Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 41

At Maudesley Abbey.

Mr. Carter the detective lost no time about his work; but he did not employ the telegraph, by which means he might perhaps have expedited the arrest of Henry Dunbar’s murderer. He did not avail himself of the facilities offered by that wonderful electric telegraph, which was once facetiously called the rope that hung Tawell the Quaker, because in so doing he must have taken the local police into his confidence, and he wished to do his work quietly, only aided by a companion and humble follower, whom he was in the habit of employing.

He went up to London by the mail-train after parting from Clement Austin; took a cab at the Waterloo station, and drove straight off to the habitation of his humble assistant, whom he most unceremoniously roused from his bed. But there was no train for Warwickshire before the six-o’clock parliamentary, and there was a seven-o’clock express, which would reach Rugby ten minutes after that miserably slow conveyance; so Mr. Carter naturally elected to sacrifice the ten minutes, and travel by the express. Meanwhile he took a hearty breakfast, which had been hastily prepared by the wife of his friend and follower, and explained the nature of the business before them.

It must be confessed that, in making these explanations to his humble friend, Mr. Carter employed a tone that implied no little superiority, and that the friendliness of his manner was tempered by condescension.

The friend was a middle-aged and most respectable-looking individual, with a turnip-hued skin relieved by freckles, dark-red eyes, and pale-red hair. He was not a very prepossessing person, and had a habit of working about his lips and jaws when he was neither eating nor talking, which was far from pleasant to behold. He was very much esteemed by Mr. Carter, nevertheless; not so much because he was clever, as because he looked so eminently stupid. This last characteristic had won for him the sobriquet of Sawney Tom, and he was considered worth his weight in sovereigns on certain occasions, when a simple country lad or a verdant-looking linen-draper’s apprentice was required to enact some little part in the detective drama.

“You’ll bring some of your traps with you, Sawney,” said Mr. Carter. —“I’ll take another, ma’am, if you please. Three minutes and a half this time, and let the white set tolerably firm.” This last remark was addressed to Mrs. Sawney Tom, or rather Mrs. Thomas Tibbles — Sawney Tom’s name was Tibbles — who was standing by the fire, boiling eggs and toasting bread for her husband’s patron. “You’ll bring your traps, Sawney,” continued the detective, with his mouth full of buttered toast; “there’s no knowing how much trouble this chap may give us; because you see a chap that can play the bold game he has played, and keep it up for nigh upon a twelvemonth, could play any game. There’s nothing out that he need look upon as beyond him. So, though I’ve every reason to think we shall take my friend at Maudesley as quietly as ever a child in arms was took out of its cradle, still we may as well be prepared for the worst.”

Mr. Tibbles, who was of a taciturn disposition, and who had been busily chewing nothing while listening to his superior, merely gave a jerk of acquiescence in answer to the detective’s speech.

“We start as solicitor and clerk,” said Mr. Carter. “You’ll carry a blue bag. You’d better go and dress: the time’s getting on. Respectable black and a clean shave, you know, Sawney. We’re going to an old gentleman in the neighbourhood of Shorncliffe, that wants his will altered all of a hurry, having quarrelled with his three daughters; that’s what we’re goin’ to do, if anybody’s curious about our business.”

Mr. Tibbles nodded, and retired to an inner apartment, whence he emerged by-and-by dressed in a shabby-genteel costume of somewhat funereal aspect, and with the lower part of his face rasped like a French roll, and somewhat resembling that edible in colour.

He brought a small portmanteau with him, and then departed to fetch a cab, in which vehicle the two gentlemen drove away to the Euston–Square station.

It was one o’clock in the day when they reached the great iron gates of Maudesley Abbey in a fly which they had chartered at Shorncliffe. It was one o’clock on a bright sunshiny day, and the heart of Mr. Carter the detective beat high with expectation of a great triumph.

He descended from the fly himself, in order to question the woman at the lodge.

“You’d better get out, Sawney,” he said, putting his head in at the window, in order to speak to his companion; “I shan’t take the vehicle into the park. It’ll be quieter and safer for us to walk up to the house.”

Mr. Tibbles, with his blue-bag on his arm, got out of the fly, prepared to attend his superior whithersoever that luminary chose to lead him.

The woman at the lodge was not alone; a little group of gossips were gathered in the primly-furnished parlour, and the talk was loud and animated.

“Which I was that took aback like, you might have knocked me down with a feather,” said the proprietress of the little parlour, as she went out of the rustic porch to open the gate for Mr. Carter and his companion.

“I want to see Mr. Dunbar,” he said, “on particular business. You can tell him I come from the banking-house in St. Gundolph Lane. I’ve got a letter from the junior partner there, and I’m to deliver it to Mr. Dunbar himself!”

The keeper of the lodge threw up her hands and eyes in token of utter bewilderment.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” she said, “but I’ve been that upset, I don’t know scarcely what I’m a-doing of. Mr. Dunbar have gone, sir, and nobody in that house don’t know why he went, or when he went, or where he’s gone. The man-servant as waited on him found the rooms all empty the first thing this morning; and the groom as had charge of Mr. Dunbar’s horse, and slep’ at the back of the house, not far from the stables, fancied as how he heard a trampling last night where the horse was kep’, but put it down to the animal bein’ restless on account of the change in the weather; and this morning the horse was gone, and the gravel all trampled up, and Mr. Dunbar’s gold-headed cane (which the poor gentleman was still so lame it was as much as he could do to walk from one room to another) was lying by the garden-gate; and how he ever managed to get out and about and saddle his horse and ride away like that without bein’ ever heard by a creetur, nobody hasn’t the slightest notion; and everybody this morning was distracted like, searchin’ ‘igh and low; but not a sign of Mr. Dunbar were found nowhere.”

Mr. Carter turned pale, and stamped his foot upon the gravel-drive. Two hundred pounds is a large stake to a poor man; and Mr. Carter’s reputation was also trembling in the balance. The very man he wanted gone — gone away in the dead of the night, while all the household was sleeping!

“But he was lame,” he cried. “How about that? — the railway accident — the broken leg ——”

“Yes, sir,” the woman answered, eagerly, “that’s the very thing, sir; which they’re all talkin’ about it at the house, sir, and how a poor invalid gentleman, what could scarce stir hand or foot, should get up in the middle of the night and saddle his own horse, and ride away at a rampageous rate; which the groom says he have rode rampageous, or the gravel wouldn’t be tore up as it is. And they do say, sir, as Mr. Dunbar must have been took mad all of a sudden, and the doctor was in an awful way when he heard it; and there’s been people riding right and left lookin’ for him, sir. And Miss Dunbar — leastways Lady Jocelyn — was sent for early this morning, and she’s at the house now, sir, with her husband Sir Philip; and if your business is so very important, perhaps you’d like to see her ——”

“I should,” answered the detective, briskly. “You stop here, Sawney,” he added, aside to his attendant; “you stop here, and pick up what you can. I’ll go up to the house and see the lady.”

Mr. Carter found the door open, and a group of servants clustered in the gothic porch. Lady Jocelyn was in Mr. Dunbar’s rooms, a footman told him. The detective sent this man to ask if Mr. Dunbar’s daughter would receive a stranger from London, on most important business.

The man came back in five minutes to say yes, Lady Jocelyn would see the strange gentleman.

The detective was ushered through the two outer rooms leading to that tapestried apartment in which the missing man had spent so many miserable days, so many dismal nights. He found Laura standing in one of the windows looking out across the smooth lawn, looking anxiously out towards the winding gravel-drive that led from the principal lodge to the house.

She turned away from the window as Mr. Carter approached her, and passed her hand across her forehead. Her eyelids trembled, and she had the look of a person whose senses had been dazed by excitement and confusion.

“Have you come to bring me any news of my father?” she said. “I am distracted by this serious calamity.”

Laura looked imploringly at the detective. Something in his grave face frightened her.

“You have come to tell me of some new trouble,” she cried.

“No, Miss Dunbar — no, Lady Jocelyn, I have no new trouble to announce to you. I have come to this house in search of — of the gentleman who went away last night. I must find him at any cost. All I want is a little help from you. You may trust to me that he shall be found, and speedily, if he lives.”

“If he lives!” cried Laura, with a sudden terror in her face.

“Surely you do not imagine — you do not fear that ——”

“I imagine nothing, Lady Jocelyn. My duty is very simple, and lies straight before me. I must find the missing man.”

“You will find my father,” said Laura, with a puzzled expression. “Yes, I am most anxious that he should be found; and if — if you will accept any reward for your efforts, I shall be only too glad to give all you can ask. But how is it that you happen to come here, and to take this interest in my father? You come from the banking-house, I suppose?”

“Yes,” the detective answered, after a pause, “yes, Lady Jocelyn, I come from the office in St. Gundolph Lane.”

Mr. Carter was silent for some few moments, during which his eyes wandered about the apartment in that professional survey which took in every detail, from the colour of the curtains and the pattern of the carpets, to the tiniest porcelain toy in an antique cabinet on one side of the fireplace. The only thing upon which the detective’s glance lingered was the lamp, which Margaret had extinguished.

“I’m going to ask your ladyship a question,” said Mr. Carter, presently, looking gravely, and almost compassionately, at the beautiful face before him; “you’ll think me impertinent, perhaps, but I hope you’ll believe that I’m only a straightforward business man, anxious to do my duty in my own line of life, and to do it with consideration for all parties. You seem very anxious about this missing gentleman; may I ask if you are very fond of him? It’s a strange question, I know, my lady — or it seems a strange question — but there’s more in the answer than you can guess, and I shall be very grateful to you if you’ll answer it candidly.”

A faint flush crept over Laura’s face, and the tears started suddenly to her eyes. She turned away from the detective, and brushed her handkerchief hastily across those tearful eyes. She walked to the window, and stood there for a minute or so, looking out.

“Why do you ask me this question?” she asked, rather haughtily.

“I cannot tell you that, my lady, at present,” the detective answered; “but I give you my word of honour that I have a very good reason for what I do.”

“Very well then, I will answer you frankly,” said Laura, turning and looking Mr. Carter full in the face. “I will answer you, for I believe that you are an honest man. There is very little love between my father and me. It is our misfortune, perhaps: and it may be only natural that it should be so, for we were separated from each other for so many years, that, when at last the day of our meeting came, we met like strangers, and there was a barrier between us that could never be broken down. Heaven knows how anxiously I used to look forward to my father’s return from India, and how bitterly I felt the disappointment when I discovered, little by little, that we should never be to one another what other fathers and daughters, who have never known the long bitterness of separation, are to each other. But pray remember that I do not complain; my father has been very good to me, very indulgent, very generous. His last act, before the accident which laid him up so long, was to take a journey to London on purpose to buy diamonds for a necklace, which was to be his wedding present to me. I do not speak of this because I care for the jewels; but I am pleased to think that, in spite of the coldness of his manner, my father had some affection for his only child.”

Mr. Carter was not looking at Laura, he was staring out of the window, and his eyes had that stolid glare with which they had gazed at Clement Austin while the cashier told his story.

“A diamond necklace!” he said; “humph — ha, ha — yes!” All this was in an undertone, that hummed faintly through the detective’s closed teeth. “A diamond-necklace! You’ve got the necklace, I suppose, eh, my lady?”

“No; the diamonds were bought, but they were never made up.”

“The unset diamonds were bought by Mr. Dunbar?”

“Yes, to an enormous amount, I believe. While I was in Paris, my father wrote to tell me that he meant to delay the making of the necklace until he was well enough to go on the Continent. He could see no design in England that at all satisfied him.”

“No, I dare say not,” answered the detective, “I dare say he’d find it rather difficult to please himself in that matter.”

Laura looked inquiringly at Mr. Carter. There was something disrespectful, not to say ironical, in his tone.

“I thank you heartily for having been so candid with me, Lady Jocelyn,” he said; “and believe me I shall have your interests at heart throughout this matter. I shall go to work immediately; and you may rely upon it, I shall succeed in finding the missing man.”

“You do not think that — that under some terrible hallucination, the result of his long illness — you don’t think that he has committed suicide?”

“No,” Lady Jocelyn, answered the detective, decisively, “there is nothing further from my thoughts now.”

“Thank Heaven for that!”

“And now, my lady, may I ask if you’ll be kind enough to let me see Mr. Dunbar’s valet, and to leave me alone with him in these rooms? I may pick up something that will help me to find your father. By the bye, you haven’t a picture of him — a miniature, a photograph, or anything of that sort, eh?”

“No, unhappily I have no portrait whatever of my father.”

“Ah, that is unlucky; but never mind, we must contrive to get on without it.”

Laura rang the bell. One of the superb footmen, the birds of paradise who consented to glorify the halls and passages of Maudesley Abbey, appeared in answer to the summons, and went in search of Mr. Dunbar’s own man — the man who had waited on the invalid ever since the accident.

Having sent for this person, Laura bade the detective good morning, and went away through the vista of rooms to the other side of the hall, to that bright modernized wing of the house which Percival Dunbar had improved and beautified for the granddaughter he idolized.

Mr. Dunbar’s own man was only too glad to be questioned, and to have a good opportunity of discoursing upon the event which had caused such excitement and consternation. But the detective was not a pleasant person to talk to, as he had a knack of cutting people short with a fresh question at the first symptom of rambling; and, indeed, so closely did he keep his companion to the point, that a conversation with him was a kind of intellectual hornpipe between a set of fire-irons.

Under this pressure the valet told all he knew about his master’s departure, with very little loss of time by reason of discursiveness.

“Humph! — ha! — ah, yes!” muttered the detective between his teeth; “only one friend that was at all intimate with your master, and that was a gentleman called Vernon, lately come to live at Woodbine Cottage, Lisford Road; used to come at all hours to see your master; was odd in his ways, and dressed queer; first came on Miss Laura’s wedding-day; was awful shabby then; came out quite a swell afterwards, and was very free with his money at Lisford. Ah! — humph! You’ve heard your master and this gentleman at high words — at least you’ve fancied so; but, the doors being very thick, you ain’t certain. It might have been only telling anecdotes. Some gentlemen do swear and row like in telling anecdotes. Yes, to be sure! You’ve felt a belt round your master’s waist when you’ve been lifting him in and out of bed. He wore it under his shirt, and was always fidgety in changing his shirt, and didn’t seem to want you to see the belt. You thought it was a galvanic belt, or something of that sort. You felt it once, when you were changing your master’s shirt, and it was all over little knobs as hard as iron, but very small. That’s all you’ve got to say, except that you’ve always fancied your master wasn’t quite easy in his mind, and you thought that was because of his having been suspected in the first place about the Winchester murder.”

Mr. Carter jotted down some pencil-notes in his pocket-book while making this little summary of his conversation with the valet.

Having done this and shut his book, he prowled slowly through the sitting-room, bed-room, and dressing-room, looking about him, with the servant close at his heels.

“What clothes did Mr. Dunbar wear when he went away?”

“Grey trousers and waistcoat, small shepherd’s plaid, and he must have taken a greatcoat lined with Russian sable.”

“A black coat?”

“No; the coat was dark blue cloth outside.”

Mr. Carter opened his pocket-book in order to add another memorandum —

Trousers and waistcoat, shepherd’s plaid; coat, dark blue cloth lined with sable. “How about Mr. Dunbar’s personal appearance, eh?”

The valet gave an elaborate description of his master’s looks.

“Ha! — humph!” muttered Mr. Carter; “tall, broad-shouldered, hook-nose, brown eyes, brown hair mixed with grey.”

The detective put on his hat after making this last memorandum: but he paused before the table, on which the lamp was still standing.

“Was this lamp filled last night?” he asked.

“Yes, sir; it was always fresh filled every day.”

“How long does it burn?”

“Ten hours.”

“When was it lighted?”

“A little before seven o’clock.”

Mr. Carter removed the glass shade, and carried the lamp to the fireplace. He held it up over the grate, and drained the oil.

“It must have been burning till past four this morning,” he said.

The valet stared at Mr. Carter with something of that reverential horror with which he might have regarded a wizard of the middle ages. But Mr. Carter was in too much haste to be aware of the man’s admiration. He had found out all he wanted to know, and now there was no time to be lost.

He left the Abbey, ran back to the lodge, found his assistant, Mr. Tibbles, and despatched that gentleman to the Shorncliffe railway station, where he was to keep a sharp look out for a lame traveller in a blue cloth coat lined with brown fur. If such a traveller appeared, Sawney Tom was to stick to him wherever he went; but was to leave a note with the station-master for his chief’s guidance, containing information as to what he had done.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50