The Problem of the Missing Miss (6 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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“I don't have that kind of money!” The other man tried to get away from the insistent drunkard.

Keeble grabbed at him. “Don't you turn away from me!” One trembling hand closed around the man's waistcoat, wrenching the top button from its moorings.

“Get your filthy hands off me!” The Guv'nor seized Keeble's fist. The actor clutched tighter at the natty waistcoat that matched the suit worn by his victim.

“You will pay me, or I will go to …”

“You may go to the Devil!”

The Guv'nor grabbed Keeble's wrist with a surprisingly strong grip, and threw him off. The other hand reached for Keeble's throat. Keeble feebly tried to pull the man's hands away, but the Guv'nor's chokehold grew tighter. Only the actor's stiff, old-fashioned collar saved his neck from being broken. In a reflex action, he brought up a knee to try to break away from the throttling. The Guv'nor grunted in pain and rage; the choking stopped.

Keeble tried to dodge away, but the Guv'nor was upon him again. The two men struggled in the shadows cast by the electric lights. Keeble reeled forwards, bending the Guv'nor over the rails. Together they staggered back and forth, while the crowd shouted encouragement to the Jolly Jokers on the other side of the pier.

With one last effort, driven by fear and rage, the Guv'nor turned Keeble around, lifted him by the tails of his frock coat, and heaved him over the rails. There was a cry, a splash, and a heavy thud. The waves lapped at the pier, daring those cast-iron struts to give way under the relentless pressure. For this night, at least, they did not.

The man on the pier joined the rest of the merrymakers. He was breathing hard. This was the second accident he had seen in the space of twenty-four hours, and he had to keep telling himself it was not his fault. Keeble was still alive when he went over the side. He must have been, for he had cried out. The girl had cried out.…

The Guv'nor took a deep breath. “It's not my fault,” he repeated to himself. “It had to be done.” He straightened his hair, pulled his waistcoat down, and found his hat, which had been knocked off in the fight. He must get on with the business at hand, he told himself sternly, as he caressed his bowler hat, the symbol of his respectability. The Plan must be followed. Tonight he would go back to his lodgings; tomorrow he would go to London and see Marbury, and everything would be all right. To this end, he joined the crowd again, one more punter in Brighton.

Somewhere below him, Keeble floated in on the tide.

CHAPTER 6

Dr. Doyle appeared at the door of the Barclay house before breakfast, as promised. Mr. Dodgson and his hosts were still ingesting tea, kippers, and muffins when the young doctor was shown into the breakfast room by a flustered butler.

“You did say you wanted to take the earliest train to London,” Dr. Doyle explained. “I took the liberty of consulting my Bradshaw. There is a train at eight-forty-six. We can just catch it, and be in London in an hour. One of the miracles of modern transportation!”

“Will you sit down and have some tea?” Mrs. Barclay asked, ever mindful of her duty as a hostess.

“No, thank you, I have had my breakfast. Mr. Dodgson, are you ready for this, sir? I can go myself …”

Mr. Dodgson carefully wiped butter off his chin and set his napkin down. “Dr. Doyle, I am quite capable of finding my way to London. I have done it for more years than you are alive. However, since you have invited yourself on this expedition, I suppose we had best be off. Henry, I thank you for your hospitality. I will return as soon as I can, with Miss Marbury!” He glared at Dr. Doyle, who appeared totally oblivious to sarcasm. The butler handed Mr. Dodgson his hat at the door, while the scholar felt about him, mumbling to himself.

“Fare for the train, for the cab to Grosvenor Square, back to Victoria, back to Brighton.”

“Are you quite ready, Mr. Dodgson?” Dr. Doyle asked sharply.

“I keep my various monies in different pockets. It foils thieves.” Once more farewells were exchanged, and once more Mr. Dodgson headed for the door.

“And one more thing …” he began. Dr. Doyle's patience had worn thin.

“I can see why you missed the child,” he said sharply. “Mr. Dodgson, with respect, all this fussing about does no good. We have a train to catch!” Mr. Dodgson found himself being bustled out the door, down the steps, through the garden and into the street before he could tell the Barclays that he would bring the child directly to them as soon as she was found.

“That was quite unnecessary!” Mr. Dodgson huffed, as he and Dr. Doyle strode across the town and into Brighton Station. At that hour of the morning, most of the platforms were clear of holiday crowds; the early trains had not yet arrived, and the merrymakers would try to extend their time in Brighton as long as possible.

Dr. Doyle led Mr. Dodgson to the first-class carriages, where they were properly ticketed in by the conductor, and carefully bought return tickets. They found seats in one of the well-upholstered carriages, with Mr. Dodgson facing the front of the carriage and Dr. Doyle next to him. The whistle shrieked its warning; the train began to inch forward.

A man came scrambling along the platform, coattails flying, bag in hand, waving wildly to stop the train. Neither the engineer nor the conductor had any intention of heeding one passenger who had not the common sense to consult his watch as to the time.

“Stop!” The man redoubled his efforts as the train began to ease along the platform.

Dr. Doyle opened the carriage door. One tweed-clad arm reached out and practically scooped the latecomer into the carriage, where he collapsed into the seat opposite the other two men.

“Thank you so much,” gasped the late arrival, as the train picked up speed and steamed out of the station. “I would have been in quite a pickle if I'd missed this train.” He spoke carefully, as if watching his “aitches.” Once he had settled back, he proved to be a lanky individual with thinning, mousy hair, in a suit of brown “dittoes,” more suited to London than Brighton, topped by a bowler hat.

“Business?” Dr. Doyle inquired, with a quirk of his eyebrows.

“In a manner of speaking. My name's Upshaw, Geoffrey Upshaw. I'm Lord Richard Marbury's confidential secretary, you see, and we are embarked upon a matter of the utmost importance to the nation!” The man spoke as if the nation depended on him, personally, for its salvation.

Dr. Doyle glanced at Mr. Dodgson, who frowned at the newcomer as if trying to place him in his memory.

“You were not with Lord Richard when I met him in July,” Mr. Dodgson said querulously.

“I have been in Lord Richard's employ these last two years. He relies on me for information. ‘Upshaw,' he says, ‘find out.' And I do, sir!” Upshaw tapped his long nose with a bony finger. “I find out! And then—I assist Lord Richard in whatever must be done.” He folded his arms and looked at the other two passengers triumphantly.

Dr. Doyle leaned forward. “And what have you found out about this dreadful business in the
Pall Mall Gazette
?” he asked.

Upshaw removed his hat, brushed it carefully before setting it on the seat beside him, and began to run his fingers through his stringy hair by way of putting himself to rights. “A nasty business, gentlemen. Very nasty. Lord Richard is most distressed that such things exist. He has sent me to inform the members that action must be taken. The people demand it!”

“But Parliament is not in recess,” Mr. Dodgson noted.

“Not officially,” Mr. Upshaw stated. “However, it is summer, and many members are visiting their constituents, or on holiday.” He sighed. “It is not easy, gentlemen, getting a man to give up his holiday. I have been from Penzance to Ullapool to Torquay and back to London, and all for the Cause! I have not seen my own rooms for nearly a week.”

“Lord Richard must value your services greatly,” Mr. Dodgson said. “You have even lost your waistcoat button in your attempts.”

Mr. Upshaw smiled weakly and tried to cover the gap in his attire. “I do what I can. Lord Richard is a rising man, sir.” He looked at his traveling companions again. “Do I know you, sir? You seem somewhat familiar?”

“I am Mr. Dodgson. Of Oxford. Lord Richard and I spoke when he visited Oxford in July, for the Regatta.”

Mr. Upshaw looked stricken. “Mr. Dodgson! Lord Richard mentioned that he and you had conversed, but I thought … that is … Lord Richard told me that you would be in Eastbourne …” His voice trailed off in confusion.

“Then you are aware that Miss Marbury was supposed to come to me?” Mr. Dodgson asked sharply.

“Lord Richard had mentioned that he was sending Miss Alicia to his old tutor, yes,” Upshaw said weakly. “But I had no idea …” He turned to Dr. Doyle in confusion. “You, sir, are you traveling to London, too?”

“I am assisting Mr. Dodgson with his inquiries into Miss Marbury's disappearance,” Dr. Doyle said.

“But if you are here … where is Miss Alicia?” Upshaw looked confused.

“A very good question, which I intend to have answered,” Mr. Dodgson said. “I must speak to Lord Richard myself, before any more is said on this matter.”

“Lord Richard has no secrets from me!” Upshaw protested.

“Oh, I fancy he must have some. For instance, he did not introduce you to me when we met in July.”

“I meant to ask, Mr. Dodgson, how you came to know Lord Richard Marbury,” Dr. Doyle ventured.

“My old student,” Mr. Dodgson said. “One of the few who actually listened to my lectures. He was meant for orders, you know, until that unhappy business with the stationer's daughter.” Mr. Dodgson closed his eyes, apparently in contemplation of a happier past.

Dr. Doyle's curiosity got the better of his sense of discretion. “Stationer's daughter?” he hinted.

“Oh dear me, yes. I had quite forgotten about that until just now. Unfortunate, but young men will fall in love with the most inappropriate young females. Although, now that I recall, she was a rather pretty child. Red hair, yes, and green eyes. Quite pretty, but there is always something slightly coarse about tradesmen's children. What was his name? Yes, Harmon, that was it. A very respectable man, and I was rather upset when he had to leave Oxford. The man who came in never really suited. Harmon kept the best quality drawing paper, and the pen nibs I liked, and he was quite knowledgeable about book bindings. A pity about the girl, but there it was, and the consequences were all too clear.”

Upshaw's eyes were wide as he drank all this in. Dr. Doyle coughed, as if to remind Mr. Dodgson of his audience.

Mr. Dodgson opened his eyes, looked about, and said, “After that, Lord Richard was sent down for a term, and finished without taking orders. A most serious young man; he even suggested that he, as he put it, ‘do right' by the girl. Naturally, that would never have done. The son of the Marquis of Waltham and a stationer's daughter? Oh dear, no.”

“And the girl?” Dr. Doyle could not resist asking.

Mr. Dodgson said, “I really don't know. Harmon removed from Oxford, and no more was said. I assume the, um, consequences, were taken care of by the girl's family. Lord Richard was sent on a tour of Europe, and returned with the intention of standing for Parliament as soon as he could. I believe he spent some time with Mr. Gladstone's more radical reformers. A most serious young man. Even stodgy; I recall the other undergraduates used to call him the Young Fogey. Very careful, always thinking of the future. The sort who'd take his umbrella if there was a cloud in the sky.”

“Quite so,” Upshaw said.

Mr. Dodgson suddenly realized that he had been gossiping about a man in front of his subordinate. “Of course, all this is in the category of Ancient History,” he said.

“Of course,” Upshaw agreed.

“And you must not breathe any of this to Lady Marbury,” Dodgson added. “Lord Richard was kind enough to invite me to his wedding, although I was not able to attend. Let me see … oh, yes, of course. He married General Kinsale's daughter. I believe they called him ‘The Terror of the Crimea.' Quite dreadful, the things written in the Press; even a Board of Inquiry looking into his conduct regarding prisoners of war, and some orders that the troops might have misconstrued. Patricia? Yes, that was her name. She was with Lord Richard at the boat races this summer. How odd that she should have red hair, too.”

“That would account for the child's having auburn hair,” Dr. Doyle put in.

“Yes, indeed.” Mr. Dodgson glanced at Mr. Upshaw, who was trying to organize the sheaf of papers he had set aside to take care of his personal appearance.

Dr. Doyle glanced at Upshaw and whispered to Mr. Dodgson, “Could I have a look at that letter Lord Richard sent you?”

“Eh?” Mr. Dodgson turned and glared at him. “Don't hiss in my ear like that, young man. I may have trouble hearing every word that is said to me, but I can understand well enough if people speak clearly. I do not think this is a good time for such things. Besides, we are nearly in London. We can discuss the matter in privacy, later.”

Dr. Doyle shrugged and turned his attention to the scenery, which was becoming more and more urban as the train approached its London terminus.

Victoria Station was considerably busier than Brighton. Even on a Saturday, the trains pulled in and out with remarkable frequency. Mr. Dodgson and Dr. Doyle emerged from the station and looked about for a hansom, one of those remarkable cabs that had become a major factor in London's transportation system. However, on this particular Saturday morning the cabstand was deserted.

“That is unusual,” Mr. Upshaw remarked. “There should be a cab somewhere.”

A decrepit vehicle drawn by the sorriest excuse for a cab horse plodded its way down the ramp to the cab stand. Mr. Dodgson looked at Mr. Upshaw and Dr. Doyle.

“I assume that we are all bound for the same establishment? Lord Richard Marbury's house in Grosvenor Square?” There didn't seem to be any doubt about it. “Then I suggest that we share this cab, since it is unlikely that there will be another very soon, and all of us have urgent business with Lord Richard.”

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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