THE INQUEST

Notwithstanding her delicate looks, Audrey possessed a strong spirit,
fully capable of controlling emotions, even when markedly powerful.
The tragic and unexpected news of the murder shattered her nerves
for the moment; but after the first shock of surprise she pushed her
way hastily through the crowd, fully bent upon discovering exactly
what had happened. Ralph, not yet thoroughly acquainted with her
self-control under trying circumstances, followed immediately behind,
urging her in whispers to go home and wait developments. To his
importunities she turned a deaf ear, and addressed herself anxiously
to the officer who guarded the door of the Turkish Shop. He naturally
refused to reply to her questions.

“But I am Lady Branwin’s daughter,” said Audrey, softly, so that the
crowd might not hear, “and they say that Lady Branwin is dead.”

“Very sorry, miss,” said the constable, not answering directly, “but
my orders are to admit no one.”

Audrey’s eyes began to glitter with ill-concealed anger, and Ralph
hastily intervened.

“Who is in charge of this case, officer?”

“Inspector Lanton, sir.”

“Then pass my card into him, and–”

“Are you a relative of the deceased, sir?”

“No. But I am engaged to Miss Branwin here, and she–”

“I’ll send in the card,” interrupted the policeman, quickly; then
raised his voice to rebuke the crowd. “Keep back there; keep back!”

Audrey remained silent, holding her feelings well under, while Ralph
rapidly scribbled her name on his card. The constable knocked at the
door and gave the message to the policeman who opened it. Then the
door was closed again, and the lovers remained on the step anxiously
waiting to see what would come of their application. The mob of people
whispered and pointed, and looked askance at the young couple,
evidently wondering why they were there. The position was highly
unpleasant, and Audrey felt a great sense of relief when she was
permitted to enter with her lover. In a moment they passed through the
jealously-guarded door, and it was closed again the minute they were
inside.

“Wait here, please,” said the constable who received them. “Inspector
Lanton is upstairs with Madame Coralie, and will be down shortly.”

Audrey laid a detaining hand on his sleeve as he moved away. “Can you
tell me if Lady Branwin–”

“I am not allowed to answer any questions, miss,” he replied, and went
away in a stolid manner, as though the business in hand were an
everyday occurrence.

“Won’t you sit down, darling?” whispered Ralph, tenderly. “You must
keep up your strength, as there is much to be done.”

“My poor mother!” Audrey sank down on to a stool with a gasp. “Who
could have killed her? How was she killed? When did the murder take
place? Oh, it’s too awful! Perhaps”–she looked pleadingly up into her
lover’s face–“perhaps it is not true.”

“It _is_ true, Miss Branwin,” said a soft voice before Ralph could
reply; and out of a near alcove came a pretty girl with red eyes and a
tear-stained face. “It’s quite true and very terrible.”

“Who are you?” asked Audrey, lifting her white face. “How do you come
to know my name?”

“I am Badoura, the forewoman of Madame Coralie,” was the reply, “and I
saw you yesterday when you came here with your mother. Poor Lady
Branwin! It is awful to think that she should have been strangled
in–”

“Strangled!” interrupted Audrey, with another gasp. “Who strangled
her?”

“No one knows,” said Badoura, shuddering. “Madame found her dead in
her bed when she went at seven this morning to see how she had passed
the night. I heard her say that Lady Branwin had been strangled, and
then she sent for the police at once. It’s really dreadful,” added the
girl, mournfully, “as everything is upset, and we don’t know what is
going to happen. See here!” and she swept aside the pink silk curtain
which was draped over the Moorish arch of the alcove whence she had
emerged.

Here Audrey beheld the other assistants huddled together on the divan,
with tear-stained faces and terror-stricken looks. The catastrophe had
disorganised the whole establishment, and the girls feared lest the
scandal, which certainly would arise from the fact of the murder,
might result in the closing of the shop. This was a very probable
contingency indeed, and none of them could face with equanimity the
dismal prospect of losing her employment. They had been driven like
sheep into the alcove by the police, and waited developments with
strained nerves. As yet not one of the three had been examined.

Badoura, having full possession of her senses, was the most composed,
and seemed glad to find someone to talk to, less upset than her three
friends, “It will ruin Madame’s business,” she wailed.

“Please tell us exactly what happened,” said Ralph, who was anxious to
get at the facts of the case.

“There’s nothing to tell, sir. Lady Branwin came with this young lady
yesterday about five, and retired to a back bedroom on the ground
floor almost immediately with Madame, who wished to see what could be
done by way of treatment. Lady Branwin had not even made up her mind
to stop; but after Madame had given her opinion she decided to remain
for the night, and Madame told you, Miss Branwin, that such was the
case, when–”

“When I called here on my way to the theatre,” finished Audrey, whose
face was colourless but wonderfully composed. “I remember. When did
Madame Coralie last see my mother?”

“Shortly before eight o’clock, miss. She left her quite comfortable
for the night after she had taken a light supper. We all went to bed
about nine, as we were all so tired with a busy day. Then at seven
this morning Madame came to me while I was tidying up the shop, and
told me that Lady Branwin was dead. She could scarcely speak.” Badoura
paused for a moment, then added, as an after-thought: “The window was
open.”

“The window?” repeated Ralph, fastening his eyes on her face
searchingly.

“The window of the back bedroom on the ground floor,” explained the
girl, readily. “It looks out on to a closed court, which has a high
wall round it.”

“Then you think that the assassin entered and left by the window?”

“I didn’t say that, for I do not know,” replied Badoura, quickly. “All
Madame said was that the bedroom window was open, although she had
closed it on the previous night. But even if the assassin did get into
the room in that way, I don’t see how he could leave the court. The
door in the wall of the court is locked, and the key is lost.”

“He could climb over the wall, perhaps?” suggested Audrey,
thoughtfully.

“It’s a difficult, smooth wall to climb, miss.”

“What is on the other side of the wall?” asked Shawe, sharply.

“A narrow alley, which runs into the High Street.”

“Then if the assassin could get over the wall, he could easily
escape?”

“Oh, yes, sir; but the wall is difficult to climb.”

“Is there no other entrance into the court?”

“Only from the house. There is a door which is kept locked, as no one
ever goes into the court at the back. Besides, no one was in the house
last night but myself, the three girls, Madame, Lady Branwin and a
lady customer.”

“What is her name?”

“I can’t tell you,” said Badoura, hesitating. “Only Madame knows; as
many ladies don’t care to give their names, save to Madame, when under
treatment.”

“Tell me,” said Ralph, waiving this point for the time being, “you
call the assassin ‘he.’ What reason have you to believe that a man
strangled Lady Branwin?”

Badoura looked surprised. “I only think so, sir, as, of course, I know
nothing. But surely, sir, only a man would have the strength to
strangle?”

Audrey shook her head. “A strong woman could do that also. Especially
as my mother was stout and rather apoplectic. Very little pressure on
her throat would have killed her, I am certain. And then–”

Here Audrey’s conjectures were cut short by the entrance of a tall,
soldierly-looking man in uniform. His eyes were grey and steady, and
he looked sharply at the young couple, who rose to meet him. It was
Lanton.

“Miss Branwin and Mr. Ralph Shawe,” said the inspector, glancing at
the barrister’s card, which he held in his hand. “How is it that you are
here?”

“Let me explain,” said Audrey, stopping her lover from speaking. “I
met Mr. Shawe in Kensington Gardens this morning early, as we are
engaged, and called with him to see how my mother was this morning.
We learnt–” Her face worked with emotion, and she sat down again.

“I understand–I understand,” said Lanton, comprehending her feelings.
“It is very sad, Miss Branwin, and must have been a great shock to
you.”

“Is my mother really dead?”

“Yes,” answered the inspector, promptly. “The doctor who examined the
body declares that she was strangled at eight o’clock last night–that
is, a few minutes before or after. If you would like to see the body–”

“No, no,” interposed Ralph, hurriedly. “Miss Branwin is not strong
enough to–”

Audrey rose to her feet, and braced herself with an effort. “Yes, I
am,” she declared. “It is necessary for me to see my poor mother’s
remains. Take me to the room, Mr. Inspector.”

“You are a brave young lady,” muttered the officer, and led the way
out of the shop without further comment.

The trio–for Shawe naturally went with Audrey–walked along a narrow
corridor, which ran the whole length of the building. It divided the
shop, which likewise stretched from wall to wall of the house, from
four bedrooms, the windows of which looked out on to the closed court
mentioned by Badoura. At the end of the passage, to the right–looking
from the shop–was a door which led into a right-of-way opening on to
Walpole Lane. But this right-of-way did not afford any access to the
court, its upper-end being blocked by a high brick wall with broken
glass on top. The only two ways of gaining admittance to the court
were by the house-door, and the door in the wall of the court itself.
These, as Badoura had said, and as Inspector Lanton had ascertained
from Madame Coralie, were always kept locked. The court was narrow and
paved with flagstones, and had a disused air, which was very natural
since no one ever entered it.

Lanton conducted the couple into one of the bedrooms, and here they
found Madame Coralie in her quaint Turkish dress, and wearing the
filmy black yashmak. She was seated near the door, apparently guarding
the dead from the prying curiosity of anyone in the house. The room
was of no great size, but was luxuriously furnished in green and
silver. There was only one window, draped with curtains, which looked
out on to the court, and the lower sash of this was wide open. In a
far corner, with its head against the inner wall, stood the bed, and
on this, under a sheet, the dead woman was stiffly stretched out.
Owing to the absence of sunlight and the presence of the dead, there
was a chill feeling in the room, and Audrey shivered.

“Can you go through with it?” asked Ralph, anxiously.

“Yes, I must,” she replied, in a low tone; and walking towards the bed
she lifted the sheet.

Madame Coralie had risen, and with tightly-clasped hands watched the
girl’s every action. Her black eyes peering above the yashmak were
less hard, and the red rims round them showed that she had been
weeping. She had every reason to, for what had happened might ruin her
trade.

“Is it Lady Branwin?” asked Lanton, softly, since Audrey did not
speak.

“Yes,” she replied, with a sigh, and apparently could scarcely stand.
On seeing this, Ralph slipped his arm round her waist. “I won’t give
way,” she added firmly, and withdrew from his support. “Yes, Mr.
Inspector, this is my mother’s body. I see from the black marks on her
neck that she has been strangled. Who murdered her, and why?”

Madame Coralie replied. “Ah, my dear young lady,” she said, in a
choking voice, “that is what we wish to find out. It will ruin my
business.”

“I don’t see that,” said Lanton, quietly; “you have always conducted
your business respectably.”

“It’s the first time that I have ever had the police in my house,”
murmured Madame Coralie, in despair. “But a murder!–oh, what lady
will ever come and pass the night here for treatment, when she
may be murdered? I wish I knew the villain who killed poor Lady
Branwin”–Madame Coralie shook her fist in the air–“I should have him
hanged.”

“We’ll hunt him down yet,” said Lanton, confidentially.

“Do you think that the assassin is a man?” asked Ralph, putting the
same question to the inspector as he had done to Badoura.

Lanton looked taken aback. “In the absence of all proof, I believe the
assassin to be a man–unless Lady Branwin had a woman enemy.”



“Mamma had no enemies at all,” said Audrey, in a firm voice. “Madame,
where were you when my mother was murdered?”

“Upstairs in the still-room,” said the woman, quietly. “At about eight
o’clock the murder took place, according to the doctor. I was with my
girls–that is, Badoura, Parizade and Zobeide were in the still-room,
and Peri Banou in the shop. My husband was also there. He went away,
and then I came down to tell you at the door that Lady Branwin would
stop for the night.”

“She must have been dead then,” muttered Audrey, shivering. “You heard
no noise, or–”

“I heard nothing, neither did my husband or Badoura. I left Lady
Branwin quite comfortable shortly before eight o’clock. The assassin
must have opened the window and murdered her almost immediately after
I left.”

“But why was she murdered?” asked Shawe, insistently.

“I can’t say, sir, no more than I can say how the assassin managed to
enter the court. Why,” added Madame Coralie, quickly, “so sure am I
that the court cannot be entered that the windows of the bedrooms are
never fastened. It would, therefore, not be difficult for the assassin
to enter. I expect that he found Lady Branwin asleep, and–”

“So quickly after you left?” interrupted the inspector.

“I gave Lady Branwin a sleeping-draught,” explained Madame Coralie,
“as her nerves were bad and she could not rest. For the treatment
which I intended to give her it was necessary that her nerves should
be in better order.”

Audrey nodded. “I remember,” she said, gravely, “mamma was very much
agitated when she came here, and very restless.”

“Why?” asked Lanton, sharply.

“On account of her desire for this treatment, which she feared Madame
Coralie would not give her. Mamma explained that to me. Then, of
course, there were the diamonds–oh!”–Audrey started–“where are the
diamonds?”

Inspector Lanton pricked up his ears, and looked at Madame Coralie.
“The diamonds!” he repeated. “Where are the diamonds?”

Madame Coralie started back and wrung her hands. “Oh, here is another
trouble–another trouble!” she wailed. “I never knew that Lady Branwin
brought any diamonds. Are you sure–are you certain?”

“Quite sure,” said Audrey, excitedly. “Mamma had two thousand pounds’
worth of diamonds in a red morocco bag. She intended to take them to a
jeweller and get them reset, but as she stopped here she took the bag
out of the motor and carried it into this house with her.”

“I saw the red bag,” said Madame Coralie, much agitated, “but I swear
that I did not know that it contained diamonds. Lady Branwin did not
mention what the bag contained. I paid no attention to it.”

“Is the bag in this room?” asked Lanton, looking round.

“It must be–it must be,” said Madame Coralie, beginning to search.
“She had such a bag with her. I remember that; but I did not notice
what she did with it. Why should I, not knowing it contained
diamonds?”

A thorough search was made, but without result. Audrey again described
the bag, and mentioned that her mother had attached a small label to
it, so that its owner should be known if it were lost. Inspector
Lanton seized on the last word: “Did she expect it to be lost?”

“No; certainly not. She intended, I understood from her own lips, to
take the diamonds to the jeweller; but, because she remained here, she
took the bag in with her. It must be somewhere.”

“In the hands of the assassin, probably,” remarked Shawe, nodding.

Lanton looked at him. “Do you think that robbery is the motive for the
murder?”

“Yes, I do, since the diamonds are missing. Else why should Lady
Branwin, who had no enemies, be strangled? The assassin must have
known that she had the jewels with her, and must have climbed the wall
of the court to gain entrance by the window. Are there no footmarks?”
“I have not searched the court,” muttered Lanton, doubtfully; “but
this mention of the diamonds puts a different complexion on the case.”
He paused for a moment, then scrambled through the window, and crossed
the court. At the foot of the wall, near the closed door, he picked up
a scrap of paper. “It’s the label,” he called out triumphantly.
“Evidently the string became loose, and it fell off while the thief
was making off with his plunder.” He then turned to examine the door,
and uttered a cry as he peered down to look through the key-hole.
“This door has been opened,” he declared loudly; “the key is in the
lock on the outside.”

“Ah!” said Ralph, with satisfaction, “now we are on the trail of the
assassin.”

“Catch him!” screamed Madame Coralie, fiercely. “Catch him and hang
him!”

There were many interesting items of news in the newspapers when the
Turkish Shop tragedy took place; for it was the middle of the London
season, and social events succeeded one another rapidly. Nevertheless,
the affair created a sensation, as Lady Branwin was the wife of a
millionaire, and a well-known figure in Society. Especially did the
female population of Mayfair and Belgravia comment on the murder, as,
having taken place in their own particular pet shop, it concerned them
nearly. It was dreadful to think that if any one of them passed the
night under Madame Coralie’s roof death might be the result. Many
declared that they would never go near the place again. But this was
when the news of the crime was fresh and startling. Later, these
ladies saw reason to revise their opinion, since there was no one but
Madame Coralie to perform miracles of rejuvenation.

The immediate result of the murder was to send Sir Joseph Branwin to
bed. He was a burly, red-faced man, who ate and drank largely; so it
was not surprising that the announcement of his wife’s terrible death
should cause him to have a fit. When he grasped the truth he dropped
down straightway, and for quite two weeks he was unable to leave his
bed or to attend to any necessary matters. He was neither at the
inquest nor at the funeral, and his daughter, along with Ralph Shawe,
had to look after everything. Sir Joseph was not grateful–he never
was, being a singularly selfish man. It was quite a surprise to Audrey
that he should have fallen ill when told the truth. “I daresay he was
fonder of mamma than I thought,” she said to Ralph, and blamed herself
for having misjudged her father; “yet they always quarrelled, and did
not seem to get on at all well together.”

“The quarrelling may have been a matter of habit,” said Shawe,
doubtfully. “Married couples may be devoted to one another, and yet
may be always bickering. And I think, Audrey, that you told me your
parents’ marriage was a love-match of a romantic nature.”

“So mamma said,” replied the girl, nodding gravely. “She and papa were
boy and girl together at Bleakleigh. He promised to marry her when he
made his fortune, and years afterwards he returned to keep his
promise. Both papa and mamma were the children of labourers.”

“So I should think,” remarked Ralph, caustically, and remembering the
excessively plebeian looks of the couple. “I can never understand how
you come to be their daughter, Audrey. You are no more like them than
a lily is like a cabbage-rose.”

Audrey nodded her head absently as she was thinking of other things.
“What will the verdict of the inquest be?” she demanded anxiously.

“In the absence of any proof likely to identify the assassin there can
only be one verdict–wilful murder against some person or persons
unknown.”

“Oh! do you think, then, that there is more than one assassin?”

“No, dear. The inclusion of the plural is merely a matter of form.
Undoubtedly poor Lady Branwin was murdered by one person only–the man
who afterwards stole the jewels.”

“You think it was a man, then?”

“In the absence of evidence I presume so. By the way, Audrey, how is
it that your mother had a label attached to that red morocco bag? It
is unusual.”

“Oh, that was a peculiarity of mamma’s nature. She attached labels
to almost everything she took out of doors, as she always seemed to
fancy that what she carried might be lost, and in this way–as she
thought–provided against contingencies. Papa and I both used to laugh
at her for the care with which she prepared those little pieces of
parchment, and jokingly said that she must have been a baggage porter.
Poor mamma!” Audrey sighed. “It is strange that her odd habit should
be the means of tracing her murderer.”

“It has not traced him, unfortunately,” said Ralph, shaking his head;
“but the finding of the label at the foot of the wall undoubtedly
shows that he escaped in that way.”

“It was strange that he should have left the key in the lock.”

“Very strange,” assented Shawe, emphatically; “and it shows how
deliberate he was in his behaviour. He must have known that he had
plenty of time to escape, and even then a smarter man would have taken
the key with him. This is one of the mistakes the cleverest criminal
makes.”

“How did he get the key from Madame Coralie?”

“He did not. Madame declares that she never had a key to the door in
the court wall, as it was never used, and certainly has never been
opened during her tenancy. The key used is what is known as a skeleton
key, such as burglars carry.”

“Then this assassin was a burglar?”

“I think so; one of the criminal classes, at all events, as no amateur
could have managed so cleverly. The leaving of the key, however, was a
mistake.”

“Can he be traced by it?”

“I doubt if he can. The door opens on to an alley paved with stone,
and no footmarks can be found. From the time the man left the court by
the door he was safe. No, dear, if there is any chance of his being
taken, it will be by means of the diamonds–and even that is doubtful.
All he has to do is to unset the stones and sell them separately. I am
anxious to hear what further evidence may be collected by Lanton for
the inquest.”

But Shawe’s anxiety was quite unnecessary, as very little evidence was
forthcoming when the inquest was held. The inspector did what he
could; but to trace the assassin was like looking for a needle in a
bottle of hay. A great crowd collected outside the building wherein
the inquest was held; but few people were admitted. Audrey came with
her lover, as it was necessary that she should state how her mother
had been in possession of the missing jewels, and Ralph came with her
as a moral support. Sir Joseph, unfortunately, could not attend, owing
to illness; but he sent his solicitor to watch the case on his behalf,
and ordered that everything should be done to trace the assassin, even
to offering a reward of one thousand pounds for the villain’s
apprehension. This offer, being well known before the inquest took
place, brought many people to hear what they could of the evidence, in
the hope of being able to lay the murderer by the heels and claim the
money. But, as has before been stated, Lanton did not allow the
general public to crowd the room wherein the proceedings took place.

Inspector Lanton himself was the first witness, and gave a succinct
account of how he had been called in when the fact of the murder
became known. He detailed all that he had learnt; produced a plan of
the building wherein the crime had taken place; also the label,
together with the key of the court door; and stated the names of
the witnesses he proposed to call. Of these, the doctor who had
examined the body of the unfortunate woman was the first to follow
Lanton in giving evidence, and deposed that the deceased had been
strangled–so far as he could judge from the condition of the
body–at eight o’clock in the evening. He had made the examination at
7.30 the next morning, almost immediately the fact of the murder had
been discovered. The doctor’s evidence was short and dry, and provided
no clue whereby to trace the assassin, as the creature had left behind
him nothing by which he could be identified.

Madame Coralie came next, and appeared–perhaps for the purposes of
advertisement–in her Turkish dress and wearing her yashmak. Before
entering the court she had drawn Inspector Lanton aside to ask him not
to request her to remove the yashmak, on the grounds that it would be
detrimental to her business. Lanton then saw–for she drew aside the
veil to reveal the truth–that Madame Coralie had a disfiguring
birthmark on cheek and mouth and chin, which made her look anything
but attractive. Naturally, as she pointed out, if her customers knew
that she could not remove such a birthmark from her own face, she
could scarcely–as they might think–do all she claimed towards
beautifying them. Lanton pointed out that, as she had already made her
reputation, the birthmark did not matter; but, as he quite saw the
point and recognised the reason why the woman concealed the lower part
of her face, he passed round word to the Coroner and the jury that it
was needless for the yashmak to be removed. Madame Coralie therefore
gave her evidence holding the silken covering over her mouth, and, as
only her black eyes were visible, she presented a weird figure. Many
of the illustrated papers had pictures of her in the odd dress, and
many were the comments thereon. All of which, as Madame Coralie knew
and probably counted upon, was good for business.

The woman stated that she received Lady Branwin on the night of the
murder for the purpose of diagnosing her case, that she might be
treated as to complexion and figure. Lady Branwin decided to remain
for the night, and Madame Coralie herself told this to Miss Branwin
when the girl called at the shop–according to instructions from her
mother–on her way to the theatre. Lady Branwin was then in bed, and
Madame did not see her again until the next morning at seven when she
went to rouse her and discovered that she was dead.

“The window looking into the court was open,” said the witness,
“although I had closed it on the previous night. I did not lock it, of
course, as no one ever entered the court, and none of the windows of
the ground-floor bedrooms were locked.”

“Then the window could easily have been opened from the outside?”
asked the Coroner, making notes.

“Oh, yes. It was not even snicked,” replied the witness. “There was no
necessity, as no one could enter the court save from the house, or by
the door in the court wall.”

It was proved very conclusively that the court door had not been
opened since Madame had taken the house. Also, the door leading into
the court from the building had rarely been opened.

“No one wanted to go into the court,” explained Madame again, and
insisted upon this point. “I left Lady Branwin quite cheerful, in bed,
at about ten minutes to eight o’clock, and came up, to the still-room
about five minutes to eight. My assistant, Zobeide, was in the room,
and so was my husband, Mr. Vail. Also I believe that two other girls
of mine, Badoura and Parizade, were behind the curtain of the room
attending to some hair and skin washes. My husband drew my attention
to this fact.”

“Are you sure it was five minutes to eight when you were in the room?”
was the Coroner’s question.

“I am positive,” was the emphatic reply. “Eddy–my husband–mentioned
as he went out that it was five minutes after eight, and I had been
talking to him for ten minutes, more or less.”

The result of this statement was that Edmund Vail was called,
and he proved that what his wife had asserted was correct. He
mentioned (by talking with his fingers) to Zobeide, who was deaf,
that it was five minutes to eight o’clock immediately before his
wife entered. He talked to her of business–private business–for
some time, and left the house by the side door ten minutes later.
Zobeide–who gave evidence through an interpreter of the deaf and dumb
language–corroborated this evidence, and it was well established that
Madame Coralie had been with the two witnesses from five minutes to
eight until five minutes past eight. This being the case, since Lady
Branwin was murdered at eight o’clock, Madame Coralie could not be
guilty of the crime, yet before this evidence had been given several
people had hinted at her complicity; but what was said by Vail and
Zobeide, and indeed afterwards by Badoura and Parizade, provided her
with an alibi beyond question.

Madame Coralie was afterwards recalled and questioned about the
diamonds. She denied all knowledge of these, saying that Lady Branwin
brought in a red morocco bag with a label attached, of which she took
the greatest care. “She did not mention to me what was in the bag,”
said Madame, emphatically; “but when I tucked her in for the night she
placed it under her pillow. I never thought of asking any questions.”

The witness also stated that she had never possessed any key to the
court wall door, and did not recognise the one produced to the jury.
The house door leading into the court was locked, and the key had been
left, with others, on a nail in the still-room. “No one could have got
into the court by that door on that night,” stated Madame Coralie. “As
to the remaining door, out of which my husband went when he left me,
it is at the end of the long passage on the ground floor, and leads
into a right-of-way which can be approached from Walpole Lane. I
locked this myself after I had seen Miss Branwin at the street door,
and took the key to my room. No one could have entered the house after
that, as both this side door and the street door were locked when I
and my assistants retired to bed.”

Audrey’s evidence was confined to the fact that her mother had taken
the two thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds to get certain of them
reset. She had intended to take them straight to the jeweller, but
having arranged to consult with Madame Coralie, and subsequently to
remain for the night, she had taken the bag out of the motorcar and
into the house. The label produced was in her mother’s handwriting,
and Audrey stated Lady Branwin’s fancy for labelling anything she took
out of doors.

On the whole, as the Coroner remarked, the evidence was satisfactory.
If it did not prove who had committed the murder, it certainly
exonerated all who were in the house. It had been proved that
Madame Coralie and her four assistants slept in two rooms which opened
into one another, and also that Madame herself had been with other
people at the very time when the crime–according to the medical
evidence–had been committed. Undoubtedly, robbery was the motive for
the committal of the crime, and probably the strangling had been
unpremeditated. Lady Branwin–this was the Coroner’s reading of what
had happened–had gone to sleep with the diamonds under her pillow, as
Madame Coralie had stated. It was only reasonable to believe that she
had awakened to find the robber removing the jewels. Her natural
outcry was prevented immediately by the strangulation, since the
assassin–as the man had become–could silence her in no other way.
Then the criminal had escaped by the window through which he had
entered, and through the door of the court wall. The dropping of the
label, which possibly had been loosely tied to the bag, was a positive
clue to the way in which the man had got away, and the presence of the
skeleton key in the door was further evidence. These things being
taken into consideration, it was apparent that no blame could be
attached to Madame Coralie or to her assistants, and there was not the
slightest breath of suspicion against them in any way. “The jury,”
added the Coroner, “would be well advised to return an open verdict.”

The result of this speech, and a recollection of the meagre evidence
placed before them, was the verdict which Ralph Shawe had predicted.
“Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown,” was the
statement of the foreman, and the inquest ended with the belief in
many minds that the murder of Lady Branwin would have to be added to
the already long list of undiscovered crimes. Chattering and arguing,
and greatly disappointed that nothing more tangible had resulted from
the proceedings, everyone went his or her way, and the reporters
hastened to their several papers with details, more or less veracious,
of all that had taken place. But one fact was certain–that the
murder, so far, was a mystery.

Lady Branwin was duly buried at Kensal Green, amidst a large concourse
of people, and many were the letters and telegrams of condolence which
Sir Joseph received. For a week or so paragraphs appeared in the
papers suggesting possible clues, and the offer of one thousand pounds
reward prompted many people to keep the matter of the crime in their
minds. Also some busybody wrote to the journals insisting that the
Turkish Shop should be closed; but it was pointed out that Madame
Coralie had always conducted her business respectably, and that
neither she nor her assistants were to blame in any way for what had
taken place. It was, therefore, scarcely fair that the woman should
lose her means of livelihood for not preventing what was beyond her
power to prevent. Finally, after a nine days’ wonder, the matter of
the crime was permitted to drop into oblivion, so far as the general
public were concerned. Lady Branwin, as someone observed, was dead and
buried, and the secret of her murder was buried with her. Within a
month the wretched woman and her sensational death were forgotten, and
the Turkish Shop continued to open its doors.

“But there is a falling-off,” sighed Madame Coralie. “Some women won’t
come–just as if I could help that miserable Lady Branwin dying in the
way she did. I wish she had died anywhere but in my house. But it’s
all over, and I am ruined.”

However, Madame Coralie was not ruined, for business speedily picked
up again; also it was not “all over,” for in the dark at least one
person was trying to trace the assassin. This was Ralph Shawe, and he
attended to the matter because of Audrey’s wish and for the sake of
his own happiness.

“I shall never marry you,” Audrey stated, when returning from the
funeral, “until the truth about my mother’s death is made public.”

“It seems impossible to discover the truth,” said Ralph, gloomily.

“Then we shall never become husband and wife,” was Audrey’s reply; and
to this decision she firmly adhered.