Scanned by Aristotle



Hetty stood at the edge of Westminster Bridge and stared across the dark roadway at the man lounging rather awkwardly against the beautiful three-headed lamppost on the far side. A hansom cab passed between them? clattering northwards over the great span towards the Houses of Parliament on the far side, and the newly installed electric lights like a row of golden moons along the Victoria Embankment.

The man had made no move since she had come. It was after midnight. Such a well-dressed gentleman, with his silk hat and white evening scarf and the fresh flowers in his buttonhole, would hardly be lounging around here waiting for an acquaintance! He must be a likely customer. What else would he stand here for?

Hetty sauntered over to him, swishing her gold skirts elegantly and cocking her head a little to one side.

'Evenin' ducky! Lookin' fer a little comp'ny, are yer?' she asked invitingly.

The man made no move at all. He could have been asleep on his feet, for all the notice he took of her.

' 'Shy, are yer?'' she said helpfully-some gentlemen found 1

themselves tongue-tied when it came to the point, especially if it was not their habit. 'Don' need ter be,' she went on. 'Nothin' wrong in a spot o' friendship on a cold night. My name's 'Etty. Why don't yer come along wiv me. 'Ave a nice tot o' gin, an' get ter know each other, eh? Don' corst much!''

Still the man neither moved nor spoke.

' 'Ere! Wot's wrong wiv yer?' She peered at him, noticing for the first time that he was leaning back in rather a strained position, and that his hands were not in his pockets, as she would have expected at this time of a spring night in such chill, but were hanging by his sides. 'Are yer sick?' she said with concern.

He remained motionless.

He was older than he had looked from the far side of the road, probably into his fifties; silver-gray hair caught the lamplight, and his face had a blank, rather wild stare.

'You're soused as an 'erring!' she exclaimed with a mixture of pity and disgust. She understood drunkenness well enough, but one did not expect it from the gentry, not in so public a street. 'You better go 'ome, before the rozzers get yer. Go on! Yer can't spend all night 'ere!' No custom after all! Still, she had not done badly. The gentlemen on the Lambeth Walk had paid handsomely. 'Silly ol' fool!' she added under her breath to the figure against the lamppost.

Then she noticed that the white scarf was round not only his neck but round the wrought iron decorative fork of the lamppost as well. Dear God-he was tied up to it-by his neck! Then the hideous truth struck her: that glassy stare was not stupor, it was . . . death.

She let out a shriek that cut through the night air and the deserted road with its beautiful lamps and triple pools of light and shot up into the empty void of the sky above. She shrieked again, and again, as if now she had started she must continue on and on until there were some answer to the horror in front of her.

At the far side of the bridge dim figures turned; another 2

voice shouted and someone began to run, footsteps clattering hollowly towards her.

Hetty stepped back away from the lamppost and its burden and tripped over the curb, falling clumsily into the road. She lay stunned and angry for a moment. Then someone bent over her, and she felt her shoulders lifted.

'You all right, luv?' The voice was gruff but not ungentle, and she could smell damp wool close to her face.

Why had she been so stupid? She should have kept quiet and gone on her way, left some other fool to find the corpse! Now a little knot of people was gathering round her.

'Gawd!' someone squealed in sudden horror. ' 'E's dead! Dead as a mackerel, poor beggar!'

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