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3 - 2

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« on: August 22, 2023, 12:24:53 pm »

3 - 2

THE Registrar listened with polite attention to the explanation of our presence which Chaney gave him, and looked with interest at the copy of the marriage certificate which we had made from the original.

‘Oh, yes, yes!’ he said at once. ‘I remember those people. Pretty young woman, and a smart young fellow. You’ve noticed, no doubt, that her address is given as the Angel Hotel in this town. She was a barmaid there---I think she’d a good many admirers. If you want information there, you’d no doubt get it from Mr. Milford, the proprietor---he’s an old man now, but I believe his memory is quite good. And then there are other people you can apply to. The two people who witnessed the ceremony, for instance. There they are---Mr. John Halstead; he’s now a well-known manufacturer in the town. Miss Milford---she’s Milford’s daughter, and still unmarried. You see I’m pretty well up in local knowledge!’

‘Much obliged to you, sir,’ said Chaney. ‘But as regards your own recollection, now? Can you give us any idea of what this man, Frank Crowther, was like?’

But the Registrar smiled and lifted a deprecating hand.

‘No, no!’ he said. ‘I can’t do that!---can’t remember now if he was tall or short, dark or light. All I remember is that he struck me as a smart young fellow, and that they seemed a well-matched couple.’

‘Do you know anything of what became of them again after you’d married them?’ enquired Chaney.

‘I heard that they left the town, immediately, after the wedding,’ replied the Registrar. ‘But beyond that I know nothing. They probably know more at the Angel. You haven’t been there yet?’

‘Not yet!’ replied Chaney. ‘We came to you first.’

‘The Angel is in White Market Street,’ said the Registrar. ‘An old-fashioned house, very strictly conducted---Milford, the proprietor, is a bit of what we call a character. Go and see him---but you’ll get more information out of his daughter, who, nowadays, is the real manager of the place. She probably knows a good deal about the matter you’re enquiring into.’

We went off to the Angel---a big, rambling, old-world hostelry, reminiscent of Tudor days outside and full of old oak within. And presently we were in the presence of its proprietor, a fairly ancient gentleman who sat, a cigar between his lips, and a comforting glass in front of him, by a bright fire in his own parlour. He was a little deaf, and we had some difficulty in explaining our presence and object.

‘You want to know about---who?’ he demanded at last. ‘What name?’

‘Alice Holroyd, sir---formerly barmaid in your employ,’ replied Chaney.

‘Alice? Left me ten or twelve years ago. Got wed. What do you want to know about her?’

‘We want to trace her and her husband, sir.’

‘Don’t know anything about ’em. Left here when she got wed. What do you want to know for?’

‘It’s a very important matter, sir---very important.’

‘Umph!’ Mr. Milford looked us both over carefully, from head to foot. ‘Lawyers, I reckon, what?’

‘Something of that sort, sir. We’re very anxious to trace Alice Holroyd and the man she married. We’ve come all the way from London for that purpose.’

Mr. Milford said ‘Umph!’ once more, and then, raising the stout stick he carried, thumped it heavily against the oak panelling by which he sat, and vociferated loudly ‘Sophia!’

A door opened in the panelling, and from a room behind it stepped out a sharp-eyed middle-aged woman, who glanced enquiringly from the landlord to ourselves. Mr. Milford pointed his stick at us.

‘These gentlemen want to know if you can tell them anything about Alice---that lass we had about ten or twelve years since, Sophia,’ he said. ‘Her that got wed to some chap or other and went away. I can’t tell ’em aught.’

Miss Milford looked at us again. She was evidently sizing us up.

‘Oh, well, of course, I could tell a good deal about Alice Holroyd,’ she said, hesitatingly. ‘Is it---perhaps you’d say what business it is?’

Chaney, mentioning the Registrar, gave Miss Milford some idea of what we were after. She became communicative at once, and sat down; Mr. Milford, lifting himself from his easy chair by means of his stout stick, went out of the room; his daughter closed the door after him.

‘Well,’ she said, resuming her seat, ‘of course, Alice Holroyd was a barmaid here for three years before she was married, so I knew her well. She was a very nice, clever, managing girl. Her father and mother were dead, and she’d no brothers or sisters. She had a bit of money of her own; about £2,000 or so, invested in a building society here in the town, and she’d a very nice salary here---quite a well-off young woman, you might say, and very well-conducted and respectable. She’d a good many offers of marriage, I can tell you---there were lots of steady young fellows in the town that would have been only too ready to marry her. But she never had any affairs till this Frank Crowther came along. And then---well, it was pretty sudden.’

‘Who was he, ma’am?’ enquired Chaney. ‘Did you know him?’

‘Not till then,’ replied Miss Milford. ‘He wasn’t a Milthwaite man. He came to the town on business, though what his exact business was I never could make out. He seemed to be nicely off---always smartly dressed and plenty of money to spend and so on. Anyway, Alice took a strong fancy to him---he used to come here a good deal when he was in the town---and the next thing I heard was that they were going to be married. And married they were, very soon, at the Registrar’s office. And I was a witness, for Alice, and I remember that I thought it a very queer thing that Crowther had no relations or friends there---not even a friend! His witness was a Milthwaite gentleman, Mr. John Halstead---I think Crowther used to do a bit of business with him and got him to attend. Of course, Alice, being an orphan, had no relations, to speak of.’

‘What happened after the wedding, ma’am?’ asked Chaney.

‘Oh, well, we had a bit of a wedding-breakfast here,’ replied Miss Milford, ‘and in the afternoon they went off to London. I’ve never seen either of them since.’

‘Nor heard of them?’ enquired Chaney.

‘Ah, well, that’s a different matter!’ said Miss Milford, shaking her head. ‘Yes, I heard two things: one, almost at once; the other, about a year afterwards. The first was---I got it from a solicitor in the town whom she’d employed, unknown to me---that two or three days before the marriage she drew all her money out of the building society---as I said before, about £2,000. The second was a letter I got from her---the first she’d written me since the wedding. It was from Mentone, in the South of France. She said that she and her husband were in business there, but she didn’t say what business. And why she wrote at all, in my opinion, was because she wanted me to send her a box of clothing that she’d left here. I sent it, and I never replied to her letter, and that’s all I know about her.’

‘Never heard from her since, ma’am?’ suggested Chaney. ‘Nor of her?’

‘Neither from nor of her,’ replied Miss Milford. ‘I’ve told you all I know. If you want to know anything about Crowther, perhaps Mr. John Halstead may know something---I don’t.’

Mr. Halstead, in quest of whom we set off without further delay, turned out to be one of the leading manufacturers of the town. We were fortunate enough to find him in his office---a big, burly, shrewd, outspoken Yorkshireman, who eyed us over carefully as Chaney made explanation of our mission. He said nothing until Chaney had finished; then he motioned us to chairs, and taking a seat at his desk, put his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat and looked quizzically from one to the other of us.

‘Now what are you chaps really after?’ he asked, with a twinkle of his sharp eyes. ‘There’s more behind what you’ve told me! What is it?’

Chaney looked at me.

‘I think we can take Mr. Halstead into our full confidence, eh, Camberwell?’ he said. ‘The fullest confidence!’

Halstead laughed.

‘You’ll get nothing out of me if you don’t!’ he said. ‘No half-measures with a Yorkshireman, my lads! All or nothing!’

‘Very well, sir,’ responded Chaney. ‘Then it’s all! You’ve read the newspaper accounts of the murder of Mr. Thomas Hannington at Lord Cheverdale’s place in Regent’s Park?’

‘I have! Queer business.’

‘And of the murder, the same night, of a woman, in Little Custom Street---a woman known there as Mrs. Clayton?’

‘I’ve read that, too. Still queerer business.’

‘Very well! We believe Mrs. Clayton to be identical with one Alice Holroyd, whose marriage to a man named Frank Crowther you witnessed, in this town, some twelve years ago.’

Halstead jumped in his seat.

‘The devil you do!’ he exclaimed. ‘Alice Holroyd! Why, what grounds----’

‘I’m going to tell you,’ said Chaney. He went on to give Halstead further explanations. ‘Now,’ he concluded, ‘what can you tell us, Mr. Halstead, about Alice Holroyd and Frank Crowther, especially about Crowther? You were his best man, or witness, at the ceremony, before the registrar. What did you know of him then?---what have you known of him since?’

‘Since---nothing!’ replied Halstead. ‘Before---very little. I never did know much of Crowther. Of course, this is all twelve years since---we were young men then. I got to know Crowther in this way---he came to Milthwaite occasionally on business, and used to stop a few weeks in the town, whenever he came. He was some sort of a commercial traveller, or commission agent---I never knew exactly what---he wasn’t in my line of business, anyway. But he was a bit of a sport, and a good bit of an athlete, and he joined an athletic club of which I was a member, and we became pretty friendly. And that was how it was he asked me to be a witness at his wedding at the registry office---he didn’t know many other men, and I think he’d a fancy for me.’

‘Can you describe him as he was then?’ asked Chaney.

‘I can. He was what you’d call a littlish chap. Middle height---spare, but sinewy. As a matter of fact he was a man of more than usual strength and fine physique: every inch of him trained. He could do things on parallel bars and trapeze that only a thoroughly trained man could do---always at it, do you see. I’ve seen him swing Indian clubs----’

‘I meant his personal appearance,’ interrupted Chaney.

‘Oh, well, I tell you he was of medium height, darkish hair, clean-shaven, good-looking, very ready and pleasant smile, and a way with him, as we say in Yorkshire---very ingratiating, especially where the women were concerned. That girl, Alice Holroyd, was madly in love with him.’

‘And you say you’ve never heard anything of them since the wedding, Mr. Halstead? Nothing whatever, at any time?’

‘Nothing whatever, at any time! They left Milthwaite the afternoon of their wedding day, and I’ve never heard of ’em since. Of course, I expected to hear---Crowther had made a friend of me. But I’ve heard not one word--from them, at any rate. But I did hear something in the town. The girl had a bit of money invested in a building society here. I heard that a day or two before the marriage she drew it all out, every penny. About a couple of thousand pounds. I suppose he got it. Maybe that was what he married her for. After all, except for what I’ve told you, I couldn’t say I really knew Crowther.’

‘Miss Milford, of the Angel, tells me that she heard from Mrs. Crowther, about a year after the marriage,’ remarked Chaney. ‘They were then living at Mentone----’

Halstead laughed.

‘Bit close to Monte Carlo, eh?’ he said. ‘I’ll bet, from what I remember of Crowther, that if he was within twenty miles of Monte Carlo he’d be at the Casino pretty regularly! Well, I can’t tell more---except one thing. You want to find Crowther?’

‘If he’s alive! Yes!’ replied Chaney. ‘We do!’

‘Well, I can tell you one very important thing, then,’ continued Halstead. ‘Crowther, in addition to his love of gymnastics and athletics, was passionately fond of swimming. We’d a fine swimming pool at the athletic club I mentioned, and he used to swim there a lot. Now then I can tell you, if you ever find him, how you can positively identify Crowther---positively, with no mistake!’

‘Good, good!’ said Chaney. ‘How, how?’

‘Crowther,’ replied Halstead, ‘has a remarkable specimen of elaborate tattooing on his left arm, just above the elbow. It’s a sort of bracelet---a black serpent or dragon that goes completely round the fleshy part of the arm. He told me it had been done when he was somewhere in the East. Anyhow, it’s a most beautiful bit of work, and he’ll never get rid of it as long as he lives---he’ll not rub that off! So, if you ever do come across him, you’ll know him by that---it’s something exceptional. But really, now, do you honestly think this poor woman, murdered in Little Custom Street, is Mrs. Crowther? And if so----’

We remained discussing the two murders with Mr. Halstead for some time; then, at his suggestion, we went round to the office of the Milthwaite Observer, gave in an advertisement for insertion in the next morning’s issue in which we asked anybody who could give any information about Alice Crowther, née Holroyd, to communicate with us at the Midland Hotel, Milthwaite, immediately. Before noon next day we were informed that Mr. Charles Perkins, solicitor, had called to see us: we had been out when he called, so he had left a message---would we go round to see him at his office in Exchange Buildings?

We went round to Mr. Perkins there and then: Mr. Perkins turned out to be an elderly gentleman of a questioning manner who wanted to know all we could tell him before he told anything to us. As in the case of Mr. Halstead we had to take him into our confidence before we could get further. But then, as he said, you can tell anything to a doctor, a priest, and a lawyer. And he did not show any considerable surprise at what we told him.

‘I know nothing about Crowther,’ he said. ‘I knew Alice Holroyd. She employed my professional services in realizing her holding in the Third Equitable Building Society in this town. She’d something over £2,000 invested there---left her by her father. She drew the whole amount out just before she married. It was against my advice, but she said she and her husband were going into business together and wanted capital.’

‘Did she tell you where the business was to be, sir?’ asked Chaney.

‘She didn’t,’ replied Mr. Perkins. ‘But---two years later---I had to seek Mrs. Crowther out. A distant relation of hers left her a legacy of £1,500. It was in my hands. I made enquiry at the Angel Hotel, where she’d been engaged before her marriage, and Miss Milford told me she believed Mrs. Crowther was at Mentone. So I advertised for her in a Mentone paper---one printed in English, a sort of visitors’ list. And I heard from her. She was there---at Mentone.’

‘Did she say what she was doing, sir?’ enquired Chaney.

‘No! She just told me she’d seen the advertisement, and, in consequence, sent me her address. Of course, all I wanted was proof that she was the identical Alice Holroyd, now Crowther, that I’d known in Milthwaite. I got that in due course, and the £1,500 was paid over to her. Here,’ continued Mr. Perkins, opening a drawer in his desk, and extricating some papers, ‘is my correspondence with her---purely formal---and her final acknowledgment of the receipt of the money.’

‘The address is what we should like to have,’ said Chaney. ‘We may be able to trace her subsequent movements from that.’

‘The address,’ said Mr. Perkins, glancing at the papers in his hand, ‘is simply Promenade St. Louis. No number.’

He held out the papers to Chaney, but Chaney shook his head.

‘I don’t know that there’s anything pertinent in that, sir,’ he said. ‘The address will be useful. But in that correspondence is there any mention of the husband---Crowther?’

‘None,’ replied Mr. Perkins. ‘Never mentioned at all.’

‘Did you, yourself, ever see Crowther, about the time of the marriage?’ asked Chaney.

‘No, I never saw him. She never brought him here. She spoke of him as a very clever young fellow---I should say she was infatuated with him. Now,’ concluded Mr. Perkins, ‘do you really think the murdered woman was Mrs. Crowther?---really?’

‘I think so!’ replied Chaney. ‘Everything is pointing to it.’

‘Then,’ said Mr. Perkins, ‘I lay anything her husband is at the bottom of it! Good-morning.’

We left Mr. Perkins and went out on the street. Chaney spoke.

‘Camberwell!’ he said. ‘We’ll have to go to the South of France.’

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