The red widow; or, the d.., p.11
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.11
*SPREADING THE NET*
Gerald Durrant remained outside the house in Upper Brook Street for morethan half an hour. Much puzzled, he stood in a doorway opposite theblock of flats into which Boyne had gone.
Marigold was on her way back to Wimbledon Park, and that night heintended to probe the mystery farther.
He waited, and still waited. A neighbouring clock struck the hours.The hall-porter at one o'clock closed the door and switched off thelights, yet Gerald still waited for the insurance agent of Hammersmithto emerge.
That he was known to the hall-porter was apparent, for the man hadsaluted him. It was strange, to say the least, that the man who wascompelled to scrape for a living in Hammersmith should be guest in afashionable flat in Upper Brook Street.
Bernard Boyne was certainly a man of mystery, for not only did hepossess the latchkey of the smart house in Pont Street, but he was alsoknown at that block of expensive flats.
The young fellow lit a fresh cigarette and, leaning against the deepportico of the house opposite, possessed himself in patience. Time wenton. A police constable passed and repassed, but did not notice him inthe shadow, for he hid his cigarette. All the windows of the greatbuilding he was watching were in darkness. It was evident now thatBoyne would not come out again before morning.
Yet Durrant, with great pertinacity, waited there through the wholenight until, at half-past six, the hall-porter threw open the outerdoor, and milkmen, the postman, and newspaper boys began to arrive inquick succession. Without bite or sup Gerald waited there tillhalf-past ten, when, full of chagrin at being thus foiled, he wascompelled to hurry to his office, getting a wash and a shave on the way.
At lunch he met Marigold as usual, and told her of his failure,whereupon she said:
"I have the afternoon off. I'll go at once and see my aunt, andascertain when he got back."
This she did, and when that evening Durrant arrived home at Ealing hefound a wire awaiting him which told him that when Boyne's housekeepertook him up his early tea as usual, her master had been in bed!
Durrant held his breath. The mystery-man had some means of exit fromUpper Brook Street--a back way, without a doubt.
But what was the motive of it all? Why should he pose as penurious inHammersmith, and wear evening clothes in Mayfair?
That night Durrant went again to Upper Brook Street, and, exploring therear of the building, found that there was a servants' entrance to theflats which led into a mews, and through a back street. By that BernardBoyne had, no doubt, walked out while Durrant had been keeping his nightvigil.
This fact further impressed both Marigold and her lover that Boyne wasnot what he represented himself to be.
Durrant set out to probe the mystery, and by dint of ingeniousapplication to the affair, he became on friendly terms with thehall-porter. Truth to tell, Durrant had represented himself to be ademobilised officer who had been in love with a lady who had rented oneof the flats. He had discovered her name from the house-agent, and knewthat she had married during the war.
From the hall-porter he learned that the man who had passed in was anoccasional visitor, but to whom he did not know. He would try andascertain. The lips of all hall-porters of flats are readily unlockedwhen their hands are "crossed with silver." And why not? In ourpost-war civilisation little is effected without a _quid pro quo_. Eventhe British Cabinet Minister looks for reward; alas! that it should beso. Patriotism in all the Allied Countries seems synonymous withpersonal ruin, and those who have realised the fact are the profiteersupon gallant men's lives.
Gerald's discovery at the back of Upper Brook Street brought the pair toa dead end as far as their investigations went.
They met as usual at lunch and discussed the situation. What could bedone?
"All I can see, Marigold, is for you to continue your visits constantlyto Bridge Place and learn all you can from your aunt," Durrant said."There is evidently something extraordinary in progress. But what it iswe cannot possibly tell without more thorough investigation."
"But what can we do further?" asked the girl.
"I can do nothing just yet, except to receive reports from you," repliedGerald. "You can visit Boyne's house and let me know from time to timewhat is in progress there."
"But the prisoner upstairs?" she asked. "How can I know more?"
"By watching," was his reply. "Do you know, Marigold, I've beenthinking--thinking deeply over the affair. We are both agreed that weintend to fathom the secret of this man. Well, now could you not oneevening, when you visit your aunt, be taken suddenly very unwell, andthen remain there in the house and watch?"
"Really, Gerald, that's a splendid idea!" exclaimed the girl. "Yet itseems an imposition upon Mr. Boyne."
"I know that. He poses as a man without anything whatever save thecommission he collects upon the premiums on the lives of the honestinhabitants of Hammersmith. Yet, as we know, he is in touch withcertain people of a much higher class than himself. The house in PontStreet is a great enigma to me. We must elucidate the mystery. That ismy object."
"I am ready to work at your orders, Gerald," was the girl's reply, withthe genuine love-look in her eyes. "Yes, we will do our utmost to solvethis mystery!"
In consequence of this conversation, a few days later Marigold went oneafternoon to visit her aunt, old Mrs. Felmore, and in the evening wastaken very unwell.
Mr. Boyne, who returned as usual about six o'clock, was told of thegirl's illness and went down to the kitchen, where he saw her, and,speaking kindly, asked if he should fetch the doctor.
"No, thank you, Mr. Boyne," the girl answered, rather weakly. "It'sawfully good of you, but no doubt I shall be better presently, and ableto go home. I have a curious dizziness. It came on quite suddenly."
"Are you subject to it?" he inquired. And then in the next breath askedif he could get her anything.
"My aunt has given me a cup of tea," was her reply. "And I already feelbetter."
"Don't think of going to Wimbledon to-night unless you feel better," heurged. "Mrs. Felmore can make you up a bed in the spare room."
She thanked him, and though she assured him she would be well enough togo home in an hour or so, she had no intention of returning home thatnight.
Boyne, on his part, looked weary and worn. His clothes were shabby, andhis cheap boots were down at heel and dusty after a long day's tramp inthe meaner streets of Hammersmith.
Returning to his sitting-room, he took his bulky insurance books fromhis pocket. Then he threw off his jacket, sat down to tea in his shirtsleeves, and fed "Nibby," his pet rat.
Mrs. Felmore, like many deaf folk, could tell what was said by watchingpeople's lips. When her employer had left the kitchen, she remarked toher niece:
"Isn't Mr. Boyne a dear nice man? Whenever I feel unwell he is alwaysso ready to get me anything. You know how bad I was with my rheumatismlast winter? He wouldn't let me work, but engaged old Mrs. Kirk fromthe Mall."
"Yes, auntie, he is," Marigold declared. "But I didn't tell him how badI feel. I really don't know what has come over me."
"Why not let him call the doctor?"
"Oh, no. I'll be all right soon," she said cheerfully; and then shereseated herself in the summer twilight near the open window.
At half-past eight o'clock Bernard Boyne, having washed and changed hisclothes, went out.
Marigold fell to wondering where he might be going. It had beenarranged that Gerald should be on watch outside the house that night,but when they had met at lunch, he had told her that he was compelled toaccompany his principal to Birmingham that afternoon, for a conferencewas to be held in that city on the following day.
"I may be away for a day or two, dear," he had said. "But in themeanwhile discover all you can."
Boyne went direct from Hammersmith to Pont Street, where he found thathis wife had gone out to dinner. She would be back soon after ten, theyoung man-servant informed him.
Therefore he went to his room and put on evening clothes--a verysmartly-cut suit with white waist-coat and mother-of-pearl and diamondbuttons. As he stood before the long cheval glass, examining himselfafter he had tied his cravat and put on his coat, the transformation, hethought, was surely complete. Nobody meeting him in that luxuriouslyfurnished house would ever have recognised in him the trudging,hard-working insurance agent of Hammersmith.
He descended to the drawing-room, but his wife did not return till pastten. She was in a strikingly handsome gown of black-and-gold tissue,with a shimmering ornament in her hair, while around her neck was a ropeof splendid pearls.
"Well, Lilla!" he exclaimed pleasantly, as he threw himself lazily intoa soft arm-chair. "I'm glad you're back early. Where are we to meetEna?"
"At Murray's, at eleven. Then we go on to the Carlton to supper," washer reply. "Remember our name to-night is Davidson, and we live atWelsford Hall, in Northamptonshire. Ena wants to introduce us to Mrs.Morrison."
"But Mrs. Morrison is likely to meet one of us again, and it might beawkward," the man remarked, as he slowly lit a cigarette.
"She is not likely to meet us again--except at Ena's house--is she?"said his wife, with a curious expression in her narrow eyes.
"No, I suppose not--if all goes right, and there is no hitch," he saidreflectively.
"Hitch! How can there be a hitch?" asked Lilla. "Ena will do her part,while you do yours."
"When does Ena propose that the little affair shall be done?" he asked.
"Next Saturday--if that suits you?"
"Saturday," he repeated again reflectively, as he examined hiscigarette. "It will take about nine to ten days, so on the followingMonday or Tuesday week it should be complete."
"It ought to be, Bernard. We shall soon be wanting more money, youknow. We've been spending freely and investing a lot of late. Ena washere this afternoon. Mrs. Morrison came up from Brighton this morningin order to go to the theatre with her, and meet us at supperafterwards. You can tell her how you hunt with the Fitzwilliam and LordExeter's hounds. She knows nothing of fox-hunting, and it will impressher."
"Yes. Ena has told me the woman is just the widow of a Glasgow man whohas plenty of money, but who knows practically nothing of Englishsociety."
"Why Ena is so keen that we should meet the woman, I can't think," Lillaremarked.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I suggested it," was his reply. "When sheinvites her to dine we shall be there. It looks better for Ena to haveother guests, especially if--well, if anything happened."
"I hope nothing untoward will happen," she exclaimed quickly.
"No," he laughed. "Don't worry, my dear. It is all plain sailing. Weshall cash a big cheque before long--depend upon it! But time isgetting on. We ought to get along to Murray's and meet them onarrival."
Therefore the pair put on their coats, and a taxi being called, theydrove to Murray's, where they awaited the arrival of Mrs. Pollen and herguest.
Ten minutes later they came. The red-haired widow was dressed superbly,and wore wonderful beads of Chinese jade. Her companion, handsome andalso well-dressed, expressed delight when her hostess introduced her toher old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Davidson. The latter both becameextremely affable, appearing very pleased when Ena told them, what theyalready knew--namely, that she had reserved a table at the Carlton forsupper.
Then the four drove in a taxi to Pall Mall, where they had a verypleasant meal.
Mrs. Morrison, of Carsphairn, was a hard-headed and sensible woman. Shecared but little for the so-called excitements of society, but thatevening she had greatly enjoyed the play, and now as she gazed around atthe smart crowd coming in and taking the tables allotted to them, thedaring and often magnificent dresses, and the host of good-looking men,it was something of a novelty to her.
"Before my husband's death I travelled a good deal on the Continent,"she explained to Mrs. Davidson. "But nowadays I remain mostly inScotland. I entertain a few people at Carsphairn for the shooting, butbeyond that I live very quietly."
"So do we," Lilla replied. "We are just country cousins. Our place isin the wilds of Northamptonshire, and my husband hunts a good deal."
"Ah! Northamptonshire and Leicestershire are the centre of fox-hunting,are they not?" said the Scotch woman, addressing Mr. Davidson.
"Yes. We have several packs within easy reach, though Welsford, wherewe live, is, strictly speaking, in the Fitzwilliam country. I lovehunting," he added.
"My husband even goes cubbing at four o'clock in the morning sometimes,"laughed Mrs. Davidson.
"Ah! He is evidently an enthusiast!" Mrs. Morrison agreed. "My husbandwas a fisherman, and I confess I had to go with him on some very dullexpeditions in the north of Scotland and in Ireland."
"That's the worst of men," Lilla declared. "If they take up hunting,fishing, or golf, it becomes an obsession. They talk of nothing else."
And so the chatter about hunting and hunting men continued, apparentlyto the intense amusement of Ena Pollen--or "Mrs. Morrison" as she wasknown to the Manchester solicitor and the doctors who had pronounced herlife to be a "first-class" one.
The orchestra was playing one of the latest waltzes, and the bigrestaurant was filled with chatter and laughter. Surely none who satthere that night and noticed the three ladies and their male companionas they drank their champagne, and ate that supper dish of the Londonrestaurants, _mousse de jambon_ served from the ice, would ever havedreamed that a most diabolical plot was in progress, a conspiracy themost subtle and fiendish that the evil mind of man could ever devise.
Ena Pollen was, of course, the life and soul of the party. Veryhandsome, with her auburn hair and her bizarre dress, she was regardedby half the people in the restaurant. Some of them knew her by sight asa regular habituee of the smart restaurants and dance-clubs, for it waspart of the great game which the heartless trio was playing for her tobe remarked and regarded as a woman of outstanding grace and beauty.
Men courted her society, and in more than one instance--if the truth bewhispered--had been hurried to the grave in consequence.
The quartette, after a delightful meal, took their coffee and Cointreauat a little table set beneath a palm out in the hall. Mrs. Morrison hadbecome as charmed with Mrs. Davidson as she had been with Ena Pollen.
"You must come up and see me at Carsphairn," she urged Lilla. "No doubtyour husband, living in the country, shoots. I can give him some grousein the season. We have a fair amount of game on our moor atBalmaclellan."
"I shall be delighted, Mrs. Morrison," was Davidson's reply; as helifted his eyes to Mrs. Pollen they exchanged significant glances.
Then, after a merry chat, Ena suddenly said:
"Can't all three of you dine with me at home one evening? You are notgoing North yet, are you, Mrs. Morrison? Do come. What about nextSaturday?"
"I'm going back to Brighton to-morrow," was her reply.
"But you can easily run up on Saturday. Do. Let us dine early and go toa show together, eh?" she suggested with her usual enthusiasm. "You'llcome, Lilla, won't you?"
Mrs. Davidson hesitated. She replied that she feared that she had anengagement that evening, and her husband was certain that he had.
"Oh, now, do come!" urged the Red Widow. "If Mrs. Morrison will come,you really must come."
Then, after a few half-hearted arguments and protests, Mrs. Morrisonaccepted the invitation and the Davidsons did likewise. And so thequiet little dinner was fixed, Ena promising to get a box at sometheatre.
"Then we will go to Murray's or Giro's afterwards," she added.
Later, when Boyne and his wife were together in a taxi on their way toPont Street, Lilla turned to him, and said:
"It all seems to go well if you can be ready by Saturday. If you can't,then we shall be in the cart!"
"Leave it all to me," he said in a hard, changed voice. "We shall be atUpper Brook Street on Saturday, and I hope we shall be successful. Itwon't be my fault if we fail."
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London by William Le Queux / Mystery & Detective have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes