The Mystery Queen, by Fergus Hume

Chapter 11

On the Trail

When Dan, looking rather pale and sick, presented himself at The Moment office late that same evening, the first question Laurance put to him was relative to the accident. “Was your machine tampered with?” asked Freddy, in a breathless manner, and almost immediately the door was closed.

“No, it wasn’t,” replied Halliday, sinking with a tired sigh into the nearest chair. “I was making a quick turn and the rudder gave way; I put too great a strain on it, and came fluttering to the ground like a shot partridge. That was a few miles beyond Bedford. However, I had the aeroplane dismounted and packed away in a village close at hand, then after a rest caught the express to St. Pancras. You got my wire?”

“Yes, and I fancied this tumble must be the work of the gang.”

“Not a bit of it. My bad flying, that’s all. Well, I have lost the race, and the man who flew the Zig-zag monoplane has won, though he took his own time in arriving at York. A dashed bad machine I think he had, even though it’s come out top for the time being. I’m a bit shaken, and feel sick, but a night’s rest will put me square.”

“Why didn’t you go straight home and get it?” inquired Freddy anxiously, for there was no denying that Dan looked considerably fagged.

“I read about this death of Durwin in a late edition of an evening paper, and couldn’t rest until I knew the truth. The paper only gave a hint. Tell me what you know.”

Laurance did so, and then handed Halliday a proof of his article on the subject which was to appear in the morning issue of “The Moment”. He supplemented the same with further information.

“I went down to see if there was any scent on the clothes of the corpse,” he explained, “it’s still at Blackheath, you know, in charge of the inspector. There’s no perfume, anyhow.”

“And no fly?”

“No. I asked that the moment I saw Durwin stretched out on the ground. If this crime is the work of the gang, the sign-manual is absent.”

“All the same it is the work of the gang, I truly believe,” remarked Dan, in grim tones. “Durwin has been on the hunt, and very probably, since he discovered the death of Moon first of all, he has been watched. One of the gang got behind him in the crowd, and knifed him in the crush. It would be perfectly easy for the assassin to slip away, without being noticed, since everyone was watching the flight of the aeroplanes.”

Laurance nodded. “I agree with you. But who is the assassin?”

“Well,” said Dan, reflectively, “I saw Penn on the ground.”

“The deuce you did!” cried Freddy jumping up; “did he —”

“Don’t be in too great a hurry. He seems to me much too nervous a man to handle this job.”

“But he belongs to the gang,” insisted Laurance, sharply. “He has as good as admitted that much by what he said of the perfume.”

“Oh yes, I believe he has something to do with the association, which, by the way, appears to be a kind of joint-stock company, like that one mentioned by Balzac in his story ‘Histoire des Treize’, and —”

“Oh, hang your literary references!” interrupted Freddy, anxiously pacing the office, “do you believe that Penn struck the blow?”

“No, I don’t. The gang must have better men than he to strike.”

“Or women,” muttered Laurance, thinking of the false Mrs. Brown. “However, since Penn was in the crowd, and is plainly in the secret of the gang, don’t you think we ought to tell the Blackheath inspector about the matter, and also Inspector Tenson, who had charge of the Hampstead crime?”

“No,” said Dan, after a pause. “If Penn is arrested and questioned, he will say nothing. As he hinted, he would be killed if he gave away the gang; so as he wouldn’t split, when I threatened him on the aeroplane, he certainly won’t speak out if questioned by the police. And we haven’t got enough evidence to prove his complicity, remember. Better keep silence, Freddy, and let the police get at the truth by themselves. Meanwhile, we can look round and keep an eye on Penn.”

After some argument, Laurance agreed to act as his friend suggested. It was no doubt the wiser course to take no action until absolute proof could be procured that the secretary was a member of the gang. Also, if Penn were arrested, the organisation might break up and scatter out of sheer alarm, in which case all the villains would not be caught. Dan deemed it best to work quietly until the whole of the scoundrels could be netted, and to do so it was necessary to preserve silence. Thus it came about that, at the inquest on Durwin, nothing came to light likely to connect this crime with the preceding one. The hint given by Freddy in “The Moment” was not taken, and, indeed, was laughed at. There was neither perfume nor fly on the corpse of the unfortunate man, and consequently no link between Blackheath and Hampstead. An open verdict was brought in, and Durwin was buried without the truth becoming known in any detail. Then a new sensation took up the attention of the public.

Nevertheless, both Dan and his friend were convinced that Durwin, having learned too much, had been done to death by the gang for its own safety in the same way as Sir Charles Moon had been removed. They employed a private detective to watch Penn, but gave him no hint that they suspected him in any way. Through Penn, who was the sole person they knew for certain — and on the evidence of the perfume was connected with the gang — they hoped to arrive at the truth, but the time was not yet ripe for questioning him as regarded his nefarious doings. But they kept him well in sight so as to watch the path he took in life. There was no doubt that by following the same they would arrive at a gathering of the dangerous person, whose association threatened to disintegrate society. As Dan, quoting Balzac’s fiction, had observed, it was Ferragus and his fellow-conspirators in a modern setting.

Dan, having lost the race, and consequently the £2,000, was short of funds, and Laurance not being rich could not lend him any money. However, the two managed to borrow a certain sum from a grasping money-lender, which supplied the sinews of war for the time being, and Halliday had the Vincent aeroplane brought to Blackheath again, and made some money in his usual way by taking various people trips for short distances. Aviation was now quite a Society craze, especially for ladies desirous of a new sensation, so Dan did extremely well. A few months later he intended to attempt a cross-Channel flight, for which a French millionaire was offering a large prize, but in the meantime he got along as best he could. Nothing happened for a week or two, likely to stir up the muddy water which concealed the doings of the gang, and there were no new murders. Then Dan took Lillian to a cinematograph exhibition, and made a discovery.

Of course Lillian was profoundly grieved that her lover should have lost the race, but comforted herself with the reflection that he was safe. Had she been able, she would have interdicted Dan from trying further flights, especially in the face of the many accidents which were occurring in connection with aviation all over the world. Dan, however, laughed at her fears, and insisted upon continuing his dangerous vocation. Nevertheless, he promised in a moment of tenderness, to give up aviation when he and Lillian were married, though at present affairs in this direction did not look bright. As yet Dan had discovered very little likely to lead to the detection of Moon’s assassin, and until that individual was brought to justice, Sir John would never consent to the match. The course of true love in these dark days was by no means running so smoothly as the pair desired.

Lord Curberry haunted Sir John Moon’s house, and pestered Lillian with undesired attentions until she was openly rude to him. But this did not at all damp his ardour; he merely smiled acidly and continued to send flowers and theatre seats, and lastly articles of jewellery, which she declined to accept. And always Sir John was at her elbow, croaking out what a lucky girl she was to attract the attention of the peer. With her money and his title, to say nothing of his talents, the marriage would be an ideal one. Lillian did not agree, and with the obstinacy of a woman in love with the wrong person, preferred to think of, and long for, Dan Halliday. More than that, with the connivance of Mrs. Bolstreath, who was heart and soul with the poor suitor, Lillian contrived to meet him at various times, and enjoy herself not a little. On these occasions they were like children let loose from an over-severe nursery. Sometimes, Mrs. Bolstreath came as chaperon, and sometimes, knowing that Dan was a gentleman, she allowed them to be together, solus and alone, which, naturally, they liked much better. But on the whole, and so that no one might talk, the good-natured, smiling woman followed their restless footsteps to restaurants and theatres — matinees, that is — even to cinematographs. It was at one of these last entertainments that Dan received a shock.

On this particular occasion, Mrs. Bolstreath was not with them, as she had gone shopping in Regent Street. An appointment had been made by her to meet Lillian and Dan at five, when the trio intended to have afternoon tea in New Bond Street. Meantime, as it was only three o’clock, the lovers had the whole of London to themselves. The day was rather fine, so Lillian proposed to go to the unfashionable spaces of the park, where she was not likely to meet with any acquaintance. Dan was willing, and they walked along Piccadilly in a leisurely manner. Then Lillian stumbled on a biograph theatre, and read the programme. When she saw that a set of pictures represented the aviation ground at Blackheath, and the start for the London to York race, nothing would serve her whim, but that she must go in and see the film. Dan was willing to oblige her, as he also was curious to see himself in a moving-picture. Therefore, they soon found themselves being guided by an attendant with an electric-torch, through the warm darkness of the hall to a couple of well-cushioned seats. The performance was a continuous one, the pictures repeating themselves again and again, so the lovers arrived in the middle of an interesting story of which they did not know the beginning. Anxious to see what had gone before, Lillian exacted a promise from her complaisant swain that they should wait until the repetition. Dan agreed, but reminded her that this delay would mean no walk in the park.

“Never mind,” said Lillian, slipping her hand into his under cover of the friendly twilight, “we can stay here until we meet Bolly in New Bond Street; you know I adore cinematographs.”

“And me also I hope,” insinuated Dan, to which the answer was a friendly and very emphatic squeeze.

As is usual with such entertainments the pictures were a mixture of comedy and tragedy, so as not to dwell too long on one note. But Lillian, in an impatient mood, waited anxiously for the aviation scenes. These were in due time thrown on the screen, and the girl gave a little cry of pleasure when she saw Dan tinkering at his aeroplane, every gesture being faithfully reproduced. Halliday himself was greatly amused by this resurrection of his doing, and felt an odd feeling at coming face to face with himself in this way. Then he started, greatly surprised, for in front of the crowd, and disproportionately large in comparison with the rest of the figures, he beheld the massive form of Mrs. Jarsell moving across the illuminated picture. She even paused to look round at someone in the mob, so he had a distinct front view of her powerful face. There could be no mistake, as she was a singularly noticeable woman, and when she finally passed away from the screen, he sat wondering at the odd chance which had shown him that she had been on the Blackheath aviation ground on the very day and about the very time Durwin had met with his mysterious death. Her presence suggested the possession of the Sumatra scent perfume, which in its turn recalled Penn’s ownership of the same, and the scent of the dead Sir Charles Moon’s clothes. More than ever Dan was convinced that Mrs. Jarsell was connected with the gang, and therefore with the two tragedies which were perplexing justice. He was glad that he had promised to wait for the repetition, and when Lillian wished to go, after she had seen the start of the picture, which had met them half-finished on their entrance, Dan urged her to stop and witness the aviation scenes once more.

“It is so amusing to see oneself in this way,” said Dan, artfully.

Lillian pouted. “I wish I could have been taken also,” she said with a sigh of pleasure, and willingly consented to wait.

The second view convinced Halliday absolutely that he was right. It was Mrs. Jarsell who moved so royally across the screen, and what puzzled him was that she appeared to be well dressed, without any attempt at disguise. Yet, if she had come to Blackheath bent upon crime, she would surely have worn a veil, so as not to be noticed. Still, Mrs. Jarsell, living a secluded life at Sheepeak, would not be known to anyone in London, and might not think it necessary to disguise herself in any way. Moreover, if by chance she was recognised through any possible disguise, such a thing would mean the asking of leading questions. However, there was no doubt that she had been on the aviation ground when Durwin was murdered, and Dan determined to go that same night to Sheepeak and make inquiries. He was very silent when at the afternoon tea with the ladies, but Lillian chattered enough for two, and gave Mrs. Bolstreath a vivid account of the animated pictures. The companion certainly did hint that Halliday was not quite himself, but he averted further inquiries by saying that he had a headache. Then he took leave of the pair, and went to see what train he could catch to Thawley, being in so great a hurry that he did not even call on Freddy Laurance to acquaint him with his wonderful discovery.

Thus Halliday most unexpectedly found himself standing on the Thawley Station platform a few minutes after nine o’clock, as he had left St. Pancras by the six o’clock express. It was now too late to travel by the local to Beswick, for when he reached that place there was the long hill to climb to Sheepeak, and the Peacock Hotel would probably be closed by the time he got to his destination. Dan therefore decided to remain in Thawley for the night, and secured a bed at an hotel near the station. Early next morning he came to look for George Pelgrin, with whom he wished to talk, and had no difficulty in finding him. A brother-porter brought the man to him, and handing over his bag, Halliday requested to be led to the platform whence the Beswick local departed. Then he began to ask artful questions.

Pelgrin was a big bovine creature, with sleepy blue eyes, and a slow, ponderous manner, which argued small intelligence. Dan wondered why a clever woman like Mrs. Jarsell should interest herself in such a creature, and to find out cautiously introduced the lady’s name. “I was staying at your aunt’s hotel in Sheepeak some time ago,” said Dan, as George carried his bag over the bridge, “and she told me that you are quite a favourite with my friend, Mrs. Jarsell of The Grange.”

“Aye,” grinned George amiably, “that I be, Sir. I come from Sheepeak, and Mrs. Jarsell she takes interest in Sheepeak folk. “send for George,” she says, when coming to London, and I puts her straight as she likes.”

“She comes to town pretty often I expect,” said Halliday, lightly, “which is all the better for your pocket.”

“Why, no,” said Pelgrin, thoughtfully, “she don’t go away much from Sheepeak, not even to come to Thawley. Once in a few months she goes to London to see things. “George,” she says, “I’m going to look up friends,” or “George, I’m after lawyer’s business this day,” she says. Oh, she’s good to me and Aunt Marian, is Mrs. Jarsell. I wish she’d come to London oftener,” ended George in dismal tones, “for she gives me half-a-crown always, and don’t come as often as I’d like, seeing as I wants money.”

“Ah, she’s a stay-at-home,” commented Halliday.

“Looking after that friend of hers, Miss Armour, she is,” agreed George.

“Well, she has been a good friend to me,” said the other man, stepping lightly into a first-class compartment, “for she got me an aeroplane from Mr. Vincent.”

“Aye,” said Pelgrin, “I know him. Crosspatch he is, Sir.”

“I think so, too. But Mrs. Jarsell promised to come to London and see me in the London to York race. You heard of it, I suppose.”

“Aye, that I did,” said Pelgrin, and mentioned the exact date, “we’d a heap of traffic that day, folk going to York to see them airships arrive. But Mrs. Jarsell wasn’t one of them, Sir.”

“She wouldn’t go to York, but to London.”

“She didn’t go nowhere,” said George doggedly, “on that day anyhow. “Send for George,” she always says, and on the day of that flying-race send for me she did not. So she stayed at home, I reckon.”

“Oh,” Dan looked disappointed. “I did so want her to see me flying in this race, Pelgrin, since she got Mr. Vincent to give me the aeroplane.”

“Well, she didn’t see you, Sir, for she never went to London on that day early or late, I swear. She don’t go much away from Sheepeak, and hasn’t been there — to London that is, Sir — for months. And she always tips me half-a-crown,” ended George once more.

Dan took the hint and handed over the money. “There you are. And I hope Mrs. Jarsell will travel oftener so that you may become rich.”

“Aye, I need money, me being engaged as it were,” said Pelgrin, with a grin, touching his forelock, and he went on explaining his private affairs, which had to do with a girl, until the train steamed out of the station.

Dan was puzzled. According to the cinematograph Mrs. Jarsell had certainly been in town on the day of the race, yet this yokel swore that she had not travelled from the Thawley station. Yet there was no other route by which she could come. Of course, according to Mrs. Pelgrin, the woman owned three motors and could go to London in that way. There was just a chance that she might have done so, but Dan did not know how he was to find out. It would be no use asking Mrs. Jarsell, as she would deny having been out of Sheepeak. Yet since she was wholly undisguised on the Blackheath ground, why should she deny her identity? It might be that she would admit having gone to the big city — say by motor — and would defy him to credit her with the death of Durwin. Not that Dan would be foolish enough to accuse her of the same, as he had no evidence to bring forward, save the fact of the perfume, and that was a weak reed upon which to lean. Mrs. Pelgrin might know something, however, and to Mrs. Pelgrin he determined to apply for information.

At the end of his journey, and when he arrived in a ramshackle fly, he was welcomed by her as usual — that is, she bounced out of the inn, and placing her arms akimbo, smiled grimly. “Oh, so you are here again,” she said in exactly the same way in which she had greeted Laurance.

“Yes,” said Halliday readily, having his excuse cut and dried, “I lost the flying race, and have come to apologise to Mr. Vincent for misusing his machine. I only want a midday meal, as I leave again this afternoon.”

“You shall have your dinner,” snapped Mrs. Pelgrin, leading the way into the inn after Dan had arranged for the driver of the trap to wait for three or four hours. “So you didn’t win that race. Aye, Mr. Vincent will be rare mad with you, thinking what he does of those kites he makes.”

Halliday sat down in the well-remembered room and laughed. “The fortune of war, Mrs. Pelgrin. But I am sorry I lost the race, Mrs. Jarsell, who got me the aeroplane, will also be disappointed. Did she tell you about the start?”

“Eh! man, would a lady like her come chattering to a humble body like me?” was the landlady’s reply, as she laid the table rapidly, “not that she saw the race, mind you, Mr. Halliday.”

“Oh, but she must have,” replied Dan, with pretended surprise, “she promised to come and see me start from Blackheath.”

“She did not go to London,” persisted Mrs. Pelgrin, her eyes becoming angry at the contradiction, “I mind that well, because she came to see me about some eggs on the very day you were flying, and, says she, ‘It will be a good day for Mr. Vincent’s machine to win the race.’”

“Are you sure?” asked Dan, more puzzled than ever to find that the stories of Mrs. Pelgrin and her nephew were in accordance with one another.

“Do you take me for a fool?” cried Mrs. Pelgrin, her sallow face becoming a fiery red; “am I not telling you again and again that Mrs. Jarsell never went to see your rubbishy race? She came here to get some eggs from me, and sat in this very room at nine o’clock, or a little after. You take me for a liar, you — you — oh, I’ll best see to the dinner, or I’ll lose my temper,” and the sharp-tongued woman, having already lost it, bounced out of the room.

“Mrs. Jarsell was here at nine o’clock, or a little after,” repeated Dan, in a wondering tone, “then she could not have been in London. All the same, I swear I saw her on that cinematograph.” Here he opened his bag and took out an “A.B.C.”, to see the trains from Thawley to London.

An examination showed him that, even if Mrs. Jarsell had left Thawley Station at nine o’clock exactly, she would not have reached St. Pancras until twelve-five. This would scarcely give her time to arrive at Blackheath. The aeroplanes had started in the race at one o’clock, and, according to the evidence at the inquest the people had been looking at them flying northward at the moment Durwin was stabbed. Mrs. Jarsell could hardly have arrived on the ground by one o’clock if she only got to St. Pancras at mid-day. And then, to do that, she would have been obliged to leave Thawley at nine o’clock. According to George she had not been near the station on that day, and if Mrs. Pelgrin was to be believed, she was in the very room he now occupied at the hour when the express departed. It was clearly impossible that she could have got to Thawley for the nine o’clock train, let alone it being impossible that had she caught the express she could have arrived in London in time to execute the crime by one o’clock, or a trifle later. Yet, on the one hand, was the evidence of Mrs. Pelgrin and her nephew, while on the other hand was the evidence of the cinematograph. One or the other must assuredly be wrong. Of course the landlady and George might be telling lies, but on the face of it there was no need for them to do so. Moreover, as Dan had sprung his questions on them unexpectedly, they could not have been ready with false answers.

“She must have used a motor-car,” thought Halliday, restoring the “A.B.C.” to his bag, “yet even so, she was here at nine o’clock, and could not have reached town in the three hours and odd minutes. D— it!”

Mrs. Pelgrin brought in the dinner with compressed lips and showed small disposition to chatter. Anxious not to arouse her suspicions by asking any further questions, Dan began to talk of other matters, and gradually she became more friendly. He told her that he had employed George and had given him half-a-crown, since the mention of money appeared to melt her into civility more than did anything else. Mrs. Pelgrin smiled grimly, and observed that “George was a grasping hound,” an amiable speech which did not argue that she was on the best of terms with the sleepy-eyed man at Thawley Station. After Dan had learned indirectly all he could from her he sought out Vincent’s cottage, only to learn that the inventor and his niece were absent for the day. As he could frame no excuse to visit Mrs. Jarsell there was nothing left for him to do but to travel back to town; therefore he found himself once more in St. Pancras Station, comparatively early in the evening, wondering what was the solution of this new problem.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42