William Le Queux.

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



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Nevertheless, as he sat in the train taking him westward, he examined the facts. Boyne employed as housekeeper a woman who was stone-deaf. Why? Was it because the person confined behind that stout door upstairs sometimes shouted and made noises which would have attracted the attention of any person who possessed the sense of hearing?

That this was so he was convinced. Had it not been proved by Boyne carrying food to the mysterious person who was his captive, or who remained in voluntary concealment?

If the latter, why did he disguise himself each time he paid him a visit?

No. Somebody was held there captive against his will, and the reason of the wearing of that cloak was in order that the captor should remain unknown and unidentified. Truly, there was an element of sensationalism in the whole affair!

He was, however, determined to get to the bottom of it. Marigold had, in her perplexity, consulted him, and he had given his aid. Now, having witnessed what he had, he meant to carry the affair through, and solve the mystery of Bernard Boyne and his locked room in Hammersmith.

It occurred to him that perhaps by watching Boyne's movements he might learn something of interest. The unfortunate part of it was that in his position he was engaged all day, and could never have any time to devote to the affair till six or seven o'clock. Nevertheless, he had made a firm resolve to discover the reason of that locked room, and the identity of the person concealed within.

Supposing the person to be some relative who was insane, or whose personal appearance was too horrible to be seen in public – and there are all sorts of human monstrosities living in concealment in London – then there could be no reason why Boyne should hide his face when visiting him. No. Somebody was held there, a prisoner in solitary confinement.

He recollected the heavy door, and the light beneath. Did they not tell their own tale?

"London contains many mysteries of crime," he said to himself as he alighted at the station and strolled home. "And here is one, I feel sure. Boyne is playing some clever game. Perhaps he seeks to inherit property belonging to the person whom he holds in captivity, and whose death may indeed have been registered!"

Such a case – and more than one – was on record. Cases of people presumed by the law to be dead, yet they were still alive, held in confinement by those who benefited by their money.

Durrant, who had read deeply of the mysteries of crime, recollected the case of Mrs. Marvin, of Hounslow; of George Charles Pepper, of Richmond; or Doctor Heaton, of Curzon Street; the celebrated case of the sisters Tredgold, and others, all of whom were concerned in the holding in bondage of those whose fortunes they secured.

His inclination led him to go direct to Scotland Yard, and reveal what he had heard and seen, but Marigold had urged him to refrain from doing so until they had investigated further.

She held Mr. Boyne in such high esteem, and her aunt held such a comfortable post, that she was most reluctant to put any suspicions before the police. It was in accordance with the girl's wishes that he did not go straight to the Criminal Investigation Department. Yet he knew too well that the police, who discover so many "mare's nests" daily, are slow to move until a tragedy occurs. And then it is often too late, for the perpetrators of the crime have vanished, either abroad, or into one or other of the criminal bolt-holes which are ever open to those who know.

The public never realise that in the great underworld of London there are people who make a living – and a very good one, too – by successfully concealing for weeks, months, nay, years, those for whom the emissaries of Scotland Yard are in search. The clever criminal knows of these burrows where he can live quite cosily, and surrounded by comforts, defying all police inquiries until the hue and cry has died down, and then as a stoker-fireman, or in some menial capacity, he gets abroad a free man – free to enjoy the proceeds of his crimes.

At first Gerald Durrant had suspected Bernard Boyne to be one of those obliging persons who offer safe asylum to criminals, but the wearing of that ghostly cloak by the owner of the house dispelled any such theory.

No. As he entered the house, after that exciting evening, he was firmly convinced that Boyne held somebody – man or woman – in captivity.

And he intended, at all hazards, to learn the truth.

CHAPTER VIII
ON LOCH LOMOND

A bright brilliant day on glorious Loch Lomond, which, with its wooded islands, is one of the most picturesque of all the Scottish lakes.

The grey little steamer, which that morning had left Balloch Pier at the southern end of the loch, was slowly threading its way through the green islets in the afternoon sunshine. Crowded as it always is in fine weather with visitors from the south, all full of admiration as at every turn there came into view fresh aspects of the woods and mountains around Ben Lomond, standing high and majestic, Ben Vane, Ben Vorlick, the twin peaks of Ben Cruachan, and the tent-shaped Ben More.

The silent grandeur of the loch, where in the deep waters, smooth as glass, the heron fishes undisturbed, is always impressive. Even on that unusually clear autumn day – for mists and rains are more often than not drifting up and down that twenty-five miles or so of picturesque water, which is sometimes as wide as five miles – those who had come up from Edinburgh or Glasgow to make the trip, stood open-mouthed at the ever-changing scene as the steamer wended its way up the loch after leaving the remote little village of Luss.

Among those on board, seated in a deck-chair and enjoying the beautiful afternoon, was a well-dressed woman of middle-age, with auburn hair, and rather sad-faced, but very well preserved. Once or twice her maid, a short, stout little Scotchwoman, whose speech was that of a Glaswegian, came to wait upon her, afterwards retiring to another part of the boat.

The lady's eyes were fixed upon the gorgeous panorama. Beside her chair was a well-worn dressing-bag in dark-green cover, which showed that she was not a mere day traveller, but had come to Loch Lomond to stay at one of the unpretentious lakeside hotels, of which there are several at Tarbet and at Inversnaid. Though she was greatly enjoying the scenery, it was not in the least fresh to her. Indeed, Mrs. Morrison, of Carsphairn, was an annual visitor to Loch Lomond, staying a fortnight each year at the little hotel at Ardlui, a spot which her late husband had loved so well.

Though an extremely wealthy man, the summer attractions of Harrogate, Dinard, Aix, or Ostend, had never appealed to him. Bluff and hearty, he loved Loch Lomond in the days of his prosperity just as when, in his youth, he used to save his coppers to enable him to have a one-day trip from Glasgow each summer – red-letter days in his otherwise grey workaday life.

It had, indeed, been in his mind to build a fine summer residence on the shore of the loch at Ardlui, and he had actually bought the site – one that gave a magnificent view of Ben Lomond and a wide-reaching expanse of the lake – when a sudden illness cut him off, and his wife was left to mourn his loss.

Augusta Morrison was thinking of the last occasion when she and her devoted husband had come for the annual fortnight at Ardlui, and of how daily they walked to the site on the mountain-side where their new home was to be.

That was four years ago. Yet each year she never failed to pay her pilgrimage to the spot which they both so loved.

A young couple, evidently Londoners, seated beside her, had been reading aloud from a guide book the legend of the rocky Craig Royston, where there is a cave known locally as "Rob Roy's Prison," and then, full of admiration, had turned to the splendid view afforded of the mountains around Arrochar.

Just then the steamer slackened, and after some shouting from the captain, was moored to the pier at Inversnaid, the little loch-side village with its wooded mountains beyond. There most of the passengers left the boat to cross by coach or motor that ridge which lies between Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine, Inversnaid being one of the points of departure from Loch Lomond to the Trossachs. Therefore, when the boat went on to the head of the loch at Ardlui, there remained but few passengers.

At last the steamer drew up at the quaint little landing-stage, the postal official brought out the last bag of mail for delivery, and, Mrs. Morrison's maid collecting up all their belongings, they both waited until the paddles had ceased to revolve.

Scarcely had the widow risen from her chair, when a big, burly Scot presented himself, and, touching his cap, respectfully bade the lady welcome.

"Ah! so you're here still, McIntyre!" remarked the widow pleasantly.

"Yes, Mistress Morrison, David McIntyre never leaves Ardlui," laughed the man, who acted as porter, boots, and general factotum to the Tillychewan Arms Hotel.

Mistress and maid walked ashore, and were very soon at the little hotel facing the loch, a very cosy, unpretentious place, where one could get excellent food, and go mountaineering and fishing to one's heart's content.

On the threshold Mrs. Morrison was greeted enthusiastically by the proprietor's wife, a stout, homely woman, and very soon the widow from Kirkcudbrightshire and her maid were installed in the rooms she annually occupied, both of which gave magnificent views of water and mountains.

At Ardlui the daily steamer waits for an hour and a half, and then returns to Balloch, where the express for Glasgow is waiting. Therefore, when the siren sounded and the boat left on its return journey, the little place relapsed into its lethargy of rural solitude and remoteness from the stress of the southern world.

The hotel, half covered with creeper, stood in its well-kept garden, which ran down to the lake. It was not quite full of visitors. The guests, however, were all of the better class, mostly Glasgow merchants and their wives, with a couple of families from London, and the usual youthful, well-dressed idler which one finds in every hotel the world over.

At dinner, as Mrs. Morrison sat alone in a corner by the window overlooking the loch, now crimson in the sunset, she glanced around, but none of her fellow-visitors appeared to be very interesting. The only person who attracted her was one woman who, seated alone, was apparently taking no interest in anyone, for she had propped up before her the Glasgow Herald, which had just arrived by the steamer, and was absorbed in it.

Augusta Morrison raised her eyes again, and saw that the woman was exceedingly well, though very quietly, dressed, while there was about her a distinct air of refinement. She also noticed that she possessed very remarkable hair.

Suddenly the eyes of the two women met, and the widow, a little confused for she had been staring hard, turned to look out of the window.

An hour later, when the well-dressed woman had gone out for an after-dinner stroll in the direction of the landing-stage, Mrs. Morrison inquired her name of the proprietor's wife.

"Oh!" replied the other. "She's a very nice lady from London. She has never been up here before. She's a Mrs. Pollen."

Then, referring to the visitors' book, she added: "She lives in Upper Brook Street, London. She came here about four days ago."

"Is she making a long stay?"

"She took her rooms for a fortnight," was the woman's reply. "She seems quite nice," she added.

Mrs. Morrison, of Carsphairn, agreed, and then, getting a wrap, went out into the garden where several of the other visitors were sitting on the verandah, as the dull red afterglow deepened into twilight.

With one of the women she got into conversation, and, taking the empty chair next to her, remained there chatting for nearly an hour. Then, just as darkness was falling, Mrs. Pollen, in a short skirt and carrying a little ash walking-stick, re-entered the garden and sank into a seat in the corner to rest.

Next morning after breakfast – the usual Scotch breakfast with cold grouse and scones – Mrs. Morrison again strolled out into the sunlit garden after Mrs. Pollen, and broke the ice.

At first Mrs. Pollen preserved a somewhat dignified attitude. She spoke in her best Mayfair manner, and it was apparent that she considered herself socially superior to the widow, who, by her speech, was so palpably Scotch.

"No," said Ena, "I have never been in Scotland before. I find it most delightful up here, but rather dull when one is alone, as I am."

"I, too, am alone, except for my maid," replied the widow. "But I love this place. It is so quiet and out of the world. Besides, the scenery is as grand as any in Scotland. I'm Scottish, and I've travelled the whole country through with my husband. He was always enchanted with Ardlui. Indeed," she added, "we bought a site for a home out here at the back – where one has a lovely view – but unfortunately he died before he gave the order to build the place."

"How very unfortunate," said Ena Pollen, with quick sympathy, and in pretence that she knew nothing whatever of her fellow-guest's identity, or of her past, whereas she knew every fact of importance concerning her. "I live in London, and though I travel a good deal, mostly on the Continent or in Egypt, I must say that I think Loch Lomond really beautiful. I took a long ramble by the lochside yesterday afternoon, and found it most enjoyable."

"Ah!" said Mrs. Morrison. "You must take the trip over to Stronachlachar and up Katrine. It is quite pretty, but not so grand as this. Besides, there are always too many trippers in the Trossachs. But while you are here you must really go across and see Ellen's Isle."

And so the pair, seated in the garden with the sunlit waters at their feet, gossiped on, and quickly became good friends.

That same evening, indeed, Mrs. Morrison invited the lady from London up to her sitting-room to take coffee after dinner, and there they sat gossiping and smoking cigarettes until it was time to retire.

When Ena Pollen gained her room she locked the door, and, flinging herself into a small easy chair, exclaimed beneath her breath:

"Thank Heaven! That's over! The first few hours when one cultivates a friendship are always full of pitfalls. A word in the wrong place, and the person one seeks to know may instantly conceive a strong dislike. In this case, however, the woman has approached me. It was a good job I got up here first."

Ena Pollen was much fatigued by the recent rapid journeys to and fro to Scotland, over to Paris and back, and then north again to Loch Lomond. She was, however, a cosmopolitan, and had travelled very extensively ever since she had been left a widow ten years earlier. Her husband had been a solicitor, whose practice was in Bedford Row, but after his death she had embarked upon an adventurous career which had culminated in her association with Bernard Boyne and his wife.

That association had brought her considerable wealth – sufficient, indeed, to allow her, through payments from Boyne and his wife, to live in an expensive flat and indulge in jewellery, furs, smart frocks, and all that appealed to her natural vanity.

That evening, however, she felt worn out. The strain of ingratiating herself with Mrs. Morrison of Carsphairn, whom she found to be an exceedingly shrewd woman, had been considerable, and this, combined with the fact that she had taken a long walk that afternoon, had utterly fagged her.

From a tiny silver tube with a cap upon it, which she took from her dressing-case, she extracted a single little white tabloid, and swallowed it.

"I wonder – I wonder if we shall really be successful?" she murmured to herself. "There must be no slip this time – no recurrence of that unfortunate contretemps in the Martin affair. Phew! That was a narrow shave. I was in Melun only just in time. A few days later, and all chance of dispelling suspicion would have gone!"

She reflected how on more than one occasion they had sailed very near the wind – far too near to be pleasant – and how they had narrowly escaped a closer inquiry. Lilla, however, was always fearless, even when her husband expressed doubts. It was she, indeed, who was the moving spirit of the whole affair, for she went about in her circle of society with her eyes and ears ever open until she saw an opportunity to put into motion that deadly machinery which, worked with such subtle cunning, never failed to increase their bank balance.

She stood at her window as the full moon rose over the loch, transforming the scene into a veritable fairyland, and here she remained in deep reflection. She was contemplating the course she should pursue when she met Mrs. Morrison on the morrow. Already they had become friends, the widow from Kirkcudbrightshire being, of course, in entire ignorance that the pleasant woman from London had come to Ardlui for the sole purpose of making her acquaintance. Ena Pollen was possessed of a cunning that few women possess unless they are adventuresses. She saw that she must allow this Mrs. Morrison to seek her society. Already she realised that the Scotch widow had been greatly attracted by her conversation; hence she decided that on the morrow she must not be too eager to meet and chat with her.

She was in no mood for sleep, therefore she pulled down the blind, and seating herself at a little table in the room, penned a letter which she addressed to "B. Braybourne, Esquire, 93, Pont Street, London," and in the course of which she wrote:

"Things are going even better than I expected. Mrs. M., who made the first advance, is extremely affable to me. I hope that within a week or ten days I can be back in London. Mrs. M., on leaving here, is going to Brighton to visit a niece, so I may see something of her. Do not write here, as I may be leaving any day. I have had a letter from Emery. It was sent to Upper Brook Street, and fortunately enclosed to me in an envelope. It would have been unfortunate if it had come here addressed to Mrs. M.! Would it not? But do not be alarmed! I have given instructions that no letters are to be forwarded in future."

Next day after breakfast she went out to the post-box and there dropped in the letter, so that it would leave by the afternoon steamer for the south. And after she took a long walk alone along the loch-side, under Ben Voirlich, as far as the little village of Inveruglas, and thence up the Inveruglas water, a pretty stream which comes rushing down through the woods from Loch Sloy. And there in the cool shade she at last sat down upon a moss-grown boulder and took out a book and read.

She was playing a waiting game, and one that succeeded, for as she rose from her table after lunch, Mrs. Morrison came up to her, saying:

"Why, wherever have you been, Mrs. Pollen? I've been seeking everywhere for you."

"Have you?" she asked quite innocently. "I've been for a walk to the Inveruglas water."

"Oh! Isn't it delightful there in the woods?" said the widow. "I've been there often. We used to go and picnic there sometimes – right on up Loch Sloy. It is very grand and lonely up there, and the view in all directions is superb."

"I've only been in the woods at the bottom of the mountain," the Red Widow replied.

"Well, I was going to ask you whether, if you haven't anything better to do, you would drive with me up Glen Falloch to Crianlarich," said Mrs. Morrison.

"I shall be most delighted," replied Ena. "I'm sure it is awfully good of you."

"Well, as we are both alone, it will be a pleasure for me to have your company," Mrs. Morrison assured her.

Therefore at three o'clock they left in a carriage which took them away into the picturesque glen for six miles or so, past the little village of Inverarnan, until they reached that pleasant little spot Crianlarich, sheltering beneath the high Ben More at the head of the narrow Glen Dochart, with Loch Fay beyond.

They wandered about the heather gossiping on all sorts of subjects, the Red Widow telling her a number of purely fictitious stories about herself and her travels, while Mrs. Morrison told her much about the happiness of her own married life.

"I have never cared to enter society because, while my husband lived, it never attracted me," she said, as they sat together upon a rock among the heather whence they had a magnificent view up Glen Dochart. "My husband hated it. He was a self-made man. A baronetcy was offered him, but he refused it. He did not agree with the system whereby donations to party funds makes an honest man a pinchbeck gentleman."

Ena laughed.

"True!" she declared. "I admire Mr. Morrison for his outspokenness."

"Well, that is why I never entered society," Mrs. Morrison said, with a sigh.

"But why don't you see a little more of life?" Ena suggested. "You appear, from what you say, to be buried alive at Carsphairn!"

"I see but very few people, but I take a great interest in the estate, and I have a few shooting parties – mostly friends of my late husband."



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