The Illustrious Prince

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 6 - Mr. Coulson Interviewed


The Lusitania boat specials ran into Euston Station soon after three o'clock in the afternoon. A small company of reporters, and several other men whose profession was not disclosed from their appearance, were on the spot to interview certain of the passengers. A young fellow from the office of the Evening Comet was, perhaps, the most successful, as, from the lengthy description which had been telegraphed to him from Liverpool, he was fortunate enough to accost the only person who had been seen speaking to the murdered man upon the voyage.

"This is Mr. Coulson, I believe?" the young man said with conviction, addressing a somewhat stout, gray-headed American, with white moustache, a Homburg hat, and clothes of distinctly transatlantic cut.

That gentlemen regarded his interlocutor with some surprise but without unfriendliness.

"That happens to be my name, sir," he replied. "You have the advantage of me, though. You are not from my old friends Spencer & Miles, are you?"

"Spencer & Miles," the young man repeated thoughtfully.

"Woollen firm in London Wall," Mr. Coulson added. "I know they wanted to see me directly I arrived, and they did say something about sending to the station."

The young man shook his head, and assumed at the same time his most engaging manner.

"Why, no, sir!" he admitted. "I have no connection with that firm at all. The fact is I am on the staff of an evening paper. A friend of mine in Liverpool--a mutual friend, I believe I may say," he explained--"wired me your description. I understand that you were acquainted with Mr. Hamilton Fynes?"

Mr. Coulson set down his suitcase for a moment, to light a cigar.

"Well, if I did know the poor fellow just to nod to," he said, "I don't see that's any reason why I should talk about him to you newspaper fellows. You'd better get hold of his relations, if you can find them."

"But, my dear Mr. Coulson," the young man said, "we haven't any idea where they are to be found, and in the meantime you can't imagine what reports are in circulation."

"Guess I can figure them out pretty well," Mr. Coulson remarked with a smile. "We've got an evening press of our own in New York."

The reporter nodded.

"Well," he said, "They'd be able to stretch themselves out a bit on a case like this. You see," he continued confidentially, "we are up against something almost unique. Here is an astounding and absolutely inexplicable murder, committed in a most dastardly fashion by a person who appears to have vanished from the face of the earth. Not a single thing is known about the victim except his name. We do not know whether he came to England on business or pleasure. He may, in short, have been any one from a millionaire to a newspaper man. Judging from his special train," the reporter concluded with a smile, "and the money which was found upon him, I imagine that he was certainly not the latter."

Mr. Coulson went on his way toward the exit from the station, puffing contentedly at his big cigar.

"Well," he said to his companion, who showed not the slightest disposition to leave his side, "it don't seem to me that there's much worth repeating about poor Fynes,--much that I knew, at any rate. Still, if you like to get in a cab with me and ride as far as the Savoy, I'll tell you what I can."

"You are a brick, sir," the young man declared. "Haven't you any luggage, though?"

"I checked what I had through from Liverpool to the hotel," Mr. Coulson answered. "I can't stand being fussed around by all these porters, and having to go and take pot luck amongst a pile of other people's baggage. We'll just take one of these two-wheeled sardine tins that you people call hansoms, and get round to the hotel as quick as we can. There are a few pals of mine generally lunch in the cafe there, and they mayn't all have cleared out if we look alive."

They started a moment or two later. Mr. Coulson leaned forward and, folding his arms upon the apron of the cab, looked about him with interest.

"Say," he remarked, removing his cigar to the corner of his mouth in order to facilitate conversation, "this old city of yours don't change any."

"Not up in this part, perhaps," the reporter agreed. "We've some fine new buildings down toward the Strand."

Mr. Coulson nodded.

"Well," he said, "I guess you don't want to be making conversation. You want to know about Hamilton Fynes. I was just acquainted with him, and that's a fact, but I reckon you'll have to find some one who knows a good deal more than I do before you'll get the stuff you want for your paper."

"The slightest particulars are of interest to us just now," the reporter reminded him.

Mr. Coulson nodded.

"Hamilton Fynes," he said, "so far as I knew him, was a quiet, inoffensive sort of creature, who has been drawing a regular salary from the State for the last fifteen years and saving half of it. He has been coming over to Europe now and then, and though he was a good, steady chap enough, he liked his fling when he was over here, and between you and me, he was the greatest crank I ever struck. I met him in London a matter of three years ago, and he wanted to go to Paris. There were two cars running at the regular time, meeting the boat at Dover. Do you think he would have anything to do with them? Not he! He hired a special train and went down like a prince."

"What did he do that for?" the reporter asked.

"Why, because he was a crank, sir," Mr. Coulson answered confidentially. "There was no other reason at all. Take this last voyage on the Lusitania, now. He spoke to me the first day out because he couldn't help it, but for pretty well the rest of the journey he either kept down in his stateroom or, when he came up on deck, he avoided me and everybody else. When he did talk, his talk was foolish. He was a good chap at his work, I believe, but he was a crank. Seemed to me sometimes as though that humdrum life of his had about turned his brain. The last day out he was fidgeting all the time; kept looking at his watch, studying the chart, and asking the sailors questions. Said he wanted to get up in time to take a girl to lunch on Thursday. It was just for that reason that he scuttled off the boat without a word to any of us, and rushed up to London."

"But he had letters, Mr. Coulson," the reporter reminded him, "from some one in Washington, to the captain of the steamer and to the station-master of the London and North Western Railway. It seems rather odd that he should have provided himself with these, doesn't it?"

"They were easy enough to get," Mr. Coulson answered. "He wasn't a worrying sort of chap, Fynes wasn't. He did his work, year in and year out, and asked no favors. The consequence was that when he asked a queer one he got it all right. It's easier to get a pull over there than it is here, you know."

"This is all very interesting," the reporter said, "and I am sure I'm very much obliged to you, Mr. Coulson. Now can you tell me of anything in the man's life or way of living likely to provoke enmity on the part of any one? This murder was such a cold-blooded affair."

"There I'm stuck," Mr. Coulson admitted. "There's only one thing I can tell you, and that is that I believe he had a lot more money on him than the amount mentioned in your newspapers this morning. My own opinion is that he was murdered for what he'd got. A smart thief would say that a fellow who takes a special tug off the steamer and a special train to town was a man worth robbing. How the thing was done I don't know--that's for your police to find out--but I reckon that whoever killed him did it for his cash."

The reporter sighed. He was, after all, a little disappointed. Mr. Coulson was obviously a man of common sense. His words were clearly pronounced, and his reasoning sound. They had reached the courtyard of the hotel now, and the reporter began to express his gratitude.

"My first drink on English soil," Mr. Coulson said, as he handed his suitcase to the hall-porter, "is always--"

"It's on me," the young man declared quickly. "I owe you a good deal more than drinks, Mr. Coulson."

"Well, come along, anyway," the latter remarked. "I guess my room is all right, porter?"--turning to the man who stood by his side, bag in hand. "I am Mr. James B. Coulson of New York, and I wrote on ahead. I'll come round to the office and register presently."

They made their way to the American bar. The newspaper man and his new friend drank together and, skillfully prompted by the former, the conversation drifted back to the subject of Hamilton Fynes. There was nothing else to be learned, however, in the way of facts. Mr. Coulson admitted that he had been a little nettled by his friend's odd manner during the voyage, and the strange way he had of keeping to himself.

"But, after all," he wound up, "Fynes was a crank, when all's said and done. We are all cranks, more or less,--all got our weak spot, I mean. It was secretiveness with our unfortunate friend. He liked to play at being a big personage in a mysterious sort of way, and the poor chap's paid for it," he added with a sigh.

The reporter left his new-made friend a short time afterwards, and took a hansom to his office. His newspaper at once issued a special edition, giving an interview between their representative and Mr. James B. Coulson, a personal friend of the murdered man. It was, after all, something of a scoop, for not one of the other passengers had been found who was in a position to say anything at all about him. The immediate effect of the interview, however, was to procure for Mr. Coulson a somewhat bewildering succession of callers. The first to arrive was a gentleman who introduced himself as Mr. Jacks, and whose card, sent back at first, was retendered in a sealed envelope with Scotland Yard scrawled across the back of it. Mr. Coulson, who was in the act of changing his clothes, interviewed Mr. Jacks in his chamber.

"Mr. Coulson," the Inspector said, "I am visiting you on behalf of Scotland Yard. We understand that you had some acquaintance with Mr. Hamilton Fynes, and we hope that you will answer a few questions for us."

Mr. Coulson sat down upon a trunk with his hairbrushes in his hand.

"Well," he declared, "you detectives do get to know things, don't you?"

"Nothing so remarkable in that, Mr. Coulson," Inspector Jacks remarked pleasantly. "A newspaper man had been before me, I see."

Mr. Coulson nodded.

"That's so," he admitted. "Seems to me I may have been a bit indiscreet in talking so much to that young reporter. I have just read his account of my interview, and he's got it pat, word by word. Now, Mr. Jacks, if you'll just invest a halfpenny in that newspaper, you don't need to ask me any questions. That young man had a kind of pleasant way with him, and I told him all I knew."

"Just so, Mr. Coulson," the Inspector answered. "At the same time nothing that you told him throws any light at all upon the circumstances which led to the poor fellow's death."

"That," Mr. Coulson declared, "is not my fault. What I don't know I can't tell you."

"You were acquainted with Mr. Fynes some years ago?" the Inspector asked. "Can you tell me what business he was in then?"

"Same as now, for anything I know," Mr. Coulson answered. "He was a clerk in one of the Government offices at Washington."

"Government offices," Inspector Jacks repeated. "Have you any idea what department?"

Mr. Coulson was not sure.

"It may have been the Excise Office," he remarked thoughtfully. "I did hear, but I never took any particular notice."

"Did you ever form any idea as to the nature of his work?" Inspector Jacks asked.

"Bless you, no!" Mr. Coulson replied, brushing his hair vigorously. "It never entered into my head to ask him, and I never heard him mention it. I only know that he was a quiet-living, decent sort of a chap, but, as I put it to our young friend the newspaper man, he was a crank."

The Inspector was disappointed. He began to feel that he was wasting his time.

"Did you know anything of the object of his journey to Europe?" he asked.

"Nary a thing," Mr. Coulson declared. "He only came on deck once or twice, and he had scarcely a civil word even for me. Why, I tell you, sir," Mr. Coulson continued, "if he saw me coming along on the promenade, he'd turn round and go the other way, for fear I'd ask him to come and have a drink. A c-r-a-n-k, sir! You write it down at that, and you won't be far out."

"He certainly seems to have been a queer lot," the Inspector declared. "By the bye," he continued, "you said something, I believe, about his having had more money with him than was found upon his person."

"That's so," Mr. Coulson admitted. "I know he deposited a pocketbook with the purser, and I happened to be standing by when he received it back. I noticed that he had three or four thousand-dollar bills, and there didn't seem to be anything of the sort upon him when he was found."

The Inspector made a note of this.

"You believe yourself, then, Mr. Coulson," he said, closing his pocketbook, "that the murder was committed for the purpose of robbery?"

"Seems to me it's common sense," Mr. Coulson replied. "A man who goes and takes a special train to London from the docks of a city like Liverpool--a city filled with the scum of the world, mind you--kind of gives himself away as a man worth robbing, doesn't he?"

The Inspector nodded.

"That's sensible talk, Mr. Coulson," he acknowledged. "You never heard, I suppose, of his having had a quarrel with any one?"

"Never in my life," Mr. Coulson declared. "He wasn't the sort to make enemies, any more than he was the sort to make friends."

The Inspector took up his hat. His manner now was no longer inquisitorial. With the closing of his notebook a new geniality had taken the place of his official stiffness.

"You are making a long stay here, Mr. Coulson?" he asked.

"A week or so, maybe," that gentleman answered. "I am in the machinery patent line--machinery for the manufacture of woollen goods mostly--and I have a few appointments in London. Afterwards I am going on to Paris. You can hear of me at any time either here or at the Grand Hotel, Paris, but there's nothing further to be got out of me as regards Mr. Hamilton Fynes."

The Inspector was of the same opinion and took his departure. Mr. Coulson waited for some little time, still sitting on his trunk and clasping his hairbrushes. Then he moved over to the table on which stood the telephone instrument and asked for a number. The reply came in a minute or two in the form of a question.

"It's Mr. James B. Coulson from New York, landed this afternoon from the Lusitania," Mr. Coulson said. "I am at the Savoy Hotel, speaking from my room--number 443."

There was a brief silence--then a reply.

"You had better be in the bar smoking-room at seven o'clock. If nothing happens, don't leave the hotel this evening."

Mr. Coulson replaced the receiver and rang off. A page-boy knocked at the door.

"Young lady downstairs wishes to see you, sir," he announced.

Mr. Coulson took up the card from the tray.

"Miss Penelope Morse," he said softly to himself. "Seems to me I'm rather popular this evening. Say I'll be down right away, my boy."

"Very good, sir," the page answered. "There's a gentleman with her, sir. His card's underneath the lady's."

Mr. Coulson examined the tray once more. A gentleman's visiting card informed him that his other caller was Sir Charles Somerfield, Bart.

"Bart," Mr. Coulson remarked thoughtfully. "I'm not quite catching on to that, but I suppose he goes in with the young lady."

"They're both together, sir," the boy announced.

Mr. Coulson completed his toilet and hurried downstairs