Chapter XXX. The Packet in the Safe
 

It was to a hastily called together gathering of high police officials that the three visitors told all they knew. One after another they related their various stories--Chettle of his doings and discoveries at Hull, Allerdyke of what had gone on at the hotel, Appleyard of the mysterious double identity of the woman who was Miss Slade in one place and Mrs. Marlow in another. The officials listened quietly and absorbedly, rarely interrupting the narrators except to ask a searching question. And in the end they talked together apart, after which all went away except the man who had kept his hands on the reins from the beginning. He turned to his visitors with an air of decision.

"Well, of course, there's but one thing to be done, now," he said. "We must get a warrant for this woman's arrest at once. We must also get a search warrant and examine her belongings at that private hotel you've told us of, Mr. Appleyard. All that shall be done immediately. But first I want you to tell me one or two things. What are those two men you spoke of doing--the Gaffneys?"

"One of them, the chauffeur, is hanging about the Pompadour," replied Appleyard. "The other--Albert--has gone down to Cannon Street to see if he can trace the driver of the taxi-cab in which Rayner and Miss Slade drove away from there last night."

"He'll do no harm in trying to find that out," observed the chief. "But I should like to see him--I want to ask some questions about the man who joined those two after dinner at Cannon Street last night, and the other man whom he saw them take up near Liverpool Street Station. Will he keep himself in touch with your warehouse in Gresham Street?"

"Sure to," answered Appleyard.

"Then just telephone to your people there, and tell them to tell him, if he comes in asking for you, to come along and seek you here," said the chief. "I'm afraid I can't spare either you or Mr. Allerdyke, for your joint information'll be wanted presently for these warrants, and when we've got them I want you to go with me--both of you--to the Pompadour."

"You're going to search?" asked Allerdyke when Appleyard had gone to the telephone. "You think you may find something--there?"

"There's enough evidence to justify a search," answered the chief. "Naturally we want to know all we can. But I should say that if she's mixed up with a gang, and if they've got those jewels through her--as seems uncommonly likely--she'll have been ready for a start at any minute, and the probability is we'll find nothing to help us. The great thing, of course, will be to get hold of the woman herself. It's a most unfortunate thing that Albert Gaffney was stopped from following that cab, last night--I've no opinion, Mr. Allerdyke, of your amateur detective as a rule, but from Mr. Appleyard's account of him, this one seems to have done very well. If we only knew where those two went--"

Appleyard presently came back from the telephone with a face alive with fresh news.

"Albert Gaffney's at the warehouse now," he announced. "I've just had a word with him. He found the taxi-cab driver an hour ago, and he got the information he wanted. And I'm afraid it's--nothing!"

"What is it, anyhow?" asked the chief, with a smile. "Perhaps Albert Gaffney doesn't know its value."

"The man drove them, all four, to the corner of Whitechapel Church," said Appleyard. "There he set them down, and there he left them. That's all."

"Well, that's something, anyway," remarked the chief. "It carries the thing on another stage. Now we'll leave that and attend to our own business."

The Pompadour Private Hotel, like most establishments of its class in Bayswater, was a place of peace and of comparative solitude during the greater part of the day. It was busy enough up to ten o'clock in the morning, and it began to be busy enough again by six o'clock in the evening, but from ten to six more than two-thirds of its denizens were not to be found within its walls. The business man had gone to the City; the professional women had departed to their offices; nothing of humanity but a few elderly widows and spinsters, and an old gentleman or two were left in the various rooms. Everything, therefore, was quiet enough when the chief, accompanied by Chettle, drove up, entered the hall, and asked to see the manager and manageress. As for Allerdyke and Appleyard, who naturally felt considerable dislike to appearing on this particular scene of operations, they were a few hundred yards away, walking about just within the confines of Kensington Gardens, and waiting with more or less patience until the police officials came to them with news of the result of the search.

The manageress of the hotel, a smart lady who wore dignified black gowns all day long--stuff in the morning, and silk at night as if she were a barrister, gradually advancing in grandeur--gazed at the two callers with some suspicion as she ushered them into a private room at the back of her office. The chief, an irreproachably attired man, might have been an army gentleman, she thought; an instinctive wonder rose in her mind as to whether he was not some elderly man of standing who, accompanied by his valet, desired to arrange about a suite of rooms. But his first words gave her an unpleasant shock--she felt for all the world as if somebody had suddenly turned a shower of ice-cold water on her.

"Now, ma'am," said the chief, "your husband the manager is out, and you are in sole and responsible charge, I understand? Pray don't be alarmed--this is nothing that concerns you or your affairs, personally, and we will endeavor to arrange everything so that you have no annoyance. The fact of the case is, we are police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department at New Scotland Yard, and I hold two warrants, just granted by a justice of peace, which are in relation to an inmate of your hotel."

The manageress dropped into a chair and stared at her visitors. Police officers? Warrants? Justices? It was the first time in her highly respectable Bayswater existence that she had ever been brought into contact with these dreadful things. And--an inmate of her establishment!

"Oh, you must be mistaken!" she exclaimed in horror-stricken accents. "A warrant?--that means you want to arrest somebody. An inmate--surely none of my servants--"

"Nothing to do with servants," interrupted the chief. "I said an inmate. Pray don't be alarmed. We want a young lady who is known to you as Miss Mary Slade."

The manageress got up as quickly as she had sat down. For one moment she gazed at her visitor as if he had demanded her very life--the next her lip curled in scorn.

"Miss Slade!" she exclaimed. "Impossible, sir! Miss Slade is a young lady of the very highest respectability--she has resided in this hotel for three years!"

"I am quite prepared to believe that a residence of three months under your roof is enough to confer an irreproachable character on any one, ma'am," replied the chief with a polite smile. "But the fact remains, I have here a warrant for Miss Slade's arrest--never mind on what charge--and here another empowering me to search her room or rooms, her trunk, any property she has in this house. And as time presses I must ask you to give us every facility in the performance of our unpleasant duty. But first a question or two. Miss Slade is not at home?"

"She is not!" replied the manageress emphatically.

"And I think she did not return home last night?" suggested the chief.

"No--she didn't," assented the much perplexed woman. "That's quite true."

"Was that unusual?" asked the chief.

The manageress bit her lip. She did not want to talk, but she had a vague idea that the law compelled speech.

"Well, I don't know what it's all about," she said, "and I don't want to say anything that would bring trouble to Miss Slade, but--it was unusual. For two reasons. I've never known Miss Slade to be away from here for a night except when she went for her usual month's holiday, and I'm surprised that she should stop away without giving me word or sending a telephone message."

"Then her absence was unusual," said the chief smiling. "Now, was there anything else that was unusual, last night--in connection with it?"

The manageress started and looked at her visitor as if she half suspected him of possessing the power of seeing through brick walls.

"Well," she said, a little reluctantly, "there was certainly another of our guests away last night, too--one who scarcely ever is away, and certainly never without letting us know that he's going away. And it's quite true he's a very great friend of Miss Slade's--somebody did say, jokingly, this morning, that perhaps they'd run away and got married."

"Ah!" said the chief, with another smile. "I scarcely think Miss Slade would contract such an important engagement at this moment, she has evidently much else to think about. But now let us see Miss Slade's apartment, if you please, and I shall be obliged to you, ma'am, if you will accompany us."

Not only did the manageress accompany them, but the manager also, who just then arrived and was filled with proper horror to hear that such things were happening. But, being a man, he knew that it is every citizen's duty to assist the police, and he accepted his fate cheerfully, and bade his wife give the gentlemen every help that lay in her power. After which both conducted the two visitors to Miss Slade's room, and became fascinated in acting as spectators.

Miss Slade's apartment was precisely that of any other young lady of refined taste. It was a good-sized, roomy apartment, half bedroom, half sitting-room, and it was bright and gay with books and pictures, and evidences of literary and artistic fancies and leanings. And Chettle, taking a first comprehensive look round, went straight to the mantelpiece and pointed out a certain neatly framed photograph to his superior.

"That's it, sir," he said in a low voice. "That's what the other was taken from. You know, sir--Mr. James A. Mr. Marshall A. said she said she was going to have it framed. Odd, ain't it, sir?--if she really is implicated."

The chief agreed with his man. It was certainly a very odd thing that Miss Slade, alias Mrs. Marlow, if she really had any concern with the murder of James Allerdyke, should put his photograph in a fairly expensive silver frame, and hang it where she could look at it every day. But, as Chettle sagely remarked, you never can tell, and you never can account, and you never know, and meanwhile there was the urgent business on hand.

The business on hand came to nothing. Manager and manageress watched with interested amazement while the two searchers went through everything in that room with a thoroughness and rapidity produced by long practice. They were astounded at the deftness with which the heavy-looking Mr. Chettle explored drawers and trunks, and the military-looking chief peered into wardrobes and cupboards and examined desks and tables. But they were not so much astonished as the two detectives themselves were. For in all that room--always excepting the photograph of James Allerdyke--there was not a single object, a scrap of paper, anything whatever, which connected the Miss Slade of the Pompadour with the Mrs. Marlow of Fullaway's or bore reference to the matter in hand. The searchers finally retired utterly baffled.

"Drawn blank," murmured the chief good-humouredly. He turned to the lookers-on. "I suppose you have nothing of Miss Slade's?" he said. "Nothing confined to your care, eh?"

The manageress glanced at her husband, with whom she had kept up a whispered conversation. The manager nodded.

"Better tell them," he said. "No good keeping anything back."

"Ah!" said the chief. "You have something?"

"A small parcel," admitted the manageress, "which she gave me a few days ago to lock up in our safe. She said it contained something valuable, and she hadn't anything to lock it up in. It's in the safe now."

"I'm afraid we must see it," said the chief.

At the foot of the stairs the hall-porter accosted the party and looked at the chief narrowly.

"Name of Chettle, sir?" he asked. "You're wanted at our telephone--urgent."

The chief motioned to Chettle, who went off with the hall-porter; he himself followed the manageress into her office. She unlocked a safe, rummaged amongst its contents, and handed him a small square parcel, done up in brown paper and sealed with black wax. Before he could open it, Chettle returned, serious and puzzled, and whispered to him. Then, with the shortest of leave-takings, the two officers hurried away from the Pompadour, the chief carrying the little parcel tightly grasped in his right hand.