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6: Face to Face

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Author Topic: 6: Face to Face  (Read 24 times)
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« on: May 19, 2023, 08:17:01 am »

JENNISON’S notions as to precisely how Lady Cheale meant money were vague, shapeless, but they were there. To carry them out, or to make a beginning in the process of carrying them out, or attempting to carry them out, he had no objection to spending money of his own, and next morning he drew funds from his savings. Nobody, reflected Jennison, can expect to make money unless they lay out money. That done, he sought the presence of the manager of the warehouse, and pulled a long face, at the same time indicating the lump on his face.

“Got to have that off to-morrow,” he said lugubriously. “Operation! The doctor says I ought to have had it done before. Serious business, as it’s been neglected. Might be some danger about it, too---strict quiet and rest are necessary anyway after the operation. I shall have to take a bit of time off.”

“How long?” asked the manager.

“He said, a few days, at least, the doctor,” replied Jennison. “Depends! Shock to the system, you know.”

The manager didn’t know, and he glanced at Jennison’s lump.

“It certainly does seem as if it had grown a bit,” he remarked. “Well, we aren’t particularly busy; you’d better take a week. If that’s not enough, you can write and ask for another. Put you under chloroform, I suppose, eh?”

“He didn’t say,” answered Jennison, still affecting melancholy. “I reckon he will, of course. Beastly nuisance! Still, one’s got to get it over.”

But he had no intention of getting it over: none whatever of going near Dr. Syphax and the surgery in Brunswick Square: his plans were far otherwise. And when he left the warehouse at noon he turned into the nearest public telephone box, and ringing up Dr. Syphax, cancelled the appointment for next morning, saying that urgent business compelled him to put off the operation for a day or two---he would call, later, and fix things. That done, he went home to Cartwright Gardens, arrayed himself in his best clothes, packed a small suit-case, and, repairing to Euston, ate a hearty lunch at the refreshment bar, and caught the next train to Chester. As the autumn afternoon drew to an end, he was walking the streets of that ancient town, fully alive to the delights of his adventure.

Jennison knew nothing about that corner of England, and cared less; its sole attraction to him lay in the fact that Lady Cheale, who, he was convinced, was an important factor in the Alfred Jakyn affair, lived in it, somewhere. He could not, of course, find her that night, but he knew how to make inquiries about her. He came off country-town stock himself, and knew where, in country towns, you can always get hold of information. And though---being minded to be comfortable---he put himself up at a good hotel, and ate his dinner there, he took good care not to spend his evening in its highly-respectable purlieus. You don’t find gossips nor local talk in places like that, said Jennison, knowingly: they’re all very well to sleep in and eat in, but if you want to know things about a town and its people you must frequent a good old-fashioned tavern where tradesmen go when the day’s business is done, to enjoy pipe and glass, and pass the time of day. And when Jennison had dined, he sent out to find such a tavern, and had no difficulty in his search, every ancient English city and market town possessing an almost puzzling wealth of resorts of that nature.

The house into which Jennison turned was a quaint, old-world place, wherein was a big, roomy bar-parlour, furnished with antique, worm-eaten, highly polished chairs, tables, and long settles, ornamented with old glass, brass, copper, sporting pictures, pictures of stage-coach days, and playbills of the era of the Kembles, to say nothing of a fire big enough for the roasting of an ox. Jennison got himself into a comfortable, snug corner, ordered a drink, and observed things. There were several men in the room, all obviously regular customers. Jennison listened to their conversation. It was all about local matters; local politics; local money affairs; local horse racing; local trade; he knew, from his own experiences of his own native place in another part of the country, that every man in that room would be as well up in local knowledge as he would be ignorant of anything outside his own little world. He knew, too, that before the evening was over he would get into conversation with one or other of these men, and would find out all he wanted to know. And that was easy when a middle-aged man dropped into a chair alongside his own, remarked that it was a coldish night outside and warm enough in there, and fell, bit by bit, into friendly talk. Jennison, artful and designing, led the way to talk of local trades and industries, letting his neighbour know that he was a stranger.

“Lot of big chemical works hereabouts, aren’t there?” suggested Jennison. “Sort of principal industry, isn’t it?”

“Considerable lot of ’em in the district,” assented his companion. “Chemicals---soap---iron---coal---that sort of thing. Big affairs, you know---employ a lot of labour.”

“Isn’t there a big chemical works called Cheale’s?” inquired Jennison. “I’m interested in chemical works, indirectly.”

“Cheale’s? Oh, yes!” replied the other. “Yes, one of the biggest industries hereabouts. Flourishing concern, that; they do say that Sir John Cheale, the principal shareholder---founder, he was, originally---is a multi-millionaire!”

“Local man?” asked Jennison.

That question set the informant off. In a few minutes Jennison knew all about Sir John Cheale, the big business, and where Sir John Cheale lived. Cheale Court was a fine old house a few miles out of Chester, in the country. Nearest village, Wilsmere: nice walk out there. Wilsmere belonged to Sir John, and it was a model village, worth going to see. Great collector of books and pictures, Sir John was; they did say that he’d one of the finest private libraries in England, and his pictures were famous---these old masters and that sort of thing. Been an old bachelor, Sir John had, most of his life, but lately---well, within the last year or two---had married. Rare pretty bit of womankind, too!---deal younger than he was---oh, yes, quite a young woman. Not of these parts, Lady Cheale---no, Sir John married her while he was away somewhere---caused a good deal of surprise when he brought her home. Often to be seen in Chester, Lady Cheale---came in a good deal in her motor-car---smart little woman, Lady Cheale!

Jennison took it all in, determining that he would see Lady Cheale closer at hand. He contrived to get hold of a map of the district that night, and before he went to bed, and by diligently studying it, made out that the village of Wilsmere, of which his informant had spoken, was only three or four miles from Chester, and that Cheale Court was on its immediate confines. Arguing that Lady Cheale probably attended the services at Wilsmere Church, he determined, the next day being Sunday, to walk out there in the morning, and see if he could get a glimpse of her. And if he did. . . .

Next morning, then, Jennison, looking for all the world like an innocent, well-dressed young gentleman, presented himself as a stranger at the church door of Wilsmere, and was duly shown to a seat. He was very well-behaved and quite devout, but his eyes saw without seeming to see, and before the officiating clergyman had said many words of the service, Jennison was certain that there, in a sort of family pew close by his own seat, was the woman described by Chrissie Walker. She was now in far different surroundings, and in the purple and fine linen befitting her position as wife of the great local magnate, but Jennison felt instinctively that if the barmaid of the Cat and Bagpipe had been at his side she would have lost little time in nudging his elbow and whispering, regardless of grammatical rule, that that was her!

He had no doubt about Lady Cheale’s identity when the service was over and he got a still closer look at her near the church porch. Dark hair dark eyes---pretty, taking---not much over thirty, if that---bet your life, swore Jennison, this is the woman! Nor had he any possibility of doubting that this woman was Lady Cheale. Although this is the twentieth century, there are villages in England where the squire’s lady is still somebody, and the pretty woman who passed down the churchyard path had her due meed of obeisance and curtsey from the rustics who lined it. A great personage in her own parish, Lady Cheale, evidently!---but never mind, said Jennison; he knew things that would bring haughtier and grander folk than Lady Cheale to their knees---perhaps to his knees!

Instead of returning to Chester, Jennison sought out the village inn, and got a midday dinner there. Later, he lounged round Wilsmere and took a look at Cheale Court, a fine old Elizabethan house set in the midst of a big park. And finding that there were public paths through the park, he took one that led him near the house, and suddenly as he turned the corner of a shrubbery, he came face to face with the woman of whom he was thinking.

Lady Cheale, evidently, was out for a constitutional in her own extensive grounds, and she was alone, save for the presence of a couple of fox terriers, who, at sight of Jennison, rushed forward barking. Their mistress called them off.

“Come here, Wasp! come here, Smiler! come here! They won’t harm you!” she added to Jennison, smilingly. “They’re quite safe, they don’t bite----”

Jennison lifted his hat, in his best manner.

“I’m not afraid of dogs,” he said. “Been used to them all my life.” In token of his indifference, he snapped his fingers at the fox terriers, chirruping at them with pursed lips. And as they grew quiet, sniffing around his shoes, he looked steadily at the pretty woman now close to him, and again raised his hat. “Lady Cheale, I believe?” he inquired politely.

Lady Cheale looked a little surprised, and took stock of her questioner. Jennison was quite a presentable young man, even when judged by a high standard; Lady Cheale bowed in response to his question.

“May I have a word or two with your ladyship?” continued Jennison. He looked round, and seeing no one anywhere in sight, and that they were in a lonely part of the park, pressed his advantage. “The fact is, I came down from London specially, last night, to see you, Lady Cheale. But this seems a good opportunity---if you’ll listen to me.”

Lady Cheale, too, glanced around her. There was some slight alarm, more wonder, in her eyes when she turned again to Jennison. But he looked harmless enough. Still, Jennison saw a slight paling of her cheek.

“To see me?” she exclaimed. “I---I don’t know you! I saw you in church this morning---a stranger to the village. Who---who are you? And why----”

Jennison nodded.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “Of course you’ll want to know that, Lady Cheale. But I think you’ll know my name well enough when you hear it. No doubt you’re quite familiar with it. For I’m sure you’ve read the reports in the newspapers about the inquest on Alfred Jakyn!”

There was no doubt then about the change of colour in Lady Cheale’s pretty face. The healthy glow on her cheeks died out, was extinguished, came back just as suddenly in a vivid flood. A startled, frightened look flashed into her eyes; her lips trembled.

“Who---who are you?” she faltered, moving a little away. “Why do you come here? Are you a---a detective?”

“No!” answered Jennison. “I said you’d know my name, Lady Cheale. And please don’t be afraid---there’s nothing to be afraid about. My name is Jennison---Albert Jennison. I’m the man who witnessed Alfred Jakyn’s death!”

Lady Cheale stood watching Jennison, for the better part of a moment, in silence. Jennison, on his part, watched her. Her colour was becoming normal; her eyes suspicious rather than afraid; he saw that she was taking guard against whatever might be coming.

“Of course you read the account of the inquest, Lady Cheale,” he continued. “You’ll remember my evidence. I’m the man who, from my window in Cartwright Gardens, saw Alfred Jakyn, walking on the pavement in apparently the very best of health, suddenly collapse and fall. It was I who ran down to him and found him dead---only just dead, but as dead as if he’d been dead a hundred years. But you know all that, you’ve read it in the newspapers. Haven’t you, Lady Cheale?”

Lady Cheale was still watching him fixedly. She made no answer to his question; instead she put a question herself, in a hard, dry voice.

“Why have you come here to see me?”

Jennison smiled, for the first time. It was a smile that Lady Cheale did not like; it suggested unpleasant possibilities.

“I’ll tell you, Lady Cheale. I came here to ask you what you know about Alfred Jakyn! Just that!”

Once again there was an interchange of straight, questioning glances. When Lady Cheale spoke, her voice was harder than before.

“How do you know that I know anything about Alfred Jakyn?” she demanded.

Jennison once more looked round. But they were alone; the house lay a mile away amongst the trees; not a soul was in sight. The fox terriers had left their mistress to nose round a rabbit-warren.

“I suppose we can talk here as well as within four walls,” observed Jennison, “perhaps better, with more safety. I’ll tell you, Lady Cheale, now I know that you know something---perhaps a good deal---about Alfred Jakyn. I’ve taken an interest in this case from the moment in which I found Alfred Jakyn dead: all the greater interest because, do you see, I’d seen him alive and lively as a man can be, only two or three minutes before. And I determined to find things out---to get at the bottom of the mystery which I felt certain was there. I wanted to know! And there are certain things I know already----”

“What do you know about me?” interrupted Lady Cheale sharply. “Something---real or imaginary!---or you wouldn’t be here! What now?”

Jennison looked her straight and hard in the face.

“I know that you were with Alfred Jakyn during the evening on which he died, Lady Cheale!” he answered. “That’s what!”

Lady Cheale bit her lips, in obvious perplexity. A slight pucker appeared between the delicate arch of her eyebrows; she seemed to be thinking, to be endeavouring to recall something. Suddenly she snapped out another question.

“How do you know that?” she demanded. “Perhaps you know something, but----”

Jennison stopped her with another of the confident smiles she did not like.

“Look here, Lady Cheale,” he said, “I’m the sort of player that’ll lay his cards on the table. I’m quite willing to lay mine before you. So, listen! At ten o’clock of the evening on which Alfred Jakyn met his death, you met him at the west-end corner of Endsleigh Gardens. You and he went into the saloon-bar of the Cat and Bagpipe tavern, close by. You remained there about half an hour, in close conversation, in an alcove. Then you left, going away together. Lady Cheale, that’s---fact!”

He looked at her with a certain air of triumph, as if expecting her to throw up the sponge. But Lady Cheale shook her head.

“You may have acquired some information,” she said, slowly, “but you’ve no proof----”

“Oh!” exclaimed Jennison. “There you’re wrong, Lady Cheale! Proof!----”

And this time laughing gently, instead of smiling, he drew out of his pocket, and held unfolded before her, the scrap of paper which he had found in Cartwright Gardens and had treasured so carefully ever since.

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