The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XI. The Russian Bank-Notes
The three searchers into what was rapidly becoming a most complicated mystery drove back to New Scotland Yard in a silence which lasted until they were set down at the door of the department whereat they had interviewed the high official. Celia Lennard was thoroughly upset; the sight of the dead woman had disturbed her even more than she let her companions see; she remained dumb and rigid, staring straight before her as if she still gazed on the white face set in its frame of dark hair. Allerdyke, too, stared at the crowds in the streets as if they were abstract visions--his keen brain felt dazed and mystified by this accumulation of strange events. And Fullaway, active and mercurial though he was, made no attempt at conversation--he sat with knitted forehead, trying to think, to account, to surmise, only conscious that he was up against a bigger mystery than life had ever shown him up to then.
The detective who had accompanied them to the mortuary conducted the three straight back to his chief's office--the chief, noticing the effect of the visit on Celia, hastened to give her a chair at the side of his desk, and looked at her with a lessening of his official manner. He signed to the other two to sit down, and motioned the detective to remain. Then he turned to Celia.
"You recognized the woman?" he said softly. "Just so. I thought you would, and I was sorry to ask you to perform such an unpleasant task but it was absolutely necessary. Now," he continued, taking up his bundle of papers again, "I want you to describe the man who met you and your maid on your arrival at Hull the other night. Of course you saw him?"
"Certainly I saw him," replied Celia. "And I should know him again anywhere--the scoundrel!"
The high official smiled and glanced at Fullaway.
"You are thinking, Miss Lennard, that the man you then saw is the man who accompanied your maid to the hotel in which she was found dead," he said. "Well, that may be so--but it mayn't. That is why I want you to give us an accurate description of the man you saw. You described the maid very well indeed. Now describe the man."
"I can do that quite well," said Celia, with assurance. "And I can tell you the circumstances. The steamer--the Perisco--got into the river at Hull about a quarter to nine and anchored off the Victoria Pier. We understood that she couldn't get into dock just then because of the tide, and that we must go on shore by tender. A tender came off--some of the people on board it came on our deck. There was a good deal of bustle. I went down to my cabin to see after something or other. Lisette came to me there, evidently much agitated, saying that her brother had come off on the tender to fetch her at once to their mother who was ill in London--dying. She begged to be allowed to go with him. Of course I said she might. She immediately picked up her suit-case and travelling coat out of our pile of luggage, and I went up with her on deck. She and the man--her brother, as I understood--got into a small boat which was alongside and went straight off to the pier: the tender was not leaving for shore for some time. And--that was the last I saw of her. It was all done in a minute or two."
"Now--the man," suggested the chief softly.
"A young man--about Lisette's age, I should say--twenty-seven to thirty anyway. Tallish. Dark hair, moustache, eyes, and complexion. Good-looking--in a foreign way. I had no doubt he was her brother--he looked French, though he spoke English quite well and without accent. Very respectably dressed in dark clothes and overcoat. He would have passed for a well-to-do clerk--that type. I spoke to him--a few words. He spoke well--had very polite, almost polished manners. Of course he was hurried--wanting to get Lisette away--he said they could just catch the last train to London."
The chief shook his head.
"Not the man who accompanied her to the Paddington Hotel," he said. "Listen--this is the description of that man, as given to the police by the landlady and her servants: 'Age, presumably between forty and forty-five years, medium height. Brown hair. Clean-shaven. Dressed in grey tweed suit, over which he wore a fawn-coloured overcoat. Deerstalker hat--light brown. Brown brogue shoes.' That, you see," continued the chief, "describes a quite different person. You do not recognize the description as that of any man you have ever seen in company with your late maid, Miss Lennard?"
"I never saw my maid in any man's company," replied Celia. "Since I first engaged her we have not been much in London. I was in New York and Chicago for a time last year; then in Paris; then in Milan and Turin; lately in Moscow and St. Petersburg. When we were at home, here in London, she certainly had time of her own--her evenings out, you know--but of course I don't know with whom she spent them. No--I don't know any man answering that description."
The chief folded up his papers and restored them to his desk.
"Now that you are here," he said, "you may as well give me a few particulars about your doings on the Perisco, especially as they relate to Mr. James Allerdyke. When and where did you make his acquaintance?"
"On the steamer--a few hours after we left Christiania," replied Celia.
"Just as fellow-passengers, I suppose?"
"Quite so--just that. We sat next to each other at meals."
"Do you know where his cabin was on the steamer?"
"Yes, exactly opposite my own. He and I, I believe, were the only passengers who had cabins all to ourselves."
"Did he ever mention to you these valuables which Mr. Fullaway tells us he was carrying to England!"
"No--never at any time."
"Did you see him leave the Perisco for the shore?"
"Why, yes, certainly! As a matter of fact, he and I came ashore at Hull together, ahead of any other passengers. After Lisette had left the steamer with her brother, I happened to come across Mr. James Allerdyke. I told him what had just occurred, and asked him if he would help me about my things, as my maid had gone. He immediately suggested that we shouldn't wait for the tender, but should get a boat of our own--there were several lying around. He said he was in a great hurry to get ashore, because he'd a friend awaiting him at the Station Hotel. So he got a boat, and his things and mine were put into it, and we left the steamer, and were rowed to the landing-stage, just opposite."
"And you, of course, carried your jewel-case--or what you believed to be your jewel-case--the duplicate chest which you subsequently carried to Edinburgh?"
"Yes, of course--I had it in my hand when Lisette left, and, I never left hold of it until I got into the hotel."
"Do you remember if Mr. James Allerdyke carried anything in his hand?"
"Yes, he carried a hand-bag. He had that bag in his hand when I met him on deck; he kept it on his knee in the boat, and in the cab in which we drove to the hotel from the landing-stage; I saw him carrying it upstairs after we got to the hotel. What is more, I saw him bring it into the coffee-room later on, and place it on the table at which he had some supper. I saw it again in his room when I went in there to look at the plans of the Norwegian estate which he had told me about. He didn't take those plans out of that hand-bag; he took them out of a side flap-pocket in a suit-case."
"Did you have supper with him that night?"
"No--I was sitting at another table, talking to a lady who had been with us on the Perisco. A lot of Perisco passengers--twenty, at least--had come to the hotel by that time."
"Did any of them join Mr. James Allerdyke--at his table, I mean?"
"I don't remember--no, I think not. He sat at a table, one end of which adjoined the wall--he put the hand-bag at that end. I remember wondering why he carried his bag about with him. But then I, of course, was carrying what I believed to be my jewel-case."
"Did you see him talking to any of your fellow-passengers that night?"
"Oh, yes--to two or three of them--in the hall of the hotel. I didn't know who they were, particularly--except the doctor with the big beard. I saw him talking to Mr. Allerdyke at the door of the smoking-room."
"Had you taken any special notice of your fellow passengers on board the Perisco?"
"No--not at all. They were just the usual sort of passengers--I wasn't interested in them. Of course, I talked to some of them, in the ordinary way, as one does talk on board ship. But I don't remember anything particular about them, nor any of their names, even if I ever knew their names. Of course I remember Mr. James Allerdyke's name, because of the business talk."
The chief, who had been making shorthand notes of this conversation, paused for a moment, evidently considering matters, and then turned to Celia with a smile.
"Why did you leave the hotel at Hull so suddenly?" he asked. "I daresay you had good reasons, but I should just like to know what they were, if you don't mind."
"I'd no reason at all," replied Celia, with almost blunt directness. "At least, if I had, they were only a woman's reasons. I was a bit upset at being left alone. I didn't like the hotel. I knew I shouldn't sleep. It was a most beautiful moonlight night, and I suddenly thought I'd like to go motoring. I knew enough of the geography of those parts to know if I motored across country I should strike the Great Northern main line somewhere and catch a train to Edinburgh in the early morning. So--I just cleared out."
"Ah--you see you had quite a number of reasons!" said the chief, smiling again. "Very well. Now then, before you go, Miss Lennard, I want you to do just one thing more which may be useful to us in our work." He turned to the detective. "Get those things," he said quietly. "Bring the lot in here."
Celia made a little sound of distaste as the detective presently returned to the room carrying in one hand a brown leather suit-case, and in the other a cardboard dress-box, to which was strapped a travelling-coat, lined with fur. Her face, which had regained its colour, paled again.
"Lisette's things!" she muttered. "Oh--I don't--don't like to see them! What is it you want?"
"We want you to identify them--and, if you will, to look them over," replied the chief. "The cardboard box contains everything she was wearing when she went to the hotel in Eastbourne Terrace; the suit-case and coat are what she took in with her. Spread the things out on that side table," he continued, turning to the detective.
"Let Miss Lennard look them over."
Celia performed the task required of her with dislike--it seemed somehow as if she were inspecting the dead woman afresh. She hurried over the task.
"All these things are hers, of course," she said. "That's the suit-case she had with her when she left me at Hull, and that's the coat I gave her--and the other things are hers, too. Oh--I don't like looking at them. Can't we go, please?"
"One moment," said the chief. "I wanted to tell you that amongst all these things there is nothing that establishes the woman's identity--I mean in the way of papers or anything of that sort. There were no letters in this case--not a scrap of paper. There is money in that purse--two or three pounds in gold, some silver. There is her watch--a good gold watch--and there are two or three rings she was wearing. Now we have only made a superficial examination of all these personal belongings--can you, as her mistress, suggest if she was likely to hide anything in her clothing, and if so, in what article? You might save us some trouble, Miss Lennard."
Allerdyke, who was more interested in Celia than in what was going on, saw a sudden gleam come into her eyes--her feminine spirit of curiosity was aroused. She hesitated, turned back to the side-table, paused before the various articles laid out there, took up and fingered two or three, and suddenly wheeled round on the men, exhibiting a quilted handkerchief case.
"There's something been sewn into the padding of this!" she said. "I can feel it. Can any one lend me pocket-scissors or a penknife?"
The men gathered round as Celia's deft fingers ripped open the satin covering: a moment later she drew out a wad of folded paper and handed it to the chief. Fullaway and Allerdyke craned their necks over his shoulders as he unwrapped and spread the bits of paper out before them. And it was Fullaway who broke the silence with a sharp exclamation.
"Bank-notes!" he said. "Russian bank-notes! And new ones!"