The red widow; or, the d.., p.9
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London, p.9
*A GENTLEMAN NAMED GREIG*
The days passed pleasantly enough at Ardlui. Mrs. Morrison and hernewly-found friend usually went walking or driving together over theheather-clad mountains, or along the loch-side, so remotely picturesqueand silent.
One day she received an offer--through a firm of estate-agents inEdinburgh--from a well-known cotton-spinner in Oldham to rent Carsphairnfurnished for a year. It was a most tempting offer, and Mrs. Morrisonshowed the letter to her friend.
"If I were you, I would accept it," Mrs. Pollen urged. "It would do yougood to travel, to see London life a little, and go over to Paris and toNice in winter. I could not vegetate always on a Scottish estate, muchas I love the country."
"I confess I feel half inclined to accept. Lately I have felt verylonely and dull at Carsphairn, and now with winter in front of us Ishould, I agree, be far more happy with a little amusement."
"Of course," said Ena, as they were walking together near the hotel."You are going to Edinburgh next week, so I would write to the agentsand say that you will call upon them."
"Very well, I will," said Mrs. Morrison. "You are coming to Edinburgh,too, aren't you?"
"Just for a couple of days before I return to London."
"Then we will travel together, and stay at the Caledonian," said AugustaMorrison.
And so it was agreed.
That Ena had successfully ingratiated herself with Mrs. Morrison wasproved by a letter she wrote that day to her niece at Brighton, in whichshe said:
"_I have met an exceedingly nice woman here--a Mrs. Pollen, who lives inUpper Brook Street, London. I will ask her down to Brighton while I amwith you. She has persuaded me to spend a little time in London after Ileave you, and I think the change will do me good. I am contemplatingletting Carsphairn furnished for a year, and spending the winter firston the Riviera, and later in Egypt. I make few friends, as you know, butI am sure you will like Mrs. Pollen. She is very often at theMetropole, at Brighton. Next week we go to Edinburgh together, andafter I have done my business there I shall come straight to you._"
Ena, with her innate cunning, had been quick to realise the openfriendship which her companion had extended towards her. This somewhatsurprised her, for a woman is the enemy of every other woman. Few womenever see beauty or good qualities in another.
Only a few days before Ena went north, she was discussing the point withLilla Braybourne over tea in the latter's drawing-room.
"Women see in every other female thing a potential rival, my dearLilla," she had said. "That is what makes my task so hard. Every womandefends herself against every other woman, fully confident that the handof the female world is raised against her."
"I think I agree," was Lilla's reply. "I've hardly ever known a womanto admire the good looks of another of her sex. Curious, isn't it? Butit's quite true what you say. Pussies lap tea and scandal everywhere,and even a female saint too often uses her crown of thorns to scratch."
"Yes," laughed the handsome adventuress. "I heard it said the other daythat to the woman of thirty the girl of eighteen is a crime, and thatto-day's fashion is to look sixteen if you're sixty, and to collar yourdaughter's lovers if they are not wide awake enough to prevent you.That's what makes it so hard for me."
"Few women can attract women, Ena. You are one of them. You deservethe O.B.E. for it."
"But it is a most difficult and often dangerous undertaking," shedeclared; "and, after all, the O.B.E. has been given for less."
By the least lapse of the tongue or a too eager appearance to scrape upan acquaintanceship would, Ena knew, alienate Mrs. Morrison for ever.The widow's reverence for her departed husband was the saving clause.She had professed deep sympathy, and in the delightful fiction she hadtold about her own life and "dear Peter," her late husband, she hadattracted Augusta as one of the few women who were womanly.
Who was it said that modern love starts in Heaven and ends in the Sundaynewspaper? Ena's philosophy was always amusing. She scoffed at love,at life, at beauty, at everything. Indeed, on that very day as shewalked with Mrs. Morrison she had caused her to laugh heartily byreferring to some woman friend of hers who lived at Surbiton as "one ofthose women who shine with virtue and the cheapest sort of complexionsoap."
Ena Pollen had a caustic tongue as far as her own sex was concerned, yetshe could assume such a suave, sweet manner towards women as entirely todisarm them.
It was so in Mrs. Morrison's case. As the warm, delightful days wenton, they were inseparable, exchanging intimate details of their owncareers, and fast becoming firm friends.
The arrival of the steamer from Balloch each afternoon was the chiefexcitement, and by it visitors to the hotel came and left.
One afternoon the steamer brought a short, round-faced little man, verywell-dressed, whose speech showed that he came from Glasgow. He had asuit-case with him, and took the one room which happened to bedisengaged, giving the name of John Greig. He was an alert-lookingbusiness man, probably a Glasgow merchant out for a few days' relaxationfrom the eternal bustle of Sauchiehall Street.
He sat alone at dinner, and once or twice glanced in the direction ofthe two ladies who sat together in the window, for Mrs. Morrison had nowjoined Mrs. Pollen. Both were better dressed than the other visitors,especially Ena, who wore a semi-evening frock and a jade-coloured velvetband in her red hair.
After dinner the visitor strolled alone in the garden until he found aman to chat with, the pair sitting smoking in the moonlight until itbecame time to retire.
When John Greig reached his room he flung himself into a chair, andbeneath his breath, remarked:
"By Jove! She's a handsome woman, too! But she's not Joan Eastlake.That's my belief. Nevertheless, now I'm here, I may as well make quitecertain."
And he took out a final cigarette from his case and smoked itreflectively before he turned in.
Next day he was about early at the loch-side, and though he contrived toarouse no suspicion in the minds of either those connected with thehotel or any of his fellow-visitors, he kept casual observation upon thepair. Now and then he would accidentally be so close in their vicinityas to be able to overhear scraps of their conversation. Yet so cleverlydid he do this, and so utterly uninterested did he appear to be, thateven Ena, who was ever suspicious of eavesdroppers and persons watching,failed to realise the intense interest which she had evoked in thelittle round-faced man.
The following day Ena accompanied her friend on a trip across to LochKatrine, but the stranger idled about the hotel and wrote letters.After lunch, however, at the hour when the small establishment wasquietest, the curiosity of anyone watching him would certainly have beenaroused. His actions were truly a little peculiar.
At about three o'clock that afternoon, having ascertained that none ofthe servants were about, he slipped silently to Mrs. Pollen's bedroom,the door of which was unlocked, and, entering quickly, closed the doorafter him. Then, walking straight to a big dressing-case which lay upona chair near the window, he took out a bunch of keys and tried one afterthe other in an effort to open it.
He failed, none of the keys would fit.
"If I force it she'll suspect," he murmured. "No, I must give it up forthe present--curse it!"
Then he made a tour of the room, opened the wardrobe, and examined thecontents of several drawers, but though some expensive jewellery wasthere, he cast it aside in contempt.
Mr. Greig did not want jewels. It was evident that he was in search ofsomething else far more interesting. But that lock upon thedressing-case was an unusually good one, and had defied all his manykeys.
There was but one course to pursue, and that was to retreat to his ownroom, which he did in great disappointment and chagrin.
That evening he watched the two women on their return. His movementswere those of a practised watcher. He was unobtrusive, disinterested ineverything save the picturesque surroundings, and behaved as though hehad no interest whatever in any person in the hotel.
That evening, while in the garden after dinner, he found himself sittingon a seat beside Mrs. Morrison, and ventured to address a remark to herregarding the glorious sunset.
What more natural than in a few moments Ena and her friend were chattingaffably with the new-comer.
"This is my first visit to Scotland," Ena declared, though it was afalsehood, "and I'm delighted with it. My views--those of aLondoner--have entirely altered concerning Scotland and the Scottishpeople. I don't agree now with the ridicule cast upon them."
"I'm very glad of that," declared Mr. Greig. "In the south you don'treally understand us, I think. And perhaps we here don't quiteunderstand you. National prejudices are very hard to break down."
"They are. But you see the majority of the English never come north.They view the Scottish people by the ridicule cast upon them byperformers on our music-halls. It is unfortunate, but it is a fact."
"Never mind," laughed the pleasant-faced man from Glasgow. "Ournational pride is never hurt by those amblers on the stage who wax fatupon the profits of their mimicry. We only laugh at it up here, Iassure you," he declared to Mrs. Pollen.
The conversation drifted naturally to the fact that Mrs. Morrison toldhim her name, which was Scottish, and the identity of her late husband,so well known in Glasgow.
"Oh! I knew your husband quite well, Mrs. Morrison," declared JohnGreig, for no shrewder or more well-informed person was there betweenthe Lowlands and Cromarty. "I knew him twenty years ago. Do yourecollect Mr. Buchanan, who had an office in St. Vincent Street,Glasgow, and with whom he went into partnership? Mr. Buchanan diedabout four years ago. I went to visit him once at that beautiful houseof his on Loch Rannoch."
"Then you knew Mr. Buchanan!" cried Mrs. Morrison. "He was a dearfellow. My husband was devoted to him. Together they built up theworks."
"I know. Everyone in commercial circles in Glasgow knows how closelythey worked together, and, Mrs. Morrison, I may tell you that not aworker on the Clyde has any but good words for your husband and hispartner. The conditions of work in your husband's place at Govan werealways ideal. We hear much of labour trouble in these post-bellum days,but if all works were like your husband's there would be little togrumble at."
"It is awfully good of you to pay such a tribute to my husband's regardfor his employees," said Mrs. Morrison, much gratified. "He and I oftendiscussed their welfare, and I always agreed with him that labour shouldbe duly paid and there should be no sweating. We have Socialistpropaganda on the Clyde to-day, but is it at all astonishing in view ofthe high prices, of Government muddle and waste, and the advancementinto society by the King's favour in the shape of 'honours' ofbare-faced swindlers and those who escape under the more euphonious nameof profiteers?"
"Ah! I'm glad that you have realised the deadly peril of Britain, Mrs.Morrison," Greig said. "As a business man in Glasgow--I am an exporterto the East--I know much of what is transpiring among the Socialists,and I know the deadly peril of Britain to-day."
The fact that Greig had known not only her husband but his partner,Buchanan, appealed to Mrs. Morrison, with the result that he hadfrequent chats with her, and incidentally with her friend, Ena Pollen,whose belongings he had so carefully scrutinised in her absence.
The man from Glasgow, with his round, merry, well-shaven face, acountenance of prosperity, was a typical man of business, and heappealed to old Morrison's widow as a very nice man.
With her estimate Ena, any suspicion utterly disarmed, entirely agreed.
Pleasant, humorous, and careless in his relaxation from money-making ingrim and grimy Glasgow, John Greig was an excellent fellow on holiday.His estimate of women--for he was a bachelor--coincided entirely withthat of Ena Pollen.
To be frank, he had, in the course of conversation, gauged her viewsregarding her own sex, and he at once sought to cultivate heracquaintance upon her line of thought.
"Of course," she said next morning, as he found himself gossiping withher after breakfast, "woman ought not to work at all. No man reallylikes a woman who works for him. Work isn't woman's natural element,though trouble is. Work is an odious word to women."
"Really, Mrs. Pollen, your philosophy is quite upon that of my ownthinking," laughed Greig. "Once a man I know declared to me that togirls business life would be a dull existence if it were not for its slyopening for an illicit romance."
"One woman writer has said, and with much truth, that petticoats, liketime, were made for slaves, and that there is more virtue in a singlepair of trousers than there is in a multitude of skirts," laughed Ena.
"True. Was it not the same lady author who told us that the wrong partof wrong-doing is being found out?"
"Ah! yes. And the same feminine philosopher went farther," Ena said."She declared that the woman who thinks it wicked to buy silk petticoatsand luxurious 'undies'--'because no one sees them'--is a fool; but thehedonist who frankly revels in the feel and _frou-frou_ of silk and_crepe de chine_ and mysterious lace things is as wise as Eve, who woreleaves rather than nothing, and made a tantalising mystery of herselfout of the poor resources at her command."
The man from Glasgow laughed immoderately. "Really," he remarked, "youhave no great admiration of your own sex, Mrs. Pollen."
"No, I have not," declared the Red Widow frankly, as they both haltedand leaned over a gate which gave entrance to a great green meadowbeyond which was the edge of the loch, the water of which lay like amirror in the morning sunlight.
Up there, far removed from the life and bustle of the outer world, withall its political bickerings and its labour troubles, life was veryenjoyable, and the two women who had become so friendly had quicklydiscovered in John Greig a man whose ideas corresponded exactly withtheir own--a man who had formed distinct views upon life, and who wasnot afraid to admit them.
At last came the afternoon of their departure for Edinburgh. They badeMr. Greig farewell on the Pier just before the steamer started forBalloch.
Then, going on board, they waved him a farewell as the paddles began torevolve, sending out long ripples over the glassy surface of the loch.
He raised his hat with a merry laugh, but as he did so, he remarkedbeneath his breath:
"After all--I'm not sure, _even now_!"
The Red Widow; or, The Death-Dealers of London by William Le Queux / Mystery & Detective have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes