William Le Queux
The Red Widow: or, The Death-Dealers of Londonскачать книгу бесплатно
The real Mrs. Augusta Morrison, the widow of Carsphairn, was one of Boyne's discoveries, and by judicious inquiry, combined with other investigations which Ena herself had made, they knew practically everything concerning her, her friends, and her movements. The preliminaries had taken fully three months, for prior to going to Llandudno, there to assume the widow's identity, Ena had been in secret to New Galloway, and while staying at the Lochinvar Arms, at Dairy, she had been able to gather many facts concerning the rich widow of Carsphairn, a copy of whose birth and marriage-certificate she had obtained from Somerset House.
After writing the telegrams, she took a sheet of notepaper and wrote to Mr. Emery in Manchester, telling him that she had passed both doctors, and asking him to hurry forward the policy.
"My movements during the next fortnight or so are a little uncertain," she wrote, "but please always address me as above, care of my friend, Mrs. Pollen. Please give my best regards to your dear wife, and accept the same yourself. – Yours very sincerely,AUGUSTA MORRISON."
Three nights later, Ena left Euston in the sleeping-car for Glasgow, arriving early next morning, and for a couple of days idled away the time in the great hotel, the Central, eagerly awaiting a telegram.
At last it came.
The porter handed it to her as she returned from a walk. She tore it open, and when she read its contents, she went instantly pale.
The message was disconcerting, for instead of giving information regarding the movements of the woman she had been impersonating, it read:
"Remain in Glasgow. Am leaving to-night. Will be with you in morning. Urgent. – BERNARD."
What could have happened? A hitch had apparently occurred in the arrangements, which had been so thoroughly discussed and every detail considered.
It was then six o'clock in the evening. Boyne could not be there until eight o'clock on the following morning. She glanced bewildered around the busy hall of the hotel, where men and women with piles of luggage were constantly arriving and departing.
"Why is he not more explicit?" she asked herself in apprehension.
What could have happened? she wondered. For yet another fourteen hours she must remain in suspense.
Suddenly, however, she recollected that she could telephone to Lilla, and she put through a call without delay.
Half an hour later she spoke to her friend over the wire, inquiring the reason of Boyne's journey north.
"My dear, I'm sorry," replied Lilla in her high-pitched voice, "but I really cannot tell you over the 'phone. It is some very important business he wants to see you about."
"But am I not to go to Ardlui?" asked Ena.
"I don't know. Bernie wants to see you without delay – that's all."
"But has anything happened?" she demanded eagerly.
"Yes – something – but I can't tell you now.
Bernie will explain. He'll be with you in Glasgow early to-morrow morning."
"Is it anything very serious?"
"I think it may be – very!" was Lilla's reply; and at that moment the operator cut off communication with London, the six minutes allowed having expired.
CONTAINS A NOTE OF ALARM
Ena Pollen was on the platform when the dusty night express from London ran slowly into the Caledonian Station, at Glasgow.
Bernard Boyne, erect and smartly-dressed, stepped out quickly from the sleeping-car, to be greeted by her almost immediately.
"What's happened?" she demanded anxiously beneath her breath.
"I can't tell you here, Ena. Wait till we're in the hotel," he replied. She saw by his countenance that something was amiss.
Together they walked from the platform into the hotel, and having ascended in the lift to her private sitting-room, the man flung himself into a chair, and said:
"A very perilous situation has arisen regarding the Martin affair!"
"The Martin affair!" she gasped, instantly pale to the lips. "I always feared it. That girl, C?line T?not, had some suspicion, I believe."
"Exactly. She was your maid, and you parted bad friends. It was injudicious."
"Where is she now, I wonder?"
"At her home in Melun, near Paris. You must go at once to Paris, and ask her to meet you," Boyne said.
"To Paris?" she cried in dismay.
"Yes; not a second must be lost. Inquiries are on foot. I discovered the situation yesterday, quite by accident."
"Inquiries!" she cried. "Who can be making inquiries?"
"Some friend of that girl – a Frenchman. He has come over here to find me."
"To find you! But she only knew you under the name of Bennett!"
"Exactly. In that is our salvation," he said, with a grin. "But the affair is distinctly serious unless we can make peace with C?line, and at the same time make it worth her while to withdraw this inquiry. No doubt she's looking forward to a big reward for furnishing information."
"But why can't we give her the reward – eh?" asked the shrewd, red-haired woman quickly.
"That's exactly my argument. That is why you must leave this present little matter, turn back to C?line, and make it right with her."
"How much do you think it will cost?"
Bernard Boyne shrugged his shoulders.
"Whatever it is, we must pay," he replied. "We can't afford for this girl to remain an enemy – and yours especially."
"Of course not," Ena agreed. "What is her address?"
Boyne took a slip of paper from his pocket-book and handed it to the handsome woman.
"But what excuse can I possibly make for approaching her?" she asked bewildered.
"Pretend you've come to Paris to offer to take her into your service again," Boyne suggested. "She will then meet you, and you can express regret that you sent her away so suddenly, and offer to make reparation – and all that."
"There was an object in sending her away so peremptorily. You know what it was, Bernie."
"I know, of course. She might have discovered something then. You adopted the only course – but, unfortunately, it has turned out to have been a most injudicious one, which may, if we are not very careful and don't act at once, lead to the exposure of a very nasty circumstance – the affair of old Martin."
"I quite see," she said. "I'll go to Paris without delay."
"You'll stay at the Bristol, as before, I suppose?"
"Yes. I will ask her to come and see me there."
"No. I don't know whether it would not be better for you to go out to Melun for the day and find her there," he queried. "Remember, you must handle the affair with the greatest delicacy. You've practically got to pay her for blackmail which she has not sought."
"That's the difficulty. And the sum must be equal, if not more, to that which she and her French friend who has come over here to seek and identify you hope to get out of it by their disclosures. Oh! yes," she said, "I quite see it all."
"I admit that the situation which has arisen is full of peril, Ena," remarked the man seated before her, "but you are a clever woman, and with the exercise of tact and cunning, in addition to the disbursement of funds, we shall undoubtedly be able to wriggle out – as we always do."
"Let's hope so," she said, with a sigh. "But what about Ardlui and Mrs. Morrison?"
"Your visit to Paris is more important at the moment. You must lose no time in getting there. Before I left London, I instructed my bank to send five thousand pounds to you at the head office of the Credit Lyonnais. You will be able to draw at once when you get there, and it will give you time to get more money if you deem it wise to pay any bigger sum."
"Really, you leave nothing undone, Bernie.
"Not when danger arises, my dear Ena," he laughed. "In the meantime, I'll have to remain very low. That infernal Frenchman may be watching Lilla with the idea that I might visit Pont Street. But I shan't go near her again till the danger is past."
"Then I'd better get away as soon as possible," she said. "I can be in London this evening, and cross to Paris by the night mail."
"Yes," he replied. "Don't waste an instant in getting in touch with her. Have a rest in Paris, and then go to Melun. You can be there to-morrow afternoon."
"Shall you go back to London with me?"
"No. Better not be seen together," he said. "Let us be discreet. You can go by the ten o'clock express, which will just give you time to cross London to Victoria and catch the boat train, and I'll leave by the next express, which goes at one. The less we are together at present the better."
"I agree entirely," Ena said, with a sigh. "But this affair will, I see, be very difficult to adjust."
"Not if you keep your wits about you, Ena," he assured her. "It isn't half so difficult as the arrangements you made with that pious old fellow Fleming. Don't you recollect how very near the wind we were all sailing, and yet you took him in hand and convinced him of your innocence."
"I was dealing with a man then," she remarked. "Now I have to deal with a shrewd girl. Besides, we don't know who this inquisitive Frenchman may be."
"You'll soon discover all about him, no doubt. Just put on your thinking-cap on the way over to Paris, and doubtless before you arrive, you'll hit upon some plan which will be just as successful as the attitude you adopted towards old Daniel Fleming." Then he added: "I wish you'd order breakfast to be served up here, for I'm ravenously hungry."
She rose, rang the bell, and ordered breakfast for two.
While it was being prepared, Boyne went along the corridor to wash, while Ena retired to her room, and packed her trunk ready for her departure south at ten o'clock.
Afterwards she saw the head porter and got him to secure her a place on the train, and also in the restaurant-car, which is usually crowded.
They breakfasted t?te-?-t?te, after which she paid her bill, and at ten o'clock left him standing upon the platform to idle away three hours wandering about the crowded Glasgow streets before his departure at one o'clock.
Next morning Ena Pollen took her d?jeuner at half-past eleven in the elegant table d'h?te room of the aristocratic H?tel Bristol, in Paris, a big white salon which overlooks the Place Vend?me. Afterwards she took a taxi to the Gare de Lyon, whence she travelled to Melun, thirty miles distant – that town from which come the Brie cheeses. On arrival, she inquired for the Boulevard Victor Hugo, and an open cab drove her away across the little island in the Seine, past the old church of St. Aspais, to a point where, in the boulevard, stood a monument to the great savant, Pasteur. The cab pulled up opposite the monument, where, alighting, Ena found herself before a large four-storied house, the ground floor of which was occupied by a tobacconist and a shop which sold comestibles.
Of the old bespectacled concierge who was cobbling boots in the entrance she inquired for Madame T?not, and his gruff reply was:
"Au troisi?me, ? gauche."
So, mounting the stone steps, she found the left-hand door on the third floor, and rang the bell.
The door opened, and the good-looking young French girl, who had been her maid for six months at Brighton, confronted her.
"Well, C?line!" exclaimed Ena merrily in French. "You didn't expect to see me – did you?"
The girl stood aghast and open-mouthed.
"Dieu! Madame!" she gasped. "I – I certainly did not!"
"Well, I chanced to be passing through Melun, and I thought I would call upon you."
The girl stood in the doorway, apparently disinclined to invite her late mistress into the small flat which she and her mother, the widow of the local postmaster, occupied.
"I wrote to you, Madame, two months ago – but you never replied!"
"I have never had any letter from you, C?line," Ena declared. "But may I not come in for a moment to have a chat with you? Ah! but perhaps you have visitors?"
"No, Madame," was her reply; "I am alone. My mother went to my aunt's, at Provins, this morning."
"Good! Then I may come in?"
"If Madame wishes," she said, still with some reluctance, and led the way to a small, rather sparsely-furnished salon, which overlooked the cobbled street below.
"I have been staying a few days at Marlotte, and am now on my way back to Paris," said her former mistress, seating herself in a chair. "Besides, I wanted particularly to see you, C?line, for several reasons. I feel somehow that – well, that I have not treated you as I really ought to have done. I dismissed you abruptly after poor Mr. Martin's death. But I was so very upset – I was not actually myself. I know I ought not to have done what I did. Please forgive me."
The dark-haired, good-looking young girl in well-cut black skirt and cotton blouse merely shrugged her well-shaped shoulders. She uttered no word. Indeed, she had not yet recovered from her surprise at the sudden appearance of her former mistress.
"I don't know what you must have thought of me, C?line," Ena added.
"I thought many things of Madame," the girl admitted.
"Naturally. You must have thought me most ungrateful, after all the services you had rendered me, often without reward," remarked the red-haired widow. "But I assure you that I am not ungrateful."
The girl only smiled. She recollected the manner in which she had been suddenly dismissed and sent out from the house at five minutes' notice – and for no fault that she could discover.
She recollected how Madame had two friends, an old man named Martin, and a younger one named Bennett. Mr. Martin, who was a wealthy bachelor, living in Chiswick, had suddenly contracted typhoid and died. Madame, who had been most grief-stricken, received a visit from Bennett next day, and she had overheard the pair in conversation in the drawing-room. That conversation had been of a most curious character, but its true import had never occurred to her at the time. Next day her mistress had summarily dismissed her, giving her a month's wages, and requesting her to leave instantly. This she had done, and returned to her home in France.
It was not until nearly two months later that she realised the grim truth. The strange words of Mr. Bennett, as she recollected them, utterly staggered her.
And now this woman's sudden appearance had filled her with curiosity.
"Your action in sending me away in the manner you did certainly did not betray any sense of gratitude, Madame," the girl said quite coolly.
"No, no, C?line! Do forgive me," she urged. "Poor Mr. Martin was a very old friend, and his death greatly perturbed me."
C?line, however, remembered how to the man Bennett she had in confidence expressed the greatest satisfaction that the old man had died.
Ena was, of course, entirely ignorant of how much of that conversation the girl had overheard or understood. Indeed, she had not been quite certain it the girl had heard anything. She had dismissed her for quite another reason – in order that, if inquiries were made, a friendship between Bernard Boyne and the dead man could not be established. C?line was the only person aware of it, hence she constituted a grave danger.
Ena used all her charm and her powers of persuasion over the girl, and as she sat chatting with her, she recalled many incidents while the girl was in her service.
"Now look here, C?line," she said at last. "I'll be perfectly frank with you. I've come to ask you if you'll let bygones be bygones, and return to me?"
The girl, much surprised at the offer, hesitated for a moment, and then replied:
"I regret, Madame, it is quite impossible. I cannot return to London."
That was exactly the reply for which the clever woman wished.
"Why not, pray?" she asked the girl in a tone of regret.
"Because the man to whom I am betrothed would not allow me," was her reply.
"Oh! Then you are engaged, C?line! Happy girl! I congratulate you most heartily. And who is the happy man?"
"And what is his profession?"
"He is employed in the Mairie, at Chantilly," was her reply.
"He is at Chantilly now?"
The girl again hesitated. Then she replied:
"No – he is in London."
Ena held her breath. It was evidently the man to whom C?line was engaged who was in London in search of Richard Bennett. Next second she recovered from her excitement at her success in making the discovery.
"In London? Is he employed there?"
"Yes – temporarily," she answered.
"And when are you to marry?"
"In December – we hope."
"Ah! Then, much as I regret it, I quite understand that you cannot return to me, C?line," exclaimed Ena. "Does Monsieur Galtier speak English?"
"Yes; very well, Madame. He was born in London, and lived there until he was eighteen."
"Oh, well, of course he would speak our language excellently. But though you will no doubt both be happy in the near future, I myself am not at all satisfied with my own conduct towards you. I've treated you badly; I feel that in some way or other I ought to put myself right with you. I never like a servant to speak badly of me."
"I do not speak badly of Madame," responded the girl, wondering whether, after all, her late mistress suspected her of overhearing that startling conversation late on the night following Mr. Martin's death.
Ena hesitated a moment, and then determined to act boldly, and said:
"Now C?line, let us be quite frank. I happen know that you have said some very nasty and things about me – wicked things, indeed. I heard that you have made a very serious allegation against me, and – "
"But, Madame! I – !" cried the girl, interrupting.
"Now you cannot deny it, C?line. You have said those things because you have sadly misjudged me. But I know it is my own fault, and the reason I am here in Melun is to put matters right – and to show you that I bear you no ill will."
"I know that, Madame," she said. "Your words are sufficient proof of it."
"But, on the contrary, you are antagonistic – bitterly antagonistic towards myself – and" – she added slowly, looking straight into the girl's face – "and also towards Mr. Bennett."
She started, looking sharply at the red-haired widow.
"Yes, I repeat it, C?line!" Ena went on. "You see I know the truth! Yet your feeling against Mr. Bennett does not matter to him in the least, because he died a month ago – of influenza."
"Mr. Bennett dead!" echoed the girl, standing aghast, for, as a matter of fact, her lover, Henri Galtier, was searching for him in London.
"Yes; the poor fellow went to Birmingham on business, took influenza, and died there a week later. Is it not sad?"
"Very," the girl agreed, staring straight before her. If Bennett were dead, then of what avail would be all her efforts to probe the mystery of Mr. Martin's death?
"Mr. Bennett was always generous to you – was he not?" asked Ena.
"Always," replied the girl. "I am very sorry he is dead!"
"Well, he is, and therefore whatever hatred you may have conceived for him is of no importance," she replied; and then adroitly turned the conversation to another subject.
At length, however, she returned to C?line's approaching marriage, expressing a hope that she would be very comfortably off.
"Has Monsieur Galtier money?"
"Not very much," she replied. "But we shall be quite happy nevertheless."
"Of course. Money does not always mean happiness. I am glad you view matters in that light, C?line," Ena said. "Yet, on the other hand, money contributes to luxury, and luxury, in most cases, means happiness."
"True, Madame, I believe so," replied the ex-maid, whose thoughts were, however, filled by what her late mistress had, apparently in all innocence, told her, namely, that Bennett, the man her lover meant to hunt down, was dead. She had no reason to doubt what Mrs. Pollen had said, for only on the previous day Henri had written her to say that his inquiries had had no result, and that he believed that the man Bennett must be dead, as he could obtain no trace of him. The reward which they hoped to gain from the insurance company when they had established Bennett's identity had therefore vanished into air.
C?line T?not sat bewildered and disappointed, and the clever woman seated with her read her thoughts as she would have read a book.
"Now let's come to the point," she said, after a pause. "I want to make amends, C?line. I want you to think better of me, and for that purpose, I want to render you some little service, now that you are to marry. My desire is to remove from your mind any antagonism you may entertain towards myself. The best way in which I can do that is to make you a little wedding-present – something useful."
"Oh, Madame!" she cried. "I – I really want nothing!"
"But I insist, C?line!" replied the wealthy widow. "Poor Mr. Bennett remarked that I was very harsh in dismissing you. At the time I did not think so, but I now realise that the fault was on my side, therefore I shall give you thirty thousand francs to put by as a little nest-egg."
"But, Madame, I could not really accept it!" declared the girl, exhibiting her palms.
"I have an account at the Credit Lyonnais, and to-morrow I shall place the thirty thousand francs there in your name," said Mrs. Pollen. "I shall want you to come to Paris – to the H?tel Bristol – so that we can go to the bank together, and you can there open an account and give them your signature. If I were you, I would say nothing whatever to Monsieur Galtier about it – or even tell him of my visit. Just keep the money for yourself – as a little present from one who, after all, greatly valued your services."скачать книгу бесплатно