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Title: Indiscretion of the Archdeacon Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000951h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2020 Most recent update: Sep 2020 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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ONE Monday morning Chief-Inspector Gilbert Larose, of Scotland Yard, was the recipient of what, he considered, quite an interesting letter. It was marked private and read:—
"Sir, I am desirous of consulting you about a matter which, from its delicate nature, I am unwilling to lay, officially, before the authorities. I have heard, however, that you, although attached to Scotland Yard, are never unduly bound by red tape, and I would, therefore, like to have your advice and, perhaps, enlist your services. I will be at Fantelli's Restaurant in Old Bond street at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon in the expectation that you can meet me there. I choose that hour because it is one when the restaurant is generally almost empty. You will find me seated in the far corner on the right, and you will recognise me at once, as I am a clergyman. Kindly make yourself known to me only if I am alone."
The letter was signed "Church of England."
"Darned sauce," exclaimed Larose, asking a favor, almost as if he were conferring one! But he's an important individual, this clergyman, and nothing at all in the poor curate line of business! Thick expensive note paper, and Fantelli's as a meeting place, where a sandwich costs about half a crown! Why, goodness gracious, he must be a bishop at the very least!" He nodded. "But I'll go and meet him, for his lordship is, of course, being blackmailed! That's only what the letter can mean." He grinned. "Fie, fie, a clergyman having done anything that should expose him to blackmail!"
So that same afternoon, having a couple of spare hours on his hands, a few minutes before the time appointed, he made his way to the highly fashionable Fantelli's, and, ensconcing himself at a table well away from the one to be selected by his correspondent, ordered a cup of coffee and proceeded to await the coming of some clergyman.
Then, he had only just been served with his order when he saw a man in severe and immaculate clerical attire being ushered into the restaurant.
The new arrival was tall and imposing and of decidedly an aristocratic appearance. He looked about fifty years of age and carried himself importantly as if he were walking down the aisle of some historic church, with the gaze of all assembled there, riveted upon him.
His face was proud and handsome, with a clear-cut, classic profile and eyes like those of an eagle. His eyebrows were big and bushy, and he had the large mouth and mobile lips of the orator.
Gaining a table at the far end, the clergyman seated himself slowly and gave a curt order to a waiter. Then he cast a quick look round, in a half-furtive sort of way, as if apprehensive that among the few late lunchers there might be someone whom he knew.
"Well," grinned Larose to himself, "if he's not a bishop, he ought to be, for he quite looks the part." He frowned suddenly. "But where have I seen that pontifical face before? It's not quite unfamiliar to me!" He "snapped his fingers together. "Ah, I know! I remember him! Of course, of course!"
He waited until the clergyman had been served with his order and then, with an inward smile at the surprise he was going to give, picked up his cup of coffee and, moving over to the reverend gentleman's table, pulled out a chair and seated himself opposite.
"Good afternoon!" he began, "I'm——"
But the clergyman was frowning angrily. "Excuse me," he interrupted sharply, "but this table is mine and I should prefer it to remain so."
Larose smiled pleasantly. "But if I'm not very much mistaken," he said, "you have, expressly, come here to meet me. I had a letter from you this morning. My name's Larose."
The clergyman looked startled and opened his eyes very wide. "But I thought, I thought——" he hesitated—"I expected a much older man." He bent his head forward. "You are really Chief-Inspector Gilbert Larose?"
"None other," laughed Larose, "and you are 'Church of England.'"
"Yes, yes," nodded the clergyman frowningly, "I deemed it wisest to give no name." He hesitated again. "Now, 'er, 'er' but it is rather embarrassing to me to give my confidences to so young a man. I quite thought that as a chief-inspector you would be much nearer my own age."
"I'm twenty-nine," said Larose, "and old enough to regard all confidences as of interest only in a purely professional way." He spoke very quietly. "Now how can I help you?"
"My name is Ambrose Brown," began the clergyman, "and I'm——"
"No, no," interrupted Larose sharply, "that's not who you are. Although not dressed in your full archidiaconal clothes, you are Archdeacon Revington-Montgomery, Rector of St. James's, Hanover square, one of the most fashionable churches in the metropolis."
The clergyman at once got very red. He looked rather shamefaced and swallowed hard. But he instantly recovered himself and frowned with dignity. "Well, that small evasion is quite pardonable," he commented carelessly, "and when you have heard what I have to say you will, without doubt, agree with me."
"Not at all," exclaimed Larose, now speaking very sternly, "for if I am to help you, as you wish, there must be complete frankness on your part and no holding back anything."
The archdeacon raised his eyebrows. "Well, at all events," he remarked with a grim smile, "I am glad to learn that Scotland Yard is sufficiently in touch with church matters to be aware of the identity of one of its very numerous London incumbents."
"But it's not exactly that," retorted Larose drily. "I happen to have seen your photograph in the 'Tatler' last week, when you were present at the opening meeting of the Hambleden Vale Harriers. You were there with your daughter, Miss Ethel Revington-Montgomery, whom, I read, is shortly to be married to young Lord Hawkesbury."
"Well," frowned the archdeacon, in no wise abashed, "it is expedient for the Church to, at some time, take its part in social functions. You must remember our flocks include all classes."
Larose smiled. "Well, how can I help you?" he asked again.
Just for a few seconds the archdeacon hesitated and then he took a letter from his pocket and, with a very reluctant expression, handed it across to Larose. "This came on Saturday," he said curtly. "Please read it and tell me what I must do."
The letter was typed upon a sheet of plain paper, but from the unusual shape of the sheet a part of it had undoubtedly been cut off. It was dated the previous Friday and, with no address or signature, read:—
To Archdeacon Revington-Montgomery.
If you are not prepared to pay over to the writer of this letter the sum of one thousand pounds, within seven days of above date, the details of certain adventures of yours when at Oxford, will be forwarded to various people. The photographs of certain letters you wrote then will accompany the communication. Among other recipients will be your wife and some of her near relations, the Dowager Lady Hawkesbury, the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London and the editor of the "Church Times." Advertise at once that you are prepared to negotiate, under the name of Balliol, in the personal column of the "Morning Post," and realise that the matter is urgent.
Larose read the letter very carefully, twice, and then turning his eyes away from the archdeacon, asked carelessly. "And tell me, please, what are these adventures this would-be blackmailer refers to and what do these letters he threatens to broadcast contain?"
The archdeacon at once shook his head most emphatically. "I haven't the remotest idea," he replied, "I have no more idea than you, and I simply do not know to whom or to what he refers."
"Come, come," said Larose sternly, "I've told you already once that you must give me your complete confidence or I shall not be able to help you at all. Now what adventures does the man refer to?"
The archdeacon smiled contemptuously. "Good heavens, sir!" he exclaimed. "How on earth can I remember every incident which happened between thirty-one and thirty-three years ago?" He looked rather uncomfortable. "I have no doubt that when at Oxford I may have committed certain small, youthful indiscretions, but, most certainly, the recollection of no particular one stands out."
"Then you admit there are episodes in your life," said Larose sharply, "that you do not want now to be brought up?"
"Episodes of small moment," retorted the archdeacon warmly, "when known to have taken place in my years of adolescence"—his voice hardened bitterly—"but episodes which, if magnified, deliberately and with malice and tacked on to my adult years, may certainly assume a significance out of all proportion to their importance."
He went on warily. "Remember—I went up to Oxford thirty-one years ago and with no intention, then, of taking holy orders. I was of well-to-do parents, and, only nineteen, took part in all the amusements and activities of young fellows of my own age. I captained the eleven one year at Lord's, I rowed against Cambridge, I followed the hounds and a normal, healthy young man, I enjoyed life to the full." He smiled whimsically. "I may have been no saint, but I was certainly no great sinner."
"Then there may be letters in existence," said Larose, "love-letters that you would not care to have read now?"
The archdeacon sighed. "It looks like it, doesn't it?" he said. His face broke into a sad smile. "Does not the old aphorism run 'to be in love and wise at the same time is not given even to Jupiter'?" He nodded. "Yes, no doubt I have written foolishly in my time, but I can think of no letters I wrote to anyone that are likely to have been kept for thirty years." He sighed more heavily. "But you must understand, this wretch is threatening me at a most awkward time, for any scandal involving me now may have most disastrous consequences in several directions."
"In what unusually particular ways?" asked Larose. "Please be more explicit."
"To begin with," said the archdeacon gloomily, "three weeks today my daughter is to be married to young Lord Hawkesbury, and his mother is very straight-laced and, to put it plainly"—he hesitated a long moment—"she is not altogether a pleasant woman. She does not view with warm approval the alliance of her son with my daughter and, indeed, would like to see the match fall through. Her objection is a most unworthy one. Lord Hawkesbury certainly comes of most distinguished lineage, he is the twelfth baron, but my daughter is a very beautiful girl and"—he drew himself up proudly—"the Revington-Montgomerys have been county people of most high social standing for many generations. My wife, too, is the daughter of the late Bishop Ripon."
He looked scornful. "But the truth is, the Dowager Lady Hawkesbury had set her heart upon a certain wealthy heiress of plebian origin for her son, and it needed considerable courage on the boy's part to select my daughter instead." He pursed up his lips. "His lordship is only just one and twenty, two years younger than my daughter, and his mother has great influence over him."
"And what other unhappy consequences might there be?" asked Larose thoughtfully.
The archdeacon frowned. "The Bishop of Durham is most dangerously ill, and it is known he cannot possibly recover. Then, upon his deeply-to-be regretted passing—I have it upon most unimpeachable authority—the See is going to be offered to me." He looked very troubled. "But the slightest breath of scandal, the slightest hint of anything that would suggest I am unfit for such high office—and then, of course, I shall be passed over."
"Then those are the two particular misfortunes that threaten you!" said Larose.
The archdeacon hesitated a moment, and then got very red. "No," he said sharply, "there is a possibility of another trouble, but this time it is a purely domestic one. Last week an old college friend of mine, now Sir James Vereker, and a very eminent surgeon, was dining with us, and he was foolish enough to make some very tactless remarks about our 'varsity days together, and my wife, one of the best of women, has been very upset ever since. Indeed, she has formed the very decided opinion that there was some discreditable entanglement in my pre-nuptial days."
"What exactly did this friend of yours say?" asked Larose.
"Oh, nothing very particular, but it was the way he said it. He remarked jokingly that we had both been birds of gay plumage once, and he went on to ask me, very pointedly, so my wife will have it, if I had altogether forgotten a lonely little bachelor holiday we had once both spent upon a houseboat up the Thames." The archdeacon shook his head angrily. "Of course, there was nothing at all to hide, but it was the foolish way in which he stressed the words 'bachelor' and 'lonely' that caused all the trouble. My wife did not like it at all, and she has referred to it quite a lot since, taking the view that it is unseemly there should be any suggestion that a man in my position should have any actions of his youthful days to regret."
"Could everyone else see her annoyance at the time?" asked Larose.
"Only those who knew her well would have noticed it," replied the archdeacon. "She appeared to laugh it off then, but immediately our guest had gone and we were alone she asked me about it, and asked very suspiciously, too. Indeed, I have never seen her quite like it before." He spoke testily. "But why do you ask all this? It has nothing whatever to do with that letter I received."
"Oh, I don't know so much about that," exclaimed Larose at once. He tapped the letter he was holding in his hand. "At any rate this gentleman seems to be quite aware of a chink in your armor there and he is now stabbing through."
A short silence followed, and then Larose went on in brisk and business-like tones. "Well, I think I've got a good grasp of all the main facts now, and the next thing is to get upon the trail of the blackmailer." He looked intently at the archdeacon. "Now, how long is it since the date of your daughter's wedding was finally decided upon and publicly announced?"
"Three months," replied the archdeacon, "almost immediately after the news of the engagement was given out."
"And how long is it since the Bishop of Durham was taken ill?"
"He had a seizure seven weeks ago."
"And when were you first told you would probably be his successor?"
"Within a very few days of his being taken ill. It was realised at once that he would never be able to take on his duties again, however long a time he might linger on."
Larose spoke very slowly. "And I suppose the matter of the bishopric was discussed among you, in the home circle of your family?" he asked.
The archdeacon nodded. "Yes, naturally, we have spoken about it." He smiled. "It is not a happening that occurs very often in a churchman's life."
"And, of course, the servants have heard something about it, too?" queried Larose.
The archdeacon frowned. "Y-e-s, I suppose so." He hesitated a moment. "In fact we had to, in some way, take them into our confidence, because some much-needed repairs that I was contemplating to my house have been cancelled in consequence."
Larose spoke most decisively. "Then there is no doubt in my mind, sir, that a confederate of the blackmailer will be found among your domestic staff, and by what malign chance he came to get in touch with one of them we shall have to find out."
The archdeacon's eyes blazed. "Fantastic and impossible!" he exclaimed. "Our servants are our faithful friends! Good heavens! Why, for generations the Revington-Montgomerys have almost bred their own servants! My butler, man and boy, has been with me since he was fifteen; the mother of my cook served my father and his father before him for more than seventy years, and the shortest term of service of any of our present maids is eleven years." He scoffed contemptuously. "The very idea is preposterous!"
Larose shook his head and his tones were equally as emphatic as those of the archdeacon. "But everything suggests the inspiration of this letter coming from someone inside your home. It's writer knows Lady Hawkesbury is not pleased that her son is marrying your daughter, and would delight to find some excuse to compel him to give her up, and he knows your wife has been upset lately by supposed revelations of your college days." He raised his hand convincingly. "He must be aware of both these facts because he specially underlines Lady Hawkesbury and your wife, and mentions them, first, in his letter, thereby stressing they are your most vulnerable points. Then he knows you are in the running for that bishopric, because he is in a great hurry there, fearing the present bishop may die and you be offered and accept the See before he handles the money. Look—he only gives you seven days! Yes, yes, all his information is up to date, for it is only since that doctor dined with you last week that Mrs. Revington-Montgomery comes into the picture, and he must have been told about things there by someone who knows your wife well. Remember, you have just said that only those who are intimately acquainted with her would have seen her vexation that night."
"But the first person when a blackmailer is threatening a man," retorted the archdeacon hotly, "would, naturally, be that man's wife."
"No, not to bring up a happening of thirty years ago to her," said Larose, "unless he had special reason to know he could wound her there. Most wives would take no notice of anything happening so long ago."
"You distress me," said the archdeacon, stirring uneasily in his chair. "I cannot conceive any member of my household would have any part in bringing upon me such unhappiness."
Larose shook his head again. "But you must face facts, sir, and so I insist that, as a preliminary to the enquiries I will make, you realise this blackmailer is intimately in touch with your affairs." He spoke very quietly. "And that being so, I ask you how else could he get in touch with them, except through the servants."
The archdeacon looked very worried. "But what in that case can I do?" His voice hardened resentfully. "You surely don't suggest I cross-examine my own domestics! Do you?"
"Certainly not," replied Larose instantly, "for that would spoil everything." He smiled. "Now, how many servants do you keep?"
"Four maids and a butler."
"Well, I must see them when they can have no idea what I am after," said Larose. He considered for a moment. "Yes, I'll come up to dinner with you tonight. Fortunately, I am free. You'll say I am the son of another old college friend and you can give out I own a large sheep-station in Australia."
The archdeacon looked as if he were not too pleased at the idea. "But it happens," he frowned, "Lady Hawkesbury and her son are dining with us tonight, and—er—er——"
"Oh! It'll be quite all right," laughed Larose, guessing instinctively what was in the archdeacon's mind. "I've got a dress suit and I shan't disgrace you." He looked very amused. "Last month, for a whole week, I was one of a house-party given by a certain ducal gentleman who often entertains Royalty, and no one ever came to know I was only a policeman. Well, you'll introduce me as Mr. Howard. That's a good name. I'll be Spencer Howard and you'll say I'm over here on holiday. Then"—he frowned—"what excuse can you make to take me into the kitchen? I must see the cook and the other maids. Now, what have you got in the kitchen that would, seemingly, be of interest to anyone coming from Australia?"
"Nothing," replied the archdeacon curtly. "I am very conservative and we don't go in for electric ranges or any new fangled nonsense. We cook everything in the old-fashioned way, exactly as it was done in my father's time and his father's before him."
"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, his face at once brightening up, "then does it happen by any chance that you roast your joints on one of those most interesting old revolving spits? You do! Splendid! It couldn't be better! I've never seen one and you shall take me into the kitchen to have a good look at it."
So that night Larose found himself one of a very select little party at the stately Rectory in Hanover square. The Dowager Lady Hawkesbury was cold and reserved, and regarded him haughtily through her lorgnette. Young Lord Hawkesbury was boyish and friendly, and the bride-to-be, a very lovely girl, with beautiful long-lashed blue eyes, was quite friendly, too. The archdeacon's wife was condescendingly polite and nothing more. It was quite easy to see that her reverend husband was very much afraid of her.
Larose, looking smart and well-dressed, was quite at his ease, and out of pure devilry and to the great discomforture of the archdeacon, started right-away to fib outrageously.
Suiting his remarks to what he considered would be to the taste of the haughty dowager, he spoke grandly of his sheep station in Australia and the many lordly visitors he had entertained there for kangaroo shooting.
"The Duke of Newark bagged twenty-nine one afternoon," he told them impressively, "and his Excellency Lord Thistleton twenty-one. Viscount Tuttering, however, was a bad shot and only got three."
At the mention of such aristocratic personages, the eyes of Lady Hawkesbury opened very wide and she began to thaw perceptibly. "And how large is your sheep station, Mr. Howard?" she asked sweetly.
"Oh, not very big!" replied Larose carelessly. "Only about 4,000 square miles," and her ladyship, appearing to be greatly interested, continued the conversation in the most friendly way.
Presently Mrs. Revington-Montgomery asked Larose, a little too casually the latter thought, if his father ever talked about her husband and the college days they had spent together.
"Oh, yes, quite a lot!" nodded Larose. "They had such merry times together." He saw the archdeacon wince uncomfortably, but went on laughingly, "but dad often says your husband was a sort of schoolmaster to them all, trying to keep them in order as much as he could. Indeed, they never dared to tell him half their pranks, because he was so strict." His eyes twinkled. "My father says they used to call him 'Old Goody-goody,' he was so prim and proper."
The archdeacon scowled, got very red, and then the corners of his mouth twitched and his face broke into a reluctant smile. Finally, after a great effort to suppress it, he burst into a loud and merry laugh.
The laughter was infectious, and everyone joined in. Then Mrs. Revington-Montgomery asked, "And does he ever mention Sir James Vereker?"
"Sir James Vereker?" queried Larose, looking very puzzled. "Who is he?"
"The eminent surgeon," she explained. "He was at Oxford at the same time as my husband."
A light seemed to break upon Larose. "Oh, Sawbones Jim!" he exclaimed smilingly. "Yes, yes, he often does. He says Jim was a very fine fellow, but a great practical joker, and you could never believe a word he said. He thinks he must have sobered down a lot to have got the reputation he has."
Mrs. Revington-Montgomery turned to her husband. "But you've never mentioned to us that you used to call him Sawbones, Augustine?"
The archdeacon shook his head. "No, I didn't like the nickname," he replied. "I thought it vulgar." He scowled at Larose. "I think so now."
The general conversation was resumed, with Larose always mindful, however, with what purpose he had come to the rectory. His eyes rested many times upon the butler, and the bright-looking maids who were in attendance upon them.
"Nothing doing there," he murmured. "Both quite unimpeachable, and certainly not criminal types. I must wait until I've seen the cook and the other maid."
Presently, when he was partaking of some delicious saddle of mutton, he looked rather puzzled, and then turned to his hostess. "Do you know," he said impressively, "this mutton carries me to more than thirteen thousand miles away. It has a taste that I have not experienced since I left Australia, with the unmistakable flavor of meat roasted over a fire, just like we get when camping out in the bush. It seems to me quite different from meat baked in an oven."
Mrs. Revington-Montgomery beamed. "So glad you like it, Mr. Howard," she said, "but it is not astonishing you have noticed it, for it is roasted and not baked. It is roasted upon a spit." She looked affectionately at her spouse. "It is one of the obsessions of my husband that we should always roast everything that way."
So, of course, it was quite natural that Larose, as a most interested arrival from over the seas, should be taken later into the kitchen to see the famous spit, and then it was the head parlor-maid who explained its clockwork arrangement to him. The cook was plump and short and shy, and she blushed delightedly when Larose gave it as his emphatic opinion that the dinner he had just eaten was by far the best he had partaken of since his arrival in England.
The inspection of the spit over, the archdeacon, at Larose's request, took him into the conservatory to look at the ferns.
"What's the parlor-maid's name?" asked Larose sharply. "She appears the only likely passer-on of any gossip from the house, and if she's a confederate, I should say she was quite an unintentional one. She's a great talker. Now, tell me all about her and who her people are."
"Her name's Ella Rawlins," replied the archdeacon, "and she's been with us since she was sixteen. She's about thirty now. She's an orphan, and has no relations, except a widowed aunt, a Mrs. Clubber, who keeps a working man's boarding house in a street off Tottenham Court road. Fisher place, I think it's called."
"Well, has she been visiting this aunt lately," asked Larose, "since that night when Sir James Vereker dined here?"
The archdeacon smiled drily. "I really do not know, but last Sunday was her Sunday off, and she was away all day."
"Good!" exclaimed Larose. "Then I'll think of some excuse to go and see that aunt tomorrow."
So the following afternoon, rather poorly dressed, and describing himself as a clerk in casual employment, Larose proceeded to interview Mrs. Clubber, with the suggestion of becoming one of her boarders for a time. Her place was a converted shop, with a number of rooms above, and she occupied the whole of the premises, using the shop itself as the dining room. It was really more than a boarding house, for besides taking four boarders who "slept in," she catered for the morning and evening meals of eleven other men, who had sleeping accommodation close near.
Fortunately, at that moment she had one bedroom unoccupied and, upon Larose stating he had been recommended to her by the archdeacon, she welcomed him with open arms, and a bargain was soon struck.
Like her niece, she was a very talkative woman and, when showing him into the room he was to occupy, proceeded to regale him with intimate private details of the lives of the other men who were full boarders with her. One was an assistant in a grocer's shop, another was a motor mechanic, and the third worked at a butcher's.
"And such perfect gentlemen!" she exclaimed. "Nothing rowdy about them, and only taking a pint or two, and getting frisky, very occasionally. I'm sure you'll soon make great friends of them."
Then the conversation veered round to the archdeacon, and upon Larose telling her he had only spoken to that reverend gentleman once, she started to tell all she knew about him.
"His daughter is most beautiful," she said, "and she's going to be married to a young lord in three weeks. It's most romantic and a perfect love match, love at first sight, so I've been told, and she's two years older than he is." She lowered her voice darkly. "They do say the young lord's mother had chosen a rich heiress for her son, but the boy proposed to Miss Revington-Montgomery without telling his mother anything about it, and now she can't stop the marriage."
She went on mysteriously. "And there are rumors that the archdeacon will be a bishop soon, when some old man dies. Of course, it's not been in the newspapers yet, but my niece, who's head-parlor-maid at the Rectory, has told us all about it."
"Certainly, everything looks most promising," remarked Larose to himself when Mrs. Clubber had at last taken herself off. "A man here, with compromising letters in his possession, would at once realise their possibilities for blackmail when he heard all the tittle-tattle from the Rectory with which that parlor-maid has been undoubtedly regaling her aunt. He would visualise the suspicious wife and the intense anxiety of the archdeacon that no scandals should be broadcast at a critical time like this."
But when at seven o'clock that evening he took his seat at the long trestle table, among the other partakers of the high tea provided, his heart sank. Everyone there looked so harmless and there was certainly no one of pronounced criminal type among them. They were mostly youngish men and full of life and merriment.
Mrs. Clubber was bustling about and taking her full part in the jokes and conversation and, with many eyes twinkling, she informed Larose, as a newcomer, that she suffered badly from corns, had got a floating kidney, and would soon have to take to a wig if her hair continued to go on coming out, as it was now doing. Evidently, she had no affairs of a strictly private nature.
Then suddenly noticing a newspaper upon a shelf, Larose was seized with an idea, and he chuckled to himself at its simplicity.
When the tea things had been cleared away, pipes and cigarettes were brought out, and with no one leaving the room, games of dominoes and cards were started. Larose waited a few minutes and then took the newspaper off the shelf and started to read. But there was, apparently, nothing of much interest in it and, waiting for a lull in the conversation, he threw it down and remarked loudly so that everybody could hear:—"Well, the old bishop of Durham is dead at last!"
But no one that he could see took any notice, so rising from the form upon which he had been sitting, he walked over and stood behind one of a party of four who were playing cards.
Nothing happened for a few moments, and then out of the tail of his eye he saw a little, plump man, one of the few elderly men in the room, move over and pick up the discarded paper.
The plump man took out and adjusted a pair of large spectacles and started to read. But his reading was not of a concentrated nature, for he ran down the columns of the newspaper, one by one, and went quickly from one page to another.
"Great Jupiter!" exclaimed Larose, with his heart beating a little faster, "but I do believe I'm getting a bite."
The plump man went through the entire paper, twice, and then, with a frown, took off his spectacles and returned them to his pocket. Then, after a minute or two, Larose felt rather than saw him sidling up to him. The man spoke very quietly and in quite a pleasant voice.
"Excuse me," he said, "but did I hear you say the Bishop of Durham was dead?"
Larose took good stock of him. He seemed most inoffensive, and, indeed, of a retiring and timid disposition.
"Yes," replied Larose with a smile. "Was he a friend of yours?"
"No," laughed the man a little nervously, "but I used to live in Durham, and am interested." His voice seemed to shake. "But I didn't find it in that paper you were reading."
"Oh, it wasn't there," said Larose, "but I happened to hear two clergymen talking about it in the bus this afternoon," and then the little man, with a nod of thanks for the information, at once picked a shabby hat from off a peg and went out of the room.
Knowing that he was one of the habitués of the place, and could be laid hands upon whenever he was wanted, Larose did not attempt to follow, but later in the evening made some enquiries about him from Mrs. Clubber.
"Oh! that little, plump man with the round face and bald head!" she exclaimed. "He's Mr. Gentile, and he's a perfect little gentleman, always so polite and quiet. He's very clever and writes stories that will get published one day. He works in a money-lender's office, the United Loan and Discount Company in Theobald's road, but it's very sad, for he was given a month's notice a little while ago and, as he's over fifty, he doesn't know where he'll get another job."
She rattled on. "He's a widower and he's got a little son, in some Home in Hendon, who's lately gone blind. No one can cure him in England, but they do say that, if the lad could get taken to Vienna, a foreign doctor there would put him right at once. Yes, he's very clever, this Mr. Gentile, and he's just done my income tax papers for me and got my assessment down, too. Where does he live? He's got a room just round the corner in Vane street, over a boot repairer's there. Yes, he's a perfect little gentleman, Mr. Gentile."
The following morning Larose, made up as an elderly man, called in at the United Loan and Discount Company, with an enquiry as to exactly what repayments would have to be made if they lent him £50 upon his furniture. The company was evidently not in a big way of business, occupying only an office and a back room in a basement under a shop. Larose saw Mr. Gentile at work upon a typewriter at the back.
Appearing very hard of hearing, the terms of repayment for the contemplated loan were with difficulty explained to the elderly gentleman, who at length induced the clerk to have them typed down for him upon a sheet of the firm's official paper and it was to Gentile, he saw, to whom was given the typing, his machine being apparently the only one in the office. Then Larose left, promising to consider the matter.
That evening at Mrs. Clubber's after high tea, Larose buttonholed the plump, amiable-looking Mr. Gentile and asked him smilingly if he would do him a great service. "It's my income tax paper," he explained, "and I can't get it right. Mrs. Clubber tells me you understand all about income tax, and do hers for her. So could you very kindly come up to my bedroom for a few minutes?'
The little man complied readily, and they mounted to the bedroom together. Then, with the door shut upon them, the whole demeanor of Larose altered, and with a very stern expression upon his face he gripped Gentile by the arm.
"See here, my fine fellow," he rapped out menacingly and with no preamble, "I'm a detective from Scotland Yard, and I'm going to arrest you straight-away upon the charge of attempting to extort money under threats from Archdeacon Revington-Montgomery. No, no," he went on fiercely, "it's no good your attempting to deny it. I've got it proved up to the very hilt." He shook his finger in Gentile's face. "Your letter was written upon the paper of your firm, and with the self-same typewriter that you yourself always use. I've been investigating at the office this evening." He pushed the man down into the chair. "Now, then, what have you got to say to the charge?"
But Gentile was speechless in his terror. His body shook as if he were in an ague, his face was ashen grey, and he heaved big, deep breaths, as if he were choking.
"Come on," snarled Larose furiously, "confess, and it'll save both you and us a lot of trouble. You're booked for seven years, my friend, and I shouldn't wonder if the judge doesn't order a flogging as well."
The little man found his voice at last. "But I don't think I should have gone on with it," he wailed. "I don't think I should have done any more. I was getting frightened. I only did it on the spur of the moment, because I was desperate. I was going to be thrown out of my job. I'm dreadfully sorry."
"But who are you working with?" hissed Larose. "Don't attempt to make out you're doing all this on your own. Who's got those letters of the archdeacon's?"
Gentile's voice broke and he burst into tears. "There are no letters," he sobbed jerkily. "I made it up, and there's no one working with me. I imagined everything myself."
Larose's face was a study. Amazement, incredulity and disgust were struggling for the mastery. He wanted to kick himself for not having thought of that possibility before, and he wanted to laugh at the same time. So this insignificant little man, with the cherub face, had been the one to launch the thunderbolt! This childlike individual had been trying his apprentice hand at crime!
"You write stories, I hear," said Larose sharply. "Well, what kind of stories?"
"Detective ones," jerked the little man. "It's been a hobby of mine."
Larose could grin at last. "Good! And now you'll be able to write one about me," he said grimly, "and how I got you seven years' hard labor."
"But what are you going to do?" wept Gentile. "Are you going to put me in prison tonight?"
For a long minute Larose considered and there was no sound in the room, except the sniffing of the malefactor, who was mopping at his eyes with a very ragged handkerchief.
Then Larose said sternly. "The best thing, I think, will be for you to write a full confession and I'll take you straight-away round to the archdeacon. Do you know him?"
"No, I've never seen him," quavered Gentile. "All I know about him is what Mrs. Clubber told me when I was doing her income tax papers. She said some doctor had disclosed he had once led a gay life, and that his wife was very angry about it. That put the idea into my head and I looked up all about him in the Clerical Dictionary. Mrs. Clubber said, too, he was going to be made the next Bishop of Durham."
Larose borrowed a pad of paper from Mrs. Clubber and the confession was at once written, with the little man's tears falling upon the paper.
Then they both sallied forth into the street and after a call at a telephone box, where Larose learnt the archdeacon was not at the Rectory, but was taking the Wednesday eight o'clock evensong at the church, they proceeded to St. James's.
"I'll take you into the vestry afterwards," Larose informed his prisoner grimly, "and we'll see what the archdeacon is prepared to do."
Arriving at their destination, they saw the assembled congregation was a very small one, barely a score of worshippers being present, and, apart from a few pews adjacent to the chancel rails, the church was not lighted up. The candles upon the altar burnt dimly, and there was mystery and gloom in the shadows of the body of the building, and the high arched roof above.
The service was a choral one, and the music was very beautiful, with the organ notes pealing soft and low.
The Psalms were being chanted as the two late arrivals felt their way in the darkness into one of the back pews, and the little man shook and shivered as he heard:—"Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul; let them be turned back and brought to confusion that imagine evil against me."
The service was very short, and, waiting until everyone was leaving, Larose led the shaking Gentile to the door of the vestry, and asked to speak to the archdeacon.
The latter was very surprised to see him, and stared wonderingly at his white-faced companion. He led the way into a little room off the vestry, and then closed the door.
Larose then preceded, very briefly, to tell him everything, and produced the confession the Gentile had written.
Gentile himself was quivering, like a leaf, and kept opening and shutting his mouth and swallowing hard.
The archdeacon looked very grave and stern and stood for many moments considering, when Larose asked him if he were going to lay a charge.
Then suddenly Gentile collapsed and was laid upon the floor in a dead faint. His collar was loosened and his face bathed in cold water.
"Why did he do it?" whispered the archdeacon to Larose.
"He's losing his job," whispered back Larose, "and apart from that, he wanted money to get foreign medical treatment for his son, who's gone blind, and they can't cure him over here." He nodded. "It's quite true. I heard it from Mrs. Clubber before I found him out."
In a few minutes Gentile had recovered and was able to sit up. The archdeacon then drew Larose aside. "Would you kindly mind going out for a few minutes?" he said grimly. "I take it your profession has made you a scoffer, and I'd rather speak to this man alone." He smiled. "Go and sit where I was sitting, and then you'll be able to tell people you've sat in the seat of a man who afterwards became a bishop." He nodded. "His Lordship of Durham passed away this morning."
So for half an hour and longer Larose waited in the darkness of the church, beginning to think presently that the business in the vestry would never end.
But Gentile came tip-toeing out at last. His eyes were red and swollen, but his face, although still heavy with emotion, was a happy one. He was holding a letter in his hand.
"He wants you now," he whispered. "He's not going to prosecute me and he's going to get me a job. He's given me this letter, too. It's to a great doctor Sir James Vereker and he says my boy shall be sent to Vienna." His voice choked as he jerked his head back in the direction of the vestry. "He's an archangel as well as an archdeacon."
The archdeacon was looking quite exhausted when Larose proceeded into the vestry. "It's all over," he said with a great sight of relief, "and the matter is closed. Of course I am not going to hand him over to the police." He pursed up his lips and nodded grimly. "I shall befriend that man as some atonement"—he hesitated—"for certain follies of my youth." He smiled whimsically. "The mills of God grind slowly, but my punishment came at last." He looked intently at Larose. "Now, sir, you have lifted a load of misery from me and you are a wonderful man! How can I repay you?"
"My job," smiled Larose. "I'm glad you are not prosecuting. That fellow's not really bad and he's not a criminal at heart. No, no, of course I wouldn't take a penny. You pay me in your taxes. Good-night, sir. A very interesting little case, and I've quite enjoyed it."
The following morning Larose received an almost regal-looking card of invitation to the wedding of Ethel, daughter of Archdeacon and Mrs. Revington-Montgomery," and upon the appointed day, about a fortnight later, he accordingly presented himself at the historic church of St. James's, Hanover square.
Then, standing among the large crowd of fashionably dressed people waiting to pass in, he suddenly started and drew in a deep breath. He could not believe his eyes.
Clad in a long black gown, a little plump man of important bearing was standing at the top of the steps by the church door. With stern and solemn mien, this man was scrutinising the invitation cards of all who drew level with him, and then, with a gesture of great dignity, he would motion to them to pass in.
Larose gasped. "Who's that man?" he asked incredulously of one of the stalwart policemen who were standing by to make sure that no unauthorised person entered the church.
"The assistant verger," nodded the policeman carelessly. "I've not seen him here before, but I understand he's just been appointed."
"Well, I'm ——, but I mustn't swear," murmured Larose, "when I'm just going into church."
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