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7: Hush Money

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Author Topic: 7: Hush Money  (Read 27 times)
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« on: May 19, 2023, 08:48:42 am »

FOR the second time during their interview, Jennison saw Lady Cheale’s colour sweep clear away from her cheeks. Her face grew drawn and tense, and her lips parted involuntarily as she stared at the crumpled sheet of paper which Jennison held up to her. And when she spoke, her voice came in a husky whisper. Jennison knew, hearing that whisper, that at last she was thoroughly frightened.

“Where---where did you get that?” she faltered. “Where? How?”

Jennison carefully folded the paper and restored it to its usual resting place in his pocket.

“I said I was the sort to put all my cards on the table, Lady Cheale,” he replied, slowly. “I’m going to be as good as my word. But first---you know that’s your writing on that paper? Isn’t it, now?”

“Well?” she muttered. “Well?”

“Of course it is!” exclaimed Jennison cheerfully, as if he were emphasising some joyous announcement. “We both know that! Very well, how did I get it? I’ll tell you, Lady Cheale. You know already that I was the only person who witnessed the death of Alfred Jakyn. The police came---on my summons. I went with them to the mortuary, I saw and heard all that took place there; the police surgeon hinted at foul play; I knew he meant poison. I accompanied a detective, Womersley, to make inquiries of Bradmore, whose card had been found on the dead man’s body. Then I went home, alone. As I reached the spot at which Alfred Jakyn fell, I saw a piece of twisted paper lying in the gutter where he’d lain. I picked it up and took it to my room---it was the piece of paper I’ve just shown you.”

He paused, as if expecting Lady Cheale to speak. But Lady Cheale said nothing; she was watching him, steadily, expectantly. And Jennison went on, in the same level tones, watching her as steadily as she watched him.

“I saw that the handwriting was a woman’s, and I felt certain the piece of paper had been given to Alfred Jakyn by some woman. But I kept the knowledge to myself. I said nothing of my discovery to the police; I said nothing about it when I gave evidence at the inquest. Lady Cheale---if it’s any relief to you, there isn’t a soul in the world knows that I found and that I have that paper---written by you!”

A whisper came from Lady Cheale’s compressed lips.

“No one?”

“No one!” assented Jennison. “As I say, not a soul in the world! It’s never been out of my possession; nobody’s seen it; I’ve never mentioned it to anybody: nobody has the least suspicion that I have it, or that there was ever such a document for anybody to have! Get that firmly impressed on your mind, Lady Cheale. But---how did I connect you with it? Because this is a much smaller world than people think! On the evening of the inquest, Lady Cheale, a portrait of Alfred Jakyn appeared in one or two of the evening newspapers. I handed one such paper to the barmaid of the Cat and Bagpipe: she immediately exclaimed that the man whose portrait was there had been in her saloon bar on Monday night, with a lady. I showed no surprise: I let her talk. She described the lady; she gave me the facts. When I left her, I’d put two-and-two together, and I went across to the Euston Hotel. Alfred Jakyn had put up there---and I believed that it was there that the note I had found had been handed to him.”

Once more Jennison paused. But Lady Cheale made no comment. The colour had come back to her cheeks again, but the unusual brightness of her eyes and her quick breathing betrayed her suppressed excitement. She was waiting to know all, and Jennison realised it.

“I went to the Euston Hotel,” he continued. “I examined the hotel note-paper in the stationery stands in the smoking-room. I saw at once that the note in my possession was written on a piece of paper that had been torn from a sheet of the hotel stuff: there was no doubt about that. Then I got hold of the waiter who had given evidence at the inquest as to Alfred Jakyn having been in the smoking-room from about nine-thirty to close on ten that Monday night. He told me, privately, of certain facts. A lady was writing at a table when Alfred Jakyn entered; an elderly gentleman sat near, reading a periodical: the waiter left Alfred Jakyn with these two while he went to get him a drink. When he returned, the lady and elderly gentleman had gone. Alfred Jakyn seemed excited, or perturbed; he wandered about the room; he seemed to be thinking; finally he consulted a piece of paper which he took from his pocket, and just before ten he went hurriedly away. Now, Lady Cheale, it didn’t take many minutes to find out who the elderly gentleman and the lady were, and I found out. Sir John Cheale and Lady Cheale, of Cheale Court. You, Lady Cheale, and your husband . . . who probably suspects nothing!”

Jennison threw a peculiar emphasis on his last words, and he saw Lady Cheale start and the colour deepen in her cheeks. She gave Jennison an angry look.

“Leave Sir John Cheale out of it!” she said.

“With pleasure,” answered Jennison. “I hope he may never come into it. But---what have you to say to me, Lady Cheale? It was you, you know, who wrote that note to Alfred Jakyn; you who either slipped it into his hand or dropped it near him as you left the smoking-room; you who met him a short time afterwards at the west corner of Endsleigh Gardens; you who went with him into the saloon-bar of the Cat and Bagpipe. Now why?”

“What’s that got to do with you?” demanded Lady Cheale. “What business is it of yours? What----”

Jennison stopped her with a look and tapped the breast of his smart overcoat.

“Don’t forget that I’ve got that bit of paper in here, Lady Cheale!” he said warningly. “If I hand it over to the police----”

Lady Cheale’s momentary flash of anger changed to a look of sullenness.

“What?” she asked resentfully.

“Goodness knows!” answered Jennison, with a deep sigh. “But that chap Womersley, who has this case in hand, and who firmly believes that Alfred Jakyn was murdered, by poison, is one of those fellows who don’t allow sentiment to interfere with their professional duties. Hard chap! I think. He’s not like me. I’d hate to cause pain or annoyance to a lady. Especially,” he added, with a grimace and a bow, “to a young and charming one, Lady Cheale!”

Lady Cheale’s lips curled.

“How can I rely on your word that you’ve never told any one of this?” she asked, almost contemptuously. “I mean---of that note?”

“You can believe me or not, as you please,” retorted Jennison, quietly. “But it’s a positive fact that I haven’t. I repeat---nobody knows anything about it!”

Lady Cheale looked down on the path on which they were standing, and began to make holes in its gravelly surface with the point of her walking-stick. She was evidently thinking, and Jennison knew she was, and he waited.

“Well,” she said at last, still looking down, “I did meet Alfred Jakyn. I knew him---some time ago. I wanted to discuss a business matter with him---privately. But I know nothing whatever about the cause of his death---nothing! And I do not want my name to be dragged into any proceedings. I don’t want to be brought into the affair at all!”

“Of course not, Lady Cheale!” said Jennison heartily. “Of course not! That’s precisely why I came down here to see you. Remember, you only could be drawn in through me!”

“That barmaid?” suggested Lady Cheale.

“She knows nothing of the note---and never will,” asserted Jennison. “And it’s a million to one against her ever setting eyes on you again!”

“The waiter?” she asked.

“He, too, knows nothing of the note,” replied Jennison. “And, of course, he hasn’t the slightest suspicion that anything occurred between you and Alfred Jakyn. The note, Lady Cheale, the note is the thing! And that it exists at all will never be known to anybody if----”

Jennison stopped. He knew now, had known ever since an early stage of the conversation, what he was really after, but he had still some diffidence that was really akin to a constitutional delicacy of feeling in actually saying it.

“If---what?” asked Lady Cheale.

“Well, if---if you and I could come to an understanding---terms, you know,” he answered. “It’s a---a secret! And secrets are worth---something!”

Lady Cheale gave him a calm, searching look.

“You want money?” she asked quietly.

“I could do with money,” answered Jennison. Then, gathering courage, he added. “You see, Lady Cheale, it’s this way. I’m a clerk. A clerk in a London warehouse---been there years---dull, dreary years! In reality, though I’m pretty well paid, as things go, I hate it! I want adventure! I want to travel, to see things---abroad----”

Lady Cheale interrupted him, almost eagerly.

“You’d go abroad? if you had money?”

“I would do!” exclaimed Jennison.

“At once?”

“As soon as---yes, it would be at once. Immediately---nothing to stop me.”

Lady Cheale hesitated a moment and then took a step nearer to Jennison.

“Listen!” she said. “If I give you money, will you hand over that piece of paper to me, and give me your solemn word that you’ll never speak a word of all this as long as you live?”

“I will!” exclaimed Jennison. “Honour bright!”

“What part of the world are you thinking of?” asked Lady Cheale.

“Oh!” said Jennison, almost rapturously. “If you want to know that---Italy! The fact is, Lady Cheale, I’m poetic! If I could have a year or two in Italy, and perhaps in Greece----”

“Listen to me again,” said Lady Cheale. “On the conditions I’ve laid down, I’ll find you in money. You give me that paper, you hold your tongue, and you leave England at once. I’ll give you a thousand pounds in cash, and I’ll send you another thousand on hearing from you that you have an address in, say, Rome.”

“Done!---and immensely, greatly obliged to you, Lady Cheale,” exclaimed Jennison. “I hope, I sincerely hope, you’ll feel I’ve done you some little service? I’ll keep my part of the bargain to the letter, and I assure you----”

“I don’t want any protestation, if you please,” interrupted Lady Cheale icily. “This is a business matter. Now, are you staying in Chester? Very well---to-morrow morning, about eleven o’clock, go into Bolland’s, the confectioners; everybody knows Bolland’s. Go upstairs to the tea-rooms and sit down in a quiet corner and order a cup of coffee. I shall come to you there---and that’s all!”

Before Jennison could say another word, she had turned, whistled to her dogs, and marched swiftly away. And Jennison watched her for a minute or two before he went off---and his first thought was not one of elation, but of regret, that Lady Cheale hadn’t said good-bye to him.

“She might have shaken hands with me!” he murmured, as he watched Lady Cheale’s graceful figure out of sight. “By George, sir, she’s a damn fine woman!---a prettier woman than I’d expected. And---two thousand pounds! Her own terms! Generous! And it means that she doesn’t want her name to come out, anyhow. Well, it won’t! Not me! with two thousand pounds and Italy and Greece in front. And all because of a scrap of paper!”

He walked back to Chester in a whirl of jumbled ideas. Of course, there was going to be no more warehouse; he’d chuck that without ever going back there; there’d be nothing to do but resign his post. And he’d take no further interest in the Cartwright Gardens affair; indeed, so that Womersley and the police couldn’t come worrying him about it, he’d leave his present lodgings and go elsewhere, somewhere in a more fashionable part, say a West End hotel or boarding-house, until he went abroad, and he’d forget to leave any address with his old landlady. Of course, he couldn’t go abroad immediately: he’d want an outfit, and he’d have to consider where to go first. Well, it was certainly an ill wind that blew nobody any good, and if that eventful Monday midnight had brought death, swift and sudden, to Alfred Jakyn, it had also brought good fortune to yours truly, Albert Jennison---rather! Two thousand of the best! The figure, fat, rotund, impressive, shaped itself before him in the midst of rose-tinted clouds all the way to Chester, and during the whole of the evening, and when he retired to bed, he dreamed of it.

Eleven o’clock next morning found Jennison in a quiet corner of the fashionable tea-shop which Lady Cheale had mentioned, and there, a few minutes later, Lady Cheale, very elegant in expensive furs, joined him. Everything about her manner that morning betokened a business-like attitude, and after a greeting which Jennison considered unnecessarily chilly, she went straight to the point.

“You have that note with you?” she demanded.

“Precisely so, Lady Cheale!” replied Jennison. “In my pocket-book, where it’s always been.”

“You can hand it to me in a few minutes, and I will give you the promised money, in bank-notes,” she said. “But first, a question or two.” She leaned nearer to him across the tea-tray which had just been put before her. “Can you tell me this---have the police, has that detective you spoke of yesterday afternoon, found out anything more about Alfred Jakyn?”

“Not to my knowledge,” declared Jennison promptly.

“You have heard nothing of that sort?”

“Nothing!”

“Another question. Do you know whether they have had any news of him, or concerning him, from New York?”

“I don’t know that, either.”

“I read in the papers that there was a bank draft for some thousands of dollars found in his suit-case, payable to an American bank in the city. Do you know if the police made any inquiries there?”

Jennison smiled, and lowered his voice, though, as a matter of fact, no one was near them.

“I don’t know!” he answered. “But I did!”

“You?” she exclaimed.

“Yes---out of curiosity. They knew nothing whatever about him.”

Lady Cheale hesitated a moment. Then she leaned still nearer.

“Do you know if the police have found out where he was between ten-thirty and eleven-thirty that Monday night?” she asked.

“No, by George!” exclaimed Jennison. “I don’t! I believe they’ve found out nothing---I’m sure they haven’t. I wish I knew that particular thing---where he was, at that time.”

“You!” she said. “You have nothing to do with it---now! You are to take no further interest in it---you’re to know nothing. Now, give me that paper!”

Jennison handed over the treasured scrap, and Lady Cheale having carefully examined it and put it in her bag, gave him an envelope full of crisp bank-notes.

“That is the first instalment I promised you,” she said. “Send me an address in Rome, and the second will be sent to you at once. And now---silence! That’s all---you’d better go away---I’m staying here awhile.”

Jennison felt himself dismissed. He had to go, and he saw that his polite adieux were not wanted. He turned and looked back when he had reached the door of the room---Lady Cheale was calmly pouring out her tea and had not even a glance for him.

“And yet I ain’t such a bad-looking fellow, either!” mused Jennison. “And I’ve done her a good turn! These high-and-mighties!---manners like icebergs. However, the money’s all right. And now for Italy---eh!”

He went back to his hotel, and in the privacy of his bedroom counted his bank-notes. Then he packed his suit-case, paid his bill, and went away. Instead of going straight back to London, he travelled across country to his native place, and spent a day or two there, swaggering. He told all and sundry that he had just had a stroke of luck---done a wonderful deal---business deal---but nobody got any particulars from him. Eventually he started out for London again---and within five minutes of getting into his express found himself staring at two big black headlines in the morning newspaper:

      The Cartwright Gardens Mystery:
      Sensational Development!

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