The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter VI. The Prima Donna's Portrait
Marshall Allerdyke's sharp eyes were quick to see that his new visitor had something of importance to communicate and wished to give his news in private. Dr. Orwin glanced inquiringly at the American as he took the seat which Allerdyke drew forward, and the cock of his eyes indicated a strong desire to know who the stranger was.
"Friend of my late cousin," said Allerdyke brusquely. "Mr. Franklin Fullaway, of London--just as anxious as I am to hear what you have to tell us, doctor. You've come to tell something, of course?"
The doctor inclined his head towards Fullaway, and added a grave bow in answer to Allerdyke's question.
"The autopsy has been made," he replied. "By Dr. Lydenberg, Dr. Quillet, who is one of the police-surgeons here, and myself. We made a very careful and particular examination."
"And--the result?" asked Allerdyke eagerly. "Is it what you anticipated from your first glance at him--here?"
The doctor's face became a shade graver; his voice assumed an oracular tone.
"My two colleagues," he said, "agreed that your cousin's death resulted from heart failure which arose from what we may call ordinary causes. There is no need for me to go into details--it is quite sufficient to say that they are abundantly justified in coming to the conclusion at which they have arrived: it is quite certain that your cousin's heart had recently become seriously affected. But as regards myself"--here he paused, and looking narrowly from one to the other of his two hearers, he sank his voice to a lower, more confidential tone--"as regards myself, I am not quite so certain as Dr. Lydenberg and Dr. Quillet appear to be. The fact of the case is, I think it very possible that Mr. James Allerdyke was--poisoned."
Neither of the two who listened so intently made any reply to this significant announcement. Instead they kept their eyes intently fixed on the doctor's grave face; then they slowly turned from him to each other, exchanging glances. And after a pause the doctor went on, speaking in measured and solemn accents.
"There is no need, either, at present--only at present--that I should tell you why I think that," he continued. "I may be wrong--my two colleagues are inclined to think I am wrong. But they quite agree with me that it will be proper to preserve certain organs--you understand?--for further examination by, say, the Home Office analyst, who is always, of course, a famous pathological expert. That will be done--in fact, we have already sealed up what we wish to be further examined. But"--he paused again, shaking his head more solemnly than ever--"the truth is, gentlemen," he went on at last, "I am doubtful if even that analysis and examination will reveal anything. If my suspicions are correct--and perhaps I ought to call them mere notions, theories, ideas, rather than suspicions--but, at any rate, if there is anything in the vague thoughts which I have, no trace of any poison will be found--and yet your cousin may have been poisoned, all the same."
"Secretly!" exclaimed Fullaway.
Dr. Orwin gave the American a sharp glance which indicated that he realized Fullaway's understanding of what he had just said.
"Precisely," he answered. "There are poisons--known to experts--which will destroy life almost to a given minute, and of which the most skilful pathologist and expert will not be able to find a single trace. Now, please, understand my position--I say, it is quite possible, quite likely, quite in accordance with what I have seen, that this unfortunate gentleman died of heart failure brought about by even such an ordinary exertion as his stooping forward to untie his shoe-lace, but--I also think it likely that his death resulted from poison, subtly and cunningly administered, probably not very long before his death took place. And if I only knew--"
He paused at that, and looked searchingly and meaningly at Marshall Allerdyke before he continued. And Allerdyke looked back with the same intentness and nodded.
"Yes--yes!" he said. "If you only knew--? Say it, doctor!"
"If I only knew if there was any reason why any person wished to take this man's life," responded Dr. Orwin, slowly and deliberately. "If I knew that somebody wanted to get him out of the way, for instance--"
Allerdyke jumped to his feet and tapped Fullaway on the shoulder.
"Come in here a minute," he said, motioning towards the door of his bedroom. "Excuse us, doctor--I want to have a word with this gentleman. Look here," he continued, when he had led the American into the bedroom and had closed the door. "You hear what he says? Shall we tell him? Or shall we keep it all dark for a while? Which--what?"
"Tell him under promise of secrecy," replied Fullaway after a moment's consideration. "Medical men are all right--yes, tell him. He may suggest something. And I'm inclined to think his theory is correct, eh?"
"Correct!" exclaimed Allerdyke, with a grim laugh. "You bet it's correct! Come on, then--we'll tell him all. Now, doctor," he went on, leading the way back into the sitting-room, "we're going to give you our confidence. You'll treat it as a strict confidence, a secret between us, for the present. The truth is that when my cousin came to this hotel last night he was in possession--that is, we have the very strongest grounds for believing him to have been in possession--of certain extremely valuable property---jewels worth a large amount--which he was carrying, safeguarding, from a lady in Russia to this gentleman in London. When I searched his body and luggage, these valuables were missing. Mr. Fullaway and myself haven't the least doubt that he was robbed. So your theory--eh?"
Dr. Orwin had listened to this with deep attention, and he now put two quick questions.
"The value of these things was great?"
"Relatively, very great," answered Allerdyke.
"Enough to engage, the attention of a clever gang of thieves?"
"Then," said the doctor, "I am quite of opinion that my ideas are correct. These, people probably tracked your cousin to this place, contrived to administer a subtle and deadly poison to him last night, and entered his room after the time at which they knew it would take effect. Have you any clue--even a slight one?"
"Only this," answered Allerdyke, and proceeded to narrate the story of the shoe-buckle, adding Fullaway's theory to it. "That's not much, eh?"
"You must find that woman and produce her at the inquest," said the doctor. "I take it that Mr. Fullaway's idea is a correct one. Your cousin probably did invite Miss Lennard into his room to show her these jewels--that, of course, would prove that he had them in his possession at some certain hour last night. Now, about that inquest. It is fixed for ten o'clock to-morrow morning. Let me advise you as to your own course of procedure, having an eye on what you have told me. Your object should be to make the proceedings to-morrow merely formal, so that the Coroner can issue his order for interment, and then adjourn for further evidence. It will be sufficient if you give evidence identifying the body, if evidence is given of the autopsy, and an adjournment asked for until a further examination of the reserved organs and viscera can be made. For the present, I should keep back the matter of the supposed robbery until you can find this Miss Lennard. At the adjourned inquest--say in a week or ten days hence--everything pertinent can be brought out. But you will need legal help--I am rather trespassing on legal preserves in telling you so much."
"Deeply obliged to you, doctor--and you can add to our obigations by giving us the name of a good man to go to," said Allerdyke. "We'll see him at once and fix things up for to-morrow morning."
Dr. Orwin wrote down the name and address of a well-known solicitor, and presently went away. When he had gone, Allerdyke turned to Fullaway.
"Now, then," he said, "you and I'll do one or two things. We'll call on this lawyer. Then we'll cable to the Princess. But how shall we get her address!"
"There's sure to be a Russian Consul in the town," suggested Fullaway.
"Good idea! And I'm going to telephone to this Miss Lennard's address in London," continued Allerdyke. "She evidently set off from here to Edinburgh; but, anyway, the address she gave in that wire to the manager is a London one, and I'm going to try it. Now let's get out and be at work."
The ensuing conversation between these two and a deeply interested and much-impressed solicitor resulted in the dispatch of a lengthy cablegram to St. Petersburg, a conversation over the telephone with the housekeeper of Miss Celia Lennard's London flat, and the interviewing of the captain and stewards of the steamship on which James Allerdyke had crossed from Christiania. The net result of this varied inquiry was small, and produced little that could throw additional light on the matter in question. The Perisco officials had not seen anything suspicious in the conduct or personality of any of their passengers. They had observed James Allerdyke in casual conversation with some of them--they had seen him talking to Miss Lennard, to Dr. Lydenberg, to others, ladies and gentlemen who subsequently put up at the Station Hotel for the night. Nothing that they could tell suggested anything out of the common. Miss Lennard's housekeeper gave no other information than that her mistress was at present in Edinburgh, and was expected to remain there for at least a week. And towards night came a message from the Princess Nastirsevitch confirming Fullaway's conviction that James Allerdyke was in possession of her jewels and announcing that she was leaving for England at once, and should travel straight, via Berlin and Calais, to meet Mr. Franklin Fullaway at his hotel in London.
The solicitor agreed with Dr. Orwin's suggestions as to the course to be followed with regard to the inquest; it would be wise, he said, to keep matters quiet for at any rate a few days, until they were in a position to bring forward more facts. Consequently, the few people who were present at the Coroner's court next morning gained no idea of the real importance of the inquiry which was then opened. Even the solitary reporter who took a perfunctory note of the proceedings for his newspaper gathered no more from what he heard than that a gentleman had died suddenly at the Station Hotel, that it had been necessary to hold an inquest, that there was some little doubt as to the precise cause of his death, and that the inquest was accordingly adjourned until the medical men could tell something of a more definite nature. Nothing sensational crept out into the town; no bold-lettered headlines ornamented the afternoon editions. An hour before noon Marshall Allerdyke entrusted his cousin's body to the care of certain kinsfolk who had come over from Bradford to take charge of it; by noon he and Fullaway were slipping out of Hull on their way to Edinburgh--to search for a witness, who, if and when they found her, might be able to tell them--what?
"Seems something like a wild-goose chase," said Allerdyke as the train steamed on across country towards York and the North. "How do we know where to find this woman in Edinburgh? Her housekeeper didn't know what hotel she was at--I suppose we'll have to try every one in the place till we come across her!"
"Edinburgh is not a very big town," remarked Fullaway. "I reckon to run her down--if she's still there--within a couple of hours. It's our first duty, anyway. If she--as I guess she did--saw those jewels, then we know that James Allerdyke had them on him when he reached Hull, dead sure."
"And supposing she can tell that?" said Allerdyke. "What then? How does that help? The devils who got 'em have already had thirty-six hours' start of us!"
The American produced a bulky cigar-case, found a green cigar, and lighted it with a deliberation which was in marked contrast to his usual nervous movements.
"Seems to me," he said presently, "seems very much to me that this has been a great thing! I figure it out like this--somehow, somebody has got to know of what the Princess and your cousin were up to--that he was going to carry those valuable jewels with him to England. He must have been tracked all the way, unless--does any unless strike you, now?"
"Not at the moment," replied Allerdyke. "So unless what?"
"Unless the thieves--and murderers--were waiting there in Hull for his arrival," said Fullaway quietly. "That's possible!"
"Strikes me a good many possibilities are knocking around," remarked Allerdyke, with more than his usual dryness. "As for me, I'll want to know a lot about these valuables and their consignment before I make up my mind in any way. I tell you frankly. I'm not running after them--I'm wanting to find the folk who killed my cousin, and I only hope this young woman'll be able to give me a hand. And the sooner we get to the bottle of hay and begin prospecting for the needle the better!"
But the search for Miss Celia Lennard to which Allerdyke alluded so gloomily was not destined to be either difficult or lengthy. As he and his companion walked along one of the platforms in the Waverley Station in Edinburgh that evening, on their way to a cab, Allerdyke suddenly uttered a sharp exclamation and seized the American by the elbow, twisting him round in front of a big poster which displayed the portrait of a very beautiful woman.
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "There she is! See? That's the woman. Man alive, we've hit it at once! Look!"
Fullaway turned and stared, not so much at the portrait as at the big lettering above and beneath it:
ZELIE DE LONGARDE, THE WORLD-FAMED SOPRANO. RECENTLY RETURNED FROM MOSCOW AND ST. PETERSBURG. Only Visit to Edinburgh this Year. TO-NIGHT AT 8.