into scores of complicated knots, and finally, bringing out his pocket-book, he placed two or three photographs before her.
“Do you know who that is?” he asked, pointing to one of these.
The girl looked at the face on the picture. It was that of a woman, not exactly pretty, but very gentle and childlike, with a strange pathetic look in the large eyes which was wonderfully appealing.
“That was Lady Arthur Skelmerton,” he said, and in a flash there flitted before Polly’s mind the weird and tragic history which had broken this loving woman’s heart. Lady Arthur Skelmerton! That name recalled one of the most bewildering, most mysterious passages in the annals of undiscovered crimes.
“Yes. It was sad, wasn’t it?” he commented, in answer to Polly’s thoughts. “Another case which but for idiotic blunders on the part of the police must have stood clear as daylight before the public and satisfied general anxiety. Would you object to my recapitulating its preliminary details?”
She said nothing, so he continued without waiting further for a reply.
“It all occurred during the York racing week, a time which brings to the quiet cathedral city its quota of shady characters, who congregate wherever money and wits happen to fly away from their owners. Lord Arthur Skelmerton, a very well-known figure in London society and in racing circles, had rented one of the fine houses which overlook the racecourse. He had entered Peppercorn, by St. Armand—Notre Dame, for the Great Ebor Handicap. Peppercorn was the winner of the Newmarket, and his chances for the Ebor were considered a practical certainty.
“If you have ever been to York you will have noticed the fine houses which have their drive and front entrances in the road called ’The Mount.’ and the gardens of which extend as far as the racecourse, commanding a lovely view over the entire track. It was one of these houses, called ‘The Elms,’ which Lord Arthur Skelmerton had rented for the summer.
“Lady Arthur came down some little time before the racing week with her servants—she had no children; but she had many relatives and friends in York, since she was the daughter of old Sir John Etty, the cocoa manufacturer, a rigid Quaker, who, it was generally said, kept the tightest possible hold on his own purse-strings and looked with marked disfavour upon his aristocratic son-in-law’s fondness for gaming tables and betting books.
“As a matter of fact, Maud Etty had married the handsome young lieutenant in the Hussars, quite against her father’s wishes. But she was an only child, and after a good deal of demur and grumbling, Sir John, who idolized his daughter, gave way to her whim, and a reluctant consent to the marriage was wrung from him.