Chapter XXI. The Young Man Who Led Pugs
 

Allerdyke, with a gesture peculiar to him, thrust his hands in the pockets of his trousers, strolled away from the desk on which the register lay open, and going over to the hall door stood there a while, staring out on the tide of life that rolled by, and listening to the subdued rattle of the traffic in its ceaseless traverse of the Strand. And as he stood in this apparently idle and purposeless lounging attitude, he thought--thought of a certain birthday of his, a good thirty years before, whereon a kind, elderly aunt had made him a present of a box of puzzles. There were all sorts of puzzles in that box--things that you had to put together, things that had to be arranged, things that had to be adjusted. But there was one in particular which had taken his youthful fancy, and had at the same time tried his youthful temper--a shallow tray wherein were a vast quantity of all sorts and sizes of bits of wood, gaily coloured. There were quite a hundred of those bits, and you had to fit them one into the other. When, after much trying of temper, much exercise of patience, you had accomplished the task, there was a beautiful bit of mosaic work, a picture, a harmonious whole, lovely to look upon, something worthy of the admiring approbation of uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers. But--the doing of it!

"Naught, however, to this confounded thing!" mused Allerdyke, gazing at and not seeing the folk on the broad sidewalk. "When all the bits of this puzzle have been fitted into place I daresay one'll be able to look down on it as a whole and say it looks simple enough when finished, but, egad, they're of so many sorts and shapes and queer angles that they're more than a bit difficult to fit at present. Now who the deuce is this Van Koon, and what was that Mrs. Marlow, alias Miss Slade, doing in his rooms last night when he was out?"

He was exercising his brains over a possible solution of this problem when Fullaway suddenly appeared in the hall behind him, accompanied by a man whom Allerdyke at once took to be the very individual about whom he was speculating. He was a man of apparently forty years of age, of average height and build, of a full countenance, sallow in complexion, clean-shaven, wearing gold-rimmed spectacles over a pair of sapphire blue eyes--a shrewd, able-looking man, clad in the loose fitting, square-cut garments just then affected by his fellow-countrymen, and having a low-crowned, soft straw hat pulled down over his forehead. His hands were thrust into the pockets of his jacket; a long, thin, black cigar stuck out of a corner of his humorous-looking lips; he cocked an intelligent eye at Allerdyke as he and Fullaway advanced to the door.

"Hullo, Allerdyke!" said Fullaway in his usual vivacious fashion. "Viewing the prospect o'er, eh? Allow me to introduce Mr. Van Koon, whom I don't think you've met, though he's under the same roof. Van Koon, this is the Mr. Allerdyke I've mentioned to you."

The two men shook hands and stared at each other. Whoever and whatever this man may be, thought Allerdyke, he gives you a straight look and a good grip--two characteristics which in his opinion went far to establish any unknown individual's honesty.

"No," remarked Van Koon. "I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Allerdyke before. But I'm out a great deal--I don't spend much time indoors this fine weather. You gentlemen know your London well--I don't, and I'm putting in all the time I can to cultivate her acquaintance."

"Been in town long?" asked Allerdyke, wanting to say something and impelled to this apparently trite question by the New Yorker's own observations.

"Since the first week in April," answered Van Koon, "And as this is my first visit to England, I'm endeavouring to do everything well. Fullaway tells me, Mr. Allerdyke, that you come from Bradford, the big manufacturing city up north. Well, now, Bradford is one of the places on my list--hullo!" he exclaimed, breaking off short. "I guess here's a man who's wanting you, Fullaway, in a considerable bit of a hurry."

Fullaway and Allerdyke looked out on to the pavement and saw Blindway, who had just jumped out of a taxi-cab, and was advancing upon them. He came up and addressed them jointly--would they go back with him at once to New Scotland Yard?--the chief wanted to see them for a few minutes.

"Come on, Allerdyke," said Fullaway. "We'd better go at once. Van Koon," he continued, turning to his compatriot, "do me a favour--just look in at my rooms upstairs, and tell Mrs. Marlow, if she's come--she hadn't arrived when I was up there ten minutes ago--that I'm called out for an hour or so--ask her to attend to anything that turns up until I come back--shan't be long."

Van Koon nodded and walked back into the hotel, while Allerdyke and Fullaway joined the detective in the cab and set out westward.

"What is it?" asked Fullaway. "Something new?"

"Can't say, exactly," replied Blindway. "The chief's got some woman there who thinks she can tell something about the French maid, so he sent me for you, and he's sent another man for Miss Lennard. It may be something good; it mayn't. Otherwise," he concluded with a shake of the head that was almost dismal, "otherwise, I don't know of anything new. Never knew of a case in my life, gentlemen, in which less turned up than's turning up in this affair! And fifty thousand pounds going a-begging!"

"I suppose this woman's after it," remarked Fullaway. "You didn't hear of anything she had to tell?"

"Nothing," answered Blindway. "You'll hear it in a minute or two."

He took them straight up into the same room, and the same official whom they had previously seen, and who now sat at his desk with Celia Lennard on one side of him, and a middle-aged woman, evidently of the poorer classes, on the other. Allerdyke and Fullaway, after a brief interchange of salutations with the official and the prima donna, looked at the stranger--a quiet, respectably-dressed woman who united a natural shyness with an evident determination to go through with the business that had brought her there. She was just the sort of woman who can be seen by the hundred--laundress, seamstress, charwoman, caretaker, got up in her Sunday best. Odd, indeed, it would be, thought Allerdyke, if this quiet, humble-looking creature should give information which would place fifty thousand pounds at her command!

"This is Mrs. Perrigo," said the chief pleasantly, as he motioned the two men to chairs near Celia's and beckoned Blindway to his side. "Mrs. Perrigo, of--where is it, ma'am?"

"I live in Alpha Place, off Park Street, sir," announced Mrs. Perrigo, in a small, quiet voice. "Number 14, sir. I'm a clear-starcher by trade, sir."

"Put that down, Blindway," said the chief, "and take a note of what Mrs. Perrigo tells us. Now, Mrs. Perrigo, you think you've seen the dead woman, Lisette Beaurepaire, at some time or another, in company with a young man? Where and when was this?"

"Well, three times, sir. Three times that I'm certain of--there was another time that I wasn't certain about; at least, that I'm not certain about now. If I could just tell you about it in my way, sir--"

"Certainly--certainly, Mrs. Perrigo! Exactly what I wish. Tell us all about it in your own way. Take your own time."

"Well, sir, it 'ud be, as near as I can fix it, about the middle of March--two months ago, sir," began Mrs. Perrigo. "You see, I had the misfortune to burn my right hand very badly, sir, and having to put my work aside, and it being nice weather, and warm for the time of year, I used to go and sit in Kensington Gardens a good deal, which, of course, was when I see this young lady whose picture's been in the paper of late, and--"

"A moment, Mrs. Perrigo," interrupted the official. "Miss Lennard, it will simplify matters considerably if I ask you a question. Were you and your late maid in town about the time Mrs. Perrigo speaks of--the middle of March?"

"Yes," replied Celia promptly. "We were here from March 3rd, when we came back from the Continent, to March 29th, when we left for Russia."

"Continue, Mrs. Perrigo, if you please," said the official. "Take your time--tell things your own way."

"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Perrigo dutifully. "If you please, sir. Well, when I see those pictures in the papers--several papers, sir--of the young lady with the foreign name I says to myself, and to my neighbour, Mrs. Watson, which is all I ever talk much to, 'That,' I says, 'is the young woman I see in Kensington Gardens a time or two and remarks of for her elegant figure and smart air in general--I could have picked her out from a thousand,' I says. Which there was, and is a particular spot, sir, in Kensington Gardens where I used to sit, and you pays a penny for a chair, which I did, and there's other chairs about, near a fallen tree, which is still there, for I went to make sure last night, and there, on three afternoons while I was there, this young lady came at about, say, four o'clock each time, and was met by this here young man what I don't remember as clear as I remember her, me not taking so much notice of him. And--"

"Another moment, Mrs. Perrigo." The chief turned again to Celia. "Did your maid ever go out in the afternoons about that time?" he asked.

"Probably every afternoon," replied Celia. "I myself was away from London from the 11th to the 18th of March, staying with friends in the country. I didn't take her with me--so, of course, she'd nothing to do but follow her own inclinations."

The chief turned to Mrs. Perrigo again.

"Yes?" he said. "You saw the young woman whose photograph you have seen in the papers meet a young man in Kensington Gardens on three separate occasions. Yes?"

"Three separate occasions, close by--on penny chairs, sir, where they sat and talked foreign, which I didn't understand--and on another occasion, when I see 'em walking by the Round Pond, me being at some distance, but recognizing her by her elegant figure. I took particular notice of the young woman's face, sir, me being a noticing person, and I'll take my dying oath, if need be, that this here picture is hers!"

Mrs. Perrigo here produced a much worn and crumpled illustrated newspaper and laid her hand solemnly upon it. That done, she shook her head.

"But I ain't so certain about the young man as met her," she said sorrowfully. "Him I did not notice with such attention, being, as I say, more attracted to her. All the same, he was a young man--and spoke the same foreign language as what she did. Of them facts, sure I am, sir."

"They sat near you, Mrs. Perrigo?"

"As near, sir, as I am now to that lady. And paid their pennies for their chairs in my presence; leastways, the young man paid. Always the same place it was, and always the same time--three days all within a week, and then the day when I see 'em walking at a distance."

"Can't you remember anything about the young man, Mrs. Perrigo?" asked the chief. "Come!--try to think. That is the really important thing. You must have some recollection of him, you know, some idea of what he was like."

Mrs. Perrigo took a corner of her shawl between her fingers and proceeded to fold and pleat it while she thoughtfully fixed her eyes on Blindway's unmoved countenance, as if to find inspiration there. And after a time she nodded her head as though memory had stirred within her.

"Which every time I see him," she said, with an evident quickening of interest, "he had two of them dogs with him what has turned-up noses and twisted tails."

"Pugs?" suggested the chief.

"No doubt that is their name, sir, but unbeknown to me as I never kept such an animal," answered Mrs. Perrigo. "My meaning being clear, no doubt, and there being no mistaking of 'em--their tails and noses being of that order. And had 'em always on a chain--gentlemen's dogs you could see they was, and carefully looked after with blue bows at the back of their necks, same as if they was Christians. And him, I should say, speaking from memory, a dark young man--such is my recollection."

"It comes to this," remarked the chief, looking at the three listeners with a smile. "Mrs. Perrigo says that she is certain that upon three occasions about the middle of March last she witnessed meetings at a particular spot in Kensington Gardens between a young woman answering the description and photographs of Lisette Beaurepaire and a young man of whom she cannot definitely remember anything except that she thinks he was dark, spoke a foreign language, and was in charge of two pug dogs which wore blue ribbons. That's it, isn't it, Mrs. Perrigo?"

"And willing to take my solemn oath of the same whenever convenient, sir," replied Mrs. Perrigo. "And if so be as what I've told you should lead to anything, gentlemen--and lady--I can assure you that me being a poor widow, and--"

Five minutes later, Mrs. Perrigo, with some present reward in her pocket, was walking quietly up Whitehall with a composed countenance, while Allerdyke, already late for his Gresham Street appointment, sped towards the City as fast as a hastily chartered taxi-cab could carry him. And all the way thither, being alone, he repeated certain words over and over again.

"A dark young man who led two pugs--a dark young man who led two pugs! With blue ribbons on their necks--with blue ribbons on their necks, same as Christians!"