The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter X. The Second Murder
It had been very evident to Allerdyke that ever since Fullaway had mentioned the matter of the missing maid, Celia Lennard had become a victim to doubt, suspicion, and uncertainty. Her colour came and went; her eyes began to show signs of tears; her voice shook. And now, at the American's direct question, she wrung her hands with an almost despairing gesture.
"But I can't!" she exclaimed. "I don't know her address--how should I? It's somewhere in London--Bloomsbury, I think--but even then I don't know if that's where her mother lives, to whom she said she was going. I did know her address--I mean I remembered it for a while, at the time I engaged her--a year ago, but I've forgotten it. Oh! do you really think she's robbed me, or helped to rob me?"
"Never mind opinions," answered Fullaway curtly. "They're no good. Is this the maid you brought with you once or twice when you called at my office some time ago, over the Pinkie Pell deal?"
"Yes--yes, the same!" she answered.
"A Frenchwoman?" said Fullaway.
"Yes--Lisette. Of course she went with me to your office--that was eight or nine months ago, and I've had her a year. And I had excellent testimonials with her, too. Oh, I can't think that--"
"Can't you make an effort to remember her address?" urged Fullaway. "What can we do until we know that?"
Celia drew her fine eyebrows together in a palpable effort to think.
"I've got it somewhere," she said at last. "I must have it somewhere--most likely in an address-book at my flat--I should be sure to put it down at the time."
"Who is there at your flat?" asked Fullaway.
"My housekeeper and a maid," answered Celia. "They're always there, whether I'm at home or not. But they couldn't get at what you want--all my papers and things are locked up--and in a hopeless state of confusion, too."
Fullaway pushed aside his plate.
"Then there's only one thing to be done," he said, with an accent of finality. "We must go up to town at once."
Allerdyke, still quietly eating his supper, looked up.
"That's just what I was going to suggest," he said. "There's no good to be done hanging about here. Let's get on to the scene of operations. If Miss Lennard's maid has stolen her jewels, she's probably had some hand in the theft from my cousin. We must find her. Now, then, let me come in. I'll look up the train, settle up with these hotel folk, and we'll be off. You give your attention to your packing, Miss Lennard, and leave the rest to me--you won't mind travelling the night?"
Celia shook her head.
"I don't mind travelling all night for half a dozen nights if I can track my lost property," she said lugubriously. "You're dead sure it's no use stopping here?--that the robbery didn't take place here?"
"Sure!" answered Fullaway. "We must get off. That French damsel's got to be found--somehow."
The supper-party came to an end--the prima donna and her temporary maid began to bustle with garments and trunks, the two men attended to all other necessary matters, and at two o'clock in the morning the three sped out of Edinburgh for the South, each secretly wondering what was going to come of their journey. Allerdyke, preparing to go to sleep in the compartment which he and Fullaway occupied by themselves, dropped one grim remark to his companion as he settled himself.
"Seems like a wild-goose chase this, my lad, but it's one we've got to go through with! What'll the next stage be?"
The next stage was an arrival in London in the middle of a lovely May morning, a swift drive to Celia Lennard's flat in Bedford Court Mansions, the hurried rummaging of its owner amongst an extraordinary mass of papers, books, and documents, and the ultimate discovery of the French maid's address. Celia held it up with a sigh of vast relief, which changed into a groan of despairing doubt.
"There it is!" she exclaimed. "Lisette Beaurepaire, 911 Bernard Street, Bloomsbury--I knew it was Bloomsbury. That's where she lived when I engaged her, anyhow--but then her sick mother mayn't live there! The man who met her at Hull, who said he was her brother, didn't say where the mother lived, except that it was in London."
"We must go to Bernard Street, anyway, at once," said Fullaway. "We may get some information there."
But such information as they got on the door-step of 911 Bernard Street was scanty and useless. The house was a typical Bloomsbury lodging-place, let off in floors and rooms. Its proprietor, summoned from a neighbouring house, recollected, with considerable difficulty and after consultation of a penny pocket-book, that he had certainly let a top-floor room to a young Frenchwoman about a year ago, but he had never caught her name properly, and simply had her noted down as Mamselle. She had paid her rent regularly, and had remained in the house five weeks--that was all he knew about her. Had he ever seen her since? Not that he knew of--in fact, he shouldn't know her if he saw her--they were all pretty much alike, these young Frenchwomen. Did he know where she came from to his house--where she went from his house? Not he! he knew no more than what he had just told.
"What now?" asked Allerdyke as the three searchers paced dejectedly up the street. "This is doing no good--it's worse than the Hull affair. However, there's one thing suggests itself to me. Didn't you say," he went on, turning to Celia, "that you had some very good testimonials with this young woman? If so, and you've still got them, we might trace her in that way."
"I had some, and I may have them still, but you saw just now what an awful mess all my letters and papers are in," replied Celia, almost tearfully. "I always do get things like that into hopeless confusion--I never know what to destroy and what to keep, and they accumulate so. It would take hours upon hours to look for those letters, and in the meantime--"
"In the meantime," remarked Fullaway as he signalled to a taxi-cab, "there's only one thing to be done. We must go to the police. Get in, both of you, and let's make haste to New Scotland Yard."
Once more Allerdyke received an impression of the American's usefulness and practical acquaintance with things. Fullaway seemed to know exactly what to do, whom to approach, how to go about the business in hand; within a few minutes all three were closeted with a high official of the Criminal Investigation Department, a man who might have been a barrister, a medical specialist, or a scientist of distinction, and who maintained an unmoved countenance and a perfect silence while Fullaway unfolded the story. He and Allerdyke had held a brief consultation as they drove from Bloomsbury to Whitehall, and they had decided that as things had now reached a critical stage it would be best to tell the authorities everything. Therefore the American narrated the entire sequence of events as they related not only to Mademoiselle de Longarde's loss but to the death of James Allerdyke and the disappearance of the Nastirsevitch valuables. And the official heard, and made mental notes, soaking everything into some proper cell of his brain, and he said nothing until Fullaway had come to an end, and at that end he turned to Celia Lennard.
"You can, of course, describe your maid?" he asked.
"Certainly!" answered Celia. "To every detail."
"Do so, if you please," continued the official, producing a pile of papers from a drawer and turning them over until he came to one which he drew from the rest.
"A Frenchwoman," said Celia. "Aged, I should say, about twenty-six. Tall. Slender--but not thin. Of a very good figure. Black hair--a quantity of it. Black eyes--very penetrating. Fresh colour. Not exactly pretty, but attractive--in the real Parisian way--she is a Parisian. Dressed--when she left me at Hull--in a black tailor-made coat and skirt, and carrying a travelling coat of black, lined with fur--one I gave her in Russia."
"Her luggage?" asked the official.
"She had a suit-case: a medium-sized one."
"Large enough, I presume, to conceal the jewel-box your friend has told me about just now?"
The official put his papers back in the drawer and turned to his visitors with a business-like look which finally settled itself on Celia's face.
"You must be prepared to hear some serious news," he said. "I mean about this woman. I have no doubt from what you have just told me that I know where she is."
"Where?" demanded Celia excitedly. "You know? Where, then?"
"Lying in the mortuary at Paddington," answered the official quietly.
In spite of Celia's strong nerves she half rose in her seat--only to drop back with a sharp exclamation.
"Dead! Probably murdered. And I should say," continued the official, with a glance at the two men, "murdered in the same way as the gentleman you have told me of was murdered at Hull--by some subtle, strange, and secret poison."
No one spoke for a minute or two. When the silence was broken it was by Allerdyke.
"I should like to know about this," he said in a hard, keen voice. "I'm getting about sick of delay in this affair of my cousin's, and if this murder of the young woman is all of a piece with his, why, then, the sooner we all get to work the better. I'm not going to spare time, labour, nor expense in running that lot down, d'you understand? Money's naught to me--I'm willing--"
"We are already at work, Mr. Allerdyke," said the official, interrupting him quietly. "We've been at work in the affair of the young woman for twenty-four hours, and although you didn't know of it, we've heard of the affair of your cousin at Hull, and the two cases are so similar that when you came in I was wondering if there was any connection between them. Now, as regards the young woman. You may or may not be aware that in Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, a street of houses which runs alongside the departure platform of the Great Western Railway, there are a number of small private hotels, which are largely used by railway passengers. To one of these hotels, about nine o'clock on the evening of May 13th (just about twenty-four hours after you, Miss Lennard, landed at Hull), there came a man and a woman, who represented themselves as brother and sister, and took two rooms for the night. The woman answers the description of your maid--as to the man, I will give you a description of him later. These two, who had for luggage such a medium-sized suit-case as that Miss Lennard has spoken of, partook of some supper and retired. There was nothing noticeable about them--they seemed to be quiet, respectable people--foreigners who spoke English very well. Nothing was heard of them until next morning at eight o'clock, when the man rang his bell and asked for tea to be brought up for both. This was done--he took it in at his door, and was seen to hand a cup in at his sister's door, close by. An hour later he came downstairs and gave instructions that his sister was not to be disturbed--she was tired and wanted to rest, he said, and she would ring when she wanted attendance. He then booked the two rooms again for the succeeding night, and, going into the coffee-room, ate a very good breakfast, taking his time over it. That done, he lounged about a little, smoking, and eventually crossed the road towards the station--since when he has not been seen. The day passed on--the woman neither rang her bell nor came down. When evening arrived, as the man had not returned, and no response could be got to repeated knocks at the door, the landlady opened it with a master-key, and entered the room. She found the woman dead--and according to the medical evidence she had been dead since ten or eleven o'clock in the morning. Then, of course, the police were called in. There was nothing in the room or in the suit-case to establish or suggest identity. The body was removed, and an autopsy has been held. And the conclusion of the medical men is that this woman has been secretly and subtly poisoned."
Here the official paused, rang a bell, and remained silent until a quiet-looking, middle-aged man who might have been a highly respectable butler entered the room: then he turned again to his visitors.
"I want you, Miss Lennard, to accompany this man--one of my officers--to the mortuary, to see if you can identify the body I have told you of. Perhaps you gentlemen will accompany Miss Lennard? Then," he continued, rising, "if you will all return here, we will go into this matter further, and see if we can throw more light on it."
Allerdyke's next impressions were of a swift drive across London to a quiet retreat in Paddington, where, in a red-brick building set amidst trees, official-faced men conducted him and his two companions into a sort of annex, one side of which was covered with sheet glass. On the other side of that glass he became aware of a still figure, shrouded and arranged in formal lines, of a white face, set amidst dark hair ... then as in a dream he heard Celia Lennard's frightened whisper--
"That's she--that's Lisette! Oh, for God's sake, take me out!"