Cover image for Dr. Mortimer and the barking man mystery
Title:
Dr. Mortimer and the barking man mystery
Author:
Williams, Gerard.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2001.
Physical Description:
270 pages ; 23 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780786708598
Format :
Book

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Kenmore Library FICTION Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
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Summary

Summary

Featuring Dr. James Mortimer, who originally appeared in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, and his partner, Dr. Violet Branscombe, this new Victorian mystery novel, set in 1891 London, puts Mortimer on the case of the murder of an incognito Russian politico in Soho.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Of all the cases which have come my way, that of the Barking Man has been the most sensational and the widest and most tragic in its ramifications.     The discovery of the dreadfully mutilated corpse of General Pyotr Ivanovitch Ostyankin in the squalid brothel in Poland Street, Soho, in that late autumn of 1890, has of course its historical reverberations to this day, nearly half a century later, and, bearing this in mind, the reader of the year 2000 and beyond will well understand my injunction, touched upon in another account, that these records of my criminal cases be withheld from publication till not less than sixty years have elapsed.     I wish I could allude to my part in this case as the Roman poet did concerning his contribution to the Tender Art: 'I have served in the field, and not without glory.' In this instance, alas, I left the field with dubious and ambiguous honours, as the reader of these pages will learn. I hope, however, that this relation of the case will serve to cast light on one of the lesser hitherto unsolved riddles of our Imperial history, as well as to expiate some of the guilt I have felt ever since about my part in its solution.     For the first time, too, I shall be revealing the identity of the true culprit, now, as I write in this uneasy August of 1939, long since dead, and, so far as I am aware, leaving neither kith nor kin. Any scruples I may first have felt at my concealment of that person's identity were to a great extent washed away by the promptness of the police -- their alacrity encouraged, I am sure, by higher powers -- in closing their book on the affair. At least I knew then that no innocent person could subsequently be arrested for the murder.     I am now in my eightieth year, and it is with the prospect that I shall soon be in the presence of a Judge before Whom no secrets may be hid, and with a penitent's heart, that I lay these facts before the reader.     The main facts of the case are now history, and no more than a cursory resumption of them will surely suffice to enable the reader to follow the ensuing narrative: how the discovery of the body of the 'Butcher of Kozodieffka' in the circumstances I have mentioned above upset a veritable hornets' nest in London diplomatic circles, sparking off a paper-chase of telegraphed protests, demands and ultimatums, and how, in the manner of a sacrificial victim, the tarnished young social revolutionary and East End slum denizen Solomon Solomons was arrested and put on trial for the murder of the Russian potentate.     If ever a man was accused, tried and found guilty before his case even came to court, it was the wretched Solomons! Some wag has dubbed the press the 'Third Estate', but in no other case that I know of has the vicious licence of the penny papers had such free rein as in the Barking Man mystery. The jury were of course properly cautioned at the outset that they must discount all that they had read in the press about the case, but for them to be expected to weigh up the evidence oblivious to the then-public knowledge that Solomons was a proscribed immigrant with a long criminal record and a string of aliases in his native Ruthenia, that his mother and eleven-year-old sister had been brutally massacred in a pogrom inspired and directed by the present victim, and that he had already been implicated in an anarchist attempt on the general's life in Odessa in 1884 was to add ears to the legal ass!     Those who are familiar with my account of the Aldgate Mystery of the same year -- 1890 -- will know that I am the James Mortimer who left his stick behind in the rooms of Sherlock Holmes at 221B, Baker Street in the fateful year of 1889. The celebrated affair that ensued, however -- the Baskerville Case - has already been more than ably chronicled by my good friend, John Watson, MD, to whom I also owe what acquaintance the reading public already has with me.     Watson's chronicles also confirm that at the time of the events I am about to relate, Holmes was engaged by the French government in matters of the highest import. I was in a position to know that Watson was equally engrossed in winding up one of the three unchronicled cases that had occupied the pair during the winter of 1890; namely, the awful affair of the Extra Cellar in Portland Place. How keenly I was to miss those trusty friends in the trying days that were to come!     With my partner in medical practice and wife of some six months, Dr Violet Branscombe, I was engaged in running the Whitechapel People's Dispensary, the little socio-medical outpost which a steady accumulation of contributory funding would later expand into the Bryant Foundation. When the events I am about to relate burst on us, we had been absent from England for some ten weeks, I having put my foot down in the November of 1890, when Violet, having assumed that summer the dual mantles of directrix of the Whitechapel Dispensary and clerk-of-works of the embryonic Bryant Foundation institute across the court from it, had very nearly driven herself into a complete breakdown. In what had amounted to a domestic coup d'état , I had prescribed a winter cruising on the Nile, so that when we arrived home refreshed at the end of the second week of February, '91, the chill grey streets of the East End formed a piquant contrast to our still-fresh impressions of blue skies, whispering reeds and stalking ibises.     The People's Dispensary had been Violet's conception, and among the women who brought their troubles to her there, those of the streets formed a large proportion. It was one of that category who confronted us, when, on that cold, grey Sunday morning, Violet called me in from the adjoining pharmacy to hear the woman's plea. She was a strapping blonde girl in a rather shiny pelisse a size too small for her and a hat with a crestfallen feather, but what set Iris Starr apart from all the other unfortunate women who had passed through our little outpost was the size of the debt we both owed her -- Violet for her life and I consequently for most of what happiness had been allotted to me on earth.     Briefly -- I do not care to recall the incident too frequently or in too much detail -- Violet had, late one morning at the end of the previous September, had occasion to visit a hovel of a room in Union Street, in order to rescue a sick and ill-used child from the hands of a drunken termagant of a mother. My wife had found the woman in bed, apparently dead drunk, and, quietly disengaging the child from the folds of the filthy coverlet, had wrapped her, unresisting, in a clean blanket, before discreetly carrying the child out of the room and downstairs. Violet had hardly crossed the threshold of the street-door, however, when the mother, with a screaming swoop, had knocked off her hat from behind, and seized her long hair in her fist. Meanwhile, the commotion had drawn a crowd of idlers round the door, most of whom would have been more than content to watch a good 'mill', especially one between such a tartar and a lady.     Violet stubbornly held on to the now-screaming child, while the woman tugged at her hair, pulling her head back so that her neck was fully exposed. To the horror now of the onlookers, the drunken woman with her free hand was seen to raise a flashing object above Violet's naked throat. A gasp went up from the crowd, then a woman stepped up smartly behind the maddened hag, and, seizing her bare raised arm in both her hands, leant forward and sank her teeth into the flesh. The termagant screamed, and the object she had been wielding fell to the ground. It was an open razor.     Characteristically, Violet had refused to press charges, seeking to play down the incident as a mere gesture on the desperate mother's part, but neither she nor I had any doubt as to how much we owed to Iris Starr's prompt and disinterested action. Bearing this in mind, the reader will readily understand my motivation in pursuing the case which was to unfold, in spite of the non-cooperation -- nay, obstruction -- of the object of my assistance, with all the strength and ingenuity at my command. Some debts can never be fully repaid.     At that Sunday meeting, Iris's broad face was smeared with a mess of tears and rouge, and she held up her clenched fists before her. I slipped across the room and leant against the windowsill.     'Iris is the sweetheart of the unfortunate Solomons, James,' my wife murmured with husky concern, as with a soothing gesture she reached out to our visitor.     We had read something of the case in a rather elderly edition of The Times while we had been staying in Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo over the previous Christmas, but then the immemorial enchantment of the Nile had taken us in its grip again, and we had given ourselves over to the gentler rhythms of the honeymoon we had never really had in that busy August in London. I resolved to get up the facts of the case directly.     "E never did the Soho murder, doctor!' Iris was wailing. 'As Gawd is me witness! Never! Just 'cos 'e's a foreigner, an' 'e 'angs abaht wiv the crowd in the Warsaw ...'     The Warsaw Café in Osborn Street, Whitechapel, was the haunt where flotsam stirred by the social and political tides of Eastern Europe snagged in a sort of British eddy on its way across the Atlantic. There bearded savant rubbed shoulders with yellow-booted pimp, and over adjoining tables the blueprints for new heavens and new earths, drawn up with the help of the social templates of Marx and Bakunin, would be discussed, in competition with muttered schemes for burglaries and abductions. One got a first-rate game of chess there, too.     Violet took off her pince-nez, and, plucking out the snowy cambric handkerchief from the cuff of her mutton chop sleeve, began with her stubby, capable white fingers to clean the lenses. Her grey eyes were downcast for a while under their tow-coloured lashes, then she spoke in her warm, deep voice.     'But how came Solomons to be in Soho on the night of the murder, Iris? It is a long way from Whitechapel, after all.'     'Put up job, ma'am!' the magdalen exclaimed. 'Somebody 'ticed 'im up there, I'm sure. The busies must've known 'e'd been in that lay to do in the Rooshian general in '84, and they just set 'im up on the strength of it -- for want o' somebody better. Trust 'em to pick on a foreigner!'     'But have you no more to go on than that, Iris?' my wife went on. 'If he is to be helped, there must be more than that. Without proper evidence ...'     The reddened eyes turned as big as saucers as Iris shook her fists impatiently.     'But that's just it, ma'am!' she burst out. 'There is evidence of it: the 'ole East End knows about it, but not a word in the bloody papers -- beggin' yer pardon, ma'am!'     Violet clipped on her pince-nez again, and searched the bedraggled woman's eyes.     'Please go on, my dear -- the evidence ...'     'The murder was supposed to 'appen on the Thursday midnight ...'     'Thursday the what, Iris?' I asked from my perch at the windowsill. 'Please remember we have been away.'     'Sorry, doctor, I forgot. Thursday the 27th of last November. In all the papers. They took Monia -- that's short for Solomon, ma'am -- oh, my Monia!'     The absurd feather bobbed pathetically as Iris Starr covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Violet reached over the desk and patted her hand.     'Now bear up, Iris, do,' my wife urged gently. 'They took him where, and when?'     'That afternoon -- the Friday, ma'am. 'E come in in the small hours. Wouldn't say where 'e'd been -- not that that was anyfink flesh -- an' slep' till dinnertime, then 'e went aht, an' I didn't see 'im again. They took 'im just after four ahtside the Scotch baker's in Dorset Street.'     'And what was this evidence you were going to tell us about?' Violet went on.     "E couldn't 'ave done it, ma'am -- 'e just couldn't -- because 'e couldn't 'ave got there in time. I was, well, walkin' down Osborn Street that Thursday night -- near the Warsaw -- Brummie Ida was wiv me at one time, an' she'll tell yer I was there -- an' I saw Monia come aht of the Warsaw wiv a bloke called Klaff -- I don't know 'is first name ...'     'What time would this have been on the Thursday night, Iris?' I put in.     'Ooh, 'alf-eleven, maybe a bit later, and orff they both goes dahn the street to Klaff's place -- just a few doors dahn from the Warsaw -- but they came aht again direckly ...'     'And was Brummie Ida with you all this time?' Violet asked.     'Yes, ma'am, an' she walked up and dahn wiv me till after midnight, then since nothin' was 'appenin' and a perishin' wind 'ad got up, she said, well, sod this for a lark -- beg pardon, ma'am! -- and went off.'     'Did you follow Klaff and Solomons, then?' I asked.     'Well, doctor, I was on the point of doin' it, but 'e fair goes orff the deep end if 'e gets the idea anyone's spyin' on 'im or follerin' 'im, so in the end I didn't bother.'     'Which direction did they go in?' Violet asked.     'Dahn towards the Whitechapel Road, then I lorst 'em.'     'Do you recall anyone else who might have seen Solomons coming out of Klaff's place?' Violet asked.     'No, ma'am, I've been rackin' me brain ever since, but as I said, it was fair perishin' in that wind, and the streets was deserted -- anyone with any sense would've been indoors. I've asked arahnd there since, but either there wasn't nobody, or they're all keepin' shtum -- but know 'ow it is rahnd 'ere.'     'But surely there must have been at least one police-patrol round there?' I said. 'Especially at that hour, when the pubs were starting to empty.'     Iris's round, bold face creased, and she gave a hoot of bitter laughter.     'No fear, doctor! On a perisher like that, they'd be 'avin' a tot of rum in some pub-guv'nor's back parlour, or like as not they'd be cuddled up in a doorway wiv one of us gels -- you don't fink they let us 'ave the run o' the streets for nothin', do yer?'     Violet frowned, and stretched her clasped hands out on the desk-top.     'So you were the only one to see Solomons and Klaff come out of Klaff's lodgings, Iris?'     'I know what yer might be thinkin', ma'am, but I swear before Gawd I'm tellin' the truth. No power on earth could've got Monia from Osborn Street to Soho in the time they're sayin' 'e was there.'     'But he'd have had time,' I objected, 'especially by train, to get to Soho, if he or both of them changed direction after you'd lost sight of them. Eleven thirty or so from Whitechapel -- that would leave them ...'     'But that's just it, doctor -- I saw Monia on 'is own, comin' back up Wentworth Street towards Liverpool Street station -- cool as a cucumber -- at 'alf-past one.'     'And nobody was with you on that occasion, either?' I asked.     'No, doctor -worse luck!'     'It all turns round what Solomons was up to between your two sightings, Iris,' Violet remarked, 'and this Klaff will have to be got into the witness box ...'     'Doesn't look as if that 'un will run, ma'am ...'     'Why? What do you mean?'     'Klaff's disappeared -- 'ooked it, by the look of it.'     'How, Iris?' Violet demanded huskily, the lenses of her pincenez glinting.     'Well, ma' am, as soon as I fahn aht Monia 'ad been took, I went rahnd to Leman Street -- though I must say, it went against the grain -- and told the coppers what I've just told you -- that'd 'ave been abaht seven on the Friday evenin' -- an' they took me rahnd straight away to Osborn Street in a Black Maria. But when they asked Klaff's landlady where 'e was, she said that after 'e'd 'ad 'is dinner that day 'e'd up and paid 'er 'is back rent in gold -- three quid it amahnted to -- asked for 'is gear, which she'd been 'oldin' back against 'is rent, shoved 'is stuff in a seaman's bag, an' lit aht. Didn't tell 'er where 'e was goin' -- not so much as kiss yer ar -- 'and ma'am -- and the coppers ain't been able ter trace 'im since -- or that's their story...'     I exchanged glances with Violet, glances which in a trice encompassed a world of meaning. Our shared look asked the question whether we were ready, scarcely hours after our arrival back from what had been meant as a voyage of recuperation, to plunge into an affair charged with ominous implications, and this quite apart from the numerous responsibilities, left behind for weeks, of the work now to be resumed on the new sociomedical institute. Not to mention the everyday running of the People's Dispensary, our immediate responsibility that morning. However, in the face of the debt we owed poor Iris, there could be but one course of action open to us. Fortunately, it was a Sunday, so that after we had seen off the last patient after midday we should have the rest of the day to ourselves. We would have to talk. For the time being, Violet kept to the business in hand.     'When does Solomons' case come up, Iris?' she asked our visitor.     'Tomorrer, ma'am. Yer'll 'elp, then? Oh, say yer'll 'elp ...'     'Of course, Iris,' my wife answered simply for both of us.     'Thank Gawd, ma'am! I should've known yer'd 'elp, after the way yer stood by Rosie Bartlett last year -- goin' ter quod for 'er, an' all! An' you too, Dr Mortimer -- yer a sport!'     Iris then said some rather extravagant things about my part in the Aldgate case the year before, which I need not go into here, but her compliments by no means relieved me of the weight of the realisation of what we might be taking on.     'Who will be representing Solomons?' Violet asked in her practical way. 'He must have legal assistance.'     'Oh, that's all taken care of ma'am -- Mr Zeinvel from Crutched Friars.'     I reflected that that at least was a point in Solomons' favour, for David Zeinvel, whom I had got to know during the course of the Aldgate affair, was as clever as a box of monkeys, and in spite of his reputation among the police fraternity as a criminals' friend, I knew that he respected facts and evidence with the same scrupulousness as a dandy bestows on his clothes. I wondered, though, who would be footing Solomons' legal bill, for Zeinvel had not reached such a height in his profession as to be able to take on cases gratis. But for the moment there were more pressing matters to be considered.     'An excellent choice!' Violet echoed my thoughts. 'A most astute lawyer, and a fine man! But do you recall the name of this man Klaff's landlady, Iris? The man you say you saw Solomons with on the night of the murder?'     'Yes, ma'am -- Mrs Snell -- she's a real tartar! Her place is above Axelband's the piecework tailor's. You'll know it.'     Violet smiled and nodded, then got up and went round the desk to our visitor. She placed a comforting arm round Iris's shoulders, and pressed something into her hand as she led her to the door.     'Now you are not to take on so, Iris. It is all out of your hands now, and I suggest that, until you are called ...'     '"Called", ma'am?'     'Yes, to stand witness at the trial: you have received a summons?'     'No, ma'am, Mr Zeinvel said that since the other lot ain't goin' ter call me, it'd do more 'arm than good to put me in the box. Looks as if they'd got their 'eads together. I suppose it's for the best, though.'     I had feared something of the sort, for witnesses of poor Iris's kind are generally seen by our learned friends as fit for nothing but bamboozling and bullyragging, their testimony being invariably deemed to be no better than it ought to be. On hearing this, Violet resumed her seat behind the desk, and scribbled briefly on a piece of paper, after which she got up again and rejoined Iris at the door.     'Very well, then, Iris,' she said, folding the note and pressing it in our visitor's hand. 'I suggest you go and stay at the place I've written on the note, while the trial is going on. I don't think you should be walking the streets till it's over.'     'Oh, no, ma'am! I can't just sit an' twiddle me thumbs while Monia's goin' through it ...'     'From now on, Iris,' I said, 'we shall be your eyes and ears, and besides, there may well be people -- powerful people -- who might want to keep you quiet. I really think you should take Dr Branscombe's advice.'     The street-girl paused on the threshold, and looked intently at Violet.     'I shall be keeping you informed, Iris,' she said. 'Never fear.'     'Righto, ma'am, seein' as yer both on the case: I can see Monia's as good as aht already! I suppose this place you've written dahn's all Sir Garnett?'     'All Sir Garnett!' Violet remarked with a chuckle. 'All in order. It is a place in Hackney where girls can go who are, well, up against it. It is run by a clergyman friend of ours, but don't worry about your having to sing psalms or wash with carbolic soap, as he's a sport!'     'All right, then, ma'am -- whatever you say.'     I stepped forward and slipped a couple of half-crowns into the young woman's hand.     'For the cab, Iris,' I said.     'Gawd bless yer, doctor, and you, ma'am.'     My wife smiled, then shot me a glance, and I escorted Iris Starr, still full of thanks, downstairs and out into the nearest disengaged cab, in which she would be conveyed to the Hackney women's refuge, where she would find succour under the roof of the Reverend Hilary Venables.     When I got back to the dispensary, I found that Violet had sent off the lad with the medicines, and was standing at the door in her outdoor things. She looked purposeful and determined, and I knew that, once she had assumed that expression, nothing would deter her from her object.     'They are not even going to listen to her testimony, James, but Iris shall have a voice, and we shall articulate it! I trust friend Zeinvel will be at his usual lunchtime table in Cohen's Restaurant, and I propose that we combine a little nourishment there with a confidential consultation with him.'     After we had locked up the dispensary, I escorted my wife to the restaurant in Fieldgate Street, where her surmise turned out to be an accurate one, for at the usual table in the back of the room, we espied our legal friend's lacquered black head stooped over a plate of soup. As if sensing our notice, Zeinvel looked up quickly, his sharp, birdlike features framed in a sort of still alertness. Recognition quickly dawned in the dark, slightly almond-shaped eyes, and, dropping his spoon into his plate, he rose to his feet, and we strode up smiling before he could leave his seat.     'Dr Mortimer!' he exclaimed, wringing our hands in turn. 'And Dr Branscombe! I haven't seen you since the wedding -- how are things with you?'     We sat down opposite Zeinvel, and, after ordering our luncheon, gave an account of ourselves. On hearing of Iris Starr's testimony, Zeinvel's face took on the impassivity of a carved mask.     'I won't disguise the fact that Solomons is up against it,' he murmured. 'There's a lot against him -- or seems to be and he has powerful interests against him -- very powerful interests. As to this man Klaff Iris Starr refers to -- his name's Semyon Klaff, by the by -- I've already spoken to the landlady, but ...' Zeinvel gave an eloquent shrug. 'You could go and see her, I suppose,' he conceded. 'You may spot something I've missed.'     The lawyer's words acted on me like a cold douche.     'Is it so hopeless, then?' I muttered.     'Hopeless -- no. I, er ... have my contacts ...' The aquiline face lit up with a sudden cheeky cockney grin, and my spirits rose again. 'And besides, my dear doctors, I now have you on my side!'     'What can we do?' Violet asked with husky urgency.     'Well, for one thing,' Zeinvel said, tackling a choice morsel of gefilte fish, 'one of you might be devilling for me at the Old Bailey tomorrow.'     I remembered that at that time, once a barrister had been briefed to take a case, the managing solicitor was not required to set foot in court. Violet was just about to speak when I silenced her with the sternest glare I could muster -- she would not drive herself to a breakdown if I could help it -- and leapt into the breach.     'I shall be that, er ... devil, Zeinvel.'     'Capital, doctor! I was going to send along my clerk, Leonard. He's a good lad, but only a lad, after all.'     'What am I to do there, Zeinvel -- what specifically ...'     'The thing -- if I may say so -- you are best at, doctor -- observe. I don't want a shorthand transcript of the proceedings -- I can get that anyway -- I want intelligent observations as to how those involved behave, how they react to the evidence, and so on.'     'I am your man, then, Zeinvel.'     'Excellent! Case comes up at ten thirty tomorrow in the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey. Be sure you get there good and yearly or you'll have to stand in the corridor -- it'll be one of the cases of the century! And it goes without saying that I shall always be happy to hear any new, er ... lines you may have on the business in the meantime.'     Zeinvel suddenly laid his knife and fork methodically at either edge of the plate, and with a glance at the wall-clock, jerked to his feet, and with a quick nod and smile to each of us, shot off his parting remark as he left.     'Justice is no respecter of Sundays -- I must be off. I bid you both good afternoon, and hope to hear from you, Dr Mortimer.'     Violet reached over the table and squeezed my hand.     'We must seize time by the forelock, James!'     Luncheon over, we repaired to the lodgings of Klaff the disappearing witness, but first we enquired at Axelband's, the tailoring workshop which occupied the ground floor of the building, Mrs Snell's establishment being on the top floor. I knew that such concerns as Axelband's could be kept occupied throughout the night, especially at busy periods, with piecework being delivered to pressers, and pressed garments in turn being delivered to retail tailors in time for the buttons to be sewn on for customers' orders, sometimes as far away as the West End. Could such a delivery-man have seen Solomons and Klaff on the night of the murder?     It seemed not, for Axelband, who was clearly none too pleased to be questioned yet again on the matter, insisted that he had closed his workshop, and sent home all his workers by eight thirty on the evening in question. And as for himself, he had long been in bed and asleep by the time the events we were investigating had taken place. He closed his grudging observations with the remark -- not without a meaningful glance at each of us in turn -- that those who had done a hard day's work slept soundly at nights.     We next tackled the rickety bare stair-treads to Mrs Snell's set of rooms up in the gods. A stout, red-faced matron in an apron, and with her grey hair in a bun on the top of her head, answered my knock, then stared at us truculently in silence. I explained our business, and she thrust her big jaw nearer mine before speaking.     'No, for the 'undredth time, I don't know where Mr Klaff is, and I don't care, neither, as long as 'e don't try to drop 'is 'ook 'ere again, which ain't likely, seein' as every flatfoot from 'ere to Timbuctoo's lookin' for 'im. Good riddance to bad rubbish, say I. Three months 'e kept 'is rent back from me, me who 'as to pay rent meself an' ain't got no other means o' support. Now if yer don't mind ...'     'We appreciate the value of your time, Mrs Snell,' Violet said in her most diplomatic tone, at the same time slipping half a crown into the woman's hand, 'and we would not dream of trying to steal it ...'     'Obliged, I'm sure,' the landlady said, with raised eyebrows. 'What else did yer want ter know?'     'Klaff paid off his rent arrears in gold, we understand?' I queried.     'Yerss -- three sovereigns. Good 'uns, too -- and the coppers took 'em away. Gave me a bleedin' receipt for 'em -- what's the use o' that? I need the money now, not after the bleedin' trial -- be sure I'll 'ave it back, too: I know me rights!'     'What did Klaff do for a living, Mrs Snell?' Violet asked.     'Supposed ter be a seaman, but the only ship I knew 'im ter serve on was the SS Ear'ole! 'Ung round the Warsaw for much o' the time. Didn't keep reg'lar hours -- in and out all times o' the day or night. No use askin' 'im questions, neither -- 'e'd just jabber back at yer in 'is own lingo -- "me no savvy" style.'     'Did he have many visitors?' Violet asked.     "Ere? No, never. None that I noticed, any road.'     'And you've no notion how he came by his sovereigns?' I asked.     'I've no idea: all I care abaht is that 'e owed three of 'em ter me, an' I'm 'avin' 'em back!'     'What was Klaff like, Mrs Snell?' Violet asked.     The landlady sniffed, and turned down her mouth like a drawn bow.     'Funny little feller -- dirty sort o' cove -- full o' foreign ways. I've seen the coatmakers' nippers in Spitalfields foller 'im in the street, 'ollerin' "Our better friend! Our better friend!" in their funny English, though it's a wonder they know any English at all, cooped up nearly all day in them sweatin'-shops, an' all ...'     We left Mrs Snell to her grievances, and made our way down into the street again, where I turned to Violet.     'What an odd thing for children to shout after a man,' I remarked. '"Our better friend ..."'

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