The red widow; or, the d.., p.4
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.4
*PROGRESS OF THE PLOT*
In the dull, sombre consulting-room of Sir Humphrey Sinclair in QueenAnne Street, Cavendish Square--a room with heavy mahogany furniture,well-worn carpet, a big writing-table set in the window, and anadjustable couch against the wall--sat the pseudo Mrs. Augusta Morrison,who desired to insure her life.
At the table sat the great physician, a clean-shaven, white-haired man,in large, round, gold-rimmed spectacles. He was dressed in a greycashmere suit--for the weather was unbearably hot that morning--and,truth to tell, he was longing for his annual vacation at his prettyhouse by the sea at Frinton.
In the medical world Humphrey Sinclair had made a great name forhimself, and had had among his patients various European royalties,besides large numbers of the British aristocracy and well-known peopleof both sexes. Quiet mannered, soft spoken, and exquisitely polite, hewas always a favourite with his lady patients, while Lady Sinclairherself moved in a very good set.
Having arranged a number of papers which the Universal had sent to him,he took one upon which a large number of questions were printed withblank spaces for the proposer's replies. Then, turning to her, he said,with a smile:
"I fear, Mrs. Morrison, that I shall be compelled to ask you a number ofquestions. Please understand that they are not merely out of curiosity,but the company claim a right to know the family and medical history ofany person whose life they insure.
"I perfectly understand, Sir Humphrey," replied the handsome woman."Ask me any questions you wish, and I will try to reply to them to thebest of my ability."
"Very well," he said. "Let's begin." And he commenced to put to herquestions regarding the date of her birth, the cause of the deaths ofher father and her mother, whether she had ever suffered from thisdisease or that, dozens of which were enumerated. And so on.
For nearly half an hour the great doctor plied her with questions whichhe read aloud from the paper, and then wrote down her replies in thespaces reserved for them.
Never once did she hesitate--she knew those questions off by heart,indeed, and had her replies ready, replies culled from a budget ofinformation which during the past three months had been cleverlycollected. Truth to tell, she was replying quite accurately to thequestions, but only so far as Mrs. Morrison of Carsphairn was concerned.The medical history she gave was correct in every detail concerning Mrs.Morrison.
But, after all, was not the proposal upon the life of Mrs. Morrison, anddid not the famous physician believe her to be the widow of Carsphairn?
Sir Humphrey asked her to step upon the weighing machine in the cornerof the room, and afterwards he measured her height and wrote it downwith a grunt of satisfaction.
Then, after further examination, and putting many questions, he reseatedhimself, and turned to the page upon which his own private opinion wasto be recorded.
"I hope you don't find much wrong with me?" asked the lady, with alittle hesitation.
"No, my dear madam--nothing that I can detect," was the physician'sreply as he gazed at her through his big glasses. "Of course, mycolleague, Doctor Hepburn, may discover something. I shall have to askyou to call upon him."
"Any time you care to arrange. To-day--if you like. He may be at home.Shall I see?"
"I do so wish you would, Sir Humphrey," Ena said. "I want to get backto Scotland, as I have to go to Ardlui next week."
The great doctor took the telephone at his elbow, and was soon talkingto Doctor Hepburn, with whom he arranged for the lady to call in anhour.
Then Sir Humphrey scribbled the address in Harley Street on a slip ofpaper, and with a few polite words of reassurance, rang his bell, andthe man-servant conducted her out.
"An exceptionally pretty woman," grunted old Sir Humphrey to himselfwhen she had gone. "Highly intelligent, and a first-class life."
And he sat down to record his own private views as to the physicalcondition of the person proposed for insurance.
Ena idled before the shop windows in Oxford Street for three-quarters ofan hour, and then took a taxi to Harley Street, where she found DoctorStanley Hepburn, a short, stout, brown-bearded man of rather abruptmanner.
In his smart, up-to-date consulting-room he put the same questions toher, wearying as they were, and parrot-like she answered them.
"Truly, I'm having a busy morning, doctor," she remarked, with a sigh,laughing at the same time.
"Apparently," he said, smiling. "I must apologise for bothering youwith all these questions. Sir Humphrey has, no doubt, gone through themall."
"Well, never mind. Forgive me, and let's get along," he said briskly.
And he proceeded with question after question. At last, after anexamination exactly like that conducted by Sir Humphrey, Doctor Hepburnreseated himself at his table, and said:
"Well, Mrs. Morrison, I don't think I need keep you any longer."
"Are you quite satisfied with me?" she asked boldly.
He was silent for a few seconds.
"As far as I myself am concerned I see no reason whatever why thecompany should not accept the risk," was his reply. "Of course, I don'tknow the nature of Sir Humphrey's report; but I expect it coincides withmy own. I can detect nothing to cause apprehension, and, in normalcircumstances, you should live to quite old age."
"Thanks! That is a very agreeable piece of information," she said.
Then, his waiting-room being crowded--for he had given her a specialappointment--he rose and, bowing, dismissed her, saying:
"I shall send in my report to the company to-night, therefore the mattershould go through without delay."
Afterwards, as she walked along Harley Street, a great weight havingbeen lifted from her mind, she hailed a taxi and drove back to herpretty flat in Upper Brook Street, where a dainty lunch awaited her.
To answer frankly and correctly those questions had been an ordeal.Those queries were so cleverly arranged that if, after death, thereplies to any of them are found to be false the company would be ableto resist the claim upon it. To give a true and faithful account ofyour parents' ailments and your own illnesses is difficult enough, butto give an equally true account of those of another person is extremelydifficult and presents many pitfalls. And none knew that better thanEna Pollen.
After lunch, she rested for an hour, as was her habit in summer, andthen she took a taxi to Pont Street, where she had tea with LillaBraybourne.
To her she related her adventures among the medicos, adding:
"All is serene! There's nothing the matter with Mrs. Morrison ofCarsphairn! She's in excellent health and may live to be ninety. Hersis a first-class life!"
"Bernie predicted it," said the wife of the humble insurance agent ofHammersmith. "You were passed fit in the Fitzgerald affair--yourecollect."
"Yes," snapped the handsome woman. "What a pity the sum wasn't fivethousand instead of five hundred."
"I agree. But we didn't then realise how easy was the game. Now weknow--a few preliminary inquiries, a plausible tongue--which, thanks toHeaven, you've got, Ena--a few smart dresses, and a knowledge of all thedevious ways of insurance and assignments--and the thing is easy."
"Well, as far as we've gone in this matter all goes well--thanks toBernie's previous inquiries regarding the good lady of Carsphairn."
"She's a bit of a skinflint, I believe. Can't keep servants. She has afactor who is a very close Scot, and things at Carsphairn are usually ina perturbed condition," Lilla said. "Bernie has gone back to BridgePlace. What an awful life the poor dear leads! Fancy having to livewith that deaf old woman Felmore!"
"Yes. But isn't it part of the game? By living in Hammersmith, andbeing such a hard-working, respectable man, he acquires a lot of veryuseful knowledge."
"Quite so; but it must be very miserable there for him."
"He doesn't mind it, he says," was the reply. "It brings money."
"It certainly does that," said Lilla. "When shall you go north? Willyou wait till the policy is issued?"
"I think not. The sooner I meet Mrs. Morrison the better. Don't youagree?"
"Certainly. What does Bernie say?"
"That's his view," answered Ena. "So I shall go to Scotland at the endof the week. I shall stay at the Central, in Glasgow, for a night ortwo, and then on to Loch Lomond."
"Bernie has heard from one of his secret sources of information that thewidow is leaving Carsphairn three days earlier than she intended. Shegoes to visit a niece who lives in Crieff, and then on to Ardlui."
"I've been to Ardlui before--on a day trip from Glasgow up the Loch,"Ena said. "A quiet, remote little place, with an excellent hotel rightat the extreme end of the Loch, beyond Inversnaid."
"Then you'll go north without waiting for the policy?"
"Yes. Letters will come to me addressed care of myself, and Bernie willsend them on. As soon as I have notice that the company will accept me,I'll pay the premium. I've already opened a little account in the nameof Augusta Morrison, so that I can send them a cheque. In themeanwhile, we need lose no time."
"And yet I don't think we ought to rush it unduly, do you?" asked Lilla.
"Oh! we shan't do that, my dear Lilla. There's a lot to be done in thematter of inspiring confidence. Perhaps dear Augusta will not take tome. What then?"
"You always know how to make yourself pleasant, Ena. She'll take toyou, never fear!"
"According to the reports we've had about her, she's ratherdiscriminating in her friendships," said the handsome woman, smilinggrimly.
"Well, I rather wish I were coming with you for a fortnight on LochLomond," said Lilla.
"No, my dear, you have no place in the picture at present. Much as Iwould like your companionship, you are far better here at home."
"Yes, I suppose you are right!" answered her friend, sighing. "But Ilong for Scotland in these warm summer days."
"Get Bernie to take you to the seaside for a bit. There's nothing urgentdoing just now."
"Bernie is far too busy in Hammersmith, my dear," Lilla laughed. "Hewouldn't miss his weekly round for worlds. Besides, he's got someimportant church work on--helping the vicar in a series of missionmeetings."
"Bernie is a good Churchman, I've heard," said Ena.
"Of course. That, too, is part of the big bluff. The man who carriesround the bag every Sunday is always regarded as pious and upright. AndBernie never loses a chance to increase his halo of respectability."
Ena remained at Pont Street for about half an hour longer, and then,returning to her own flat, she set about sorting out the dresses shewould require for Scotland, and assisted her elderly maid to pack them.
Afterwards she returned into her elegant little drawing-room and seatedherself at the little writing-table, where she consulted a diary. Thenshe wrote telegrams to the hotels at Glasgow and at Ardlui, engagingrooms for dates which, after reflection, she decided upon.
Ena Pollen was a woman of determination and method. Her exterior wasthat of a butterfly of fashion, careless of everything save her dressand her hair, yet beneath the surface she was calm, clever, andunscrupulous, a woman who had never loved, and who, indeed, held theopposite sex in supreme contempt. The adventure in which she was atthat moment engaged was the most daring she had ever undertaken. Theunholy trio had dabbled in small affairs, each of which had brought themprofit, but the present undertaking would, she knew, require all hertact and cunning.
The real Mrs. Augusta Morrison, the widow of Carsphairn, was one ofBoyne's discoveries, and by judicious inquiry, combined with otherinvestigations which Ena herself had made, they knew practicallyeverything concerning her, her friends, and her movements. Thepreliminaries had taken fully three months, for prior to going toLlandudno, there to assume the widow's identity, Ena had been in secretto New Galloway, and while staying at the Lochinvar Arms, at Dairy, shehad been able to gather many facts concerning the rich widow ofCarsphairn, a copy of whose birth and marriage-certificate she hadobtained from Somerset House.
After writing the telegrams, she took a sheet of notepaper and wrote toMr. Emery in Manchester, telling him that she had passed both doctors,and asking him to hurry forward the policy.
"_My movements during the next fortnight or so are a little uncertain,"she wrote, "but please always address me as above, care of my friend,Mrs. Pollen. Please give my best regards to your dear wife, and acceptthe same yourself .--Yours very sincerely,_ AUGUSTA MORRISON."
Three nights later, Ena left Euston in the sleeping-car for Glasgow,arriving early next morning, and for a couple of days idled away thetime in the great hotel, the Central, eagerly awaiting a telegram.
At last it came.
The porter handed it to her as she returned from a walk. She tore itopen, and when she read its contents, she went instantly pale.
The message was disconcerting, for instead of giving informationregarding the movements of the woman she had been impersonating, itread:
"_Remain in Glasgow. Am leaving to-night. Will be with you in morning.Urgent_.--BERNARD."
What could have happened? A hitch had apparently occurred in thearrangements, which had been so thoroughly discussed and every detailconsidered.
It was then six o'clock in the evening. Boyne could not be there untileight o'clock on the following morning. She glanced bewildered aroundthe busy hall of the hotel, where men and women with piles of luggagewere constantly arriving and departing.
"Why is he not more explicit?" she asked herself in apprehension.
What could have happened? she wondered. For yet another fourteen hoursshe must remain in suspense.
Suddenly, however, she recollected that she could telephone to Lilla,and she put through a call without delay.
Half an hour later she spoke to her friend over the wire, inquiring thereason of Boyne's journey north.
"My dear, I'm sorry," replied Lilla in her high-pitched voice, "but Ireally cannot tell you over the 'phone. It is some very importantbusiness he wants to see you about."
"But am I not to go to Ardlui?" asked Ena.
"I don't know. Bernie wants to see you without delay--that's all."
"But has anything happened?" she demanded eagerly.
"Yes--something--but I can't tell you now. Bernie will explain. He'llbe with you in Glasgow early to-morrow morning."
"Is it anything very serious?"
"_I think it may be--very!_" was Lilla's reply; and at that moment theoperator cut off communication with London, the six minutes allowedhaving expired.
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London by William Le Queux / Mystery & Detective have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes