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21: The Hooded Lady

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Author Topic: 21: The Hooded Lady  (Read 38 times)
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« on: May 20, 2023, 11:37:24 am »

SYPHAX caught the whispered word, low as it was, and turned sharply on the two men at the end of the table.

“Motive!” he exclaimed. “Motive! Yes, of course she’d a motive! Her motive was to ensure silence. Wrong way, hers, in my opinion---wrong all through, and I’ve said so, ever since I knew. But you!---what do you mean by your use of that word---motive? You’re not attributing----”

“Don’t get restive!” interrupted Womersley. “We’re not attributing anything to anybody---at present, though I shan’t say what we may do, as things develop. It might easily be said that Lady Cheale had a motive for getting rid of Alfred Jakyn. She’s confessed that she married him years ago, and naturally she didn’t want him to come in contact with the man she’s since married. But we aren’t charging Lady Cheale with poisoning him; what we’re doing is to get all the information we can. He was poisoned----”

Syphax stopped the detective with a wave of his hand, which finally rested in a gesture towards Holaday.

“Look you here, my man!” he said. “I know rather more than you think I do! I’ve been in communication---for my own sake---with the Home Office about this affair, and I know that this poison which settled Alfred Jakyn was given to him in some home-made sweet stuff which he had in a small box in his pocket. Now, why has this man, your companion, Holaday, come here? To investigate on behalf of an American company which Alfred Jakyn was representing here! That company has publicly declared, through our newspapers, that it believes, suspects, whatever you like to call it, that Alfred Jakyn was got rid of by somebody inimical to its interests. Very good! How do you know, or, rather, why hasn’t it entered into your head to wonder if Alfred Jakyn wasn’t given that sweet stuff by these inimical people, who, according to your company, Holaday, must have an existence! They may have had an agent, possibly a woman, on the same boat that brought Alfred Jakyn over. Who gave him that sweet stuff? Is it likely that Lady Cheale carried a box of poisoned sweets about with her, on the chance of meeting a man whom, as she’d never heard of him for over ten or eleven years, she firmly believed to be dead? That’s utter nonsense! But it’s not utter nonsense, considering the suspicions of the Western Lands Company, to suspect that some agent of its enemies, whoever they are, planted them on him! Look deeper, my friends!”

“Can you suggest anything, doctor?” asked Womersley, a little satirically. “We’re open to any advice and any hints---and any information, too!”

“I suggest that you find out all about Alfred Jakyn’s company on the boat he crossed in,” said Syphax. “That can be done! And all about his fellow-travellers between Liverpool and London. And where he went, and whom he met, before his arrival in London, and his visit to Bradmore at the old shop.”

“I’ve done a lot of that already, doctor,” said Womersley. “I’ve seen several people who came over with him. I’ve talked to two gentlemen---thoroughly dependable and, in fact, well-known men with whom he shared a smoking compartment on the journey from Liverpool to Euston. I’ve found out as a positive fact that on arriving at Euston he went straight into the hotel, registered, and booked his room. He was in his room for some time, and I’ve got the hour at which he went out. He must have gone straight to Bradmore’s, in Holborn. After that I know all his movements until Lady Cheale brought him to the door of your surgery in Charles Street. But after that---there’s a certain blank! And---are you disposed to fill it up?”

“Have I shown any sign that I’m not?” demanded Syphax irascibly.

“You didn’t come forward at the inquest----” began Womersley.

“Not necessary---not necessary---in my opinion!” retorted Syphax.

“In my opinion, it was, then!” said the detective. “We wanted all the evidence we could get. You knew something that you kept to yourself---and you were just as reticent when Holaday and I called on you in Brunswick Square the other night. Still----”

“I think Dr. Syphax is going to tell us---now!” said Holaday quietly.

“Oh, I’ll tell you fellows all I know!” exclaimed Syphax abruptly. “It’s little!---it’s not relevant---in my opinion. Alfred Jakyn walked into my Charles Street place as I was thinking of leaving. Of course, I’d known him in the old days, and I recognised him immediately. He told me in a few words why he’d come back. I was just going out---to see a dying man in Crowndale Road. I asked Jakyn to come with me. We walked along the street, got into a taxi at the corner, and rode up as far as the Cobden Statue. We were talking all the time. He said he should see that my sister and her children didn’t suffer by his return. He told me he’d met Lady Cheale, and confided to me that he and she, when she was Millie Clover, had married, found it was a mistake, and separated. He asked me what ought to be done---I said then what I’ve said ever since, that the best thing she could do was to tell Sir John Cheale all about it. Mind you, although I’d known Lady Cheale for some years, this was the first I’d heard about her marriage to Alfred Jakyn. I was astonished---and I foresaw trouble, though, of course, as she’d never heard of him for several years, nine or ten, before marrying Sir John, she was within her rights---not liable to any prosecution for bigamy, or anything of that sort, you know----”

“Just so,” agreed Womersley. “That, of course, has been quite clear all along. Well, doctor, you went up to Crowndale Road----?”

“We rode to the Cobden Statue, got out there, and I told the taxi-driver to wait so long---half an hour, or twenty minutes, I forget which. Jakyn and I walked along Crowndale Road, still talking of these things. We reached the house at which I had to call. I told him I might be five minutes there, if my patient was dead---longer, if he was still living. He said he’d stroll about. I went in. My patient was still alive, and I was with him rather more than a quarter of an hour. When I went out of the house again, I waited a minute or two. Then he came along the street, swinging his stick and laughing. And now here is a matter which perhaps I ought to have told. I asked him what amused him. He replied, “Oh, nothing! I came across a bit of mystery along there,” and said no more. What I thought at the time was that he’d probably dropped into some saloon bar along the street while he was waiting, and had chanced on some man he knew; he knew a lot of people, shady people, in his younger days. He said no more about it, anyway---he at once returned to the subject of Lady Cheale, and what was to be done. We got into the taxi again, and rode down to the end of my street. There we got out and separated. I went back to my surgery; he walked away towards the Euston Road. That was the last I saw of him, and it’s all I know!”

Womersley had been listening to all this with mixed feelings. He felt that Syphax was telling the truth, yet he wondered at him for his denseness in not seeing that the truth he told was of importance. He remained silently staring at him---but Holaday started up from his chair with a laugh that seemed to express what Womersley was thinking.

“Well!” he exclaimed, thrusting his hands in his pockets and beginning to pace the side of the room on which he and the detective sat. “Well! I just reckon that’s the most important bit of information I’ve had delivered to me since I first set out on this business! That’s fine!”

Syphax stared at him.

“What is?” he growled.

“Why, that!” declared Holaday. “That---about his meeting an old acquaintance! I guess that’s just what we want---to fix things!”

Womersley turned a grim smile on their informant.

“And you call that unimportant, irrelevant, unnecessary, do you, doctor?” he said, with an ill-concealed sneer. “If you’d only told me that at the inquest! But do you really mean to say that you didn’t think it worth telling?”

“What, that Alfred Jakyn, while waiting for me, met an old acquaintance?” demanded Syphax. “Frankly, no! I knew enough about Alfred Jakyn’s past to know that there are precious few saloon bars in this quarter of the town in which he wouldn’t meet an old acquaintance! Alfred Jakyn, sir, lived a very wild and riotous life as a youngster, and frequented these places---everybody knew him! My opinion was and is that while waiting for me he dropped into one of his old resorts---there are plenty of ’em, close at hand, and there came across one of his old pot-companions. I saw nothing exceptional in that!”

“Just so!” remarked Womersley drily. “All the same, we shall be very pleased to find the old acquaintance he mentioned---if we can!”

“Do so---by all means,” answered Syphax, spreading his hands. “I dare say that if you carefully map out this quarter and go systematically from one bar-parlour to another, you’ll find that Alfred Jakyn was well known in every one of them from twelve to fifteen years ago, and you may light on somebody who saw him in one on the night I’m referring to---there are three or four within a minute’s walk of the door into which I turned!”

“Thank you, doctor---we’ll try that line,” said Womersley cheerfully. “Much obliged to you. And if we want you again----”

“You know where to find me, my lad, at any time!” retorted Syphax. “Brunswick Square is my address, and if I’m not there somebody always is who knows where I am at that moment.”

“All right, doctor!” replied Womersley. He turned to the other side of the table. “And---Lady Cheale?” he asked.

Lady Cheale, while listening to what had been going on between Syphax and the detective, had appeared to be doing some thinking on her own account. She gave Womersley a glance which seemed to imply that she wanted no more questioning.

“I shall be here for several days,” she said coldly. “Sir John is coming up to town to-morrow, to join me. I shall tell him everything!”

“Best thing your ladyship can do!” said Womersley. He motioned Holaday to follow him, and in the corridor outside turned with a question. “Well,” he asked, “what now?”

“We must find the man Jakyn met while he was waiting for the doctor!” answered Holaday. “I attach all the more importance to that because he didn’t tell Syphax anything about it.”

“Yes, there’s that in it,” agreed Womersley. “Well, these fellows downstairs! It’s getting late, but to-morrow morning we’ll try that Crowndale Road notion.”

He beckoned Kellington and his charge out of the smoking-room. Trusford, all agog for news, following in their rear, and outside the portico of the hotel, drew Jennison aside. Jennison, still doubtful as to what was coming, stared anxiously at him.

“Look here, young fellow!” said Womersley. “Just you understand this---there’ll be no more money coming to you from Lady Cheale---see? That little game’s through! She says she gave you what she did, voluntarily, so I won’t interfere. But you be careful, young man, or you’ll find yourself in a hole---quick! Now, be off!”

He gave Jennison’s forearm a warning grip, and, turning away, motioned Kellington and Holaday to follow him in the direction of the Underground station close by. Trusford ran after him.

“I say, Womersley!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been waiting all this time---haven’t you anything for me?”

“Not just now, my lad!” answered the detective nonchalantly. “Some other time. Good-night!”

He moved off without so much as a look, immediately beginning a close conversation with his companion, and the reporter, after an angry glance at their retreating figures, turned back to Jennison.

“That’s a nice sort of game to play off on a fellow!” he exclaimed indignantly. “There’s Womersley gets out of me what I know, brings me along here, keeps me kicking my heels for three-quarters of an hour while he talks upstairs, and then goes off with as few words as he’d throw to a dog! I thought he’d have at least given me a notion of what he’d been after.”

Jennison made no reply for the moment. Ever since Womersley had collared him as he walked out of the dining-room at the Great Western Hotel he had been in a fever of fear. He had felt certain, positively certain, that Womersley would arrest him, or if he didn’t actually arrest him, would detain him, and that instead of occupying his luxurious bedroom at the hotel he would have to pass the night at a police station. He was astonished to find himself at liberty, and for a few minutes he revelled in freely breathing the doubtful atmosphere of the Euston Road.

“Rotten, I call it!” grumbled the reporter. “I particularly wanted to know if those fellows found anything fresh when they went upstairs! Of course, you don’t know? Did Womersley say anything when he took you aside?”

“Told me---nothing!” replied Jennison. “Here!” he went on, as they came abreast of a tavern at the corner. “Let’s do a drink. I’m wanting one after all that! You’ll get nothing out of Womersley,” he went on, as he and Trusford elbowed each other at the bar. “He’s close, he’ll tell nothing! What you want to do is---find things out for yourself!”

“What the devil did you bring him along for?” demanded Trusford. “I didn’t want him, nor those other chaps either!”

“Couldn’t help it,” replied Jennison. “They were there---consulting with me, d’ye see? And I thought---well, that we could work together. But it’s as I say---Womersley is close! Gets everything out of you what he can, and tells nothing in return.”

Trusford looked gloomily into his glass.

“All right!” he said. “He gets no more out of me---unless I please. What’s the time? Not ten yet. I was going to have a look round this Crowndale Road, when you fellows came up. It’s not too late---come on! Only round at the back here, isn’t it?”

“Five minutes’ walk,” agreed Jennison. He set down his empty glass and drew a long breath of satisfaction to think that it was a glass, and not an enamelled tin mug such as he’d probably have got in a police cell. “Oh, all right!---I don’t mind taking a stroll round there with you. Though I don’t suppose we’ll see or hear anything----”

“You never know,” said Trusford. “What is certain is that Shino took Syphax and Jakyn up there, and that they were in or near Crowndale Road some twenty minutes. They were somewhere!”

“No doubt! But there won’t be a notice board on the premises to say exactly where!” retorted Jennison. He laughed at his own humour with the forced, artificial laughter of a man who has been unexpectedly released from danger. “But all right! May as well stroll up that way as any other way.”

And as he knew the way, he led the way; up Ossulston Street and Charrington Street, and so into a thoroughfare which “looked as commonplace and ordinary,” said Trusford, eyeing it with some disappointment, “as ever they make ’em.”

“Not the sort of street you’d associate with a highly scientific murder, eh, old man?” he observed. “Neither the romantic, nor the sordid, nor the squalid about it---typically Somers Townish, or Camden Townish, I call it. Still, how do we know these two were in Crowndale Road, after all. There are side-streets----”

They were near the mouth of a side-street just then, and Trusford paused, looking down its badly-lighted vista. A female figure came out of the door of a house a few yards away; walked rapidly towards them; passed them; went away towards Charrington Street. She was much cloaked and muffled about head and shoulders, but Jennison suddenly clutched the reporter’s elbow.

“I know that woman!” he exclaimed. “So ought you to know her. Didn’t you see? Mrs. Nicholas Jakyn!

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