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Norton, Andre - Novel 39 (8 page)

BOOK: Norton, Andre - Novel 39
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Seven o'clock
and all
was
well;
Jerry was waiting, nodding down at him as he approached the curb. One minute
later, and all was confusion.

 
          
 
"She wants to see me?" Newcomen
said.
"Tonight?"

 
          
 
"That's wot she said to tell you. I
popped around there on the orf-chance abaht an 'our ago when I dropped a fare
at Liverpool Station. Says she's sorry she wasn't up to seem' you earlier, but
better late than never."

 
          
 
"What's that supposed to mean?"

 
          
 
Jerry shrugged. "She diden' say right
out. I reckern there might be somefink she 'eld back at the inquest an' naow
she's 'aving second thorghts."

 
          
 
The inspector wasted no further time in
reckoning for himself. Once he was in the cab they circumnavigated the square
to Lord Nelson's stony satisfaction and headed toward the
Strand
. Newcomen's mounting anticipation made the
journey seem to last forever; he urged Jerry, who in turn urged the horse, and
the cab rolled through the roiling traffic of Fleet Street.

 
          
 
When at last they arrived, Newcomen found the
quiet he had expected to encounter earlier in the week. "Wait here,"
he told the cabby, then hurried inside.

 
          
 
Three minutes later he was seated in the
parlor with
Poole
's widow. The former Nell Curtis was a mousy
little woman whose straight brown hair was streaked with gray. She was wearing
mourning, and its bleak blackness accentuated the pallor of her haggard face.
But her welcome seemed sincere and Newcomen thought he could detect relief in
her eyes and voice as their conversation began.

 
          
 
"Yer the one 'oo come 'ere to see my
'usband the night 'e was buckled?" she said.

 
          
 
Newcomen nodded.

 
          
 
"Nart in any
trouble,
was 'e?"

 
          
 
"None that I know
about.
All I wanted was a chat. Jerry
can tell
you that."

 
          
 
"So 'e did." As she spoke, the
widow's eyes narrowed in calculating scrutiny. "But 'e ain't telling wot
you'd be chatting abaout."

 
          
 
"That's because he doesn't know."
The inspector leaned forward. "Anything that passed between your late
husband and
myself
was to be strictly a private
matter."

 
          
 
There was a moment of silence as the
diminutive woman weighed the big man's words. When she spoke again her stare
was less intent, but there was still an edge of suspicion in her voice.
"'Aow do I know I can trust a rozzer?"

 
          
 
Newcomen shrugged. "For what it's worth,
you have my word."

 
          
 
"Meaning this weren't
go
no further?" she said.

 
          
 
"No further than me. The City police are
in charge here. That's why I wasn't allowed to see you at their headquarters.
And that's why I won't be running to them with what you tell me tonight."

 
          
 
"Wot if I was to tell you somefink I
din't let on at the inkques'?" Again she hesitated. "Mind you, I
ain't sayin' as 'aow I will—"

 
          
 
"No need." Newcomen permitted
himself a smile that was both solicitous and self-congratulatory. "That's
why you were disposed to see me."

 
          
 
"Been 'eavy on me mind ever since it
'appened." The widow shook her head. "City police—they treat you like
dirt, comin' at you wiv questions day '
an
night. Good
thing I 'ad witnesses, or like as not they'd 'ave me take the drop for pore
Edgar's murder. Fine lot o' ruddy blaggards if you ask me, '
an
them as 'eld the inkques' was the worst." She gripped the arms of her
chair, knuckles whitening.

 
          
 
Inspector Newcomen spoke softly. "So you
got angry and rattled and didn't tell them all you knew," he said.
"Now it's a case of second thoughts, because you want to find your
husband's murderer."

 
          
 
"Can you?"

 
          
 
"I can't promise anything until I hear
what you have to say." Newcomen gestured. "Before we get to that I'm
minded to ask a question or two first. And I'll want the truth."

 
          
 
"Do me best."

 
          
 
"I understand your husband had been
feeling poorly these past months. Started when he lost his position, eh?"

 
          
 
"Oh no, sir!"
Mrs. Poole shook her head. "Edgar weren't 'isself for a longish time afore
that."

 
          
 
"When did you notice anything was
wrong?"

 
          
 
The widow frowned thoughtfully. "'Ard to
say
. '
E seemed right as rain up 'til Dr. Jekyll got
too friendly-like with that 'Yde bloke."

 
          
 
"Edward Hyde." The chair creaked
beneath him as the big man leaned still farther forward. "Did you know the
man?"

 
          
 
"Never set eyes on 'im. Used 'is own key
for Dr. Jekyll's private quarters, so's to come an' go as 'e pleased."

 
          
 
"But your husband knew him. Did he ever
say anything about Mr. Hyde to you?"

 
          
 
"Only that 'e was an
ugly customer, one as Dr. Jekyll would best be rid of."

 
          
 
"And did he?"

 
          
 
"Did 'e wot?"

 
          
 
"Did Dr. Jekyll murder Mr. Hyde?"
Newcomen's eyes were intent upon her face.
"Straight out
now.
Did he?"

 
          
 
"'Ow can you say such a thing? Dr. Jekyll
was a proper gentleman, alius kindly disposed, Gawd rest 'is soul—"

 
          
 
"God rest his soul." The inspector's
voice boomed its echo. "Do you think he's dead?"

 
          
 
"Edgar did." The widow nodded quickly.
"'E reckoned 'Yde made away with the doctor an' then finished 'isself
orf." She grimaced.
"Narsty piece o' work that was.
Edgar saw the body. 'E really took it 'ard, even afore we
was
sacked. I 'ad the feelin' Edgar was chuffed to get away from that 'ouse. But
arter that it was all downhill, wot wiv the nightmares an' the drink—"

 
          
 
"Pity."
Newcomen spoke softly. "A great pity, as I well know." He paused.
"What I don't know are the things you didn't tell them about at the
inquest."

 
          
 
Mrs. Poole sighed. "Per'aps
it's
best left at that."

 
          
 
"Not if you want to bring justice to
whoever killed your husband." Studying her reaction as he spoke, the
inspector modulated his voice to a confidential whisper. "Now that the
inquest is over you can't expect much more from the City police. They've got
other fish to fry. Which means this business is strictly between the two of
us."

 
          
 
Mrs. Poole hesitated. "But you scarce
knew Edgar! Wot's yer concern?"

 
          
 
Now it was Newcomen's turn to hesitate as he
pondered his reply. Telling her his real reason would be a gamble, but as the
saying has it, in for a penny, in for a pound. "Truth is
,
I've a notion the murderer of your husband might be connected with the death or
disappearance of Dr. Jekyll. And with your help, I intend to find out."

 
          
 
Mrs. Poole nodded,
then
leaned forward, speaking in low tones. "The glass," she said. "I
din't tell them that part."

 
          
 
The inspector frowned. "I read your
statement at the inquest. You said the window had been broken."

 
          
 
"But I left out abaout 'earing it. I give
the front door a right proper slam when I come in. No one else paid 'eed so I
figger as 'aow they'd not 'ear what I 'eard on me way down the 'all."

 
          
 
"The sound of the
window-glass being smashed in your bedroom?"

 
          
 
"More of a tinkle, you might say. Winder
weren't locked—I reckon the glass broke when it was forced up too 'igh. Cracked
and fell on the floor in smallish pieces, bits and slivers all over the
place—"

 
          
 
"Stow your gab, woman!" Newcomen's
voice boomed out before he
could control
it, nor did
he attempt to. "You're telling me your husband's murderer was still
present when you arrived?"

 
          
 
Mrs. Poole shook her head. "Give me a
miss by seconds, must 'ave popped aout the winder when I opened the front
door."

 
          
 
The inspector sat back, and when he spoke the
sharp edge of his voice was dulled by disappointment. "Then you didn't see
him."

 
          
 
Again the widow shook her head. "Not in
the room. Seein' pore Edgar give me a fair turn, it did, but one look and I
knowed 'e done for. Then I 'ears noises from outside the winder—like someone
runnin' up the alleyway. That's when I stuck me 'ead aout to take a look. No
light in the passage, mind you, and all I 'ad was the one glimpse afore the
thing went 'round the far corner. Then I let out a scream—"

 
          
 
"Get on with it!" The inspector's
voice was sharp again. "What did he look like?"

 
          
 
"Pore Edgar
use to say
it give
'im the 'orrors to see Dr. Jekyll's friend."

 
          
 
"Edward Hyde?"

 
          
 
"One and the
same."
She nodded. "But what puts it to mind is 'ow 'e spoke
of Mr. 'Yde. Didn't once say °e'—only 4 it.'
Like 'Yde
weren't even 'uman."
Her eyes flickered into
an
awareness
and a hint of apprehension crept into her voice. "I never
took 'is meaning until I saw that thing in the alley, running all twisted and
hunched over—"

 
          
 
The inspector nodded quickly.
"Some kind of cripple?"

 
          
 
"It moved too fast for that." She
gazed directly at New-comen, pouring forth the fear in her eyes. "I 'ope
and pray you can find the murderer. But don't look for a man, Inspector—look
for a creature."

 

Chapter 6

 

 
          
 
Hester read over the much-creased list again
and then surveyed the clothing she had hunted out to try to conform
with
instructions. It was both exciting and a bit troubling
to think that her first essay into the writing world would come from acting a
part. The more the day wore on the uneasier she felt. Or maybe pan of it was
sheer hunger. She had a bun and tea— what Mrs. Carruthers considered a suitable
breakfast for a lady boarder. It had been brought to her by Dorry, the
weak-chinned, slack-mouthed maid-of-all-work—and work she did, all of it, under
the eye of Cook. Cooks, Hester had learned at the
Ames
household, were exalted personages with an
unending series of privileges, some of which even the housekeeper, or that
supreme being
the butler, could not challenge.

 
          
 
Anyway there had been a bun (two days old at
least) with a miserable scrape of butter, and tea (weak and tepid) for her. As
an added aggravation the entrancing smell of bacon seeped up the back stairway,
with just a suggestion of well-toasted bread. Mrs. Carruthers's two male
boarders were, respectively, her son and her nephew, and of course everyone
understood that a gentleman needed sustenance in plenty to prepare him for the
labors of the day.

 
          
 
A bun and tea for breakfast and nothing for
lunch, since she had not kept the proper hours and Cook did—the table was bare
by the time Hester returned. She wished she had courage enough to stop at one
of the noisy street stalls to buy a mug of what was called coffee and a potato
bursting out of its skin, needing only salt and butter to make it a feast.
However, it seemed that the stalls were also refreshment centers for the male
sex, and, independent though she had always deemed herself to be, Hester had
not had the audacity to eat and drink right on the street with perhaps a goodly
portion of
London
watching her.

 
          
 
What Hester would like from Dorry now was not
food but clothes. Miss Scrimshaw had been very clear on the point that she
should dress down for this assignment, for though Hester would be there under
the guidance of Miss Scrimshaw's acquaintance, she could not mingle properly
unless she was shabby—more shabby than ordinary. She knew by the time Miss
Scrimshaw had finished with orders, advice, and the list Hester now held, that
she was indeed about to enter a new world.

 
          
 
Dorry's street clothes, if that poor thing
ever had an afternoon or evening off (which Hester doubted), might be a dress
suitable for the darker side of
London
. Unfortunately, there was no possible way
of obtaining the use of such. The very asking would create a storm as wild as
one of the wintry blasts back home.

 
          
 
She was startled out of imagining just what
Mrs. Car-ruthers would say if she heard of such a request when there was a tap
at the door.

 
          
 
Her landlady stood outside, holding a square
envelope, decorated by a blob of red sealing wax, between two pudgy fingers.

 
          

 
          
 
"Message for you,
Miss Lane
, sent around by hand— must be
important."

 
          
 
"Thank you, Mrs. Carruthers." Hester
accepted the envelope. Apparently Mrs. Carruthers's curiosity was one of her
prominent character traits, for she was making no move to retire. There was no
outer subscription except Hester's name—how tantalizing it must be. Hester's
hand closed firmly on the doorknob. "Thank you, Mrs. Carruthers," she
repeated in a slightly louder tone. With an offended sniff the landlady turned
toward the stairs.

 
          
 
Hester, having been trained how to properly
open an envelope, looked around in vain for a letter knife, then had to
substitute a hairpin.

 

 
          
 
Dear
Miss Lane
:

 
          
 
If it is at all possible, can you wait upon me
at the chambers of Utterson and Williams as soon as possible? Your information
concerning Mr. Jekyll is of the utmost importance, or I would not make this
request in so abrupt a manner.

 
          
 
Robert Guest

 

 
          
 
Abrupt indeed, very near the border of open
rudeness. Yes, Hester considered, there was a feeling of some
disaster, that
time itself was a matter of high importance.
Who was Mr. Jekyll?

 
          
 
She turned up the one extravagance she had
known her father to indulge in—the silver watch fastened to a twisted bowknot
of the same metal that he had presented to her in a quite offhand manner some
four years back, so that she might time the mail and make sure always that his
pile of letters was ready to be collected at the village post office. It was
slightly after
two o'clock
—she
must be back here by four if she were to eat and then get dressed for her
adventure of the evening. It depended upon just how far away these
"chambers" were. In the
Temple
, of course, she had the address given in
the advertisement to direct her.

 
          
 
Another tap at the door, or rather a hammering
of knuckles that was certainly not Mrs. Carruthers, even if that lady was as
provoked as Hester believed her to be. She picked up the book inscribed with
the name L. Jekyll, which she was bringing with her to show the solicitor, and
caught up her damp coat again.

 
          
 
At another knock she opened to find Dorry.

 
          
 
"Please, mizz, she says there be a cab
a-waitin' an' yah should know—" That was the longest sentence she had ever
heard Dorry say, and the girl was already edging backward, ready to scuttle
down the back stairs.

 
          
 
"Thank you—" But Dorry was gone, her
badly cobbled boots pounding in her haste.

 
          
 
A cab sent—Hester hoped that meant sent and
paid for. She had certainly received no funds in advance from Miss Scrimshaw.

 
          
 
As they rattled away through the growing fog,
she shivered, drawing her coat closer about her in spite of its dampness. The
inside of the cab smelt of horse, and also of what she thought must be a cigar.
On her empty stomach the combination did not sit easily.

 
          
 
The journey seemed endless but of course it
wasn't. They drew up before a door and a man in the decent blacks of a clerk
handed her out, making some neutral comment on the weather. Londoners, and
rightly, could always discuss the weather, there was so much of it—mostly
unpleasant, Hester thought. But her greeter was paying the cab driver, so that
small worry was assuaged.

 
          
 
She was ushered through a room with several
desks, three of which were occupied by younger men dressed much as her escort,
as far as she could tell by the light of candles. It would seem that even at
this late date Utterson and Williams had made no change in their lighting.

 
          
 
Just before she reached the door at the other
end it was opened, and the man standing within eyed her with a keenness that
somehow fitted his sharp nose and his very correct tall cravat, which also
hinted of earlier years.

 
          
 
"Mr. Guest?" she asked hesitatingly.

 
          
 
His thin-lipped mouth quivered a
fraction, perhaps that
was the best he could do for a
welcoming smile.

 
          
 
"Ah, no, Miss Lane. I am Utterson. May I
make you known to Inspector Newcomen?" He indicated a second man, also
half hidden by the lack of proper lighting, though there was a lamp in
Utterson's office.

 
          
 
If the man of law was as dried and blanched as
his own parchments, this burly, wide-shouldered stranger, whose manners at
their introduction moved him to no more than a nod of the head, suggested
strength and a kind of obstinacy, with his square chin, weathered skin, and
small eyes that never seemed still. They darted up and down her own figure now,
Hester thought, like a pair of those black beetles that ran from the light at
night if one had reason to go into the nether regions of a house.

 
          
 
Her own chin went up and she did not
acknowledge that introduction at all, but spoke to Utterson with some of the
strong reserve her father's daughter could use upon occasion.

 
          
 
"I was asked to meet with Mr. Robert
Guest. He is not here?"

 
          
 
Utterson indicated the man who had escorted
her in. "This is Mr. Guest. There was a very good reason for
all our
obtuseness,
Miss Lane
, as we are ready to explain. But pray, do
sit down, and you must have some tea."

 
          
 
Somehow she found herself seated in a chair, a
steaming cup at her hand, and beside it on the desk an ebony and silver biscuit
box that seemed well filled. But she was certainly not to be so easily won as
that! She looked straightly at Utterson, who had gone to the chair behind the
desk and was now seated there, his fingertips together pushing in and out a
little as he spoke.

 
          
 
"You surely understand,
Miss Lane
, that when an advertisement such as you
made answer to is published in the paper, there are a great many people who
will guess that it may mean something of value to the answerer. It is thought
better therefore that another name be used to weed out such answers. Guest is
partly involved in this matter and he suggested that his be the one."

 
          
 
Neither Guest nor the big man had seated
themselves. Newcomen had edged along the wall a little, until he was almost
beside the door, while the clerk had come to stand by his employer. She could
understand Utterson's argument, of course. But there was something wrong—she
thought that most of it stemmed from the big man, and she resolutely decided it
better to ignore him entirely.

 
          
 
From under her coat she took the book she had
wrapped in paper and then spoke to Mr. Utterson.

 
          
 
"As you know, my name is
Hester
Lane
,
I am from the
province
of
Quebec
in
Canada
. My father was
Harrison Lane
. He was not Canadian by birth, he was from
England
. But he never discussed the past with me.
Being a scholar of independent means he spent most of his time in study, and he
had me educated privately so that I could serve as his amanuensis. My mother
died when I was a very small child."

 
          
 
She paused. Her throat felt dry and the tea
scent tempted her. At that same moment Guest poured a like cup for his
employer, who raised it and took a sip. The clerk did not serve the man by the
door. Hester was overtempted, she drank thirstily and the warmth within her
allayed some of her wariness.

 
          
 
"Also, his employment among his books
precluded his having many acquaintances. We entertained no relatives. He never
spoke of any and most of his correspondence concerned his research—"

BOOK: Norton, Andre - Novel 39
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