The Charing Cross Mystery - J.S. Fletcher - ebook
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Heatherwick lawyer from London returns home at night. At the subway station, he becomes a witness to the death of a guy. The lawyer decides to become a detective and understand this cause of death himself. The end will surprise everyone with its surprise.

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Contents

I. THE LAST TRAIN EAST

II. WHOSE PORTRAIT IS THIS?

III. THE POTENTIAL FORTUNE

IV. THE DIAMOND NECKLACE

V. THE POLICE RETURN

VI. SAMPLES OF INK

VII. BLACK VELVET

VIII. FLIGWOOD'S RENTS

IX. THE MEDICINE BOTTLE

X. THE MYSTERIOUS VISITOR

XI. LADY RIVERSREADE

XII. ALIAS MADAME LISTORELLE

XIII. WHO WAS SHE?

XIV. IS IT BLACKMAIL?

XV. REVELATIONS

XVI. STILL MORE

XVII. THE TORN LABELS

XVIII. THE TELEGRAM

XIX. THE LONDON ROAD

XX. CONVERGING TRACKS

XXI. THE ORDER IN WRITING

XXII. THE HIGHLY-RESPECTABLE SOLICITOR

XXIII. THE LANDLADY OF LITTLE SMITH STREET

XXIV. THE HOUSE IN THE YARD

XXV. DEAD!

XXVI. WATERLOO

XXVII. THE ASSURANCE

CHAPTER I

THE LAST TRAIN EAST

Hetherwick had dined that evening with friends who lived in Cadogan Gardens, and had stayed so late in conversation with his host that midnight had come before he left and set out for his bachelor chambers in the Temple; it was, indeed, by the fraction of a second that he caught the last east-bound train at Sloane Square. The train was almost destitute of passengers; the car which he himself entered, a first-class smoking compartment, was otherwise empty; no one came into it when the train reached Victoria. But at St. James’s Park two men got in, and seated themselves opposite to Hetherwick.

Now Hetherwick was a young barrister, going in for criminal practice, in whom the observant faculty was deeply implanted; it was natural to him to watch and to speculate on anything he saw. Because of this, and perhaps because he had just then nothing else to think about, he sat observing the new-comers; he found interest, amusement, and not a little profit in this sort of thing, and in trying to decide whether a given man was this, that, or something else.

Of the two men thus under inspection, the elder was a big, burly, fresh-coloured man of apparently sixty to sixty-five years of age. His closely cropped silvery hair, his smartly trained grey moustache, his keen blue eyes and generally alert and vivacious appearance, made Hetherwick think that he was or had been in some way or other connected with the army; this impression was heightened by an erect carriage, square-set shoulders and something that suggested a long and close acquaintance with the methods of the drill-yard and the parade ground. Perhaps, thought Hetherwick, he was a retired non-commissioned officer, a regimental sergeant-major, or something of that sort; this idea, again, was strengthened by the fact that the man carried a handsome walking-cane, the head of which, either of gold or of silver-gilt, was fashioned like a crown. There was something military, too, about the cut of his clothes; he was a smartly dressed man, from his silk hat, new and glossy and worn a little rakishly on the right side of his head, to his highly polished boots. A well-preserved, cheery-looking, good-humoured sort of person, this, decided Hetherwick, and apparently well satisfied with himself and full of the enjoyment of life, and likely, from all outward sight, to make old bones.

The other man came into a different category. The difference began with his clothes, which, if not exactly shabby, were semi-shabby, much worn, ill-kept and badly put on: he was evidently a careless man, who scorned a clothes-brush and was also indifferent to the very obvious fact that his linen was frayed and dirty. He was a thin, meagre man, of not one-half the respectable, well-fed bulk of his companion; his sallow-complexioned face was worn, and his beard thin and irregular: altogether he suggested some degree of poor circumstances. Yet, in Hetherwick’s opinion, he was a person of something beyond ordinary mental capacity; his eyes were large and intelligent, his nose was well-shaped, his chin square and determined. And his ungloved hands were finely moulded and delicate of proportion; the fingers were long, thin and tapering. Hetherwick noticed two facts about those fingers: the first, that they were restless; the second, that they were much stained, as if the man had recently been mixing dyes or using chemicals. And then he suddenly observed that the big man’s hands and fingers were similarly stained–blue and red and yellow, in patches.

These men were talking when they entered the compartment; they continued to talk as they settled down. Hetherwick could not avoid hearing what they said.

“Queerest experience I’ve ever had in my time!” the big man was saying as he dropped into a corner seat. “Tell you, I knew her the instant I clapped eyes on that portrait! After–how many years will it be, now? Ten, I think–yes, ten. Oh, yes! Knew her well enough. When we get to my hotel, I’ll show you the portrait–I cut it out and put it aside–and you’ll identify it as quick as I did–lay you aught you like on it! No mistaking that!”

This was said in a broad North Country accent, in full keeping, thought Hetherwick, with the burly frame of the speaker. But the other man replied in tones that suggested the born Londoner.

“I think I shall be able to recognise it,” he said softly. “I’ve a very clear recollection of the lady, though, to be sure, I only saw her once or twice.”

“Aye, well, a fine-looking woman–and a beauty!–like that’s not soon forgotten,” declared the other. “And nowadays the years don’t seem to make much difference to a woman’s age. Anyway, I knew her!–‘That’s you, my fine madam,’ says I to myself, as soon as ever I unfolded that paper. But, mind you, I kept it to myself! Not a word to my granddaughter, though she was sitting opposite to me when I made the discovery. No–not to anybody!–till to-night. Not the sort of thing to blab about–that!”

“Just so,” said the smaller man. “Of course, you’d remember that I was likely to have some recollection of her and of the circumstances. Odd!–very. And I suppose the next thing is–what are you going to do about it?”

“Oh, well!” replied the big man. “Of course, ten years have elapsed. But as to that, it wouldn’t matter, you know, if twenty years had slipped by. Still–”

At that point he sank his voice to the least of a whisper, bending over to his companion, and Hetherwick heard no more. But it seemed to him that the little man, although he appeared to be listening intently, was, in reality, doing nothing of the sort. His long, stained fingers became more restless than ever; twice, before the train came to Westminster, he pulled out his watch and glanced at it; once, after that, Hetherwick caught the nervous hand again shaking towards the waistcoat pocket. And he got an idea that the man was regarding his big, garrulous companion with curiously furtive glances, as if he were waiting for some vague, yet expected thing, and wondering when it would materialise: there was a covert watchfulness about him, and though he nodded his head from time to time as if in assent to what was being whispered to him, Hetherwick became convinced that he was either abstracted in thought or taking no interest. If eyes and fingers were to be taken as indications, the man’s thoughts were elsewhere.

The train pulled up at Westminster, lingered its half-minute, moved onward again; the big man, still bending down to his companion, went on whispering; now and then, as if he were telling a good story or making a clever point, he chuckled. But suddenly, and without any warning, he paused, coming to a dead, sharp-cut stop in an apparently easy flow of language. He stared wildly around him: Hetherwick caught the flash of his eye as it swept the compartment, and never forgot the look of frightened amazement that he saw in it; it was as if the man had been caught, with lightning-like swiftness, face to face with some awful thing. His left hand shut up, clutching at his breast and throat; the other, releasing the gold-headed cane, shot out as if to ward off a blow. It dropped like lead at his side; the other arm relaxed and fell, limp and nerveless, and before Hetherwick could move, the big, burly figure sank back in its corner and the eyes closed.

Hetherwick jumped from his seat, shouting to the other man.

“Your friend!” he cried. “Look!”

But the other man was looking. He, too, had got to his feet, and he was bending down and stretching out a hand to the big man’s wrist. He muttered something that Hetherwick failed to catch.

“What do you say?” demanded Hetherwick impatiently. “Good heavens!–we must do something! The man’s–what is it? A seizure?”

“A seizure!” answered the other. “Yes–that’s it–a seizure! He’d had one–slight giddiness–just before we got in. A–the train’s stopping, though. Charing Cross? I–I know a doctor close by.”

The train was already pulling up. Hetherwick flung open the dividing door between his compartment and the next–he had seen the conductor down there and he beckoned to him.

“Quick!” he called. “Here!–there’s a man ill–dying, I think! Come here!”

The conductor came–slowly. But when he saw the man in the corner, he made for the outer door and beckoned to men on the platform. A uniformed official ran up and got in.

“What is it?” he asked. “Gentleman in a fit? Who’s with him? Anybody?”

Hetherwick looked round for the man with the stained fingers. But he was already out of the carriage and on the platform and making for the stairs that led to the exit. He flung back a few words, pointing upward at the same time.

“Doctor!–close by!” he shouted. “Back in five minutes!–get him out.”

But already there was a doctor at hand. Before the man with the stained fingers had fairly vanished, other men had come in from the adjoining compartments; one pushed his way to the front.

“I am a medical man,” he said curtly. “Make way, please.”

The other men stood silently watching while the new-comer made a hasty examination of the still figure. He turned sharply.

“This man’s dead!” he said in quick, matter-of-fact tones. “Is anyone with him?”

The train officials glanced at Hetherwick. But Hetherwick shook his head.

“I don’t know him,” he answered. “There was another man with him–they got in together at St. James’s Park. You saw the other man,” he continued, turning to the conductor. “He jumped out as you came in here, and ran up the stairs, saying that he was going for some doctor, close by.”

“I saw him–heard him, too,” assented the conductor. He glanced at the stairs and the exit beyond. “But he ain’t come back,” he added.

“You had better get the man out,” said the doctor. “Bring him in to some place on the platform.”

A station policeman had come up by that time; he and the railwaymen lifted the dead man and carried him across the platform to a waiting-room. Hetherwick, feeling that he would be wanted, followed in the rear, the doctor with him. It struck Hetherwick with grim irony that as soon as they were off it, the train went on, as if careless and indifferent.

“Good heavens!” he muttered, more to himself than to the man at his side. “That poor fellow was alive, and, as far as I could see, in the very best of health and spirits, five minutes ago!”

“No doubt!” observed the doctor dryly. “But he’s dead now. What happened?”

Hetherwick told him briefly.

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