The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter XIX. The Late Call
It was with a mighty effort of will that Allerdyke controlled himself sufficiently to be able to answer Fullaway's question with calmness. This was for him a critical moment. He knew now to whom James Allerdyke had given the photograph which Chettle had found concealed in Lydenberg's watch; knew that the recipient was sitting close by him, separated only from him by a wall and a door; knew that between her and Lydenberg, or those who had been in touch with Lydenberg, there must be some strange, secret, and sinister connection. From Mrs. Marlow to Lydenberg that photograph had somehow passed, and, as Chettle had well said, the entire problem of the murders and thefts was mixed up in its transference. All that was certain--what seemed certain, too, was that Fullaway knew nothing of these things, and was as innocent as he himself. And for the fraction of a second he was half-minded to tell all he knew to Fullaway there and then--and it was only by a still stronger effort of will that he restrained his tongue, determined to keep a stricter silence than ever, and replied to the American in an offhand, casual tone.
"News?" he said, with a half-laugh. "Nay, not that I know of. They take their time, those detective chaps. You heard aught?"
"Nothing particular," answered Fullaway. "Except that the Princess was in here this morning, and that Miss Lennard came at the same time. But neither of them had anything of importance to tell. The Princess has been ransacking her memory all about her affairs with your cousin; she's more certain than ever now that nobody in Russia but he and she knew anything about the jewel deal. They were always in strict privacy when they discussed the matter; no one was present when she gave him the jewels; she never mentioned the affair to a soul, and she's confident from what she knew of him, that he wouldn't. So she's more convinced than ever that the news got out from this side."
"And Miss Lennard--what did she want?" asked Allerdyke.
"Oh! she's found the various references--two or three of 'em--that she had with the French maid," replied Fullaway. "I looked at them--there's nothing in them but what you'd expect to find. Two of the writers are well-known society women, the third was a French marquise. I don't think anything's to be got out of them, but, anyway, I sent her off to Scotland Yard with them--it's their work that. Fine photos there, Allerdyke," he continued, turning over the leaves of the album. "Some of your places in Bradford, eh."
Allerdyke, who was particularly anxious that he should not seem to have had an ulterior object in bringing the album up to Fullaway's office hailed this question with relief. He began to point out and explain the various pictures--photographs of his mills, warehouses, town office, his own private house, grounds, surroundings, chatting unconcernedly about each. And while the two men were thus engaged in came Mrs. Marlow, bringing letters which needed Fullaway's signature.
"Mrs. Marlow knows more about amateur photography than I do," remarked Fullaway, with a glance at his secretary. "Here, Mrs. Marlow, these are same of Mr. Allerdyke's productions--you remember that his cousin, Mr. James Allerdyke, gave you a photo which this Mr. Allerdyke had taken?"
Allerdyke, keenly watching the secretary's pretty face as she laid her papers on Fullaway's desk, saw no sign of embarrassment or confusion; Fullaway might have made the most innocent and ordinary remark in the world, and yet, according to Allerdyke's theory and positive knowledge, it must be fraught with serious meaning to this woman.
"Oh yes!" she flashed, without as much as the flicker of an eyelash. "I remember--a particularly good photo. So like him!"
Allerdyke's ingenuity immediately invented a remark; he was at that stage when, he wanted to know as much as possible.
"I wonder which print it was that he gave you?" he said. "One of them--I only did a few--had a spot in it that'll spread. If that's the one you've got, I'll give you another in its place, Mrs. Marlow. Have you got it here?"
But Mrs. Marlow shook her head and presented the same unabashed front.
"No," she answered readily enough. "I took it home, Mr. Allerdyke. But there's no spot on my print--I should have noticed it at once. May I look at your album when Mr. Fullaway's finished with it?"
Allerdyke left the album with them and went away. He was utterly astonished by Mrs. Marlow's coolness. If, as he already believed, she was mixed up in the murders and robberies, she must know that the photograph which James Allerdyke had given her was a most important factor, and yet she spoke of it as calmly and unconcernedly as if it had been a mere scrap of paper! Of course she hadn't got it at the office--nor at her home either--it was there at Hull, fitted into the cover of Lydenberg's old watch.
"A cool hand!" soliloquized Allerdyke as he went downstairs. "Cool, clever, calm, never off her guard. A damned dangerous woman!--that's the long and short of it. And--what next?"
Experience and observation of life had taught Marshall Allerdyke that good counsel is one of life's most valuable assets. He could think for himself and decide for himself at any moment, but he knew the worth and value of putting two heads together, especially at a juncture like this. And so, the afternoon being still young, he went off to his warehouse in Gresham Street, closeted himself with Ambler Appleyard, and having pledged him to secrecy, told him all that had happened since the previous morning.
Ambler Appleyard listened in silence. It was only two or three hours since he had listened to another story--the report of the two Gaffneys, and Allerdyke, all unaware of that business, had come upon him while he was still thinking it over. And while Appleyard gave full attention to all that his employer said, he was also thinking of what he himself could tell. By the time that Allerdyke had finished he, too, had decided to speak.
"So there it is, my lad!" exclaimed Allerdyke, throwing out his hands with an eloquent gesture as he made an end of his story. "I hope I've put it clearly to you. It's just as that Chap Chettle said--the whole secret is in that photograph! And isn't it plain?--that photograph must have been transferred somehow by this Mrs. Marlow to this Lydenberg. How? Why? When we can answer those questions--"
He paused at that, and, looking fixedly at his manager, shook his head half-threateningly.
"I'll tell you what it is, Ambler," he went on, after a moment's silence. "I've got a good, strong mind to go straight to the police authorities, tell 'em what I know, insist on 'em fetching Chettle up from Hull at once, and having that woman arrested. Why not?"
"No!" said Appleyard firmly. "Not yet. Too soon, Mr. Allerdyke--wait a bit. And now listen to me--I've something to tell you. I've been busy while you've been away--in this affair. Bit of detective work. I'll tell you all about it--all! You remember that day I went to lunch with you at the City Carlton, and you pointed out this Mrs. Marlow to me, going into Rothschild's? Yes, well--I recognized her."
"You did!" exclaimed Allerdyke. "Nay!"
"I recognized her," repeated Appleyard. "I said naught to you at the time, but I knew her well enough. As a matter of fact, I've known her for two years. She lives at the same boarding-house, the Pompadour Private Hotel, in Bayswater, that I live in. I see her--have been seeing her for two years--every day, morning and night. But I know her as Miss Slade."
"Miss?" ejaculated Allerdyke.
"Miss--Miss Slade," answered Appleyard. He drew his chair nearer to Allerdyke's, and went on in a lower voice. "Now, then, pay attention, and I'll tell you all about it, and what I've done since I got your note yesterday morning."
He told Allerdyke the whole story of his endeavour to find out something about Rayner merely because Rayner seemed to be in Miss Slade's confidence, and because Miss Slade was certainly a woman of mystery. And Allerdyke listened as quietly and attentively as Appleyard had listened to him, nodding his head at all the important points, and in the end he slapped his manager's shoulder with an approving hand.
"Good--good!" he said. "Good, Ambler! That was a bit of right work, and hang me if I don't believe we shall find something out. But what's to be done? You know, if these two are in at it, they may slip. That 'ud never do!"
"I don't think there's any fear of that--yet," answered Appleyard. "The probability is that neither has any suspicion of being watched--the whole thing's so clever that they probably believe themselves safe. Of course, mind you, this man Rayner may be as innocent as you or I. But against her, on the facts of that photograph affair, there's a prima facie case. Only--don't let's spoil things by undue haste or rashness. I've thought things out a good deal, and we can do a lot, you and me, before going to the police, though I don't think it 'ud do any harm to tell this man Chettle, supposing he were here--because his discovery of that photo is the real thing."
"What can we do, then?" asked Allerdyke.
"Make use of the two Gaffneys," answered Appleyard without hesitation. "They're smart chaps---real keen 'uns. We want to find out who Rayner is; what his connection, if any, with Miss Slade, alias Mrs. Marlow, is; who she is, and why she goes under two names. That's all what you might call initial proceedings. What I propose is this--when you go back to your hotel, get Gaffney into your private sitting-room. You, of course, know him much better than I do, but from what bit I've seen of him I'm sure he's the sort of man one can trust. Tell him to get hold of that brother of his and bring him here at any hour you like to-morrow, and then--well, we can have a conference, and decide on some means of finding out more about Rayner and keeping an eye on him. For that sort of work I should say that other Gaffney's remarkably well cut out--he's a typical, sharp, knowing Cockney, with all his wits about him, and plenty of assurance."
"It's detective work, you know, Ambler," said Allerdyke. "It needs a bit of more than ordinary cuteness."
"From my observation, I should say both those chaps are just cut for it," answered Appleyard, with a laugh. "What's more, they enjoy it. And when men enjoy what they're doing--"
"Why, they do it well," agreed Allerdyke, finishing the sentence. "Aye, that's true enough. All right--I'll speak to Gaffney, when I go back. And look here--as you're so well known to this woman, Miss Slade or Mrs. Marlow, whichever her name is, you'd better not show up at the Waldorf at any time in my company, eh?"
"Of course," said Appleyard. "You trust me for that! What we've got to do must be done as secretly as possible."
Allerdyke rose to go, but turned before he reached the door.
"There's one thing I'm uneasy about," he said. "If--I say if, of course--if these folks--I mean the lot that's behind this woman, for I can't believe that she's worked it all herself--have got those jewels, won't they want to clear out with them? Isn't delay dangerous?"
"Not such delay as I'm thinking of," answered Appleyard firmly. "She's cute enough, this lady, and if she made herself scarce just now, she'd know very well that it would excite suspicion. Don't let's spoil things by being too previous. We've got a pretty good watch on her, you know. I should know very quickly if she cleared out of the Pompadour; you'd know if she didn't turn up at Fullaway's. Wait a bit, Mr. Allerdyke; it's the best policy. You'll come here to-morrow?"
"Eleven o'clock in the morning," replied Allerdyke. "I'll fix it with Gaffney to-night."
He went back to the Waldorf, summoned Gaffney to his private room, and sent him to arrange matters with his brother. Gaffney accepted the commission with alacrity; his brother, he said, was just then out of a job, having lost a clerkship through the sudden bankruptcy of his employers; such a bit of business as that which Mr. Appleyard had entrusted to him was so much meat and drink to one of his tastes--in more ways than one.
"It's the sort of thing he likes, sir," remarked Gaffney, confidentially. "He's always been a great hand at reading these detective tales, and to set him to watch anybody is like offering chickens to a nigger--he fair revels in it!"
"Well, there's plenty for him to revel in," observed Allerdyke grimly.
Plenty! he said to himself with a cynical laugh when Gaffney had left him--aye, plenty, and to spare. He spent the whole of that evening alone, turning every detail over in his own mind; he was still thinking, and speculating, and putting two and two together when he went to bed at eleven o'clock. And just as he was about to switch off his light a waiter knocked on his door.
"Gentleman downstairs, sir, very anxious to see you at once," he said, when Allerdyke opened it. "His card, sir."
Allerdyke gave one glance at the card--a plain bit of pasteboard on which one word had been hastily pencilled--