Mysteries! There is no such thing as a mystery in connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation.
So says a rather down-at-heel elderly gentleman to young Polly Burton of the Evening Observer, in the corner of the ABC teashop on Norfolk Street one afternoon. Once she has forgiven him for distracting her from her newspaper and luncheon, Miss Burton discovers that her interlocutor is as brilliantly gifted as he is eccentric - able to solve mysteries that have made headlines and baffled the finest minds of the police without once leaving his seat in the teahouse.
The Old Man in the Corner is a classic collection of mysteries featuring the Teahouse Detective - a contemporary of Sherlock Holmes, with a brilliant mind and waspish temperament to match that of Conan Doyle's creation.
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The Case of Miss Elliott
The man in the corner was watching me over the top of his great bone-rimmed spectacles.
"Well?" he asked, after a little while.
"Well?" I repeated with some acerbity. I had been wondering for the last ten minutes how many more knots he would manage to make in that same bit of string, before he actually started undoing them again.
"Do I fidget you?" he asked apologetically, whilst his long bony fingers buried themselves, string, knots, and all, into the capacious pockets of his magnificent tweed ulster.
"Yes, that is another awful tragedy," he said quietly, after a while. "Lady doctors are having a pretty bad time of it just now."
This was only his usual habit of speaking in response to my thoughts. There was no doubt that at the present moment my mind was filled with that extraordinary mystery which was setting all Scotland Yard by the ears, and had completely thrown into the shade the sad story of Miss Hickman's tragic fate.
The Daily Telegraph had printed two columns headed "Murder or Suicide?" on the subject of the mysterious death of Miss Elliott, matron of the Convalescent Home, in Suffolk Avenue – and I must confess that a more profound and bewildering mystery had never been set before our able detective department.
"It has puzzled them this time, and no mistake," said the man in the corner, with one of his most gruesome chuckles, "but I dare say the public is quite satisfied that there is no solution to be found, since the police have found none."
"Can you find one?" I retorted with withering sarcasm.
"Oh, my solution would only be sneered at," he replied. "It is far too simple – and yet how logical! There was Miss Elliott, a good-looking, youngish, ladylike woman, fully qualified in the medical profession and in charge of the Convalescent Home in Suffolk Avenue, which is a private institution largely patronized by the benevolent.
"For some time, already, there had appeared vague comments and rumours in various papers, that the extensive charitable contributions did not all go towards the upkeep of the Home. But, as is usual in institutions of that sort, the public was not allowed to know anything very definite, and contributions continued to flow in, whilst the Honorary Treasurer of the great Convalescent Home kept up his beautiful house in Hamilton Terrace, in a style which would not have shamed a peer of the realm.
"That is how matters stood, when on 2nd November last the morning papers contained the brief announcement that at a quarter past midnight two workmen walking along Blomfield Road, Maida Vale, suddenly came across the body of a young lady, lying on her face, close to the wooden steps of the narrow footbridge which at this point crosses the canal.
"This part of Maida Vale is, as you know, very lonely at all times, but at night it is usually quite deserted. Blomfield Road, with its row of small houses and bits of front gardens, faces the canal, and beyond the footbridge is continued in a series of small riverside wharves, which is practically unknown ground to the average Londoner. The footbridge itself, with steps at right angles and high wooden parapet, would offer excellent shelter at all hours of the night for any nefarious deed.
"It was within its shadows that the men had found the body, and to their credit, be it said, they behaved like good and dutiful citizens – one of them went off in search of the police, whilst the other remained beside the corpse.
"From papers and books found upon her person, it was soon ascertained that the deceased was Miss Elliott, the young matron of the Suffolk Avenue Convalescent Home; and as she was very popular in her profession and had a great many friends, the terrible tragedy caused a sensation, all the more acute as very quickly the rumour gained ground that the unfortunate young woman had taken her own life in a most gruesome and mysterious manner.
"Preliminary medical and police investigation had revealed the fact that Miss Elliott had died through a deep and scientifically administered gash in the throat, whilst the surgical knife with which the deadly wound was inflicted still lay tightly grasped in her clenched hand."
The man in the corner, ever conscious of any effect he produced upon my excited imagination, had paused for a while, giving me time, as it were, to co-ordinate in my mind the few simple facts he had put before me. I had no wish to make a remark, knowing of old that my one chance of getting the whole of his interesting argument was to offer neither comment nor contradiction.
"When a young, good-looking woman in the heyday of her success in an interesting profession," he began at last, "is alleged to have committed suicide, the outside public immediately want to know the reason why she did such a thing, and a kind of freemasonic, amateur detective work goes on, which generally brings a few important truths to light. Thus, in the case of Miss Elliott, certain facts had begun to leak out, even before the inquest, with its many sensational developments. Rumours concerning the internal administration, or rather maladministration of the Home began to take more definite form.
"That its finances had been in a very shaky condition for some time was known to all those who were interested in its welfare. What was not so universally known was that few hospitals had had more munificent donations and subscriptions showered upon them in recent years, and yet it was openly spoken of by all the nurses that Miss Elliott had on more than one occasion petitioned for actual necessities for the patients – necessities which were denied to her on the plea of necessary economy.
"The Convalescent Home was, as sometimes happens in institutions of this sort, under the control of a committee of benevolent and fashionable people who understood nothing about business, and less still about the management of a hospital. Dr Kinnaird, president of the institution, was a young, eminently successful consultant; he had recently married the daughter of a peer, who had boundless ambitions for herself and her husband.
"Dr Kinnaird, by adding the prestige of his name to the Home, no doubt felt that he had done enough for its welfare. Against that, Dr Stapylton, honorary secretary and treasurer of the Home, threw himself heart and soul into the work connected with it, and gave a great deal of his time to it. All subscriptions and donations went, of course, through his hands, the benevolent and fashionable committee being only too willing to shift all their financial responsibilities on to his willing shoulders. He was a very popular man in society – a bachelor with a magnificent house in Hamilton Terrace, where he entertained the more eminent and fashionable clique in his own profession.
"It was the evening papers, however, which contained the most sensational development of this tragic case. It appears that on the Saturday afternoon Mary Dawson, one of the nurses in the Home, was going to the house surgeon's office with a message from the head nurse, when her attention was suddenly arrested in one of the passages by the sound of loud voices proceeding from one of the rooms. She paused to listen for a moment, and at once recognized the voices of Miss Elliott and of Dr Stapylton, the honorary treasurer and chairman of committee.
"The subject of conversation was evidently that of the eternal question of finance. Miss Elliott spoke very indignantly, and Nurse Dawson caught the words:
"'Surely you must agree with me that Dr Kinnaird ought to be informed at once.'
"Dr Stapylton's voice in reply seems to have been at first bitingly sarcastic, then threatening. Dawson heard nothing more after that, and went on to deliver her message. On her way back she stopped in the passage again, and tried to listen. This time it seemed to her as if she could hear the sound of someone crying bitterly, and Dr Stapylton's voice speaking very gently.
"'You may be right, Nellie,' he was saying. 'At any rate, wait a few days before telling Kinnaird. You know what he is – he'll make a frightful fuss and –'
"Whereupon Miss Elliott interrupted him.
"'It isn't fair to Dr Kinnaird to keep him in ignorance any longer. Whoever the thief may be it is your duty or mine to expose him, and if necessary bring him to justice.'
"There was a good deal of discussion at the time, if you remember, as to whether Nurse Dawson had overheard and repeated this speech accurately: whether, in point of fact, Miss Elliott had used the words 'or mine' or 'and mine'. You see the neat little point, don't you?" continued the man in the corner. "The little word 'and' would imply that she considered herself at one with Dr Stapylton in the matter, but 'or' would mean that she was resolved to act alone if he refused to join her in unmasking the thief.
"All these facts, as I remarked before, had leaked out, as such facts have a way of doing. No wonder, therefore, that on the day fixed for the inquest the coroner's court was filled to overflowing, both with the public – ever eager for new sensations – and with the many friends of the deceased lady, among whom young medical students of both sexes and nurses in uniform were most conspicuous.
"I was there early, and therefore had a good seat, from which I could comfortably watch the various actors in the drama about to be performed. People who seemed to be in the know pointed out various personages to one another, and it was a matter of note that, in spite of professional engagements, the members of the staff of the Convalescent Home were present in full force and stayed on almost the whole time. The personages who chiefly arrested my attention were, firstly, Dr Kinnaird, a good-looking Irishman of about forty, and president of the institution; also Dr Earnshaw, a rising young consultant, with boundless belief in himself written all over his pleasant rubicund countenance.
"The expert medical evidence was once again thoroughly gone into. There was absolutely no doubt that Miss Elliott had died from having her throat cut with the surgical knife which was found grasped in her right hand. There were absolutely no signs of a personal struggle in the immediate vicinity of the body, and rigid examination proved that there was no other mark of violence upon the body; there was nothing, therefore, to prove that the poor girl had not committed suicide in a moment of mental aberration or of great personal grief.
"Of course, it was strange that she should have chosen this curious mode of taking her own life. She had access to all kinds of poisons, amongst which her medical knowledge could prompt her to choose the least painful and most efficacious ones. Therefore, to have walked out on a Sunday night to a wretched and unfrequented spot, and there committed suicide in that grim fashion seemed almost the work of a mad woman. And yet the evidence of her family and friends all tended to prove that Miss Elliott was a peculiarly sane, large-minded, and happy individual.
"However, the suicide theory was at this stage of the proceedings taken as being absolutely established, and when Police Constable Fiske came forward to give his evidence no one in the court was prepared for a statement which suddenly revealed this case to be as mysterious as it was tragic.
"Fiske's story was this: close upon midnight on that memorable Sunday night he was walking down Blomfield Road along the side of the canal and towards the footbridge, when he overtook a lady and gentleman who were walking in the same direction as himself. He turned to look at them, and noticed that the gentleman was in evening dress and wore a high hat, and that the lady was crying.
"Blomfield Road is at best very badly lighted, especially on the side next to the canal, where there are no lamps at all. Fiske, however, was prepared to swear positively that the lady was the deceased. As for the gentleman, he might know him again or he might not.
"Fiske then crossed the footbridge, and walked on towards the Harrow Road. As he did so, he heard St Mary Magdalen's church clock chime the hour of midnight. It was a quarter of an hour after that that the body of the unfortunate girl was found, and clasping in her hand the knife with which that awful deed had been done. By whom? Was it really by her own self? But if so, why did not that man in evening dress who had last seen her alive come forward and throw some light upon this fast thickening veil of mystery?
"It was Mr James Elliott, brother of the deceased, however, who first mentioned a name then in open court, which has ever since in the minds of everyone been associated with Miss Elliott's tragic fate.
"He was speaking in answer to a question of the coroner's anent his sister's disposition and recent frame of mind.
"'She was always extremely cheerful,' he said, 'but recently had been peculiarly bright and happy. I understood from her that this was because she believed that a man for whom she had a great regard was also very much attached to her, and meant to ask her to be his wife.'
"'And do you know who this man was?' asked the coroner.
"'Oh yes,' replied Mr Elliott, 'it was Dr Stapylton.'
"Everyone had expected that name, of course, for everyone remembered Nurse Dawson's story, yet when it came, there crept over all those present an indescribable feeling that something terrible was impending.
"'Is Dr Stapylton here?'
"But Dr Stapylton had sent an excuse. A professional case of the utmost urgency had kept him at a patient's bedside. But Dr Kinnaird, the president of the institution, came forward.
"Questioned by the coroner, Dr Kinnaird, however, who evidently had a great regard for his colleague, repudiated any idea that the funds of the institution had ever been tampered with by the Treasurer.
"'The very suggestion of such a thing,' he said, 'was an outrage upon one of the most brilliant men in the profession.'
"He further added that, although he knew that Dr Stapylton thought very highly of Miss Elliott, he did not think that there was any actual engagement, and most decidedly he (Dr Kinnaird) had heard nothing of any disagreement between them.
"'Then did Dr Stapylton never tell you that Miss Elliott had often chafed under the extraordinary economy practised in the richly endowed Home?' asked the coroner again.
"'No,' replied Dr Kinnaird.
"'Was not that rather strange reticence?'
"'Certainly not. I am only the Honorary President of the institution – Stapylton has chief control of its finances.'
"'Ah!' remarked the coroner blandly.
"However, it was clearly no business of his at this moment to enter into the financial affairs of the Home. His duty at this point was to try and find out if Dr Stapylton and the man in evening dress were one and the same person.
"The men who found the body testified to the hour: a quarter past midnight. As Fiske had seen the unfortunate girl alive a little before twelve, she must have been murdered or had committed suicide between midnight and a quarter past. But there was something more to come.
"How strange and dramatic it all was!" continued the man in the corner, with a bland smile, altogether out of keeping with the poignancy of his narrative; "all these people in that crowded court trying to reconstruct the last chapter of that bright young matron's life and then – but I must not anticipate.
"One more witness was to be heard – one whom the police, with a totally unconscious sense of what is dramatic, had reserved for the last. This was Dr Earnshaw, one of the staff of the Convalescent Home. His evidence was very short, but of deeply momentous import. He explained that he had consulting rooms in Weymouth Street, but resided in Westbourne Square. On Sunday, 1st November, he had been dining out in Maida Vale, and returning home a little before midnight saw a woman standing close by the steps of the footbridge in the Blomfield Road.
"'I had been coming down Formosa Street and had not specially taken notice of her, when just as I reached the corner of Blomfield Road, she was joined by a man in evening dress and high hat. Then I crossed the road, and recognized both Miss Elliott and –'
"The young doctor paused, almost as if hesitating before the enormity of what he was about to say, whilst the excitement in court became almost painful.
"'And –?' urged the coroner.
"'And Dr Stapylton,' said Dr Earnshaw at last, almost under his breath.
"'You are quite sure?' asked the coroner.
"'Absolutely positive. I spoke to them both, and they spoke to me.'
"'What did you say?'
"'Oh, the usual, "Hello, Staplyton!" to which he replied, "Hello!" I then said "Good night" to them both, and Miss Elliott also said "Good night." I saw her face more clearly then, and thought that she looked very tearful and unhappy, and Stapylton looked ill-tempered. I wondered why they had chosen that unhallowed spot for a midnight walk.'
"'And you say the hour was –?' asked the coroner.
"'Ten minutes to twelve. I looked at my watch as I crossed the footbridge, and had heard a quarter to twelve strike five minutes before.'
"Then it was that the coroner adjourned the inquest. Dr Stapylton's attendance had become absolutely imperative. According to Dr Earnshaw's testimony, he had been with deceased certainly a quarter of an hour before she met her terrible death. Fiske had seen them together ten minutes later; she was then crying bitterly. There was as yet no actual charge against the fashionable and rich doctor, but already the ghostly bird of suspicion had touched him with its ugly wing."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Teahouse Detective"
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Table of Contents
I The Case of Miss Elliott, 7,
II The Hocussing of Cigarette, 27,
III The Tragedy in Dartmoor Terrace, 51,
IV Who Stole the Black Diamonds?, 71,
V The Murder of Miss Pebmarsh, 92,
VI The Lisson Grove Mystery, 114,
VII The Tremarn Case, 134,
VIII The Fate of the Artemis, 157,
IX The Disappearance of Count Collini, 175,
X The Ayrsham Mystery, 194,
XI The Affair at the Novelty Theatre, 214,
XII The Tragedy of Barnsdale Manor, 232,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Case of Miss Elliot: The Teahouse Detective is a collection of short stories as told by a journalist recalling her conversations with the “old man in the corner”. Each story relates a recent well-known crime and is solved, using intelligence and reasoning only, by an unnamed, and quite unusual gentleman who sits at a table in the corner of an A.B.C. (Aerated Bread Company) teashop. Each of the stories provide all of the elements you need to come up with a solution. It felt like individual puzzles that the reader is asked to solve along with the detective. That may not have been the original intent, but as a long time reader of mysteries, I loved it! The old man and his listener never leave the café and yet his description of the crime, it’s background, and solution are not passive. The action comes from descriptive prose. You can vividly see the characters, their emotions, and their actions. Being a fan of the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” I was surprised that I had never heard of this series of books. I enjoyed these stories immensely and look forward to reading more. Thank you to NetGalley and Pushkin Press for the advance reader copy made available for my review.
This set of twelve short stories by Baroness Orczy (1865 – 1947) were published in The Royal Magazine in 1904-5 and were first gathered into a book in 1905. Although this book was published before The Old Man in the Corner, the stories in the latter book appeared in magazine form before those in the Case of Miss Elliott. Given the early date, these stories pre-date what is generally accepted as the start of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in the 1920s. Once again, the stories are told by the eponymous “old man in the corner” of a London ABC tea-room to Polly Burton, a journalist. The old man constantly fiddles with a piece of string (hence the title of the third and final collection, published in 1926, Unravelled Knots). Although Polly claims to be aware of each case mentioned by the old man, she can’t remember the details and so the old man gives the full background; describes the parties and the baffling mystery involving them; before demonstrating that his explanation is the only one possible solution. I really enjoyed the stories. I find the atmosphere engendered to be very similar to that of the Sherlock Holmes stories. And, although the old man has exasperating mannerisms, I resemble Polly in wanting him to explain what happened. #TheCaseOfMissElliott #NetGalley
This collection of twelve short stories will give anyone a delightful few hours of reading. Orczy has created a group of stories that are sure to puzzle you. Whether it is a baffling disappearance, a fraud, a theft, or even a murder, we are invited to hear the case out and find the true solution. These stories have a unique twist. Instead of the detective scrambling around after clues and vigorously chasing criminals, this hero just sits, usually in a corner of an ABC shop and logically works his way around to the truth. Of course, he needs someone to show his brilliance to, and the narrator knows just the right tricks to make him let us in on his solution. The only thing I dislike about this whole series of stories is the lack of real resolution. Oh, we always learn the truth, but the perpetrators are always allowed to get away with it. After a few stories like that, I really want someone to receive some sort of justice. Other than that it is always fun to see if I can figure out the solution before ‘the old man’. I received this as a free ARC through NetGalley and Pushkin Press. No favorable review was required. It has been my pleasure to provide my honest opinions.
A collection of lovely and entertaining stories. They are well written and keeps you reading one after the other. Highly recommended! Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
I do enjoy these short stories by Baroness Orczy, this is another from the Old Man in the Corner stories, they are very intriguing and clever, I just wish they had a little more ending. I do like a cause and effect ending. Forgetting my foibles, I did enjoy them - the twist and plots where very clever especially considering they are short stories.
short-stories, anthology, mystery ***** Can you solve these "Minute Mysteries" without fingerprints, DNA, CCTV, or any other modern means using only the observations of a rather odd man and your own deductive reasoning? That's the challenge posed by each of the twelve examples included in this challenging little book written by the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel which is more intriguing than a Sunday Times crossword! Loved it! I requested and received a free ebook copy from Steerforth Press and Hanover Publisher Services via NetGalley. Thank you!