The Problem of the Missing Miss (4 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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In the kitchen, below the dining room, Madam Madge Gurney and an old actor, Will Keeble, sat over their tea (or in Keeble's case, gin).

“The Guv'nor'll be pleased,” Keeble said. “It went like clockwork.”

“The Guv'nor's not the only one calling the tune,” Madam warned.

Kitty slid into the kitchen. “Miss Harmon wants to see yer,” she said breathlessly to Keeble. She turned to Madam. “Do I give the new 'un her tea now?”

Madam laughed. “Let 'er wait for it. Do 'er good ter go 'ungry fer a change. I'll tell yer when ter feed 'er. And yer not ter let the others know she's there. She's bein' kep' as a surprise, fer a very special customer.”

Keeble finished the last of the gin and made his way to the kitchen door, up the stairs, and down the hall to Miss Harmon's private sanctuary. As he entered her tiny office, little more than a niche at the end of the long front hall on the ground floor, Miss Harmon frowned.

“You've been drinking again, Keeble,” she reproved him. “This won't do. You have one more task, and then your work here is finished. Here is ten pounds. I suggest you try to get employment elsewhere, perhaps Margate or Torquay. I do not think it wise for you to be seen here in Brighton again.”

Keeble took the ten sovereigns and bowed ironically. “As you say, ma'am. What more can I do to further the illustrious career of …”

“You take this note, meet the Guv'nor on the Chain Pier at eight o'clock tonight, and give it to him. Then you remove yourself from Brighton as quickly and quietly as possible. Am I understood?”

Miss Harmon handed Keeble a folded piece of paper. Keeble bowed again. “I take my leave of you, my dear young woman, and this establishment. I trust your various enterprises succeed. Good evening.”

Miss Harmon permitted herself to breathe once more as Keeble let himself out the front door. So far, so good; the child was in her hands, and the Guv'nor would see to the rest. She stared at an engraving clipped from the London Evening
Standard
that she had placed over her writing desk.

“Well, Lord Richard,” she said bitterly. “Let us see just how much your daughter is really worth to you!”

CHAPTER 4

Brighton by day was gleaming with fresh paint over old buildings, full of obviously respectable holidaymakers of what might be called the “lower orders.” Brighton by evening became gaslit, with young men of dubious antecedents emerging from their lairs like ferrets, bowler hats perched at jaunty angles over their eyebrows, or cloth caps tilted pugnaciously forward. Their female equivalents were highly painted young (and not-so-young) creatures in gaudy finery, who promenaded on the Esplanade, eyes promising much. The lamplighters were already on their rounds, although the summer dusk was just beginning to paint the western sky with vivid pinks.

Dr. Doyle led his older companion back along North Street, past rows of cheap eating houses and taverns, where the enticing smells of greasy fish and frying potatoes mingled with the tang of salt air blowing off the Channel. They turned east, where North Street ended at the Old Steine, with its elegant buildings erected by the Prince Regent's pet architects to house the hangers-on of the Court. Up the hill they went, past the Pavilion and its small surrounding park, where the gaslights flickered in the twilight; then across the Grand Parade, where carriages were already depositing the better-heeled visitors to Brighton at the Albemarle Hotel. Edward Street was tucked behind the law courts, and John Street was little more than a passage, where the police station lurked.

Like much of Brighton, the police station had been built only recently, replacing the quasi-medieval dungeon that had served Brighton's local population as headquarters for the constabulary for nearly fifty years. With its current prosperity, the borough of Brighton could provide a properly monumental edifice of sturdy brick, faced with stone, from which the Brighton Police could operate. Within its walls were holding cells for malefactors temporarily awaiting judgment; private offices for the Chief Inspector and the Superintendent; a less private room where the lesser inspectors could keep their records; a set of interviewing rooms for the questioning of suspects; a proper dressing room for off-duty constables; and a small, but adequate morgue. One felt that Brighton's inhabitants, both transient and permanent, could feel safe with such a police station, and such a police department to guard them against petty thievery and vice.

Mr. Dodgson entered this edifice with proper diffidence, and looked about for the sergeant on duty. He found him behind the counter in the lobby, his supper spread out before him on several pieces of waxed paper. Sergeant Barrow was tall and rotund, with a spectacular mustache, a policeman who looked to be more than a match for any belligerent drunkard or overconfident pickpocket, though at the moment he was devoting himself to the consumption of fish and chips.

“Ahem!” Mr. Dodgson finally got the sergeant's attention. “If you are quite finished with your supper, Sergeant, we wish to report a crime.”

Barrow put down his mug and observed the two men before him with the look of one who has heard more lies than truth in a misspent life. With an audible sigh, he pulled a sheet of paper out of a drawer behind the counter, took up the stub of a pencil, and looked expectantly at Mr. Dodgson. “What sort of crime are you reporting?” Barrow asked.

“A young girl is missing,” Mr. Dodgson said sharply. “She was supposed to meet me at the Brighton railway station. Someone representing me seems to have removed her …”

Barrow put down his pencil. “Any witnesses, sir?”

“One of the porters claims to have seen me with her, but since I did not meet the girl, it could not have been I. One cannot occupy two places at the same time,” Mr. Dodgson told him.

“Ah.” Barrow frowned. “We've got a young girl here, just brought in. From the railway station. Sad, that. Run over by the train.”

Dr. Doyle turned to Mr. Dodgson. “That disturbance at the station. Could it be—an accident?”

Mr. Dodgson gasped, “But not Miss Marbury, for she was observed by the porter after the guard summoned the stationmaster.”

Dr. Doyle frowned. “But there was to be someone with her. Perhaps this is she?” He looked at Dodgson's stricken expression. “We must look at her, Mr. Dodgson.”

“You can identify this gal?” Barrow asked hopefully. “No one else seems to know her. Down for the day, seemingly. And there ain't much left to go by.”

Mr. Dodgson closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them resolutely. “Dr. Doyle, I rely on you. I do not think I can look at a dead child. She has auburn hair.…”

“But it is your duty, sir,” Dr. Doyle reminded him.

Mr. Dodgson nodded. “If I must, then I must. Lead on, Sergeant.”

“Surely you know what she looks like,” Barrow interjected.

“I have never met the young lady,” Mr. Dodgson said.

Barrow turned his cynical stare on the elderly gentleman before him.

Doyle frowned. “Who's on duty, Sergeant? I'm Dr. Doyle, from over Portsmouth way. If Baxter's about, he can vouch for me. I don't want to step on any toes, mind.”

Barrow shrugged. “Dr. Baxter's down with her now. If you can tell us who she is, more power to ye.” He opened the gate of the counter, and let the two men through to the stairs that led down to the basement room.

There a scrawny man not much older than Dr. Doyle was leaning over a collection of remains. In the flickering gaslight, all that could be made out at first glance was a dark blue dress and white apron. Mr. Dodgson gasped again, in horror. The remains were not connected to each other. The girl had been torn apart by the force of several tons of steel crushing her brief life out of her.

Mr. Dodgson took one look and immediately announced, “That is not Miss Marbury. That is not a girl. That is a young woman!”

“Aye, that it is.” Dr. Baxter looked up from his work, revealing a face full of freckles topped with sandy hair, surmounting a vividly striped shirt, a tattersall waistcoat, and a coarse apron spattered with dried blood.

“Hello, Arthur,” he carolled, in accents reminiscent of Liverpool. “Care to join me? This one's a corker, I tell you! Poor thing must have caught her cloak on the fly-rod of the London train as it was pulling into the station. Got pulled into the big wheel; little wheels did the rest. Engineer's in a taking, but the police are assured it was all a dreadful accident.”

“Dreadful indeed,” quavered Mr. Dodgson, retreating to a corner.

Doyle, on the other hand, stripped off his tweed jacket and rolled up his sleeves with professional aplomb. He peered at the various bits and pieces before him, reminding himself that he was, after all, a medical man, and such sights should not make him queasy. “I can't put a name to her, of course, but I can tell you something about her, Sandy. Will that help your inquiries?”

Behind them, Sergeant Barrow grunted assent. Baxter shook his head in pity. “The usual thing, I suppose,” he said. “Can't tell by what's left, but I've seen her like before. Got herself in the family way, took the easy way out. Happens all the time.”

Barrow's voice rang out in heavy disapproval. “Not on my patch and not in my watch.”

As he spoke, Dr. Doyle looked at the limp arms and examined the dead girl's hands carefully, then turned his attention to what was left of her feet. He looked for the head.

“Thought you might want this,” Baxter said. “Skull was found halfway down the station. Dreadful sight for the punters to see. Puts a damper on the holiday!”

Doyle swallowed hard, then peered into her mouth, nodded, and stood straight.

“Not a suicide, Sandy. If a girl were to commit suicide, she would hardly tip herself backwards. The marks of the wheels of the train are clearly on her chest and face, indicating she fell face-up. No, I suspect foul play here, Sergeant. And I am sure your Coroner will concur, eh, Sandy?”

Baxter made noncommittal sounds. Sergeant Barrow snapped out, “And what else can you be sure of, Dr. Doyle?”

“Without a full examination, and without the rest of the, um, torso, I couldn't say whether or not the poor thing was, as you put it, in the family way, but I would go bail she wasn't. I'd put her age at seventeen or eighteen, certainly not over twenty. A healthy girl, too; sturdy teeth and bones, not your town-bred sort; country girl, in good service, possibly as a nurserymaid, in a prosperous household; employers of a liberal, reforming bent, I should say. Probably came down with a family. You might begin your investigations by checking at the better hotels and seeing if anyone's missing a servant.”

Dr. Doyle rolled down his sleeves regretfully and replaced his jacket. “Carry on, Sandy,” he told his old school chum. “Remember what Dr. Bell said.”

Sandy Baxter gave him a grin. “Just like you, Doyle, leaving me alone here. What're you doing here, anyway? I thought I saw you off to be married?”

Doyle rubbed a hand through his hair in embarrassment. “I was. I am. I just happened upon this gentleman here,” he indicated Mr. Dodgson (now edging his way towards the door, the stairs, and possible escape from the scene of horror), “and thought I could help him find a missing child. I never thought it would come to this!”

“This is not the child we seek,” Mr. Dodgson said. “It is a very great pity, but it is not Miss Marbury. May we get on with our business, Dr. Doyle?”

Sergeant Barrow led them back up the stairs to the common room.

“Now, about your missing young lady,” he said, once Dr. Doyle and Mr. Dodgson were on the “civilian” side of the counter once again.

“Her name is Alicia Marbury. She is ten years old, has auburn hair …” Mr. Dodgson looked helplessly at Sergeant Barrow.

“What was she wearing when last seen?” The sergeant took pencil in hand.

“I … I d-do not know.” Mr. Dodgson's stammer began to manifest itself.

“Was she carrying anything? Reticule? Some kind of toy?”

“I … I d-do not know.”

“Just what sort of relation is she to you, sir?” Sergeant Barrow's look was now glacial.

“I am—was—an acquaintance of her father …”

“And what was she doing when last seen?”

“Presumably, going up the street with someone who resembled me!” Mr. Dodgson's voice grew shriller.

“And why was you supposed to be meeting her?” Barrow glared at the outraged scholar.

“Because her father requested it!”

“This being Lord Richard Marbury, what makes speeches in the Commons?” Barrow said, with heavy sarcasm.

“The same. I am delighted to learn that the constabulary keep up with current events.” Mr. Dodgson's sarcasm matched Barrow's.

“And what proof have you got that she was ever here?” Barrow put down his pencil.

“Do you doubt my word, sir?” Mr. Dodgson's voice grew even louder and shriller as his anger rose.

“There's all sorts come to Brighton,” Barrow said meaningfully. “Some folks even think it's a lark to give false reports to the police.”

Mr. Dodgson's face took on a crimson hue. “Are you linking me with the sort of person who would—Are you calling me a liar?”

Dr. Doyle took Mr. Dodgson's arm gently. “Mr. Dodgson, may I speak for you?”

Mr. Dodgson nodded wrathfully.

“Sergeant, Mr. Dodgson is a noted scholar, who occasionally enjoys the company of young children …”

“Ho!” Barrow said, his eyebrows beetling over his nose in a ferocious scowl. “I know
his
sort! Missing girl, indeed! You want that kind of thing, you go to Church Street for it! Be off!”

“But—” Mr. Dodgson looked helplessly about him for support. He found none in the eyes of the constables who had been attracted to the noise of the dispute.

“Perhaps we should leave the sergeant to his interrupted dinner,” Dr. Doyle said.

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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