Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.

PETER CHEYNEY

YOU CAN'T TRUST DUCHESSES

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2017



First published in Illustrated, Odham's, London, 11 Nov 1939
Published under syndication in, e.g.,
The Sydney Sportsman, Australia, 23 March 1942 (this version)
Collected in Mister Caution—Mister Callaghan
William Collins, London, England 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-06-05
Produced by Terry Walker and Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



Illustration

Headpiece from "The Sydney Sportsman," 23 March 1942



MacOLIVER held his glass of whisky and soda up to the light and regarded it gravely.

'It was an inside job,' he said. 'Work it out for yourself. Trevloar Towers is a big place and an old one, but it's modern enough inside. There are burglar alarms all over the place, the door and window locks are all up to date and the safe is the latest thing—a time-lock safe, too. Whoever pinched that necklace knew all about it.'

Callaghan nodded.

'What about the servants? he asked.

MacOliver said: 'There's one suspect, to my mind—the housemaid. Old Trevloar is away in France and there's only been a skeleton staff kept on at the Towers. First of all there's an old butler—Somers. He's been with the family for 20 years and is above suspicion. There's a footman-chauffeur named Franks who also seems O.K. There's a cook who's been there a long time, and then there's the housemaid. She looked a sight too smart for me. She's only been there four months and she might have been put in to look the place over and let in the boys who actually did the job. But it was an inside job all right. It had to be.'

Callaghan grinned. 'All the best jobs are inside jobs,' he said. 'Let's go back.'


THEY walked back to the office. When they got there Effie Thompson, Callaghan's secretary, said: 'Lord Trevloar's been on the telephone. He rang through half an hour ago. He arrived back from France last night and wants to see you.'

Callaghan said: 'Where is he?'

'He's at his house in Mount Street. He said he'd expect you at seven o'clock. He seemed frightfully worried about the necklace.'

Callaghan sat down and put his feet up on the desk.

'If somebody pinched a necklace of yours worth thirty thousand pounds, you'd be worried, too, Effie. That sort of money doesn't come easily these days.'

'You're telling me,' she said. 'Which reminds me. What about that rise I was going to get?'

Callaghan sighed. 'Remind me about it. Sometime next year would be the best time, Effie—around Christmas. Meantime ring through to Trevloar. Tell him I'll be with him at seven-thirty.'

'All right,' she said. She sighed heavily. 'But why I go on working for you I don't know.'

Callaghan searched for a cigarette. 'It must be my fatal charm,' he said. He grinned up at her as she bent over to light his cigarette.


CALLAGHAN stood on the steps of the Mount Street house and kept his finger on the bell-push. He looked at his watch. It was half past seven and a darkish night. From somewhere within came the sound of footsteps. He wondered what sort of person Lord Trevloar was and if he disliked people who were late for appointments.

Callaghan's eyes, wandering downwards, took in the area below and to the left of the steps on which he stood. On the area doorstep of the servants' entrance, lined up in a row stood six bottles of milk and a couple of newspapers. The private detective imagined that the routine of the house must have been badly upset by the news of the theft.

The door opened. Within, and with just the right expression on his face, stood the butler. His face was quiet and refined. His hair almost white. His shoulders bent.

'Mr. Callaghan?' he queried. 'Please come in, sir. His lordship is waiting for you in the study.'

Callaghan went in, followed the butler across the dimly-lit hallway, along the passage, into a room on the right. At the end, behind a desk set in front of heavily-curtained windows sat the peer, the desk-lamp reflecting on his greying hair. The butler brought forward a chair and silently left the room. Trevloar pushed forward a silver cigarette box. Callaghan helped himself, lit the cigarette and blew an excellent smoke ring.

Trevloar began to speak. His voice was quiet, incisive and tired. Callaghan thought a man must be very experienced to get a voice like that.

'Mr. Callaghan,' said the peer, 'I have sent for you because I find myself in a very difficult position. I heard the news of the theft of my necklace from Trevloar Towers yesterday, in Paris. I came back here at once. I have been trying all day to make up my mind as to what steps I should take. This evening I came to a decision. I have heard from the insurance company that you are the investigator they usually employ. I also understand that you are a man of complete discretion. May I take it that anything that is discussed in this room is absolutely and entirely confidential?'

Callaghan nodded

'I can understand your being worried,' he said. 'The necklace is insured for twenty thousand, but it's worth thirty-five thousand. It's a bad loss anyhow.'

The old man nodded. 'It's worth more than thirty-five thousand pounds to me,' he said. 'It's been in my family for six generations. But that is not the worst. I am even more concerned with the manner in which the necklace was stolen.'

Callaghan nodded. 'It was an inside job,' he said. 'Whoever stole that necklace knew just how to put the electric burglar alarms out of action. They also knew the combination of the safe and they were clever enough to wear gloves while they were opening it.'

'You're right when you say it was an inside job, Mr. Callaghan. It was more of an inside job than you could guess. I know who stole that necklace!'

Callaghan raised his eyebrows. 'Who was it?' he asked.

The old man passed a weary hand across his brow. 'It was my wife, Mr. Callaghan,' he said, grimly.

Callaghan grinned. He blew another smoke ring and watched it sail across the desk.

'That complicates things, doesn't it?' he said.

Trevloar got up. He walked across the room and stood in front of the fire.

'It does and it doesn't, Mr. Callaghan,' he said quietly. 'Let me tell you the circumstances. I was married in the early part of last year—as you probably know. I imagined that I was marrying an American woman of good family who wanted a title. I was wrong. Two months after my marriage I discovered that the woman I had married was a first-class American crook. A woman with a definite ability as an actress who had managed to keep out of gaol by a series of lucky chances. I made this discovery while we were at Trevloar Towers. I told her that a divorce must be arranged as soon as was possible. Her reply was that she would agree to a divorce only if I paid her ten thousand pounds. I refused. She then said that if she couldn't have the money she'd have the necklace—one way or another.'

Callaghan grinned again.

'A very pretty situation,' he said.

Trevloar nodded. 'There is no doubt,' he went on, 'that she selected her time—while I was away in France—to go down to the Towers and steal the necklace. It would be easy for her. She knew how the burglar alarms were fixed and she had somehow found out the combination of the safe. She went down there three nights ago, got in and stole the necklace.

'Last night, when I arrived here, she was standing on the other side of the road. I saw her as I got out of the car. She smiled at me and patted her handbag. She was as good as telling me that she had the necklace.'

Callaghan helped himself to another cigarette.

'Where do we go from there?' he asked.

'We pay her the ten thousand—or as little as she'll take. I have the money here. I expect you'll find her staying either at the Court Royal Hotel or at the Parkside. They are favourite spots of hers. She used to "work them"—I believe they call it—when she engaged in her previous career as a confidence woman in the days when she was called 'The Duchess.'

'I see,' said Callaghan, after a moment's thought. 'The idea is that I go and see her and do a deal. You don't want any scandal. And she knows it.'

'That is correct,' Trevloar replied. 'Go and see her some time tomorrow. I will give you the ten thousand pounds now. Settle this business as cheaply as you can, but don't let her swindle you. She's very sharp. By the way, have you ever seen the Trevloar necklace?'

Callaghan shook his head.

'Then you'd better go to the Antique Jewellery Show at Mardles in Bond Street tomorrow,' said Trevloar. 'They've got a very good paste replica of it on show there. Examine it carefully, and when you talk business with her see that she gives you the Trevloar necklace intact—and with no stones missing.'

'Don't worry,' said Callaghan. 'I don't think the duchess will pull anything on me.'

Trevloar walked back to the desk. He opened the top drawer, took out a new packet of banknotes and handed them to Callaghan.

'There are one hundred hundred-pound notes there,' he said gloomily. 'It took a great deal of trouble to raise. I hope you'll get her to take less than that.'

Callaghan counted the notes on the desk.

'Don't worry, Lord Trevloar. I think we can fix this business. By the way,' he asked cheerfully, 'have you such a thing as a cigarette? Your box is empty, and so is my case.'

'Certainly,' said Trevloar. He looked through several of the desk drawers until he found the box of cigarettes.

'Fill your case,' he said, 'and for heaven's sake when you see my lady wife don't let her do you down!'

'I won't,' said Callaghan grimly. 'I'll look at that replica at Mardles tomorrow morning, and I'll go and see her tomorrow evening. Perhaps she'll be in a good temper then. I'll telephone you what happens.'

He picked up his hat, said good night, and went. Outside in the hall the old butler waited by the front door. He smiled sympathetically as he opened it for Callaghan.

'Good night, sir,' he murmured, 'and good luck.'


IT was exactly eight o'clock when Callaghan pressed the bell at No. 16 Parkside Apartments. A thin-faced maid opened it.

'I'd like to see Lady Trevloar,' said Callaghan pleasantly.

The maid began to close the door. 'She doesn't live here,' she said acidly.

Callaghan put his foot inside the door.

'Then I'll come in and see "The Duchess," if you prefer that title,' he said. He was still smiling.

He pushed the door back and stepped into the hall. As he did so the door opposite opened and a woman came out. She was wearing a black evening frock. Callaghan thought that she looked as if she'd been poured into it. She was very beautiful, very sure of herself.

She said: 'Who is it wants to see the "Duchess"?'

Callaghan hung up his hat on the hall stand.

'I do,' he said with a grin. 'The name's Callaghan. I've come to talk a little business with you—about the Trevloar necklace.'

She smiled and showed a perfect set of teeth.

'Come right in, Mr. Callaghan,' she said. 'We are always open for business.'


IT was eight-thirty. Callaghan stopped talking. He stubbed out his cigarette.

'That's the position,' he said after a moment. 'I've told you exactly what Lord Trevloar told me last night. He doesn't want any scandal and the best thing you can do is to hand over the necklace and take the money. If you don't hand it over I don't suppose he'll do anything much. He won't bring an action against his wife. But if you try to sell it you'll be for the high jump. He'll put the police on you.'

He looked at her and grinned.

'Being a wise as well as a beautiful woman,' he concluded, 'I take it you'll sell?'

She nodded.

'How much?' she asked.

'Three thousand,' said Callaghan.

She shook her head.

'Make it five and I'll sell,' she said. 'But I've got to have the money quickly. I'm leaving London to-night. When can I collect?'

'Now,' said Callaghan. He took out his pocket-book.

'Hand over the necklace and I'll give you the money.'

He took out the wad of notes and began to count through them. She looked at the money in his hand then got up and walked out of the room. Callaghan watched her. She moved quickly and gracefully, like a cat. Callaghan put the balance of the notes back into his pocket.

When she came back he was holding the fifty hundred-pound notes in his hand. She held out a black leather case towards him. He took it, opened it. Inside the Trevloar diamonds sparkled from their bed of white velvet. He examined the necklace carefully. When he looked up she was smiling.

'It's all there, Mr. Callaghan,' she said primly.

She stood looking at him, one hand held behind her. He dropped the case into his coat pocket. Then he held the banknotes towards her. His smile faded as she brought her hand from behind her back. Callaghan found himself looking into the blue-steel barrel of an automatic pistol.

'I'll have all the money,' she said, 'if you don't mind. The whole ten thousand, and I shouldn't hesitate, otherwise this gun might go off. You can think yourself lucky I'm not asking for the necklace as well.'

Callaghan shrugged.

'You win,' he said. He took out his wallet and handed her the remainder of the banknotes. Then he lit a cigarette.

'There's just one thing,' he said. 'Lord Trevloar told me that my fee would be the difference between that ten thousand pounds and what I pay you. I think you ought to pay the fee.'

They stood smiling at each other. Then she said: 'All right. You can have two hundred pounds.'

Callaghan said: 'Won't you make it three hundred?'

She laughed. He thought that for a crook she was a very charming person. He almost liked her.

'Very well,' she said. She took the top three notes of the wad of banknotes and gave them to Callaghan.

He put them in his pocket.

'Thanks a lot,' he said. 'I hope we meet again some time.'

She went over to the sideboard. She put the automatic pistol under one arm while she poured out two cocktails. She handed one to Callaghan.

'Here's to the Trevloar necklace,' she said. 'By the way, when are you going to hand it to his lordship?'

Callaghan drank the cocktail. It tasted good.

'I'm going to telephone him now,' he said. 'He'll be glad to hear I've got it. I shall hand it over to him at once.'

She nodded. Then she said, smilingly: 'Mr. Callaghan. I think you've got a sense of humour. I might be able to tell you a rather funny story.' She looked at her wristwatch. 'I'm catching the night train for Paris,' she went on. 'I'm going from Victoria at nine-thirty tonight. If you care to meet me on the platform before the train leaves I think I can promise you a good laugh.'

'I'll be there,' Callaghan said. 'I like funny stories. Au revoir, duchess!'


CALLAGHAN went into the telephone box on the street corner opposite the Parkside Apartments. He rang through to the Trevloar house in Mount Street. A minute later Trevloar came on the line.

Callaghan said: 'I've got the necklace. Shall I bring it round? She stuck out for ten thousand so I paid it.'

Trevloar sighed.

'Well,' he said, 'it's something that we have the necklace back. Will you bring it round and hand it over to my butler, Somers. He'll put it in the safe here. I'm afraid I sha'n't be able to see you. I have to go out now.'

'Very well, my lord,' said Callaghan. 'I'll get a cab and come straight round. I'll hand it over to Somers. He'd better give me a receipt for it.'

'Excellent,' said the peer. 'And thank you for all you've done. Perhaps you'll call in and see me some time tomorrow.'

Callaghan said he would. Then he hung up, lit a fresh cigarette and waited for a taxi-cab.


CALLAGHAN, threading his way through the people on the 'Foreign Departure' platform, glanced up at the clock. It was just nine-thirty. He bought a platform ticket and passed through the barrier. A short distance down the platform, waiting outside the opened door of a first-class carriage, stood the duchess. She was wearing a three-quarter Persian lamb coat and a very smart travelling hat. He took off his hat.

'Well, duchess,' he said with a smile. 'I'm impatient to hear that funny story you were going to tell me.'

She smiled back at him. Then she stepped into the corridor of the train, closed the door, and leaned out of the window towards him.

'Believe it or not, I rather like you, Mr. Callaghan,' she said. 'Can you give me a cigarette?'

He gave her a cigarette and lit it—and one for himself.

She said: 'This is the funny story. It's very funny. You've been taken for a ride. That Lord Trevloar of yours is a phoney. He's as much Lord Trevloar as I am.'

Callaghan looked shocked.

'You don't mean it!' he said. 'Well, if he isn't Trevloar, who is he?'

'He's my old-time partner, Willie the Ritz,' she smiled, showing her lovely teeth. 'He and I made up our minds to get the Trevloar necklace while old Trevloar was in France. It was an inside job all right. Somers, the butler—the old family retainer—was in it with us. He got the safe combination for us and tipped us off about the burglar alarms.'

Callaghan looked even more shocked. He said nothing.

'I pulled a fast one on Willie,' she said with a charming little grimace. 'I got down there the night before we were supposed to do the job and pinched the necklace myself. Then Willie pulled a fast one on you. He knew that old Trevloar was in France and they didn't know his whereabouts. So he took a chance, telephoned to your office, said he was Trevloar and asked to see you at the Mount Street place. Somers, the butler, fixed that. He had the keys.

'Then Willie told you that funny story. All he wanted to do was to get that necklace. He knew that I couldn't dispose of it and he knew he could. So he was prepared to hand you ten thousand pounds to get it from me. He knew that I'd have to sell to you, and that he could make a good profit on the deal.'

She looked down at him and laughed. Porters began to close the train doors. Departure time had nearly arrived.

'It's very funny, isn't it?' she asked.

Callaghan said: 'Duchess, it's not so funny—for you! I knew Trevloar was bogus. While I was waiting on the front steps of the house in Mount Street I looked down into the area. The morning's milk bottles were still there—they hadn't been taken in—and the newspapers. I knew that Trevloar was supposed to have arrived from France the night before and I wondered why, in a well-conducted household, no one had taken the milk in. I began to be suspicious.

'After my conversation with him in the library I asked for a cigarette. He had to search through every drawer, in the desk to find a cigarette box. He didn't even know where his cigarettes were kept. That settled it. I knew he was bogus. And that's a funny story, too, isn't it, duchess?'

Her eyes widened. She looked at him, her mouth half-open, in surprise.

'For crying out loud!' she exclaimed. 'Well—if you knew he was a fake what did you do with the necklace I sold you—you didn't give it to him!'

Callaghan began to grin.

'Not on your life, duchess,' he said. 'You see, he told me to go and examine a paste replica in Bond Street before I saw you—so that you shouldn't do me down. I bought it. The necklace that I handed in to Somers this evening was the replica. The real necklace is in my office safe.'

She began to smile.

'They always told me you were pretty smart,' she said. 'I think you're wonderful. Will Willie be annoyed! Can you imagine what he said when he found that necklace was a fake and that he's paid ten thousand pounds for it!'

The train was just about to move. Callaghan threw away his cigarette stub.

'He didn't, duchess,' he said. 'If you examine the banknotes I handed you you'll find they're counterfeit. When Willie handed them to me they were in a bound package—as if they'd come straight from the bank. There were a hundred one-hundred pound notes. The top three notes were genuine and the rest counterfeit.'

His grin broadened.

'Naturally, I kept the three genuine notes on the top of the second packet and that's why I told you that fairy story about my being paid the difference between the ten thousand and what I was forced to pay you as my fee when you held me up for it. I got you to give me three one hundred-pound notes. Naturally, you took the ones off the top of the packet! They were the genuine ones. I've got them in my pocket. It was very kind of you, duchess!'

The train began to move out. Callaghan walked alongside it, looking up at her. She could not speak.

'Now that's what I call a really funny story,' said Callaghan. 'So-long, duchess. Have a nice trip. But don't try to spend any of that money or it'll land you in gaol. When you come back drop in and see me some time. Good night, my dear.'

The duchess said nothing at all. She looked as if she had been hit with a sledge-hammer. But she recovered herself just in time to lean out of the window and hiss a word or two at Callaghan as the train steamed out. I regret that the words she said were certainly not 'Good-night!'


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.