A Studio Mystery - Frank Aubrey - ebook

A Studio Mystery ebook

Frank Aubrey



Weird mystery with rationalized supernaturalism featuring private detective Matthew Grimlock. „A Studio Mystery” is a secret, and there is not much of a secret about the murder of the artist Arnold. The suspicions of the reader fall at once on Gustave. There is a certain ingenuity, however, in the working out of the motive of the crime. Altogether, „A Studio Mystery” is a fairly good specimen of its class written by Frank Aubrey. Francis Henry „Frank” Atkins (1847–1927) was a British writer of „pulp fiction”, in particular science fiction aimed at younger readers, writing at least three Lost-World novels along with much else. He wrote under the pseudonyms Frank Aubrey and Fenton Ash.

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JUST off the Marylebone Road, not far from the top of Portland Place, is a quiet, retired square which forms, as it were, a cul-de-sac. You can only enter or leave it at one corner; and in the opposite corner stands–or stood a few years ago–a large old-fashioned house, surrounded by a small garden. On both sides of this house blank walls extended for some distance between it and the other houses in the square–these walls shutting off two large buildings, public institutions of some kind, that had their chief entrances in other streets. The old house thus stood isolated in its corner, with an air of having shut itself off from other habitations in a fit of sulky discontent with its own fallen fortunes. For it was very different in structure and appearance from the more modern residences on the remaining sides of the square. The ground or garden in front was uncared for and weed-grown. A pathway or carriage drive curved round from gate to gate, one on either side, to the broad flight of steps that led up to the front door. The house itself, too, was gloomy and dilapidated in its general appearance. It impressed you with the conviction that it had “seen better days;” that it had retired to this corner to meditate undisturbed upon its former glories and ancient grandeur; and it seemed to protest in moody, but dignified silence against the fate that had brought it down from its former high estate.

On the night when this story begins the snow lay thick upon the ground, and the air was keen; but a full moon, riding high in the sky, lighted up the scene with a radiance that made the lights in windows and street lamps appear ruddy by comparison. In the garden in the middle of the square the leafless branches moved slightly to and fro, now and then, when a light, but icy, breeze came sweeping past, the shadows tracing quaint, every- changing, lace-like patterns on the snow beneath them.

The clocks around tolled out midnight, and in the hush, due to the muffling by the snow of the usual sounds of traffic from the neighbouring streets, one could hear chimes and bells ringing out the hour in all directions–some close at hand, others far away in the distance; then, when all had finished, the square could not have seemed more quiet, had it formed part of a country village, although it was within a few hundred yards of busy, restless London thoroughfares.

The silence was soon broken by the sound of voices, intermixed with snatches of comic songs, sung or whistled, and growing louder with the appearance in the square of two men in Inverness capes. They seemed to be in high spirits, and their talk and attempted musical interludes suggested that they had been having a pleasant and merry time of it.

They passed the nearest houses and were now walking alongside one of the high walls, evidently bound for the large detached house in the corner.

“What a grand dancer that Lanelle is, isn’t she?” said one of the two. “I don’t think I ever saw such a clever dancer. And for grace! She beats Carina all to nothing. That’s my opinion. Don’t you think so, Fred?”

“Well, I don’t know as to that,” returned the other, “but certainly she’s out of the common. She’s not so good looking, I think, as Carina; and besides–Hulloa! Who’s this?”

The speaker had turned round at the unexpected presence behind them of someone whose footsteps had been so deadened by the snow, that he had come up quite close before they were aware that they had been followed.

“C’est moi, Monsieur Duncan,” said the newcomer with a deferential bow. “Permit, sare, that I go to open ze door for you.”

“Ah, Gustave,” said the one whom he addressed, “what brings you out so late, eh? Been to post letters or something?”

“No, sare. I have been out all ze evening. Mr. Arnold he give me leave to go out to-night to give my what-you-call–sweetheart- -a treat, because it’s her day of birth.”

“Your sweetheart’s birthday, eh? Lucky dog to have a sweetheart and to be able to take her out. Where have you been? To the theatre, I suppose?”

“To ze Alhambra, sare.”

“Oh, to the Alhambra? Then you saw one we were just talking about–Carina? What do you think of her dancing?”

“C’est superbe, sare. The finest I have ever seen; I knew not before there was one so splendid in London.”

“Ah,” put in he who had been addressed as Fred, “you should have gone to the Empire and seen the one we saw there to-night– Lanelle; she beats Carina all to fits.”

“If that is so, monsieur, I shall go zere ze next time I shall be able. Voilà, Monsieur!” and the speaker, throwing open the door, stood respectfully aside to allow the others to enter.

The spacious hall was lighted by a gas lamp; at the end was a broad oak staircase, up which Gustave went, after bidding the others good night; while they entered a door on the right, and one turned up the glimmering gas jet that had been left ready- lighted against their return.

The two were Fred Duncan and Richard Foster, and both were artists. They occupied between them all the ground floor; indeed, the whole house was let out in flats, or floors, to artists.

Two of these, who had the first floor, were named George Arnold and Herbert Darrell; and Gustave, the foreigner who had returned at the same time as the two first named, was Arnold’s factotum–a sort of combination of valet, cook, general servant, and, on occasion, model. The ground and first floors ran out some distance to the back, and on each was a suite of rooms shut off by one door; but above, the floors were smaller. On the second floor was an artist named Hedley who had two rooms, the remaining two being let to a tenant who was at this time away. The top floor was empty, with the exception of one room, which Gustave used as a bedroom.

When Foster had stirred up the fire, which responded by sending a cheerful blaze flaring up the wide chimney, he said to his friend while they were talking off their wraps.

“Funny Gustave should be out to-night.”

“Why?” inquired the other indifferently. “He’s got a very indulgent master. Arnold often lets him off for the evening.”

“Yes; but Arnold’s going away to-morrow for a month or two. You’d have thought he would have wanted some packing done, or something.

“I suppose Gustave pleaded specially hard on account of its being his sweetheart’s birthday, as he informed us so fully. By the way, what countryman is Gustave? Can you make out? Hanged if I can. He always says himself that he’s French, but I know to a certainty that he can jabber Italian just as well as he can French, because one day in the summer, when the window was open, I heard him having a long jaw outside with an Italian organ- grinder. I was not close enough to hear what was said, except for a few words here and there, sufficient, however, to show they were talking Italian, and that Gustave can gabble away in it just as fluently as he does in French.”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” returned Foster, “and I’m equally certain the matter doesn’t trouble me. Only, if I were Arnold– Good heavens! What’s that?”

They both rushed out into the hall just in time to meet Gustave tearing–almost tumbling, down the stairs, calling out and shouting while he ran,

“Messieurs, Messieurs! Ah, nom de Dieu! My master! Ah, ze poor master. Dead! Murdered, I fear! Ah, come to him. Come quickly. Nom de Dieu!„

Following him up the stairs and along a passage, they entered the large studio occupied by Arnold and Darrell. There a terrible sight met their eyes.

Upon a small bedstead that stood in one corner lay extended upon its back the form of George Arnold, with the front of his clothing covered with blood, which also had run down on to the bed and the floor. Over him stood Herbert Darrell, muttering incoherently, and seemingly scarcely in his right senses. He, too, was blood-stained, both as to his hands and his clothes; his hair was disordered, and he was but half-dressed, and had on neither boots nor slippers.

Duncan went up to Arnold’s side and took hold of his hand. He found that it was already stiff and almost cold.

“Good God, Darrell!” he exclaimed, “what terrible thing is this? What do you know about it? Speak, man, for God’s sake? What–? Oh, Foster, send Gustave off for a doctor at once. I fear ‘tis too late. He’s dead–been dead some time; but–still–send Gustave at once!”

Gustave darted off, leaving the two horrified men alone with Darrell, from whom came only the words, “He did it. That thing there. I saw it–saw him strike, but was not in time! He did it! He did it! I always said so; and I saw him do it!”

The two listeners stared incredulously at Darrell, who pointed to a lay figure at the other end of the studio on a sort of raised platform that ran across the whole width of the room. The figure was realistically dressed as a brigand, with a wax mask upon the face that gave it an almost life-like appearance. It was seated upon what represented a boulder of rock, with other rocks and shrubs around and a painted background, the whole forming a well-conceived and well-executed scene or picture. Across the front of the platform ran a rod with a curtain upon it, but this had been pulled quite back to the wall on one side.

Suddenly Darrell sprang to the side of the studio near the fireplace, and taking down an old broad-sword hanging against the wall, made a rush at the lay figure, and, in a seeming access of frenzied rage, cut and hacked at it with terrible fury. The figure fell over on to the ground, the mask came off and rolled one way, and the wooden head another; but he continued to hack at the rest, and had broken it almost to pieces before the two witnesses of his extraordinary acts could interfere and get the sword away from him.

By the time this had been done, Gustave returned, accompanied by a doctor and a policeman, the latter being followed, shortly after, by another and a sergeant.

But neither doctor nor policeman could do aught for poor George Arnold. He was dead–killed by a deep stab in the breast; and all that was left for them was to discover the murderer and bring him to punishment.

It seemed an easy thing enough to do this; so at least thought the police, for Darrell had been taken almost–indeed, only too literally–red-handed, and the sole doubt appeared to be whether he had done it in his sober senses, or, as looked more probable, in a fit of homicidal mania.

At any rate, an hour later, Darrell was charged at the Marylebone police station with the murder of his friend and chum, George Arnold.


MATTHEW GRIMLOCK sat in his sanctum on the day following the tragic death of George Arnold, apparently deeply engaged in some papers spread out before him; but, in reality, staring blankly at them and seeing nothing. His thoughts were far away, and words and half-sentences, that escaped him now and then, indicated that he was pondering upon the strange circumstances surrounding the murder.

Grimlock was one of the class known as private detectives–and a celebrated one. To his offices in a side street leading out of the Strand, came many from far and near, to seek his aid in all kinds of difficulties and troubles. He had had a long and extensive experience, was known to be honest and faithful to those employing his services; but he had been so successful that he had for some time contemplated retiring, and only a sort of inborn love of puzzling out difficult problems had kept him from carrying out his half-formed intention. As it was, he now accepted only such cases as happened to interest him, declining many that were pressed upon him, no matter how liberal might be the remuneration offered. Therefore he was not easy of approach in such matters, and the comparatively few who succeeded in inducing him to lend them his assistance deemed themselves fortunate.

In appearance there was nothing at first sight very remarkable about him. About middle height, neither stout nor thin, yet of muscular build; he showed no sign of age, save, perhaps, the iron-grey colour of his closely-cut hair. Nor was there much in the clean-shaven face to serve as an index to the casual observer, unless it were, to be paradoxical, a curious impassiveness when the features were in repose. But, if one looked a little deeper–especially if one watched him when talking upon any subject that interested him–there was a keenness in the steady glance of the grey eyes, and a firmness about the mouth and chin that were irresistibly suggestive of latent power and repressed energy.

In the midst of his meditations there came a knock at the door, and in response to his sharp, “Come in!” a clerk entered, bearing a note which he handed without remark to his principal.

Grimlock took it, opened it, and read it; then sat for a minute drumming with his lingers upon the table.

“Who is it that has brought this, Perkins?” he presently asked.

“Two ladies, sir,” laconically answered the clerk. “Look like mother and daughter.”

“Mother and daughter, eh? H’m, well–show them in.”

“Yes, sir!” and Perkins went out, but returned almost immediately, ushering in an elderly lady in widow’s weeds, and a very charming, but very pale and sorrowful-looking young girl, dressed in a sort of half-mourning; from their appearance they were ladies of good position.

After requesting them to be seated, Grimlock glanced again at the letter he still held in his hand, and, looking at the elder of the two, said inquiringly,

“Mrs. Chester?”

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