William Le Queux.
The Red Widow: or, The Death-Dealers of London
скачать книгу бесплатно
All his belongings were in the small brown paper parcel on the rack above him. At the station he had bought a packet of cigarettes, and as he smoked he gazed reflectively out of the carriage window. The train was an express, but in his mood it seemed to be the slowest in the world.
What would Marigold think of his long absence? He had once or twice thought of telegraphing to her from Mogador, or from Brest, where they had touched, but he had deemed it best to return to her suddenly and then wreak vengeance upon those who had so cleverly plotted to inveigle him to that flat on that never-to-be-forgotten night.
Waterloo – the new station with its bustle and hurry! He sprang from the carriage and took the next train back to Wimbledon and then on to Wimbledon Park.
At last he halted before the neat little villa with its white painted balcony, and knocked.
Marigold's sister opened the door.
"Good heavens!" she gasped. "Mr. Durrant, is it really you?"
"It is! I'm back again. Where is Marigold?"
"Come in," she said. "I-I-hardly know what to say. Marigold is – she's not very well."
And then in a few brief words as he stood in the narrow hall she told him of his beloved's sudden illness.
A second later he dashed upstairs, and then in silence, treading, noiselessly, he advanced to the bedside of the delirious girl, who with flushed face was calling for "her Gerald."
Tenderly he placed his cool hand upon her brow.
"But surely she will live!" he cried in blank despair.
"The doctor has grave doubts," her sister replied. "She had such deep and constant anxiety regarding your absence, Mr. Durrant, that her constitution has become undermined. And now she has caught this terrible chill which has developed into acute pneumonia."
"But people get over pneumonia!" he exclaimed. "Surely Marigold will recover."
"The doctor told me this morning that the malady is of the most virulent type. There are few recoveries."
"Few recoveries!" he echoed, while at the same time the poor girl was murmuring something incoherent regarding "Gerald."
"Yes. He said that if she got well again it could be only by a miracle. The serum might do its work, but – well, Mr. Durrant, I must tell you what he really said – he told me that he regarded the case as hopeless. The crisis will be the day after to-morrow."
"The day after to-morrow," he said. "And she will not recognise me till then!"
All that the poor fellow had been through – the tortures and horrors of that bondage in which everyone believed him to be mentally irresponsible – were as nothing. He loved Marigold Ramsay with the whole strength of his gallant manhood. His soul was hers. They were soul-mates, and yet she was slowly slipping away from him just at the moment of his return and his intended triumph.
Her sister led him downstairs. In the modest, well-kept little dining-room below they had a further conversation.
"She was, of course, from time to time reassured by your telegrams.By them she knew that you were alive. And they renewed her hope that you would return."
"Telegrams!" echoed the man, who looked more like an unkempt tramp than a business man. "I sent no telegrams! What do you mean, Mrs. Baynard?"
"Why, the messages you sent. She has them all in her handbag."
"But I was unable to communicate with her. I was declared to be mad, and was sent upon a sea voyage for the benefit of my health. I now know that it was for the benefit of Bernard Boyne!"
"I'll get her bag and show you. Marigold has kept them all," her sister said, and she left the room for a few moments, returning with the dying girl's black silk vanity bag, from which she drew several telegrams carefully folded.
These he opened and examined, standing aghast as he read them.
"Why! I never sent a single one of them!" he said. "They're all forgeries!"
"What?" cried Marigold's sister and Hetty in one breath – for her sister-in-law had entered the room and greeted the man who had returned.
"I tell you I never sent any message to her," he said. "Somebody has done this. Who?"
"Who can it be?" asked Hetty.
"I think I know," replied Gerald in a hard voice. "If I am not mistaken my enemies have been revenged upon me."
"Enemies! What enemies?" asked Marigold's sister. "Surely you have no enemies. I'm sure Marigold hasn't."
"Wait and we shall discover the truth," said the young man. "Marigold must get well. I have certain questions to put to her. She can tell us much that is still mysterious concerning Mr. Boyne."
Hetty looked him full in the face and said:
"Jack, my husband, was over at Hammersmith two days ago. The place is all boarded up."
"Mr. Boyne's house in Bridge Place. There's been a fire there, and all the upper part has been burned out. Marigold was staying with her aunt that night, and they both escaped just in the nick of time."
"Repeat that," he said, half dazed.
Hetty repeated what she had said.
"Ah! So the place has been burnt up, has it? That's more than curious, isn't it?"
"Because of the mystery surrounding that man Boyne," he said.
"Marigold ten days ago said that she didn't believe that Mr. Boyne was as honest and sincere as people believed, but really, I have never taken any notice of her suspicions. We all of us suspect one of our friends."
"Marigold spoke the truth! I agree entirely with her. There are certain facts – facts which I have established – which show that this man Boyne – most modest of men – is an adventurer of a new and very extraordinary type. He is engaged in some game that is very sly, and by which he somehow enriches himself by very considerable sums."
Gerald Durrant an hour later went up to Waterloo and on to Hammersmith, where in the evening he stood before the boarded-up ruins of the fire. He saw that the top floor had been destroyed.
"So the secret of that top room has been wiped out," he remarked to himself. "Why? Did Boyne suspect us of prying? If he did, then what more likely than he should put his slow, but far-reaching, fingers upon us both. That I should have been drugged and placed on board a ship bound for the other side of the world, and branded as a semi-lunatic, is only what one might expect of such a master-brain!"
At a public-house in King Street, a few doors from the end of Bridge Place, he got into conversation with the landlord, who told him of the events of that night when the house caught fire.
"It's an awful thing for poor old Boyne," he added. "Although he is an insurance agent, it seems that, though he insured other people, he never insured himself. So he's ruined – so he told Mr. Dale, the corndealer in Chiswick High Road, a week ago."
Gerald smiled but said nothing. His thoughts were upon the hooded recluse who lived on the top floor of that dingy house. What could have been the real secret of that obscure abode?
A few other inquiries led him to the sombre house with smoke-grimed curtains where deaf old Mrs. Felmore had taken refuge, a few doors from the smoke-blackened, half-destroyed house.
As he sat with the old woman he spoke to her with difficulty, moving his lips slowly.
"Yes," replied the old woman in her high-pitched voice, for all the deaf speak loudly. "It is all very curious – most curious! They've never found out how it caught fire."
From Bridge Place Gerald walked direct to the Hammersmith police-station and, demanding to see someone in authority, was ushered upstairs to that same room into which Marigold had been shown, and there sat the same detective-inspector, rosy-faced, quiet and affable.
He listened to the roughly-clad young man's story, until presently he said:
"Oh, you are Gerald Durrant, are you?"
"Yes," was his visitor's astonished reply. "Why?"
"Well, we had a young lady inquiring about you a little while ago. She said you were missing, and asked us to make inquiry. But as you had wired to her several times we considered that you had gone off on your own account."
"Was Marigold here?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes, she came one night and told us of your disappearance. Where have you been?"
"Abroad. I only returned to-day."
"That's what I told the young lady. You promised in your telegrams to come back."
"But I never sent any telegrams; they were all forged."
The detective regarded him steadily and with an air of doubt.
"Then why did you go away? What was your motive in frightening the poor girl?" he asked.
"I went involuntarily. I – well, I suppose I must have been drugged and put on board a ship at Hull."
"H'm! What ship?"
Gerald gave the name of the ship and of its captain, which the detective scribbled down.
"Yes. You'd better tell me the whole of your story. It seems rather a curious one."
"It is," declared Durrant, and he proceeded to describe what happened on that fateful night when he met the two ladies in distress outside Kensington Gardens.
The detective listened attentively, but noting Gerald's unkempt appearance and rough dress, together with his excited manner, he came to the conclusion that what he was relating was a mere exaggerated tale concocted with some ulterior motive, which to him was not apparent.
At last, when Durrant began to describe Bernard Boyne's strange doings in Bridge Place, the inspector interrupted him.
"The house has been burned, as I dare say you know."
"Yes," replied Gerald vehemently, "purposely burned for two reasons. First, to destroy evidence of whatever was contained in that upstairs room, together with its occupant – "
"Then you think someone lived up there – eh?"
"I feel absolutely sure of it."
"You only believe it," said the officer. And after a pause he asked: "And what was the second motive?"
"To get rid of Miss Ramsay – for that night, after visiting you, she went back and slept there in order to keep her aunt company."
The detective smiled. Then, after a pause, he said:
"Mr. Boyne is very well-known and popular in Hammersmith, you know. Everyone has a good word for him. He is honest, hard-working, and often shows great kindness to poor people whose insurance policies would lapse if he did not help them over the stile. No, Mr. Durrant; Bernard Boyne is certainly not the daring and relentless criminal you are trying to make him out. Indeed, I hear that, by the fire at his house, he's lost nearly all he possessed. He wasn't insured."
"Why is it that by day he collects insurance premiums here, and yet at night puts on an evening suit and dines at the most expensive restaurants in the West End?" demanded Gerald, furious that his story was being dismissed by the police.
"Ah! He may have some motive. Many men who earn their money in a hard manner by day go into the West End at night dressed as gentlemen. He may have some motive. He may have some rich clients, for all we know."
"I see you are dubious of the whole affair!" exclaimed Gerald. "I've only come here to tell you what I know."
"And I thank you for coming," replied the detective. "But we cannot act upon your mere suspicions. You must bring us something more tangible than that before we institute inquiries. I regret it," he added; "but we cannot help you. If you had any direct evidence of incendiarism it would be different."
And, thus dismissed, Gerald Durrant descended the stairs with heavy heart and hopeless foreboding, and walking out, made his way back to Wimbledon Park, where Marigold lay dying.