Chapter 2 – Investigation at the Clubs
By the time Amelia and Jane arrived at no. 1 Conaught Mews, they were weighed down with shopping. They had had some lunch in town, so Amelia suggested that they hung up Jane’s new clothes in the wardrobe in one of the spare rooms not far from her own room. Jane had been quite overwhelmed by the wonderful under wear and outer wear that Amelia had insisted on buying for her. She had pointed out quite strongly, there was nowhere she could store the stuff in her own house, and she had hinted that her mother would probably sell them when her back was turned, so Amelia had decided she could keep them in her house, and Jane could come and change when they were going out together. They agreed to visit Robert’s club in the early evening and spend the afternoon resting before getting dressed to go out.
Amelia wore a pale yellow dress, with a bustle, multiple drapes down the front and a matching hat. She was at her most imposing best and she knew she would be able to make a dramatic entrance at the gentleman’s club they were to visit. Jane wore a more subdued outfit, but she felt pretty good in her new clothes. “Bring your identification card with you,” said Amelia, “just in case you need to ‘pull rank’. I have no idea how we will be received. The staff at Gentlemen’s clubs can be very officious.” Their carriage pulled up outside the Solomon Club and Amelia swept up the steps, through the imposing portico and into the entrance where she was met by a burly uniformed Commissionaire, who stood in her way “I’m afraid, madame, ladies are not allowed into the Club. It is for men only.”
Amelia replied “My name is Amelia Ecclestone and this is my colleague, Jane Wilks. One of your members, Robert Garstang has disappeared and his sisters has asked me to see if I can find him. At the moment, I don’t know what has happened to him and I cannot rule out foul play. His sisters, and I believe, Mr Garstang himself, if he were here, would want the matter dealt with discretely, rather than involve the police and cause a scandal. Of course if it were to come out later that I had been impeded in my investigations by the Solomon Club, then not only would it rebound on the club, but also its esteemed members of the legal profession.” She gestured Jane to stay silent, and set her gaze on the Commissionaire with her most imperious look and showed just the corner of a £5 note from inside her bag.
“Well, madam, the rules of the club are very strict. You may not enter, but you are allowed into the visitors room just there, and if you tell me who you would like to speak to I will see if I can find them.”
“That will do nicely. I would like to speak to any friends of Mr Garstang, who may be here at the moment.” The Commissionaire, nodded. He showed the ladies into the visitors room and disappeared through the huge double doors into the depth of the Club. A few minutes later, he returned with two of the club members and introduced them to Amelia as Mr Arbuthnot Flint and the Hon. Dunsop-Bridge. She was surprised how young looking they were, compared with the man they were trying to find. She introduced herself and Jane as her colleague. She explained that they were looking for Robert Garstang who had disappeared 6 days ago on the 14th, and she would like the two gentlemen to tell her about Mr Garstang. Flint started “He was quite a quiet chap really, kept himself to himself mainly and stuck to reading the paper. He comes in fairly regularly and in the times we have managed to engage him in conversation, he appears to be ruled by his sisters, who are much older than him.” He got a nod of support from the Hon D-B “From things he said we got the impression that his parents died when he was very young and he was brought up by his sisters, which I why I suppose they have such a hold over him. Once we got to know him a little, it was not difficult to get him talking about his problems which were many an the rest of his life of which there was little.” Amelia prompted about the other Clubs. “Yes, he seemed to enjoy his tennis but as for the billiards, well you can never tell about those places. He may have played billiards, but then he may have had other vices he could indulge there” and he gave Amelia a wink and tapped his nose. Jane had said nothing and when Amelia glanced over at her, found from the expression on her face that she was quite taken with these two men about town. Actually, she thought herself that they were quite personable. “Did she have any lady friends he spoke of”
“No not really. There was one, but I don’t think it lasted very long. He spoke about her a few times, then shut up and we decided that she had thrown him off. We were not surprised, he was a crashing bore.” The Hon. D-B chimed in “But he was very clever and a marvelous lawyer.”
“Do you know the name of this lady friend?”
“I think her name was Beatrice, but that’s all we know. I think he said he met her at work. He is a lawyer you know, as are many members of this Club, including us.” they both laughed “Hence the name Solomon Club. Judgement you see.” Amelia thought that something did not add up, and she gave the gentlemen a quizzical look. They noticed, look at each other then the Hon. D-B said, in a rather embarrassed way “I think we owe you an explanation, we have not really been straight with you. ” He looked at his colleague “In fact we have been a couple of cads, and if anything has happened to poor Garstang, we will feel very guilty.” Amelia indicated him to continue “Well it was like this. We are lawyers at two different firms in the City, we both enjoy life and to be honest neither of us is any good. We get by on a wing and a prayer, if you don’t mind the expression. Well, when we joined the Club, Garstang had not been long a member, we were introduced, exchanged pleasantries and the like, then one day not long after, Arbuthnot here ran into a spot of trouble at work. He was poring his heart out to me, Garstang was behind his paper,but he overheard, leaned over and said “The answer to your problem is a simple legal one. I’m surprised that the solution has not occurred to you. Well, Arby here was all ears and to cut a long story short it solved his problem completely. Well the temptation was too great, and we ‘can resist everything except temptation'” he laughed “so we cooked up this plan. We listened patiently to his stories, and some were very boring, and in exchange, we presented him with actual cases from out chambers. Well, the results were remarkable. He is a brilliant lawyer and as a result of his help, we have both risen rapidly up our respective firms.” he blushed at his admission and stopped “but it explains why we know so much about him. I hope you are not going to ‘split’ on us.”
Amelia was amazed at their honesty, and she put it down to the fact that she was an attractive woman and Jane was looking smart having scrubbed up well. “Thank you for being so open with us. Your information has been extremely useful. We will not divulge your secret unless it becomes an essential part of our investigation. The fact that he is a brilliant lawyer, may have an important bearing on the case. Then again it might not” and they wished the gentlemen good day and left. In the carriage on the way home, Amelia asked Jane if she had noticed the inconsistency between the gentlemen and their story and she admitted she had not. “You have to be careful not to be distracted by handsome young men” and they both laughed.
When they were both comfortably settled in the consulting room at 1, Conaught Mews, they reviewed the situation. “We now have quite a number of leads, although none of them has got us any closer to actually when Garstang disappeared on that day. We have learned more about his personality and way of life, and one option for his disappearance is through choice to get out of his stifling existence. Cherchez la Femme, should be our first line of enquiry, don’t you think?” volunteered Amelia.
“Then we should go to his office first thing tomorrow morning to see who this Beatrice is and where she lives.” responded Jane
“Also while we are there we can see if we can find out the name of the man who will inherit his fortune if he is dead. He has a motive. If we can track him down we could test his alibi.”
“And we still have to follow up Garstang’s contacts at the tennis club and the mysterious billiards club.”
Jane retired to change her clothes and left her ‘work’ clothes in the wardrobe Amelia had provided for her. Amelia insisted that at this late hour she take a cab and they arranged that Jane would come early next morning and they would visit Cabus, Winstanley etc. etc. the next morning. If they obtained the information they wanted early enough, they may be able to visit Beatrice on the morrow as well. Amelia thought about the arrangement with Jane. Today had gone very well. What Jane lacked in experience, she made up for in enthusiasm and her knowledge of police procedure would be a great help. Amelia had to admit that she herself was not all that experienced in this world of crime detection. One thing bothered however. The arrangement whereby, Jane came every morning to change clothes could not be sustained for very long, and she had to face up to the possibility of having Jane live with her at some stage, just like Holmes and Watson, she thought. There was no problem with space, there was a number of unused bedrooms, but what if the two of them did not get on? It was alright working on a case together where there was a mutual interest, but Jane Wilks was a different class from Amelia. She had ignored that so far, but living together, she was bound to take things for granted that were totally alien to Jane and vice versa. At some point she would mention it to Jane and see how she responded. Before she went to bed,she penned a note to Cabus, Winstanley etc.saying that they would be round mid morning and left it in the hall for it to be delivered as soon as the Chambers opened the next morning. She also wrote a note to Ruddock explaining the role of Jane and including his retainer.
Much to Amelia’s surprise, the next morning Jane arrived on a bicycle and leaned it against the railings. She explained that her uncle Bert had acquired the bike when it was auctioned by the police in a sale of unclaimed stolen goods, and he had taught her to ride it. “Its very convenient for getting around.” she explained “I don’t have to wait for cabs and when there is a lot of traffic about, I can slip between the traffic or take a short cut. I have seen some women riding their bikes wearing bloomers, but I don’t think I will go that way at the moment. I’ll stick to this old skirt even though its a bit awkward.” Amelia had very mixed feelings about it, but did not have to comment as Jane rushed into her room to change.
When they were ready, a cab was called and they set off for the lawyers where Robert Garstang worked to see what his colleagues knew of his whereabouts. Amelia wanted to make and impression and she was wearing her emerald green bustle dress for the occasion. They arrived and walked through the imposing portico of the entrance. The name plate on a column at the entrance was itself just as imposing, consisting of a brass plate inscribed with the names of the partners;- Cabus, Winstanley, Garstang, McTigh, Overland, Cabus and Garstang. Amelia confided to Jane, “These chambers feel like ‘class’ and I expect their fees will be ‘classy’ as well. Also, don’t forget, that some of this large number of partners may have passed on to the greatest law court of all. We have to be circumspect until we find out.” They were welcomed by a liveried footman and when he was told that they were expected showed them to an office, with oak table, oak and leather chairs, smelling of tobacco smoke, with the room lined with books. After a short wait, a man came into the room and introduced himself as James Cabus, the younger Cabus that is, he added. “You followed your father into the practice?” queried Amelia “It that what happened to Robert Garstang, following in his father’s footsteps?”
“Actually, I joined my uncle. It was Robert who followed his father, who was a founder member of chambers. How can I help you ladies?” Cabus replied putting rather too much emphasis on ‘ladies’. Amelia flashed a smile at him.
“We have come about Robert. He disappeared on the 14th, seven days ago and we are trying to find what has happened to him. Do you know?”
“No, I have no idea. If I recall, the 14th was a Tuesday, and Robert only comes in on a Thursday and Friday, to help us tie up the cases which have to be finished by the weekend. He is a brilliant lawyer. His knowledge of the law is unsurpassed and he has a very sharp analytical mind. I sometimes think that if he worked full time, we other members of the Chambers would not be needed. If his ambition matched his abilities, then I am sure that he would rise to the very top of the profession.” Amelia and Jane exchanged knowing glances while Cabus was talking. He was confirming what they had already picked up about this complex man.
“Are you sure he did not come the office on the 14th?”
“I don’t think so, but if you insist” Amelia put on a determined face and looked him squarely in the eye “I will go and check. Please wait here a minute.” and left the office. Amelia took the opportunity of stepping into the corridor and looking around at the other offices. With Jane behind, she walked along the corridor, looking at the names on the doors. She spied a door with a plate ‘Josiah Garstang’ but before she could proceed farther, Cabus reappeared and ushered them back into the office. “I must apologise. I asked around and one of our Clerks did see Robert on the 14th. He came into the office for a short time and seemed to be in a hurry and left after a short time. Sorry if I misled you to start with.”
“That’s alright. Thank you for following it up for us. Now may I ask you another question. Did Robert meet any young ladies in Chambers that he may have had some kind of ‘relationship’ with?” Amelia raised an eyebrow and gave Cabus a knowing look.
“Well there was one, I seem to remember.”
“Was her name Beatrice?”
“Yes I think it was. She came from south of the river, on a personal matter, I think. I didn’t have much to do with the case. He took quite a shine to her, which was unusual for him, because normally he is very reserved, but from what I recall it did not last very long. Or at least after a short time we could get nothing further out of him. I have to admit that we rather teased him about it.”
“When was that and do you have an address?”
“It was a few months ago now. I can get someone to dig out the file and let you know. Do you think she had something to do with his disappearance?”
“That I don’t know, but ‘cherchez la femme’ can be a good starting point when there is nothing else to go on.” Cabus, got the file, and passed to Amelia, the dates when Beatrice came into the office and her address.
“I’m sorry, I can’t give you any information about the case as that is confidential. If you do contact her, you can ask her yourself.”
Just a couple of other questions. “Did he ever talk about his membership of Richmond Tennis Club and we have heard that he is a member of a billiards club.”
Cabus smiled a wide smile “Yes we knew that he had membership of both. Membership of a billiards club was rather unusual, we used to tease him about that as well, but he always maintained that he only went there to play billiards, even though everyone suspects that lots of other things go on there” and he gave Amelia a knowing wink. Before Amelia could ask, he told her the name and address of the hall.
“We quite understand” but Amelia was quite annoyed that he would not divulge the information about Robert’s dealing with Beatrice, as it may have a bearing on the case “Thank you for being so helpful. Would it be possible to have a look in Robert’s office before we leave.”
“Out of the question. His office is full of confidential legal papers. We would never allow it.”
“I did notice” Amelia persisted, and again flashed one of her smiles “that there was an office with Josiah Garstang on the door.”
“Ah, yes. Robert has taken over that office from his father. We have a tradition that we never take partner’s names off our nameplate or change the name on the door, if a family member takes it over. My uncle’s name is still on the door of my office. Now if you will excuse me I have to get on so I will wish you good day, and good luck with your search. We will miss Robert if he does not return.” Amelia and Jane gave their gushing thanks,said their goodbyes and left.
“Well “said Amelia as they walked out onto the street “we have enough information to follow up Beatrice and I think that we ought to do that next.” Jane agreed. “Before we go home, let us send a telegram to her, saying that we will call on her tomorrow. We had better look up the train times. I would have liked to have a good luck round Robert’s office. We may find something. It may be important that he made a special trip into the office the day he disappeared.” As she said it, she was thinking that if she was not permitted to see the room, then perhaps Lord Fauntelroy and ‘his’ trusty partner Algy, could make a night time visit, now she knew the layout of the place. Jane was still a member of the Police force and could not become involved in anything illegal, so for the time being at least, Amelia would have to keep her masculine ‘alter ego’ secret from her.
They checked the train times, sent off a telegram saying that they would arrive late morning and returned to Conaught Mews. On arrival, Amelia discretely sent a message to Ruddock, telling him to look over the offices of Cabus, Winstanley etc. with a view to the ‘usual’ visit. As they were having lunch Amelia suddenly said “I say, we could go to that billiard hall tonight and see what we can find out there.” Little did she know just how it was going to turn out.