The red widow; or, the d.., p.10
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       The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.10

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  "Let's pull up here; it's so delightfully shady."

  Marigold Ramsay, who spoke, lay back among the crimson cushions of thepunt, with her eyes fixed upon the sky.

  She loved the river. That Sunday afternoon was perfect, and she wasenjoying the day on the river after a week's hard work in the bank.

  Gerald, who was an expert with the punt-pole, was taking her up thatpretty reach of the Thames which winds between Shepperton and Walton,with the long rows of poplars fringing the river bank.

  They had lunched at the little riverside inn at Halliford, and were nowmaking their way slowly up-stream. Gerald, in flannels, with coat offand sleeves upturned, placing his pole and withdrawing it without anyapparent effort.

  Since that adventurous night at Bridge Place they had become even closerfriends. No day passed but they met. The previous two Sundays Durranthad spent with her, the first at Dorking, where they had wandered overLeith Hill and along the Surrey lanes, and the next Sunday at Brighton.This, the third Sunday, they had decided to spend together on theThames.

  As they were passing beneath a long row of trees which overhung thewater, the girl, who was in white, raised herself from her couch ofcushions and suggested that they should tie up the punt there.

  "Certainly," he replied, and a few moments later he had secured the puntto a tree root, and, sitting down to rest, he lit his pipe.

  "Do you know, Gerald, I've been thinking again about Mr. Boyne," shesaid. "I can't get the man out of my mind."

  "Well, to tell the truth, Marigold, neither can I," replied the youngman. "Ever since that night at Hammersmith I've been trying in vain tosolve the mystery."

  "About the person concealed upstairs," remarked the blue-eyed girlreflectively. "Yes, it's most curious."

  "It's more than curious," her companion declared. "Though I haven'tmentioned it to you, I've watched the house for several nights, but Imust admit that I've seen nothing at all suspicious."

  "Oh! Then you've been on the watch!" she cried excitedly.

  "Yes, on four occasions, and all to no purpose. Last Friday I waitedfrom nine o'clock till one in the morning, and got wet through. Hereturned about ten, but did not come out again."

  "He was upstairs with his secret friend, I suppose," said the girl.

  "No doubt. Whoever may be confined there could not exist without seeinga human face and conversing with him, even for five minutes each day, orhe would certainly go mad," said Gerald. "You remember I said thatItalians, who have abolished capital punishment for murder, havesubstituted solitary confinement. It is far more terrible. Theyconfine the assassin in a cell in silence, without sight of a humanface. Their food is placed upon a turntable which revolves into thecell, so that the prisoner never sees a face. Such torture was inventedlong ago in the Bastille, and in every case it drives the guilty oneraving mad within five years."

  "How horrible!" cried the girl.

  "I admit it is, but surely the punishment is far greater than that ofhanging, or even the guillotine. Both are instantaneous, yet in Italythe criminal suffers all the tortures of Dante's Inferno--and deservedlyso."

  "Then you saw nothing?" asked Marigold.

  "I fancied a lot, but I saw really nothing to increase my suspicions.One thing we know--that he is concealing some person in that lockedroom. Now who can the person be?"

  "It may be some relative who has done something very wrong and is afraidof the police," suggested the girl.

  "Agreed. It may be. But we have discussed the matter so many timesthat I think we should not talk further--but act," he said. "We haveproved beyond doubt that Bernard Boyne is a man of mystery. Your deafaunt, a most worthy woman, acts as his housekeeper. Why does he retainher? Merely because she is stone-deaf. Why does he want a deaf woman towait upon him? Because there are sometimes noises in the house whichwould arouse the curiosity of any who chanced to overhear them."

  "We must discover the identity of the person concealed," remarked thegirl with the big blue eyes, as she lay back lazily among the cushions.

  "We must. At all costs I intend to solve this mystery. Marigold," hesaid, removing his pipe from his lips and looking straight into hereyes, "my own belief is that you have discovered some very strange andstartling drama of our complex London life--one which, wheninvestigated, will prove to be astounding."

  "Do you really think so?" asked the girl, looking into his handsomeface.

  "Yes--I do. Up to the present all our efforts have been in vain," hesaid. "Only one fact has been established, and that is that there is aprisoner--whether voluntary or not we cannot tell--in thatcreeper-covered house. We both saw Boyne creep up with food to him,while I saw his light beneath the door. Somebody is living up there insecret. Is it a man, or is it a woman? His eagerness makes me thinkthat it is a woman. Who is it?"

  "Somebody he is shielding--somebody who has committed some seriouscrime, who fears to show his or her face lest it be recognised by agentsof Scotland Yard."

  "Really, Marigold, you are very acute," he exclaimed. "We have had somany murder mysteries since the war, and in all of them the policeconfess their utter confusion, that the present situation fills me withgreat apprehension."

  "I know," she said. "But why not let us begin again? Let us watch thehouse. I'll watch one night, and you watch the next. Surely we can bythat means discover the truth. If the place is watched every night,this man Boyne must, in the end, be defeated."

  "But I thought you liked Boyne?"

  "Yes; he has been always very good to me. Remember that he is the ownerof the place, and my aunt is his housekeeper," replied the girl.

  "I quite appreciate your point," said Durrant. "But if we are to fullydelve into the affair we must not be influenced by the fellow's openheart. The greatest criminals of the world have always been those whohave been popular on account of their bonhomie and generosity."

  The girl sat silent, her eyes fixed upon the rushes slowly waving in thestream. A motor-launch passed them, making a high wash against thebank, but she took no heed. She was still thinking of that strangeoccupant of the house in Bridge Place.

  Three times during the past week she had, indeed, visited her aunt in anendeavour to discover something more. Boyne had been out, as usual,therefore she had been able to examine the place thoroughly. She hadascended to that locked room on each occasion, and had listened there.Once in the silence she had heard a distinct movement, a slightrustling, within.

  Yet afterwards, as she had reflected, she wondered whether it had notbeen due to her imagination, or perhaps to a blind flapping at an openwindow. When one is suspicious, it is so easy to imagine queercircumstances.

  "I only wish we could solve the mystery," she remarked wistfully. "Itworries me. Auntie seems quite unconcerned."

  "Because she has no suspicion, worthy old soul. She has no knowledge ofMr. Boyne's nocturnal visits with food to his friend."

  "Why shouldn't we tell her, and then she'll be on the alert?" suggestedthe girl. "She might discover something."

  "She might--but more probably she would be too eager, and thus put Boyneupon his guard," remarked the young fellow. "No. We must work togetherin strict secrecy if we intend to be successful."

  "But who can he possibly be hiding?"

  The young man in flannels shrugged his shoulders, and replied:

  "I confess that the problem is getting on my nerves. The more I thinkit over the more inscrutable it becomes. Mischief is being workedsomewhere. Of that I feel confident. All the actions of our friendBoyne point to it."

  "But that shroud? Why does he wear it?" asked Marigold blankly.

  "As a disguise, without a doubt. Perhaps the person upstairs has beenconfined there so long that his mind has already become deranged, as isinevitable after a long period of solitary incarceration, and Boyne nowtakes the precaution of adopting th
e simple disguise so that his friendshould fail to identify him. He may have done his captive some greatinjury--or something."

  "True; but, if he has, it was not in order to gain. Bernard Boyne is acomparatively poor man. My aunt says that he seems to have only justsufficient money to make both ends meet."

  Gerald Durrant drew a long breath. Upon his countenance was anexpression of doubt.

  "He may pass as a poor man, and yet be rich," he remarked. "It maysound romantic, but there are many people living in the by-streets ofLondon, successfully concealed beneath assumed names and unsuspected bytheir neighbours, who for years have lived a life of penury though theyare really well off. And their motive is, for some reason or other, tocut themselves adrift from friends in their own sphere. Indeed, it is awell known fact that in the last days of King Edward an ex-CabinetMinister lived for several years in seclusion in a meagre side-streetnear Kennington Park, as Mr. Benwell, his real identity never beingsuspected until, owing to his sudden death, an inquest was held, and thepolice, searching his papers, discovered that he was immensely wealthyand one of Britain's foremost statesmen, who was believed to be livingin seclusion in Italy."

  "Perhaps Mr. Boyne is some person who has sought retirement in a similarmanner," Marigold suggested.

  "No. If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Boyne is playing a very deep and ratherdangerous game--how dangerous I cannot yet discover."

  "But you could discover nothing when you watched--just as I failed tofind out any fact," she said. "I had no idea you were on the watch."

  "I saw you on Tuesday night," he laughed. "You arrived at the houseabout half-past eight, and had a great trouble getting in."

  "Were you there?" she cried eagerly. "I never dreamed that you were inthe vicinity. Yes, you are right. I rang and banged on the door half adozen times before I could attract auntie's attention. She generallyleaves the door unlocked in case anyone should call."

  "Boyne returned about twenty minutes after you had left, but though Iwatched till midnight, he did not come out again."

  "Couldn't you take a day off one day and follow him when he goes out inthe morning?" the girl suggested. "I would do it, but I fear that he'drecognise me."

  "I might. But I think I may be more successful at night. It is verydifficult to keep observation upon a person in broad daylight. In thedarkness it is much easier."

  "Why not try again to-night?" suggested Marigold. "I'll go with you."

  He shook his head.

  "Sunday night is a bad night. We know his habits on week-days, but hemay have gone out all day to-day," he replied. "No; to-morrow would bemore likely."

  "Then let's both go there to-morrow night, and if he comes out of thehouse we'll watch where he goes."

  With this suggestion Gerald agreed, and after she had smoked thecigarette he handed to her from his case, they resumed their puntingup-stream in the afternoon sunshine.

  Next night they met by appointment at Hammersmith Broadway station athalf-past eight, and after a consultation, it was arranged that Marigoldshould call on her aunt on some pretext, and having ascertained if Boynehad returned, she would rejoin Gerald at a spot in King Street.

  Hence he lounged about the busy thoroughfare for a quarter of an houruntil she returned with the news that Boyne had been home since sixo'clock, he having returned unusually early.

  "Ah! That's a good sign," said Gerald. "He'll certainly go out againto-night!"

  As they strolled together they arranged that Marigold should loiter nearthe King Street end of the street, while Gerald should stand in an entrynear the house which he had used in his previous observations.

  "If you see me pass into King Street, don't follow me too closely," heurged, "and at all hazards don't let him see you. Remember that peoplewho are engaged in crooked business keep their eyes skinned and arealways full of suspicion."

  "I'll take good care he doesn't see me," the girl answered him. "Trustme to be discreet."

  Then they parted, and for about an hour Marigold waited in vain for asight of her lover. It had now grown quite dark, and the street lampsin Bridge Place were none too brilliant. She was still loitering in thedarkness, full of expectation at every footstep on the pavement.

  At last she again heard footsteps, and a few moments later recognisedBoyne's well-built figure passing within the zone of lamplight acrossthe way. He was walking hurriedly in the direction of King Street, allunconscious that he was being followed. But a few moments later, withnoiseless tread--for he wore rubber heels to his shoes--Durrant camealong, his eyes searching eagerly for the girl he loved.

  Suddenly he saw her in the shadow, and realised that she was discreetlyfollowing him.

  The pair exchanged a few words in the crowded King Street, and whileGerald hurried on after Boyne towards the station, the girl followed alittle distance behind.

  They saw him buying a ticket at the station and also purchase a lateedition of the evening paper. Then he descended to the platform of thetube and took a train going towards Piccadilly.

  Gerald and Marigold, who had separated, travelled on the same trainuntil, on arrival at Knightsbridge, the man they were watching alighted.Marigold, who had been on the alert at each station, saw him emerge fromthe next car, while close behind him was Gerald, with whom, of course,he was unacquainted.

  Together they followed him along Sloane Street to Pont Street, where heascended the steps of a smart-looking red-brick house and opened thedoor with a latchkey.

  "Now that's curious!" remarked Gerald when he rejoined the girl. "Didyou notice that he entered that house yonder as though it were his ownhome? I wonder who lives there?"

  "We must find out," declared Marigold, highly excited at having trackedMr. Boyne so far.

  "Yes. But I shall be compelled to watch the house and see what happensnow," he said. "I mean to follow him to-night wherever he goes. Italmost seems as if he lives here--as well as in Hammersmith!"

  "Well--he certainly has a latchkey, and this is not a street where theytake in lodgers."

  "No," he said. "Some of these houses are the legations of the smallerStates of Europe. Over there is the Serbian Legation."

  "Well, we'll wait in patience," she said. "Fortunately it's a finenight."

  "The last time I watched, last week, it came on terribly wet abouteleven o'clock," he said, "and I hadn't my mackintosh. When I startedout it seemed a perfect night. But just now the weather is sochangeable."

  On the darker side of the street by the railings, the young people idledtogether, with a watchful eye upon the long flight of steps which Boynehad ascended. Though the blinds were drawn, it was evident that thecomfortable West End house was well lighted, and it was, no doubt, theresidence of someone of considerable means. Indeed, it requires a goodincome to run a house even in Pont Street in these post-bellum days.

  The traffic had died down. Few taxis were passing, for as yet thehome-coming pleasure seekers were not on their way from the theatres.

  For half an hour the pair waited in the shadow, full of eager curiosity.The movements of the mystery-man of Hammersmith were, to say the least,suspicious.

  Suddenly, from the basement a young footman appeared, and hurrying alongto the end of the road, hailed a taxi and brought it to the door.

  Then, as they watched, they saw, a few seconds later, the front dooropen, and a man in evening dress descended the steps and entered thetaxi.

  The light from the open door shone upon his face as he halted to speakto the servant, and then, to their amazement, they recognised the man tobe Bernard Boyne.

  His chameleon-like change staggered them both for a second, but Gerald,ever quick to act, whispered:

  "Go home, Marigold. This is very funny. I'll try to follow," and amoment later he had sped away noiselessly into the darkness.

  The fact was that his quick eyes had espied a taxi which at that momenthad driven up on a stand a little farther down, and without delay hetold the man that he wanted him to follow the
taxi in front, and that hewould give him treble fare for doing so.

  "Right y'are, sir!" replied the young Cockney driver, who instantlyentered into the spirit of the chase, and already his cab was on themove as Boyne left.

  Gerald saw Marigold standing watching the departure, and knowing thatshe would make the best of her way to Wimbledon, kept his eyes upon thetaxi, which was soon out into Knightsbridge, going in the direction ofHyde Park Corner.

  Why Boyne, the humble collector of insurance premiums, should possess alatchkey to a house in Pont Street, and emerge from there dressed inevening clothes as a gentleman of means, sorely puzzled Gerald Durrant.

  He felt instinctively that he was on the track of some very remarkablesequence of events. This man who disguised himself every night beforehe took food and drink up to his imprisoned friend, evidently lived adouble life. In Pont Street he was a rich man, while in Hammersmith hewas poor.

  One point of satisfaction was that he was following the unsuspectingman, and would at least know his destination, even if that night hefailed to discover the object of his visit.

  That he was in a hurry was apparent. He seemed to have spoken excitedlyto the young footman--who appeared to be a foreigner--before steppinginto the taxi.

  Up Park Lane they went, until suddenly the taxi conveying the man ofmystery pulled up before a house in Upper Brook Street, while thevehicle in which Gerald had followed passed on for some distance beforeit stopped.

  "'E's gone in that 'ouse, sir," said the taxi-man in a low voice.

  "Yes, so I see. He may not be long. I'll wait," and he stepped out andstrolled a little way in the opposite direction. Meanwhile Boyne hadpaid his man, who had turned his cab and left.

  The house into which Boyne had disappeared was a block of flats, for ashe passed he had caught a glimpse of the uniformed porter who hadsaluted him and followed him to the lift.

  The mystery was thereby greatly increased, though many more startlingcircumstances were yet to be encountered.

  Gerald Durrant idled there in the vicinity of the taxi, little dreaminginto what a labyrinth of doubt and mystery he had now been drawn.

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