The Borgia Cabinet - J.S. Fletcher - ebook
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The protagonist, a detective, was sent to Oldersike estate to investigate the sudden mysterious death of Sir Charles Stanmore. His goal is to find the culprit. His future depends on it. But when he arrives at the crime scene, he finds little evidence, which complicates his investigation...

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Liczba stron: 272

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Contents

CHAPTER I. POISON!

CHAPTER II. THE DECANTER

CHAPTER III. DOUBLE TESTIMONY

CHAPTER IV. AT BAY

CHAPTER V. WHERE IS IT?

CHAPTER VI. FROM NINE TILL ELEVEN

CHAPTER VII. THE BORGIA CABINET

CHAPTER VIII. WHO STANDS TO GAIN?

CHAPTER IX. WHAT’S IN THE WILL?

CHAPTER X. THE MIDNIGHT INTERVIEW

CHAPTER XI. MEDICINE—LAW

CHAPTER XII. THE LEATHER UNDER-JACKET

CHAPTER XIII. I PUT IT THERE!

CHAPTER XIV. THE SCRAP OF PAPER

CHAPTER XV. THE PLAY BOX

CHAPTER XVI. TURNING BACKWARD

CHAPTER XVII. THE ROSEWOOD DESK

CHAPTER XVIII. THE SECOND VICTIM

CHAPTER XIX. THE DESERTED HOUSE

CHAPTER XX. STRANGE REVELATIONS

CHAPTER XXI. ROXBURGH MANSIONS

CHAPTER XXII. WASTE PAPER

CHAPTER XXIII. THEORY IN FULL

CHAPTER XXIV. IN STRICT PRIVACY

CHAPTER XXV. THE OPEN WINDOW

CHAPTER I. POISON!

A powerful automobile which dashed up to the front of Aldersyke Manor at precisely ten o’clock that June morning, after doing, as its driver proudly observed, the twenty-two miles’ run from London in something less than record time, contained but one occupant, an alert-looking, sharp-eyed, smartly-dressed young man, who, as he advanced to the door, gave a swift glance all along the façade of the big house and was quick to notice that in every window the blinds and curtains were drawn. He knew from this that there was death in the house, and when a solemn-faced butler answered his ring at the bell he spoke in befitting accents.

“Superintendent Harding?” he asked, inquiringly. “I think he’s expecting me here–Detective-Sergeant Charlesworth, from Scotland Yard.”

The butler made no effort to conceal his surprise at the visitor’s appearance and youthfulness–evidently his idea of a detective officer was of the old-fashioned sort. But as he looked his astonishment he stepped promptly aside, motioning Charlesworth to enter.

“This way, sir,” he said, closing the door and turning into an inner hall, and from that to a corridor which apparently ran the length of the ground floor. “Mr. Harding told me to bring you straight to him–he’s with the doctor.”

Charlesworth made no remark: he had no idea at that moment as to the reason of his being sent down so hurriedly to this Hertfordshire country house. But as he followed his guide he kept his eyes open, and by looking about him and by occasional glances at the interiors of rooms the doors of which stood open as he passed, he gathered that this was the house of a very rich man–the furnishings, the pictures, the books, everything that he saw indicated wealth. Another thing struck him, too–there was nobody about in this big place; the corridor was empty save for himself and the butler, the rooms by which they walked were empty; there was a strange silence in the place. When his guide threw open a door and showed him into what was evidently a study or business room, and he saw two men talking there, he noted that their conversation was being carried on in subdued tones, as if, though they were closeted in strict privacy, they were afraid of even the walls around them.

Of these two men Charlesworth at once recognized in one, a tall, burly man in uniform, the local superintendent of police at whose urgent request he had been sent down from headquarters in such haste; the other was unmistakably a medical man. They turned as he entered; each followed the butler’s example in showing some surprise at the newcomer’s comparatively youthful appearance. But Charlesworth went straight to business as he made a formal bow to them.

“Good morning, gentlemen! Detective-Sergeant Charlesworth, from the Yard–at your service, Superintendent,” he said. “Got down here as quickly as I could after receiving orders. May I ask what it’s about?”

Harding looked at the doctor; the doctor nodded.

“What it’s about,” said Harding, “is just this. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but this place, Aldersyke Manor, is the residence of Sir Charles Stanmore. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?–senior partner in the firm of Stanmore and Gilford, solicitors, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and quite apart from his practice a very wealthy man–very wealthy indeed, I’m told. Well, Sir Charles was found dead in his bed this morning, and, from an examination which Dr. Holmes has made of the body–”

“A preliminary examination,” interrupted Holmes.

“Well, a preliminary examination,” continued Harding. “Dr. Holmes thinks–” He checked himself, again looking at the doctor. “I suppose I’d better tell him, straight out?” he asked. “No use in concealing anything, now, eh, doctor?”

“No use at all!” said Holmes. “It’s what he’s come for.”

“Well, Dr. Holmes thinks that he’s strong grounds for believing that Sir Charles Stanmore died from the effects of poison,” concluded Harding, with a wave of his hand. “That’s it! And of course, it’s got to be cleared up!”

Charlesworth turned on the doctor, eyeing him critically. He decided that Holmes was the sort of man who wouldn’t give an opinion of any sort unless he had strong grounds for it.

“You really think he was poisoned, doctor?” he asked. “Well–might it have been self-administered? Suicide?”

“No grounds for that!” said Holmes. “Why should he take his life? He was a very wealthy man, only middle-aged, active, in good health, with everything to live for. I knew him well–he was the last man in the world to commit suicide.”

“Then–somebody poisoned him? You think that?” suggested Charlesworth.

“I think he was poisoned. I think the autopsy which is absolutely necessary will establish that,” replied Holmes. “The fact is, I am sure of it!”

Charlesworth dropped into a chair by the side of a big desk which stood in the centre of the room and pulled out a note-book and a pencil.

“Let me get a few facts, Superintendent,” he said. “To start with, how old was Sir Charles?”

Harding reflected.

“I should say about fifty-five,” he answered.

“Married?”

“Yes. He was married–first time, too–only three years ago. Lady Stanmore is, I should say, twenty years younger than her husband.”

Holmes made a sound in his throat indicative of dissent.

“I’m afraid you’re quite out there, Harding,” he said, dryly. “Lady Stanmore is at least thirty years younger than her husband. She’s not more than twenty-five now.”

“That so?” said Harding. “Oh, well–I don’t know her very well–only seen her two or three times. A lot younger, anyway.”

Charlesworth was writing in his book. He looked up as his pencil ceased to move.

“Any children?”

“There have never been any children,” replied Holmes.

“Get on together?” asked Charlesworth with apparent indifference.

“I think nothing is known to the contrary,” said Holmes.

“Either of you seen Lady Stanmore this morning?” inquired Charlesworth.

“I have seen her,” replied Holmes. “She is, of course, not fit to see anyone but a medical man at present.”

“Friends with her?” asked Charlesworth.

“Her sister-in-law, Mrs. John Stanmore, is with her,” said Holmes. “Fortunately, Mrs. John Stanmore is staying in the house.”

“Before I go any further into matters,” remarked Charlesworth, “I’d like to know if you’re going to call in expert assistance about this poison theory, doctor. We must have an absolutely definite–”

“Yes!” said Holmes. “We’ve telephoned for Dr. Salmon, of the Home Office.”

“The man, of course!” assented Charlesworth. “That’s all right. He’ll come to your place, I suppose? Well, you’ll let us–the Superintendent and myself–know the results of your examination and conference as soon as ever you can, won’t you? And–if you’re going now, doctor–just another question. I suppose you were well acquainted with Sir Charles as a local resident? Well, do you know if he had any enemies? Do you know of anybody who would wish him dead? Have you got any theory of your own–that you can suggest to me?”

“No!” replied Holmes, emphatically. “No! I can suggest nothing. All I can say is that I believe he was poisoned, and that the poison was not self-administered.”

He made some remark to Harding about the necessary coroner’s inquest, and went away, and Charlesworth, left alone with the Superintendent, turned on him.

“The beginnings of a mystery, eh, Superintendent?” he said. “Well, I’d better get to work on it. Between you and me, I’m keen on it. I’ll tell you something. This is Case Number One with me!”

“What do you mean?” asked Harding.

“I mean,” replied Charlesworth with a laugh, “that it’s the first murder–if it is murder–case I’ve ever been put on to, that is, to work at as principal. And you can jolly well bet I’m going to make good at it! If Sir Charles Stanmore has been poisoned, that’s murder, and I’m going to find out the murderer’s identity. And now let me get to work. Can I have the use of this room?”

“I suppose, as we’ve been called in, we can have the run of the house,” replied Harding. “What do you want to do–first?”

“First I want to see the man, or woman, or whoever it was, that found Sir Charles dead this morning,” replied Charlesworth. “After that–we shall see.”

“The senior footman–there are two or three of them, I believe–found him,” remarked Harding. “His valet was away, on a holiday, and Green, the footman, was taking his duty. I’ll get him in here.”

He left the room, and presently returned with a young man who eyed the detective with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. Charlesworth opened his book again.

“This is Green, eh?” he said. “What’s your Christian name, Green? Edward? Well, you found Sir Charles dead this morning, didn’t you? Just tell us about it–in your own way.”

“Not much to tell about it, sir,” replied Green. “Sir Charles’ valet is away, so I was doing his work. I took Sir Charles his tea at the usual hour this morning–seven o’clock. I set down the tray on a table at his bedside, and went to draw the blinds up, and to do one or two other little things. Sir Charles didn’t speak to me–as he had done other mornings–so I went up to the bed, thinking to wake him; he was particular about being up at seven o’clock. Then I saw there was something wrong, and I touched his hand. It was cold as ice, sir–and so was his forehead: I touched that, too. So I ran and called Mr. Bedford, the butler. That’s all I know, sir.”

“Thank you,” said Charlesworth. “Ask Mr. Bedford to come here.”

Bedford, the solemn-faced person who had received the detective, was a dapper and precise-looking man of apparently about thirty-eight or forty years of age. At Charlesworth’s bidding he took a seat by the desk, evidently well aware of what was expected of him, and quite prepared to talk. And to begin with he corroborated what the footman had just said.

“Green fetched me from my room at a minute or two past seven,” he replied in answer to Charlesworth’s opening question. “I hurried to Sir Charles’s room at once. I saw he was dead as soon as I reached the bedside. He was lying in quite a peaceful attitude, gentlemen, but there was a look about him–you understand? And he was as cold as ice.”

“What did you do?” inquired Charlesworth.

“I telephoned immediately–there is a telephone in Sir Charles’ bedroom–first to Dr. Holmes, and then to Mr. Harding there,” replied Bedford. “They were here in less than a quarter of an hour.”

“Did you tell anybody in the house in the meantime?”

“No! Green and I kept the matter quiet. We got both gentlemen up to Sir Charles’ room without anyone knowing. Afterwards, Dr. Holmes saw Mrs. John Stanmore, who is staying here, and he and Mrs. John broke the news to my lady.”

“How did she take it?”

“I can’t say as to that, sir: I don’t know. I have not seen her ladyship at all this morning. Dr. Holmes gave strict orders that she is not to be disturbed.”

“Well, now, about last night. Did you see Sir Charles last night?”

“I didn’t–I never saw him at all. The last time I saw him alive was yesterday morning, soon after nine o’clock, when he was setting off to town in his car, which he drove himself. He came home very late last night–later than usual. In fact, everybody had gone to bed. Sir Charles was very strict about rules and regulations. If he wasn’t in by eleven o’clock no one, not even myself, was to sit up for him; he let himself in on such occasions with his latch-key. And last night he hadn’t come in by eleven.”

“Do you know what time he did come in?”

“I don’t. I never heard anything of him. But my room is in another part of the house, and he always moved about very quietly when he came in late.”

“You’re quite sure there wouldn’t be anyone up when he came in?”

“Absolutely positive, sir!”

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