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8: The American Cablegram

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Author Topic: 8: The American Cablegram  (Read 26 times)
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« on: May 19, 2023, 10:29:11 am »

IT was characteristic of Jennison that before reading further he glanced at his fellow-passengers. There were only two of them: smart-looking, keen-faced men. Some indefinable quality in their appearance made him think them to be connected with the law---solicitors or barristers. Inspecting them more closely, his conviction was strengthened; in the rack above one man reposed one of those curious bags---this one coloured red---of the material called repp, in which barristers carry their wigs, gowns, and papers; on the seat by the side of the other was one of those long, narrow, leather valises known as brief bags. Jennison, as a commercial man, knew these things by sight; clearly, their owners were limbs of the law, and he looked them over more narrowly still. But neither took any notice of Jennison: each man was deep in his newspaper. And Jennison turned to his, and beneath the staring headlines which had already caught his attention, read what followed, in bold conspicuous type, double-leaded, and here and there set in capitals or italics:

“We have received the following communication from the authorities at Scotland Yard, with a request to give it a prominent place in our issue of this morning:

‘The Commissioner of Police received, on Monday, by cable from New York, a request from the President of the Western Lands Development Corporation of Northern America to cable him at once information as to the details in the case of Alfred Jakyn, who died suddenly in Cartwright Gardens, London, about midnight, on October 25, and whose death is believed to have been caused by poison. This information was duly cabled to the inquirer, and the following reply has just been received:

‘ “President, Western Lands Development Corporation of Northern America, to Commissioner of Police, New Scotland Yard, London. Your information concerning death of Alfred Jakyn duly received. Jakyn was sent over to London by us on secret financial mission of utmost importance. We believe him to have been murdered in order to prevent this being carried out or even begun. We consider critical questions to be settled are:---where was he, and with what person or persons, between ten o’clock and eleven forty-five o’clock on evening of his death? We will pay five thousand pounds to any one giving accurate information to your police on these points. Please communicate this offer to every principal London and English Provincial newspaper. Our accredited representative leaves on personal investigation by to-day’s boat for Southampton.” ’

“Any person or persons able to give information on the points referred to above should communicate personally with the authorities at New Scotland Yard, or at any Police Station.”

Jennison read all this over two or three times, considering it. One part of it stood out from all the rest---to him. We will pay five thousand pounds to any one giving accurate information to your police!---well, he was the person, he only, who could give such information. But he already had a thousand pounds in his pocket, received on account from Lady Cheale, who was to send him another thousand. He began to wonder which would be the most profitable cow to milk---Lady Cheale, who, to be sure, was the wife of an enormously wealthy man, a millionaire or a multi-millionaire, and who, obviously enough, had some reason for keeping her name out of this affair, or this American financial company with the long name? Yet, if he approached the police with the idea of getting the five thousand pounds reward, could he tell enough? Would they, or this chap who was already on the Atlantic on his way to make personal investigation, consider his information sufficient? For, after all, he said to himself, he knew a lot, but he didn’t know everything---worse luck! He knew where Alfred Jakyn was between ten o’clock and ten-thirty: he was with Lady Cheale at the ‘Cat and Bagpipe.’ But where was he between ten-thirty and eleven-thirty? If he only knew that. . . . One of his fellow-passengers threw down his paper and glanced at the other.

“Queer development in that Cartwright Gardens affair!” he remarked. “This American company seems remarkably keen about getting a solution. A reward like that---five thousand pounds---ought to bring somebody forward.”

But the other man shook his head.

“Doubtful!” he said. “If Jakyn really was poisoned---murdered---for the reason they suggest in their cablegram, it would almost certainly be done in such a fashion that no one but the people concerned would know anything of it.”

“Just so, but he must have been somewhere---somewhere in London---between the times mentioned,” replied the first man. “I read the account of the inquest carefully, for it’s a deeply interesting case. Alfred Jakyn left the Euston Hotel smoking-room just before ten o’clock, according to the evidence of the waiter on duty in that room. Nothing more is known of him until he falls dead in Cartwright Gardens an hour and three-quarters or so later. He must have been somewhere in the interval!”

“I, too, read the evidence,” answered the second man. “The waiter said that Jakyn left the smoking-room; he didn’t say that he left the hotel. Jakyn may have gone to another part of the hotel to meet somebody with whom he’d an appointment. Hotels are favourite places for business meetings. Why haven’t the police made some inquiry as to his movements in the hotel?”

“They may have, for anything we know,” observed the first man. “Anyhow, it’s certain he was outside the hotel, and, according to the evidence of the witness who saw him fall and die, marching right away from it, just before midnight. No!---I think he left the hotel when he left the smoking-room. And in any case, the senders of the cablegram have got the bull by the horns---the thing to be discovered is---where and with whom was Alfred Jakyn between ten and eleven forty-five that evening? That’s it!”

“More may come out at the adjourned inquest,” remarked the second man. “That’s about due, I think.”

“It was yesterday,” said the first man, nodding towards his paper. “It’s in this paper---you’ll find it in yours. Nothing much---except that the experts are convinced that the man was poisoned, only they’re not quite certain by what. Another adjournment, of course.”

The second man picked up his own newspaper and began to search. So, too, after a while did Jennison. The adjourned inquest! He had completely forgotten that: he had fully meant to attend it. But he found, on turning to the report, that he had not missed much. The proceedings had been brief, and entirely confined to hearing some cautious, guarded statements, or, more strictly speaking, suggestions or theories, by a Home Office analyst, who said that he and his colleagues were satisfied that Alfred Jakyn died from the effects of poison, but what poison, and when administered, they were not yet prepared to say.

“There’s one thing very certain, to my mind, in this case,” suddenly remarked the man who had just picked up the paper to read the account of the adjourned inquest for himself. “And it’s this---whoever poisoned Alfred Jakyn was no ordinary criminal! He’s an adept at this sort of thing! You can see---for all the scientific jargon he talked---that this Home Office expert is puzzled. So, no doubt, are his associates. Otherwise, they’d say, straight out, what it was.”

“Some poison they’re not familiar with, either in nature or effect,” observed the other. “I dare say there are plenty that our best men don’t know of. Queer case altogether---but there must be people in London who saw Alfred Jakyn between ten and eleven forty-five that evening---must!”

Jennison listened to all this and wondered what his fellow-passengers would say if he told them all he knew. It was a temptation to manifest his importance and his cleverness, but he had no difficulty in withstanding it; silence and secretiveness might mean a fortune, and certainly meant at least another thousand. He sat in his corner planning and scheming, and by the time his train ran into the London terminus he had settled his future, and immediate, action. The American cablegram, of course, had altered everything, and now he was either going to have that five thousand pounds out of its senders, or he was going to have it from Lady Cheale.

The most careful and astute of schemers is liable to forget some small point in his plottings, and Jennison, crafty as he was, overlooked a certain thing completely. As soon as he reached London he ought to have gone straight to the Cat and Bagpipe and seen Miss Chrissie Walker. But he forgot Chrissie. Instead of repairing to her presence, he left his suit-case in the luggage office, hired a taxi-cab, and drove down to the city warehouse in which he had spent so many weary days. The manager stared at him: there was a new air about Jennison.

“Hallo!” said the manager. “Got it over?”

Jennison wondered for half a minute what his questioner meant. Then he remembered the lump on his forehead.

“Not yet,” he answered. “There’s some complication---the doctor says it’ll have to be put off a bit. No---I came down to tell you---well, that I’m not coming back!”

“Not coming back?” exclaimed the manager. “Chucking your job? a good job like that! What’s this mean?”

“Fact is,” replied Jennison, lying glibly now that he had fairly addressed himself to the task, “I’ve come into money. Unexpected, you know---death of distant relation.”

“Oh!” said the manager. “Lucky chap! Much?”

“Fair lot, thank you,” answered Jennison. “Enough to chuck this, anyhow!”

“Well,” observed the manager, “you know best. But you were about due for another rise, you know. And a job like this---a permanenc---eh? However, as I say, you’re best judge. Don’t go making ducks and drakes of your money now!”

“You bet!” said Jennison. “I know how to take care of money as well as anybody. Ought to!---after making a small screw go as far as I’ve done, all these years! No! I shan’t make ducks and drakes of it, not I!”

“What are you going to do?” asked the manager inquisitively.

“I’m going to travel,” declared Jennison. “Improve my mind, you know. I’m leaving England at once. France first, I think---get a knowledge of the language and of commercial matters across there. Then, if I come back, I might go in for something big.”

“Well, good luck!” said the manager. “Of course, if you’re going in for that sort of thing---languages, foreign correspondence, and so on---you might keep in touch with us. That line’s always useful.”

Jennison said he’d certainly consider that, if necessary, in the future. He collected a few things of his own left in his desk, said farewell to his fellow-clerks, and went away. And from the city he drove off to Cartwright Gardens, and there told his landlady another tale, varying somewhat from that he had spun to the manager. The legacy from a relation figured in it, but now he was going to get married and take up his residence at a nice little place in the country, near his native village, which formed part of the legacy. He gave the landlady a couple of pounds in lieu of a week’s notice, and proceeded to pack his belongings. That did not occupy much of his time, for they were few, and went easily into a couple of old trunks. And with these Jennison presently made his departure from Cartwright Gardens, saying to himself as he drove away that it wouldn’t bother him greatly if he never stuck his face inside that dreary neighbourhood again.

He was working on his plan now, and in pursuance of it he went back to the railway station where he had deposited his suit-case, and reclaiming it and adding it to his trunks, bade the driver take him to a certain depository in the Tottenham Court Road district. At that he left the trunks, saying that he was going abroad for a time, and wished them stored. That accomplished, he repaired to a smart outfitting shop, purchased another suit-case, and stored in it a stock of necessaries in the way of linen, footwear, neckwear, and the like. He was already wearing his best suit, almost brand-new, a new overcoat, and a new hat; he knew himself to be thoroughly presentable. And early in the afternoon he drove up, accompanied by his two suit-cases, to the Great Western Hotel, at Paddington (carefully chosen for reasons which he had resolved on after much thought), and booked a room in the name of Arthur Jennings.

Jennison stayed no longer in that room than was necessary to unpack his suit-cases and make things tidy. He went down to the smoking-room when this was done, and, seating himself at a writing-table, gave himself up to serious consideration of an idea that had been simmering in his brain all the morning. After some time and much cogitation, during which he scribbled meaningless diagrams on the blotting-pad before him, he came to a decision and wrote the following letter:

“Dear Madam,---You have no doubt already seen the paragraph in the newspapers relating to the affair which you and I recently discussed. I think you will admit that the offer made in that announcement makes a considerable difference as regards the arrangements I made with you. In view of the much more advantageous terms therein made, I think you will agree that it would pay me far better to place my services at the disposal of these people than remain tied to the terms settled between you and me. Of course, if I had known that these people were going to offer such handsome terms, I should have placed my information before them instead of before you. I feel sure, however, that you will not wish to stand in my light, and that you will be anxious to discuss fresh terms with me. This, of course, must be done at once, as there is no time to be lost. I therefore respectfully suggest that (as you will receive this letter early to-morrow morning) you should come up to town immediately on receipt of it, and meet me. I will be waiting at the principal bookstall at Paddington Railway Station at six o’clock sharp to-morrow evening, when I shall expect the honour of seeing you. It will be well, however, to send me a telegram as soon as you get this, addressed to me at Spring Street P.O., London, W., saying if you are coming or not. I may remark that delay will be dangerous, as the matter must be attended to at once.”

Jennison (who had carefully cut off the heading of the hotel note-paper, and had provided himself with a plain envelope) addressed this epistle---unsigned---to Lady Cheale, at Cheale Court, Chester, and took it himself to the branch post office close by the hotel. He there ascertained that it would be delivered by the first post next morning, and then dropped it into the box with something of the feeling enjoyed by a gambler who flings down a master card. And shortly before noon next day, calling at that same post office, he was handed a telegram, the message part of which contained but one word:


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