The Illustrious Prince

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 9 - Inspector Jacks Scores


There followed a few days of pleasurable interest to all Englishmen who travelled in the tube and read their halfpenny papers. A great and enlightened Press had already solved the problem of creating the sensational without the aid of facts. This sudden deluge, therefore, of undoubtedly tragical happenings became almost an embarrassment to them. Black headlines, notes of exclamation, the use of superlative adjectives, scarcely met the case. The murder of Mr. Hamilton Fynes was strange enough. Here was an unknown man, holding a small position in his own country,--a man apparently without friends or social position. He travelled over from America, merely a unit amongst the host of other passengers; yet his first action, on arriving at Liverpool, was to make use of privileges which belonged to an altogether different class of person, and culminated in his arrival at Euston in a special train with a dagger driven through his heart! Here was material enough for a least a fortnight of sensations and countersensations, of rumored arrests and strange theories. Yet within the space of twenty-four hours the affair of Mr. Hamilton Fynes had become a small thing, had shrunk almost into insignificance by the side of the other still more dramatic, still more wonderful happening. Somewhere between the Savoy Hotel and Melbourne Square, Kensington, a young American gentleman of great strength, of undoubted position, the nephew of a Minister, and himself secretary to the Ambassador of his country in London, had met with his death in a still more mysterious, still more amazing fashion. He had left the hotel in an ordinary taxicab, which had stopped on the way to pick up no other passenger. He had left the Savoy alone, and he was discovered in Melbourne Square alone. Yet, somewhere between these two points, notwithstanding the fact that the aggressor must have entered the cab either with or without his consent, Mr. Richard Vanderpole, without a struggle, without any cry sufficiently loud to reach the driver or attract the attention of any passer-by, had been strangled to death by a person who had disappeared as though from the face of the earth. The facts seemed almost unbelievable, and yet they were facts. The driver of the taxi knew only that three times during the course of his drive he had been caught in a block and had had to wait for a few seconds--once at the entrance to Trafalgar Square, again at the junction of Haymarket and Pall Mall, and, for a third time, opposite the Hyde Park Hotel. At neither of these halting places had he heard any one enter or leave the taxi. He had heard no summons from his fare, even though a tube, which was in perfect working order, was fixed close to the back of his head. He had known nothing, in fact, until a policeman had stopped him, having caught a glimpse of the ghastly face inside. There was no evidence which served to throw a single gleam of light upon the affair. Mr. Vanderpole had called at the Savoy Hotel upon a travelling American, who had written to the Embassy asking for some advice as to introducing American patents into Great Britain and France. He left there to meet his chief, who was dining down in Kensington, with the intention of returning at once to join the Duchess of Devenham's theatre party. He was in no manner of trouble. It was not suggested that any one had any cause for enmity against him. Yet this attack upon him must have been carefully planned and carried out by a person of great strength and wonderful nerve. The newspaper-reading public in London love their thrills, and they had one here which needed no artificial embellishments from the pens of those trained in an atmosphere of imagination. The simple truth was, in itself, horrifying. There was scarcely a man or woman who drove in a taxicab about the west end of London during the next few days without a little thrill of emotion.

The murder of Mr. Richard Vanderpole took place on a Thursday night. On Monday morning a gentleman of middle age, fashionably but quietly dressed, wearing a flower in his buttonhole, patent boots, and a silk hat which he had carefully deposited upon the floor, was sitting closeted with Miss Penelope Morse. It was obvious that that young lady did not altogether appreciate the honor done to her by a visit from so distinguished a person as Inspector Jacks!

"I am sorry," he said, "that you should find my visit in the least offensive, Miss Morse. I have approached you, so far as possible, as an ordinary visitor, and no one connected with your household can have any idea as to my identity or the nature of my business. I have done this out of consideration to your feelings. At the same time I have my duty to perform and it must be done."

"What I cannot understand," Penelope said coldly, "is why you should bother me about your duty. When I saw you at the Carlton Hotel, I told you exactly how much I knew of Mr. Hamilton Fynes."

"My dear young lady," Inspector Jacks said, "I will not ask for your sympathy, for I am afraid I should ask in vain; but we are just now, we people at Scotland Yard, up against one of the most extraordinary problems which have ever been put before us. We have had two murders occurring in two days, which have this much, at least, in common--that they have been the work of so accomplished a criminal that at the present moment, although I should not like to tell every one as much, we have not in either case the ghost of a clue."

"That sounds very stupid of you," Penelope remarked, "but I still ask--"

"Don't ask for a minute or two," the Inspector interrupted. "I think I remarked just now that these two crimes had one thing in common, and that was the fact that they had both been perpetrated by a criminal of unusual accomplishments. They also have one other point of similitude."

"What is that?" Penelope asked.

"The victim in both cases was an American," the Inspector said.

Penelope sat very still. She felt the steely eyes of the man who had chosen his seat so carefully, fixed upon her face.

"You do not connect the two affairs in any way?" she asked.

"That is what we are asking ourselves," Mr. Jacks continued. "In the absence of any definite clue, coincidences such as this are always interesting. In this case, as it happens, we can take them even a little further. We find that you, for instance, Miss Penelope Morse, a young American lady, celebrated for her wit and accomplishments, and well known in London society, were to have lunched with Mr. Hamilton Fynes on the day when he made his tragical arrival in London; we find too, curiously enough, that you were one of the party with whom Mr. Richard Vanderpole was to have dined and gone to the theatre on the night of his decease."

Penelope shivered, and half closed her eyes.

"Don't you think," she said, "that the shock of this coincidence, as you call it, has been quite sufficient, without having you come here to remind me of it?"

"Madam," Mr. Jacks said, "I have not come here to gratify any personal curiosity. I have come here in the cause of justice. You should find me a welcome visitor, for both these men who have lost their lives were friends of yours."

"I should be very sorry indeed," Penelope answered, "to stand in the way of justice. No one can hope more fervently than I do that the perpetrator of these deeds will be found and punished. But what I cannot understand is your coming here and reopening the subject with me. I tell you again that I have no possible information for you."

"Perhaps not," the Inspector declared, "but, on the other hand, there are certain questions which you can answer me,--answer them, I mean, not grudgingly and as though in duty bound,--answer them intelligently, and with some apprehension of the things which lie behind."

"And what is the thing that lies behind them?" she asked.

"A theory, madam," the Inspector answered,--"no more. But in this case, unfortunately, we have not passed the stage of theories. My theory, at the present moment, is that the murderer of these two men was the same person."

"You have evidence to that effect," she said, suddenly surprised to find that her voice had sunk to a whisper.

"Very little," Mr. Jacks admitted; "but, you see, in the case of theories one must build them brick by brick. Then if, after all, as we reach the end, the foundation was false, well, we must watch them collapse and start again."

"Supposing we leave these generalities," Penelope remarked, "and get on with those questions which you wish to ask me. My aunt, as you may have heard, is an invalid, and although she seldom leaves her room, this is one of the afternoons when she sometimes sits here for a short time. I should not care to have her find you."

The Inspector leaned back in his chair. It was a very pleasant drawing room, looking out upon the Park. A little French clock, a masterpiece of workmanship, was ticking gayly upon the mantelpiece. Two toy Pomeranians were half hidden in the great rug. The walls were of light blue, soft, yet full of color, and the carpet, of some plain material, was of the same shade. The perfume of flowers--the faint sweetness of mimosa and the sicklier fragrance of hyacinths--seemed almost overwhelming, for the fire was warm and the windows closed. By the side of Penelope's chair were a new novel and a couple of illustrated papers, and Mr. Jacks noticed that although a paper cutter was lying by their side the leaves of all were uncut.

"These questions," he said, "may seem to you irrelevant, yet please answer them if you can. Mr. Hamilton Fynes, for instance,--was he, to your knowledge, acquainted with Mr. Richard Vanderpole?"

"I have never heard them speak of one another," Penelope answered. "I should think it very unlikely."

"You have no knowledge of any common pursuit or interest in life which the two men may have shared?" the Inspector asked. "A hobby, for instance,--a collection of postage stamps, china, any common aim of any sort?"

She shook her head.

"I knew little of Mr. Fynes' tastes. Dicky--I mean Mr. Vanderpole--had none at all except an enthusiasm for his profession and a love of polo."

"His profession," the Inspector repeated. "Mr. Vanderpole was attached to the American Embassy, was he not?"

"I believe so," Penelope answered.

"Mr. Hamilton Fynes," the Inspector continued, "might almost have been said to have followed the same occupation."

"Surely not!" Penelope objected. "I always understood that Mr. Fynes was employed in a Government office at Washington,--something to do with the Customs, I thought, or forest duties."

Mr. Jacks nodded thoughtfully.

"I am not aware, as yet," he said, "of the precise nature of Mr. Fynes' occupation. I only knew that it was, in some shape or form, Government work."

"You know as much about it," she answered, "as I do."

"We have sent," the Inspector continued smoothly, "a special man out to Washington to make all inquiries that are possible on the spot, and incidentally, to go through the effects of the deceased, with a view to tracing any complications in which he may have been involved in this country."

Penelope opened her lips, but closed them again.

"I am not, however," the Inspector continued, "very sanguine of success. In the case of Mr. Vanderpole, for instance, there could have been nothing of the sort. He was too young, altogether too much of a boy, to have had enemies so bitterly disposed towards him. There is another explanation somewhere, I feel convinced, at the root of the matter."

"You do not believe, then," asked Penelope, "that robbery was really the motive?"

"Not ordinary robbery," Mr. Jacks answered. "A man who was capable of these two crimes is capable of easier and greater things. I mean," he explained, "that he could have attempted enterprises of a far more remunerative character, with a prospect of complete success."

"Will you forgive me," she said, "if I ask you to go on with your questions, providing you have any more to ask me? Notwithstanding the excellence of your disguise," she remarked with a faint curl of the lips, "I might find it somewhat difficult to explain your presence if my aunt or any visitors should come in."

"I am sorry, Miss Morse," the Inspector said quietly, "to find you so unsympathetic. Had I found you differently disposed, I was going to ask you to put yourself in my place. I was going to ask you to look at these two tragedies from my point of view and from your own at the same time, and I was going to ask you whether any possible motive suggested itself to you, any possible person or cause, which might be benefited by the removal of these two men."

"If you think, Mr. Jacks," Penelope said, "that I am keeping anything from you, you are very much mistaken. Such sympathy as I have would certainly be with those who are attempting to bring to justice the perpetrator of such unmentionable crimes. What I object to is the unpleasantness of being associated with your inquiries when I am absolutely unable to give you the least help, or to supply you with any information which is not equally attainable to you."

"As, for instance?" the Inspector asked.

"You are a detective," Penelope said coldly. "You do not need me to point out certain things to you. Mr. Hamilton Fynes was robbed and murdered--an American citizen on his way to London. Mr. Richard Vanderpole is also murdered, after a call upon Mr. James B. Coulson, the only acquaintance whom Mr. Fynes is known to have possessed in this country. Did Mr. Fynes share secrets with Mr. Coulson? If so, did Mr. Coulson pass them on to Mr. Vanderpole, and for that reason did Mr. Vanderpole meet with the same death, at the same hands, as had befallen Mr. Fynes?"

Inspector Jacks moved his head thoughtfully.

"It is admirably put," he assented, "and to continue?"

"It is not my place to make suggestions to you," Penelope said. "If you are able to connect Mr. Fynes with the American Government, you arrive at the possibility of these murders having been committed for some political end. I presume you read your newspapers?"

Inspector Jacks smiled, picked up his hat and bowed, while Penelope, with a sigh of relief, moved over to the bell.

"My dear young lady," he said, "you do not understand how important even the point of view of another person is to a man who is struggling to build up a theory. Whether you have helped me as much as you could," he added, looking her in the face, "you only can tell, but you have certainly helped me a little."

The footman had entered. The Inspector turned to follow him. Penelope remained as she had been standing, the hand which had touched the bell fallen to her side, her eyes fixed upon him with a new light stirring their quiet depths.

"One moment, Morton," she said. "Wait outside. Mr. Jacks," she added, as the door closed, "what do you mean? What can I have told you? How can I have helped you?"

The Inspector stood very still for a brief space of time, very still and very silent. His face, too, was quite expressionless. Yet his tone, when he spoke, seemed to have taken to itself a note of sternness.

"If you had chosen," he said slowly, "to have become my ally in this matter, to have ranged yourself altogether on the side of the law, my answer would have been ready enough. What you have told me, however, you have told me against your will and not in actual words. You have told me in such a way, too," he added, "that it is impossible for me to doubt your intention to mislead me. I am forced to conclude that we stand on opposite sides of the way. I shall not trouble you any more, Miss Morse."

He turned to the door. Penelope remained motionless for several moments, listening to his retreating footsteps.