The Problem of the Missing Miss (8 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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“Mr. Kinsale!” Mr. Upshaw nodded at the door, where Lady Pat stood. “Moderate your language, sir!”

“Pat's used to it,” Kinsale said breezily.

“And don't try to play the Irishman with me, Ned,” Lord Richard said testily. “It may go over well enough in your constituency, but you and I both know that the Kinsales are latecomers, by Irish standards, brought in by King William to keep an eye on the rebellious tenantry.”

“But Mama was an O'Connell, and never let us forget it,” Lady Pat countered. “Ned, is Richard trying to corner your vote?”

“Of course he is, darlin', but whether he gets it or not depends on whether he's willin' to help me—when the time comes.” Ned grinned again.

“If you mean that Irish Self-Rule Bill, that comes up in November. The Criminal Amendment Bill is now, Ned!” Richard leaned forward. “I need your vote, and I am asking for it on Party grounds and as a Christian gentleman.”

Ned unhitched himself from the desk. The amiable grin was replaced by a look of grim determination. “Then, Ricky, you'll have a hard time getting it. Your Bill goes too far, my lad. Oh, I agree with raising the age of consent from twelve to sixteen for girls, but all the rest of it? That's no business for gentlemen or anyone else. Let the police deal with the wh—that is, the Soiled Doves. What goes on in a bedroom is no concern of anyone's but those inside it. I beg pardon, Pat, but you're a married woman and know what I mean.”

Lady Pat looked from her brother to her husband. “This is not the time or the place to debate this matter. Richard, Nanny Marsh is quite upset. Something seems to have happened to Mary Ann. She did not return last night as she was supposed to.”

“Probably took advantage of the opportunity to kick up her heels in Brighton,” was Kinsale's opinion. Lady Pat disagreed.

“Oh, no, Ned. Mary Ann is usually quite reliable. Nanny Marsh speaks well of her, and Alicia likes her.”

“Mary Ann?” Mr. Dodgson rose from his place. “The domestic sent with Miss Marbury to Brighton?”

Lord Richard stared at his old tutor, as if suddenly remembering that he was in the room. “Yes. Mr. Dodgson, why are you here?” he repeated.

“Lord Richard, Miss Marbury did not meet me at Brighton Station,” Mr. Dodgson quavered out. “She seems to have been abducted. A most ingenious plot, sir; I was sent this letter,” he fumbled in his pockets for the document, “that left the time of her arrival ambiguous. I must have missed her by minutes. Have you received any communications, sir? Any ransom demands?”

“Ransom!” Lord Richard leaped from his chair. “Farnham!” he called out.

The butler appeared, almost as if he had been waiting in the hall to be summoned.

“Is there anything in the letterbox?” Lord Richard demanded.

“Wait!” Upshaw patted his pockets. “I thought someone in that crowd outside brushed up against me. Good Heavens!” He held up a folded piece of paper. “Someone must have thrust this into my pocket!” He began to unfold the paper.

Lord Richard snatched it away, read it, then groaned. Dr. Doyle stepped forward and picked the offensive message up.

“‘Stop what you are doing or say adieu to your daughter. She will be returned to you when we read of your resignation in the
Pall Mall Gazette
,'” Dr. Doyle read aloud. “I think, sir, it must refer to the Criminal Amendment Bill. I cannot think of anything else in which you are involved that would elicit such a response.”

Lord Richard sat down heavily in his chair. “Then that was what Mrs. Jeffries meant. Somehow, she's got Alicia. We've got to get her back!”

“But how would they know …” Mr. Dodgson began.

“The newspapers, of course,” Mr. Upshaw said. “I can draft a response, and you can send it out this afternoon. You can announce that you are accepting the Chiltern Hundreds and are resigning your seat, for reasons of health. Without your support, Lord Richard, the Bill will undoubtedly fail in its third reading, and so will be heard of no more.” He placed himself in front of the typewriter and inserted a sheet of paper from the pile that lay next to the dreaded machine. “Such sensational news will surely make the Sunday editions.”

“No!” Lord Richard snapped out. “Never! I will never give in to such tactics. If that woman thinks she can bludgeon me into withdrawing my support for a cause I truly believe in …”

“Richard!” Lady Pat exclaimed. “We are talking about your only child! You must do anything they ask.”

“I shall call in the police,” Lord Richard said firmly. “I know the Home Secretary, and the Commissioner.”

“I have already been to the Brighton Police,” Mr. Dodgson said, in tones of deepest disgust. “They do not wish to pursue the matter.”

“The Brighton Police! Hah!” With the air of one who is about to do something totally daring, Lord Richard approached the typewriter himself, ousted Upshaw from his seat, and pecked away furiously for several minutes. He looked the result over, and handed the paper to Upshaw.

“Take this to Scotland Yard, Upshaw. I want their best man, do you understand? Their very best man. And don't come back without him!”

Upshaw stood upright and nearly saluted. Then he asked, “May I just pop around to my lodgings, sir? I fear I have disarranged my clothing in my efforts on your behalf, and I would like to change my shirt. The Albany is not all that far.”

“Of course, Upshaw. But be quick about it.”

“I shall be back, Lord Richard. You know you can count on me.”

“I always do,” Lord Richard said.

Upshaw grabbed the note and departed, just as Farnham appeared with a tray laden with coffeepot, cups, creamer and sugar bowl, and a plate of cakes and biscuits. Lady Pat smiled brightly at the rest of the group.

“Coffee?” she suggested.

CHAPTER 8

Mr. Upshaw's departure seemed to be the signal for a general relaxation in Lord Richard's study, as if something not quite pleasant had been removed from the atmosphere. Lady Pat availed herself of the secretary's place, while the butler ceremoniously deposited the tray on Lord Richard's desk with the air of one who was doing his duty, however distasteful it might be. Clearly, Farnham disapproved of Lord Richard's habit of taking refreshment anywhere he chose. He left with a sigh, as if to indicate that the proper place for partaking of food was the dining room, the breakfast room, or, in a pinch, the private parlor at teatime.

Dr. Doyle took several biscuits while Lady Pat poured coffee and handed cups to her brother and husband. Mr. Dodgson refused refreshment until pressed.

“I do not take food during the morning,” he said finally. “It impedes the mental processes, and what is needed here, Lord Richard, is logical thought. This is clearly not a random act of abduction. Quite a bit of planning must have gone into it. For instance, the man who impersonated me would have to be found, and either bribed or otherwise suborned; then, the letter would have to be typed.” He fumbled in his pockets to find the fatal letter. “There, you see?” Mr. Dodgson tapped the offending numerals with a gray-gloved finger. “The overstrike makes the time of Miss Marbury's arrival ambiguous, leading me to miss the train, and giving the miscreants time to take her away.”

Lord Richard turned his gaze on the doctor for the first time. Mr. Dodgson performed the necessary introductions: “This is Dr. Doyle, of Portsmouth, I believe. He has been good enough to assist me in this matter. Dicky Doyle's nephew, you know,” he added, as if this explained everything.

It did not explain much to Lord Richard. “Do you think my daughter will need the services of a physician?” he asked, in real alarm.

“I sincerely hope not!” Mr. Dodgson replied, shocked.

Dr. Doyle had produced a small magnifying glass from his jacket pocket and had been examining first the original letter, and then the papers on Lord Richard's desk. Now he spoke up. “Lord Richard,” he asked, in a voice of suppressed excitement, “have these notes been typed on this machine?”

“They have,” Lord Richard said.

“And there is no other machine in this house?”

“No. In fact, this one is the very first of its model to be installed in a private home,” Lord Richard said proudly. “I believe in progress. In fact, I am seriously considering having the telephone put in, so that I may be in contact with my constituents day and night. This matter proves it to me. Why, you could have used the telephone in Brighton and spoken to me from there, and saved yourself the time and expense of the journey to London.”

“I don't think I would like having the telephone,” Lady Pat murmured. “Jangling away at all hours, no privacy.”

“Oh, very well, but I think it might be a good idea. Think it over. Meanwhile”—Lord Richard began to sort his documents out—“there is this matter of Alicia. It is obvious why she was taken. That ransom note proves it. They want me to stop my efforts on behalf of the Special Bill. Well, I won't do it.”

Lady Pat stared at her husband. “Richard!”

Lord Richard refused to look at his wife. “I cannot, Pat. Too many people are depending on me to finish what they have started. Mr. Gladstone would never forgive me if I did not see this through.”

“And I may never forgive you if anything happens to Alicia!” Lady Pat's voice throbbed with pain. “How can you? She must be kept safe, isn't that what you told me? Well, your little scheme has gone awry, and where is she? Where is my baby?” She looked about her dress for a handkerchief. Dr. Doyle, ever alert, produced one. She wiped her eyes and smiled her thanks.

Ned Kinsale spoke up: “Remember, Ricky, I told you the idea was a bad one. Sending the chit out of London made no sense at all.”

“Then you knew she was not here?” Mr. Dodgson asked. “I wondered who was aware of the plan to send her to me. How was the scheme hatched, may I ask?”

Lord Richard glanced at his wife and brother-in-law. “Well, it must have been as soon as those articles began appearing in the
Pall Mall Gazette.
I saw which way the wind was blowing.”

Mr. Dodgson nodded. “Ah, yes, Lord Richard, you always did.”

“Um, yes. Well, it occurred to me that Alicia might be in some danger. Mrs. Jeffries and her ilk are quite ruthless and will stop at nothing to protect their livelihoods, however repugnant they may be.”

“As we have seen,” Dr. Doyle agreed.

“Yes.” Lord Richard glanced at the doctor, as if in reproof for interrupting a Member of Parliament in full oration. “Therefore,” he resumed his narrative, “after the Oxford-Cambridge Regatta, when you were kind enough to recall our brief years together,” he nodded toward Mr. Dodgson, “I was told that you were going to spend your holidays at Eastbourne, with a young female friend. I cannot remember who put it into my mind—Pat?”

He turned to his wife, who smiled winsomely and shrugged.

“Ned?”

Kinsale frowned. “Not I, Ricky. I wasn't even at the Oxford-Cambridge races. I'm a Trinity man. No reason for me to be in Oxford. When was this? Beginning of July? I was with my father, back in Ireland. The old gentleman's got it into his head that I've been running with a crowd that will get me hanged … or worse.”

Lady Pat sighed. “Ned, dear, why do you do it?”

“Gambling? It's in the blood!” Kinsale laughed.

“That's not what I mean, and you know it,” Pat said sternly. “Ned, those people …”

“Are my constituents, Pat. Our mother would have approved, I'm sure.”

“Not of those.”

Mr. Dodgson brought the fraternal nagging to a halt. “If Mr. Kin-sale did not suggest that Miss Alicia be sent to me, who did?”

Lord Richard looked puzzled. “You know, I'm not really sure. We were all here when the first of the articles came out, Ned and Pat, and Upshaw, of course, and somehow we got to wondering about Alicia's safety, since she could not go to my brother in Derbyshire. Measles,” he explained. “The boys came back from school with them.”

Mr. Dodgson's frown deepened. “Then this plan, I take it, was hastily conceived?”

“It was the best I could do, considering the circumstances,” Lord Richard said defensively. For a moment, they were tutor and student again.

“Which makes it more and more obvious that the abductors had a spy in this household,” Dr. Doyle said. “Lord Richard, may I examine the ransom note?”

Lord Richard handed it across the desk. Dr. Doyle frowned as he looked it over, sniffed at it, and handed it to Mr. Dodgson. “What do you make of it, sir?” he asked the scholar.

“Unusual. The paper is of good quality. The letters are printed, but even so, they are well-formed. Not an illiterate hand, I should think. There is a scent”—Mr. Dodgson sniffed at the letter—“a most penetrating and peculiar scent. I have smelled this scent on certain young persons in Brighton. And most unusually, all the words are correctly spelled, even ‘daughter' and ‘adieu.' A literate abductor, then. Most remarkable.”

“I suppose they will consult the
Pall Mall Gazette
tomorrow to see if I have, indeed, withdrawn my support for the Bill,” Lord Richard said moodily.

“That seems to be their
modus operandi
,” Mr. Dodgson mused. “Until then, they will undoubtedly keep Miss Marbury under guard but near at hand. We may therefore assume that she has not been removed from Brighton.”

“But what if the information is not in the newspapers?” Lady Pat quavered.

“Then the alternative is for them to retain possession of your daughter until the Bill either does or does not pass in the House.” Mr. Dodgson frowned. “That could take some time.”

While Mr. Dodgson contemplated the slow processes of British legislation, Dr. Doyle was examining the original letter to Mr. Dodgson.

“This note reinforces my belief that the perpetrators of the abduction of your daughter are members of this household,” Doyle pronounced. “You see, every typewriting machine is unique. It may seem that the typeface of each model is identical to every other, but under a lens, each machine leaves an impression that is quite particular, depending on the user's touch, wear and tear on the machine, and so on. I intend to write an article about it and present it to the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society.”

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
13.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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