The Problem of the Missing Miss (9 page)

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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“Where is all this leading?” Kinsale asked.

“To the conclusion that the letter sent to Mr. Dodgson was typed on this very machine,” Dr. Doyle said triumphantly. “See? The ‘e' is slightly worn, which is natural, since ‘e' is the most used letter in the English language. Lord Richard, who uses this machine?”

Lord Richard cleared his throat. “I do,” he admitted. “None of the maids will touch it, even to dust it. Upshaw, of course; I had him instructed in its use when we purchased it. I understand that young women are being taught to use the typewriter, since their hands are smaller and their fingers more nimble. It seems to me to be an excellent idea; certainly an alternative to the life of shame on the streets. I shall have to look into it, Pat.”

“Mr. Kinsale, have you attempted to use this machine?” Dr. Doyle asked.

Ned shrugged. “My own handwriting's a scrawl, I admit it. Ricky insisted I try out his new toy to write out my maiden speech to the Commons. Bad enough to have ‘Roaring Ned Kinsale' in Parliament, he said; don't shame us all by not being able to read your own speech. So I tried my hand.”

“Then you can use the machine?” Dr. Doyle persisted.

“Oh, I can use it, but if you think I'd kidnap my own niece, you're far out! I like little Alicia, in spite of her temper. She's a clever little puss, and she's going to be almost as pretty as her mama one of these days.” He winked at his sister, who shook her head as if to reproach him for his impudence.

“Then who else knew of Miss Marbury's whereabouts?” Mr. Dodgson asked again. “The servants?”

Lady Pat looked troubled. “Her governess, Miss Quiggley, usually takes Alicia to Waltham with her for her holiday. Miss Quiggley is our vicar's wife's sister, a most respectable and well-educated woman. This year, we told her that she could have her holiday, and Mary Ann Parry would accompany Miss Alicia to Eastbourne. Oh, dear, where is Mary Ann? She was supposed to return last night. Nanny Marsh, Alicia's old nurse,” she explained to Mr. Dodgson, “tends to grumble a bit about the nurserymaids, but we thought it better to send a young person with Alicia to Eastbourne. Alicia can sometimes be a trifle fractious with nurserymaids, and she got on well with Mary Ann.”

Dr. Doyle glanced at Mr. Dodgson. Then he said, “I fear I have sad news, Lady Richard. Can you describe this Mary Ann for me?”

Lady Pat looked puzzled. “I don't understand … oh, no! Has something happened to Mary Ann?”

“We saw the body of a young woman at the headquarters of the Brighton Constabulary. She had apparently fallen or been pushed under a train,” Dr. Doyle said bluntly. “I particularly noticed that she was wearing new shoes.”

Lady Pat closed her eyes in pain. “The poor, poor child,” she whispered. “She was so proud of those new shoes. The ones she had were quite worn out, and we bought her a new pair.”

Dr. Doyle shot a triumphant glance at Mr. Dodgson. Lord Richard's face was like marble.

Ned Kinsale looked thoughtful. “Why get rid of the nursery-maid?” he asked.

“Possibly because she recognized someone at Brighton Station, someone who was not supposed to be there,” Mr. Dodgson stated. “Possibly because she was simply in the way, and was therefore removed. These people are quite ruthless, as you have noted, Lord Richard, and the Brighton Police have done nothing. Dr. Doyle and I traveled up to London to discover what we could, and to inform you, sir, of the misfortune that has befallen your daughter. Now I am going to return to Brighton to find where she is being held, and to urge the police to do their duty!”

“How do you know she's still in Brighton?” Ned asked. “She could be anywhere by now.”

Mr. Dodgson picked up the ransom note and held it with two fingers distastefully. “That paper is sold in a particular stationer's shop in Brighton,” Mr. Dodgson said. “I know it well. I use that shop myself. It is logical, therefore, that the child has been taken by persons residing in Brighton, and is still there.” He turned to his eager companion. “Dr. Doyle, you have been most kind and helpful, but you really should get back to your young wife.”

Dr. Doyle was at Mr. Dodgson's elbow, helping him to stand. “I can't leave the chase now, sir. Besides, these people have already proven themselves to be desperate. I would never forgive myself if they made you a target. No, Mr. Dodgson, I am with you to the end.”

“I thought you might be,” Mr. Dodgson murmured.

The older man adjusted his gloves. A tap at the door broke the silence.

“Inspector MacRae, from Scotland Yard,” Farnham announced.

Lord Richard nodded. “Good. Now we shall have some action! Show the Inspector in, Farnham, and bring some more coffee. We may need it.”

CHAPTER 9

Farnham marched into the study with a stately tread, his lofty frown indicating his opinion of the person behind him.

“I did not know whether to place the policeman in the hall or show him into your particular study,” Farnham said, as he collected the remains of the coffee and cakes. He was far too well trained to reveal his intentions of handing in his notice at the first opportunity. Policemen did not come to the houses of the best people, and Farnham had his own career to look out for. Member of Parliament or not, Lord Richard Marbury had had very strange visitors of late, and this Inspector MacRae was of a piece with the rest.

Inspector MacRae did not fit the picture of the sturdy policeman that Lord Richard expected. He was a short, narrow-faced man, with thinning dark hair and a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles incongruously perched on his sharp nose. He clutched a straw hat, indicative of the season, but otherwise was dressed in a set of small-checked “dittoes.” Behind him, Upshaw loomed like a wraith, in a freshly cleaned gray suit, clean shirt and collar, and the inevitable bowler hat.

“I beg pardon, sir,” Upshaw said breathlessly. “I was detained, but I shall be on my way to Scotland yard.” He looked at MacRae, who stared back.

“As you see, Upshaw, the police are here,” Lord Peter said. “Good morning, Inspector. I want to consult you in this matter of my daughter.”

Inspector MacRae glanced around the room, dismissing the elderly gentleman in black and his younger tweed-clad companion, and settling on the man behind the desk as the leader of the pack.

“Your daughter, sir? I was not informed that the young person in question was any relation of yours.”

“But why else would you be here? I sent my man, Upshaw, to Scotland Yard …”

“I tried to tell you, Lord Richard,” Upshaw said apologetically. “I did not get to Scotland Yard. I was on my way there, when I saw this person,” he indicated MacRae, “mounting the steps, so I took the liberty of returning here.”

Lord Richard turned his gaze to MacRae, who returned the look without a trace of deference, and more than a little truculence.

“I have been sent to this house, by my superiors, at the request of the Brighton Constabulary,” Inspector MacRae stated.

“Have you found her, then?” Lady Pat darted forward. “Where is she? Is she all right?”

The Scotland Yard man frowned. “She's dead!”

Lady Pat shrieked and dropped against her brother. Dr. Doyle was at her side in an instant, chafing her wrists and looking around for female servants.

“What a thing to say!” he scolded the Inspector. “Where is her maid? Lady Patricia, please!” He looked about for the smelling salts usually carried by ladies. Lord Richard sat, stunned, while Ned Kin-sale and Dr. Doyle brought his wife back to consciousness and eased her onto Mr. Dodgson's vacated chair.

Mr. Dodgson glared at MacRae. “That was quite unnecessarily brutal, Inspector. Whatever can you have been thinking of?”

MacRae blinked behind his spectacles. “I beg your pardon, but I thought …” He began again. “I did not know that your servants were so dear to your heart, Lord Richard. In my experience, most noble households don't pay much heed to those below stairs.”

Now it was Lord Richard's turn to be confused. “Servant? I sent Upshaw to Scotland Yard because my
daughter
has been abducted.”

“I don't know any Upshaw, and I had no idea that your daughter was concerned in the matter. I've been sent because we received this wire from Brighton.” MacRae flourished a familiar slip of flimsy yellow paper.

Dr. Doyle saw the light first. “Lord Richard, it is possible this has something to do with that poor girl I saw, the missing Mary Ann.”

MacRae consulted the telegram. “A young woman, age seventeen or thereabouts. Fell, or was pushed under a train in Brighton Station. A small reticule was discovered near the body, which, when searched, contained a letter with the Marbury crest, which led the Brighton authorities to suspect that the victim was employed in this household.”

Lady Pat had revived under Dr. Doyle's ministrations. “It's all right, Pat,” Ned told her. “The Inspector here got his girls mixed. Dr. Doyle's idea about poor Mary Ann was right, it seems, and the good Inspector here is on the case.”

“But what about Alicia?” Lady Pat moaned.

“Alicia?” MacRae's eyes narrowed behind his spectacles.

“My daughter,” Lord Richard explained. “She was removed from Brighton Station …”

“By someone masquerading as me,” Mr. Dodgson interrupted. “And those blundering fools in Brighton …”

“I'm sure the Brighton Constabulary did what they thought was correct,” Dr. Doyle put in.

MacRae listened to all of this with tight-lipped annoyance. “Was this Mary Ann of yours with the little girl?”

“Of course. I'd hardly send my daughter off without an attendant,” Lord Richard said testily.

“Why send her at all?” MacRae asked.

“That is none of your concern, Inspector. What is important is that she be found, and found quickly,” Lord Richard snapped.

“That's your business, sir. Mine is murder,” MacRae said. “Which is what this matter of Mary Ann may be. My colleagues,” he emphasized the word slightly, with a sharp look at Dr. Doyle, “in Brighton have asked me to come down and consult with them. As for the matter of your daughter, that will be attended to in due course. Have you received any ransom note, or other communication?”

“What do you make of this?” Lord Richard handed Inspector MacRae the much-fingered ransom note.

“No envelope? No seal?” Inspector MacRae looked skeptically at Lord Richard. “How'd it come to you, then?”

“It was in my pocket,” Upshaw confessed. “It must have been thrust there by someone in the crowd, during that disgraceful scene with Mrs. Jeffries this morning.”

“Eh?” Inspector MacRae's eyebrows worked up and down.

“The woman had the audacity to parade herself and her, um, entourage, in front of my door this morning,” Lord Richard said. “They created a public disturbance, and the police were nowhere in sight!”

“No law against an Englishman, or woman for that matter, exercising the right of assembly,” MacRae rumbled. “Now, tell me again, how did the young lady come to be taken?”

“She was supposed to meet me, at Brighton Railway Station,” Mr. Dodgson explained wearily. “But I was given false information, and she met someone else instead.”

“Ah.” MacRae appeared to digest this information with bovine indifference. “And who are you?”

“I am Mr. Dodgson, of Oxford. Miss Marbury was to be my guest while the debate over the Special Bill goes on.”

“Only she never arrived,” Dr. Doyle put in. “And while we are chattering here, she may be in dreadful danger.”

“And who are
you?
” MacRae asked, with a withering glance.

Dr. Doyle was not to be withered. “I am Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle of Portsmouth, and I am assisting Mr. Dodgson with his inquiries into this matter.”

“He's Dicky Doyle's nephew, you know,” Mr. Dodgson put in.

“Who's Dicky Doyle?” MacRae asked.

Mr. Dodgson looked offended. “The comic artist, from
Punch
.”

MacRae was not impressed by these credentials. “Well, Mr. Dodgson of Oxford and Dr. Doyle of Portsmouth, you had best go about your own business and leave this to the professionals.”

“I have already been to the Brighton Police,” Mr. Dodgson sputtered. “They have done nothing. And the young person sent with Miss Marbury has been found dead—perhaps murdered!”

“That's for the Coroner's jury to decide,” MacRae said. “They don't meet until Tuesday. In the meanwhile, I've been sent here to find out what I can about the girl.”

Lord Richard leaned forward over his desk. “Inspector MacRae, I am a Member of Parliament and a good friend of the Home Secretary. You have been summoned to Brighton to assist with the death of my daughter's nurserymaid. Now I strongly suggest that you combine that investigation with the search for my daughter's abductors.”

Inspector MacRae was not to be hurried. “I always do my duty, sir. And I've often fancied a trip to the seaside, but I never thought it would be at the expense of the department.”

“Send any bills incurred in your investigations to me,” Lord Richard said with a wave of his hand.

“I shall submit my expenses to the department, as per regulation,” MacRae said. “Now, then”—he produced a shaggy notebook and the stub of a pencil—“I have to take statements from all of you. The girl was killed …” Lady Pat gasped. “Begging your pardon, ma'am. The, um, death was placed at approximately four o'clock yesterday afternoon. The occurrence was witnessed by several travelers …”

“But did any of them recognize anyone in particular?” Dr. Doyle asked sharply.

“If by that you mean that someone has come forward with information, no, they have not,” MacRae said. “The driver of the engine was not aware of anything untoward until he heard cries from the guards, who signaled for him to stop. Those who witnessed the, um, accident …”

BOOK: The Problem of the Missing Miss
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