Walter Hartright’s narrative
Not until the following day, when Marian was gone to do the marketing, did I slip into Camlet’s study. I had searched the room last month, but my mind and eye then had been fixed on the red sketchbook, and I had passed over everything else. Now I closed the door and raised the shade to let in the morning light. If Marian had urged Camlet to murder Margaret, the proof must be here.
Limmeridge is full of spaces dedicated to male pursuits. Mr. Frederick Fairlie alone had had an entire wing devoted to drawers of collections and cases for his precious things. Sandett House, a town dwelling, was much more modest, but also had its masculine rooms. The study was paneled below and papered above in a rather old-fashioned deep green, and there was a handsome Turkey carpet. Wooden shelves groaned under Camlet’s books. But there was not much in the way of papers. Perhaps most of his correspondence was at Covenant. I wondered if it would be necessary, or even possible, to search there as well.
I concentrated my efforts on the massive cherrywood desk beneath the window. The blotter had fresh paper, the inkstand was full, and everything was dusted and tidy, a tribute to Ellen’s attentions. Camlet was not like Margaret. His pens and pencils were neatly organized in trays in the drawer, and the cubbyholes of the desk were tidily sorted with household bills and documents. A large ledger looked significant, closely written in his even copperplate hand, but was merely a record of plants and propagation statistics, divided between the outdoors and the greenhouse. Another notebook neatly recorded books read, with the date and subject. It was sad to see the long gaps in this journal in the past year.
The largest bottom drawer seemed heavy and full. I hauled it open. A large tin canister filled it almost completely. Any label or markings were hidden on the sides. Thoughts of opium, or gold, some dangerous or rare substance that would unmask Camlet for the villain he really was, immediately filled my imagination. The tin was too heavy to hoist out, but with some trouble I pried the lid off to inspect the contents.
Then I had to laugh at myself. Birdseed! It was filled to the top with the best-quality birdseed. A practical fellow, Camlet evidently bought in quantity. I took an envelope from a cubbyhole and poured a handful in. Had Camlet not spoken of a windowsill in his tiny cell? Perhaps it would divert him, to work his taming magic there.
I arrived at Newgate the following morning full of good resolutions. Camlet was harmless and unjustly accused, and I would give over trying to prove otherwise. The task of finding the true culprit was far more important, and I had lost sight of it in endless wanderings among motive. Perhaps I was no genius of criminal detection, as Marian insisted. I was not C. Auguste Dupin. I was merely a bloodhound. With a clue, a clear culprit pointed out to me, I could track the villain to his lair. But to find an unknown perpetrator was impossible; I hared off after every scent without discrimination, dizzied with too many possibilities and driving myself into confusion.
I passed the looming gallows, through the grim gate and across the gloomy courtyard, guarded with iron railings topped with downward-curving spikes, to the visitors’ door. The warder there knew me for a generous and frequent caller, and greeted me by name. “Mr. Hartright, how d’ye do? A hot morning we have of it.”
“Indeed, they say the thermometer will reach a hundred degrees.” From my pocket I produced the customary coins.
“’Twould be taking your money, sir,” the warder said. “He ain’t home to visitors today.”
“Theophilus Camlet is not in? How can that be?”
“Jail fever,” the warder said with placid cheer. “He was took sick on Sunday, and yesterday they took him to the infirmary.” He nodded at the infirmary building across the courtyard, and crooked a hand at his side for a tip.
“Great God!” I passed over a coin and then hurried over to the infirmary. With some searching about I found Camlet at last, in an open ward crowded with a dozen other sufferers. It was a gloomy, bare space, the windows uncurtained and the floor bare boards, but at least it was clean. He lay on the iron bedstead in the furthest corner, near the single window. A hot breeze blew in from outdoors, laden with a sewage stench. His thin mattress must be better than the plank beds in the cells, but he was insensible, covered with nothing but a coarse sheet. Hair and beard were over-long, untrimmed and tangled, but between them his face was gray. When I put my hand on his forehead I could feel the fever. The single doctor in attendance was beset with other cares, subduing a prisoner raving in another ward. There was nothing else here, not so much as a glass of water or a rag.