Orchids to Murder - Hulbert Footner - ebook

Orchids to Murder ebook

Hulbert Footner

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Opis

Amos Lee Mappin is a great detective. A sad man came to him asking him to find his granddaughter, Mary Stannard. The detective soon discovers that she has stood up her wedding party. Mappin found several strands and many clues through which he can find Mary.

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Liczba stron: 330

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER I

JERMYN, Amos Lee Mappin’s lean, leathery man-servant, entered his master’s bedroom and coughed discreetly. Though it was nearly nine o’clock on Monday morning, Mr. Mappin, making a little rounded hill of the bedclothes, was still slumbering peacefully. There had been a late party on Sunday night. He awoke and looked at Jermyn with a not altogether friendly eye. That stolen hour of sleep in the morning was so delicious!

“What is it, Jermyn?”

“Sorry to disturb you, sir. Major Dunphy is here.”

Mr. Mappin scowled. “Good God! that crashing bore!” He glanced at the clock on the dresser. “Nine o’clock! What on earth does he want?”

“He didn’t care to tell me, sir. He apologized for coming so early. He appears to be extremely agitated, sir.”

“He’s easily agitated. Why did you let him in?”

“How could I avoid it, sir? He mentioned the name of his granddaughter, Miss Stannard. She seems to be lost, sir.”

Lee stared at Jermyn with a changed expression. After a moment he swung his legs out of the bed. “Miss Stannard? What the devil! He didn’t expect to find her here, did he? It’s some absurd notion that he’s got in his head. I’ll get rid of him as fast as I can.”

“He’s waiting in the living room, sir.”

“All right. Make me some coffee. I’ll have breakfast after he goes.”

Jermyn retired and Lee got out of bed. He thrust his feet into a pair of morocco slippers, wound a white silk muffler around his neck, and shouldered himself into one of the gaudy dressing gowns he affected at home–this one was crimson in color. He didn’t have to brush his hair because he didn’t have any, except a fringe around the base of his skull.

In the living room, a huge chamber with a balcony high above the East River, he found Major Dunphy sitting stiffly on the edge of a sofa, impatiently slapping his thigh with a pair of chamois gloves. Early as it was, the Major’s toilet had been performed with his usual care. Beside him on a table lay the hard-shell derby hat that he continued to wear after everybody else had left them off. The only thing missing was the customary carnation in his buttonhole. This denoted a considerable state of perturbation.

The Major was over seventy, and had the look of having been preserved under a thin film of paraffin. His still plentiful hair was unnaturally black, but his heavy eyebrows were genuinely black, and under them his eyes still burned with a kind of irascible fire. He wriggled forward on the sofa and pushed himself up with his hands. His bodily movements were somewhat restricted owing to the fact that when he was dressed to go out, he had too much chest and too little belly for his age. He commenced a perfunctory apology to Lee, but it was clear he didn’t mean a word of it, being far too full of his own grievances.

Lee waved the apology aside. “I knew it must be important,” he said, “or you would have telephoned. Sit down, Major.”

The Major performed that somewhat complicated evolution. “My granddaughter has disappeared!” he said, more in anger than sorrow.

“How do you mean, disappeared?” asked Lee patiently. “I talked with her yesterday on the telephone.”

“Mary left the house sometime before nine o’clock last night,” said the Major. “Without a word of good-by,” he added bitterly.

Lee, glancing at the old face twisted with self-pity and resentment, could not feel surprised. “Well, she’s a free agent,” he said mildly.

“But the circumstances were so suspicious; so many lies were told, I don’t know what to think!”

Lee’s eyeglasses glittered. They afforded a certain cover for his eyes; otherwise the old man must have seen that he was thinking: Well, if Mary has finally walked out on the old leech, I for one wouldn’t be surprised.

Jermyn entered to tell his master that the coffee was ready.

“Will you join me?” Lee asked the Major.

The old man’s voice quavered. “I don’t mind if I do, Mr. Mappin. I wasn’t able to eat any breakfast.”

Lee felt a momentary compassion for him. He was a horrible old man and everybody disliked him; still he was old.

The coffee was poured. Jermyn retired from the room. The Major, holding his cup in a hand that trembled a little, sipped the contents gratefully.

“And so I come to you for help,” he went on. “You have had so much experience in such matters and I believe that you are Mary’s true friend–perhaps the only one she has.”

“Indeed I wish to be her friend,” said Lee heartily. “I seem to renew my youth when I am in her company. She has that effect on one. I am very, very fond of her.”

“Oh, everybody falls for Mary!” sneered the Major.

Lee looked at his cup and let that pass. “Better tell me the whole circumstances,” he said. “I don’t understand your references to lies. Mary has such a candid character.”

“Not with me!” said the Major. “I’m the old nuisance that has to be lied to and shut up.”

Lee said nothing.

“As you know,” resumed the Major, acid and garrulous as an old woman, “the play closed unexpectedly on Saturday night though it was a sellout at every performance. It was given out that the star, Lily Sartoris, has had a nervous breakdown. That’s a fake. Everybody knows that the Sartoris woman is furious because my Mary stole the play. I happen to know that Wilson Carsley wished to give Mary the star part and continue, but Mary refused because she said she wanted a vacation. Mary herself didn’t tell me anything–she never does, but I had that on the best authority...”

Lee interrupted. “Well, never mind about Lily Sartoris; let’s stick to Mary.”

“After the performance on Saturday night she went to a late party, as usual,” the Major continued bitterly. “Nobody cares if I spend my nights alone. All day yesterday she and Lottie Vickers, her maid, were busy in her room over some mysterious preparations. When I went to the door I was shooed away with scant ceremony. I didn’t see Mary to talk to her until dinnertime, and then she was absent-minded all through the meal. I addressed my remarks to the empty air. At the end of the meal she merely said she had decided to go up to the inn at Greencliffe Manor in Dutchess County to stay until Lily Sartoris recovered. She’d be leaving shortly before nine o’clock, she said. She was tired, she claimed, of late parties and empty gabble and drinking, and wanted a complete rest in the country in spring. And all the time her eyes were sparkling with anticipation. Anybody could have seen that she was lying.”

The Major paused and took a swallow of coffee with a very wry face. “When I naturally remonstrated with her at having this sprung on me,” he resumed, “and pointed out that I would be left alone in the house every night–our two servants sleep out, as you may know–she said she had arranged to have Lottie Vickers sleep in while she was away–small comfort Lottie would be to me! I confess that such a total disregard for my comfort made me a little angry. When I continued to question her about this sudden desire for the country, she merely looked at me without speaking and went up to her room and closed the door. This was something new, because in the past, when I ventured to remonstrate with her, she at least condescended to hear me out. So to rebuke her, I went to my room.”

Lee’s level look at the Major suggested that he was asking himself: What can one do with such a selfish old ass?

“I did not see her again,” the Major went on. “She did indeed leave somewhere around nine o’clock. It was not until I heard the telephone ringing downstairs at quarter past nine that I realized I was alone in the house.”

“Who called up?” asked Lee.

“Nina Gannon,” said the Major sourly, “Mary’s special and particular pal.”

“What did Mrs. Gannon want?”

“Wanted to know where Mary was. Said she had a date to meet her at nine o’clock and she hadn’t turned up.”

“‘Well, she’s gone,’ I said. ‘Where was she to meet you?’ Nina hesitated before answering and then said: ‘At my place.’ So I guessed she was lying. I said: ‘Mary told me she was going up to Greencliffe Manor tonight.’ ‘Oh, that would be later tonight,’ said Nina. When I attempted to question her further, she hung up... Nina Gannon does not like me,” the Major concluded resentfully, “and I must say that her sentiments are heartily reciprocated. I have always considered her to be an unfortunate influence on Mary.”

This communication made Lee look vaguely anxious, because he knew that Nina Gannon was honestly Mary’s friend.

“So I went to bed,” the Major continued. “I spent a miserable night, tossing and turning; never closed my eyes. At eight this morning the telephone rang again. In the meantime I had switched the connection to the phone in my study on the third floor. It was Nina Gannon again. Wanted to know if I had heard from Mary. Sounded anxious. I said no. I couldn’t get anything out of her. She made believe to pass it off as of no account. I then called up the inn at Greencliffe Manor and was told that Miss Stannard was not stopping there, and that no reservation had been made for her.”

“If she wanted quiet and seclusion she would have registered under another name,” suggested Lee.

“I thought of that,” answered the Major. “I asked and was told that no new guests registered after dinner last night. No reservations have been made for any single young lady. That very seriously disturbed me so I came to consult you.”

“Well, I’m sure everything is all right,” said Lee with more confidence than he felt. “You can’t apply ordinary standards to our brilliant and famous Mary. Very likely there is a message from her waiting for you at home now.”

The Major shook his head. “The cook and housemaid came at the usual hour this morning. I left word with them that I was coming to your apartment, and told them to relay any message that might arrive. Nothing has come.”

Lee made an effort to conquer his dislike of the old man. “I’ll dress and have a spot of breakfast,” he said heartily. “Then I’ll go back to your house with you, and we’ll see what is to be done, if anything. Or perhaps you’d prefer to go right back and let me follow?”

“I’ll wait for you,” said the Major.

Lee and the Major made their way on foot to Mary Stannard’s house. After a series of parts in unsuccessful plays, when Mary finally found herself in the money she had rented this little furnished house far east on Fifty-second Street, around two corners from Lee’s apartment house. Once a low-class neighborhood, it had become one of the most fashionable addresses in town. The old-fashioned little brownstone front, one of a long row, had been altered into a smart English basement dwelling with all the modern gadgets. The former basement entrance was now the front door.

A smiling housemaid admitted them. Clearly she had no suspicion that there was anything wrong. No messages had come during the Major’s absence, she said.

The kitchen lay to the right of the entrance hall and the back part of the former basement now constituted a charming dining room with the whole rear wall of glass, looking out on a garden gay, at this season, with narcissi, jonquils and early tulips.

While they were in the dining room, the Major suddenly said: “I forgot to mention that Mary received a male visitor last night shortly before she disappeared.”

“So?” said Lee. “Who was it?”

“I don’t know. At a few minutes past eight I heard the front doorbell ring. The servants had just gone home. I went out in the hall and leaned over the stair rail to listen. I heard Mary go down to the door, and I heard the rumble of a man’s voice, but I couldn’t hear anything that was said. She brought him up to the living room and went in and closed the door. I don’t know how long he stayed. She must have let him out very softly, because I heard nothing though I left my door open. Or perhaps she went with him.”

This sounded a little fishy to Lee. “Didn’t you look out of the front window?” he asked.

“Yes. There was a red convertible coupe standing in front of our house. It had a khaki top which was up. When I looked again later, the car was gone, but of course I can’t be sure that Mary’s caller came in it. It was a fine car, bigger than a Ford or a Chevvy; at that distance I couldn’t tell the make or read the license number.”

“So,” said Lee. “Let’s take a look at the garden.”

“Why?” asked the old man in surprise.

“No particular reason. While I’m here I want to see everything.”

Outside the dining room there was a narrow, stone-paved terrace where one could breakfast in warm weather. A tiny fountain played near by. Back of the terrace a rock garden with some winding steps ascended to the level of the original back yard. Both the rock garden and the flat beds above were bright with spring flowers. Against the back fence rose an ailanthus tree.

Lee strolled between the flower beds. All had been freshly dug and cultivated. “How beautifully kept it is,” he murmured.

“Mary spent a ridiculous amount of money on it,” said the Major peevishly.

The thought flitted through Lee’s head: A body could have been buried under one of the flower beds and the whole raked over neatly afterwards. He glanced speculatively at the Major. He’s old, thought Lee, but he seems able. I suppose he would be Mary’s legal heir. But she couldn’t have left much, she was so extravagant.

Lee examined all the flower beds with renewed care, but could find no evidence that the subsoil had been thrown to the surface in any place. Looking around, he noted that the back windows of the house on either side commanded a view of the yard. In the next street there were apartment houses with scores of windows looking down on Mary’s flowers. There was a tiny shed leaning against the back fence, masked with privet. It was not locked and Lee, glancing inside, saw the usual array of garden tools, spade, shovel, rake, hoes, clippers, etc.,–nothing else. None of the tools betrayed signs of having been used within the past twelve hours.

“What’s in your mind?” asked the Major nervously.

“Nothing as yet,” said Lee.

CHAPTER II

RETURNING indoors, Lee and the Major ascended to what had been the parlor floor of the original house. It had now, saving the stair well, been thrown into one long living room with windows looking on the street at one end and looking out on the garden at the other. Among the sameness of most New York rooms, it had an original and attractive aspect, and that was why Mary had taken the house.

The housemaid was cleaning the room. On top of a basket of trash lay a white cardboard box about ten inches long, and Lee picked it up. It bore the business card of Schracht, a florist on Lexington Avenue. Also in the basket lay a sheet of oiled paper and the outer wrapping of the box.

“When did this come?” asked Lee.

“Don’t know,” grumbled the Major.

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