The detective was well acquainted with his unprofessional colleague, and had already met Sir Charles in the early stages of his present quest.
“I have an important clue,” he said, smiling with assurance.
“What is it?” The baronet was for the moment aroused from his despondent lethargy.
“Her ladyship did not go to Richmond on Tuesday night.”
Inspector White did not wait for Bruce to speak, but the barrister nodded with the air of one who knew already that Lady Dyke had not gone to Richmond.
Mr. White continued. “Thanks to Mr. Bruce’s remembrance of the number of the ticket, we traced it at once in the clearing office. It was given up at Sloan Square immediately after the Richmond train passed through.”
Bruce nodded again. He was obstinately silent, so the detective questioned him directly.
“By this means the inquiry is narrowed to a locality. Eh, Mr. Bruce?”
“Yes,” said the barrister, turning to poke the fire.
Mr. White was sure that his acuteness was displeasing to his clever rival. He smiled complacently, and went on:
“The ticket-collector remembers her quite well, as the giving up of a Richmond ticket was unusual at this station. She passed straight out into the square, and from that point we lost sight of her.”
“You do, Mr. White?” said Bruce.
“Well, sir, it is a great thing to have localized her movements at that hour, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. To save time I may tell you that Lady Dyke returned to the station, entered the refreshment room, ordered a glass of wine, which she hardly touched, sat down, and waited some fifteen minutes. Then she quitted the room, crossed the square, asked a news-vendor where Raleigh Mansions were, and gave him sixpence for the information.”
His hearers were astounded.
“Heavens, Claude, how did you learn all this?” cried the baronet.
“Thus far, it was simplicity itself. On Wednesday evening when no news could be obtained from your relatives, I started from Victoria, intending to call at every station until I found the place where she left the train. The railway clearing officer was too slow, Mr. White. Naturally, the hours being identical in the same week, the first ticket-collector I spoke to gave me the desired clue. The rest was a mere matter of steady inquiry.”
“Then you are the man whom the police are now searching for?” blurted out the detective.
“From the railway official’s description? Possibly. Pray, Mr. White, let me see the details of my appearance as circulated through the force. It would be interesting.”
The inspector was saved from further indiscretions by Sir Charles Dyke’s plaintive question:
“Why did you not tell me these things sooner, Claude?”
“What good was there in torturing you? All that I have ascertained is the A B C of our search. We are at a loss for the motive of your wife’s disappearance. Victoria, Sloane Square, or Richmond – does it matter which? My belief is that she intended to go to Richmond that night. Why, otherwise, should she make to the footman and myself the same unvarying statement? Perhaps she did go there?”
“But these houses, Raleigh Mansions. What of them?”
“Ah, there we may be forwarded a stage. But there are six main entrances and no hall porters. There are twelve flats at each number, seventy-two in all, and all occupied. That means seventy-two separate inquiries into the history and attributes of a vastly larger number of persons, in order to find some possible connection with Lady Dyke and her purposely concealed visit. She may have remained in one of those flats five minutes. She may be in one of them yet. Anyhow, I have taken the necessary steps to obtain the fullest knowledge of the inhabitants of Raleigh Mansions.”
“Scotland Yard appears to be an unnecessary institution, Mr. Bruce,” snapped the detective.
“By no means. It is most useful to me once I have discovered a criminal. And it amuses me.”
“Listen, Claude, and you, Mr. White,” pleaded the baronet. “I implore you to keep me informed in future of developments in your search. The knowledge that progress is being made will sustain me. Promise, I ask you.”
“I promise readily enough,” answered Bruce. “I only stipulate that you prepare yourself for many disappointments. Even a highly skilled detective like Inspector White will admit that the failures are more frequent than the successes.”
“True enough, sir. But I must be going, gentlemen.” Mr. White was determined to work the new vein of Raleigh Mansions thoroughly before even his superiors were aware of its significance in the hunt for her lost ladyship.
When the detective went out there was silence for some time. Dyke was the first to speak.
“Have you formed any sort of theory, even a wildly speculative one?” he asked.
“No; none whatever. The utter absence of motive is the most puzzling element of the whole situation.”
“Whom can my wife have known at Raleigh Mansions? What sort of places are they?”
“Quite fashionable, but not too expensive. The absence of elevators and doorkeepers cheapens them. I am sorry now that I mentioned them to White.”
“He will disturb every one of the residents by injudicious inquiries. Each housemaid who opens a door will be to him a suspicious individual, each butcher’s boy an accomplice, each tenant a principal in the abduction of your wife. If I have a theory of any sort, it is that the first reliable news will come from Richmond. There cannot be the slightest doubt that she was going there on Tuesday night.”
“It will be very odd if you should prove to be right,” said Sir Charles.
Again they were interrupted by the footman, this time the bearer of a telegram, which he handed to his master.
The latter opened it and read:
“What is the matter? Are you ill? I certainly am angry. – Dick.”
He frowned with real annoyance, crumpling up the message and throwing it in the fire.
“People bothering one at such a time,” he growled.
Soon afterwards Bruce left him.
True to the barrister’s prophecy, Inspector White made life miserable to the denizens of Raleigh Mansions. He visited them at all hours, and, in some instances, several times. Although, in accordance with his instructions, he never mentioned Lady Dyke’s name, he so pestered the occupants with questions concerning a lady of her general appearance that half-a-dozen residents wrote complaining letters to the company which owned the mansions, and the secretary lodged a protest at Scotland Yard.
Respectable citizens object to detectives prowling about, particularly when they insinuate questions concerning indefinite ladies in tailor-made dresses and fur toques.
At the end of a week Mr. White was nonplussed, and even Claude Bruce confessed that his more carefully conducted inquiries had yielded no result.
Towards the end of the month a sensational turn was given to events. The body of a woman, terribly disfigured from long immersion in the water and other causes, was found in the Thames at Putney.
It had been discovered under peculiar circumstances. A drain pipe emptying into the river beneath the surface was moved by reason of some sanitary alterations, and the workmen intrusted with the task were horrified at finding a corpse tightly wedged beneath it.
Official examination revealed that although the body had been in the water fully three weeks, the cause of death was not drowning. The woman had been murdered beyond a shadow of a doubt. A sharp iron spike was driven into her brain with such force that a portion of it had broken off, and remained imbedded in the skull.
If this were not sufficient, there were other convincing proofs of foul play.