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Chapter 28

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« on: March 15, 2023, 07:23:39 am »

LORD Edward Keynsham detached himself from the little group of friends with whom he had entered the dining room of the Carlton Club on the following day, and, with a brief word or two of excuse, crossed the room to the solitary table where Rossiter was lunching. The latter laid down his newspaper and greeted him with imperturbable expression.

“I thought you were abroad, Keynsham,” he remarked.

“I returned this morning,” was the somewhat weary reply. “I rather wanted to see you. In fact, I want to see you very particularly, so I rang up Whitehall. They told me that you might be lunching here. May I sit down with you?”

“By all means,” Rossiter acquiesced. “As a matter of fact, I should be rather glad to have a few words with you myself.”

Keynsham drew out the opposite chair, gave an order to the waiter and leaned across the table. He had evidently not recovered from the fatigue of his journey, for there were lines under his eyes and there was a general air of strain about his appearance and manner.

“Humphrey,” he confided, “I am going to make an appeal to you.”

“An appeal?” Rossiter repeated gravely. “That sounds quaint.”

“You will think so before I have finished,” Keynsham went on. “I will start by making a confession. That fellow Brandt who was hung---I knew a great deal more of him than people ever imagined. He was one of my partners in the great enterprise of my life.”

“Was that the reason,” Sir Humphrey asked severely, “that you became involved in that disgraceful outrage at Norwich---an outrage which might have cost me my reason?”

Keynsham winced.

“That had something to do with it, of course,” he admitted. “I was only one of half a dozen. We were all in the same boat. We didn’t want Brandt hung until one of us had seen him.”

“And therefore you put me to the torture----”

“It couldn’t be helped,” Keynsham interrupted doggedly. “Brandt had done a hellish thing. No ordinary brain could have conceived anything so utterly malicious. You only half believed us, Humphrey---Louise and me---when we carried you and Katherine Brandt out of the picture for a time, but when you got back, you must have understood better. You can guess what would have happened to you if you had been around when they searched your house. Van Pleyden probably gave you an idea.”

“So he is one of your gang, is he?”

“He is one,” Keynsham confessed. “He’s not the worst, though, as I’m afraid you will find out, unless you will listen to me. Humphrey, you have got to listen to me. I want to save your life and there is only one way.”

A waiter bustled up with some dishes and Keynsham leaned back in his chair to allow himself to be served. He sipped a glass of sherry which had been placed by his side.

“Is this ours?” he asked the wine waiter confidentially.

“I am afraid not, your lordship,” the man acknowledged. “To my mind, it is nothing like so good as your Amontillado. This is a sample bin we had in from another source.”

“I must remember to speak to some one on the wine committee,” Keynsham reflected. “I agree with you, Henry, it is not so good as ours. . . . Forgive my talking shop,” he apologized to his companion. “I have the name, I’m afraid, of being one of the keenest tradesmen who ever took up his job rather late in life.”

Sir Humphrey smiled.

“You need not apologise,” he said. “I would sooner talk about wine than murder---at luncheon time, at any rate. This port, for instance”---he sipped the wine with which he had just been served, held the glass up to the light and sipped it again. “Now I wonder,” he went on, “do you supply the club with this wood port? They’ve been having the same, so far as I can remember, for about ten years, and it seems to me to get better every time I drink it. Suits me better in the middle of the day than a vintage wine.”

“The club have four different brands of tawny port,” Keynsham confided, after a moment’s pause. “Two of them are ours. I couldn’t tell you about the wine you are drinking because I don’t know which it is. I am not much of a judge of anything except vintage wines.”

“It’s very good, anyway,” Rossiter murmured. “Now, Edward, if you have anything to say to me---anything that spells sense, I mean---out with it, because I must be off in a few minutes.”

“What I want,” Lord Edward said firmly, “is for you to refuse the executorship.”

“Why should I?” Sir Humphrey asked. “Katherine Brandt is an old friend. I feel that I ought to help her in any way I can. If being Brandt’s executor means that I’m going to stumble against some things about you and your friends which you don’t want known, well, any other man who was put in my place would probably be equally objectionable to you.”

“Yes. But the trouble is,” Keynsham explained, “that you are Home Secretary and quixotically conscientious.”

“You flatter me,” Sir Humphrey observed drily.

“Will you give up the executorship?” Keynsham persisted.

“Certainly not,” Sir Humphrey replied. “I am sorry, Edward, but you are asking me a foolish thing and you are not attempting to explain it. Some one has to be the man’s executor and that some one should be a friend of Katherine Brandt’s. If she would rather I retired, I will, but not if she’s frightened into persuading me to give it up. As to you, Edward, I don’t know who your friends are or what in God’s name you have been up to, but we have known each other a good many years and I am going to warn you---I’m not taking all this business lying down, you know. Scotland Yard know everything that I know and have been waiting pretty anxiously for you to come back from abroad. All your friends have been proud of you and your success and it would break Louise’s heart if anything ugly were to turn up. I put the Norwich affair into their hands, naturally, but I am not vindictive, and I sha’n’t go any further with it than I am compelled to. But---you leave me alone, Edward, and see that your friends do. Unless Katherine objects, I shall be proving Brandt’s will and going into the matter of his estate within a week.”

Keynsham shrugged his shoulders and turned back to his lunch. More than once in his life he had faced a mortal crisis with apparent indifference.

“Then God help us all!” he said.


That afternoon the Home Secretary spoke with dry, but convincing eloquence for an hour and three quarters upon the new Housing Bill. He also accorded a couple of interviews in his official apartment, sat upon a commission for half an hour, and, successfully evading several other callers, left the House just before six. He drove first to his solicitor’s, whom he put in touch with Messrs. Debenham, Twiss & Debenham, with instructions to investigate the estate of the late Cecil Brandt and to announce his probable acceptance of the executorship. He then drove to Angels’ Court, Chelsea, where Katherine Brandt was once more safely established in the delightful little maisonette where she had lived before her marriage. He found her waiting to receive him in the orange-coloured salon which had been approved by every gossiping newspaper in London.

“You get later and later,” she complained, as she gave him her hand.

“My dear Katherine,” he explained, “these meteoric disappearances for which you are, I fancy, a little more responsible than I am, interfere somewhat with my regular activities. I wonder how long we are going to be left alone now.”

“But are we being left alone?” she demanded. “What’s this about a burglary? It’s in all the papers.”

She handed him a news sheet and he glanced through the headlines.


“The headlines tell most of the story,” he observed, sinking into the easy-chair which she had drawn over to the fire. “The most important sentence is the last---‘Nothing of value was stolen’.”

“Was it those mysterious enemies of yours again, do you think?” she asked anxiously.

“For the moment,” he confided, “we can only indulge in speculation. One of the most engaging young men I ever met in my life called to see me yesterday afternoon, and, after making courteous conversation for a few moments, suddenly demanded, on behalf of himself and an unknown array of friends, that I yield up a key!”

“Humphrey!” she cried. “My dear Humphrey!”

“At any rate, we know now what they’re after,” he remarked.

“A key?”

“Precisely. I failed altogether to convince that obstinate young man that I possessed no key which was not my own property. He called my attention to the fact that during my absence from home my belongings had already been ransacked in search of this article, as yours had been, and in kindly but forcible fashion gave me to understand that unless I parted with it, I was likely to come to a violent and untimely end.”

“But didn’t you tell him that you knew nothing about any key?”

“I did. He disbelieved me entirely. He showed signs, in fact, of laying violent hands upon me, when suddenly the detective, whom I had forbidden Scotland Yard to place anywhere near the premises, made a melodramatic appearance and stopped the whole business.”

“Did he arrest the young man?” Katherine asked eagerly.

“No such luck,” Sir Humphrey groaned. “He went off through the window with a great crashing of glass, and so far as I know, they’ve not caught him yet. . . . Now comes the humorous part of the whole thing.”

“Humorous! What a brick you are, dear!”

She rose to her feet and paced the room restlessly, coming to a standstill finally by the side of his chair.

“Well, I appeal to you---isn’t it humorous?” he demanded. “The world’s finest burglars have opened my safe and bureau with the utmost ease. They have ransacked my belongings in every quarter of the house. They have done the same to your trunks and your belongings, and all the time---where was the key?”

“You don’t mean to say that you know?” she cried.

“The key,” he confided, “was, during the whole of the time, in a soiled square envelope which I rather fancy had ‘Wandsworth Prison’ at the back of it, slipped behind a dish on a shelf in my butler’s pantry!”

She let go his shoulder, which her fingers had been gripping, and stood away from him. The light faded from her face. There was fear in her eyes.

“Then we have it, after all,” she faltered.

“You have not,” he replied. “I have. I can’t blame Parkins. It was left by a messenger at the door in the ordinary way on the evening after the Wandsworth affair. Parkins looked upon it, and I don’t blame him, as being of no particular consequence, and he pushed the envelope on the shelf of the dresser, meaning to bring it out with the evening batch of letters. It was the day I was taken ill, so you can imagine that in the confusion he forgot all about it.”

“But you have it now?” she persisted, still with that light of fear in her eyes.

He smiled reassuringly.

“It is in my official safe,” he told her, “in my official room in the House of Commons. No admittance to burglars. We can therefore deliberate about it.”

“What I want to know,” she cried passionately, “is---who are these men---people of consequence they must be---who are holding this rod of terror over our heads? What is it the key of? Does it belong to me or does it not? Did it belong honestly to Cecil or did it not? Do these men want to steal or have they a claim on it? How are we to get at the truth, Humphrey?”

Sir Humphrey glanced towards the sideboard, a perfect little Queen Anne affair with twin curved sides.

“It would assist my deliberations,” he confided, “if you were to remember that it is half-past six. . . .”

She rang the bell. A parlourmaid appeared with a silver salver on which was a pail of ice, a cocktail shaker and two beautifully cut glasses. From the cupboard were produced several bottles. Katherine mixed the cocktails.

“It is we moderate drinkers,” Sir Humphrey pronounced, as he sank back into his delightful easy-chair, “who get the full measure of joy out of alcohol. Nothing this morning. A glass of water with my luncheon, a glass of port afterwards (I must tell you about that luncheon), several hours of steady work, and what in the world could seem more attractive to me---gastronomically, of course---than this delicious cocktail? The very thought that nothing in the world would induce me to take more than two makes every drop precious.”

“Your words come too readily,” she laughed. “I shall begin to believe that you’ve been speaking this afternoon.”

“Quite right,” he admitted. “An hour and a half. . . . A dull speech, but the words came. I hope they were the right ones. That is the one thing I’m sometimes afraid of---the curtailment of my vocabulary. . . . To hell with the House of Commons and speeches on the Housing question! My love, Katherine! And may you always be wearing that particular shade of dull rose whenever I come to see you.”

“Flatterer,” she laughed. “Now tell me about the luncheon, Humphrey.”

“The point about it was this,” he recounted. “Edward Keynsham suddenly reappeared again, came over to my table at the club and asked if he could lunch with me.”

“What did he want?” Katherine asked with subdued eagerness.

“He wanted me to renounce the executorship.”

She moved a little nervously. Her eyes became very intent and compelling.

“Any reason?”

“He was not exactly candid. One had to read between the lines. He seems to have been associated with your husband in certain enterprises which a respectable person like a Home Secretary should know nothing about. Shall I give up the executorship, Katherine?”

“Would they leave you alone if you did?” she asked.

“I don’t know that I want them to. After all, you know, I am an officer of the Crown. I have been very badly treated by these men and I should like to know what it’s all about.”

“I wish I could tell you,” she sighed. “I never dared ask Cecil anything. He was jealous of Lord Edward, just as he was of you or any one else who came near me.”

“Keynsham struck me as being far more natural to-day, at any rate,” Sir Humphrey remarked, sipping his cocktail. “He may be perfectly honest. If he is, he seems to have got himself into a most unholy mess, somehow or other. Probably I shall understand all about it when I go into your husband’s affairs. That, I suppose, is what they are so desperately afraid of. . . . The one great and terrifying reflection just now is that I actually have in my possession the object of their desperate searches.”

“The key?”

“The key,” he assented. “Now listen. Did Cecil ever say anything to you about owning a safe anywhere or having a key which was valuable?”

“Never in his life, that I can remember.”

“Of course, that makes it all the more inexplicable,” he sighed. “On the morning, or some time on the day, of his death, a warder from Wandsworth Prison, bribed, I suppose, brought up and left at the house for me in an ordinary envelope a key, which Parkins mislaid and forgot all about. Not a line of writing, not a single elucidating word---just a key. A plain flat key of oxidised silver. It has the name Grimmett stamped upon one side of the shaft and 1431 in figures on the other side. Did you ever hear of any one called Grimmett?”


“In that case,” Sir Humphrey sighed, “I am terribly afraid that I shall have to get back and see my friend Colonel Matterson again, after all. I cannot do my duty to you as your husband’s executor, with a possession like this sent to me at the last moment, and remain ignorant of what it means.”

She left her chair again as though with a sudden impulse and came and stood by his side.

“Humphrey,” she begged, “let these terrible people have it; then perhaps we shall be left alone. They tell me there is plenty of money in America, as well as what there is here. The theatre is mine and I can earn what I choose. I cannot bear the thought of the danger that key seems to bring. Let them have it.”

“What?” he exclaimed. “Hand it over to that disagreeable murdering young ruffian whose fingers I can still feel on my throat! Not on my life! I’m going to find out a little more about this business before I part with it. I was very rude indeed to them all down at Scotland Yard the other day, but I’m going to eat humble pie. I am going to have Matterson come and see me this evening when I get home.”

“May I be there too, please?” she begged. “You might let me share your cutlet.”

He considered the matter. “I wonder whether I ought to deny myself,” he reflected. “You must remember, through all his vagueness, Edward was very definite on one point. He wanted me to give up the executorship, and the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that his reason is the secret he fears I shall discover with the aid of that key.”

“Bother the old key,” she laughed, rising to her feet. “I’m going to put on my hat.”
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