William Le Queux.
The Red Widow: or, The Death-Dealers of London
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So about three o'clock he was back again at Marigold's bedside, delighted to find the great improvement which had taken place during the past few hours. The serum was doing its work, and slowly she was returning to her old self again.
When they were alone, and Gerald was once more seated beside her, she turned to him, and in a low, intense voice asked if her sister had told him of the fire in Bridge Place.
"Yes, dearest," he answered. "I know all about it. I've seen the ruin, and I've talked to your aunt. You both had narrow escapes!"
"Mr. Boyne – set – it – on – fire – Gerald," she said weakly, "so as to get rid of what was in that upstairs room!"
"Without a doubt."
"I – I tried to learn more about it. That's – well, that's why I dined with Mr. Boyne."
"You dined with him?" echoed her lover.
"Yes – in order to try and learn something more. Did we not agree to keep a watchful eye upon him?"
"We did. But I fell into a cunningly devised trap on the night I disappeared," he said. "I will describe it to you later. Well, when you dined with the fellow, did you discover why he spends his evenings among those smart people in the West End?"
"No, Gerald; but I came to the conclusion that he is a very remarkable crook."
"Of that I'm certain, dear. We've both had proof of it. He knew we were watching him, and his intention, no doubt, was to get rid of both of us."
"Yes, I quite agree," replied the girl faintly, yet smiling into his face. Then she added: "Do you know, Gerald, that – that ever since I dined with Mr. Boyne I haven't been the same. I felt ill next morning, and gradually the illness increased, until I had to go to bed and the doctor came to see me."
Gerald Durrant knit his brows.
"By Gad!" he gasped. "I – I never thought of that! He invited you to dinner – eh?"
In reply to his question, Marigold described the chance meeting near the bank and the invitation that followed.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, after a pause. "He had got rid of me, and intended that you should die – truly a most diabolical plot! I see it all! But we will be even with him yet, darling – never fear!"
Assuring the girl that he would return very soon, Gerald Durrant left the house determined to take direct action. His failure to convince the police at Hammersmith that "Busy" Boyne, the pious insurance agent, was a master-criminal, had irritated and angered him. Probably if he went direct to Scotland Yard and re-told the story, laying stress upon the plots against Marigold and himself, they would hear him and make some investigation.
The mystery of that upstairs room and its weird occupant was ever uppermost in his mind. And now that it was destroyed, it made it plainer than ever that there had been some guilty secret hidden there.
He went to Charing Cross, and presently entered the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard, where he was courteously received by Detective-Inspector Shaw in one of the cold, bare, official waiting-rooms.
The inspector, a short, stout, brusque man, listened very patiently to the strange story related to him, and once or twice jotted down notes.But his countenance was imperturbable, and Gerald's heart had already sunk within him, for he saw that he was quite unimpressed.
At last Shaw stirred himself, and said:
"Well, Mr. Durrant, all that you've just told me is extremely interesting. Will you wait a few moments?" and rising, he left the room. On his return five minutes later, he asked Gerald to accompany him. They went together down a long corridor, where the young man was ushered into a comfortable office. A well-dressed man of rather dapper appearance was seated at a table, and Gerald was invited to a chair, when he was closely questioned, more especially regarding his observations and those of Marigold upon the houses in Pont Street and Upper Brook Street, and also concerning the trap into which he himself had fallen, and Marigold's inexplicable illness.
"Is the young lady yet fit to see anyone, do you think?" asked the superintendent. "Is she well enough to make a statement?"
"Not to-day, I fear. Perhaps she will be to-morrow."
His interrogator reflected for a few moments.
"When is that appointment due with Mr. Macdonald and the Frenchman – Galtier is his name, isn't it?" he asked his secretary, who was seated at a table on the opposite side of the room.
"They are due here now," was the latter's reply as he glanced at the clock.
"Mr. Emery is also to be here, is he not, Mr. Francis?"
"Yes, sir," replied the secretary.
Five minutes later there assembled in that room five other persons. Charles Emery was shown in with the inquisitive little man, Alexander Macdonald, who had arrived in Ardlui, and, giving his name as John Greig, had watched the Red Widow by orders from the detective office in Glasgow, and had gone back down Loch Lomond only half convinced that he was on the wrong track, and that she was not the notorious woman, Sarah Slade, for whom he was in search.
Alexander Macdonald was, however, a very shrewd person, and when the first suspicion of a new case was aroused against Ena Pollen, as she now called herself, he saw that he had been sadly misled. Therefore, unknown to Scotland Yard, the Glasgow police had been doing underground work in order to fix the identity of the lady of Upper Brook Street.
Almost simultaneously with the arrival of the two men there came C?line and Galtier, together with a well-dressed elderly man, the manager of the insurance company in which the false Mrs. Morrison had taken out a policy.
For a full hour they sat with the superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department, who, with a shorthand writer at his elbow, heard the further statement of each in turn. At last, turning to Inspector Shaw, he said:
"There is certainly sufficient evidence to justify the immediate arrest of the two women and the man Boyne. We must get the statements of Miss Ramsay and her aunt later."
Then, taking a sheet of pale-yellow official paper, he scribbled one or two lines, signed them, and handed it to Shaw.
"I think that is all we can do at the moment," he said, addressing the party. "It is quite evident that a great insurance conspiracy has been attempted, and not for the first time. Apparently the late Mr. Martin was a victim, together with other persons, whose names and circumstances we shall later on discover. To me it seems that great credit is due to the intelligence of Miss Ramsay and of Mr. Durrant, who watched the man Boyne so ingeniously until they must have somehow betrayed themselves, and thus have placed their lives in jeopardy."
"I think," said the Manchester solicitor, "that if Mrs. Braybourne had pretended to remain in ignorance for a month or so, and not sought to establish her claim, the company would have, no doubt, paid the sum without question."
"Yes," laughed the superintendent. "But criminals always betray themselves by overdue anxiety. But we have here to deal with a very dangerous gang. and it only shows to the insurance world how easily they may be defrauded by a well-established organisation."
Shaw had left the room, and already the telephone was at work to ensure the arrest of the criminals.
"It will certainly be highly interesting to discover how many innocent people have actually been the victims of this desperate and relentless trio who dealt secret death in order to enrich themselves," remarked the superintendent.
"There was a grave suspicion of the woman Pollen in another case about two years ago," said Macdonald. "Therefore, on a report from Ardlui, I ran up from Glasgow, but I failed to identify her as the woman who had called herself Slade, though I had very strong suspicions. Her social standing deceived me, I admit. Poor Mrs. Morrison of Carsphairn!" exclaimed Macdonald in his strong Glasgow accent. "She was a good lady – a very good lady!"
"Well," said the superintendent, rising from his chair. "We have to thank you all for your combined efforts, and especially Mademoiselle and Mr. Durrant. Let's hope we shall get the guilty ones, and then we shall all meet again as witnesses at the Old Bailey."
And thus, just after five o'clock, he dismissed them, Gerald, excitedly and with all haste, making his way back to the bedside of his loved one in order to tell her the intentions of the police.
At last the devilish crimes of the Red Widow and her accomplices were to be exposed, and the trio of death-dealers punished.
Scotland Yard is difficult to arouse, but when once actual evidence of crime is forthcoming it is quick of action.
At half-past five that afternoon a small, under-sized man, who wore the uniform of the Metropolitan Water Board, rang at the basement entrance of the house in Pont Street, and the cook opened the door. "Well, missus?" he exclaimed merrily. "What's the trouble with the water here – eh?"
"Trouble? There's no trouble," replied the cook, who never suspected that four other men were in close vicinity awaiting their leader's call.
"Oh! but we've had a report that you've got a bad leak in one of your pipes. So I'll just have to look at it," and he carried in what looked like a walking-stick in wood with a wide trumpet end.
The cook took him into the scullery, and he placed the end of his stick upon the pipe. He listened intently, using it like a huge stethoscope. Then he went from pipe to pipe, chatting merrily with the cook and the man-servant all the time.
"Are your people at home?" he asked the cook.
"No. They went away an hour ago in a car down to Brighton for three weeks. So we're all off for a bit of a holiday, so hurry up! Do you find anything wrong, mister?"
"No," replied the shrewd little man. "There must be some mistake, I suppose. There's no leak here, as far as I can detect. But what a time you will have – eh? Did they take much luggage?"
"No, not very much. Madam said she would come up and get some more on Tuesday."
"Went sudden-like – eh?"
"Yes. All of a hurry. Their friend, Mrs. Pollen, slept here last night – which is a bit unusual. But my mistress had a 'phone message. Then they rang up for a car and all three went off. They left their address – the Metropole."
"Do you know where they got the car from?"
"No. That I don't! Why? I heard Mrs. Pollen ordering it on the 'phone. But where it came from, I don't know."
"You think that they're at the Metropole, at Brighton?"
"Of course they are. But are you going down there to report a leak of water, mister? If so, yours must be a nice comfortable job."
The little man laughed mysteriously, and leaving, walked to the corner of Pont Street, where he reported to his colleagues that the birds had flown.
Inquiry at Upper Brook Street brought no better result. Mrs. Pollen had not been seen there since the previous day.
Already news of the flight had been telephoned to Scotland Yard, who, in turn, telephoned to the Brighton police, and within ten minutes the telegraph wires were at work to the various ports of embarkation, circulating descriptions of the trio – Boyne's description being furnished by the police at Hammersmith, where he was so well known.
That night Gerald sat with Marigold, and both were filled with wonder at what was happening.
Expert criminals of the type of the death-dealers never fail to arrange for a safe bolt-hole in case sudden escape becomes necessary. The police knew this well, and had already taken certain precautions for their arrest.
The story, of what followed is a brief, but dramatic one.
The car hired to take them to Brighton conveyed them only as far as Redhill, where they dismissed it. The Red Widow, having already alighted at Sutton, in Surrey, and returning to Victoria by train, claimed her two trunks. Then, by the aid of her false passport, and adding age and shabbiness to her appearance, she managed to travel third-class from Folkestone to Boulogne and, passed by the police and passport officer there, went on to Paris, where already she had a safe asylum awaiting her.
At Redhill Boyne and his wife halted at an hotel, and after being inside for ten minutes the fugitives came out, paid the man, gave him a handsome douceur and said that they had changed their minds. Thus dismissed the man returned to London well satisfied.
The pair separated half an hour later, Boyne returning as far as Clapham Junction, where he changed and went on to Waterloo. His idea was to get away by Southampton that evening to the Channel Islands, and thence, after a few days, across to Havre. He knew too well that the game was up and that his only chance was to get abroad.
On arrival he went into the refreshment room at Waterloo, for he had a full hour to wait for the next train to Southampton. Having leisurely drunk a cup of tea, he was just about to emerge when three men near the door dashed out and pounced upon him.
In an instant he fought like a tiger, but just as quickly the men gripped him, though not a word was spoken, except that a terrible imprecation escaped the assassin's lips.
He was a master-criminal, and the detectives had not gauged the extent of his wily cleverness.
"Very well," he laughed grimly at last. "You needn't hurt my arm. Really, this is all extremely annoying."
A crowd had at once assembled at the first sign of a struggle, but the detectives hurried him unceremoniously to a taxi, into which they bundled him. Of that very act Bernard Boyne was swift to take advantage, for ere they could prevent him he had managed to slip his hand to his mouth and swallowed something – so quickly, indeed, that the detectives who sat with him could scarcely realise his action.
Then, as the taxi sped across Waterloo Bridge on its way to Bow Street, Boyne, turning to his captors with a gay laugh of defiance, said:
"Gentlemen, you have done your duty, but you've bruised my arm very badly. Yet I forgive you. Bernard Boyne has had a long life and a merry one. But" – he gasped, his face suddenly changed – "but he cheats – he cheats you – after – after all!"
Next second their prisoner collapsed, and his captors saw to their horror that he was dead.
Lilla, in ignorance of what had happened, spent the night with a friend at Reigate, and went next day to Victoria, where she presented the voucher and obtained her luggage, which she took with her to Liverpool, having succeeded in purchasing a second-class passage to Canada in the name of Anna Mansfield, the name upon her forged passport.
When, however, two days later she had boarded the big liner and was sitting comfortably at tea within an hour of sailing, she was politely invited by the steward to step ashore again as a friend was awaiting her. She at once realised that she had been followed. Two minutes later she was under arrest. In the night she was brought to London, and before the magistrate at Bow Street next morning.
The suicide of Bernard Boyne prevented the whole details of the amazing conspiracy from being explained at Lilla's trial, which later on took place at the Old Bailey. She was, however, sent to penal servitude for life as the accomplice of her husband – a just sentence she is still serving.
Not until nearly three months afterwards was anything heard of the Red Widow, until one night she was arrested in Lyons, and on being brought to Paris it was found by the S?ret? G?n?rale that she was wanted by them for a similar offence in Biarritz – the mysterious death of a red-haired Englishman named Pearson about three years previously – and that she had, even then, been in active association with Boyne and his wife.
She was brought before the Examining Magistrate, M. Decoud, and her guilt proved. Just before the date of her trial at the Assize Court of the Seine she followed the master-criminal's example by poisoning herself with one of the same tiny pilules which the insane toxicologist of Harpur Street had prepared for emergency. This little white pilule she had succeeded in secreting in the hem of her skirt for nearly four months, hoping to escape justice. But at last, being convinced of the terrible sentence which awaited her, she ended her notorious career.
The demented scientist in Harpur Street, whom Boyne had held so completely in his power, came to the end of his resources in a month, and was certified as insane and sent to an asylum. He made wild allegations against a person named Wisden, but they were always unintelligible to the attendants.
The insurance company which had issued the policy on the life of the unfortunate Mrs. Morrison, combined with three other companies which had also been defrauded, awarded to Gerald Durrant and Marigold Ramsay the very substantial sum of one thousand pounds each for their services in breaking up the dangerous and unscrupulous gang, for had the truth not been discovered they would in all probability be carrying on their murderous work at the present moment.
The reward which the young people received went a long way towards buying the pretty little home they occupy at Hampstead, for they are now united as man and wife.
Gerald is back again at Mincing Lane, where he has been promoted to a responsible and lucrative position as assistant manager, but Marigold, of course, no longer goes daily to the City.
They are never tired of talking of those dark days of their danger and distress, but there is one person to whom they have agreed never to refer – that handsome woman of many crimes both known and unknown – the Red Widow.
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