The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter I. The Midnight Ride
About eleven o'clock on the night of Monday, May 12, 1914, Marshall Allerdyke, a bachelor of forty, a man of great mental and physical activity, well known in Bradford as a highly successful manufacturer of dress goods, alighted at the Central Station in that city from an express which had just arrived from Manchester, where he had spent the day on business. He had scarcely set foot on the platform when he was confronted by his chauffeur, a young man in a neat dark-green livery, who took his master's travelling rug in one hand, while with the other he held out an envelope.
"The housekeeper said I was to give you that as soon as you got in, sir," he announced. "There's a telegram in it that came at four o'clock this afternoon--she couldn't send it on, because she didn't know exactly where it would find you in Manchester."
Allerdyke took the envelope, tore it open, drew out the telegram, and stepped beneath the nearest lamp. He muttered the wording of the message--
"On board SS. Perisco
"63 miles N.N.E. Spurn Point, 2.15 p.m., May 12th.
"Expect to reach Hull this evening, and shall stop Station Hotel there for night on way to London. Will you come on at once and meet me? Want to see you on most important business--
Allerdyke re-read this message, quietly and methodically folded it up, slipped it into his pocket, and with a swift glance at the station clock turned to his chauffeur.
"Gaffney," he said, "how long would it take us to run across to Hull?"
The chauffeur showed no surprise at this question; he had served Allerdyke for three years, and was well accustomed to his ways.
"Hull?" he replied. "Let's see, sir--that 'ud be by way of Leeds, Selby, and Howden. About sixty miles in a straight line, but there's a good bit of in-and-out work after you get past Selby, sir. I should say about four hours."
"Plenty of petrol in the car?" asked Allerdyke, turning down the platform. "There is? What time did you have your supper?"
"Ten o'clock, sir," answered Gaffney, with promptitude.
"Bring the car round to the hotel door in the station yard," commanded Allerdyke. "You'll find a couple of Thermos flasks in the locker--bring them into the hotel lounge bar."
The chauffeur went off down the platform. Allerdyke turned up the covered way to the Great Northern Hotel. When the chauffeur joined him there a few minutes later he was giving orders for a supply of freshly-cut beef sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs; the Thermos flasks he handed over to be filled with hot coffee.
"Better get something to eat now, Gaffney," he said. "Get some sandwiches, or some bread and cheese, or something--it's a longish spin."
He himself, waiting while the chauffeur ate and drank, and the provisions were made ready, took a whisky and soda to a chair by the fire, and once more pulled out and read the telegram. And as he read he wondered why his cousin, its sender, wished so particularly to see him at once. James Allerdyke, a man somewhat younger than himself, like himself a bachelor of ample means and of a similar temperament, had of late years concerned himself greatly with various business speculations in Northern Europe, and especially in Russia. He had just been over to St. Petersburg in order to look after certain of his affairs in and near that city, and he was returning home by way of Stockholm and Christiania, in each of which towns he had other ventures to inspect. But Marshall Allerdyke was quite sure that his cousin did not wish to see him about any of these matters--anything connected with them would have kept until they met in the ordinary way, which would have happened within a day or two. No, if James had taken the trouble to send him a message by wireless from the North Sea, it meant that James was really anxious to see him at the first available moment, and would already have landed in Hull, expecting to find him there. However, with a good car, smooth roads, and a fine, moonlit night--
It was not yet twelve o'clock when Allerdyke wrapped himself up in a corner of his luxurious Rolls-Royce, saw that the box of eatables and the two Thermos flasks were safe in the locker, and told Gaffney to go ahead. He himself had the faculty of going to sleep whenever he pleased, and he went to sleep now. He was asleep as Gaffney went through Leeds and its suburbs; he slept all along the country roads which led to Selby and thence to Howden. But in the silent streets of Howden he woke with a start, to find that Gaffney had pulled up in answer to a question flung to him by the driver of another car, which had come alongside their own from the opposite direction. That car had also been pulled up; within it Allerdyke saw a woman, closely wrapped in furs.
"What is it, Gaffney?" he asked, letting down his own window and leaning out.
"Wants to know which is the best way to get across the Ouse, sir," answered Gaffney. "I tell him there's two ferries close by--one at Booh, the other at Langrick--but there'll be nobody to work them at this hour. Where do you want to get to?" he went on, turning to the driver of the other car.
"Want to strike the Great Northern main line somewhere," answered the driver. "This lady wants to catch a Scotch express. I thought of Doncaster, but--"
The window of the other car was let down, and its occupant looked out. The light of the full moon shone full on her, and Allerdyke lifted his cap to a pretty, alert-looking young woman of apparently twenty-five, who politely returned his salutation.
"Can I give you any advice?" asked Allerdyke. "I understand you want--"
"An express train to Scotland--Edinburgh," replied the lady. "I made out, on arrival at Hull, that if I motored across country I would get a train at some station on the Great Northern line--a morning express. Doncaster, Selby, York--which is nearest from wherever we are!"
"This is Howden," said Allerdyke, looking up at the great tower of the old church. "And your best plan is to follow this road to Selby, and then to York. All the London expresses stop there, but they don't all stop at Selby or at Doncaster. And there's no road bridge over the Ouse nearer than Selby in any case."
"Many thanks," responded the lady. "Then," she went on, looking at her driver, "you will go on to York--that is--how far?" she added, favouring Allerdyke with a gracious smile. "Very far?"
"Less than an hour's run," answered Gaffney for his master. "And a good road."
The lady bowed; Allerdyke once more raised his cap; the two cars parted company. And Allerdyke stopped Gaffney as he was driving off again, and produced the provisions.
"Half-past two," he remarked, pulling out his watch. "You've come along in good style, Gaffney. We'll have something to eat and drink. Queer thing, eh, for anybody to motor across from Hull to catch a Great Northern express on the main line!"
"Mayn't be any trains out of Hull during the night, sir," answered Gaffney, taking a handful of sandwiches. "They'll get one at York, anyway. Want to reach Hull at any particular time, sir?"
"No," answered Allerdyke. "Go along as you've come. You'll have a bit of uphill work over the edge of the Wolds, now. When we strike Hull, go to the Station Hotel."
He went to sleep again as soon as they moved out of Howden, and he only awoke when the car stopped at the hotel door in Hull. A night-porter, hearing the buzz of the engine, came out.
"Put the car in the garage, Gaffney, and then get yourself a bed and lie as long as you like," said Allerdyke. "I'll let you know when I want you." He turned to the night-porter. "You've a Mr. James Allerdyke stopping here I think?" he went on. "He'd come in last night from the Christiania steamer."
The night-porter led the way into the hotel, and towards the office.
"Mr. Marshall Allerdyke?" he asked of the new arrival. "The gentleman left a card for you; I was asked to give it to you as soon as you came."
Allerdyke took the visiting-card which the man produced from a letter rack, and read the lines hastily scribbled on the back--
If you land here during the night, come straight up to my room--263--and rouse me out. Want to see you at once.--J.A.
Allerdyke slipped the card into his pocket and turned to the night-porter.
"My cousin wants me to go up to his room at once," he said. "Just show me the way. Do you happen to know what time he got in last night?" he continued, as they went upstairs. "Was it late?"
"Passengers from the Perisco, sir?" answered the night-porter. "There were several of 'em came in last night--she got into the river about eight-thirty. It 'ud be a bit after nine o'clock when your friend came in."
Allerdyke's mind went back to the meeting at Howden.
"Did you have a lady set off from here in the middle of the night?" he asked, out of sheer curiosity. "A lady in a motor-car?"
"Oh! that lady," exclaimed the night-porter, with a grim laugh. "Ah! nice lot of bother she gave me, too. She was one of those Perisco passengers--she got in here with the rest, and booked a room, and went to it all right, and then at half-past twelve down she came and said she wanted to get on, and as there weren't no trains she'd have a motor-car and drive to catch an express at Selby, or Doncaster, or somewhere. Nice job I had to get her a car at that time o' night!--and me single-handed--there wasn't a soul in the office then. Meet her anywhere, sir?"
"Met her on the road," replied Allerdyke laconically. "Was she a foreigner, do you know?"
"I shouldn't wonder if she was something of that sort," answered the night-porter. "Sort that would have her own way at all events. Here's the room, sir."
He paused before the door of a room which stood halfway down a long corridor in the centre of the hotel, and on its panels he knocked gently.
"Every room's filled on this floor, sir," he remarked. "I hope your friend's a light sleeper, for there's some of 'em'll have words to say if they're roused at four o'clock in the morning."
"He's a very light sleeper as a rule," replied Allerdyke. He stood listening for the sound of some movement in the room: "Knock again," he said, when a minute had passed without response on the part of the occupant. "Make it a bit louder."
The night-porter, with evident unwillingness, repeated his summons, this time loud enough to wake any ordinary sound sleeper. But no sound came from within the room, and after a third and much louder thumping at the door, Allerdyke grew impatient and suspicious.
"This is queer!" he growled. "My cousin's one of the lightest sleeper I ever knew. If he's in there, there's something wrong. Look here! you'll have to open that door. Haven't you got a key?"
"Key'll be inside, sir," replied the night-porter. "But there's a master-key to all these doors in the office. Shall I fetch it, then?"
"Do!" said Allerdyke, curtly. He began to walk up and down the corridor when the man had hurried away, wondering what this soundness of sleep in his cousin meant. James Allerdyke was not a man who took either drink or drugs, and Marshall's experience of him was that the least sound awoke him.
"Queer!" he repeated as he marched up and down. "Perhaps he's not--"
The quiet opening of a door close by made him lift his eyes from the carpet. In the dim light he saw a man looking out upon him--a man of an unusually thick crop of hair and with a huge beard. He stared at Allerdyke half angrily, half sulkily; then he closed his door as quietly as he had opened it. And Allerdyke, turning back to his cousin's room, mechanically laid his hand on the knob and screwed it round.
The door was open.
Allerdyke drew a sharp breath as he crossed the threshold. He had stayed in that hotel often, and he knew where the switch of the electric light should be. He lifted a hand, found the switch, and turned the light on. And as it flooded the room, he pulled himself up to a tense rigidity. There, sitting fully dressed in an easy chair, against which his head was thrown back, was his cousin--unmistakably dead.