The red widow; or, the d.., p.19
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       The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.19

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  The days passed, and Marigold, hearing nothing further from Gerald,called again at Mincing Lane, and there learned that they had not heardagain from young Durrant.

  A clerk had been sent over to Ealing to inquire about him, but hadreturned with the information that, instead of being ill, he had notbeen seen by his sister.

  "The firm at once suspected something wrong with the books," said thefemale clerk of whom she made the inquiry, "but Mr. Durrant was such anhonest, straightforward young man that we all ridiculed the idea."

  "Have the books been examined?" asked Marigold breathlessly.

  "Oh, yes; and nothing has been found wrong."

  The girl drew a sigh of relief.

  She then showed the clerk the telegram she had received from Birmingham,and she, in turn, promised to show it to the principal when he came in.

  Marigold Ramsay walked down Mincing Lane to Fenchurch Street in gloomand despair. She returned to the bank and sat at her books, unable towork, unable to do anything, save to wonder why Gerald had so suddenlyleft her. Yet he had bidden her not to worry over him and had promisedto return.

  That evening she went over to Hammersmith, and her aunt, noticing howpale and worried she looked, inquired the reason, asking:

  "Have you heard yet from Mr. Durrant?"

  "No, auntie. Unfortunately, I haven't, but I'm expecting to hear everyday."

  "Funny he went away like that, wasn't it?" the deaf old woman remarked,though inwardly she suspected that there had been some quarrel betweenthem, and that he had left her in consequence.

  "Yes," replied the girl faintly. Then she asked after Mr. Boyne.

  "Oh! he's been away four days now. He said he was going into Wales onsome insurance business, and would be away a week or perhaps ten days."

  "Unusual for him to go away, isn't it?" Marigold remarked.

  "Yes. He's never been away for more than a week together in all thetime I've been with him."

  The girl left Hammersmith early, and, returning to Wimbledon Park, satat her window and wept for a long time before retiring to rest. To herthe world was empty and hopeless without Gerald.

  What had she done, she wondered, that he should have left her in thatfashion. That he was following Boyne was a mere excuse, she felt sure.It irritated her to think that he should try to deceive her. What washe doing in Birmingham? If there were reasons why he did not wish toreturn to London, then why did he not give her his address, and then shecould easily have run up to see him.

  The more she thought it over the more mystified did she become.

  The mystery was increased three days later when, on returning from theCity, she found a telegram on the table in the narrow hall.

  Her heart leapt as she tore it open.

  It had been sent from Paris, of all places, and read:

  "_Sorry could not write, dear. Do not worry. Shall be back soon. Havewired to the office. Love._--GERALD."

  "Love!--Gerald!" she repeated aloud to herself. "Oh! why does he notgive me an address, so that I can write to him? It's cruel--very cruelof him to keep me in suspense like this!" she cried in a frenzy ofdespair.

  She ate sparingly in the little dining-room of the jerry-builtvilla--for nowhere is the jerry-builder more in evidence than inWimbledon Park, with his white-painted gables and his white-paintedbalconies to his six-roomed houses. But let us not misunderstand. It isbest for the workers--the brains and backbone of England--to live insmiling houses, even though jerry-built, than in many of those grey,rain-sodden houses of the Midlands and the North, where the "knocker-up"pursues his calling each dawn and the factory hooter sounds all tooearly.

  Personally, the writer here declares that he has no love for thecapitalist. The latter has too often, ever since the Early Victoriandays, been either a swindler or an aristocrat of bad intentions, and thejerry-builder was the natural outcome of his parting with his estate.

  Poor Marigold! She could go no farther in the maze of doubt anduncertainty.

  A dozen times that night she re-read the mysterious, but unconvincing,message. She was a girl of high intelligence, or she would not havebeen employed by the bank. The whole affair puzzled her, as it wouldindeed have puzzled anybody.

  Next day after her luncheon she went round again to Mincing Lane, andmade inquiry regarding the missing man.

  The same girl told her that the principal had received a mysterious wirefrom Paris.

  "I saw the telegram," she said. "It was from Paris, and was quiteabrupt, saying that he would probably return in a week or so."

  "But what does it all mean?" asked the distressed girl.

  "I really don't know," replied the other girl. "Mr. Durrant's gone away,and that's all!"

  That night Marigold went over to Ealing, and to Gerald's sister sheshowed the telegram. It puzzled her sorely.

  "Whatever can Gerald be doing in Paris?" she exclaimed. "Why could henot write to us, eh?"

  "I don't know," was the reply of the unnerved girl. "I think he oughtto send us some address."

  "But he may do so later," replied his sister. "Gerald is a man ofbusiness. He would realise how troubled we all are."

  "He seems to have faded out of existence," said the girl, seated in thefront parlour of the neat little villa of the neat suburban road.

  "Yes," said his sister. "He certainly does. I await a letter eachmorning, but none comes."

  "But what can he be doing in Paris?" queried Marigold. "Without adoubt, he has lost the confidence of his firm. He pretended to be lyingill here, and they have found out that he isn't ill at all!"

  "Yes. The other day a middle-aged man came to see him, but I was forcedto admit that he wasn't here--that he was missing," replied Gerald'ssister.

  Marigold went home utterly dispirited. What could she do? It wasuseless to go to the police and raise a hue and cry regarding a man who,from time to time, telegraphed to his employers and to her that he wason the point of returning. So she was compelled to wait.

  Gerald Durrant had disappeared. He had sent her messages, it is true,messages of comfort, yet when she argued within herself, she saw that heought, at least, to have given her some address to which she could replyby letter or by telegram.

  True, Boyne was absent. But he had only been absent for a few days,while her lover had been missing very much longer.

  Four more days of blank despair crept slowly by. Seated beneath hergreen-shaded light at the bank, with her great ledger before her,Marigold reckoned up the columns of figures mechanically, and handedthem to be checked. They were accounts of all classes of merchants,mostly of profiteers, firms who had made fortunes out of the valour andblood of the gallant fellows who had given their lives for Britain. Shefelt so unhappy without her lover. Gerald, who had directed thoseinvestigations concerning the hooded man who was her aunt's employer,had disappeared with startling suddenness, yet he had assured her thathe was following some mysterious clue.

  The latter she had proved, by reason of the knowledge of Boyne'smovements, to be non-existent. Was her lover deceiving her? Thatsuspicion caused her the greatest irritation and annoyance.

  That evening she sauntered along Pont Street, and looked up at thered-brick house which Boyne had entered on that well-remembered night.But the place was in complete darkness, save for a light in theservants' quarters.

  Then again she went to Bridge Place, and learned from the old deaf womanthat her master had not yet returned.

  "He's having a very nice long holiday," said Mrs. Felmore. "And hedeserves it, too--a-tramping about Hammersmith all day and in allweathers, as he does."

  Three weeks went past, but no further word had come from Gerald, eitherto his principal, his sister, or to his well-beloved.

  Gerald Durrant had, truth to tell, met with some strange and startlingadventures since the night of his disappearance.

  In the
darkness on that well-remembered night he was walking along theKensington Road towards Knightsbridge, following Boyne at a respectfuldistance, and keeping a wary eye upon him, without arousing anysuspicion as he naturally believed.

  While passing the railings of Kensington Gardens, close to Queen's Gate,he saw a female figure lying upon the pavement with a lady bending overher concernedly.

  Hastening up, he found both ladies to be well dressed, and inquired whathad occurred.

  "Oh, dear!" cried the elder lady, in great distress. "My sister hasjust slipped down on a piece of banana peel, I think, and she's brokenher ankle. She can't move, and she doesn't speak. She has fainted.I--I wonder, sir, if you would be so kind as to call me a taxi."

  "Certainly I will," replied Gerald, with his usual gallantry. "Ifyou'll stay here, I'll go back to the rank. I passed it a few minutesago, and there was a taxi there."

  So he dashed back, got into the cab, and was soon on the spot where thelady, who had recovered consciousness, was standing on one foot, unableto put the other to the ground.

  "It's so extremely kind of you," said the elder lady, while the injuredone expressed faint thanks. Then, assisted by the driver, the lady wasseated in the conveyance.

  "I really don't know how I shall get her up the stairs," exclaimed theelder woman. "We live in a flat up at Hampstead and we have nohall-porter."

  Gerald reflected a second, and suddenly recollected that Boyne was nowout of sight, so that by that unfortunate accident he was prevented fromfurther following him.

  "I shall be very pleased to accompany you, and give you what assistanceI can," he said. "May I get in?"

  "Certainly. It's too kind of you," the injured lady declared. "I fearwe are encroaching upon your time, but the taxi can bring you back towherever you want to go."

  So Gerald got in, while the elder lady gave the man an address atHampstead--some mansions, the name of which he did not catch, for, atthe moment, he was in conversation with her sister. All he recollectedwere the words:

  "It's close to Hampstead tube station."

  Next moment they drove off, whereupon the elder lady introduced herselfas Mrs. Evans, and her sister she said was Miss Mayne.

  "We live together," she went on. "My husband was unfortunately killedon the Somme, so we are companions for each other."

  Meanwhile Miss Mayne was evidently suffering extreme pain.

  "I'm so sorry, dear," her sister exclaimed. "But as soon as we gethome, I'll ring up for Doctor Trueman. He'll no doubt soon set itright."

  "Can you move your ankle, Miss Mayne?" asked Gerald, who had, in turn,already given the two ladies his name.

  "Unfortunately, no--not in the least. To try to move it causes meexcruciating pain. I really don't know what I shall do."

  "Oh! Surgeons nowadays are wonderful," exclaimed Gerald cheerily."Probably it is only a simple sprain. At least, let us hope so."

  So completely engaged in conversation was Gerald, that he did not noticealong what thoroughfare they were travelling. Indeed, the driver hadtaken an intricate route behind Regent's Park, a district quite unknownto the young man.

  From the ladies he learned that they had been dining with a lady livingin Phillimore Place, and were on their way back to Knightsbridge tubestation on their return home when the accident happened. That they wererefined, well-bred ladies was unquestionable, therefore he was genuinelyconcerned.

  At last the taxi stopped before the entrance to a large block ofinartistic-looking flats, and with difficulty Miss Mayne descended.Then, assisted by the driver and Gerald, she, with great difficulty,ascended to the first floor, while her sister opened the door with herlatch-key, and switched on the light.

  Within it was a cosy, well-furnished abode, just as one would expect tobe the home of two refined women of good position.

  Mrs. Evans paid the driver, giving him half a sovereign over his fare,and saying:

  "I shall want you to take this gentleman back to the West End presently.So wait!"

  "Very well, mum," replied the man, pleased with his tip, who thenretired.

  Then, turning to Gerald, she said:

  "You'll stay a few minutes, won't you? I'll telephone to the doctor."This she did, the telephone being out in the hall, and while he sat withMiss Mayne in the small drawing-room, he heard her sister inconversation with Doctor Trueman.

  "He'll be here in about a quarter of an hour!" she exclaimed, as shere-entered the room. "How fortunate, dear, to find him in!"

  "Yes. I---- Oh! I do hope he'll give me something to dull thisterrible pain'" replied the other.

  "No doubt he will," said Gerald encouragingly. "It is too bad of peopleto throw fruit peel about the pavements. I've had more than one narrowescape from falling myself."

  "It's positively criminal!" declared Mrs. Evans, with warmth. "Ofcourse you'll stop now, and see what he says. Mr. Durrant," she wenton, "I'm only too happy to have been of service to you."

  "You'll have something?" she suggested. "I'm just going to get mysister a little brandy, and I'll get you a whisky and soda."

  "No, thanks--all the same," Gerald replied. "The fact is I never drinkwhisky."

  "Then a glass of port wine," she laughed gaily. "You won't refusethat--have it, to please me, won't you?"

  He tried to protest, but she overruled him, and in the end he was forcedto accept the glass of wine which a few minutes later she brought himupon a small silver salver, together with her sister's liqueur glass ofold brandy.

  She took nothing herself, but stood chatting as Durrant and her sistersipped their glasses.

  "That's some very old port that was lately given to me by a friend," sheexplained. "Being a woman, I know nothing of wines, but we had a mandining here with us the other night who pronounced it first-class."

  "Yes," Gerald said. "It is excellent, though I, too, have no knowledgeof wines, which I always think is generally pretended save in the caseof men with acute palates who are in the import trade. The man whoto-day can sip a glass and tell its vintage is a _rara avis_," hedeclared.

  Mrs. Evans agreed with him.

  She watched him drain his glass with satisfaction, and then urged him tohave a second one. But he refused, for, as a matter of fact, he found astrange sensation creeping over him. Though he did not mention it,being too polite, he felt across his eyes a slow, but increasing,blindness. Objects seemed to be receding from his gaze. The muscles ofhis throat seemed to be contracting, and he felt his cheeks hot andflushed.

  He tried to stir himself in his chair, but he seemed paralysed. Hecould not move!

  He endeavoured to speak, to tell the two ladies of his sudden seizure,but his tongue refused to articulate a word.

  In his desperate efforts to ask them to call assistance, his hands pawedthe air convulsively, and then, of a sudden, he felt himself collapsing,and all became blank.

  Meanwhile the two women were watching him intently, and the instant theysatisfied themselves that he was unconscious, Miss Mayne--who was reallyLilla Braybourne, sat where she was, while Mrs. Evans, who was EnaPollen, the Red Widow--jumped up from her chair, saying eagerly:

  "All's well up till now! I must tell Bernie."

  She dashed to the telephone, and, asking for a number, spoke rapidly:

  "Lilla speaking," she said. "Bernie. He's here, and he's been takensuddenly ill. You'd better come round at once."

  She listened. Then she said:

  "Right--you'll get here in a quarter of an hour. He's asleep now!"

  Then the pretended invalid and her pseudo-sister, leaving Gerald in thedrawing-room, where he had collapsed so suddenly after drinking theglass of "doctored" port, went into the dining-room and mixed themselvesa stiff brandy and soda each.

  Afterwards the Red Widow, descending to where the taxi was waiting, gavethe man another ten shillings, and said:

  "The gentleman has changed his mind. He's staying here."

  "All right, mum," the man replied. "Thank you v
ery much. Good-night."

  Starting his engine, he drove away well satisfied.

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