The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XV. The Bayswater Boarding-House
Some time previous to these remarkable events, Marshall Allerdyke, being constantly in London, and having to spend much time on business in the Mansion House region, had sought and obtained membership of the City Carlton Club, in St. Swithin's Lane, and at noon of the day following the arrival of the Princess Nastirsevitch, he stood in a window of the smoking-room, looking out for Appleyard, whom he had asked to lunch. In one hand he carried a folded copy of the reward bill, which Blindway had left at the Waldorf Hotel for him, and while he waited--the room being empty just then save for an old gentleman who read The Times in a far corner--he unfolded and took a surreptitious glance at it, chuckling to himself at the thought of the cupidity which its contents and promises would arouse in the breasts of the many thousands of folk who would read it.
"Fifty thousand pounds!" he thought, with high amusement. "Egad, some of 'em 'ud feel like Rothschild himself if they could shove that bit in their pockets--they'd take on all the airs of a Croesus!"
The thought of the Rothschild wealth made him lift his eyes and glance through the window at the gate of the quiet, ultra-respectable establishment across the way. Allerdyke, like all men of considerable means, had a mighty respect for wealth in its colossal forms, and he never visited the City Carlton, nor looked out of its smoking-room windows, without glancing with interest and admiration at the famous Rothschild offices, immediately opposite. It amused him to speculate and theorize about the vast amounts of money which must needs be turned over in theory and practice within those soberly quiet walls, to indulge in fancies about the secrets, financial and political, which must be discussed and locked up in human breasts there--to him the magic address, New Court, St. Swithin's Lane, was as full of potential mystery as the Sphinx is to an imaginative traveller. He glanced at its gates and at its sign now with an almost youthful awe and reverence--the reverence of the man of considerable wealth for the men of enormous wealth--and while his eyes were thus busy a taxi-cab came along the Lane, stopped by the entrance to New Court, and set down Mrs. Marlow.
Allerdyke instinctively shrank back within the curtains of the smoking-room window. There was no reason why he should have done so. He had no objection to Franklin Fullaway's secretary seeing him standing in a window of the City Carlton Club; he knew no reason why Mrs. Marlow should object to be seen getting out of a cab in St. Swithin's Lane. Yet, he drew back, and, from his concealed position, watched. Not that there was anything out of the ordinary to watch. Mrs. Marlow, who looked daintier, prettier, more charming than ever, paid her driver, gave him a smiling nod, and tripped into New Court, a bundle of papers in her well-gloved hand.
"Business with Rothschild's, eh?" mused Allerdyke.
"Well, I daresay there's a vast lot of folk in this city who do business across there. Um!--smart little woman that, and no doubt as clever as she's smart. I'd like to know--"
Just then the ancient hall-porter of the club (who surely missed his vocation in life, and should have been a bishop, or at least a dean) ushered in Appleyard, whom Allerdyke immediately beckoned to join him amongst the window-curtains.
"I say!" he whispered, with a side glance at The Times-reading old gentleman, "you remember me telling you yesterday about the lady-secretary of Fullaway's--Mrs. Marlow?--what a smart bit she looked to be. Eh?"
"Well?" replied Appleyard. "Of course, what about her?"
"She's just gone into Rothschild's across there," answered Allerdyke. "Come here, this corner; she'll be coming out before long, no doubt, and then you'll see her. As I told you about her, I want you to take a look at her--she's worth seeing for more reasons than one."
Appleyard allowed himself to be drawn into the embrasure. He waited patiently and in silence--presently Allerdyke dug a finger into his ribs.
"She's coming!" he whispered. "Now!"
Appleyard looked half-carelessly across the street--the next instant he was devoutly thanking his stars that since boyhood he had sedulously trained himself to control his countenance. He made no sign, gave no indication of previous acquaintance, as he watched Mrs. Marlow's svelt figure trip out of New Court and away up St. Swithin's Lane; his face was as calm and unemotional, his eyes as steady as ever when he turned to his employer.
"Pretty woman," he said. "Looks a sharp 'un, too, Mr. Allerdyke. Well," he went on, turning away into the room as if Mrs. Marlow no longer interested him. "I got those two reports for you--shall I tell you about them now?"
"Aye, for sure," replied Allerdyke. "Come into this corner--we'll have a glass of sherry--it's early for lunch yet. Those reports, eh? About Fullaway and Delkin, you mean?"
"Just so," said Appleyard, settling himself in the corner of a lounge and lighting the cigarette which Allerdyke offered him. "They're ordinary business reports, you know, got through the usual channels. Fullaway's all right, so far as the various commercial agencies know--nothing ever been heard against him, anyhow. The account of himself and his business which he gave to you is quite correct. To sum up--he's a sound man--quite straight--on the business surface, which is, of course, all we can get at. As for Delkin, that's a straight story, too--anyway, there's a Chicago millionaire of that name been in town some weeks--he's stopping at the Hotel Cecil--has a palatial suite there--and his daughter's about to marry Lord Hexwater. All correct there, Mr. Allerdyke, too--I mean as regards all that Fullaway told you."
"Well, there's something in knowing all that, Ambler, my lad," answered Allerdyke. "You can't get to know too much about the folks you're dealing with, you know. Very good--we'll leave that now. What d'ye think o' this?"
He unfolded and held up the reward bill, first looking as fondly at it as a youthful author looks at his first printed performance, and then glancing at his manager to see what effect it had upon him. And he saw Ambler Appleyard's sandy eyebrows go up in a definite arch.
"Fifty thousand!" muttered Appleyard. "Whew! It's a stiff figure, Mr. Allerdyke. You've put a thick finger in that pie, I'm thinking!"
"One half from the Princess; twenty thousand from me; five thousand from the singing lady," whispered Allerdyke. "That's how it's made up, my lad. And naught'll please me better than to see it paid out--that's a fact!"
"You'll have some triers," said Appleyard, with an emphatic wag of the head. "Make no mistake about that! Fifty thousand! Gosh!--why, anybody that's got the least clue, the slightest idea--and there must be somebody--'ll have a go in for all he or she's worth!"
"Let 'em try!" exclaimed Allerdyke. "The welcome man's the chap that enables us to recover and convict. Here, shove that bill in your pocket, and read it at your leisure--there's something to think about in what it says, I promise you."
Appleyard went away from the club an hour and a half later, thinking hard enough. But he was not thinking about the reward bill. What he was thinking about, had been thinking about from the moment in which Allerdyke had drawn him into the smoking-room window and pointed her out to him, was--Mrs. Marlow. For Appleyard knew Mrs. Marlow well enough, but (always those buts in life, he reflected with a cynical laugh as he threaded his way back to Gresham Street) he knew her by another name--Miss Slade. And now he was wondering why Miss Slade or Mrs. Marlow had two names, and why she appeared to be one person as he knew her in private life, and another as he had seen her that very morning.
On Appleyard's first coming to town in the capacity of sole manager of the London warehouse of Allerdyke and Partners, Limited, he had set himself up in two rooms in a Bloomsbury lodging-house. He knew little of London life at that time, or he would have known that he was thus condemning himself to a drab and dreary existence. As it was, he quickly learnt by experience, and within six months, having picked up a comfortable knowledge of things, he transferred himself to one of those well-equipped boarding establishments in the best part of Bayswater, wherein bachelors, old maids, young women, widowers, and married couples without encumbrance, can live together in as much or as little friendship and intercourse as pleases their individual tastes. Ambler Appleyard took his time and selected the likeliest place he could find after much inspection of many similar places. His salary of a thousand a year (to which was to be added a handsome, if varying commission) enabled him to pick and choose; the house which he did choose, in the immediate neighbourhood of Lancaster Gate, was of the luxurious order; its private rooms were models of the last thing in comfort, its public rooms were equal to those of the best modern hotels. If you wanted male society, you could find it in the smoking-room and the billiard-room; if you desired feminine influences there was a pleasing variety in the drawing-room and the lounges. You could be just as much alone, and just as much in company as you pleased--anyway, the place suited Ambler Appleyard, and there he had lived for two and a half years. And during a good two of them, the young lady whom he knew as Miss Slade had lived there too.
With Miss Slade, Appleyard, as fellow-resident in the same house, was on quite friendly terms. He sometimes talked to her in one of the drawing-rooms. He knew her for a clever, rather brilliant young woman, with ideas, and the power to express them. It was evident to him that she had travelled and had seen a good deal of the world and its men and women; she could talk politics with far more knowledge and insight than most women; she knew more than a little of economic matters, and was inclined, like Appleyard himself, to utilitarianism in all things affecting government and society. But of herself she never spoke directly; all Appleyard knew of her concerns was that she was engaged in business of some nature, and went to it every morning as regularly and punctually as he went to his. He judged that whatever her business was she must be well paid for it, or must possess means of her own; nobody, man or woman, could possibly live at that boarding-house, or private hotel, as its proprietors preferred to call it, for anything less than four guineas a week. Well--here was the explanation of Miss Slade's business; she was evidently private secretary to Mr. Franklin Fullaway, and competent to do business at a place like Rothschild's. And why not?--yet ... why did she call herself Miss Slade at the boarding-house and Mrs. Marlow in her business capacity?
"And yet why shouldn't she?" asked Appleyard of himself. "A woman's a right to do what she likes in that way, and she isn't necessarily deceitful because she passes as a single woman in one place and a widow in another. I daresay she could give a very good reason for all this--but who's got any right to ask her for one? Not me, certainly!"
He had no intention of asking Miss Slade anything when he left the City for Bayswater that evening, but chance threw him into her immediate company in one of the lounges, where, after dinner, they met at a table on which the evening newspapers were laid out. As Miss Slade picked up one, Appleyard picked up another--certain big, strong letters on the front sheets of both gave him an opening.
"Have you read anything about this affair?" he asked, with apparent carelessness, pointing to a row of capitals. "This extraordinary murder-robbery business which is becoming the talk of the town? Murders of three people--theft of nearly three hundred thousand pounds' worth of jewels--and fifty thousand pounds reward! It's colossal!"
Miss Slade, without showing the slightest shade of interest, shook her head.
"I don't read murders," she answered. "Fifty thousand pounds reward! That's an awful lot, isn't it?"
"Worth trying for, anyway!" replied Appleyard. He gave her a sly look, and smiled grimly. "I think I'll try for it," he said. "Fifty thousand!"
"How could any one try unless he or she's some clue?" she asked. "If you don't know anything about it, or any of the persons concerned, where would you begin?"
"There are plenty of persons named in these accounts about whom one could find something out, at any rate," replied Appleyard, tapping the newspaper with his finger. "There's a Russian Princess with a sneezy sort of name; a Yorkshire manufacturer named Allerdyke; an American man called Franklin Fullaway--all seem to be well-known people in town. You ever hear of any of them?"
Miss Slade turned a face of absolute indifference on him and the paper to which he was pointing.
"Never," she answered calmly. "But I daresay I shall hear of them now--for nine days."
Then she went off, with her own newspaper, and Appleyard carried his to a corner and sat down.
"That's a lie!" he said to himself. "And a woman who will tell a lie as calmly and quietly as that will tell a thousand with equal assurance and cleverness. She--"
There he stopped. In the doorway Miss Slade had also stopped--stopped to speak to another resident, a man, about whom Ambler Appleyard had often wondered as keenly as he was now wondering about Miss Slade herself.