The red widow; or, the d.., p.27
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       The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.27

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  Three days passed. Marigold, on rising in the morning of the third day,felt hot and feverish. Her sister had suggested that she shouldtelephone to the bank excusing herself.

  "I think I've got a chill," Marigold remarked. "I felt rather queeryesterday."

  "Then stay at home, dear."

  "I can't," the girl declared as she put on her hat. "We're so awfullybusy just now. Miss Meldrum and Miss Page are both away with influenza.I'm bound to go."

  So she went, but feeling very ill. At the bank one or two of the girlsremarked how unwell she looked, and as the morning wore on the pains inher head became worse. She could eat no lunch, and at two o'clock shewas compelled to return home to Wimbledon.

  She went straight to bed, but her friends troubled little, for it wasevident that she was run down by the eternal anxiety over Gerald'sabsence, and that she had caught a severe cold.

  Next morning she seemed worse, therefore her sister went for DoctorThurlow, who lived in Kenilworth Avenue; but he was so busy that it wasnot possible for him to put in an appearance until nearly seven o'clockthat evening.

  He examined the girl, and though he could not diagnose the causeimmediately, he at once recognised that she was decidedly ill. Heprescribed a mixture, gave certain instructions, and promised to callearly next morning.

  This he did and found that her temperature had risen, and that she wasmuch worse and a little delirious. In her delirium she calledconstantly for Gerald in a pathetic, piteous voice.

  "Will my Gerald never come back to me?" she cried. "Will he neverreturn?"

  "She is ill--very ill," declared the doctor gravely to her sister. "Weshall have to be extremely careful of her."

  Marigold was coughing badly, for already a large area of her lungs hadbecome involved and consolidated. Hence the doctor carried a portion ofthe sputum to his surgery, and that afternoon discovered the presence ofthe deadly streptococcus. On establishing the actual disease he at oncetelephoned for some anti-pneumococcic serum, and this he injected intothe patient early next morning.

  Having done so, he turned to her sister, and said:

  "I am extremely sorry to tell you that this is our last hope. She is, Ifear, collapsing fast. The organism I have found is most deadly, and Ithink it only right to tell you that my personal opinion is that thedisease has gone too far."

  "What, Doctor?" gasped the young woman, pale and anxious. "Will shedie?"

  "That I cannot say, but I never like to deceive my patients' friends incases so critical as this. To me she seems to be growing weaker. Iwill be back at noon."

  And the busy, white-headed doctor went out and drove away in his car.

  Now on that same morning about eleven o'clock a tall, gaunt, hollow-eyedyoung man in a shabby tweed suit and golf cap walked quickly up from theEmpress Dock at Southampton and across Canute Road to therailway-station, where he bought a third-class ticket for Waterloo.

  "Back in England at last!" he muttered to himself as he entered an emptycompartment. "I shall soon see Marigold again! Then we will get evenwith our enemies."

  The unshaven man was Gerald Durrant, changed indeed from the spruceyoung secretary of Mincing Lane. He looked ten years older, for hisface was pinched though bronzed, and the suit he wore was certainlynever made for him.

  The truth was that the steamer _Pentyrch_, of Sunderland, ran into verybad weather in the Bay of Biscay, and during a great storm off theMorocco coast Captain Bowden thought it wise to put in for shelter atthe little port of Agadir. One night, just before the vessel weighedanchor to leave, Gerald dived into the sea and succeeded in swimmingashore.

  His absence was not noticed until three hours later, when the vessel waswell out to sea, and Captain Bowden, having lost so much time, did notdeem it worth while to bother about a man who was no doubt half alunatic.

  Gerald, however, succeeded, with the aid of a friendly English trader,in getting by road from Agadir to Mogador, where he told his strangestory to the British vice-consul, who in turn arranged a passage for himon a small steamer homeward bound, and gave him a little money,sufficient to pay his railway fare from Southampton to London.

  Truly, his had been an astounding adventure, and now he was eagerlylooking forward to the happy reunion with the girl he loved sopassionately.

  All his belongings were in the small brown paper parcel on the rackabove him. At the station he had bought a packet of cigarettes, and ashe smoked he gazed reflectively out of the carriage window. The trainwas an express, but in his mood it seemed to be the slowest in theworld.

  What would Marigold think of his long absence? He had once or twicethought of telegraphing to her from Mogador, or from Brest, where theyhad touched, but he had deemed it best to return to her suddenly andthen wreak vengeance upon those who had so cleverly plotted to inveiglehim to that flat on that never-to-be-forgotten night.

  Waterloo--the new station with its bustle and hurry! He sprang from thecarriage and took the next train back to Wimbledon and then on toWimbledon Park.

  At last he halted before the neat little villa with its white paintedbalcony, and knocked.

  Marigold's sister opened the door.

  "Good heavens!" she gasped. "Mr. Durrant, is it really you?"

  "It is! I'm back again. Where is Marigold?"

  "Come in," she said. "I-I-hardly know what to say. Marigold is--she'snot very well."

  And then in a few brief words as he stood in the narrow hall she toldhim of his beloved's sudden illness.

  A second later he dashed upstairs, and then in silence, treading,noiselessly, he advanced to the bedside of the delirious girl, who withflushed face was calling for "her Gerald."

  Tenderly he placed his cool hand upon her brow.

  "But surely she will live!" he cried in blank despair.

  "The doctor has grave doubts," her sister replied. "She had such deepand constant anxiety regarding your absence, Mr. Durrant, that herconstitution has become undermined. And now she has caught thisterrible chill which has developed into acute pneumonia."

  "But people get over pneumonia!" he exclaimed. "Surely Marigold willrecover."

  "The doctor told me this morning that the malady is of the most virulenttype. There are few recoveries."

  "Few recoveries!" he echoed, while at the same time the poor girl wasmurmuring something incoherent regarding "Gerald."

  "Yes. He said that if she got well again it could be only by a miracle.The serum might do its work, but--well, Mr. Durrant, I must tell youwhat he really said--he told me that he regarded the case as hopeless.The crisis will be the day after to-morrow."

  "The day after to-morrow," he said. "And she will not recognise me tillthen!"

  All that the poor fellow had been through--the tortures and horrors ofthat bondage in which everyone believed him to be mentallyirresponsible--were as nothing. He loved Marigold Ramsay with the wholestrength of his gallant manhood. His soul was hers. They weresoul-mates, and yet she was slowly slipping away from him just at themoment of his return and his intended triumph.

  Her sister led him downstairs. In the modest, well-kept littledining-room below they had a further conversation.

  "She was, of course, from time to time reassured by your telegrams. Bythem she knew that you were alive. And they renewed her hope that youwould return."

  "Telegrams!" echoed the man, who looked more like an unkempt tramp thana business man. "I sent no telegrams! What do you mean, Mrs. Baynard?"

  "Why, the messages you sent. She has them all in her handbag."

  "But I was unable to communicate with her. I was declared to be mad,and was sent upon a sea voyage for the benefit of my health. I now knowthat it was for the benefit of Bernard Boyne!"

  "I'll get her bag and show you. Marigold has kept them all," her sistersaid, and she left the room for a few moments, returning with the dyinggirl
's black silk vanity bag, from which she drew several telegramscarefully folded.

  These he opened and examined, standing aghast as he read them.

  "Why! I never sent a single one of them!" he said. "They're allforgeries!"

  "What?" cried Marigold's sister and Hetty in one breath--for hersister-in-law had entered the room and greeted the man who had returned.

  "I tell you I never sent any message to her," he said. "Somebody hasdone this. Who?"

  "Who can it be?" asked Hetty.

  "I think I know," replied Gerald in a hard voice. "If I am not mistakenmy enemies have been revenged upon me."

  "Enemies! What enemies?" asked Marigold's sister. "Surely you have noenemies. I'm sure Marigold hasn't."

  "Wait and we shall discover the truth," said the young man. "Marigoldmust get well. I have certain questions to put to her. She can tell usmuch that is still mysterious concerning Mr. Boyne."

  Hetty looked him full in the face and said:

  "Jack, my husband, was over at Hammersmith two days ago. The place isall boarded up."

  "What place?"

  "Mr. Boyne's house in Bridge Place. There's been a fire there, and allthe upper part has been burned out. Marigold was staying with her auntthat night, and they both escaped just in the nick of time."

  "Repeat that," he said, half dazed.

  Hetty repeated what she had said.

  "Ah! So the place has been burnt up, has it? That's more than curious,isn't it?"


  "Because of the mystery surrounding that man Boyne," he said.

  "Marigold ten days ago said that she didn't believe that Mr. Boyne wasas honest and sincere as people believed, but really, I have never takenany notice of her suspicions. We all of us suspect one of our friends."

  "Marigold spoke the truth! I agree entirely with her. There arecertain facts--facts which I have established--which show that this manBoyne--most modest of men--is an adventurer of a new and veryextraordinary type. He is engaged in some game that is very sly, and bywhich he somehow enriches himself by very considerable sums."

  Gerald Durrant an hour later went up to Waterloo and on to Hammersmith,where in the evening he stood before the boarded-up ruins of the fire.He saw that the top floor had been destroyed.

  "So the secret of that top room has been wiped out," he remarked tohimself. "Why? Did Boyne suspect us of prying? If he did, then whatmore likely than he should put his slow, but far-reaching, fingers uponus both. That I should have been drugged and placed on board a shipbound for the other side of the world, and branded as a semi-lunatic, isonly what one might expect of such a master-brain!"

  At a public-house in King Street, a few doors from the end of BridgePlace, he got into conversation with the landlord, who told him of theevents of that night when the house caught fire.

  "It's an awful thing for poor old Boyne," he added. "Although he is aninsurance agent, it seems that, though he insured other people, he neverinsured himself. So he's ruined--so he told Mr. Dale, the corndealer inChiswick High Road, a week ago."

  Gerald smiled but said nothing. His thoughts were upon the hoodedrecluse who lived on the top floor of that dingy house. What could havebeen the real secret of that obscure abode?

  A few other inquiries led him to the sombre house with smoke-grimedcurtains where deaf old Mrs. Felmore had taken refuge, a few doors fromthe smoke-blackened, half-destroyed house.

  As he sat with the old woman he spoke to her with difficulty, moving hislips slowly.

  "Yes," replied the old woman in her high-pitched voice, for all the deafspeak loudly. "It is all very curious--most curious! They've neverfound out how it caught fire."

  From Bridge Place Gerald walked direct to the Hammersmith police-stationand, demanding to see someone in authority, was ushered upstairs to thatsame room into which Marigold had been shown, and there sat the samedetective-inspector, rosy-faced, quiet and affable.

  He listened to the roughly-clad young man's story, until presently hesaid:

  "Oh, you are Gerald Durrant, are you?"

  "Yes," was his visitor's astonished reply. "Why?"

  "Well, we had a young lady inquiring about you a little while ago. Shesaid you were missing, and asked us to make inquiry. But as you hadwired to her several times we considered that you had gone off on yourown account."

  "Was Marigold here?" he asked, surprised.

  "Yes, she came one night and told us of your disappearance. Where haveyou been?"

  "Abroad. I only returned to-day."

  "That's what I told the young lady. You promised in your telegrams tocome back."

  "But I never sent any telegrams; they were all forged."

  The detective regarded him steadily and with an air of doubt.

  "Then why did you go away? What was your motive in frightening the poorgirl?" he asked.

  "I went involuntarily. I--well, I suppose I must have been drugged andput on board a ship at Hull."

  "H'm! What ship?"

  Gerald gave the name of the ship and of its captain, which the detectivescribbled down.

  "Yes. You'd better tell me the whole of your story. It seems rather acurious one."

  "It is," declared Durrant, and he proceeded to describe what happened onthat fateful night when he met the two ladies in distress outsideKensington Gardens.

  The detective listened attentively, but noting Gerald's unkemptappearance and rough dress, together with his excited manner, he came tothe conclusion that what he was relating was a mere exaggerated taleconcocted with some ulterior motive, which to him was not apparent.

  At last, when Durrant began to describe Bernard Boyne's strange doingsin Bridge Place, the inspector interrupted him.

  "The house has been burned, as I dare say you know."

  "Yes," replied Gerald vehemently, "purposely burned for two reasons.First, to destroy evidence of whatever was contained in that upstairsroom, together with its occupant----"

  "Then you think someone lived up there--eh?"

  "I feel absolutely sure of it."

  "You only believe it," said the officer. And after a pause he asked:"And what was the second motive?"

  "To get rid of Miss Ramsay--for that night, after visiting you, she wentback and slept there in order to keep her aunt company."

  The detective smiled. Then, after a pause, he said:

  "Mr. Boyne is very well-known and popular in Hammersmith, you know.Everyone has a good word for him. He is honest, hard-working, and oftenshows great kindness to poor people whose insurance policies would lapseif he did not help them over the stile. No, Mr. Durrant; Bernard Boyneis certainly not the daring and relentless criminal you are trying tomake him out. Indeed, I hear that, by the fire at his house, he's lostnearly all he possessed. He wasn't insured."

  "Why is it that by day he collects insurance premiums here, and yet atnight puts on an evening suit and dines at the most expensiverestaurants in the West End?" demanded Gerald, furious that his storywas being dismissed by the police.

  "Ah! He may have some motive. Many men who earn their money in a hardmanner by day go into the West End at night dressed as gentlemen. He mayhave some motive. He may have some rich clients, for all we know."

  "I see you are dubious of the whole affair!" exclaimed Gerald. "I'veonly come here to tell you what I know."

  "And I thank you for coming," replied the detective. "But we cannot actupon your mere suspicions. You must bring us something more tangiblethan that before we institute inquiries. I regret it," he added; "butwe cannot help you. If you had any direct evidence of incendiarism itwould be different."

  And, thus dismissed, Gerald Durrant descended the stairs with heavyheart and hopeless foreboding, and walking out, made his way back toWimbledon Park, where Marigold lay dying.

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