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Title: The Room on the Fourth Floor
Author: Ralph Straus
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609261.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006

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Title: The Room on the Fourth Floor
Author: Ralph Straus

John Chester ought never to have gone in for
politics. I am quite certain that he should have sat
down at a desk and written romances, and become a
"best-seller", and built himself a marble house, and married
a wife, and hired a press-agent. Instead, as everybody knows,
he elected to be returned to Parliament twenty-five years ago,
and there he has remained ever since, always upon the fringe
of the Government, though never actually entering those
extraordinary precincts.

Probably succeeding Premiers have considered that Chester's
duties as a raconteur at fashionable dinner-tables must for ever
preclude him from undertaking anything else, though, I dare
say, he has refused office on his own account. He is just
the kind of man to do such a thing--a man too keen about
other people to look properly after his own interests.

His appearance, as you know, is military. That white
moustache suggests the field-marshal, and his clothes are
obviously of the dragoon cut. Also, he has a figure which, to
my knowledge has changed not an inch in the last twenty
years. Some people call him a phenomenon and expect you
to know exactly what they mean, and somehow you do. He
knows everyone and goes everywhere. He has more friends
than any other man in Europe. And he is the kind of man to
whom people, even the discreet people, tell things, which
possibly accounts for his amazing stock of stories.

I was dining with him a week or two ago at the House of
Commons. A world-famous ex-Minister was sitting in
solitary state at the next table. Chester had been unusually
silent, and I wondered what was troubling him; but when the
great statesman hurried away, my host gave the peculiar
chuckle which, with him, is the invariable introduction to some
yarn or other.

"The most remarkable man in England," he began, looking
in the direction of the now empty table.

"So I am given to understand."

"He is the only man who guessed the Farringham riddle,
you know. Guessed it at once, too. Most remarkable man.
Yes. And yet...."

He paused and looked at me as though I had contradicted

"Sometimes," he continued, twirling the white moustache,
"I wonder whether he knew more about the affair than he pretended.
He might have heard of it, of course, in his official

"You mean when he was Prime Minister?"


"You pique my curiosity," said I.

John Chester emptied his glass. "You have never heard
of the Farringham case, then? No, well, in the ordinary
way you wouldn't. So many of these things have to be
hushed up. Besides, it is thirty years old now."

I lit a cigar and prepared for one of Chester's inimitable

          *        *        *        *        *

"Yes," he began, "Mrs. Farringham was a beautiful widow
with a passion for travelling in unusual places. She had plenty
of money, and she moved from one continent to the next
as you or I drive to our clubs. She never took a maid with
her; but her daughter, I suppose, did much to fill the
maid's place. I met them first in Florence. I remember. The
girl must have been about twenty then, Mrs. Farringham
nearly forty, though she scarcely looked older than her

"She was entertaining some Italian prince who wanted to
become her son-in-law or her husband--I couldn't make up my
mind which, and didn't like to ask--and I was invited to
call at her London house. I fully intended to go as soon as I
returned home, but--well, you shall hear why I never had the

"It was in the year of the great Exhibition in Paris--1900.
The Farringhams had been travelling in Russia and Turkey.
They had spent a week in Constantinople--a detestable place--and
had decided to make a tour through Asia Minor. But
apparently for no reason at all Mrs. Farringham suddenly took
it into her head that she would like to buy new carpets for her
London house, and the Asia Minor trip was indefinitely

"The ladies visited Thomas Cook, and Thomas Cook in his
best English told them how to reach home in the most comfortable
manner. Incidentally, he advised a night or two in
Paris. The Exhibition had just opened its gates. Now I don't
suppose for one moment that Mrs. Farringham cared in the
least whether she saw the Exhibition or not, but her daughter
had not seen so much of the world as her indefatigable mother,
and it was decided that twenty-four hours in Paris would make
a pleasant break in a tiresome journey.

"And so it happened that three days later the two ladies,
rather tired and rather irritable, arrived at the Paris terminus.
It was just eight o'clock in the evening. They had already
dined in the train. A porter found their baggage--three
large trunks and a green bag which had accompanied Mrs.
Farringham from the time she had first crossed the Channel--and,
with the help of a cabman, succeeded in placing the four
pieces on the roof of the cab. Before driving off, however,
the cabman altered the position of the green bag. Apparently
he had got it into his head that the green bag was the last
straw to break his conveyance, and he put it beneath his feet
on the box.

"When they arrived at one of the big hotels--I forgot for
the moment which it was--the ladies asked for two adjoining

"The politest of hotel managers shrugged his shoulders
many times. 'Paris,' said he, 'is full. It flows over with
tout le monde. It is beyond me to give madame and mam'selle
two rooms in the closest adjoinment. But if madame will
take an apartment on the fourth floor, and mam'selle an apartment
on the fifth floor--of the extreme comfort--it will be
well.' His manner implied that only madame's beauty had
made such a favour possible.

"The ladies agreed, and signed their names in the visitors'
book. One of the hotel porters took charge of the trunks,
and a chambermaid showed the visitors to their rooms. Mrs.
Farringham's bedroom was not very large, but it looked comfortable.
Her daughter's room was exactly above it.

"The porter unstrapped Mrs. Farringham's trunks, and in
the politest possible way hoped that the ladies would enjoy
their visit to Paris. Then he received a small coin and
disappeared. The chambermaid uttered a similar sentiment and
followed his example. Mother and daughter were left alone.
You follow so far?"

"Perfectly," said I.

John Chester looked up at the ceiling. "Very well, then.
Here you have two estimable ladies arriving one evening in a
Paris hotel of unimpeachable respectability and being given
rooms one over the other. Good.

"For a short while Miss Farringham stayed with her mother
and helped her to unpack a few things. Then, feeling tired,
she suggested that they should both go to bed.

"'Immediately?' asked her mother. 'It is not yet nine

"'Very well,' said the girl, 'I will lie down for half an hour
or so in my own room and then come down to help you

"And she went to her room on the fifth floor.

"She was feeling particularly drowsy. Nearly two days in a
continental train is enough to make anyone drowsy. She just
lay down on her bed, dressed as she was, and in a minute or
two was asleep."

Again my host paused, this time to refill his glass. "Quite
an ordinary story, isn't it?" he asked with a twinkle in his

I knew better than to utter a word.

"Yes," he went on, "the girl lay on her bed and fell asleep.
When she awoke it was ten minutes before midnight. She went
down to the fourth floor and knocked on the door of her
mother's room. There was no answer. She went in. The
room was dark. She turned on the electric light. The bed was
empty. Indeed, the room was obviously untenanted. It
was awaiting the arrival of some visitor.

"Of course she must have made some mistake. She went
out into the passage. Her mother's room would be an adjoining
one. But on one side of the empty room was a bathroom,
and outside the door of the other stood two unmistakably
masculine boots. Added to which she was almost
certain that she recalled the correct number. She rang for the

"'I am afraid I have made some mistake,' she said. 'I
thought this was my mother's room, but--this is the fourth
floor, by the way, isn't it?'

"The maid looked at her curiously. 'Yes, mam'selle, this
is indeed the fourth floor, but what does mam'selle mean?
No lady accompanied mam'selle to the hotel. Mam'selle
travelled with herself!'"

          *        *        *        *        *

John Chester looked at me across the table in much the
same way as I imagined the chambermaid had stared at Miss
Farringham. It was almost a minute before he spoke again.
I had no notion what was coming, but already felt in some vague
way that I was no longer sitting in the dining-room of the
House of Commons. I leant forward over the table. "Go
on, dear man, please!"

"'Mam'selle travelled with herself,'" he repeated. "Yes,
that is what the chambermaid said, and Miss Farringham stared
at her. 'You are making a very stupid mistake,' she said.
'Why, surely it was you who took in my mother's bag--a
large green bag. We came together, about half-past eight.'

"The maid seemed completely bewildered. 'Shall I ring
for the porter?' she asked, more or less mechanically.

"Miss Farringham nodded. A feeling of uneasiness had
suddenly come over her.

"The porter came up, and the girl recognized him. She
repeated her question. The porter allowed his mouth to
open to its widest extent, which happened to be his method
of expressing the completest surprise. No madame, said he,
had arrived with mam'selle. He had certainly taken mam'selle's
two trunks to a room on the fifth floor, but what did
she mean?'

"And then, I fancy, a tiny pang must have touched Miss
Farringham's heart. Yet, obviously, this could only be an
absurd mistake. In another moment she would be laughing
with her mother. She looked hard at the two servants standing
there in foolish bewilderment. 'Call the manager, please,'
she said.

"They brought the manager to her. He was, as always,
vaguely apologetic. Mam'selle was not comfortable in her
room? Was there anything he could do? She had not
supped? Some refreshment in her room?

"The girl explained. Her mother had been given a room
on the fourth floor. Apparently this had been changed. Where
was she now? She asked the questions quite calmly, but her
heart was beating at a greater rate than was good for it. On
a sudden it seemed to her that something was horribly, immeasurably
wrong. You are probably familiar with that
feeling yourself.

"The manager's manner changed ever so slightly. His
tones were still suave, but a note of incredulity would not be
hidden. It was as though he were angry at being summoned
to the fourth floor by a possibly mad Englishwoman for no
reason at all. 'Mam'selle is joking?' he asked almost

"It was then that the girl realized how frightened she was.
Wherever her mother might be, even though no more than a
single wall was separating them, she was at that moment alone
in Paris with strangers who were obviously in no mood to
believe what she said. 'But my mother and I, we drove from
the station. You gave us the rooms yourself. Yes, and you
said how sorry you were that we could not have adjoining
rooms because the hotel was full. And then--of course, you
remember--we wrote our names in the visitors' book.'

"The manager retained his professional politeness. That is
the first necessity in a hotel manager. 'I cannot understand
mam'selle,' he said quietly. Then he turned to the porter.
'Bring up the visitors' book,' he ordered.

"The visitors' book was produced. You can imagine how
eagerly Miss Farringham examined it. Yes, there, four or
five names from the bottom of the last page, was her own;
but it was sandwiched in between a vicomte and an English
baronet. Her mother's name was not there.

"You can picture her dismay.

"'Perhaps mam'selle is tired, and over-wrought after her
journey,' suggested the polite manager. English girls, he
knew, were often peculiar, and Miss Farringham was undoubtedly

"'But--my mother!' stammered the girl. 'What does it
all mean? I don't understand----

"'There is a doctor in the hotel if mam'selle----'

"She interrupted him. 'Oh, you think I am ill. But I am
not. We must search the hotel. Perhaps my mother has
found a friend; or she may be in the drawing-room. I am
horribly nervous. You must help me.'

"The manager shrugged his apologetic shoulders.

"They searched the hotel."

John Chester handed me his cigarette-case. "Yes," he
repeated, "they searched the hotel."

"And they found----"

"Everyone but the mother. In an hour's time, as you can
imagine, Miss Farringham had become frantic. The manager
did everything he could. As a final recourse he despatched
the porter to look for the cabman who had driven the girl
from the station. It was a rather forlorn hope, but the girl
seemed eager to see him. She was in that state of mind in
which things are no longer ordinary or extraordinary, but
merely hopeful or hopeless. Fortunately the cabman was
found. He was still on duty, as a matter of fact, at the
terminus. And at two o'clock in the morning he was standing,
hat in hand, in the foyer of the hotel."

"It was the same cabman?" I asked.

"Miss Farringham recognized him instantly. 'You remember
me?' she asked eagerly.

"'But yes, mam'selle. You arrived at eight-ten--alone.
I drove you to this hotel. Two trunks.'

"'No, no. My mother was with me. There were three
trunks and a large green bag.'

"The cabman looked stupidly at her.

"'And don't you remember, you changed the position of
the bag as we drove off. Perhaps you thought that it was unsafe
on the roof. You put it beneath your feet on the box.
Oh, you must remember, you must remember!'

"The cabman was obviously astonished. 'But there was
no green bag,' said he. 'I remember precisely. The young
lady, I think, must be American or English, or she would not
be travelling with herself.'

"Miss Farringham stared wildly about her and fell down in a

"They got her to bed and promised to send a telegram to
England. Early next morning she crossed the Channel, just
dazed. And she was met at Charing Cross by friends just as
mystified as herself. That night she was seriously ill. Brain

"But the mother?" I asked.

"Nothing more," said John Chester, "was ever heard of the

The division bell was ringing, and my host excused himself.
"I must vote," he explained. "I shall be back in ten minutes,
which will give you just sixty times as long as the ex-Prime
Minister took to solve the riddle." He nodded, and hurried

I tried to exercise those faculties which the detective of
fiction finds so useful. Either Mrs. Farringham had arrived
at the hotel in Paris, I argued, or she had not. John Chester
had stated distinctly that she had arrived, and therefore....

          *        *        *        *        *

My host had returned. "A pretty problem?" said he.
"Confess yourself completely at sea."

"Completely," said I.

"Come along to the terrace, then," and we walked out and
stood looking over the Thames. It was not a warm night,
and we were coatless.

"I have often wondered," he began at last, "why Mrs.
Farringham had that sudden desire to buy carpets for her
London house."

I hurriedly sought for a clue in the carpets, but found

"Perhaps," he continued, "it was an excuse. Perhaps she
shared in common with most of her sex the desire to practice
the gentle art of self-deception. It is just possible, that is to
say, that Mrs. Farringham gave up the proposed trip through
Asia Minor because she was not in her usual health."

He was silent for so long that I drew his attention to the low

"Then I'll explain," he said with a smile. "It is all quite
simple, and depends on one little fact which may or may not \
have escaped your notice. In France they have a peculiar
way of doing things. A logical way, I admit, but sometimes
peculiar. Consequently things happen in France, and
particularly in Paris, which could not possibly happen anywhere
else. The Farringham affair is a case in point. I will
tell you exactly what happened, and then you shall come inside
to hear the debate.

"Well, then, here, as I said before, you have the fact of two
ladies arriving one evening in a Paris hotel. There is no
question about that: they both arrived, and Mrs. Farringham
was given a room on the fourth floor, the actual room which
her daughter found untenanted at midnight. Now I will say
at once that there was nothing peculiar about this room; it
was just an ordinary bedroom in a big hotel. What was
peculiar was the fact that while Mrs. Farringham had been
in the room at half-past eight, she was not there, nor indeed
anywhere in the hotel, at midnight. Consequently, at some
period between these two hours she went out, or was taken

"But the manager and the porter...."

"I see you will not let me tell the story in my own way,"
smiled John Chester. "I was going to show you how you
might have solved the riddle. No matter. You shall have the
plain sequence of things at once. A few minutes after Mrs.
Farringham had been shown to her room her daughter had gone
up to the fifth floor and she was alone. Ten minutes later the
bell in the room rang. The chambermaid appeared, and to
her dismay found madame lying motionless on the floor. She
rang for the porter, and the porter, hardly less frightened than
herself, fetched the manager. The manager called for a
doctor. Fortunately there was one in the hotel. The doctor
appeared and made his examination. Mrs. Farringham was

"Dead!" I repeated.

"Dead," said John Chester. "Now the death of a lady in
a large hotel is an unpleasant event at all times, but in this case
there was something so peculiarly unpleasant that the doctor,
instead of notifying the police, called up one of the Government
offices on the telephone, and was lucky enough to find a high
official still at his post.

"What followed you may think extraordinary, and extraordinary
it certainly must have been. In less than an hour's
time there had arrived at the hotel a small army of men.
Some seemed to be visitors, others workmen. If you had
watched them at all, you might have come to the conclusion
that a large quantity of furniture was being removed. As
a matter of fact it was. In particular, an ottoman might have
been seen being carried downstairs and placed in a furniture
van, which drove rapidly away. If you had waited about the
fourth floor, you might further have seen new furniture brought
into the room which Mrs. Farringham had occupied, and you
might have been puzzled at a peculiar odour until the manager,
whom you would have met casually on the stairs, informed you
that a clumsy servant had upset a case of drugs destined for the

"At the same time, if you had been allowed into the manager's
own sanctum downstairs you would have seen three or four
gentlemen talking earnestly to a chambermaid and a porter,
and, at a later hour, to a cabman who happened to have taken
up his stand outside the hotel. The porter and the chambermaid
incidentally received large sums of money, and the cabman,
similarly enriched, was bidden to await instructions.
Also several lessons in the art of acting had been given."

"I am more bewildered than ever."

"And yet," said John Chester, "two words whispered over
the telephone had been sufficient to cause all these curious
events to take place!"

Once again he paused. "Mrs. Farringham had been
travelling in the East. Doesn't that suggest something to

"You mean----" I was beginning; but he interrupted

"Bubonic plague!"

"But I don't see----"

"At headquarters they were obliged to come to a speedy
decision. In the interests of the community, my dear fellow,
it was decided--the Government, that is to say, decided--that
Mrs. Farringham had never arrived in Paris. Further they
were not concerned. That was the only vital point."

"But even then----"

"Do you suppose," asked John Chester, "that anybody
would have visited Paris if a case of bubonic plague had been
reported? Even if there was no more than a rumour that----"

"No, but----"

"It was a case of one against the many. The Government,
being Republican, and also patriotic, made its choice for the
many. Also, being French, it did not lack the artistic temperament."

"It's ghastly!" I murmured.

"It was Exhibition year," said my host. "But you are
quite right," he added; "it is very cold. Let us go in."

I do not remember what question was being debated that


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