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19: Cornered

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Author Topic: 19: Cornered  (Read 24 times)
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« on: May 20, 2023, 09:50:05 am »

“SAY you’re coming!” commanded Womersley. “Sharp now! That’ll do---ring off, and come along.” He led Jennison back to the door of the smoking-room, and called Kellington and Holaday into the corridor. “Here’s another development,” he whispered when they joined him. “That young reporter, Trusford, wanted Jennison to meet him at the corner of Charles Street. We’ll all go---seems to me that things are going to develop in that neighbourhood. Now, look here, young man!” he continued, when they had left the hotel and packed themselves into a taxi-cab. “You listen to me! Not a word to this newspaper chap as to how we came to be in your company, d’ye hear? You’ll just say to him that we did happen to be with you when his telephone call came, and that you’d judged it advisable to tell us, in secret, about him and the man Shino, and what you heard from Shino. And---you can leave the rest to me!”

Trusford, loafing about at the corner of Charles Street, stared at the sight of Jennison’s companions. Womersley, of course, he knew, and he looked somewhat glum at seeing him, and not over pleased at Jennison’s explanation. But Womersley was quick to pacify him.

“We shan’t interfere with your job, my lad!” he said reassuringly. “I know you haven’t made all this into a newspaper story yet---it hasn’t been in your paper, anyway, and we shan’t do anything to spoil it. But you work with me---it’ll pay you. Play into my hands, and I’ll play into yours, d’ye see? And what’s the game now?”

Trusford pointed to Jennison.

“He’s told you about the taxi-driver---this chap who calls himself Shino?” he said. “And about what he told us---at the mews? Well, I’ve purposely kept all that back until I could come across the tall man in black clothes and a white muffler who got into Shino’s cab with another man on the night Alfred Jakyn died. Seemed to me, you know, Womersley, that he was some man who lived hereabouts---anyway, that as he’d been seen here once, he’d be seen here again. So I’ve been looking round this spot at nights. And to-night I’d a piece of rare luck. I was talking to Shino himself at that cab rank round the corner when he suddenly nudged my elbow. “Here’s the very man himself!” he exclaimed. I looked round and saw the man he’d described coming along under the gas lamps, walking very rapidly. He passed close by us, and, of course, I knew him in an instant!”

“Knew him, eh?” said Womersley. “Who is he, then?”

“Dr. Syphax! I saw him at the inquest, you know. No mistaking him! Queer looking beggar at any time!”

“Well? What did you do?”

“Followed him! Down Seymour Street and into Euston Road. He walked along there, very fast---he’s a peculiar walk, with long strides---until he passed the end of Ossulston Street. There he suddenly met a lady who was coming from the opposite direction.”

“Get a view of her?”

“As well as I could. They both stopped, and stood back from the traffic on the sidewalk, talking quickly. She was very much wrapped up about her head and face, but she looked to me to be a pretty, youngish woman, dark---I’m sure she was dark---dark eyes and hair. Very well dressed---furs, and that sort of thing.”

“Lady Cheale!” whispered Jennison in the detective’s ear.

But Womersley was watching the reporter.

“Well?” he said. “What happened?”

“They stood there for a few minutes---two or three minutes---talking. Then they turned back the way she’d come, towards St. Pancras Station. I followed. They went into the Midland Grand Hotel. And I followed them in there. They turned into the lounge and sat in a corner. I turned in, too, and sat in another---to watch.”

“See anything worth watching?” asked the detective.

“I saw them in close conversation. They appeared to be arguing, or debating. He did most of it: she listened, mostly. They talked like that for ten minutes at least; then they seemed to come to some conclusion or agreement, and they got up and went out into the hall. I’d ordered a drink, just to make an excuse for being in there, and I finished it off and went after them. I saw them part: he made for the entrance, and she went to the lift. I concluded, from that, that she was staying there.”

“Useful to know that!” muttered Womersley. “But---what after that, if anything?”

“I followed him out. He turned in the direction he’d come, but instead of going along Euston Road, he went up Ossulston Street. I followed him to Charles Street. He went into a sort of shop, and I sauntered by it and found it was one of these cheap surgeries---a sixpenny surgery, as a matter of fact. There were some people---poorly clad people---hanging about, evidently waiting to see him, and they followed him in. I came to the conclusion that he’d be occupied for some time there, so I made for the nearest telephone box and rang up Jennison---I knew where he was, because I saw him going into his hotel the other day.”

“And why did you want Jennison?” asked Womersley.

“Well, I knew he knew something about this Dr. Syphax, through having lived close by him and seeing him at the inquest, and so on,” answered Trusford. “And I wanted to ask him if he knew anything about this sixpenny surgery. Ever hear of it, Jennison?”

But the detective cut in again before Jennison could answer this direct question. He motioned his companions round the corner into Charles Street, keeping Jennison at his side.

“Look here!” he said. “We’ll take a look at this place. Come on, now---and let’s separate and walk on different sides of the street. You, Trusford, and you, Jennison, keep with me---you other two go across. We’ll see if Dr. Syphax is still there.”

They went along the street in silence, until they came to the place which, in Womersley’s opinion, was probably the centrepoint of the Alfred Jakyn mystery. The houses thereabouts were poor, squalid, badly-lighted, but he made out from the glow of the nearest gas lamp that the sixpenny surgery had originally been no more than a lock-up shop, with a room behind it, and that its present occupant had spent nothing on improving its outward appearance; all that had been done, in fact, was to cover the lower half of the window with cheap paint, and the upper with equally cheap blinds. And behind paint and blinds there was just then no light: the place was in darkness.

“Gone!” muttered Womersley. “Nobody here! And yet, it’s not his time for closing. However----”

He went up to the door and tried it. A woman, standing at a door close by, called to him.

“The doctor’s gone!” she said. “Went five minutes since.”

“Which way?” asked the detective quickly.

The woman pointed towards St. Pancras.

“He went along there,” she answered. “He shut up early to-night.”

“That’s a bother! Nuisance when a doctor’s wanted and you can’t find him. Let’s see, missis---what’s his name?”

But the woman shook her head.

“Don’t know his name at all,” she said listlessly. “He hasn’t come here so very long. There was another before him: I never heard his name, either. He was a shilling. This one’s a sixpenny.”

Womersley shepherded Jennison and Trusford across the street.

“Drawn blank!” he said, as they rejoined Kellington and Holaday. “Gone in that direction. He may have gone back to the Midland Hotel. Anyway, that’s where we’ll go. But look here, now; it won’t do for all of us to go in there; at least, not all together. We’ll break up. This way---when we get there, you, Kellington, go with Jennison into the smoking-room; you go with them, Trusford, if you like. Holaday and I will follow a bit later, but we shall go to the office, to make inquiries. I’ll let you know if anything materialises---and look here,” he continued, drawing Kellington aside and whispering. “Don’t you let Jennison out of your sight for a second, on no excuse whatever! Keep by him---I’ve no doubt we’ve got a lot of truth out of him, but I don’t trust him for a minute.”

“And---after you’ve seen this woman?” asked Kellington. “What’re we to do with him then?”

“That depends,” replied Womersley. “Let’s hear what she’s got to say, first. But we’re not going to lose sight of him, anyway. He’s got that money she gave him, and if he’s once out of our hands, he’ll be off. So---sit tight by him till I know how things are with her.”

Holaday waited in the hall of the hotel while Womersley made inquiries at the office. The detective came to him with a reassuring nod, and, taking his arm, led him along a corridor.

“She’s here, all right!” he whispered. “What’s more, she’s staying here under her own name---it struck me she mightn’t be. And she’s got a private sitting-room, just along here. Now then, we’ll knock and walk in on her. Give me your card. There,” he went on, putting Holaday’s and his own professional card together, “these’ll make her jump, I reckon? And now---what’re we going to get out of her? For remember, it’s Millie Clover that we’re about to see!”

“No danger of forgetting that!” said Holaday. “That’s what I’m bearing in mind all the time!”

“But at present, it’s Lady Cheale,” muttered Womersley. “Lady Cheale of Cheale Court, who’s been spending money like water to buy silence. And here’s her number!” He tapped at the door by which he had paused, and when a woman’s voice from within bade him enter, opened it and marched into the room, followed closely by the American. It was a small, brilliantly-lighted room, and Lady Cheale, standing near the fire, at which, as they strode in, she was warming her hands, was in the full glare of the light, and their eyes were quick to see the colour fade from her cheek as she turned sharply on them. Her lips parted, and her right hand went up. . . .

“Lady Cheale, I believe?” said Womersley, politely and firmly.

He closed the door behind him and Holaday, and advancing to a centre table laid down the two cards with a gesture which invited Lady Cheale to take them up. But Lady Cheale made no offer to touch them; her eyes went to them for an instant, and then straight to Womersley’s.

“What---what do you want?” she breathed faintly. “Are you---police?”

“I am, madam,” replied Womersley promptly. “You’ll see there who I am---Detective-Sergeant Womersley of the Criminal Investigation Department. This gentleman is Mr. Holaday, the accredited inquiry agent of the Western Lands Company, of New York. He’s charged with the duty of inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Alfred Jakyn---so am I. And we believe that you can tell us something about that---that’s why we’re here, Lady Cheale.”

Lady Cheale was looking past them---at the door. And Womersley shook his head, as if he had already grasped what was in her mind.

“You’ll find it best, Lady Cheale, to have a talk with us,” he said. “We don’t want to go unpleasant lengths, but----”

“I am alone!” interrupted Lady Cheale. “I’ve no one to turn to---to seek advice from! Tomorrow morning----”

“No!” said Womersley firmly. “It will have to be to-night, Lady Cheale---just now! Our investigations have gone too far for any further delay. I may as well tell you,” he went on, seeing that she still hesitated, “that we were at Cheale Court this morning, and that the young man, Walter Green, has made a full statement as to what went on at Dr. Syphax’s surgery in Charles Street the other night. Also, we’ve got hold of Jennison this evening, and Jennison has made an equally full confession. Now, we want to hear what you have to say. If you’d allow us to sit down----”

Lady Cheale suddenly dropped into a chair at the end of the table, and pointed to others at the opposite end.

“I don’t know how Alfred Jakyn came by his death!” she explained. “Before God, I don’t! I haven’t the faintest idea!”

“That may be, Lady Cheale,” said Womersley. “But it’s not quite that we want to talk about. In a case of this sort it’s necessary to make all sorts of investigations; we’ve got to find out everything we can about all manner of detail. In this particular case, for instance, I’ve had to trace Alfred Jakyn’s movements as far as I could, and I’m sure you will tell me more about them. We know for a fact, now that Jennison’s split----”

“What do you mean by that?” Lady Cheale demanded sharply. “Do you mean that he’s told everything about---me?”

“Everything!” retorted Womersley boldly. “All about the Cat and Bagpipe and the barmaid there, and his visit to Cheale Court, and the drugs at the surgery at Charles Street, and the money matters. Now come, Lady Cheale, can’t you tell us about your meeting with Alfred Jakyn that night? If you’re innocent of his death---and I’m not accusing you of guilt, or of complicity, or anything!---why not help me to find out how that death came about? Because there’s no doubt Alfred Jakyn was poisoned, and the poison must have been given to him that evening by somebody. Why not tell us what you know about Alfred Jakyn? You met him at the Euston Hotel, didn’t you?---where you and Sir John were just then staying?”

Lady Cheale sat drumming her fingers on the table. She looked like a woman who is cornered---unexpectedly---and scarcely knows which way to turn for escape.

“I met him---saw him there---yes!” she admitted at last.

“Tell us under what circumstances,” suggested Womersley.

“I saw him first at dinner,” said Lady Cheale. “He came into the dining-room, to dinner, a little late---just before Sir John and I left the room. I recognised him.”

“You’d known him before?”

“Years before---yes.”

“Am I right in concluding that that was when you were Miss Millie Clover, and in his father’s employ?” asked Womersley, eyeing Lady Cheale keenly.

“How do you know I was Millie Clover?” she asked sharply.

“We know that you were, Lady Cheale! We’ve traced you---pretty thoroughly. We traced you to your old lodgings in Paddington; then to Cheltenham, where you were Mildred Colebrooke, and where, under the last name, you married Sir John Cheale. Was it when you were Mildred Colebrooke or Millie Clover that you knew Alfred Jakyn?”

“It was when I was Millie Clover---at Daniel Jakyn’s,” Lady Cheale answered, after some hesitation. “Of course, everybody there knew Alfred!”

“And you recognised him again when he came into the dining-room at the hotel that evening? Did he recognise you?”

“I don’t think he saw me. Then, at any rate. But later, he came into the smoking-room, where I was writing letters.”

“And where your husband was reading a magazine---close by! You contrived to give Alfred Jakyn a note---the note which Jennison found. And in consequence of that note, you later on met him at the end of Endsleigh Gardens, and went with him into the saloon of the Cat and Bagpipe. What was the reason of all that secrecy?”

“My affair!” said Lady Cheale.

“Well, it may be your affair!” retorted Womersley. “But leaving that for a moment, will you tell me this---when you left the Cat and Bagpipe, with Alfred Jakyn, did you go anywhere with him---or take him anywhere?”

Lady Cheale hesitated for some time. Then she looked fixedly at her inquisitors.

“If I tell you straight out,” she said, “I hope you’ll take it as a proof that on that point, at any rate, I’m not keeping anything back. Yes! I did take him somewhere. It was at his own wish. I took him to Dr. Syphax’s surgery in Charles Street. And there I left him, with Dr. Syphax!”

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