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12: Mystery of the Young Waiter

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Author Topic: 12: Mystery of the Young Waiter  (Read 26 times)
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« on: May 19, 2023, 12:26:27 pm »

“NOT a sign, nor a sound!” said the landlord. “Ain’t so much as showed her nose at the door! Queer! I can’t make it out, I can’t! If there was any reason----”

He paused, looking at his visitor with an air of helpfulness, mingled with a sort of wonder, as if he had an idea in his mind that Womersley might know something. But Womersley was wanting information.

“You don’t know of anything?” he asked.

“Nothing!” said the landlord. “Nothing!”

“Money all right?” inquired Womersley, with a significant glance at the cash register.

“Oh, yes!” exclaimed the landlord. “Nothing of that sort, my boy! Perfectly honest young woman---been with me six months---no complaints of any sort to make against her---none!”

“Any love affairs?” asked Womersley. “Elopement---eh?”

“None as I know of,” said the landlord. “Very straight, nice girl---friendly, chatty, and so on with the boys, but hadn’t any particular one, I believe. No!---can’t think of any reason why she should go off like this. She always seemed well satisfied, here.”

“London girl?” inquired the detective.

“She was not!” replied the landlord. “No---she came to me from Buckinghamshire; Aylesbury. People live there, I fancy. But of course we can find out.”

“If she doesn’t come in to-night,” said Womersley, “you’d better go through anything she’s left behind---letters, and that sort of thing---and see if you can find any address you could write to. I’ll look round in the morning.”

He was going off with no more than a nod, but the landlord called him back.

“Half a minute!” said the landlord. He gave Womersley a keen, knowing look. “What’s your opinion of it, now?” he asked confidentially. “Do you think, now, between ourselves, it’s anything to do with her going round to the police station? Because---well, there it is! She goes there, tells one of your people something---and disappears---clean! Queer, I call it! Now, what do you think?”

“Can’t say!” replied Womersley curtly. “Nothing to go on---yet. As I said just now---I’ll look in to-morrow, early.”

But it was with no expectation of hearing anything definite that he returned to the Cat and Bagpipe next morning, and he felt no surprise and made no comment when the landlord told him that Miss Chrissie Walker was still missing. The landlord wanted to discuss things more thoroughly, with a view to action, but Womersley bade him wait. Womersley felt that Jennison had something to do with the barmaid’s disappearance; if he could only get hold of Jennison, he said to himself, he would soon get hold of the girl. And once more he went round to Cartwright Gardens, and this time Jennison’s old landlady was in, and quite ready to talk. She poured out all that Jennison had told her when he left.

“Come into money, going to get married, and live in the country, was he?” said Womersley. “And who was he going to marry, and where was he going to live?---did he tell you?”

“Which he did not!” answered the landlady. “He was all in a hurry, like. You see, he’d been away for some days, and he came back sudden, and took me all unawares, and just told me what I’ve told you, and away he went again. And, of course, I haven’t seen him since.”

“Do you know where he was employed?” asked Womersley.

The landlady knew, and gave him the address of the City warehouse which Jennison had left so unceremoniously. And thither Womersley betook himself, and saw the manager, and presently discovered that Jennison had told one tale in the City and another in Cartwright Gardens, and his suspicions deepened and his detective instinct began to awake.

“Oh!---come into money and was going to travel on the Continent, was he?” he remarked. “Um! I suppose you haven’t seen him since---you, or any of your clerks?”

The manager replied that he’d neither seen Jennison, nor heard of him since he left the firm’s employ. He went to inquire if any of Jennison’s old associates had news of him, and presently came back with a strange-looking youth, who eyed Womersley with curiosity.

“Nobody’s seen him since he left here,” reported the manager, “but this young man says he knows something about him that he thought a bit strange at the time.”

Womersley turned on the young clerk; the young clerk grinned knowingly.

“Well?” said Womersley. “What do you know?”

“You’re a detective, aren’t you?” asked the young clerk. “Just so!---I saw your name in connection with that Jakyn case, in which Jennison gave evidence. You found a draft, or a cheque, or something of that sort, amongst Jakyn’s effects when you examined them at the Euston Hotel, didn’t you?”

“Well?” assented Womersley, alert to new possibilities. “And what of it?”

“It was on the Equitable Trust of New York---London Branch, in King William Street, wasn’t it?” continued the clerk. “Just so. Well, a few days after the inquest, I saw Jennison coming out of the Equitable Trust in King William Street. That was during lunch-time---I was having a stroll round there.”

Womersley, in spite of his training and his natural reserve, could scarcely repress a start of astonishment on hearing this.

“You did,” he exclaimed. “Then---did you speak to him? Did you ask him what he was doing there?”

“I didn’t do either,” replied the clerk. “He seemed to be in a hurry---shot off as soon as he came out. And---well, I wasn’t on sufficiently friendly terms with Jennison to ask him questions of---of a private nature. Only, I thought it rather an odd thing that he should have been to the very bank that was mentioned in your evidence.”

Womersley thought so, too, and he went away from the warehouse wondering what Jennison had been up to---everything pointed to some underhand business on Jennison’s part. He went round to the Equitable Trust office in King William Street and made inquiry. Yes, Jennison had certainly been there---to ask if they could give him any information about Alfred Jakyn. That must have been the very day after the opening of the inquest on Alfred Jakyn. They had no information to give him---and he hadn’t been back since.

Womersley left the bank wondering why Jennison had ever gone there at all. But he was by this time absolutely certain that Jennison was playing some queer and deep game in connection with the Cartwright Gardens affair. The thought nettled him. He had viewed Jennison, at first, as a bit of a fool. He had humoured him by allowing him to accompany him to Bradmore’s, believing that Jennison was just wanting to satisfy an idle, perhaps morbid curiosity. But he now felt that behind Jennison’s surface simplicity or stupidity there was a good deal of cunning, and that, either from the very beginning, or from some early point of this business, he had been playing a game of his own. And---what game? Had he told everything he knew, at the opening of the inquest? Had he told the truth about the actual facts of Alfred Jakyn’s collapse and death? Was he shielding anybody? Was there any one he could implicate, if he liked? Was somebody paying him to keep out of the way? It looked like that---Jennison had thrown up his job, left his old lodgings, told people that he’d come into money; said to one that he was going to travel, to another that he was going to get married. What was his game?---and who was in it, besides himself?

All this speculation led Womersley to go into the Alfred Jakyn case again from the beginning, and he spent a couple of hours that day in reading and re-reading the evidence given before the Coroner, the information, fragmentary enough, gathered since, and his own memoranda, which were few and inconclusive of anything. And in the end, he determined to start out on the whole thing once more, and to begin with he set off to see and re-question the smoking-room waiter at the Euston Hotel; he wanted to question him, with more attention to detail, about Alfred Jakyn’s movements just before he left the hotel on the evening of his death.

But Womersley was met by another tale of sudden and inexplicable disappearance. This particular waiter, a youth of nineteen or twenty, had never come to his work the previous evening, and had never been seen at the hotel since. According to the man whom Womersley saw, he should have come to his duties at half-past five, but he neither came, nor sent any excuse for his absence. Now, in the ordinary course of things, Womersley would have thought nothing of this---the lad might have been indisposed, and had no one by whom he could send a message. But when he remembered that the barmaid of the Cat and Bagpipe had mysteriously disappeared in the same neighbourhood, on the same day, and at about the same time, he became more suspicious than ever, and felt certain that the two disappearances, in some queer way, were related to each other.

“Do you know where this lad lives?” he asked his informant. “I’ve a particular reason for wanting to see him, at once.”

“Oh, I can tell you that!” replied the man. “He lives at a sort of club, up Camden Town, where a lot of young fellows of his sort live---residential club, they call it. Two or three of our waiters live there---cheaper than lodgings, they say, and better accommodation.”

Womersley took the precise address, and going off to the place, got hold of the club steward. And within a couple of minutes he knew that he was up against another mystery, as strange and unexplainable as that of the barmaid. For the man he wanted was not there, and had not been there the previous night nor at any time during the present day.

“I don’t know anything about him, nor where he is,” said the steward. “I saw him go out of here last evening, at his usual time, and I’ve never seen him since. He never came in last night---that I’m certain of.”

“Did he look as though he was going to his work at the hotel when he went out?” asked Womersley.

“Oh, yes! He’d his waiter’s clothes on---dress coat, white tie, and all that,” assented the steward. “He was a smart chap---particular about his get-up---always looked very spick and span. Yes, he just went out, as usual.”

“What was his time for coming in?” asked Womersley.

“Quarter to twelve,” said the steward. “I know he never came in last night, because I wanted to see him about his trying to get a job for a young friend of mine, and I looked out for him. He’s certainly not been in here since he went out.” Then he gave Womersley an inquiring look. “What’s the trouble?” he asked. “Is he in any?”

Womersley told the man enough to satisfy him, and went away, wondering. His methodical, matter-of-fact mind began to tabulate things; he visualised them as if they were set down before him in a schedule:

1.---Jennison, who had lodged at one house for several years, and worked for the same time at one warehouse, suddenly forsakes his lodgings and gives up his job, and vanishes.

2.---Chrissie Walker, whom Jennison knew, goes to the police station and gives certain information, and walks out and disappears.

3.---The young waiter at the Euston Hotel sets out to his work at his usual time, and between his residential club and the hotel is lost to all knowledge as completely as Chrissie Walker and Jennison.

And underneath that bald statement of fact, Womersley saw one word---Why? Why? Yes, it was nothing but why! why all the time! Why had Jennison made himself scarce? Why had Chrissie Walker, who ought to have been behind her bar at the Cat and Bagpipe at six o’clock last evening, disappeared as completely as if she had been snatched into the clouds? Why had the young waiter in his eight or ten minutes’ walk between the residential club and the Euston Hotel vanished as thoroughly as if the earth had opened and swallowed him? And---had all these three disappearances a connecting link? They must have---there must be a thread running through them, and the devil of it was that Womersley, at that moment, hadn’t the remotest idea of how to put a finger on either end of it.

He went back, moody and dissatisfied, to the police station, intending to have a chat with his officials there before going home for the day. But as he walked in a man at the door stopped him.

“There’s a gentleman waiting for you, Mr. Womersley,” he said. “Been here half an hour on the chance of your coming back. There’s his card there in the rack—he’s in the little room, back of the office.”

Womersley was so full of his own affairs that he took up the card with little interest; certainly there was no speculation in his mind as to its presenter and his business there. But one glance at it showed him that the man who was awaiting him had come, and come a long way, in the hope of solving the mystery that was puzzling him, and he hurried along the drab, dismal corridor with something of excitement, murmuring his visitor’s name—Mr. Edward Holaday.

“This is the chap they said they were sending over,” he reflected. “Wonder what he’s like? Typical cute Yankee, no doubt, who’ll think we’re all half asleep on this side. However----”

He pushed open the door of the little room and advanced into it with an inquiring look that changed to a stare of something like astonishment at what he saw. For Mr. Edward Holaday seen at close quarters was not at all like anything in Womersley’s own line of business, nor would Womersley, coming across him in the street, have ever taken him for a man likely to solve criminal problems or prove mysteries. He was a tall, loosely-built, big-boned young fellow of apparently twenty-eight or thirty years of age, whose garments, not at all English in cut, were evidently worn with more regard to use and comfort than to style and fashion, whose boots, very prominent at the toes, were of colossal size, and whose general aspect was more that of a countryman from a long way back than of one accustomed to town life. This impression was deepened by Mr. Holaday’s umbrella, which was of unusual dimensions, and might have been copied from that once owned by Mrs. Gamp, and further by the fact that the collar of his flannel shirt was tied up by a bootlace. As for the rest of him, he had a smooth, clean-shaven face, a pair of ingenuous blue eyes, and a smiling mouth; his expression, indeed, was almost cherubic, and it was only when he stretched out a hand which closed round Womersley’s in a steel-like grip that the detective realised that this odd-looking customer was a fellow of immense physical strength.

“Mr. Womersley?” said the visitor heartily. “Glad to see you, sir. I called in at your headquarters as soon as I struck London this afternoon, and they told me I’d find you at this branch station so I came right along. You would know, Mr. Womersley, that our people of the Western Lands were sending me here about this Alfred Jakyn case?---you’d be expecting me?”

“Yes,” assented Womersley. “Yes.” He was a bit taken aback, a bit uncertain. He motioned his caller to sit down again, and sat down himself. “You’re not fully acquainted with all the facts, I suppose?” he went on. “As you’ve only just arrived----”

“Just so, but I cabled to an agent of ours to collect all the newspaper reports for me,” interrupted Holaday, with an ingenuous smile. “And”---pointing to a pile of papers at his elbow---“I have them here and have already gone through them---hastily.”

Womersley hesitated a moment before he spoke again. He was still studying his visitor. And he was quick enough to see that Holaday, on his part, was studying him.

“Well!” he said at last. “I may as well tell you, Mr. Holaday, that I don’t think Alfred Jakyn’s murder sprang out of anything relative to his connection with your company. That’s my opinion---at present.”

Holaday smiled---why on earth, wondered Womersley, was his smile so extraordinarily like that of an easily pleased child?---and tapped his pile of papers.

“That may be so, Mr. Womersley,” he said. “And---it mayn’t. But I’d like to tell you at once that whether it’s so or not, I’m here to solve, or to assist in solving, the mystery of Alfred Jakyn’s death! That’s what I’m out for---and I guess I’ll just go along---preferably with your kind assistance---till I get there!”

“Got any idea?” asked Womersley, half-chaffingly. “I suppose you have!”

Holaday nodded---and this time there was no smile.

“Well!” he answered, slowly. “I may as well tell you---I have!”

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