The Day of Uniting/Chapter 9

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pp. 27–30.

CHAPTER IX.

“We regret to report the death from heart failure of the Right Honorable John Stope-Kendrick, the home secretary.”

In this laconic manner was the suicide of John Stope-Kendrick made known to the world.

“You quite understand, Mr. Blake, that it is very undesirable the world should know the true circumstances of Mr. Kendrick's death.”

Jimmy had been summoned to Downing Street for the second time and was standing in the prime minister's presence. The premier seemed crushed by the tragedy which had overtaken his colleague.

“I am afraid poor Kendrick has not been quite himself for some time, but we had no idea that he was losing his mental balance.” He stopped and eyed Jimmy sharply. “Mr. Blake, you and the constables who found him, and the inspector, and the police doctor, are the only people——

“Mr. Sennett knows. He is a printer probably known to you,” said Jimmy.

“Sennett?” said the premier sharply. “Oh, yes, of course, he is staying with you.”

Jimmy wondered how the prime minister knew that.

“We can rely upon Mr. Sennett,” said the minister. “He prepares most of the confidential printing for the cabinet. Nobody else knows, I hope!”

“Nobody, sir,” said Jimmy promptly. At any rate, he could keep the girl's name out of the matter, and he could rely upon Joe seconding him in this.

“Can you explain, sir, why Mr. Kendrick was on Blackheath at that hour of the night?”

“I cannot tell you,” said the premier. “Probably the death of poor Van Roon was on his mind} and in that case it would be very natural, if the abnormal can be natural, that he should be attracted to the spot where Van Roon was discovered.”

“It seems reasonable to me, sir,” said Jimmy.

“Of course, the newspapers will know how it happened,” said the prime minister at parting, “and possibly it will be whispered about that John died by his own hand. The great thing is that it should not be baldly and publicly stated.”

Jimmy was very grave, for only now was he sensing the bigness of the game into which he had been unconsciously drawn. He began to feel the need of a friend, and he cast his mind over the many men he knew to find one whom he could bring into his confidence. Some lacked imagination, some, he knew, were without sympathy, some he did not like enough and some he could not bring himself to trust in this matter. And then, when he had dismissed them and decided that he must play a lone hand, there drifted into the club's luncheon room a lackadaisical youth who greeted him with a feeble wave of his hand, and would have passed to another table.

It was Mr. Ferdinand Ponter, and Jimmy beckoned him.

“Come and sit down, Ferdie; I want to talk to you.”

“Are you going to be intellectual?” asked the young man, as he seated himself, with every sign of apprehension. “The last time we met, you talked about printing till my head reeled.”

“What you want,” said Jimmy, “is another head. No, I'm not going to be very intellectual—yes, I am,” he said suddenly, and Ferdinand's face expressed resignation and pain. “Ferdie, I want you to help me.”

“Help you,” said the startled youth. “Good heavens, what do you want help for? I will, of course,” he added hastily, “but I had not the slightest idea——

“Don't be a fool, I'm not talking about money. I want you to help me in another way.”

“Not about printing?” asked Mr. Ponter in alarm. “I assure you, dear old thing, I know no more about printing than I know about beeswax, or Jerusalem artichokes. Which reminds me,” and he called a waiter and ordered beer with a flourish. And then, remembering suddenly that he had certain condolences to offer, “I'm awfully cut up about poor Van Roon, Jimmy,” he said. “I didn't know him very well, but it must have been an awful knock in the eye for you.”

“It was, rather,” said Jimmy shortly. “No, I'm not going to ask you about printing, Ferdie. I realize that the link between you and Ponters' is as slender as the thin edge of a check.”

“Beautifully put,” murmured the young man.

“The fact is——” Jimmy hesitated and yet, why should he, he thought. All this boredom and lack of interest in life which Mr. Ponter expressed with every gesture and word, was a pose. Ferdie Ponter had been Jimmy's observer in the days when Jimmy drove a D.H.7. A cool child, who shot with deadly precision and never, under any circumstances, lost his nerve.

“Now, listen—I'm going to tell you a story, son, and I'm putting you on your honor that you won't mention a word of this to anybody, whether you come in and help me, or whether you stay outside.”

“You thrill me,” said Ferdie.

“I shall,” replied Jimmy.

He had told the story to himself so often that he had every fact marshaled in order, and now he presented to the gaping youth a consecutive narrative of all that had happened from the moment Gerald van Roon had brought Schaffer's letter to his bedroom, down to his latest interview with the prime minister.

“Well, what do you think of it?”

Ferdie shook his head.

“I'm dashed if I know,” he said. “What do you think of it?” he asked.

“I can't understand it,” said Jimmy, “but I'm going to learn, Ferdie; and first I shall have a shot at the Warden's Lodge and discover what is happening there.”

“Have you told anybody about Maggerson being at the house?”

“I've told nobody. You're the first person I've met who doesn't matter.”

“Thank you kindly,” said Ferdinand politely.

“What I mean,” explained Jimmy, “is that it will not hurt or worry you, as it would hurt Miss Sennett.”

Ferdie looked up.

“That is a name you haven't mentioned before? What the dickens are you blushing about? Congratulations!”

“Don't be a fool,” growled Jim. “It is a—a friend staying with us, she and her father.”

“Sennett,” repeated Ferdie. “Why, she isn't related to our Sennett, is she?—the governor calls him our supercomp.”

“She's his daughter,” said Jimmy shortly.

“Indeed?” said the other interestedly. “Are you thinking of going into the printing trade, Jimmy?”

“As I say, I haven't told Miss Sennett, because, naturally, she'd be worried.”

“Why should she be worried if she's not your fiancée? Dash it all, old thing, be reasonable.”

“Huxley said,” quoted Jimmy severely, “that the greatest tragedy in science is to see a beautiful hypothesis killed by an ugly fact. She is not my fiancée.”

“I wouldn't call you ugly,” murmured Ferdinand, somewhat at sea, “and who's Huxley?”

“That's beside the point,” said Jimmy. “What I want to know is, will you stand in with me, if I make an attempt to enter this lodge and discover what was behind the killing of poor Jerry and the suicide of Kendrick?”

“I'm with you all the time,” said Ferdie, and solemnly shook hands. “I've been wondering what I was going to do for the next week or two. I'm engaged for the Ascot week, of course, and I may pop down to Epsom for the Derby, but with the exception of the Derby, I haven't a single engagement. All my girls have shaken me, I'm frightfully unpopular with the paternal authority, I've overdrawn my allowance to a terrific extent, and I wish I was dead!”

“Probably if you accompany me on this little job your wish will be gratified,” said Jimmy unpleasantly, and Ferdie brightened up.

He had theories, too; immediate and startling. Though no student, Ferdie was a reader and an admirer of literature in which mysteries abound, and where the villain of the piece is always the last person to be suspected by the reader. Therefore, Ferdie cast his eyes and his mind around for those who had the best credentials of innocence, and he suspected in turn the prime minister, Stephens, the butler, old Mr. Sennett, and he was on the point of naming Delia when Jimmy fixed him with a steely eye.

“Maggerson's in it, of course,” Ferdie prattled on. “Up to his eyebrows. And that old German Johnnie, Schaffer—why don't you send Schaffer a wire and ask him what his nonsensical letter was all about?”

Jimmy stared at him.

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,” he said admiringly. “I never thought of that!”

There was no difficulty in locating Professor Schaffer. The first telephone inquiry Jimmy put through, which was to a friend of Gerald's, discovered the professor's address and a long wire phrased in German was dispatched to Leipzig without delay.

Jimmy was driving home that night, satisfied with the day's work, and had reached the southern end of Westminster Bridge on his way to Blackheath, when a newspaper poster attracted his eye. It was the placard of a labor journal, bitterly antagonistic to the government, but of this Jimmy was not aware. All he saw was the sensational announcement in the biggest type:

WELTMAN GOES MAD.

He pulled up the car with a jerk, jumped out and snatched a newspaper. Lord Harry Weltman! The bête noire of all labor men and the third member of that fatal party at Downing Street! Mad!