The Bedford Row Mystery - J.S. Fletcher - ebook
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The main character in the story is a detective story. He is investigating a mysterious murder. Detective and young Richard Marchmont soon discover that there is a triangle of financial intrigue that needs to be unraveled before the truth can be found out, and that in the hour of crime, not one suspicious person was hiding near the Marchmont house, but several.

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Liczba stron: 342

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Contents

I. Called to Remembrance

II. The Dilemma

III. Murder!

IV. Gone!

V. Forestalled

VI. On Whose Behalf?

VII. The Ex-Superintendent

VIII. The Detective Theorises

IX. Smouldering Fires

X. News

XI. Mantrap Manor

XII. Mr. Louis Vandelius

XIII. Mr. Vandelius Explains

XIV. Through the Lady’s Maid

XV. Flown!

XVI. Lansdale Speaks

XVII. Twenty Thousand Pounds

XVIII. Trace the Notes

XIX. Side Whiskers

XX. The Riverside Hotel

XXI. The Bridge

XXII. Trapped

XXIII. Look for that Woman!

XXIV. The House in Bernard Street

XXV. The Dead Man’s Letter

XXVI. The Visiting Card

XXVII. Straight to the Point

XXVIII. Final

I. Called to Remembrance

Bedford Row, on the western edge of Gray’s Inn, is well known to all Londoners as being chiefly the business abode of limbs of the law; a severely respectable street of Georgian houses in age-coloured red brick; quiet, sombre, disdainful of change. Law is practised in nearly every one of its tall doorways; the rooms to which they admit smell of parchment and sealing-wax; the men who come out of them or hurry into them carry brief-bags, or bundles of papers tied about with red-tape; you may feel confident, if you chance to pace along the pavements, that nine out of ten of the individuals you encounter are connected in some way with legal processes–law, in short, is the life-business of Bedford Row, and there are few people entering it who are not there as either plaintiffs or defendants or as agents or witnesses for one or the other.

Nevertheless there are people who go into Bedford Row in pursuit of something other than law, and a young man who turned its corner at noon one October day certainly did not look as if he wanted to serve somebody with a writ, or had just been served with one himself. He was a well-built, athletic fellow of twenty-five or so, whose bronzed cheeks, clear eyes, and alert expression betokened a love of and close acquaintanceship with outdoor life; and had there been anybody about who knew him they could have told you that he was Richard Marchmont, well known on the leading English cricket grounds as one of the best all-round amateurs of the Middlesex County Eleven, and that he was scarcely less eminent as an exponent of Rugby football. He was of the sort that loathes gloves and overcoats, and though the October air was keen that morning he wore neither, and his suit of grey tweed and soft cap to match made a contrast to the black-coated law folk against whom he rubbed shoulders. It was not often that Richard Marchmont walked into Bedford Row; its character and atmosphere had no charm for him, used as he was to the level greens of the playing-fields. Yet he had a close connection with the place. At the farther end of the street, in one of the oldest and largest houses, lived his uncle, Mr. Henry Marchmont, sole surviving partner in the firm of Fosdyke, Cletherton, & Marchmont, Solicitors. Mr. Henry Marchmont was an old-fashioned solicitor, and an old-fashioned man. Being a confirmed bachelor, he lived above his offices, in a suite of rooms which he had arranged and furnished–long since–in accordance with his own taste. There he was occasionally visited by his nephew, who preferred to live in another quarter of the town, in a smart flat in Jermyn Street, close to his favourite club, the Olympic, every member of which was a figure of note in the athletic world. Richard, wealthy himself, used to wonder what made his uncle, equally wealthy, tie his life down to the sombreness of Bedford Row when he might have had a proper establishment in the West End. Henry, teased on this point, always declared that he set his own neighbourhood high above either Mayfair or Belgravia, and the pavement before his front door to the flags of Pall Mall; he had taken root there, he said, and nothing should pull him up.

Henry Marchmont was at his front door, or, rather, on the broad, well-scoured step of it as Richard came along. He was a tall, fine-looking man, well and sturdily built, fresh-coloured, blue-eyed, silver-haired, very particular about his personal appearance. He looked very distinguished as he stood there now, in his smart black morning coat, his familiar monocle screwed into his right eye, bending down from the step to talk with two women who stood on the pavement, and whom Richard took for clients that Henry had seen to the door. Richard knew enough of his uncle and his habits to know that that was an honour the old lawyer accorded to few of his visitors, and he looked more closely at the women. He decided that they were the sort of women of whom one says at once that they have seen better days; their clothes looked as if they were usually laid up in lavender and only brought out on very special occasions. Richard knew–from a more or less diligent reading of back numbers of Punch–that the style and cut of their garments was after the fashion of twenty years before. But just then Henry Marchmont caught sight of his nephew and beckoned him to approach. He drew the attention of the two women to him with a smile.

“You don’t know this chap!” he said jocularly. “Chip of the old block, though! This is John’s boy–Richard.”

The elder of the two women held out a gloved hand. Richard noticed that the glove was carefully darned.

“You don’t say so, Mr. Henry!” she exclaimed. “Dear me!–yes, I see the likeness to his father. Mr. Richard Marchmont. Ah! My sister and I knew your father well, sir, in the old days.”

“This lady is Mrs. Mansiter, Dick; this, Miss Sanderthwaite,” said Henry Marchmont. “As Mrs. Mansiter says, they knew your father in the old days. Long before you were born, my lad!”

Richard made some remark–what, he scarcely knew. He remembered very little of his father, Henry’s elder brother, and he was wondering when and where John Marchmont had known these ladies, each so faded, so reminiscent of the past. He looked at them curiously; although they were sisters there was a difference between them. Mrs. Mansiter was a somewhat comfortable, placid sort of person–the sort of woman who gave the idea of a too-ready acceptance of things as they came along; her manner and tone indicated acquiescence. But her sister, thin, wiry, old-maid in every look and movement, struck Richard as one in whom hidden fires might be concealed; there was still a burning vitality in her deep-sunken black eyes; a flash came from them as she turned to inspect him. Once, he was quick to see, this had been a handsome woman, perhaps a beauty. And he began to wonder what tragedy lay behind the old-fashioned clothes and under the queer old hats of these two, who looked like ships of a century ago, washed out of some backwater....

“Oh, yes, long before he was born!” Mrs. Mansiter was saying. “Oh, yes, time will fly, Mr. Henry! And we must fly too, sister–”

When they had gone, with old-fashioned bows and smiles, Henry Marchmont looked after them and shook his head.

“Knew those two when your father and I were boys, Dick!” he said. “They were of some consequence in the world, in our part, in those days–their family, I mean. Now, those two poor old things keep a boarding-house in Bloomsbury! Egad!–I remember the time when the younger one, Cora Sanderthwaite, used to ride to hounds–she was a fine horsewoman and always well horsed too. Well, well!–and how are you, my boy?”

“All right, thanks; no need to ask how you are,” replied Richard. “You always look in the best of condition. I dropped in to see if you’d lunch with me?”

“I will, my boy–but I won’t go up West,” answered Henry. “Too far off–I’m busy this afternoon. I’ll go round to the Holborn with you, though. But come in a minute–I must just speak to Simpson.”

He led the way into the house, with the arrangements of which Richard was thoroughly familiar. It had been a family mansion a hundred and fifty years before; the residence, no doubt, of some rich City merchant, and Henry Marchmont, a lover of the antique, had always since his coming to it kept a careful eye on its upkeep and preservation. There was a fine, if dark, panelled hall on the lower floor, and fine rooms on either side; the staircase was of rare wood and the mouldings of the ceilings and fireplaces of singular artistic quality; the upper floors, in which Henry had his private residence, were similarly panelled and decorated. Richard knew that his uncle was prouder of the whole place than he ever admitted. It was, indeed, impossible for Henry Marchmont to cross the hall or climb the stairs without a lingering glance of admiration at the polish of one or the carving of the other; he and the old house, he always said, just fitted.

Henry led his nephew into his private office and rang a bell that stood on his desk. A man whom Richard knew as Hemingway Simpson, managing clerk, and whom, for some unexplainable reason, he cordially detested, put his head in at the door. He was a sharp-nosed, ferret-eyed man, whose naturally somewhat supercilious air was heightened by his pince-nez spectacles; to Richard he always conveyed the impression of being both prig and sneak. But he knew that his uncle had the greatest belief in Simpson’s abilities as a solicitor and relied firmly on his advice.

“Oh, Simpson!” said Henry, as the clerk silently looked his attention. “I’ve been thinking over that matter we spoke of this morning. I think it’ll be best, wisest, if I see the fellow alone–he’ll probably talk more freely if there’s no other person present. What do you think?”

“It might be more advisable, certainly, Mr. Marchmont,” replied the clerk. “If he thinks you have me here on purpose–”

“That’s just it!” interrupted Henry. “He would! All right, Simpson–I’ll see him alone, then–I shall get more out of him, no doubt. So you needn’t stay, you know. Now, Dick,” he went on, as the clerk’s head was withdrawn, “that’s all. At your service, my lad–and I can give you just an hour and a half. Got an important appointment here at three o’clock, and it’s one now. Come along!”

He chattered about anything and nothing as they walked together to the Holborn Restaurant, and turned to no particular subject across the luncheon table. But later, in a quiet corner, over a cigar and coffee, he suddenly turned to his nephew with a look of confidence.

“Dick, my boy!” he said. “I’d one of the most curious experiences last night that I’ve ever had in the whole course of my professional life! You’re not a lawyer, but you’ve seen enough of the world to see the dramatic properties of this little story. I met a man last night who, twenty-five years ago, I and a lot more people wanted very much to meet, but who wasn’t to be met!–indeed, I, personally, never thought to meet him again. And last night–there he was!”

“Easily recognisable?” asked Richard.

“Oh, just so!–knew him at once. But I’ll tell you all about it,” continued Henry Marchmont, settling himself comfortably in his seat. “It’s a queer business. Now, I think you know that I began my professional career at our family’s native place, Clayminster, away in the Midlands. I was in practice there for some years before I came to London and bought a partnership in Fosdyke & Cletherton, which then became Fosdyke, Cletherton, & Marchmont. Well, during the last year or so of my time at Clayminster there were some queer happenings in the town–a small town, as you know. There was a man in Clayminster named Land. He had begun life as a schoolmaster–elementary school–but he had a special bent towards mathematics, or, anyhow, figures, and it led him to throw up schoolmastering and take to accountancy. Then he turned that up and turned to stock and share broking. He was a clever chap, a plausible chap, and he got hold of, or round, a lot of the moneyed people in the town and neighbourhood. There was no doubt that a great deal of gambling in stocks and shares went on in Clayminster and the district through Land–a very great deal! Of course, it was nobody’s concern but that of the folk actually engaged, though there was plenty said. However, at the very height of it, this man Land suddenly disappeared! One evening he was seen in one of his usual haunts–the club, or the Angel, or somewhere–the next morning he’d vanished! Gone, Dick!–as clear as if he’d been snatched into the clouds!”

“Without a trace?” asked Richard.

“Without the ghost of a trace! He must have arranged the whole thing cleverly–had it all cut and dried. As soon as he’d gone, things came out. There were–well, irregularities. It was difficult to decide, in his absence, if he’d overstepped the bounds or not in respect of moneys entrusted to him. But there was the fact that several individuals were hard hit, very hard hit, and two or three families brought to something like destitution. In one or two cases, it certainly looked as if he’d appropriated considerable sums handed to him for speculation, or investment. The police came into it, and they made the most exhaustive inquiries. It was useless–he was never tracked. There are people in Clayminster to-day who believe that he committed suicide by throwing himself down one of the disused pit-shafts in the neighbourhood. But I never believed that–he was too cute and clever! If he’d come a cropper at that time and fled, it was only to start again and come up again in another place!”

“This is the man you met last night?” suggested Richard.

“The man! I met him in this way. I went to dine with some City men, financiers, at the Cannon Street Hotel–private dinner, of course, in a private room. Before dinner, while we were all standing about, a man I know very well indicated another who was one of a group–a man who was talking volubly, but had his back towards me. “That’s an interesting man who’s making some figure in the City,’ he said. “He’s from way back somewhere–Colonies, I think–and has come over here with valuable concessions and options–said to be of enormous wealth himself, I understand.’ Presently the man turned–and I instantly recognised him as Land!”

“After all those years?” exclaimed Richard.

“After twenty-five years!” said Henry. “And easily! He’s a big man–not unlike me, as a matter of fact–tall, well-built, fresh-coloured. But–he’s a drooping eyelid! The left–no mistaking that! Oh, yes, I knew him–immediately!”

“What happened?” asked Richard.

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