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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11847

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The story had gone abroad by this time. All London knew of the strange disappearance of the body of Sir Charles Darryll. Of course the wildest rumours were afloat, the cheaper newspapers had details that had been evolved from the brilliant imagination of creative reporters; a score of them had already besieged the manager of the Royal Palace Hotel and were making his life a burden to him. The thing was bad enough as it stood; enough damage had been done to the prestige of the hotel without making matters worse in this fashion.

There was nothing further to say at present except that the news was true, and that the police had no clue whatsoever for the moment.

"Not that it is the slightest use telling them anything of the kind," Field muttered. "Whenever there is a mystery the press always gives us the credit for the possession of a clue. In that way they very often succeed in scaring our game away altogether. I don't say that the papers are useless to us, but they do more harm than good."

All the same, Field was not quite at a loss to know what to do. Beatrice had given him a full and accurate description of the two adventurers who had vanished, leaving no trace behind them. They had suggested that all their belongings were at the European Hotel, but a question or two asked there had proved that such was not the case.

"And yet they have gone and covered up their tracks behind them," Field said. "Why? Miss Darryll-I should say, Mrs. Richford-is quite sure that she did not alarm either of them. Then why did they disappear like this? Perhaps they were spotted by somebody else over another matter. Perhaps the gentleman who so scared our 'General' in the drawing-room of this hotel had something to do with the matter. We shan't get much further on the track of this interesting pair until I have had a talk with some of the foreign detectives."

"You can, at any rate, look after the missing hotel servants," Mark suggested.

But that was already being done, as Field proceeded to explain. It was just possible that they had been the victims of foul play. Most of the newspaper men had been cleared out by this time, and there being nothing further to learn, the hotel resumed its normal condition. People came and went as they usually do in such huge concerns; the mystery was discussed fitfully, but the many visitors had their own business to attend to, so that they did not heed the half score of quiet and sternfaced men who were searching the hotel everywhere. At the end of an hour there was no kind of trace of anything that would lead to the whereabouts of the missing men. Colonel Berrington came to the head of the grand stairway presently holding a little round object in his hand.

"I have found this," he said. "It is a button with the initials R. P. H. on it, evidently a button from the uniform of one of the servants. As there is a scrap of cloth attached to it, the button has evidently been wrenched off, which points to a struggle having taken place. Don't you feel inclined to agree with me, Inspector?"

On the whole Inspector Field was inclined to agree. Would Colonel Berrington be so good as to take him to the exact spot where the button was found? The button had been discovered on the first landing, and had lodged on the edge of the parquet flooring on the red carpet. They were very thick carpets, as befitted the character of the hotel.

Inspector Field bent down and fumbled on the floor. He had touched a patch of something wet. When he rose his fingers were red as if the dye had come out of the carpet.

"Blood," he said, as if in answer to Berrington's interrogative glance. "Very stupid of us not to think of something like this before. But these carpets are so thick and of so dark a colour. Beyond doubt some deed of violence has taken place here. See."

The inspector smeared his hand further along the carpet. The red patch was very large. A little further along the wall there were other patches, and there was the mark of a blood-stained hand on the handle of a door which proved to be locked.

"Is anybody occupying this room at present?" Field asked a hotel servant.

"Not exactly, sir," the man replied. "That door gives on to one of the finest suites in the hotel. It is rented by the Rajah of Ahbad. His Highness is not here at present, but he comes and goes as he likes. He keeps the keys himself, and the door is only opened by his steward, who comes along a day or two before his royal master."

"All the same they are going to be opened now," said Field grimly. "Go and tell the manager that I want him here at once. I suppose there are master keys to this."

But there were no master keys to the Royal suite; the locks had been selected by the Rajah himself. It was an hour or more later before a locksmith from Milner's managed to open the door. They were thick doors, sheet lined, and locked top and bottom. Field switched up the electric lights and made a survey of the rooms. The blinds were all down and the shutters up. Suddenly Inspector Field gave a grunt of satisfaction.

"We've got something here, at any rate," he said. "And the poor chap seems to be badly hurt. Carry him out gently and see if the doctor is still here."

A body lay on the floor; the hands and arms were secured to the sides by straps; a tightly rolled pad of black cloth was fixed in the poor fellow's mouth. There was a ghastly wound on the side of his head from which the blood was still oozing; a great deal of it had congealed on his collar. A slight groan proved that the victim was still alive. "It's the hall porter," the manager cried. "It's poor Benwort. What a horrible thing!"

"Looks like concussion of the brain," Field said. "Thank goodness, here's Dr. Andrews. We will make a further search of these rooms, for it's pretty certain that the other fellow is here also. Ah, I felt very sure that we should find him.

"

A second man, also in the livery of the hotel, lay by a sofa. He seemed to have fared better, for there was no blood on his face, though a great swelling over his right ear testified to the fact that he had been severely handled. He was not insensible, but he hardly knew what he was talking about as he was placed on his feet.

"Tell us all about it," the inspector said encouragingly. "What really happened?"

"Don't ask me," Catton, the night watchman said, as he held his hands to his head. "My brain feels as if it had been squeezed dry. Somebody hit me on the head after a lady in grey came and fetched me. A little lady in grey, with a sad face and grey eyes."

Berrington started violently, and Mark looked up in surprise. The grey lady-Beatrice's Slave of Silence-seemed to run through this mystery like the thread of a story. It was an entirely interesting moment, but unhappily the night watchman could say no more.

"Don't worry me so," he whined. "Put some ice on my head and let me sleep. I dare say I shall be able to puzzle it out in time. Somebody carried something down the stairs; then the big door opened and the night porter whistled for a cab. That's all."

The speaker lurched forward and appeared to fall into a comatose state. There was nothing for it but to put him to bed without delay. Field looked puzzled.

"I suppose that poor fellow was talking coherently in snatches," he said. "No doubt just after he got that crack on the head he did see a bulky package taken downstairs. But then he says he heard the door open and a cab whistled for by the night porter. Now that's impossible, seeing that the night porter got his quietus also. Now who called up that cab? Evidently somebody did, and no doubt the cab came. Well, we shall find that cab. Saunders, go at once and see what you can do in the direction of finding that cab."

The mystery seemed to get deeper and deeper the more Field got on the track. He could quite understand how it was that both of these hotel servants had been put out of action, so to speak, but who was the grey lady who had given the note of warning, and why had those two men been placed in the suite of rooms belonging to the Rajah of Ahbad? The gagging and the hiding were all right, and that line of policy gave all the more time to the ruffians who had done this thing. Also it was possible on reflection to understand why the Rajah's room had been chosen, as no search, but for the bloody door handle, would have been made there. But where had those people procured those patent Brahma lock keys from?

The wild supposition that the Rajah himself was in the business was absurd. That idea might be dismissed on the spot. The more Field thought of it the more was he puzzled. He would take an early opportunity of seeing the Rajah.

"He's a quiet sort of man," the hotel manager explained. "I should fancy that he has an English mother, by the look of him. Anyway, he is English to all intents and purposes, having been educated at Eton and Oxford. He only took these rooms a few months ago; he was brought here after a bad illness, and when he went away he was carried to his carriage. But they say he's all right now. But, Mr. Inspector, you don't mean to say that you think that the Rajah--"

"Has any hand in this business? Of course I don't," Field said testily. "I'm just a little put out this morning, so you must forgive my bad temper. The more one digs into the thing, the more black and misty it becomes. I think I'll go as far as the Yard and have a talk to one or two of our foreign men. Well, Saunders?"

"Well, I've done some good," Saunders said. "I have not found the cabman we want, but I've got on the track of another who can tell me something useful. He's a night man, and he is waiting down in the hall for you at this moment, sir."

"I think I'll go along, if you don't mind," Berrington suggested.

Field had no objection to make, and together the two descended to the hall. A little, apple-faced, shrivelled-looking man was waiting for them. There was no reason to ask his occupation-London cabman was written all over him in large letters.

"I can't tell you much, sir," he said. "It was just past two when I heard the whistle here. I was waiting with my cab at the corner of Shepherd Street. It's out of my line a bit, but I pulled up there in the hopes of getting a return fare. When I heard the whistle I came up with my cab, but I was just a shade too late. There was another cab before me, a black cab with a black horse, a rather swell affair. The driver was wearing a fur coat and a very shiny top hat. We had a few words, but the hotel porter told me to be off, and I went back to the stand where I stayed till just daylight. Nobody else left the hotel in a cab."

"This is important," Field muttered. "By the way, would you recognize the hall porter again? You would! Then come this way and we will see if you can."

But the cabman was quite sure that the damaged man lying on the bed at the top of the hotel was not the same one who had ordered him away a few hours before. He was quite sure because the lights in the hotel portico were still full on, and he had seen the hall porter's face quite distinctly.

"A regular plant," Field exclaimed. "A clever thing indeed. Was the black cab empty when it came up, or was there anybody inside it?"

"Somebody was inside it," was the prompt reply. "A pale gentleman, very lame he was. He tried to get out of the cab but the driver pushed him back, and he and the hall porter hoisted the big trunk on top of the cab. And that's all, sir."

Berrington listened intently. He was struggling with some confused memory in which the grey lady and Stephen Richford were all mixed up together. Suddenly the flash of illumination came. He smote his hand on his knee.

"I've got it," he cried. "I've got it. The lame man of No. 100 Audley Place!"

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