The red widow; or, the d.., p.3
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.3
*THE "GAME"--AND ITS PLAYERS*
On the following morning Mr. Emery, the young solicitor, entered Mrs.Morrison's sitting-room at Llandudno with a telegram in his hand.
"I've just had this from the manager of the Universal. They areprepared to do the business and are writing me full particulars. Ishall get them by to-morrow morning's post. I've wired to my clerk,Wilson, to post me a proposal form and some other papers."
Emery, his one thought being the big commission upon the business,entered Mrs. Morrison's room twenty-four hours later with a number ofpapers in his hand.
He sat down with the rich widow, and put before her the proposal form--apaper which had printed upon it a long list of questions, mostlyinquisitorial. The bed-rock question of that document was "Who are you,and are you subject to any of the ills that human flesh is heir to?"
Question after question she read, and her answers he wrote down in thespace reserved for them. Once or twice she hesitated before replying,but he put down her hesitation to a natural reserve.
The filling up of the form took some time, after which she appended hersignature in a bold hand, and this completed the proposal.
"I fear it will be necessary for you to go to London to pass thedoctor," he said. "When would that be convenient?"
"Any time after next Wednesday," she replied. "As a matter of fact, Ihave some shopping to do in town before I return to Scotland, so I cankill two birds with one stone."
"Excellent! They will, of course, make it as easy for you as possible.You will hear from Mr. Gray at the head office. Where shall you stay intown?
"With a friend of mine--a Mrs. Pollen." And she gave him an address inUpper Brook Street which he wrote down.
Before eleven o'clock Mrs. Morrison had dispatched a telegram addressedto "Braybourne, 9b, Pont Street, London," which read:
_"All preliminaries settled. Shall be in London end of week._--AUGUSTAMORRISON."
Meanwhile, the solicitor, greatly elated at securing such a remunerativepiece of work, sent the completed proposal to the head office of thecompany in London, and on the following day, accompanied by his wife,returned to his home in Manchester, after what had turned out to be avery profitable as well is beneficial holiday.
Before leaving, Mrs. Morrison arranged that he should carry the wholematter through, her parting injunction being:
"Remember--tell the Company to write to me at Upper Brook Street, andnot to Scotland. And always write to me yourself to London."
Now that same evening, after Emery's departure, there arrived at theBeach Hotel, wearing rimless pince-nez, a dark, strongly-built man, welldressed, and with a heavy crocodile suit-case which spoke mutely ofwealth. He signed the visitor's form as Pomeroy Graydon, and gave hisaddress as "Carleon Road, Roath, Cardiff, Shipbroker."
He was late, and ate his dinner alone. Afterwards he went out for astroll on the esplanade in the direction of the Little Orme, when, afterwalking nearly half a mile, he suddenly encountered the red-hairedwidow, who was attired plainly in navy blue with a small hat, havingevidently changed her dress after dinner.
"Well, Ena!" he exclaimed, lifting his soft felt hat politely. "I'mhere, you see! I thought it best to come up and see you. I'm at yourhotel as Mr. Graydon of Cardiff."
"I'm awfully glad you've come, Bernie," she said. "I rather expectedyou."
"As soon as Lilla got your wire I started, and was fortunate to get toEuston just in time for the Irish mail--changed at Chester, and here Iam!"
The pair strolled to a convenient seat close to where the waves lazilylapped upon the wall of the esplanade--for the tide was up--and thenight a perfect one with a full white moon.
"Everything going well?" asked the smartly dressed man, whose pose inHammersmith was so entirely different. He spoke in an eager tone.
"Yes, as far as I can see it's all plain sailing. I'm doing my part, andleave you and Lilla to do the rest. I've met here a very nice youngfellow--as I intended--a useful solicitor named Emery, of Manchester. Heis carrying the matter through for me. He's agent of the Universal."
"A first-class office."
"Well, I'm insuring with them in Lilla's favour."
"Have you carried out the plan we discussed?"
"To the very letter! Trust me, my dear Bernie."
"I always do, Ena," he declared, gazing across the moonlit sea. Theywere alone on the seat, and there was none to overhear:
"Ten thousand is a decent sum. Let's hope it will be all over soon. Isometimes have bad quarters of an hour--when I think!" he remarked.
"The sums assured have been higher and higher," she said. "We startedwith five hundred--you recollect the woman Bayliss?--and now we arealways in thousands. Only you, Bernard, know how the game should beplayed. I do my part, but it is your brain which evolves all thisbusiness for which the companies are so eager, and which is sowonderful."
"True, our plan works well," Boyne admitted, still gazing over the sea."We've all of us made thousands out of it--haven't we?"
"Yes. I can see no loophole by which the truth might leak out--saveone," she said very seriously.
"And what's that?"'
"Your visits to your wife," was her reply. "Suppose somebody watchedyou, and saw you leave your frowsy little house in Hammersmith, go toLilla in Pont Street, and blossom forth into a gentleman of means; itwould certainly arouse a nasty suspicion. Therefore you should always bemost careful."
"I am. Never fear," he said. "Recollect, nobody in Hammersmith knowsthat Lilla Braybourne is my wife."
"They don't know. But they might suspect things, which may leadeventually to an awkward inquiry, and then----?"
"Oh! my dear Ena, don't contemplate unpleasant things!" he urged, with ashrug of the shoulders. "I know you are a clever woman--more clever byfar than Lilla herself--therefore I always rely upon your discretion andforesight. Now, tell me--what has happened up to date?"
In reply she told him briefly of her meeting with the young solicitorEmery--which she had prearranged, by the way--and how she hadentertained the newly-married pair.
"They, of course, believe you to be Mrs. Augusta Morrison, ofCarsphairn, widow of old Joe Morrison, the great shipbuilder of Govan?"he remarked, smiling.
"Exactly. As you know, I paid a visit in secret to Carsphairn six weeksago, and found out quite a lot. This I retailed to the Emerys, and theytook it all in. I described Carsphairn to them, and showed them thesnapshots of the place which I took surreptitiously when I was up there.Indeed, I gave a couple of them to Mrs. Emery--to make evidence."
"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "You never leave anything undone, Ena."
"One must be thorough in everything if one desires success."
"And what is your address?"
"I gave it to my own flat in Upper Brook Street--care of EnaPollen--widow."
"So you will come to London?"
"Yes--I have to go there shopping before I return to Scotland," shereplied grimly. "I am staying with Mrs. Pollen."
"Good! It will be far the best for their London doctors to examine you.If you were examined up here they might resist the claim. If they didthat--well, it would open up the whole business, and we certainly can'tafford to arouse the very least little bit of doubt."
"Hardly," she laughed. "Well, I've played the game properly, my dearBernie. My name is Morrison, and I am the widow of old Joe Morrison,the woman with the red hair, and I live at Carsphairn,Kirkcudbrightshire, the fine sporting estate left me by my late husband.All that is upon the records of the Universal Life AssuranceCorporation."
"Excellent! You've established an undeniable identity--red hair andeverything!" he said, again gazing reflectively out across the ripplingwaters. "You have taken the first step."
"The second move is that Mrs. Morrison goes to London on a shoppingvisit, prior to going abroad," the widow said.
"Really, you are marvellous, Ena!" declared the humble insurance agentof Hammersmith. "Your foresight always carries you to success."
"In a number of cases it has done so, I admit," the woman laughed."When one's identity is not exactly as one represents, one has to haveone's eyes skinned day and night. Men--even the shrewdest lawyers--arealways easily gulled. Why? Because of the rapacious maws the legalprofession have for fees. Women are always dangerous, for they are toofrequently jealous of either good looks or pretty frocks. A man I canusually manage--a woman, seldom, unless she is in love. Then I sidewith her in her love affair and so gain her confidence."
"Ena, I repeat I hold you in admiration as one of the cleverest women Ihave ever known. Nothing deters you--nothing perturbs you! You fix aplan, and you carry it through in your own way--always with profit toour little combination."
"And very substantial profit, I venture to think, eh?"
"I agree," he said, with a grim laugh.
"All thanks to you, my dear Bernie," the red-haired woman said. "Butreally I am growing just a little apprehensive. Why--I don't know, Icannot tell. But somehow I fear we may play the game once too often.And what then--eh?"
"Funnily enough, I've experienced the same curiously apprehensivefeeling of late," he said. "I always try, of course, to crush it out,just as I crush out any other little pricks of conscience which occur tome when I awake in the mornings."
"Very strange that we should both of us entertain apprehensivefeelings!" she remarked very thoughtfully. "I hope it's no ill omen!Do you think it is?"
"No," he laughed. "Don't let us seek trouble--for Heaven's sake. Atpresent there is not the slightest danger. Of that I feel confident.Let us go forward. When shall you go up to London?"
"To-morrow. I go to visit my dear friend, Mrs. Pollen--as I have toldyou."
"So really you are going on a visit to yourself--eh? Excellent! Reallyyou are unique, Ena!"
"Well--it is the only way, and it will work well."
Then the strange pair, who were upon such intimate terms, rose andstrolled leisurely side by side back towards the opposite end of thepromenade, chatting merrily the while.
When approaching the Beach Hotel they halted, and the woman bade the mangood-bye. Afterwards he sank upon a seat in one of the shelters, whileshe walked on and entered the hotel.
Not until half an hour later, after he had taken a stroll along to theend of the pier, where the band was still playing, did he return to thehotel. Mrs. Morrison was at the moment sitting in the lounge chattingwith two men visitors. The eyes of the pair met as he passed, butneither gave any sign of recognition.
To those in the lounge the two were absolutely strangers to each other.
Little did the other visitors dream of the dastardly, even demoniacal,plot that was being so skilfully woven in their midst.
Next afternoon Bernard Boyne stepped from out of the Holyhead expressupon Euston platform and drove in a taxi to Pont Street, where he wasgreeted warmly by his wife, who had been informed of his advent bytelegram from Chester.
"Well?" she asked, when the door of the luxurious drawing-room wasclosed and they were alone. "And how did you find Ena?"
"She's splendid! All goes well," was his enthusiastic reply. "She'sgot hold of a young Manchester solicitor who is carrying the policythrough all right. He happens to be an agent of the Universal. She's onher way back to London now. I wasn't seen with her in the hotel, ofcourse."
"When is she coming here?"
"To-night at nine. She wants to see you."
"I think the less she sees of me just now the better, don't you,Bernie?"
"I quite agree. We don't want anyone to recognise you as friends whenthe time comes," replied Boyne. "As soon as she gets passed by thedoctors--both of them unknown to any of us--which is a blessing--she'llhave to go up to Scotland."
"To New Galloway again?"
"No. To Ardlui, that pretty little village at the head of Loch Lomond.The inquiries I have been making of the servants at Carsphairn show thatit is the lady's intention to go with her maid to Ardlui for afortnight, and thence to Edinburgh for another fortnight."
"Really, Bernie, you are wonderful in the way you pry into people'sintentions."
"Only by knowing the habits and intentions of our friends can we hope tobe successful," was his reply, as he flung himself back among the silkencushions of the couch and lazily lit a cigarette.
"So Ena will have to go to Scotland again?"
"Yes. She ought to pass the doctors in a week, for this young fellow ispushing it through because of the handsome fee she will give him, andthen, in the following week, she must put on her best frocks and bestbehaviour and take a 'sleeper' on the nine twenty-five from Euston toGlasgow."
"What an adventure!" remarked the handsome woman before him.
"Of course. But we are out for big money this time, remember."
"You have examined the whole affair, I suppose, and considered it fromevery standpoint--eh?"
"Of course I have. As far as I can discover, there is no flaw in ourarmour. This young solicitor is newly married, and is much gratifiedthat the wealthy Mrs. Morrison should take such notice of his youngwife. But you know Ena well enough to be sure that she plays the gameall right. She's the rich widow to the very letter, and talks about her'dear husband' in a manner that is really pathetic. She declares thatthey were such a devoted couple."
"Yes. Ena can play the game better than any woman in England," agreedhis wife. "Have some tea?"
"No; it's too hot," he replied. "Get me some lemonade."
And she rose, and presently brought him a glass of lemonade. Shepreferred to wait upon him, for she was always suspicious of the maidstrying to listen to their conversation, which, however, was discreet andwell guarded.
That night at about half-past nine, husband and wife having dinedtogether _tete-a-tete_--being waited on by the smart young Italianfootman--Ena Pollen was ushered into the drawing-room.
"Oh! Welcome back, dear!" cried Mrs. Braybourne, jumping up andembracing her friend, making pretence, of course, before the servant."Sit down. I had no idea you were in London! I thought you weresomewhere in the wilds of Wales."
Then, when the door had closed, her attitude altered to one of deepseriousness.
"Well," she said, "according to Bernie, everything goes well, doesn'tit?"
"Excellently," replied the other. "You see in me Mrs. Augusta Morrison,widow, of Carsphairn, New Galloway, who is in London on a visit to herfriend, Ena Pollen, and who is about to be passed as a first-classlife!" And she laughed, the other two smiling grimly.
"I congratulate you upon finding that young solicitor. What's hisname?"
"Emery--just getting together a practice and looking out for the bigcommission on the first of my premiums," she said. "We've met thosebefore. Do you recollect that fellow Johnson-Hughes? Phew! what anass!"
"But he was over head and ears in love with you, my dear Ena," saidBoyne, "and you know it."
"Don't be sarcastic, Bernie!" she exclaimed, with a pout. "Whether hewas in love with me or not, it doesn't matter. We brought off thelittle affair successfully, and we all had a share of the pickings. Inthese post-war profiteering days it is only by callous dishonour anddouble-dealing one can make both ends meet. It begins in the Cabinetand ends with the marine store dealer. Honesty spells ruin. That's myopinion."
"I quite agree," Lilla declared. "If we had all three played a straightgame, where should we be now?"
"Living in Bridge Place," remarked Boyne, whereat the two women laughedmerrily.
* * * * *
That night Marigold met Gerald at Mark Lane Station, and they travelledwestward together on the way home. In the Underground train theychatted about the mystery of Bridge Place, but amid the crush andturmoil of home-going City workers they could say but little.
Marigold had been again to see her deaf aunt, who was still unsuspiciousof the strange state of affairs in her master's humble home.
Gerald was next day compelled to accompany his principal up north to aconference upon food prices, and for ten days he remained away.Therefore Marigold could only watch and wait.
She went to Bridge Place several times, and saw Mr. Boyne there. He wasalways cheerful and chatty. About him there seemed nothing reallysuspicious. Indeed, when she considered it all, she began to wonderwhether she had not made a fool of herself.
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London by William Le Queux / Mystery & Detective have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes