William Le Queux.

The Red Widow: or, The Death-Dealers of London



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"Oh, of course they are!" laughed the captain.

"But don't let us discuss it any more."

"Where did I come on board?"

"Why, at Hull, of course. Four days ago."

"At Hull!" gasped Gerald. "I have no recollections of ever having been in Hull."

"Neither have you any recollections of ever having been born, eh?" remarked Bowden, with biting sarcasm.

"Did Morton bring me on board?"

"Certainly."

"And he paid you to take me on this trip?"

"No, excuse me. We pay you. You've signed on as steward at a bob a day wages. We're not licensed to carry passengers. The Board o' Trade don't like such old tubs as the Pentyrch. Yet she's a good old boat, I'll say that much for her. You'll see England again all right, never fear – unless the bloomin' boilers burst. They're none too strong, I'm afraid."

"You're not over cheerful, Captain Bowden," the young man remarked, more puzzled than ever at the extraordinary situation.

"Oh, I'm cheerful enough. It's you who seems to be a-worryin' over things."

"Well, and wouldn't you worry if you were drugged, waking first to find yourself locked in a strange room, and then again wakening a second time to discover yourself at sea?"

"You want rest, my dear young fellow – rest! And you'll get it here on the old tub. The weather will be better when we get along the West Coast."

"How can I send a message to London?"

"We ain't got wireless. Too expensive for such a hooker as this. It means an operator with lightnin' round his cap. So you'll have to wait till we get to Singapore, and then you can cable."

Wait for five or six weeks till the vessel arrived at Singapore! What would Marigold think? What was she thinking now?

He was, of course, in ignorance of those cleverly worded and reassuring telegrams.

"Can't I get a message ashore anyhow – by signal to one of Lloyd's stations?" he begged.

"No, you can't, for we're going straight out. Usually we go up the Mediterranean and through the Canal, but this trip we're going round the Cape."

"But surely you will allow me to communicate with my friends, captain!" he urged in distress.

"You certainly could if we had orders to put in anywhere. But we haven't. I can't send a letter to my missus, for instance. She'll know of our arrival at Singapore because the owners will send her a line, as they always do."

"All this is maddening!" declared Durrant, angrily stamping his foot.

"Yes, Morton said you were a bit eccentric, and it seems that you are!" remarked Bowden, taking down his shiny black oilskin which had borne the brunt of many a storm.

"I must go on the bridge – or Hutton will be cursing," he added. "Get your oilskin – you've got one in your cabin – and go and have a blow on deck. It will do you good – blow out the cobwebs, and freshen up your memory a bit."

Gerald returned to his cabin and found a black oilskin hanging behind the door.

He put it on and, taking an old golf cap, ascended the hatchway to the deck, which was, ever and anon, being drenched with salt spray.

A glance around showed the Pentyrch to be a dirty old tramp, which was loping along in the teeth of a northerly gale.

"See yonder!" exclaimed the captain, pointing to a little line of land. "That's the last bit of Europe we'll see! To-morrow the weather will be a lot better. Have a look round the ship before dinner. And don't you trouble about that marvellous plot against you. There's nothing at all in it – take it from me! Your friends are all aware of your hallucinations, and they are much pained by them. So just keep quiet – and rest all you can."

While Bowden ascended to the bridge to relieve the first mate, Gerald explored the ship. He came across one or two rough sailors, who either wished him a sullen "Good-day," or stared at him as though he were some new species.

As a matter of fact, Bowden had given it out to the crew that their passenger was an eccentric, but harmless young man, who was labouring under the delusion that an attempt had been made to kill him. Hence the men's curiosity.

Gerald Durrant was unused to the sea, and in his present unstrung condition, he was indeed scarcely responsible for his actions.

But what the captain had told him had astounded him. The description of his mysterious "friend" Morton – a man who was evidently his enemy – certainly did not tally with that of Bernard Boyne.

Yet he could not erase from his mind the suspicion that Boyne had had a hand in that plot by which he had been carried away from London – just at a moment when his presence there was so much needed.

Again, as he stood against the hatchway gazing wistfully at the distant French coast that was fast disappearing, the thought suddenly occurred to him that if his disappearance was actually due to Boyne, then the latter must have, somehow or other, discovered the fact that he was keeping him under observation.

If Boyne had really found it out, then he would also know that Marigold had been assisting him. This would, no doubt, lead him to suspect the real motive of her two stays at Bridge Place.

Bernard Boyne would entrap her – just as he had been entrapped!

In his despair he saw himself powerless, either to warn or to assist the girl he so fondly loved!

CHAPTER XXII
FROM OUT THE PAST

After Boyne, his wife, and Ena Pollen – the trio of death-dealers – received the news of the death of Augusta Morrison, the go-to-meeting insurance agent of Hammersmith had left the flat and gone forth into Upper Brook Street. He had to meet a man in the smoke-room of the Carlton.

Suddenly, as he passed beneath a street lamp on his way towards Park Lane, a well-dressed girl accosted him, exclaiming with a strong French accent:

"Ah! M'sieur Bennett! At last! I have wanted to see you for – oh! for so long – long time!"

Boyne started. The maid, C?line, for it was she, was the very last person in the world that he desired to meet at that moment. All had been successfully conducted concerning Augusta Morrison, but here arose the aftermath of a very ugly affair – the death of old Mr. Martin in Chiswick.

At first he pretended not to recognise the girl who had been paid off by Ena, for he hoped to wriggle out of the precarious situation by bluff.

"No, no, m'sieur," cried the girl. "Surely you recollect me! I am C?line – who was maid to madame – your friend! You remember poor Mr. Martin – who died so suddenly – eh?" she asked.

He tried to extricate himself, but instantly it occurred to him that she was resuming her blackmail, and that if they were to save themselves, she must be paid more money. She knew something concerning old Martin's sudden end. That was plain. Therefore, she would have to be silenced. In every walk of life to-day the blackmailer of both sexes is to be found in one guise or another.

"And are you really C?line?" he laughed, halting beneath the next lamp, for she had joined him and had walked beside him.

"I am. Madame lives in the house you have just left. I saw her in Melun a little time ago. She so kindly called upon me."

As the girl uttered these words a man joined them, a tall, rather cadaverous-looking stranger in black, evidently a Frenchman.

"This is Monsieur Galtier – Henri Galtier," she explained, introducing them.

"Ah! I recollect. Madame told me that you are to be married – eh, C?line? I congratulate you," said Boyne in an affable manner. "Pardon my foolishness, but at first I did not recognise you as my friend."

The latter word was intentionally diplomatic.

"Yes, I thought you would recollect!" said the girl. "Is Madame upstairs? I want so much to see her."

"No," replied Boyne. "She isn't. I've just called, but she's out."

"There are lights in her windows," remarked the man Galtier in very good English.

"Servants, I suppose," said Boyne carelessly. "I myself went to see her upon some business – about some shares upon which she has asked my advice. She's gone away for the week-end, it seems."

"H'm!" grunted the Anglo-Frenchman. "How are we to know that?"

"Well, I tell you so," was Boyne's blunt response.

"Do you know, M'sieur Bennett, that Madame told me that you were dead? That you died of influenza, and here now you are coming from her house!" said the good-looking French girl.

"Yes; she believed that I was dead. I was away on business in Italy, and some fool spread the report that I had died in a hotel in Naples," laughed Boyne, yet inwardly full of concern. "But it was a shock to her when one afternoon I called."

C?line T?not was not convinced. She had already received thirty thousand francs to keep a still tongue, but as a matter of fact her lover, Galtier, saw that it would be interesting, in more ways than one, to probe the mystery of the death of old Mr. Martin.

The ill-assorted trio walked together as far as Park Lane. At the corner the man Galtier halted, and addressing the girl in French, said:

"We'll go back, C?line, and see if Madame is really absent, as M'sieur Bennett alleges."

"She is away!" exclaimed Boyne angrily. "Haven't I told you so? Don't I want to see her myself?"

The Frenchman laughed in his face.

"No, no, my dear m'sieur! Do not tell any more lies. We saw you go in a long time ago. You dined there, and Madame is there. We both want to see her – on – on some important business!"

Bernard Boyne held his breath. He was cornered. He had successfully put Gerald Durrant out upon the high seas, but here was C?line, with her lover, watching them enter Ena's flat in order to await the news of the death of their latest victim!

"It's surely late to do business with a lady," remarked Boyne, for want of something else to say. In his excitement over the successful conclusion of the Morrison affair, he was now met with a very unexpected and serious contretemps.

Ena believed that she had successfully settled with the girl, but it was evident that Galtier was a blackmailer who intended to bleed them to the utmost.

Indeed, he had not been long in revealing his hand.

"I think, Mr. Bennett – or whatever your real name may be – you had better drop this mask," the Frenchman said, with a sardonic grin. "Let us come down to the same plane. The fact is you're a crook – and so am I, perhaps. Now then! What about it?"

"Let's walk along," the girl suggested in French.

The trio walked together, Bernard Boyne between the pair. They strolled down Park Lane to Hyde Park Corner, but their conversation was mostly in monosyllables.

Boyne was wondering how he could extricate himself from the highly perilous situation. It was evident that this shrewd Frenchman, who had so suddenly risen in the placid firmament of their future, knew something concerning the death of old Martin.

How much did he know? That was the question.

At first Boyne tried to fence with the pair, but soon he saw that it was of no avail. They both laughed at him openly, and it was clear that they had been watching him for several days.

"Now," slid Galtier, as they halted upon the pavement opposite the Hyde Park tube station "what are you going to do? Will you take us back to Madame, or are you going to lie to us further? Now then!"

Boyne saw himself at a dead end.

He had never dreamed that the smart French girl of Melun, who had been paid so handsomely by Ena, would again resume her claims. But, of course, the man Galtier was behind her and had, no doubt, prompted her. Fortunately, they could know nothing of the Morrison affair – or, indeed, of the clever plots which they were conducting against other perfectly innocent victims. Life assurance is always a gamble, but when one can guarantee death within dates then one holds a winning hand every time.

"Madame isn't at home," repeated Boyne sulkily. "Call there on Monday. She'll be back then."

"No, my dear M'sieur Bennett," replied the clerk from the Mairie of Chantilly. "If we call then she will have gone, and so will your wife." And he laughed lightly. "You see, I haven't been in London all these weeks without discovering something about all three of you!"

"But I don't see why you should come over from France to pry into our affairs. What can it benefit you?" asked Boyne, who, though excited, kept cool with difficulty.

"Oh! never fear, it will benefit us. We know how and why old Mr. Martin died so unexpectedly in Chiswick. We shall also know, ere long, how other insured persons have died, mon cher ami. So we had better turn back and have a little business chat with C?line's late mistress, and with your wife. That, perhaps, will clear the atmosphere."

"Ah! I see you want money! Both of you – eh?" snapped Boyne.

"Possibly," was the hesitating reply. "But perhaps it would be to our better advantage to tell the police what we know."

"That's a threat!" cried Boyne indignantly. "I allow no man to threaten me!" he declared boldly. "Go back to Madame's house. You are welcome. I am not her keeper."

"I would prefer to deal with you first, M'sieur Bennett."

"I don't want to have any dealings with a person who holds out threats," was his answer. "Madame paid C?line because she dismissed her without notice," he went on carelessly. "Just act as you wish. And I wish you joy. But please don't bother me further."

He was turning away when the Frenchman rushed after him, and stood on the pavement before him.

"Is this your final decision?" he asked fiercely, as he barred Boyne's way.

"Yes. You've come here to blackmail me," replied Boyne; "but you'll not get a sou out of me. Why should I pay you anything? I don't know you! I've never seen you before in my life!"

"But you will be very pleased to settle," snarled the fellow in English.

"I shan't, and if you are not very careful I'll give you in charge of the police for attempted blackmail."

"You swine!" cried Galtier between his teeth.

"The same to you, my dear friend – and a size larger; a bigger breed!" laughed Boyne defiantly.

Both the man and the girl were silent for a few moments, when the latter suddenly broke out into a torrent of abuse and vituperation.

Her companion tried to calm her, but in French she cried loudly:

"These people are assassins! I know what I overheard on the night when poor Monsieur Martin died. They killed him! And he was always very good to me – poor M'sieur! Madame is a fiend!" she went on. "I do not want her dirty money. I want to see her pay the penalty which all those who murder should pay!"

Boyne saw that his bluff had not succeeded. He had to deal with a very perilous situation. A false step might lead them all to the Old Bailey. The pair had evidently been watching them, and were aware that his wife and Ena were both in the flat.

"Well," he laughed harshly, "you both appear to be on the wrong track. C?line has, it seems, suspicions about something which she once overheard. What it was, I do not know, because I wasn't there; but I tell you, both of you, that as far as I care you can go to the devil! I've nothing to ask of you – nothing to fear!

"You really mean that – eh?" cried the lank, bony Frenchman.

"Certainly I do. Clear out – and now at once, otherwise I'll call the first constable and give you in charge for attempted blackmail!" said Boyne, standing erect before him. "We've had foreign blackmailers here before – lots of them – but we've no use for them in London."

"But Madame paid me to say nothing," urged C?line.

"What Madame did does not concern me in the least," he snapped. "She generously gave you something, I believe, because she considered that she had treated you shabbily. That's all!"

An awkward pause ensued.

"Very well," exclaimed Galtier. "We are enemies. Let it be so!

"Of course we are enemies!" Boyne cried in a defiant tone that rather nonplussed the Frenchman.

"Tr?s bien!" he exclaimed.

"Excellent," said the wily Boyne. "Let it be so, as you say. We are enemies. So go back to Upper Brook Street and find madame. Go and try to blackmail her. Meanwhile I shall call the next constable I meet and give you both in charge as undesirable foreigners."

The Frenchman, however, only laughed in his face, saying:

"Yes, do so, mon cher ami! I fancy you would regret such an action. But we are enemies, and at any rate, I intend to see madame, your friend."

"You want money, eh?" growled Boyne, as they stood together on the kerb.

"Perhaps we do – and perhaps we do not. It all depends upon your attitude – and madame's!" he replied, with mock politeness. "The mystery of the death of Monsieur Martin requires elucidating, and C?line can do that – when it becomes necessary."

"I don't understand you," Boyne said. "What about the old man's death?"

"Now, that's quite enough!" cried Galtier, in impatient anger. "It's no use you, of all men, pleading ignorance, Mr. Bennett. C?line has already had a little present from madame to keep a still tongue, and – "

"And you want a bit more, eh?" asked Boyne bluntly.

"No. That's just where you are mistaken, my friend!" was the Frenchman's reply. "Monsieur Martin died in mysterious circumstances, of which both madame and yourself are well aware, and it is but right that the police should know the truth, otherwise we may have other people dying in a similar manner!"

Those last words of his caused Boyne to wince. For what reason, if not with the object of blackmail, had Henri Galtier and C?line T?not come to London and tracked them down?

He knew that Ena had been indiscreet in her conversation after old Martin's death, but he had believed that her visit to Melun and the payment to the girl had put matters quite right. It seemed to him, however, that C?line was entirely under the influence of that municipal employ? from Chantilly, whose attitude was decidedly hostile.

"Well," Boyne asked of the man, "if you don't want money, what in the devil's name do you want?"

"I want to prevent you from playing any more of your hellish tricks upon innocent people. That's what I want!" was the Frenchman's hard reply, in a tone which left no doubt as to his firm intentions.

CHAPTER XXIII
THE CRY IN THE NIGHT

Marigold, hoping against hope, went each day from Wimbledon to the bank, where she sat adding and subtracting figures – always wondering. Each morning, after a hurried breakfast, she dashed to the station and hung upon a swaying strap till she got to the City. Each evening she repeated the same experience home.

Gerald was missing. No further word had come nom him. She waited as each day passed – waited eagerly, but he gave no sign. Each day she went to eat her frugal meal at the same little place, but his familiar figure never appeared in the doorway, as she knew it so well. His sister had heard nothing, and at Mincing Lane they were beginning to think that he had simply left his post without notice, perhaps in order to better himself.

For Marigold the days passed wearily enough. Where was he? True, he had sent her reassuring telegrams, but even they had ceased! He had given no address, therefore she was unable to reply.

She was, of course, in utter ignorance that her lover was on the high seas bound for the Far East, and that the reassuring telegrams she had received were forgeries.

The abnormal brain of Bernard Boyne worked quickly, and ever with criminal intent. He was possessed of the criminal "kink," and was also possessed of a super-mind for the evasion of any attempt at detection. Such men, "Jack the Ripper" of London, "Romer" of Madrid, "Lightning Lasky" of New York, and the "Ermito" of Rome – all of them famous criminals who have never been discovered by the police of Europe, though traps were set for them by the dozen – were exactly on a par with the humble insurance agent of Hammersmith, the highly popular "Busy Boyne."

One evening, three days after the news had been forthcoming concerning the death of Mrs. Morrison, Marigold went over to see her aunt at Hammersmith, arriving there about seven o'clock.

"Hulloa, my dear!" shouted old Mrs. Felmore, when she entered the downstairs kitchen. "Well, and how have you been, eh? Heard anything of Mr. Durrant yet?"

"Not a word, auntie," replied the girl wearily.

"And funny enough Mr. Boyne's gone away. I haven't seen him these last three days. I can't think where he can be. I have a kind of feeling that something must have happened to him," said the deaf old woman.

"Why, auntie?" asked the girl, placing her hand-bag upon the table and sinking into a chair.

"Well, he's never gone away like this before. He always tells me when he intends being away."

"When was he at home last?"

"Three days ago. He went out in the evening, and he's not returned. I've had to feed poor little Nibby, or he'd be starving," replied the woman.

"Yes, auntie, it is curious that Mr. Boyne isn't back."

"It's so lonely here. I get such creepy feelings at night, dear," said the woman. "It's bad enough to be here all day alone, but – well, I don't know, but I have a feeling that something is going to happen."

That feeling would have been greatly increased had she but known that, not ten minutes before, Boyne had stood at the corner of the street and watched the girl enter his house. Indeed, he had waited outside the bank, and had seen Marigold come out. Then he had followed her, and with satisfaction, when she had taken the underground to Hammersmith.



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