The Loudwater Mystery

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THE LOUDWATER MYSTERY

BY EDGAR JEPSON

1920

CHAPTER I

Lord Loudwater was paying attention neither to his breakfast nor to the
cat Melchisidec. Absorbed in a leader in The Times newspaper, now and
again he tugged at his red-brown beard in order to quicken his
comprehension of the weighty phrases of the leader-writer; now and again
he made noises, chiefly with his nose, expressive of disgust. Lady
Loudwater paid no attention to these noises. She did not even raise her
eyes to her husband’s face. She ate her breakfast with a thoughtful air,
her brow puckered by a faint frown.

She also paid no attention to her favourite, Melchisidec. Melchisidec,
unduly excited by the smell of grilled sole, came to Lord Loudwater, rose
on his hind legs, laid his paws on his trousers, and stuck some claws
into his thigh. It was no more than gentle, arresting pricks; but the
tender nobleman sprang from his chair with a short howl, kicked with
futile violence a portion of the empty air which Melchisidec had just
vacated, staggered, and nearly fell.

Lady Loudwater did not laugh; but she did cough.

Her husband, his face a furious crimson, glared at her with reddish eyes,
and swore violently at her and the cat.

Lady Loudwater rose, her face flushed, her lips trembling, picked up
Melchisidec, and walked out of the room. Lord Loudwater scowled at the
closed door, sat down, and went on with his breakfast.

James Hutchings, the butler, came quietly into the room, took one of the
smaller dishes from the sideboard and Lady Loudwater’s teapot from the
table. He went quietly out of the room, pausing at the door to scowl at
his master’s back. Lady Loudwater finished her breakfast in the
sitting-room of her suite of rooms on the first floor. She was no longer
inattentive to Melchisidec.

During her breakfast she put all consideration of her husband’s behaviour
out of her mind. As she smoked a cigarette after breakfast she considered
it for a little while. She often had to consider it. She came to the
conclusion to which she had often come before: that she owed him nothing
whatever. She came to the further conclusion that she detested him. She
had far too good a brow not to be able to see a fact clearly. She wished
more heartily than ever that she had never married him. It had been a
grievous mistake; and it seemed likely to last a life-time—her
life-time. The last five ancestors of her husband had lived to be eighty.
His father would doubtless have lived to be eighty too, had he not broken
his neck in the hunting-field at the age of fifty-four. On the other
hand, none of the Quaintons, her own family, had reached the age of
sixty. Lord Loudwater was thirty-five; she was twenty-two; he would
therefore survive her by at least seven years. She would certainly be
bowed down all her life under this grievous burden.

It was an odd calculation for a young married woman to make; but Lady
Loudwater came of an uncommon family, which had produced more brilliant,
irresponsible, and passably unscrupulous men than any other of the
leading families in England. Her father had been one of them. She took
after him. Moreover, Lord Loudwater would have induced odd reveries in
any wife. He had been intolerable since the second week of their
honeymoon. Wholly without power of self-restraint, the furious outbursts
of his vile temper had been consistently revolting. She once more told
herself that something would have to be done about it—not on the
instant, however. At the moment there appeared to her to be months to do
it in. She dropped her cigarette end into the ash-tray, and with it any
further consideration of the manners and disposition of Lord Loudwater.

She lit another cigarette and let her thoughts turn to that far more
appealing subject, Colonel Antony Grey. They turned to him readily and
wholly. In less than three minutes she was seeing his face and hearing
certain tones in his voice with amazing clearness. Once she looked at the
clock impatiently. It was half-past ten. She would not see him till
three—four and a half hours. It seemed a long while to her. However,
she could go on thinking about him. She did.

While she considered her ill-tempered husband her eyes had been hard and
almost shallow. While she considered Colonel Grey, they grew soft and
deep. Her lips had been set and almost thin; now they grew most kissable.

Lord Loudwater finished his breakfast, the scowl on his face fading
slowly to a frown. He lit a cigar and with a moody air went to his
smoking-room. The criminal carelessness of the cat Melchisidec
still rankled.

As he entered the room, half office and half smoking-room, Mr. Herbert
Manley, his secretary, bade him good morning. Lord Loudwater returned his
greeting with a scowl.

Mr. Herbert Manley had one of those faces which begin well and end badly.
He had a fine forehead, lofty and broad, a well-cut, gently-curving-nose,
a slack, thick-lipped mouth, always a little open, a heavy, animal jaw,
and the chin of an eagle. His fine, black hair was thin on the temples.
His moustache was thin and straggled. His black eyes were as good as his
brow, intelligent, observant, and alert. It was plain that had his lips
been thinner and his chin larger he would not have been the secretary of
Lord Loudwater—or of any one else. He would have been a masterless man.
The success of two one-act plays on the stage of the music-halls had
given him the firm hope of one day becoming a masterless man as a
successful dramatist. His post gave him the leisure to write plays. But
for the fact that it brought him into such frequent contact with the Lord
Loudwater it would have been a really pleasant post: the food was
excellent; the wine was good; the library was passable; and the servants,
with the exception of James Hutchings, liked and respected him. He had
the art of making himself valued (at far more than his real worth, said
his enemies), and his air of importance continuously impressed them.

With a patient air he began to discuss the morning’s letters, and ask for
instructions. Lord Loudwater was, as often happened, uncommonly captious
about the letters. He had not recovered from the shock the inconsiderate
Melchisidec had given his nerves. The instructions he gave were somewhat
muddled; and when Mr. Manley tried to get them clearer, his employer
swore at him for an idiot. Mr. Manley persisted firmly through much abuse
till he did get them clear. He had come to consider his employer’s furies
an unfortunate weakness which had to be endured by the holder of the post
he found so advantageous. He endured them with what stoicism he might.

Lord Loudwater in a bad temper always produced a strong impression of
redness for a man whose colouring was merely red-brown. Owing to the fact
that his fierce, protruding blue eyes were red-rimmed and somewhat
bloodshot, in moments of emotion they shone with a curious red glint, and
his florid face flushed a deeper red. In these moments Mr. Manley had a
feeling that he was dealing with a bad-tempered red bull. His employer
made very much the same impression on other people, but few of them had
the impression of bullness so clear and so complete as did Mr. Manley.
Lady Loudwater, on the other hand, felt always, whether her husband was
ramping or quiet, that she was dealing with a bad-tempered bull.

Presently they came to the end of the letters. Lord Loudwater lit another
cigar, and scowled thoughtfully. Mr. Manley gazed at his scowling face
and wondered idly whether he would ever light on another human being whom
he would detest so heartily as he detested his employer. He thought it
indeed unlikely. Still, when he became a successful dramatist there might
be an actor-manager—

Then Lord Loudwater said: “Did you tell Mrs. Truslove that after

September her allowance would be reduced to three hundred a year?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Manley.

“What did she say?”

Mr. Manley hesitated; then he said diplomatically: “She did not seem
to like it.”

“What did she say?” cried Lord Loudwater in a sudden, startling bellow,
and his eyes shone red.

Mr. Manley winced and said quickly: “She said it was just like you.”

“Just like me? Hey? And what did she mean by that?” cried Lord Loudwater
loudly and angrily.

Mr. Manley expressed utter ignorance by looking blank and shrugging his
shoulders.

“The jade! She’s had six hundred a year for more than two years. Did she
think it would go on for ever?” cried his employer.

“No,” said Mr. Manley.

“And why didn’t she think it would go on for ever? Hey?” said Lord

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