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20: Out with It!

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Author Topic: 20: Out with It!  (Read 31 times)
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« on: May 20, 2023, 11:13:38 am »

WOMERSLEY was beginning to believe in Lady Cheale. Whatever might be her reasons for wishing to bribe Jennison, and the barmaid, and the waiter, he was convinced that she had had no part in the poisoning of Alfred Jakyn. Her wish for silence and secrecy were for something else. That might come out or it might not. But he saw himself approaching an impasse in the matter that he was most concerned about. All this was leading to nothing! The woman before him could tell him a good deal, but not everything; she could take him to a certain point, but no farther. It was with some hesitancy that he tried again.

“You say that it was at his own wish that you took Alfred Jakyn to Charles Street?” he asked. “Did he want to see Dr. Syphax?”

“He knew Dr. Syphax, of course,” replied Lady Cheale. “Dr. Syphax is the brother of Mrs. Nicholas Jakyn, Alfred’s aunt. Alfred had been to Brunswick Square, hoping to see all the family, but he’d only seen Belyna Jakyn. I told him where he would probably find Dr. Syphax---at a surgery in Charles Street. Dr. Syphax had recently taken over a practice there, amongst very poor people---he’s a benevolent man in his queer way---and he was usually there late at night. I showed Alfred where the place was; in fact, I walked there with him. He saw Dr. Syphax inside, and Alfred went in. I returned to my hotel.”

“You didn’t go in with him, then?”

“I never went in at all. He went in alone. I turned straight back.”

“Do you know why he wanted to see Dr. Syphax?”

“No, except that they were related. Of course, a difference had been made by Alfred’s return. He was believed to be dead---in fact, I remember that the courts had given leave to presume his death. Naturally, he wanted to see all his relations, and as soon as possible.”

“Just so!” agreed Womersley. He was more inclined than ever to dismiss all thoughts of suspicion as far as Lady Cheale was concerned. Still---she knew things. “I suppose you won’t tell me what you and Alfred Jakyn talked about, Lady Cheale?” he suggested, ingratiatingly. “You see our position?---the more we know, the better, eh?”

“I’m not going to talk about my private affairs,” replied Lady Cheale. “I had my own reasons for seeing Alfred Jakyn privately. I shall not say what we talked about---beyond what I’ve just told you.”

Womersley looked at Holaday---and Holaday, without seeming to answer his silent interrogation, leaned across the table towards Lady Cheale.

“There’s a question I should like to put to this lady, if she’ll be so kind as to consider answering it,” he said. “I don’t suppose she’ll call it of a private nature, either. But it’s of the highest importance---to me and my purpose. Did Alfred Jakyn say why he’d come back to this country?”

Lady Cheale looked quickly at her interrogator. And Holaday was as quick in answering her glance.

“That’s in confidence!” he said. “I’ll go no further---and I think I can include our friend Womersley in that?”

“Oh, I shan’t say anything!” exclaimed Womersley. “I don’t suppose any reply of Lady Cheale will affect what I’m after.”

Lady Cheale hesitated a moment.

“Well, he did say something,” she answered.

“I’d like to know what?” said Holaday.

“Well---that he was here on a very important financial mission.”

“Did he say on whose behalf?”

“No, he didn’t. He mentioned no name.”

“Did he say---I think he may have said---that his mission was to some of the big men in the financial world?”

“He certainly remarked that he wanted to see some of our very rich men.”

“Did you tell him that your husband, Sir John Cheale, was a very rich man?”

“No. He knew that---he knew that Sir John is---well, extremely wealthy.”

“Sure!” said Holaday. “Well, now---did Alfred Jakyn ask you if Sir John would be likely to come in at a big deal?”

Lady Cheale started at that question. Her colour rose, and she looked at her questioner as if anxious about his good faith.

“I’ve already said---in confidence,” remarked Holaday. “Mine’s sure---and so’s Womersley’s. And---it’s important!”

“No, then, he didn’t,” replied Lady Cheale. “The fact is, if you want to know, that he’d already told me that Sir John was one of the some half-dozen men in England he wanted to see. He didn’t mention any other names---but he did mention Sir John’s.”

“Was that before or after he knew that you, whom he’d known as Miss Clover, were now Lady Cheale?”

“It was---after. I told him I was Lady Cheale as soon as we met in Endsleigh Gardens.”

“And that the gentleman he’d seen you with in the hotel smoking-room was your husband---Sir John Cheale?”

“I forget whether I told him so, in so many words, or not. But he understood it.”

“Was it then that he said Sir John was one of the men he wanted to see?”

“Then or soon after.”

“Did he express any intention of going to see Sir John at the hotel---where, of course, you were all stopping.”

Lady Cheale looked confused, and on the way to being distressed.

“I don’t like these questions!” she said suddenly. “I don’t know what they’re leading to! But---yes, he did! He said he’d see Sir John at the hotel next morning.”

Holaday gave Womersley a quiet kick under the table at which they were sitting. It was with an equally quiet manner that he put a further question.

“Did you agree to that proposition?”

“No! I asked him not to.”

“Why?”

“I had reasons. Sir John is---well, getting on in years. I didn’t want him to embark, to get mixed up, in new dealings. He has considerable interests in the United States already, and it’s not long since I heard him say he wished he hadn’t, as the correspondence relative to them was becoming a bother to him.”

“Did Jakyn fall in with your wish?”

“Yes. He said he’d knock Sir John’s name off his list.”

“Didn’t mention any other names that were on it?”

“No---none. And that’s all that was said---and, if you please, I don’t want to be asked any more questions,” said Lady Cheale. “I’ve really told you everything I know----”

“All the same, Lady Cheale,” said Womersley, “there are two or three questions that I feel bound to ask before we go. It’ll pay you to answer them, I assure you, and to be frank with us. Now, for instance, there’s the case of this fellow Jennison---he’s downstairs, and practically in the custody of one of our men---we’re not going to let him go, anyhow, until we know more. And you can supply this knowledge. Now, did Jennison blackmail you?---did he threaten you? He’s had money, a considerable amount, from you, and the promise of more. Did he get it by threats?”

“I can’t say that he threatened me,” answered Lady Cheale, after some consideration. “He came to me with news of this scrap of paper which he’d picked up in Cartwright Gardens. He had it. I saw at once that if he took it to you, my name would come out. Of course, I saw that he wanted to profit by what he’d discovered---I saw, too, that he was a man who might be dangerous. I found out that he wanted to leave his employment in the City, and to have means by which he could travel---so I offered to find him the means.”

“He didn’t threaten what he’d do, if you didn’t?” suggested Womersley.

“I can’t say that he did---definitely. He may have implied it---I suppose he did imply it. But what I gave him was voluntarily given.”

“Have you given him anything since?” asked Womersley.

“No! I was going to, though---a final payment.”

“And those others---the waiter and the girl?’ Was that forced out of you?”

“No---it was my own suggestion. I felt that as long as they weren’t---well, bought off---I shouldn’t be safe. Jennison only acted as a go-between.”

“Jennison’s given an account of that, Lady Cheale,” remarked Womersley. “And he says that these negotiations at the Charles Street surgery took place in Dr. Syphax’s presence, and that Dr. Syphax seemed to think you were foolish in carrying them through. Now, why did Dr. Syphax----”

Before the detective could say more, the door of Lady Cheale’s sitting-room was opened suddenly, and, without preface or ceremony, the man he was talking of strode in. He threw the door to behind him, and made a curious motion of his hand towards the three people at the table.

“I saw that fellow Jennison downstairs in company with one of your Scotland Yard men, and I guessed that you were here, Womersley!” he exclaimed. “Digging deeper into things---digging deeper, of course!” He dropped into a chair, gave a harsh, sardonic laugh, and leaned towards Lady Cheale, who was watching him with startled eyes. “Told you---told you---told you!” he said, spreading out both hands. “Sure to come out---dead sure to come out. Better have spoken---at once! These fellows---persistent!”

Womersley realised that they were getting to a critical point. He looked inquiringly at Syphax, and Syphax, with another laugh, unwound the white wrapper from his neck, threw it on the table before him, and leaning back in his chair thrust his long hands in his pockets, his whole attitude suggesting that as far as he was concerned he was there to talk.

“And what is it that’s sure to come out, doctor?” asked Womersley. “We shall be much obliged to you if you’ll tell us?”

Syphax looked fixedly at the detective for a moment, during which his odd mouth and jaw were firmly set. Suddenly he released both---to snap out a question.

“What do you know?”

“Just about this much,” answered Womersley, and ran briefly over the various points of information. “There’s a lot in that, you know, doctor, that’s very suspicious,” he concluded, “but I think you could add to it. And don’t forget---and I hope Lady Cheale won’t forget, either---we’ve got to a stage at which we can’t stop. Lady Cheale’s been very candid and straightforward with us, though, as a matter of fact, she hasn’t told us much that we didn’t know already, but she tells us plainly that she has a secret relative to this Alfred Jakyn affair—a secret of such importance that she’s been willing to pay considerable sums of money to keep it still a secret. Well, I’m afraid we’ll have to know what that secret is! If Lady Cheale won’t tell us----”

Syphax suddenly drew one of his hands from his pocket and brought it down with a heavy thump on the table. He turned to Lady Cheale, thrusting out his chin, and jerked out three words.

“My advice! Tell!”

“No!” said Lady Cheale.

Syphax turned to the two men on the other side of the table, screwing up his lips and shaking his head.

“Woman!” he exclaimed sneeringly. “Woman! Illogical! Unreasoning! The feminine! Can’t see two inches ahead! Foolish!”

Holaday took a hand, glancing at Lady Cheale.

“I’d just like to remind Lady Cheale that that fellow downstairs, and the waiter, and the barmaid, already know a lot,” he said. “Does she think that her secret’s safe----”

Lady Cheale gave him a sharp look.

“They don’t know my secret!” she retorted. “Nobody knows!”

“They know there is a secret,” persisted Holaday, “and we know there’s a secret.”

“And that it has to do with Alfred Jakyn,” broke in Womersley. “And, Lady Cheale, you’ve forgotten that we can investigate. I don’t know what my friend here thinks, but my impression is that you knew Alfred Jakyn pretty well in the old days, when you were----”

“Millie Clover!” muttered Holaday. “Didn’t I always say from the first that the clue to this business----”

“He did say that,” interrupted Womersley. “He suggested the Millie Clover idea as soon as he ran into me! And we can go right back to the Millie Clover days, Lady Cheale, and find out----”

Lady Cheale was rising from her chair. Her glance went towards a door in the rear of the room. But Womersley rose, too.

“No, Lady Cheale!” he said peremptorily. “We can’t have that! After all we’ve learnt, I can’t let you out of my sight until----”

Once more Syphax smote the table.

“Again I say---tell!” he exclaimed. “Tell! and be done with it! These fellows---sure to get at it! Why wait?”

Holaday made a polite wave of his hand towards Lady Cheale’s chair.

“If Lady Cheale would just sit down again,” he said suavely, “I think I could settle this business quite pleasantly. Come, now, Lady Cheale,” he went on as she unwillingly came back to the table. “Let’s drop this Lady Cheale phase and get back to Millie Clover! When Millie Clover left her lodgings in Paddington, very hurriedly one morning, it was to get married, wasn’t it?”

Lady Cheale’s answer came at last---half audible.

“Yes!”

“Just so!” said Holaday. “Well, I guess the man Millie Clover married was Alfred Jakyn!”

Womersley started in his chair.

“Good heavens!” he muttered. “I’d never thought of that!”

“Been thinking of that all along,” said Holaday quietly. “That’s correct, I think, isn’t it, Lady Cheale? Well, just so! And now I think it’s up to Lady Cheale to tell us anything she likes to say. I reckon Dr. Syphax agrees?”

“Agree to anything definite and explicit!” snapped Syphax. “Better so! Haven’t I always said it would come out?”

Lady Cheale sat turning her rings over, and remained in that attitude for a minute or two, her downcast eyes apparently studying the stones. But Holaday saw that she wasn’t looking at the rings, or, at any rate, didn’t see them; her thoughts were elsewhere. And suddenly she looked up and spoke rapidly.

“I did marry Alfred Jakyn!” she said. “It was a hasty, impetuous affair---I didn’t think! And it was a failure---a bad failure. We didn’t suit each other a bit, and we parted. He went away---I never knew where---I never heard of him until I saw him again at the Euston Hotel. When we separated, I earned my living, as I had done before, first with a City firm, then at Dr. Syphax’s, as his secretary. I never told anybody about the marriage---it’s only since this business began that I told Dr. Syphax. Then, when I was at Cheltenham, Sir John Cheale wanted to marry me. I hadn’t heard of Alfred Jakyn for well over eight years then, so I knew I could marry, and I did marry Sir John. But----” she paused then, and then went on more hurriedly, “but I never told Sir John about the previous marriage! He doesn’t know now---I never wanted him to know---he’s getting old, and . . .”

She rose at that and left the room, and that time Womersley made no effort to stop her. He was looking down intently at the table. Suddenly he leaned towards Holaday and whispered one word.

Motive!

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