The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London

       William Le Queux / Mystery & Detective
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*CHAPTER VII*

*WHAT HAPPENED IN BRIDGE PLACE*

Together Marigold and her lover crept up the kitchen stairs in thedarkness, and heard Mr. Boyne moving about in the front parlour.

They heard him yawn as he threw off his coat, for the night was sultry,and there were sounds which showed that he was eating his evening meal.They heard the loud fizzing as he unscrewed a bottle of beer, and thenoise of a knife and fork upon the plate, for he had left the door open.

After about ten minutes, for he seemed to eat his supper hurriedly, heflung off his boots, and in his socks crept upstairs to Mrs. Felmore'sdoor, apparently to satisfy himself that she had retired.

”Hadn't we better get down,” suggested Durrant, in a low whisper. ”Hemay take it into his head to come down and search here.”

”No, he never comes into the kitchen. So long as auntie has gone to bedhe does not mind. Let's wait and watch.”

This they did. After a few moments Mr. Boyne came down again and walkedalong the narrow passage back to his room, satisfied that all was quiet.

He had removed his boots, apparently for some other purpose than to beable to move about in silence, for however heavily he trod his oldhousekeeper would not hear him. Perhaps, however, he feared that hersense of feeling had been so highly developed that she might havedetected the vibration caused by his footsteps.

He remained for nearly a quarter of an hour in his room, while the pairstood breathless in the darkness.

”This is just what happened when I last watched,” the girl whisperedinto the ear of the young man who held her arm affectionately in thedarkness.

”I wonder when he'll come out,” remarked young Durrant, highly excitedover the curious adventure. That something remarkable was afoot wasproved by the man's action in ascending the stairs to ascertain that hishousekeeper had retired and would not disturb his movements.

At last they heard a soft movement, and next moment, peering over thebanisters, they saw a tall, ghostly form clad from top to toe in a long,loose white gown advancing to the stairs.

In one hand he carried a glass jug filled with water, and in the other aplate piled with bread and other food.

”See!” whispered Durrant. ”There is somebody upstairs in that lockedroom. He's carrying food and water to his prisoner!”

”Hush!” the girl said softly, and in excitement. ”He may hear you! He'svery quick!”

But the strange occupant of the house had already ascended out of view,and a few moments later they heard a click as he put his key into theYale lock of the closed room.

They distinctly heard him open the door, and as distinctly heard himclose it again.

”You wait here, Marigold,” the young fellow whispered. ”I'll creep upand see what I can. Perhaps I shall hear them talking.”

”Yes, do,” she said. ”But take the greatest care. Mind the stairs don'tcreak. He'll be alarmed in a moment.”

”Leave that to me,” he replied, and next moment he left her side, andslowly ascending the few remaining steps, gained the hall, and then thefoot of the stairs which led to the first floor.

Though he had not removed his shoes he made no noise, for he trod slowlyand cautiously, never lifting one foot until the other was downsilently. Thus very slowly he followed the mysterious man in white.

Hardly had he ascended four steps when an electric bell sounded,apparently in the locked room. He halted, and in an instant decided toretreat. Scarcely before Marigold had realised that the alarm hadsounded, he sprang down, rejoined her, and whispering:

”Quick! Let's get down!” he descended into the dark kitchen. There,clutching her by the arm, he felt his way to the door.

Without pausing to listen to the effect of the alarm upon the manupstairs, the pair passed out into the area, closed the door after them,hurried up the steps, and out into the street.

”Let's get away before he sees us!” Gerald urged, and they both ranlight-footed along to the corner into King Street, where they escaped.

”There's a trap in that house!” Durrant declared, as after hurryingbreathlessly they walked along in the direction of the Broadway Station.”Upon one of those stairs is an electrical contact which gives to thelocked room the alarm of an intruder. He switched it on from his roombelow!”

”Yes!” said the girl. ”I feel sure there is.”

”And that shows that there's something very wrong somewhere. Mr. Boynehas, in secret, a guest who is in hiding upstairs. He takes him foodand water every night--as we have seen with our own eyes. And, further,he had taken the precaution of installing an electrical alarm in caseanyone followed him upstairs while he was there with his friend.”

”True,” said the girl. ”But why does he disguise himself whenever hegoes up there?”

”That we cannot yet tell. At present it is a complete mystery.”

”And a most uncanny one!”

”It is, I can't see the motive of that disguise.”

”Is it not weird? He was covered from head to foot in that white cloak,and only those two slits for his eyes.”

”Yes. And he moved as silently as a shadow.”

So the pair conversed until they reached the Broadway Station, and leftby the Underground a few moments later.

What they had witnessed that night had increased the mystery ahundredfold.

In the meantime Bernard Boyne had been startled by the ringing of thebell, yet in the full knowledge that Mrs. Felmore could hear nothing.That secret alarm had, as a matter of fact, been installed with his ownhands about two months before, with its switch concealed in the upstairsroom.

On hearing it, he instantly flung off his white cloak and dashedheadlong down the stairs.

In the hall, however, he halted and burst out laughing.

”Fool you are, Bernard!” he exclaimed aloud to himself. ”Yes, you aregetting more nervous every day!”

The reason of this was because close to the front door sat Mrs.Felmore's black cat, waiting to be let out for the night.

”Ah, pussy!” he exclaimed. ”So it is you who ran silently down thestairs and set off the gong, eh?”

And, opening the door, he let out the cat, saying:

”Out you go, Jimmy, and don't do it again.”

Then he reascended the stairs to the locked room, perfectly satisfiedwith the solution of what a few moments before had caused him veryconsiderable alarm.

No intruder would be tolerated in that dingy house--the house of greatmystery.

He carried in his hand a small bottle of meat extract which he had takenfrom the sideboard in the parlour, and was fully satisfied that it wasthe cat who had set off the alarm.

As Gerald and Marigold sat side by side in the train, they could notconverse because of the noise, but at Earl's Court, where they changed,the girl for Wimbledon Park and her lover bound in the oppositedirection, Marigold halted on the platform, and said:

”I feel worried about auntie, Gerald. There's something wrong in thathouse. Don't you think so?”

”Frankly, I do,” was the young man's reply. ”That he sets an alarm whenhe visits the mysterious person concealed in that locked room is initself a most remarkable feature of the affair, which is one we mustcertainly probe to the bottom.”

”But Mr. Boyne is such a nice man. Everyone speaks so well of him. Inall Hammersmith I don't think he has a single enemy, save those who arejealous of his local popularity. And there are always such.”

”As I've said before, Marigold, the men who are deep schemers alwaystake care to establish a high reputation locally. This Mr. Boyne has,no doubt, done so with some ulterior motive.”

”And that motive we mean to find out,” said the girl decisively.

”We will,” he said, in a hard voice. ”I feel confident that we are onthe track of some very sensational affair.”

”Who can be the person who is hiding?”

”Ah! that remains to be seen. It is evidently someone who dare not showhis face--not only in the light of day, but even at night.”

”But why does Mr. Boyne wear that hideous robe with slits for the eyes?”asked Marigold, bewildered, as they walked to the stairs.

”At present, I can't imagine. But we shall know the truth very soon,never fear,” the young man replied. And then, lifting his hat politely,he shook her hand, and they parted after a very adventurous evening.

As Gerald Durrant travelled back to his home, he reflected deeply uponthe whole affair. Though he had not dared to mention the fact toMarigold, he was more deeply in love with her than ever. She was themost dainty and most beautiful girl he had ever met. She was chic tothe finger-tips, and among the many girl clerks he met daily she wasoutstanding on account of her refinement, her modesty, and the sweetexpression always upon her countenance.

Yet the problem which she had put forward to him was certainly aninscrutable one. Boyne, the highly respectable, hard-working insuranceagent, lived in that dingy and rather stuffy house surrounded by meagrecomfort which, in itself, betokened modest means. For every pennyBernard Boyne gained he worked very hard. Insurance agency is nothighly-paid, for everything is nowadays cut to a minimum, while sincethe war the cost of living has soared.

Nevertheless, as he sat in the train taking him westward, he examinedthe facts. Boyne employed as housekeeper a woman who was stone-deaf.Why? Was it because the person confined behind that stout door upstairssometimes shouted and made noises which would have attracted theattention of any person who possessed the sense of hearing?

That this was so he was convinced. Had it not been proved by Boynecarrying food to the mysterious person who was his captive, or whoremained in voluntary concealment?

If the latter, why did he disguise himself each time he paid him avisit?

No. Somebody was held there captive against his will, and the reason ofthe wearing of that cloak was in order that the captor should remainunknown and unidentified. Truly, there was an element of sensationalismin the whole affair!

He was, however, determined to get to the bottom of it. Marigold had,in her perplexity, consulted him, and he had given his aid. Now, havingwitnessed what he had, he meant to carry the affair through, and solvethe mystery of Bernard Boyne and his locked room in Hammersmith.

It occurred to him that perhaps by watching Boyne's movements he mightlearn something of interest. The unfortunate part of it was that in hisposition he was engaged all day, and could never have any time to devoteto the affair till six or seven o'clock. Nevertheless, he had made afirm resolve to discover the reason of that locked room, and theidentity of the person concealed within.

Supposing the person to be some relative who was insane, or whosepersonal appearance was too horrible to be seen in public--and there areall sorts of human monstrosities living in concealment in London--thenthere could be no reason why Boyne should hide his face when visitinghim. No. Somebody was held there, a prisoner in solitary confinement.

He recollected the heavy door, and the light beneath. Did they not telltheir own tale?

”London contains many mysteries of crime,” he said to himself as healighted at the station and strolled home. ”And here is one, I feelsure. Boyne is playing some clever game. Perhaps he seeks to inheritproperty belonging to the person whom he holds in captivity, and whosedeath may indeed have been registered!”

Such a case--and more than one--was on record. Cases of people presumedby the law to be dead, yet they were still alive, held in confinement bythose who benefited by their money.

Durrant, who had read deeply of the mysteries of crime, recollected thecase of Mrs. Marvin, of Hounslow; of George Charles Pepper, of Richmond;or Doctor Heaton, of Curzon Street; the celebrated case of the sistersTredgold, and others, all of whom were concerned in the holding inbondage of those whose fortunes they secured.

His inclination led him to go direct to Scotland Yard, and reveal whathe had heard and seen, but Marigold had urged him to refrain from doingso until they had investigated further. She held Mr. Boyne in such highesteem, and her aunt held such a comfortable post, that she was mostreluctant to put any suspicions before the police. It was in accordancewith the girl's wishes that he did not go straight to the CriminalInvestigation Department. Yet he knew too well that the police, whodiscover so many ”mare's nests” daily, are slow to move until a tragedyoccurs. And then it is often too late, for the perpetrators of thecrime have vanished, either abroad, or into one or other of the criminalbolt-holes which are ever open to those who know.

The public never realise that in the great underworld of London thereare people who make a living--and a very good one, too--by successfullyconcealing for weeks, months, nay, years, those for whom the emissariesof Scotland Yard are in search. The clever criminal knows of theseburrows where he can live quite cosily, and surrounded by comforts,defying all police inquiries until the hue and cry has died down, andthen as a stoker-fireman, or in some menial capacity, he gets abroad afree man--free to enjoy the proceeds of his crimes.

At first Gerald Durrant had suspected Bernard Boyne to be one of thoseobliging persons who offer safe asylum to criminals, but the wearing ofthat ghostly cloak by the owner of the house dispelled any such theory.

No. As he entered the house, after that exciting evening, he was firmlyconvinced that Boyne held somebody--man or woman--in captivity.

And he intended, at all hazards, to learn the truth.


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