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5: The Hotel Note-Paper

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Author Topic: 5: The Hotel Note-Paper  (Read 27 times)
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« on: May 19, 2023, 07:47:42 am »

DURING the last day or two Jennison had been slowly acquiring knowledge in the art and science of crime investigation, and had learnt that one who desired to become a proficient should never show himself surprised, nor allow himself to be startled. He was also learning to think very quickly, and as soon as Chrissie Walker spoke he remembered that the Cat and Bagpipe was close to Endsleigh Gardens, the place of appointment mentioned in the note which he had picked up on the scene of Alfred Jakyn’s death, and that both were within a few minutes’ walk of the Euston Hotel. So he merely elevated his eyebrows in a politely inquisitive glance, as if just a little mildly interested.

“Oh!” he said. “That so? You recognise him?”

“Should think I did!” replied Chrissie fervently. “Good-looking fellow, isn’t he? Oh, yes, no mistaking that---knew that photo as soon as I set eyes on it. That’s the man!”

“And he came in here---Monday night?” asked Jennison.

“Came in here, Monday night---as I say,” responded Chrissie, “with a lady. Looked in himself first, through that door, and seeing there was nobody much about---we were very quiet, as usual, at that time---he brought her in. They sat down in that alcove there. Oh, yes!”

“What time would that be?” asked Jennison.

“A bit after ten o’clock,” replied Chrissie. “Just about the time when I usually begin to yawn. Five or ten minutes past ten.”

“Did they stay long?” inquired Jennison.

“Twenty minutes or so,” answered the barmaid. “He’d a couple of whiskies; she’d a small glass of port---which she scarcely touched: I noticed that. They were talking all the time---confidential talk, it seemed---whispers, you know. It struck me they’d turned in here on purpose to talk. He appeared to be explaining something; he did most of the talking, anyhow.”

“Seem to be friendly?” asked Jennison.

“As far as I could see,” replied Chrissie. “Quite friendly. I should have said they were talking business. Of course, I didn’t catch a word of it. But that’s the man, sure as anything!”

“Interesting!” remarked Jennison. “Credit to your powers of observation! And what was the lady like?”

Chrissie laughed and gave her questioner a knowing look.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” she said, leaning over the counter. “She was a pretty little woman, I should say a bit over thirty---p’raps a year or two more. Dark hair, dark eyes---quite pretty. She’d a big, very plain, but good cloak on that wrapped her right up, and she’d a veil, though not a thick one. But I noticed this---she undid her cloak to get something, a handkerchief or a smelling bottle, or something of that sort, and I saw that she’d got a dinner-dress on, and a very smart one, too! I only saw it for a moment, mind you, but I did see!”

“Ah!” exclaimed Jennison. “Just so! Um!”

“He wasn’t in evening dress,” continued Chrissie. “He’d a dark suit on---blue serge, I think. And I’ll tell you what I thought---I thought she was some lady who’d been dining at one of the big hotels close by, or at one of the houses in one of those big squares at the back here, and that they’d met, and wanted to have a bit of quiet talk, and so they’d turned in here. But fancy it being that man!---and his being dead, actually dead and gone---an hour or so after!”

“Life’s a very uncertain thing, you know!” answered Jennison with the air of one who utters a solemn truth for the very first time. “That’s a fact! Well---I wouldn’t mention this to anybody else if I were you, Chrissie! Just keep it to yourself---see?”

“Why?” demanded Chrissie.

“Well, if you like, as a personal favour to me,” replied Jennison. “Don’t tell anybody else that you saw Alfred Jakyn in here. Leastways, not without telling me. I mean, really, don’t tell anybody unless I say you can.”

“Why, what’ve you got to do with it?” asked Chrissie. “No affair of yours, is it?”

Jennison pointed to the newspaper account and to his own name in capitals.

“As the principal witness in the case,” he replied loftily, “and as the one person that witnessed---actually witnessed---the unfortunate catastrophe, I should say it is my affair! But between you and me, there’s more than that in it. I’m doing a bit in my own way to unravel this mystery---there’s more mystery in this business than you’d think, and I should like to keep what you’ve told me to myself. It may be of---well, what they call supreme importance.”

“Oh, well!” said Chrissie, “I don’t suppose anybody’ll come asking questions at the Cat and Bagpipe. So you want to find things out, do you?”

“You shall know more later,” replied Jennison, with a significant look. “In the meantime, be a good girl, and say---nothing! These cases, silence---ah, you don’t know what a lot depends on silenceproperly applied!”

He drank his bitter beer and went out, to think. So Alfred Jakyn and a lady---veiled, and in evening dress---had been closeted together in a quiet corner of the saloon bar of the Cat and Bagpipe between ten and ten-thirty on the night of his death, had they? Very good! that was a valuable addition to his score of knowledge. Of course, the lady was the writer of the note which he had found; the note making an appointment at the west end of Endsleigh Gardens. That end was within a minute of the Cat and Bagpipe. They had met, these two, and turned in there to talk. And it was close to the Euston Hotel; and the waiter from the Euston Hotel had said at the inquest that he had seen Alfred Jakyn examine or read a scrap of paper just before leaving the smoking-room. That, said the waiter, was about or close on ten o’clock: well, said Jennison, it would only take a smart walker two or three minutes to walk from the Euston Hotel to the end of Endsleigh Gardens. Um! things were smoothing themselves out; becoming connected: there was a clue. And with the idea of getting a still firmer hold of it, Jennison crossed the Euston Road, made for the big, gloomy portals of the station, and, turning into the hotel, looked for and walked into the smoking-room.

It was a room of considerable dimensions, this, but when Jennison entered it was almost deserted. Two elderly men sat talking in a corner; a younger man was busy at a writing-table. It was with a writing-table that Jennison was first concerned. There were several in the room, placed here and there in convenient corners; he went across to the most isolated, took from his pocket-book the scrap of paper which he had picked up in Cartwright Gardens, and compared it with the hotel letter-paper stored in the stationery rack. It required no more than a glance to assure him that the paper on which the mysterious message had been written was identical in material, colour and weight, with that before him. . . . Without doubt, the scrap which he had preserved so carefully, and the existence of which he had kept secret, had been torn from a half-sheet of the Euston Hotel note-paper.

Jennison returned his treasured bit of evidence to his pocket-book, enclosed in a full sheet of the hotel stationery, and leaving the writing-table, went over to a seat in a corner and rang a bell. He hoped that the waiter who had given evidence at the inquest would answer that summons. His hopes were fulfilled: that very man appeared, and what was more, he recognised Jennison at once, and looked at him with unusual curiosity.

“You know me?” suggested Jennison. “Saw me at that inquest, didn’t you? I saw you, of course. I say! I want a word or two with you---on the quiet. Get me, say, a bottle of Bass, and when you come back with it---eh?”

The waiter nodded comprehendingly, and retired. In five minutes he was back again with the Bass, and Jennison opened fire on him without delay.

“Look here!” he said, glancing round to make sure that they had that quarter of the room to themselves. “That affair, now; I’m inquiring into it, and if you can give a bit of help, it’ll be something---maybe a good deal---in your pocket. You know what you said before the Coroner?---that Alfred Jakyn, the dead man, came into this room about nine-thirty that night---Monday night? To be sure! Well, now, who was in it when he came in?”

The waiter had been considering Jennison. He, too, looked round. And he sank his voice to a pitch that denoted confidential communication.

“You ain’t doing this on behalf of the police?” he asked. “Just so!---private like---reasons of your own. I see! Well, when Jakyn came in that night, there were only two people in this room---a lady and a gentleman. Together---husband and wife, they were. Staying in the hotel, you know: I’d seen ’em two or three times before; they were here over the week-end; Friday afternoon to Tuesday morning. He was an elderly man; seventy, I should say, by his looks. She was a great deal younger: half his age.”

“Who were they?” inquired Jennison.

“Names I can’t give you---at present,” replied the waiter. “But I can find ’em out in five minutes. Now, if you like.”

“Wait a bit---that’ll do after,” said Jennison. “You say they were in this room when Jakyn came in? What were they doing?”

“The old gentleman was sitting over there, in that chair, smoking a cigar, and reading a magazine. The lady was at that table, close by his chair, writing.”

“How was she dressed?”

“Evening dress---dinner dress---they’d turned in here after dinner. He was in a dinner jacket. I’d served ’em with coffee not so long before Jakyn came in---they’d dined rather late.”

“What happened after Jakyn came in?”

“Happened? Well, nothing---but that he asked me to get him a whisky and soda. He was sitting across there; near where the lady was writing.”

“Did he seem to know these two---or her---or they, or she, him?”

“Not that I saw of. Took no notice of each other. Can’t say, of course, what went on while I was fetching his drink. When I came back with it, they’d gone---the old gentleman and lady---and Jakyn was alone.”

“And you say---at least, you said at the inquest---that he was a bit restless?”

“Well, he was---in a manner. Walked about the room, you understand---talked to himself a bit---muttered, vaguely; seemed uneasy, upset. And, as I said, I saw him pull out a bit of paper, folded up, unfold it, put it back in his waistcoat pocket when he’d read it, and then---well, he walked out rather sharply after that. As if---well, as if he’d just made up his mind about something or other.”

“That was just before ten o’clock, wasn’t it?”

“Just before, it would be. Five or ten minutes to ten, I reckon.”

“You never saw him again?”

“No! till I saw him at the mortuary. They took me there, you see, after that detective chap had been here.”

Jennison had money in his pocket; what was more, he was minded to lay it out. He quietly slipped a couple of pound-notes into the waiter’s palm.

“That’s to be going on with,” he murmured. “You keep this to yourself, and there’ll be more---maybe a good deal more---to follow. Now look here, can you get me the names of that elderly gentleman and the lady? And---address?”

“Easy!” replied the waiter. “Two minutes.”

He left the room, and Jennison ruminated. He had no doubt, now, after hearing the waiter’s story, that when Alfred Jakyn walked into that room on the evening of his death, he had recognised in the lady at the writing-table somebody whom he had known before, and that she had recognised him. Nor had he any doubt that neither of them wished the elderly gentleman to know of the mutual recognition. He fancied that he saw exactly how the thing was done. The lady tore off a scrap of paper from the sheet before her, scribbled a message on it, and either dropped it on the floor near Alfred Jakyn’s chair, or placed it in some position after attracting his attention to it. Then she and the old gentleman retired, and probably he went to bed, while she put on a wrap and went out to keep the appointment she had just made.

“That’s how it’s been worked,” mused Jennison. “Fits in like---like one of them jigsaw puzzles. Brains!---that’s all you want, to put these things together. And I ain’t wanting in brains, I believe!”

The waiter came back. He had a bit of paper in his hand, and he laid it before Jennison with a nod. Jennison read what was pencilled on it.

Sir John and Lady Cheale, Cheale Court, Chester.

“Know who they are?” he asked.

“Not particularly---I’m new to this place,” replied the waiter. “The head waiter says they’re well known here, though; turn up now and then for a few days. Big pot in the North, the old gentleman, I understand---millionaire, or something.”

Then some men came into the room, calling for drinks, and the waiter went off, and Jennison left. He had now two pieces of paper to take care of . . . and he hadn’t the slightest doubt that they were closely related.

Jennison thought a lot that night. The mystery surrounding the circumstances of Alfred Jakyn’s death centred, he felt sure, in Jakyn’s meeting with the woman with whom Chrissie Walker had seen him in company at the Cat and Bagpipe; the woman who, if he, Jennison, was putting two and two together accurately, was Lady Cheale. Now, who was Lady Cheale? That, of course, could be found out. But what had she to do with Alfred Jakyn? Were they old acquaintances? Was the meeting at the Euston Hotel an unforeseen, accidental one? And why did the lady fix upon a place outside, a rendezvous well removed from the hotel, though, to be sure, of easy access?

And then another question shaped itself in Jennison’s inquisitive mind. Where was Alfred Jakyn between half-past ten and a quarter to twelve on the night of his death? According to Chrissie Walker, he left the Cat and Bagpipe in company with his lady companion at or before 10.30. Where was he until 11.45, when he suddenly appeared in Cartwright Gardens, and fell dead?

“Devil of a lot of things to find out in this affair!” mused Jennison. “One thing at a time, however. And first---Lady Cheale!”

He had some idea that you can find out these things from books---books of reference. What books, he was dimly uncertain about, but still books. And next day, when his luncheon hour came round in the city, he went to a reference library, and began to search. Jennison’s notions of titled folks were very vague; he thought he should find Sir John Cheale’s name in the Peerage, and was astonished that he didn’t. Nor was he in the Baronetage---which, in Jennison’s opinion, was still more astonishing. Eventually, he asked a librarian to help him: the librarian suggested Who’s Who. And there Jennison got light. Sir John Cheale, son of John Cheale, of Manchester. Born 1850. Educated Shrewsbury School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Knighted 1918. Principal partner and chairman of directors of Cheale & Company, Ltd., chemical manufacturers, Chester. Deputy-Lieutenant for the County of Cheshire. Married, 1918, Mildred, daughter of the late William Colebrooke, of Cheltenham: no issue. Collector of books, pictures, antiques. Clubs: Grosvenor, Chester; and Constitutional, London. Residences: Cheale Court, Chester, and Ardrechan, Braemar, Scotland.

Before he had got to the last word in this informing paragraph, Jennison had made up his mind to go down to Chester and waylay Lady Cheale: Lady Cheale meant---money.

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