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11: Mystery of Miss Walker

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Author Topic: 11: Mystery of Miss Walker  (Read 25 times)
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« on: May 19, 2023, 11:43:42 am »

HAD Jennison been less absorbed in his own affairs he would have remembered, long before he stepped into the Sixpenny Surgery, that the American cablegram, addressed by its sender to Scotland Yard, and reprinted in every newspaper in London, and by many in the provinces, must needs have been read, and with avid interest, by several hundreds of thousands of people. He might have reflected, too, that out of that vast mass of readers, some few, at any rate, had, or fancied they had, a chance of establishing a claim to the reward of five thousand pounds. But he had no such remembrance, nor any such reflection: a born egoist, he went on his own way, never pausing to speculate on what somebody else might be doing. And thus absorbed, he completely forgot Miss Chrissie Walker.

But Chrissie had not forgotten Jennison, nor their conversation, nor its subject. Not a devourer of newspapers at any time, she took a sort of duty look at the organ supplied to the Cat and Bagpipe every morning; she had to know a bit about the day’s news, she opined, in order to be able to talk to customers. And in common with the hundreds of thousands of folk above-mentioned, she saw the announcement of the President of the Western Lands, and at once realised that, unlike most of her fellow-readers, she had something to tell. It was not much, no doubt, but it was something, and it was---definite. She had seen Alfred Jakyn on the evening of his mysterious death. She could point to the very seat in which he had sat in the saloon bar of the Cat and Bagpipe. She could testify as to his companions. She was prepared to identify that companion. She could swear---positively---to the hour at which Alfred Jakyn walked into the Cat and Bagpipe, and the hour at which he walked out. All that, in her opinion, was something. But---was it worth anything? She determined to ask Jennison about that; Jennison, she believed, was a smart young fellow, a clever young fellow, who could write real poetry. And he was in the City---where all the brains are. Of course!---Jennison would know.

But Jennison did not come to the Cat and Bagpipe. As a rule, he showed up there pretty nearly every night: came and sat on a stool at the bar, drank his bitter beer, smoked his pipe, chatted---all friendly-like. He had not been for some days, however, when Chrissie read the tempting announcement, and he did not come that day, nor the next. Perhaps he was ill; perhaps he was away on business; anyway, she was not going to wait for ever. And at noon on the third day, when a youthful customer, whom she knew to be a junior clerk in a solicitor’s office close by, came in for a mouthful of bread and cheese and a half-pint of ale, Chrissie, alone in the bar with him, began to fish for information.

“You wouldn’t charge me anything, George, would you, for a bit of advice?” she asked, leaning confidentially across the counter. “You wouldn’t be sending me a long bill, with six and eightpence at the bottom?”

“No fear, old thing!” responded George, graciously. “Anything that I can do---free gratis, to you. And what might it be, now? Not a case of breach of promise, I hope? Impossible!---in your case, old thing.”

“I ain’t even engaged,” replied Chrissie. “No hurry to be, either, thank you. No!---it’s this. Supposing, now, you happened to know something---not much, you know, George, but just a little thing---that you knew the police were very anxious to know, what would you do? Supposing, of course, it was you?”

“Um!” replied George, composing his features to the semblance of wisdom. “What should I do if I knew something that I knew the police wanted to know? Um! Just so! Well, I think I should proceed with caution! Like this, for instance. I should first consider what would be the result if I told the police. You wouldn’t like to give a friend away, old thing!”

“Oh, it wouldn’t be giving a friend away,” declared Chrissie. “I wouldn’t think of such a thing, of course. Oh, no, nothing like that! Just telling the police a mere---well, a mere fact.”

“In that case, I should tell ’em,” said George oracularly. “In fact, as a---er, as a member of the community---I could put it in legal parlance, only you wouldn’t understand it---you’re bound to assist the police by any and every means in your power. If you know something that relates to what we’ll call the administration of justice, you’re bound to declare it. Public service, old thing!”

“Then would you tell the first policeman you see?” asked Chrissie.

“Decidedly not, old thing!” exclaimed George. “I should go to headquarters, to a responsible official, or to the nearest police station. Secret communication, old thing!---private and confidential you know.”

“That’s what I want---private and confidential,” said Chrissie musingly. “They wouldn’t tell, then?”

“Anything of a strictly confidential nature would be regarded as---as strictly confidential,” replied George. “Of course, if you want your confidence respected, there’s nothing like coming to one of us legal practitioners. You wouldn’t like to confide in me, old thing?”

But Chrissie thought not: it was one of those things, she said, that wanted thinking about; nevertheless, if she required more advice, she’d certainly apply to George for it.

“Couldn’t come to a better man, old thing!” said George. “Of course, if it’s beyond my power---I don’t say that it is, nor that it isn’t---but if it’s a point of law, we can fix you up at our shop, and I’ll see you ain’t charged, either---leave it to me. But one point, old thing---in all matters connected with law and police, bear this in mind---go slow! Count twenty! Take the advice of an old stager---a month’s reflection is better than a day’s haste!”

Chrissie, however, had no mind to reflect for a month, nor for a day. She had two hours’ liberty every afternoon, and on the very day on which she asked George’s advice, she set forth from the Cat and Bagpipe in her best bib-and-tucker, and went round to the nearest police station, which happened to be that whereat Womersley, the detective, was temporarily engaged, and to which the unravelling of the Cartwright Gardens mystery had been originally consigned. And there she soon found herself closeted with a uniformed official who, being well acquainted with all the taverns of the neighbourhood, recognised her as soon as she walked in.

“And what can we do for you, Miss Chrissie?” he inquired good-humouredly. “You haven’t come to give yourself up, eh?”

Chrissie treated her interrogator, whom she knew well enough by sight, to a confidential smile.

“It’s about that Cartwright Gardens affair, Mr. Brown,” she answered. “There’s a piece in this paper about it---a reward. Five thousand pounds! And----”

“Good Lord! do you know anything about it?” exclaimed the police official, genuinely surprised. He took the paper from his visitor’s hand, and glanced at the announcement. “Yes,” he continued. “I saw that. But---do you know anything?”

“I know something,” replied Chrissie. “It’s like this, Mr. Brown. I saw Alfred Jakyn the evening that he dropped dead in Cartwright Gardens!”

“You did?” said Mr. Brown. “Where? When?”

“At our place---the Cat and Bagpipe,” answered Chrissie. She went on to tell what she had already told Jennison, and the official listened intently. “I could identify the lady, if I saw her again,” she concluded. “I took her all in! She was a lady, and in evening dress, too.”

Mr. Brown considered matters. Here, at any rate, was information entirely new to the police. And he was so busy in speculating on its probable worth that he forgot to ask his visitor a highly important question---if she had already told this news to any other person?

“I wish Womersley had been in,” he remarked. “He’s the detective that’s at work on this Alfred Jakyn case. But I’ll tell you what---he’ll be back here about six o’clock, and I’ll send him round to you. You’ll be in?”

“I go on duty at six o’clock,” replied Chrissie. “It’s always pretty quiet up to seven---tell him to come round as soon after six as he can.”

Mr. Brown promised that Womersley should be at the Cat and Bagpipe by half-past six at the latest, and after a little more conversation he saw Miss Walker to the door of the police station, and watched her go away up the street. It was then a quarter to five o’clock in the afternoon . . . and from that moment Miss Walker completely disappeared.

Womersley walked into the police station at six o’clock, and Brown told him of the barmaid’s visit and her information.

“She’s absolutely positive about the man being Alfred Jakyn,” said Brown. “And she’d evidently taken close stock of him and his companion. So----”

“Why the deuce couldn’t she have come round long since?” interrupted Womersley irascibly. “She must have known this ever since she saw that paragraph in the newspapers, and that’s days ago! Days wasted! There’s been some reason why she didn’t come---somebody’s persuaded her to keep quiet.”

Brown shook his head.

“She said nothing of that,” he remarked. “And I don’t think anybody has. My idea is that she’s just---waited.”

“Waited for---what?” sneered Womersley. “Till the spirit moved her? And if it’s that reward she’s after---as no doubt it is---why didn’t she come three days ago, when the announcement first appeared? There’s something in this that she hasn’t told---she’s got some confidant, or something of that sort, and probably came here as a feeler.”

“Oh, well!” said Brown, puzzled by Womersley’s suspicions. “I suppose you’ll step round there and see her?”

“Oh, I’ll step round,” assented the detective. “Somewhere close to Endsleigh Gardens, isn’t it? Hang it! if she’d only come at once, as soon as she saw that photograph, one might have made some use of her information about Jakyn’s companion! Now---all this time lost!”

He went out grumbling, and grumbled all the way to the Cat and Bagpipe. For Womersley, so far, had had no luck in this Cartwright Gardens affair, and he was vexed with everything connected with it, and with himself. He could make nothing of this job. Nobody could tell him anything fresh. He had talked to Bradmore and come away no wiser. He had interviewed Miss Belyna Jakyn and got nothing out of her. He had gone to the length of waylaying Dr. Syphax’s one domestic servant, for the purpose of ascertaining from her that Belyna spoke the truth when she said that no other members of the family than herself were in the house when Alfred Jakyn called there. He had traced men with whom Alfred Jakyn had travelled from New York to Liverpool; he had worked out his movements from Liverpool to the Euston Hotel. Nothing had come of all this; not the ghost of a clue. And he was particularly vexed with the Home Office experts; they gave him no help. They said that Alfred Jakyn had been poisoned---but they did not know, and weren’t certain, that they ever could know by what particular poison. They were strongly of the impression---belief, if he liked---that the poison had been administered about an hour before death took place, but weren’t certain about that; there were limits, sarcastically remarked one of them, to even their knowledge of toxicology. And Womersley wasn’t getting on at all, and his professional spirit was affronted; he had ambition, and wished to rise, and here was just the sort of case he had always wanted, and he was up against a blank wall.

“If this confounded barmaid had only come to me at once,” he growled as he turned into the side street wherein stood the Cat and Bagpipe, “I might have traced that woman! But with all this time gone----”

He walked into the saloon bar, and found it empty; there was no one behind the counter, and no customers in the cheery, comfortable room. But at the sound of Womersley’s entrance, a man’s face showed itself at an inner door---a man who had discarded his coat and turned up the cuffs of his smart white linen shirt, and who, from his general attire and air of prosperity, the detective took to be the landlord.

“Evening, sir!” said this individual. “What can I do for you, sir?”

Womersley went up to the counter.

“Have you a Miss Walker here?” he asked bluntly. “Miss Chrissie Walker?”

The man behind the counter pulled a face.

“We have, sir---er, as I should say, we had!” he answered. “And why I say had is that she ought to be on duty now, and isn’t, as you can see, which is a confoundedly awkward thing for me, for I’m short-handed in the other parts of the house, and got my missis poorly in bed, too. Miss Walker went out this afternoon, for her usual time off, and she’s never come back! Ought to ha’ been in by six, at the latest---but no sign of her. You’re wanting her? Anything I can do?”

Womersley pulled out his professional card, and laid it on the counter. But the landlord nodded before glancing at it.

“Oh, I know you, Mr. Womersley!” he said. “I’ve seen you a time or two. You’ve forgotten me, no doubt, but I was on the jury at that inquest on Alfred Jakyn.”

Womersley had been considering where he had seen the landlord before; now he remembered, and with an air of confidence he drew a stool up to the bar and perched himself on it.

“To be sure!” he exclaimed. “I thought I knew your face. Well, it’s about that very case that I want to see Miss Walker. She called at the police station this afternoon when I was out, and told Brown, who was in charge there, that she knew something about the Jakyn affair. So I came round to hear what she’s got to tell---though, as a matter of fact, she told Brown.”

“Good heavens, you don’t mean to say that!” exclaimed the landlord. “She? Why, what on earth does she know about it? Never said a word to me, on my life. What did she tell Brown?”

Womersley repeated what Brown had told him; the landlord listened open-mouthed, and full of astonishment. But at the end he nodded, meaningly.

“Ah!” he said. “Um! That may explain something. Do you remember a young fellow who gave evidence at that inquest---Jennison?”

“Of course!” said Womersley. “That’s the chap who saw Jakyn collapse in Cartwright Gardens. He lives there---he saw Jakyn out of his window.”

“Just so,” agreed the landlord. “Well, now that I’m reminded of it, I saw Jennison in here one night---of a week or so ago---talking to Miss Walker, confidential-like. He’s a regular customer here---of an evening---so I thought nothing of it. But now---I wonder if she told him about this?”

Womersley thought it uncommonly likely, but kept his thought to himself. He waited a little while to see if Miss Walker came in, but as she had not returned at the end of half an hour, he went away, telling the landlord that he’d look in later in the evening. Once outside he walked straight to Cartwright Gardens and there, at the scene of Alfred Jakyn’s mysterious death, knocked at the door of the house in which Jennison had lodged. And as he waited for some response, he thought about Jennison. Somehow, he had always had a suspicion about that young gentleman---a suspicion that Jennison had not told all that he might have told. He remembered now that Jennison had been very keen about going with him to see Bradmore, that he had poked his nose in amongst the newspaper reporters, that . . .

The door opened---a few inches. A half-grown, slatternly, down-at-heel girl, a typical London lower-class lodging-house slavey looked out on him. No, the missis wasn’t in; she was out. Mr. Jennison? Oh, no, he wasn’t in either, he didn’t live there now; he’d gone away. No, she didn’t know where he’d gone, but he’d took all his things with him.

Womersley went back to the Cat and Bagpipe. He was certain by that time that the barmaid had told Jennison what she knew about Alfred Jakyn. But what did Jennison know? And had he told her what he knew? If she had returned. . . .

But when Womersley looked into the saloon bar for the second time, the landlord shook his head. Miss Chrissie Walker had vanished---from his ken, at any rate.

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