The Illustrious Prince

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 4 - Miss Penelope Morse


It was already a little past the customary luncheon hour at the Carlton, and the restaurant was well filled. The orchestra had played their first selection, and the stream of incoming guests had begun to slacken. A young lady who had been sitting in the palm court for at least half an hour rose to her feet, and, glancing casually at her watch, made her way into the hotel. She entered the office and addressed the chief reception clerk.

"Can you tell me," she asked, "if Mr. Hamilton Fynes is staying here? He should have arrived by the Lusitania last night or early this morning."

It is not the business of a hotel reception clerk to appear surprised at anything. Nevertheless the man looked at her, for a moment, with a curious expression in his eyes.

"Mr. Hamilton Fynes!" he repeated. "Did you say that you were expecting him by the Lusitania, madam?"

"Yes!" the young lady answered. "He asked me to lunch with him here today. Can you tell me whether he has arrived yet? If he is in his room, I should be glad if you would send up to him."

There were several people in the office who were in a position to overhear their conversation. With a word of apology, the man came round from his place behind the mahogany counter. He stood by the side of the young lady, and he seemed to be suffering from some embarrassment.

"Will you pardon my asking, madam, if you have seen the newspapers this morning?" he inquired.

Without a doubt, her first thought was that the question savored of impertinence. She looked at him with slightly upraised eyebrows. She was slim, of medium complexion, with dark brown hair parted in the middle and waving a little about her temples. She was irreproachably dressed, from the tips of her patent shoes to the black feathers in her Paris hat.

"The newspapers!" she repeated. "Why, no, I don't think that I have seen them this morning. What have they to do with Mr. Hamilton Fynes?"

The clerk pointed to the open door of a small private office.

"If you will step this way for one moment, madam," he begged.

She tapped the floor with her foot and looked at him curiously. Certainly the people around seemed to be taking some interest in their conversation.

"Why should I?" she asked. "Cannot you answer my question here?"

"If madam will be so good," he persisted.

She shrugged her shoulders and followed him. Something in the man's earnest tone and almost pleading look convinced her, at least, of his good intentions. Besides, the interest which her question had undoubtedly aroused amongst the bystanders was, to say the least of it, embarrassing. He pulled the door to after them.

"Madam," he said, "there was a Mr. Hamilton Fynes who came over by the Lusitania, and who had certainly engaged rooms in this hotel, but he unfortunately, it seems, met with an accident on his way from Liverpool."

Her manner changed at once. She began to understand what it all meant. Her lips parted, her eyes were wide open.

"An accident?" she faltered.

He gently rolled a chair up to her. She sank obediently into it.

"Madam," he said, "it was a very bad accident indeed. I trust that Mr. Hamilton Fynes was not a very intimate friend or a relative of yours. It would perhaps be better for you to read the account for yourself."

He placed a newspaper in her hands. She read the first few lines and suddenly turned upon him. She was white to the lips now, and there was real terror in her tone. Yet if he had been in a position to have analyzed the emotion she displayed, he might have remarked that there was none of the surprise, the blank, unbelieving amazement which might have been expected from one hearing for the first time of such a calamity.

"Murdered!" she exclaimed. "Is this true?"

"It appears to be perfectly true, madam, I regret to say," the clerk answered. "Even the earlier editions were able to supply the man's name, and I am afraid that there is no doubt about his identity. The captain of the Lusitania confirmed it, and many of the passengers who saw him leave the ship last night have been interviewed."

"Murdered!" she repeated to herself with trembling lips. "It seems such a horrible death! Have they any idea who did it?" she asked. "Has any one been arrested?"

"At present, no, madam," the clerk answered. "The affair, as you will see if you read further, is an exceedingly mysterious one."

She rocked a little in her chair, but she showed no signs of fainting. She picked up the paper and found the place once more. There were two columns filled with particulars of the tragedy.

"Where can I be alone and read this?" she asked.

"Here, if you please, madam," the clerk answered. "I must go back to my desk. There are many arrivals just now. Will you allow me to send you something--a little brandy, perhaps?"

"Nothing, thank you," she answered. "I wish only to be alone while I read this."

He left her with a little sympathetic murmur, and closed the door behind him. The girl raised her veil now and spread the newspaper out on the table before her. There was an account of the tragedy; there were interviews with some of the passengers, a message from the captain. In all, it seemed that wonderfully little was known of Mr. Hamilton Fynes. He had spoken to scarcely a soul on board, and had remained for the greater part of the time in his stateroom. The captain had not even been aware of his existence till the moment when Mr. Hamilton Fynes had sought him out and handed him an order, signed by the head of his company, instructing him to obey in any respect the wishes of this hitherto unknown passenger. The tug which had been hired to meet him had gone down the river, so it was not possible, for the moment, to say by whom it had been chartered. The station-master at Liverpool knew nothing except that the letter presented to him by the dead man was a personal one from a great railway magnate, whose wishes it was impossible to disregard. There had not been a soul, apparently, upon the steamer who had known anything worth mentioning of Mr. Hamilton Fynes or his business. No one in London had made inquiries for him or claimed his few effects. Half a dozen cables to America remained unanswered.

That papers had been stolen from him--papers or money--was evident from the place of concealment in his coat, where the lining had been torn away, but there was not the slightest evidence as to the nature of these documents or the history of the murdered man. All that could be done was to await the news from the other side, which was momentarily expected.

The girl went through it all, line by line, almost word by word. Whatever there might have been of relationship or friendship between her and the dead man, the news of his terrible end left her shaken, indeed, but dry-eyed. She was apparently more terrified than grieved, and now that the first shock had passed away, her mind seemed occupied with thoughts which may indeed have had some connection with this tragedy, but were scarcely wholly concerned with it. She sat for a long while with her hands still resting upon the table but her eyes fixed out of the window. Then at last she rose and made her way outside. Her friend the reception clerk was engaged in conversation with one or two men, a conversation of which she was obviously the subject. As she opened the door, one of them broke off in the midst of what he was saying and would have accosted her. The clerk, however, interposed, and drew her a step or two back into the room.

"Madam," he said, "one of these gentlemen is from Scotland Yard, and the others are reporters. They are all eager to know anything about Mr. Hamilton Fynes. I expect they will want to ask you some questions."

The girl opened her lips and closed them again.

"I regret to say that I have nothing whatever to tell them," she declared. "Will you kindly let them know that?"

The clerk shook his head.

"I am afraid you will find them quite persistent, madam," he said.

"I cannot tell them things which I do not know myself," she answered, frowning.

"Naturally," the clerk admitted; "yet these gentlemen from Scotland Yard have special privileged, of course, and there remains the fact that you were engaged to lunch with Mr. Fynes here."

"If it will help me to get rid of them," she said, "I will speak to the representative of Scotland Yard. I will have nothing whatever to say to the reporters."

The clerk turned round and beckoned to the foremost figure in the little group. Inspector Jacks, tall, lantern-jawed, dressed with the quiet precision of a well-to-do-man of affairs, and with no possible suggestion of his calling in his manner or attire, was by her side almost at once.

"Madam," he said, "I understand that Mr. Hamilton Fynes was a friend of yours?"

"An acquaintance," she corrected him.

"And your name?" he asked.

"I am Miss Morse," she replied,--"Miss Penelope Morse."

"You were to have lunched here with Mr. Hamilton Fynes," the detective continued. "When, may I ask, did the invitation reach you?"

"Yesterday," she told him, "by marconigram from Queenstown."

"You can tell us a few things about the deceased, without doubt," Mr. Jacks said,--"his profession, for instance, or his social standing? Perhaps you know the reason for his coming to Europe?"

The girl shook her head.

"Mr. Fynes and I were not intimately acquainted," she answered. "We met in Paris some years ago, and when he was last in London, during the autumn, I lunched with him twice."

"You had no letter from him, then, previous to the marconigram?" the inspector asked.

"I have scarcely ever received a letter from him in my life," she answered. "He was as bad a correspondent as I am myself."

"You know nothing, then, of the object of his present visit to England?"

"Nothing whatever," she answered.

"When he was over here before," the inspector asked, "do you know what his business was then?"

"Not in the least," she replied.

"You can tell us his address in the States?" Inspector Jacks suggested.

She shook her head.

"I cannot," she answered. "As I told you just now, I have never had a letter from him in my life. We exchanged a few notes, perhaps, when we were in Paris, about trivial matters, but nothing more than that."

"He must at some time, in Paris, for instance, or when you lunched with him last year, have said something about his profession, or how he spent his time?"

"He never alluded to it in any way," the girl answered. "I have not the slightest idea how he passed his time."

The inspector was a little nonplussed. He did not for a moment believe that the girl was telling the truth.

"Perhaps," he said tentatively, "you do not care to have your name come before the public in connection with a case so notorious as this?"

"Naturally," the girl answered. "That, however, would not prevent my telling you anything that I knew. You seem to find it hard to believe, but I can assure you that I know nothing. Mr. Fynes was almost a stranger to me."

The detective was thoughtful.

"So you really cannot help us at all, madam?" he said at length.

"I am afraid not," she answered.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "after you have thought the matter over, something may occur to you. Can I trouble you for your address?"

"I am staying at Devenham House for the moment," she answered.

He wrote it down in his notebook.

"I shall perhaps do myself the honor of waiting upon you a little later on," he said. "You may be able, after reflection, to recall some small details, at any rate, which will be interesting to us. At present we are absurdly ignorant as to the man's affairs."

She turned away from him to the clerk, and pointed to another door.

"Can I go out without seeing those others?" she asked. "I really have nothing to say to them, and this has been quite a shock to me."

"By all means, madam," the clerk answered. "If you will allow me, I will escort you to the entrance."

Two of the more enterprising of the journalists caught them up upon the pavement. Miss Penelope Morse, however, had little to say to them.

"You must not ask me any more questions about Mr. Hamilton Fynes," she declared. "My acquaintance with him was of the slightest. It is true that I came here to lunch today without knowing what had happened. It has been a shock to me, and I do not wish to talk about it, and I will not talk about it, for the present."

She was deaf to their further questions. The hotel clerk handed her into a taximeter cab, and gave the address to the driver. Then he went back to his office, where Inspector Jacks was still sitting.

"This Mr. Hamilton Fynes," he remarked, "seems to have been what you might call a secretive sort of person. Nobody appears to know anything about him. I remember when he was staying here before that he had no callers, and seemed to spend most of his time sitting in the palm court."

The inspector nodded.

"He was certainly a man who knew how to keep his own counsel," he admitted. "Most Americans are ready enough to talk about themselves and their affairs, even to comparative strangers."

The hotel clerk nodded.

"Makes it difficult for you," he remarked.

"It makes the case very interesting, the inspector declared, "especially when we find him engaged to lunch with a young lady of such remarkable discretion as miss Penelope Morse."

"You know her?" the clerk asked a little eagerly.

The inspector was engaged, apparently, in studying the pattern of the carpet.

"Not exactly," he answered. "No, I have no absolute knowledge of Miss Penelope Morse. By the bye, that was rather an interesting address that she gave."

"Devenham House," the hotel clerk remarked. "Do you know who lives there?"

The inspector nodded.

"The Duke of Devenham," he answered. "A very interesting young lady, I should think, that. I wonder what she and Mr. Hamilton Fynes would have talked about if they had lunched here today."

The hotel clerk looked dubious. He did not grasp the significance of the question.