Monday, January 4, 2016

A Left-Handed Dying Clue and the Dog That Really Did Bark in the Nighttime

"The Mystery of Essex Stairs."
By Sir Gilbert Campbell (1838-99).
First appearance: Unknown.
Collected in New Detective Stories (1891).
Reprinted in Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992).
Short short story (9 pages).
Online HERE (PDF) and HERE (PDF).
Ellery Queen often evinced a fondness for the dying clue, typically letters or symbols or something smeared near the body in the victim's own blood which, when properly interpreted, would lead the brilliant sleuth to the culprit. Sir Gilbert Campbell, a contempo-rary of Conan Doyle, often evinced a fondness for the outré in his writings, as this story shows, with its historically early deployment of the dying clue and the unusual eyewitness who finally inculpates the murderer.

John Maynard, who "earned his living by exhibiting his trained dog, Scrub, at various music halls of inferior stamp," is in it deep when Dame Circumstance points her cadaverous finger at him after a man with whom he has had troubled business dealings is found dying, soon to be dead:
. . . 'Stop!' exclaimed the third man, as the constable was about to make a start; 'look here, the poor fellow has been trying to write something on the pavement in his blood.'
The light of the lantern showed the letters 'J.A.' roughly scrawled in the crimson fluid, then came something like an incomplete half circle, and after that a dash, as if the writer’s strength had failed.
'Is that meant for the name of the fellow that hurt you?' demanded one of the constables, bending over the wounded man, who made a movement of his hand, which might have been taken either for assent or negation, and then lapsed into a state of unconsciousness.  . . .
Being found not far from the crime scene with blood on the sleeve of his coat and a bellig-erent predisposition towards policemen in general, John Maynard makes the perfect fall guy—until help arrives from an unexpected direction:
. . . The prisoner, John Maynard, who was in a terribly depressed state of mind, would have been without legal assistance had not a young barrister, who had become interested in the case, volunteered his services. Arthur Medlecott had been called to the bar about three years; he was a quiet, studious young man, and though he had not as yet received many briefs, had won golden opinions in those cases in which he had been engaged.
Something seemed to tell him that there was some mystery in this affair, and the further he went into it the deeper interest he felt.  . . .
Before the trial is over, young Medlecott, in true Perry Mason fashion, will not only ingeniously exculpate his client but also put the bite on the real killer.
Resources:
- A couple of other tangentially related ONTOS articles can be found HERE and HERE; the ISFDb also has a listing for our author HERE.

The bottom line: The more one comes to know men, the more one comes to admire the dog.
— Unknown

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