Chapter 3 – A Shock and a Journey,
Amelia decided to change her dress before setting out, and replaced her emerald green bustle dress with one in mustard yellow. Joseph called them a cab and they gave him the address of the billiard hall which was in a rather sleazy part of Whitechapel. As they stepped down from the cab, they were surprised to find that the street they were in was even sleazier than they imagined. They found the door with a sign above saying Thomas’s Billiard Hall. They knocked and a rather surprised doorman let them in and indicated a bare wooden staircase. Hitching up their skirts the two women climbed the stairs. The staircase was so narrow that their skirts brushed both sides. From behind, Jane said “Are you sure you want to continue with this? It does not look a suitable place for women, particularly not one of your class.”
“We are here now. It would be a shame not to see it through. Amelia pushed opened the door at the top of the stairs and entered the room. The room was wreathed in tobacco smoke, and the place smelled musty and sweaty. There were other smells, which Amelia could not identify and tried not to. The only lights were over the tables of which there were six, with men playing at each. The only sound was the clicking of balls on the tables and various grunts from the players. Amelia look around to see if there was someone in charge, and she caught the eye of a man who looked up, and came over. With a leer he said “Can I offer you ladies a game of billiards?”
“No. We have come to ask you about one of your members. Are you in charge?”
“No. I am not the manager, but I can take your booking for a game if you want one.”
“Thank you but we do not want to play. My name is Amelia Ecclestone and this is my colleague Jane Wilks.” By now quite a number of the players had started to take an interest in the women, and at her formal introduction of her name, a number of derisory Oohs and Ahs rose up in the background. Jane had taken note of the atmosphere and was increasingly on her guard. She had had one or two experiences of this kind before, but it had always been in the company of male officers, and as two females, she started to feel quite vulnerable. Amelia ploughed on regardless. “One of your members, Robert Garstang has disappeared and we are trying to find him” More derisory calling from the increasing crowd. “Have you any idea where he is?”
“When was the last time he was here?” the man she was questioning looked round before answering.
“About two weeks ago.” There was general assent.
“How did you get on with him?”
“Well, he was very quite and a much better class of person than we usually get.” General assent “But then men come her for a whole variety of reasons beyond billiards. Actually, he was quite good as a billiard player, and was popular. He didn’t wager highly but gave his opponent a good game. Lost as often as he won, so there was always a chance of taking money off him as well as losing it to him.”
“Did he ever meet a woman here?”
“No. We don’t allow women into the Club.” Whilst he was saying this the group of men moved forward in a threatening manner. Amelia did not notice that someone had got behind her, and she was just turning to Jane to suggest they left, when the top of her thigh just below her bustle was grabbed. She exclaimed in pain and fear but before she could react she was swung round and forced face down onto one of the billiard tables, knocking the breath out of her body. The man’s right hand grabbed her thigh and began pulling up her skirts; his other hand was thrust between her and the table and began to squeeze her breast. She felt helpless. She was very frightened and in pain and she screamed loudly. The men standing around started to laugh and to urge on her attacker. While Amelia was being subjected to this humiliation, Jane had been grabbed from the front by a large man, who pinned her arms to her side and tried to kiss her. She resisted only a little to encourage and distract him while she slid her foot into his foot, and trying hard not to get her foot caught in her skirt (damn these long skirts! she thought), slid her foot on top of his, and when she reached his instep stamped as hard as she could. He yelled, stepped back and let her go. He swung his hand to smack her across the face, but she was too quick for him, and she grabbed him between the legs and squeezed with all her strength. He screamed in agony and collapsed to to floor. Within seconds, Jane had drawn her truncheon from the folds of her skirt, faced the assembled men with her knees slightly flexed and her left arm out. She took complete command of the situation. “I’m a police officer, no one move.” she called, and having seen how she had dealt with her first attacker no one had any wish to try anything on. They drew back and Jane turned her attention to Amelia who was still trapped on top of the billiard table with the man pulling up more and more of her skirts. Jane hit the man on the back in the area of his kidneys, then struck him a painful blow directly onto his hip. He let go of Amelia and as he swung round Jane struck him forceably on the forearm. He grabbed it and screamed in pain. Jane called Amelia to get up. She knew that so far she had had the element of surprise on her side, but it would not last for long. Striking her defensive pose again, she said in a loud voice “We are leaving. If you follow us, I will bring the police back in force to raid the place.” She pushed a still shaking and crying Amelia through the door, and ushered her down the stairs “For God’s sake, hold up you dress and don’t fall as you go down.” She kept one eye on Amelia and the other eye on the door. Mercifully none of the men seemed keen to follow, so when Amelia was near the bottom, Jane rattled after her as fast as she could go and they both escaped into the street. Their cab was waiting and Jane pushed a still shaking Amelia into it and ordered the driver to go to Conaught Mews. By the time they arrived, Amelia had settled down a little, as least enough to inspect her dress. It was torn, marked from the man’s dirty fingers and in quite a disheveled state. Her hat was array and some of her hair was over her face and shoulders. She could not wait to get to her room and sort herself out. Jane went with her, ordering two stiff brandies from a surprised Mary to steady their nerves. “Drink this.” she ordered Amelia when they arrived. Amelia downed the drink in a single gulp, coughed, then she turned to Mary and told her that Jane would be staying for the night and to make up the bed in the room along the corridor from her’s. “Then I’ll undress, have a bath and go to bed.” Her dress had been badly torn, but anyway she would never wear it again. It would bring back such horrible memories. Jane did not protest about staying the night. It was late and she was tired as well, but most important still, she did not want to cause Amelia any more stress after her ordeal.
Jane was up bright and early the next morning. She had slept in a beautiful bed in a beautiful room, so far removed from her room at home that it might have been on another planet. She walked into the dining room, which was empty, but the table was set for two and there was an unbelievable range of food on display on the sideboard. Mary appeared. She seem to be quite unmoved by having a guest imposed on her work schedule at such short notice. Seeing that Jane was unsure what to do, she said, “Please help yourself to breakfast. Would you like coffee?” When Jane nodded her assent, she went off. Jane picked a selection of food from the sideboard and sat down. She wondered how Amelia was feeling this morning; she had a pang of guilt when she thought how great she was feeling. All that training she had had to go through at the police academy had come good. As usual, she had suffered pinching, touching and slapping from the other students, but the instructor had been very fair to her and treated her just like the others. She had responded by putting her whole heart and soul into the course, had come top of the class with a distinction,and by Jove she had been rewarded for all her hard work when it was needed. She remembered with a small thrill, how she had slipped into her defensive pose with her feet firmly on the ground (or at least as far as she possibly could with the heels she was wearing) and her knees flexed. She felt so good about herself. Mary returned with the coffee, and Jane was just in the act or helping herself to seconds, when Amelia walked through the door. Jane put down her plate and turned to her with concern on her face. “How are you feeling this morning?” Amelia looked pale and drawn, not at all like her usual self.
“Oh, I’m not too bad. I soaked in the bath for a time and then had a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I am feeling guilty though that I dragged you into such a dangerous situation without thinking. However, I need to thank you from the bottom of my heart for rescuing me. I was helpless and I imagined that I was about to be subjected to the notorious ‘Fate worse than death'” she smiled a wan smile “but you saved me. I can never thank you enough.” Jane was starting to feel embarrassed by such an outpouring of thanks. “Come sit down ” she smiled “at your own table and have some breakfast. Mary has brought in the coffee. Have a cup, it will bring back colour to your cheeks.” Amelia smiled in return and did as she was told. “You know, ” she began when she had sat down “I was pinned down on that table and did not see what you did. I heard the screams! Just what did you do to the poor men?”
“Not so much of the ‘poor’. They would have molested both of us if they had been allowed.” and she explained, without too much detail just what she had done and how she had applied the training she had had at police college. Amelia listened enraptured. “You will have to teach me how to defend myself. Can you give me some lessons.” They both laughed. Amelia was beginning to get some colour back into her cheeks and beginning to feel much better in herself. Its amazing what a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast will do for a girl’s confidence, she thought to herself. Once they had completed breakfast, Jane reminded Amelia that they had intended to visit Beatrice Newby, supposedly Robert Garstang’s lady friend. “If you don’t feel up to it, perhaps we could postpone and got another day.” Jane ventured, but Amelia would have none of it, insisting that she felt fully recovered and anyway, too much time had already elapsed since the disappearance. They had sent a message that they would arrive late morning. Amelia decided that she had had enough of bustle dresses for the time being so chose a blouse and skirt with a small jacket. Jane was dressed in similar fashion. They took a cab to London Bridge station, thence a train to Penge. There was a cab rank at Penge station. They clambered into the one at the front of the rank and told the cabbie the address. The house itself was a short way out of town, set back from the road and surrounded by a large park area. Just the place to hide away, mused Amelia and Jane agreed. They were driven up the drive to the front door, where they were met by a footman, who assisted them down from the cab.”Miss Ecclestone and Miss Wilks?” he inquired. They nodded “You are expected. Please follow me.” he led them through an imposing portico, into an equally imposing hall. “Please take off your coats.” which he handed to another footman and led the into a drawing room of the hall. He announced them and as they entered were welcomed by two ladies, one older, the other younger. The older one made the introductions “I am Lady Emma Newby and this is my daughter Beatrice.” They shook hands and Amelia noticed that Beatrice looked quite distressed. Perhaps she had something to hide. They were invited to take refreshments. Mrs Newby said “As it is so near lunchtime, perhaps you would like to partake of a little light lunch. It is no problem I assure you” and they both willingly agreed. Amelia regretted that she had not dressed up so as to match her surroundings. It appeared that she had been more affected under the surface by her experience the previous night than she had imagined.
During lunch there was small talk with Beatrice looking more and more uncomfortable. When they had finished and were taking tea, Lady Emma raise the purpose of their visit. “We were very disturbed when we received your note regarding the disappearance of Robert Garstang, Beatrice particularly so. Could you please tell us why you are investigating his disappearance, how you came to know about Beatrice and what makes you think she is involved in some way?” She made her points in quite an aggressive fashion and Amelia realised that she would have to be circumspect if she wanted to find anything out.
My friend and colleague here Jane Wilks is a plain clothes police officer. Scotland Yard has asked me to help with their investigation into the disappearance. If you are unhappy about me coming here, I could always report that and officers from Scotland Yard would come themselves to talk to you.”
“Oh no. That is the last thing we want, having the police round the house. The scandal would be disastrous, particularly at this delicate stage. Ask your questions.”
“To save time I will ask the direct question. Are you hiding Robert in the house or do you know where he is?”
Lady Emma replied very firmly “If you think that we have anything to do with the disappearance of that young man, you are very much mistaken.” While she was speaking both Amelia and Jane were looking at Beatrice, who looked more and more disturbed and tears started to appear at the corner of her eye.
“I’m sorry but I must put the question directly to Beatrice,” and they both looked a Beatrice, who burst into real tears and shook her head vigorously. “Alright, calm yourself Beatrice,” and handed her a handkerchief. Beatrice sniffed, blew her nose and looked at her mother. It was out of the question that Amelia could ask to search the house, but she still had not ruled out that this was all an elaborate hoax, and they knew where he was. “I will go back to the beginning, and you can fill me in from your side,” she began. “We obtained your name from the lawyers where Robert had his chambers. You consulted him about a matter, although they did tell us what it was about, because of client confidentiality.”
Beatrice spoke for the first time. “That was ages ago. A nasty neighbour of our’s prevented me from riding my horse along a bridleway across his land because he said it did not exist. I felt unhappy about going our local solicitor, who I suspected was working for the neighbour. My father knew of Cabus and Winstanley from a previous consultation he had had. Anyway, when I went up to London and spoke to them, I was passed on immediately to Robert. He was so kind. He took up my case and solved it in no time at all, or so it seems to me. I was able to ride the bridleway again within a couple of weeks, so different from how other lawyers behave. After my first consultation he took me to lunch, and when he had finished the case he asked me if we could walk out together. I agreed because he was so kind and had been so helpful, but it turned out rather quickly that we were not compatible. He was the perfect gentleman and very clever, but he would talk at length about the law and frankly” she paused a moment “I was bored. I finally managed to tell him that I could not walk out with him again. He was very upset and I don’t think he understood why I was ending the liaison.”
“And you have not seen him since then? Did he write?”
“I have not seen him since. he wrote once, but I did not reply.” It seemed to Amelia that what Beatrice had told her fitted what they had learned and Beatrice was telling the truth, but there was something not quite right. If, as Beatrice had said, she had not been in contact with Robert for many months, why was she so upset with their visit. She determined to find out, even if it meant upsetting Beatrice even further. She had to get to the bottom of it and asked the direct question.
“Thank you for being so honest with us. I know it must have been difficult for you, but I must ask ‘Why were you so upset when we called to see you if you had no feelings for Robert and had not seen him for months?” Beatrice looked as though she were about to burst into tears again, and her mother interjected forcefully “You are being very interfering and ill mannered, but I see you will not give up until you have the full story. i entreat you not to tell anyone else, what I am about to tell you.” Amelia and Jane nodded their assent.
“I am only interested in information which has a bearing on our case.”
“Well then. We believe that the Honourable Jasper St Anne is on the point of proposing marriage to Beatrice. They have been walking out for about a year, and as you can work out for yourself Sir Jasper was paying court Beatrice, throughout her short liaison with Robert. When Beatrice received you note about the disappearance of Robert, she first of all thought that Sir Jasper had found out about her liaison with Robert, had sought him out and killed him and somehow you had discovered the truth. I told her that she was being ridiculous, she is seeing Sir Jasper every day and there is no way he could have found out about Robert, never mind tracked him down and killed him. You will have to look elsewhere for your villain.” Amelia had no doubt about the truth of Lady Emma’s words.
“I am most terribly sorry for causing you such distress,” she said to Beatrice”We have clearly been following a false lead. Before we cause you any more heartache, we will take our leave.” Receiving a wan smile from Beatrice and a cool stare from Lady Emma, they took their leave. “Don’t forget that you gave your word that this will go no farther” was lady Emma’s parting shot.
Travelling back on the train, they conversed and agreed that what they had heard was to truth, that Robert was not there, and they had to find another line of enquiry. “We are running out of options” Amelia said “There is still the Tennis Club and perhaps we shall have to go back to his chambers. I would hate to admit to failure. Even more important, the longer Robert is missing, the greater chance there is of him turning up dead, and I don’t like to think of that either.” Amelia did not share with Jane that she had already decided to make a clandestine visit to Cabus, Winstanley et. al. So long as Ruddock had completed his ‘casing’ of the premises, Lord Fauntelroy and Algy would pay them a visit that very night.