Part of: MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE WONDER
From: The Wonder
The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death."
If there had been any traces of a struggle, I had not noticed them when
I came to the edge of the pond. There may have been marks as if a foot
had slipped. I was not thinking of evidence when I looked into the
There were marks enough when the police came to investigate, but they
were the marks made by a twelve-stone man in hobnail boots, who had
scrambled into, and out of, the pond. As the inspector said, it was not
worth while wasting any time in looking for earlier traces of footsteps
below those marks.
Nor were there any signs of violence on the body. It was in no way
disfigured, save by the action of the water, in which it had lain for
perhaps eighteen hours.
There was, indeed, only one point of any significance from the jury's
point of view, and that they put on one side, if they considered it at
all; the body was pressed into the mud.
The Coroner asked a few questions about this fact.
Was the mud very soft? Yes, very soft, liquid on top.
How was the body lying? Face downwards.
What part of the body was deepest in the mud? The chest. The witness
said he had hard work to get the upper part of the body released; the
head was free, but the mud held the rest. "The mooad soocked like," was
the expressive phrase of the witness.
The Coroner passed on to other things. Had any one a spite against the
child? and such futilities. Only once more did he revert to that
solitary significant fact. "Would it be possible," he asked of the
abashed and self-conscious labourer, "would it be possible for the body
to have worked its way down into the soft mud as you have described it
to have been found?"
"We-el," said the witness, "'twas in the stacky mooad, 'twas through the
"But this soft mud would suck any solid body down, would it not?"
persisted the Coroner.
And the witness recalled the case of a duck that had been sucked into
the same soft pond mud the summer before, and cited the instance. He
forgot to add that on that occasion the mud had not been under water.
The Coroner accepted the instance. There can be no question that both he
and the jury were anxious to accept the easier explanation.
But I know perfectly well that the Wonder did not fall into the pond by
I should have known, even if that conclusive evidence with regard to his
being pushed into the mud had never come to light.
He may have stood by the ash-tree and looked into the water, but he
would never have fallen. He was too perfectly controlled; and, with all
his apparent abstraction, no one was ever more alive to the detail of
his surroundings. He and I have walked together perforce in many
slippery places, but I have never known him to fall or even begin to
lose his balance, whereas I have gone down many times.
Yes; I know that he was pushed into the pond, and I know that he was
held down in the mud, most probably by the aid of that ash stick I had
held. But it was not for me to throw suspicion on any one at that
inquest, and I preferred to keep my thoughts and my inferences to
myself. I should have done so, even if I had been in possession of
I hope that it was the Harrison idiot who was to blame. He was not
dangerous in the ordinary sense, but he might quite well have done the
thing in play--as he understood it. Only I cannot quite understand his
pushing the body down after it fell. That seems to argue
vindictiveness--and a logic which I can hardly attribute to the idiot.
Still, who can tell what went on in the distorted mind of that poor
creature? He is reported to have rescued the dead body of a rabbit from
the undergrowth on one occasion, and to have blubbered when he could not
bring it back to life.
There is but one other person who could have been implicated, and I
hesitate to name him in this place. Yet one remembers what terrific acts
of misapplied courage and ferocious brutality the fanatics of history
have been capable of performing when their creed and their authority
have been set at naught.
Ellen Mary never recovered her sanity. She died a few weeks ago in the
County Asylum. I hear that her husband attended the funeral. When she
lost her belief in the supernal wisdom and power of her god, her world
must have fallen about her. The thing she had imagined to be solid,
real, everlasting, had proved to be friable and destructible like all
other human building.
The Wonder is buried in Chilborough churchyard.
You may find the place by its proximity to the great marble mausoleum
erected over the remains of Sir Edward Bigg, the well-known brewer and
The grave of Victor Stott is marked by a small stone, some six inches
high, which is designed to catch the foot rather than the eye of the
The stone bears the initials "V. S.," and a date--no more.
I saw the Wonder before he was buried.
I went up into the little bedroom and looked at him in his tiny coffin.
I was no longer afraid of him. His power over me was dissipated. He was
no greater and no less than any other dead thing.
It was the same with every one. He had become that "poor little boy of
Mrs. Stott's." No one spoke of him with respect now. No one seemed to
remember that he had been in any way different from other "poor little
fellows" who had died an untimely death.
One thing did strike me as curious. The idiot, the one person who had
never feared him living, had feared him horribly when he was dead....
Next: The Uses Of Mystery