The Problem of the Missing Miss (25 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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“What's on their minds?” Wright asked with a grimace.

“They said, the protestation meeting,” Hartley stated.

Inspector MacRae shook his head. “Not the Edinburgh man,” he said flatly. “A shilling says they're still on the trail of that girl.”

Inspector Wright sat down again, a hint of a smile lurking under his mustache. “Bring them up, Sergeant,” he ordered.

MacRae leaned forward. “What are you up to, Wright?”

Wright tapped the side of his nose and leaned back in his chair. When Mr. Dodgson arrived, with Dr. Doyle behind him, Inspector Wright rose and indicated that Mr. Dodgson should take the only unoccupied seat in the office.

“I have information,” the scholar stated, once these amenities had been satisfied. “I have discovered …”

“That there is a house in King Street, an establishment run by a Miss Julia Harmon,” Inspector Wright finished for him.

“Then you know about this … this establishment?” Mr. Dodgson's eager expression turned to one of peevish exasperation.

“Oh, come now, Mr. Dodgson, we're not as slow as they make us out in the newspapers. Of course we knew about it. In fact, we've had the place under observation for some time.”

“And?” Mr. Dodgson leaned forward.

“And, except for a large number of male callers, there is nothing we can charge the inhabitants of that house with,” Inspector Wright said.

Dr. Doyle broke in: “Surely, there are borough ordinances about running a, well, disorderly house?”

“Trouble is, the house wasn't disorderly,” Inspector Wright said with a sigh. “No trouble, not a peep out of anyone in the street. We can't just go into a private house without cause. An Englishman's home …”

“… is his castle. I know the old saw,” Dr. Doyle said.

Mr. Dodgson frowned. “I see your dilemma,” he said finally. “However, suppose a private person, such as myself, were to swear out a complaint against the inhabitants of the establishment?”

“You'd have to have good cause,” Inspector Wright said gloomily.

“Ah. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I were to discover that a child was being held there against her will?”

“If you can find her, you'll do better than we did,” MacRae put in. “We were in that house and searched it from top to bottom.”

“Including the kitchens?” Dr. Doyle asked.

“And the upper story,” Inspector Wright said.

“Most interesting,” Mr. Dodgson murmured to himself.

“You aren't planning a visit to that house yourself, are you?” MacRae asked. “Because the lady of the house is a very knowing one. She was onto me before I even set foot in the door.”

Mr. Dodgson frowned slightly. “Now, there you surprise me,” he commented. “Dr. Doyle and myself were followed from the railway station and pursued through the streets, then accosted in front of this very building and warned off, as the sporting men have it. When, I wonder, did Miss Harmon discover that a representative of Scotland Yard was in Brighton?”

“Had to have been between the time we arrived and eight o'clock last night,” MacRae said.

“And who told her?” Dr. Doyle asked pugnaciously. “There must be a spy among your men, Inspector. According to the
Pall Mall Gazette,
Mrs. Jeffries and her ilk have minions in every police station, providing them with information, letting them know when raids are planned.”

“Dr. Doyle!” Inspector Wright stood up in righteous wrath. “How dare you imply that my men are in the pay of criminal elements!”

“I can think of no other way that Inspector MacRae's presence should be known to Miss Harmon,” Dr. Doyle insisted. “No one else knew who or what he was, except the police, and not many of them, either.”

“Not necessarily,” MacRae said, anxious to clear his colleague's good name. “There was you, and that Upshaw fellow, and Lord Richard and that Kinsale chap—any one of them could have sent a telegram ahead, alerting the Harmon woman.”

“She could even be on the telephone,” Mr. Dodgson put in.

Wright glanced at MacRae. “I didn't see one,” MacRae said.

“I don't think that part of Brighton is electrified,” Wright commented.

“And both Mr. Kinsale and Mr. Upshaw are at this moment in Brighton,” Mr. Dodgson said, returning to the subject at hand. “Harmon … Harmon … I do believe I know the name. I knew a man named Harmon in Oxford.” Mr. Dodgson's eyes were fixed on a vision only he could see. “Gentlemen,” he said suddenly, “I propose to pay a call on my old acquaintance, Miss Julia Harmon, this afternoon, after Divine Service.”

Inspectors Wright and MacRae stared at him. The Brighton man found his voice first. “You're mad as a March Hare, sir! Why should she let you in at all?”

Mr. Dodgson smiled sweetly. “I knew her father, not to call on, of course, but as a tradesman. I shall tell her that I have heard she is now residing in this vicinity and wish to leave a card. After which, I shall insert myself into the house and discover where Miss Marbury is being held.”

“And you think you can do this?” MacRae's expression clearly showed that he doubted Mr. Dodgson's ability to tie his own shoelaces, let alone find a missing child in a house already searched by the police.

“I have promised my friend Mr. Barclay that I would read the lesson at today's service, and there will be dinner afterwards,” Mr. Dodgson said. “I can meet with you gentlemen after the service and after dinner, let us say, at two o'clock this afternoon? And then we shall find Miss Marbury.”

Mr. Dodgson rose, bowed, and marched back out into the rain. Inspector MacRae looked at his countryman as if to say, It's us Scots against these mad Englishmen. Inspector Wright shook his head.

“I only hope he knows what he's doing.”

Dr. Doyle smiled under his mustache. “I'm beginning to think he's sharper than any of us. I can't wait to tell all this to Touie!”

CHAPTER 23

By borough ordinance, all places of refreshment or recreation were closed on Sunday until noon. The sole source of recreation being spiritual, all of Brighton, both resident and transient, took itself to church. Even those visitors whose religious affiliations were vague at best suddenly decided to attend Divine Service at one of the edifices available.

The old town had boasted but one parish church, the venerable St. Nicholas, dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, as well it should in a town whose economic mainstay was the sea. As the town had grown, new churches were added to the roster: the pseudo-Gothic splendor of St. Peter's, the more pedestrian red brick of St. Michael's, and the utilitarian stonework of St. Anselm's. The Society of Friends had built their meetinghouse in The Lanes, where General Booth's Army of Salvation had taken refuge as well. There was even a small set of rooms in one of the old houses behind the Royal Pavilion where various gentlemen of the Hebrew persuasion met daily for prayers and study. In short, Brighton was as eager to provide its visitors with this as with any other diversion.

On this rainy Sunday, with all other places of recreation closed, the fashionable world hied to St. Peter's in carriages or cabs; the less fashionable (and less worldly) walked to the nearest church or chapel (depending on their inclination). Gentlemen wore their severe Sunday suits or frock coats, with high hats or bowlers. Their female counterparts forsook the flowery for the formal, and black silk, black linen, and black bombazine were the order of the day. Hats were the only extravagance, exploiting the flowers of the field and the birds of the air to stunning effect. Only the unmarried daughters of the respectable burgesses of Brighton and their even more respectable guests could do pastels: peach, cornflower blue, pale straw, or ivory lace. Necks and arms, bared for the evening, were modestly covered during the church services, no matter how warm the temperature within.

Today, there was no danger of heat stroke. Most of the congregants were perfectly happy to don shawls, coats, and jackets against the penetrating chill. Whether stone or brick, the churches seemed to shudder with the damp.

The Reverend Mr. Barclay, as the most eminent divine in residence, took the pulpit at St. Peter's Church. He looked out at the congregation, and wondered if they were prepared for his sermon. He had tried to be careful, but there was no getting around his topic. Sin was rampant in Brighton, and Sin must be cast out!

Behind him, Mr. Dodgson followed the service carefully. He stepped up to the lectern at the appropriate moment, conscious of his tendency to stammer in moments of stress. He must speak slowly and carefully, lest he subject not only himself but his host to ridicule.

“… And Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,'” Mr. Dodgson pronounced. Was it not the very text he had quoted in his letter of protest to the Prime Minister? Was it right, or even proper, to expose the ills of society to the pillars of society? And in the house of God? “Here endeth the lesson.”

Mr. Dodgson sat down, still troubled. His friend, Barclay, was a good, honest servant of the Church. He would not defame the Lord's house with evil.

That settled, Mr. Dodgson considered the problem before him as the Divine Service continued around him. He spoke the responses automatically, as he had done for over fifty years. He had the service memorized; he tended to let his mind wander at times. He barely heard the choir as they vigorously attacked “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” with more panache than finesse.

What bothered him about the whole business, he decided, as Mr. Barclay ponderously took the pulpit and cleared his throat, was the timing of it. Why should Miss Marbury have been abducted in August, when the offensive articles began in July? Who knew that Inspector MacRae was from Scotland Yard, and how could Miss Harmon be notified about it between three and eight o'clock of a Saturday afternoon? Did Miss Harmon have the telephone? And who, of all the possible suspects, could have killed Old Keeble?

Mr. Barclay's voice rambled on. “… And, my friends, you may ask me whether it is the place of the Church to lower itself to the level of the persons writing in the public Press. Why, you may ask, should we, who are among the righteous, be concerned with those who are sinners? Women whose very lives are a disgrace and a blot upon the face of this fair city? But I remind you of the words of Our Lord: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.'

“There are those among us, I regret to say, who are all too willing to look the other way, to let Sin run rampant when it puts silver into their pockets. But I tell you, my friends, that in this case, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.”

“Of course!” Mr. Dodgson said aloud. The deacon on his right stared at him. Mr. Dodgson's eyes shone with a new light. “That must be it!” he told himself. “I must inform Dr. Doyle, and the police.” He started to rise. The deacon seated next to him shot him an astonished look of warning. Mr. Dodgson came to his senses and sank back into his chair as the Reverend Barclay reached his conclusion:

“… And so, my friends, I urge all of you to attend the protestation meeting tomorrow at six o'clock in the evening, to make your voices heard, and to join in the universal condemnation of these dreadful evils! And let us say, Amen!”

“Amen!” Mr. Dodgson agreed.

“And now,” Mr. Barclay said, “let us all sing.”

Mr. Dodgson was jolted back to reality by a rustling of feet. He stood with the rest, his reedy voice adding to the chorus.

“‘Abide with me, fast comes the Eventide,'” he sang. Not particularly appropriate for a morning service, he thought. “‘Help of the helpless, Oh, Abide with me.'” Who was more helpless than Alicia Marbury, locked in some cellar or attic. Now, he thought, why did I think of an attic? I do wish I had told Dr. Doyle to reconnoiter for me.

Mr. Dodgson managed to get through the rest of the service in a fever of expectation. He had it, or at least, he knew what had happened. But who—or rather,
which
? That was the problem. He wondered where Dr. Doyle was, then wrenched his mind back to the matter at hand. God first, then Miss Marbury.

Dr. Doyle had taken his wife onto the Esplanade for a stroll. The rain was winding down, becoming a thin drizzle that gave a peculiar sheen to the struts of the Chain Pier, and shimmered on the pebbles of the beach.

Dr. Doyle stared at the waves and then glanced at his faithful bride. “I haven't been very kind to you, Touie,” he said apologetically. “This was supposed to be our honeymoon, and I've spent most of it with Mr. Dodgson.”

Touie patted his arm and smiled into his face. “Oh, Arthur, you must know that I will support you, whatever you do,” she said. “And that poor child.”

“Yes, of course,” Dr. Doyle said. “According to the police, she is most likely being held in a house on King Street. Mr. Dodgson thinks he can get in there.”

“Mr. Dodgson?” Touie suppressed a giggle. “I'm sorry, Arthur, but after last night's adventure, I am most surprised that Mr. Dodgson would go anywhere near such an … an establishment.”

“He may have some acquaintance—that is, the name of the, um, proprietress is familiar to him,” Dr. Doyle said.

“How odd!”

The Chain Pier was before them, glittering in the distilled light. Dr. Doyle and his wife turned their steps onto the pier, where the high tide was lapping at the struts. For a moment, they stood in silence.

“I really should take a look at the place,” Dr. Doyle said. “Just to stroll past, you know. King Street isn't far, across the King's Road and across from North Street, where the shops are. But, if you prefer, we can stay on the Marine Parade and watch the people coming down from St. Peter's. It is supposed to be quite a sight, all the riders and carriages.”

“I would like to see more of the town,” Touie said calmly. “But it might not be a good idea to show too much interest in that particular house. If, as you say, the police have already been there, the people who run that, um, place, may have been alerted. You would not like to put the child into danger, Arthur.”

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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