The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter II. The Dead Man
For a full minute Marshall Allerdyke stood fixed--staring at the set features before him. Then, with a quick catching of his breath, he made one step to his cousin's side and laid his hand on the unyielding shoulder. The affectionate, familiar terms in which they had always addressed each other sprang involuntarily to his lips.
"Why, James, my lad!" he exclaimed. "James, lad! James!"
Even as he spoke, he knew that James would never hear word or sound again in this world. It needed no more than one glance at the rigid features, one touch of the already fixed and statue-like body, to know that James Allerdyke was not only dead, but had been dead some time. And, with a shuddering sigh, Marshall Allerdyke drew himself up and looked round at his surroundings.
Nothing could have been more peaceful than that quiet hotel bedroom; nothing more orderly than its arrangements. Allerdyke had always known his cousin for a man of unusually tidy and methodical habits; the evidence of that orderliness was there, where he had pitched his camp for presumably a single night. His toilet articles were spread out on the dressing-table; his pyjamas were laid across his pillow; his open suit-case lay on a stand at the foot of the bed; by the bedside lay his slippers. An overcoat hung from one peg of the door; a dressing-gown from another; on a chair in a corner lay, neatly folded, a couple of travelling rugs. All these little details Allerdyke's sharp eyes took in at a glance; he turned from them to the things nearer the dead man.
James Allerdyke sat in a big easy chair, placed at the side of a round table set towards a corner of the room. He was fully dressed in a grey tweed suit, but he had taken off one boot--the left--and it lay at his feet on the hearthrug. He himself was thrown back against the high-padded hood of the chair; there was a little frown on his set features, a tiny puckering of the brows above his closed eyes. His hands were lying at his sides, unclasped, the fingers slightly stretched, the thumbs slightly turned inward; everything looked as if, in the very act of taking off his boots, some sudden spasm of pain had seized him, and he had sat up, leaned back, and died, as swiftly as the seizure had come. There was a slight blueness under the lower rims of the eyes, a corresponding tint on the clean-shaven upper lip, but neither that nor the pallor which had long since settled on the rigid features had given anything of ghastliness to the face. The dead man lay back in his chair in such an easy posture that but for his utter quietness, his intense immobility, he might have well been taken for one who was hard and fast asleep.
The sound of the night-porter's returning footsteps sent Allerdyke out into the corridor. Unconsciously he shook his head and raised a hand--as if to warn the man against noise.
"Sh!" he said, still acting and speaking mechanically. "Here's--I knew something was wrong. The fact is, my cousin's dead!"
In his surprise the night-porter dropped the key which he had been to fetch. When he straightened himself from picking it up, his ruddy face had paled.
"Dead!" he exclaimed in a whisper. "Him! Why, he looked the picture of health last night. I noticed that of him, anyway!"
"He's dead now," said Allerdyke. "He's lying there dead. Come in!"
The door along the corridor from which the man of the shock head and great beard had looked out, opened again, and the big head was protruded. Its owner, seeing the two standing there, came out.
"Anything wrong?" he asked, advancing towards them in his pyjamas. "If there's any illness, I'm a medical man. Can I be of use?"
Allerdyke turned sharply, looking the stranger well over. He was not sure whether the man was an Englishman or a foreigner; he fancied that he detected a slightly foreign accent. The tone was well-meaning, and even kindly.
"I'm obliged to you," replied Allerdyke, in his characteristically blunt fashion. "I'm afraid nobody can be of use. The truth is, I came to join my cousin here, and I find him dead. Seems to me he's been dead some time. As you're a doctor, you can tell, of course. Perhaps you'll come in?"
He led the way back into the bedroom, the other two following closely behind him. At sight of the dead man the bearded stranger uttered a sharp exclamation.
"Ah!" he said. "Mr. Allerdyke!"
"You knew him, then?" demanded Marshall. "You've met him?"
The other, who had stooped over the body, bestowing a light touch on face and hand, looked up and nodded.
"I came over with him from Christiania," he answered. "I met him there--at a hotel. I had several conversations with him. In fact, I warned him."
"Warned him? Of what!" tasked Allerdyke.
"Over-exertion," replied the doctor quietly. "I saw symptoms of heart-strain. That was why I talked with him. I gathered from what he told me that he was a man who lived a very strenuous life, and I warned him against doing too much. He was not fitted for it."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Allerdyke, with obvious impatience. "Why, I always considered him as one of the fittest men I ever knew!"
"Perhaps you did," said the doctor. "Laymen, sir, do not see what a trained eye sees. The proof in his case is--there!"
He pointed to the dead man, at whom the night-porter was staring with astonished eyes.
Allerdyke stared, too, or seemed to stare. In reality, he was gazing into space, wondering about what had just been said.
"Then you think he died a natural death?" he asked, suddenly turning on his companion. "You don't think there's--anything wrong?"
The doctor shook his head calmly.
"I think he died of precisely what I should have expected him to die of," he answered. "Heart failure. It came upon him quite suddenly. You see, he was in the act of taking off his boots. He is a little fleshy--stout. The exertion of bending over and down--that was too much. He felt a sharp spasm--he sat back--he died, there and then."
"There and then!" repeated Allerdyke mechanically. "Well--what's to be done!" he went on. "What is done in these eases--I suppose you know?"
"There will have to be an inquest later on," answered the doctor. "I can give evidence for you, if you like--I am staying in Hull for a few days--for I can certainly testify to what I had observed. But that comes later--at present you had better acquaint the manager of the hotel, and I should suggest sending for a local medical man--there are some eminent men of my profession in this town. And--the body should be laid out. I'll go and dress, and then do what I can for you."
"Much obliged," responded Allerdyke. "Very kind of you. What name, sir?"
"My name is Lydenberg," replied the stranger. "I will give you my card presently. I have the honour of addressing--?"
Allerdyke pulled out his own card-case.
"My name's Marshall Allerdyke," he answered. "I'm his cousin," he went on, with another glance at the still figure. "And, my conscience, I never thought to find him like this! I never heard of any weakness on his part--I always thought him a particularly strong man."
"You will send for another medical man?" asked Dr. Lydenberg. "It will be more satisfactory to you."
"Yes, I'll see to that," replied Allerdyke. He turned to look at the night-porter, who was still hanging about as if fascinated. "Look here!" he said. "We don't want any fuss. Just rouse the manager quietly, and ask him to come here. And find that chauffeur of mine, and tell him I want him. Now, then, what about a doctor? Do you know a real, first-class one?"
"There's several within ten minutes, sir," answered the night-porter. "There's Dr. Orwin, in Coltman Street--he's generally fetched here. I can get a man to go for him at once."
"Do!" commanded Allerdyke. "But send me my driver first--I want him. Tell him what's happened."
He waited, standing and staring at his dead cousin until Gaffney came hurrying along the corridor. Allerdyke beckoned him into the room and closed the door.
"Gaffney," he said. "You see how things are? Mr. James is dead--I found him sitting there, dead. He's been dead some time--hours. There's a doctor, a foreigner, I think, across the passage there, who says it's been heart failure. I've sent for another doctor. Now in the meantime, I want to see what my cousin's got on him, and I want you to help me. We'll take everything off him in the way of valuables, papers, and so on, and put 'em in that small hand-bag of his."
Master and man went methodically to work; and an observer of an unduly sentimental shade of mind might have said that there was something almost callous about their measured, business-like proceedings. But Marshall Allerdyke was a man of eminently thorough and practical habits, and he was doing what he did with an idea and a purpose. His cousin might have died from sudden heart failure; again, he might not, there might have been foul play; there might have been one of many reasons for his unexpected death--anyway, in Allerdyke's opinion it was necessary for him to know exactly what James was carrying about his person when death took place. There was a small hand-bag on the dressing-table; Allerdyke opened it and took out all its contents. They were few--a muffler, a travelling-cap, a book or two, some foreign newspapers, a Russian word-book, a flask, the various odds and ends, small unimportant things which a voyager by sea and land picks up. Allerdyke took all these out, and laying them aside on the table, directed Gaffney to take everything from the dead man's pockets. And Gaffney, solemn of face and tight of lip, set to his task in silence.
There was comparatively little to bring to light. A watch and chain--the small pocket articles which every man carries--keys, a monocle eyeglass, a purse full of gold, loose silver, a note-case containing a considerable sum in bank-notes, some English, some foreign, letters and papers, a pocket diary--these were all. Allerdyke took each as Gaffney produced them, and placed each in the bag with no more than a mere glance.
"Everything there is, sir," whispered the chauffeur at last. "I've been through every pocket."
Allerdyke found the key of the bag, locked it, and set it aside on the mantelpiece. Then he went over to the suit-case lying on the bench at the foot of the bed, closed and locked it, and dropped the bunch of keys in his pocket. And just then Dr. Lydenberg came back, dressed, and on his heels came the manager of the hotel, startled and anxious, and with him an elderly professional-looking man whom he introduced as Dr. Orwin.
When James Allerdyke's dead body had been lifted on to the bed, and the two medical men had begun a whispered conversation beside it, Allerdyke drew the hotel manager aside to a corner of the room.
"Did you see anything of my cousin when he arrived last night?" he asked.
"Not when he arrived--no," replied the manager. "But later--yes. I had some slight conversation with him after he had taken supper. It was nothing much--he merely wished to know if there was always a night-porter on duty. He said he expected a friend, who might turn up at any hour of the night, and he wanted to leave a card for him. That would be you, I suppose, sir?"
"Just so," replied Allerdyke. "Now, how did he seem at that time? And what time was that?"
"Ten o'clock," said the manager. "Seem? Well, sir, he seemed to be in the very best of health and spirits! I was astonished to hear that he was dead. I never saw a man look more like living. He was--"
The elderly doctor came away from the bed approaching Allerdyke.
"After hearing what Dr. Lydenberg tells me, and examining the body--a mere perfunctory examination as yet, you know--I have little doubt that this gentleman died of what is commonly called heart failure," he said. "There will have to be an inquest, of course, and it may be advisable to make a post-mortem examination. You are a relative?" "Cousin," replied Allerdyke. He hesitated a moment, and then spoke bluntly. "You don't think it's been a case of poisoning, do you?" he said.
Dr. Orwin pursed his lips and regarded his questioner narrowly.
"Self-administered, do you mean?" he asked.
"Administered any way," answered Allerdyke. "Self or otherwise." He squared his shoulders and spoke determinedly. "I don't understand about this heart-failure notion," he went on. "I never heard him complain of his heart. He was a strong, active man--hearty and full of go. I want to know--everything."
"There should certainly be an autopsy," murmured Dr. Orwin. He turned and looked at his temporary colleague, who nodded as if in assent. Then he turned back to Allerdyke. "If you'll leave us for a while, we will just make a further examination--then we'll speak to you later."
Allerdyke signified his assent with a curt nod of the head. Accompanied by the manager and Gaffney he left the room, and with him he carried the small hand-bag in which he had placed the dead man's personal effects.