William Le Queux.
The Red Widow: or, The Death-Dealers of London
скачать книгу бесплатно
"Do you really think so?" asked the girl, looking into his handsome face.
"Yes – I do. Up to the present all our efforts have been in vain," he said. "Only one fact has been established, and that is that there is a prisoner – whether voluntary or not we cannot tell – in that creeper-covered house. We both saw Boyne creep up with food to him, while I saw his light beneath the door. Somebody is living up there in secret. Is it a man, or is it a woman? His eagerness makes me think that it is a woman. Who is it?"
"Somebody he is shielding – somebody who has committed some serious crime, who fears to show his or her face lest it be recognised by agents of Scotland Yard."
"Really, Marigold, you are very acute," he exclaimed. "We have had so many murder mysteries since the war, and in all of them the police confess their utter confusion, that the present situation fills me with great apprehension."
"I know," she said. "But why not let us begin again? Let us watch the house. I'll watch one night, and you watch the next. Surely we can by that means discover the truth. If the place is watched every night, this man Boyne must, in the end, be defeated."
"But I thought you liked Boyne?"
"Yes; he has been always very good to me. Remember that he is the owner of the place, and my aunt is his housekeeper," replied the girl.
"I quite appreciate your point," said Durrant. "But if we are to fully delve into the affair we must not be influenced by the fellow's open heart. The greatest criminals of the world have always been those who have been popular on account of their bonhomie and generosity."
The girl sat silent, her eyes fixed upon the rushes slowly waving in the stream. A motor-launch passed them, making a high wash against the bank, but she took no heed. She was still thinking of that strange occupant of the house in Bridge Place.
Three times during the past week she had, indeed, visited her aunt in an endeavour to discover something more. Boyne had been out, as usual, therefore she had been able to examine the place thoroughly. She had ascended to that locked room on each occasion, and had listened there. Once in the silence she had heard a distinct movement, a slight rustling, within.
Yet afterwards, as she had reflected, she wondered whether it had not been due to her imagination, or perhaps to a blind flapping at an open window. When one is suspicious, it is so easy to imagine queer circumstances.
"I only wish we could solve the mystery," she remarked wistfully. "It worries me. Auntie seems quite unconcerned."
"Because she has no suspicion, worthy old soul. She has no knowledge of Mr. Boyne's nocturnal visits with food to his friend."
"Why shouldn't we tell her, and then she'll be on the alert?" suggested the girl. "She might discover something."
"She might – but more probably she would be too eager, and thus put Boyne upon his guard," remarked the young fellow."No. We must work together in strict secrecy if we intend to be successful."
"But who can he possibly be hiding?"
The young man in flannels shrugged his shoulders, and replied:
"I confess that the problem is getting on my nerves. The more I think it over the more inscrutable it becomes. Mischief is being worked somewhere. Of that I feel confident. All the actions of our friend Boyne point to it."
"But that shroud? Why does he wear it?" asked Marigold blankly.
"As a disguise, without a doubt. Perhaps the person upstairs has been confined there so long that his mind has already become deranged, as is inevitable after a long period of solitary incarceration, and Boyne now takes the precaution of adopting the simple disguise so that his friend should fail to identify him. He may have done his captive some great injury – or something."
"True; but, if he has, it was not in order to gain. Bernard Boyne is a comparatively poor man. My aunt says that he seems to have only just sufficient money to make both ends meet."
Gerald Durrant drew a long breath. Upon his countenance was an expression of doubt.
"He may pass as a poor man, and yet be rich," he remarked. "It may sound romantic, but there are many people living in the by-streets of London, successfully concealed beneath assumed names and unsuspected by their neighbours, who for years have lived a life of penury though they are really well off. And their motive is, for some reason or other, to cut themselves adrift from friends in their own sphere. Indeed, it is a well known fact that in the last days of King Edward an ex-Cabinet Minister lived for several years in seclusion in a meagre side-street near Kennington Park, as Mr. Benwell, his real identity never being suspected until, owing to his sudden death, an inquest was held, and the police, searching his papers, discovered that he was immensely wealthy and one of Britain's foremost statesmen, who was believed to be living in seclusion in Italy."
"Perhaps Mr. Boyne is some person who has sought retirement in a similar manner," Marigold suggested.
"No. If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Boyne is playing a very deep and rather dangerous game – how dangerous I cannot yet discover."
"But you could discover nothing when you watched – just as I failed to find out any fact," she said. "I had no idea you were on the watch."
"I saw you on Tuesday night," he laughed. "You arrived at the house about half-past eight, and had a great trouble getting in."
"Were you there?" she cried eagerly. "I never dreamed that you were in the vicinity. Yes, you are right. I rang and banged on the door half a dozen times before I could attract auntie's attention. She generally leaves the door unlocked in case anyone should call."
"Boyne returned about twenty minutes after you had left, but though I watched till midnight, he did not come out again."
"Couldn't you take a day off one day and follow him when he goes out in the morning?" the girl suggested. "I would do it, but I fear that he'd recognise me."
"I might. But I think I may be more successful at night. It is very difficult to keep observation upon a person in broad daylight. In the darkness it is much easier."
"Why not try again to-night?" suggested Marigold. "I'll go with you."
He shook his head.
"Sunday night is a bad night. We know his habits on week-days, but he may have gone out all day to-day," he replied. "No; to-morrow would be more likely."
"Then let's both go there to-morrow night, and if he comes out of the house we'll watch where he goes."
With this suggestion Gerald agreed, and after she had smoked the cigarette he handed to her from his case, they resumed their punting up-stream in the afternoon sunshine.
Next night they met by appointment at Hammersmith Broadway station at half-past eight, and after a consultation, it was arranged that Marigold should call on her aunt on some pretext, and having ascertained if Boyne had returned, she would rejoin Gerald at a spot in King Street.
Hence he lounged about the busy thoroughfare for a quarter of an hour until she returned with the news that Boyne had been home since six o'clock, he having returned unusually early.
"Ah! That's a good sign," said Gerald. "He'll certainly go out again to-night!"
As they strolled together they arranged that Marigold should loiter near the King Street end of the street, while Gerald should stand in an entry near the house which he had used in his previous observations.
"If you see me pass into King Street, don't follow me too closely," he urged, "and at all hazards don't let him see you. Remember that people who are engaged in crooked business keep their eyes skinned and are always full of suspicion."
"I'll take good care he doesn't see me," the girl answered him. "Trust me to be discreet."
Then they parted, and for about an hour Marigold waited in vain for a sight of her lover. It had now grown quite dark, and the street lamps in Bridge Place were none too brilliant. She was still loitering in the darkness, full of expectation at every footstep on the pavement.
At last she again heard footsteps, and a few moments later recognised Boyne's well-built figure passing within the zone of lamplight across the way. He was walking hurriedly in the direction of King Street, all unconscious that he was being followed. But a few moments later, with noiseless tread – for he wore rubber heels to his shoes – Durrant came along, his eyes searching eagerly for the girl he loved.
Suddenly he saw her in the shadow, and realised that she was discreetly following him.
The pair exchanged a few words in the crowded King Street, and while Gerald hurried on after Boyne towards the station, the girl followed a little distance behind.
They saw him buying a ticket at the station and also purchase a late edition of the evening paper. Then he descended to the platform of the tube and took a train going towards Piccadilly.
Gerald and Marigold, who had separated, travelled on the same train until, on arrival at Knightsbridge, the man they were watching alighted. Marigold, who had been on the alert at each station, saw him emerge from the next car, while close behind him was Gerald, with whom, of course, he was unacquainted.
Together they followed him along Sloane Street to Pont Street, where he ascended the steps of a smart-looking red-brick house and opened the door with a latchkey.
"Now that's curious!" remarked Gerald when he rejoined the girl. "Did you notice that he entered that house yonder as though it were his own home? I wonder who lives there?"
"We must find out," declared Marigold, highly excited at having tracked Mr. Boyne so far.
"Yes. But I shall be compelled to watch the house and see what happens now," he said. "I mean to follow him to-night wherever he goes. It almost seems as if he lives here – as well as in Hammersmith!"
"Well – he certainly has a latchkey, and this is not a street where they take in lodgers."
"No," he said. "Some of these houses are the legations of the smaller States of Europe. Over there is the Serbian Legation."
"Well, we'll wait in patience," she said. "Fortunately it's a fine night."
"The last time I watched, last week, it came on terribly wet about eleven o'clock," he said, "and I hadn't my mackintosh. When I started out it seemed a perfect night. But just now the weather is so changeable."
On the darker side of the street by the railings, the young people idled together, with a watchful eye upon the long flight of steps which Boyne had ascended. Though the blinds were drawn, it was evident that the comfortable West End house was well lighted, and it was, no doubt, the residence of someone of considerable means. Indeed, it requires a good income to run a house even in Pont Street in these post-bellum days.
The traffic had died down. Few taxis were passing, for as yet the home-coming pleasure seekers were not on their way from the theatres.
For half an hour the pair waited in the shadow, full of eager curiosity. The movements of the mystery-man of Hammersmith were, to say the least, suspicious.
Suddenly, from the basement a young footman appeared, and hurrying along to the end of the road, hailed a taxi and brought it to the door.
Then, as they watched, they saw, a few seconds later, the front door open, and a man in evening dress descended the steps and entered the taxi.
The light from the open door shone upon his face as he halted to speak to the servant, and then, to their amazement, they recognised the man to be Bernard Boyne.
His chameleon-like change staggered them both for a second, but Gerald, ever quick to act, whispered:
"Go home, Marigold. This is very funny. I'll try to follow," and a moment later he had sped away noiselessly into the darkness.
The fact was that his quick eyes had espied a taxi which at that moment had driven up on a stand a little farther down, and without delay he told the man that he wanted him to follow the taxi in front, and that he would give him treble fare for doing so.
"Right y'are, sir!" replied the young Cockney driver, who instantly entered into the spirit of the chase, and already his cab was on the move as Boyne left.
Gerald saw Marigold standing watching the departure, and knowing that she would make the best of her way to Wimbledon, kept his eyes upon the taxi, which was soon out into Knightsbridge, going in the direction of Hyde Park Corner.
Why Boyne, the humble collector of insurance premiums, should possess a latchkey to a house in Pont Street, and emerge from there dressed in evening clothes as a gentleman of means, sorely puzzled Gerald Durrant.
He felt instinctively that he was on the track of some very remarkable sequence of events. This man who disguised himself every night before he took food and drink up to his imprisoned friend, evidently lived a double life. In Pont Street he was a rich man, while in Hammersmith he was poor.
One point of satisfaction was that he was following the unsuspecting man, and would at least know his destination, even if that night he failed to discover the object of his visit.
That he was in a hurry was apparent. He seemed to have spoken excitedly to the young footman – who appeared to be a foreigner – before stepping into the taxi.
Up Park Lane they went, until suddenly the taxi conveying the man of mystery pulled up before a house in Upper Brook Street, while the vehicle in which Gerald had followed passed on for some distance before it stopped.
"'E's gone in that 'ouse, sir," said the taxi-man in a low voice.
"Yes, so I see. He may not be long. I'll wait," and he stepped out and strolled a little way in the opposite direction. Meanwhile Boyne had paid his man, who had turned his cab and left.
The house into which Boyne had disappeared was a block of flats, for as he passed he had caught a glimpse of the uniformed porter who had saluted him and followed him to the lift.
The mystery was thereby greatly increased, though many more startling circumstances were yet to be encountered.
Gerald Durrant idled there in the vicinity of the taxi, little dreaming into what a labyrinth of doubt and mystery he had now been drawn.