The Coat of Arms - Edgar Wallace - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1931

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Edgar Wallace

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About
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

About Wallace:

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875–February 10, 1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals. Over 160 films have been made of his novels, more than any other author. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. (citation needed) He is most famous today as the co-creator of "King Kong", writing the early screenplay and story for the movie, as well as a short story "King Kong" (1933) credited to him and Draycott Dell. He was known for the J. G. Reeder detective stories, The Four Just Men, the Ringer, and for creating the Green Archer character during his lifetime. Source: Wikipedia

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Chapter 1

 

Officially they called the big, ugly barracks at the top of Sketchley Hill the Sketchley Poor Law Institution. Locally it was the Asylum. Only the oldest inhabitants could remember the furious controversy which had accompanied its building. Every landed proprietor within miles protested against the outrage; there were petitions, questions in Parliament, meetings en plein air when resolutions were passed demanding that the Government should stay its desecrating hand; but in the end it was built. And to the argument that it was a monstrous act of vandalism to erect an insane asylum with the loveliest view in Surrey, the officials concerned answered, reasonably enough, that even mad people were entitled to a pleasant outlook.

That was years ago, when the Old Man was a boy, walking moodily through the bracken and planning odd and awful deeds. Authority caught him young, before any of his fantastic dreams were realized. Three doctors asked him irrelevant questions (as it seemed to him), called at the infirmary and drove him away in a pony-cart, and answered him courteously when he asked if Queen Victoria knew about the trouble his younger brother was.

Here he lived for many years. Kings and queens died, and there were wars. On the white ribbon of the Guildford road the light carts and traps were superseded by swift-moving carriages that moved without horses. There was a lot of discussion about this up at Sketchley. New arrivals professed to understand it all, but the old man and his ancient friends knew that the people who explained the miracle were mad.

He had enormous, heartbreaking desires to go beyond the red brick walls and see and hear the world he had left behind, and when these came—as they did at intervals—he usually found himself in bed in a strange, silent room, where he remained until he grew content with the grounds and the ward and the nigger minstrel entertainments of the local world in which he lived.

Outside apparently nothing had altered much. There were some new houses over by Blickford, but Sketchley was, as he knew, unchanged. From his dormitory window he could see the gables of Arranways Hall. For forty-five years he looked through the window and saw those gables, and the smoke going up from the twisting chimneys in the winter, and the line rhododendron blooms in the spring. The church beyond was the same, though nowadays it had a flagstaff on which a Red Cross ensign was flown.

Then one night there came to him a terribly strong call for the lonely loveliness of Sketchley woods and the caves where he had brooded as a boy, and the sheer-walled quarry with the deep pond at its foot. It was a most powerful, tugging desire that could not be denied. He dressed himself and went out of the ward and down the stairs, taking with him a heavy hammer which he had stolen and concealed all that day.

The officer on duty in the hall was asleep, so the old man hit him with the hammer several times. The guard made no sound from first to last. Probably the first blow killed him. Taking his keys, the old man let himself out, crossed the grounds quickly, and passed through the lodge gate. He came to the cool woods of Sketchley in the early hours of the dawn, a wild old man with blood on his beard, and he sat on the very edge of Quarry Pit and looked down at the calm waters of the pool below.

And as he looked, he saw his old mother standing on the pool's edge, beckoning…

Mr. Lorney, of the "Coat of Arms", was not inclined to join in the hunt. He was a large man, broad-shouldered, bald, stern of face, harsh-voiced, a driver of men. He had no enthusiasm, little sense of public interest.

He had newly come to Sketchley, and received and returned the antagonism proper to a foreigner. The big inn he had bought was something of a white elephant, and that did not improve matters.

He played the races consistently and scientifically; was a student of sporting sheets, an authority on form, and an occasional visitor to Metropolitan race-tracks. Yet, oddly enough, he never discussed the sport with his customers, nor did he neglect his business.

He planned to cater for the better-class week-end custom, to make a road-house of this rambling Tudor inn, and to that end had furnished expensively and with considerable taste, had rescued and revitalized old gardens, had created lawns where untidy pastures had been, and had used so much paint upon the "Coat of Arms" that Sketchley smelt of it.

He had no time for escaped madmen, refused to enrol himself as a special constable, and became unpopular with his officious neighbours, who appeared in caps and armlets and carried overgrown truncheons.

The reporters who flocked to Sketchley found excellent accommodation but little news. Not that they suffered from his dumbness. Hundreds of thrilling columns described the search of the woods, the mystery of the unexplored caves beneath the woods, the clues, the personal narratives of terrified countryfolk who had seen the old man shuffle past in the dead of night, talking strangely to himself.

Then there was the dead keeper and his funeral; his history; the premonition he had had, and which he had confided to his friends. Front-page stuff for a week; feature stuff for page six; half-column stuff, paragraph stuff, and, at the end of a fortnight, no stuff at all, for the newspaper public is an exacting public, and demands that its stories shall move swiftly to a logical end, and there was no logical end to the Sketchley mystery.

"The sooner they forget all about it the better," said John Lorney. "We don't want people to think of Sketchley as though it were a murder hole. We want people to come down and camp in the woods, and if they've got their minds on the old man and his hammer all the time this'll be a grand season for visitors!"

The hardware merchants of Guildford did a thriving trade in new locks and bolts and window-fastenings. You seldom saw men and women abroad at night; even daring lovers went no farther than Hadleigh Copse, which was within running distance of the main road, where a bus passed every quarter of an hour.

Then the scare subsided, and people came out at night. The old man, of course, was dead or had gone away. On the night of his disappearance there had been seen the inevitable grey roadster, moving swiftly along the London road. This friendless old man, who had never received a visitor, suddenly acquired rich and powerful friends. Lovers strolled deep into the heart of Sketchley Woods. Daring young people began the re-exploration of the caves—and then the old man appeared again.

It was the night that Tinsden House was burgled and a thousand pounds' worth of silver plate vanished between two o'clock and four. A labourer whose wife was ill had gone on to the road for a smoke. It was a moonlight night, and as he paced up and down, waiting for the arrival of the doctor, he saw a figure move from the cover of a hedge and, crossing the road, vanish into a plantation. He moved towards the man, thinking he was a poaching friend.

"Hullo!" he called.

Then the figure turned his head, and he saw him distinctly: a bent old man, white-haired, white-bearded, his eyes "glaring"…

When the doctor arrived he had two patients on his hands.

Sketchley bolted its doors and fastened its windows after that. Detectives came from Scotland Yard and from Guildford. Chief Constables conferred importantly. And even as they sat in conference another big house was entered and another haul was made. This time it was the driver of the mail van between Guildford and London who saw the shabby figure standing by the roadside.

Inspector Collett, who came down from head-quarters, made an examination of the old man's record, but could find nothing in the books of the asylum that helped him to elucidate the mystery.

"He was either a first-class burglar when he was young, or he has learnt a lot in the asylum," he said. "Oh no, that isn't impossible; I remember a case… "

The fourth burglary was at Arranways Hall, an act of sacrilege. Lord Arranways heard a sound, and, getting up, passed into his young wife's room.

"I thought I heard a window break," he said in a low voice. "I'm going down to see."

"Why don't you call the servants?" she asked, a little fearfully.

She got out of bed and, slipping into her dressing-gown, followed him into the dark corridor and down the broad stairs. He whispered to her to go back, but she shook her head. He crossed the silent hall and threw open the library door. As he did so, somebody darted out of the shadows into the bright visibility of the open french windows. He had a glimpse of white hair and flowing beard, and his revolver jerked up. There was an explosion, the sound of smashing glass.

"Why did you do that?" he asked angrily.

As he fired she had knocked up his arm. There was the wreckage of a chandelier and a smother of ceiling plaster on the floor to prove it.

"Why on earth did you shoot at the poor old man?" she asked calmly.

He was middle-aged, irascible; the glamour of his second honeymoon had worn off. Marie Arranways could be very irritating.

"Or can you shoot burglars at sight?" she went on.

"The fellow was probably armed," growled his lordship. "Damned silly thing to do!"

She smiled, and walked ahead of him to the open french windows. There was no sign of the old man. Half-dressed servants came rushing down the stairs. A hasty examination of the room was made. There were two gold cups, presented by King Charles the Martyr to the seventh Earl of Arranways, and one of these was gone.

Eddie Arranways sulked for a week.

The old man was live news again, and, because of his peculiar atmosphere, world news. Carl Rennett, sometime police captain, duly returned from a fruitless world chase, read the story of the old man, examined carefully and minutely the details of his burglaries, and, packing his grip, left for England.

The cold and blusterous day Rennett's voyage finished at Southampton was a great day for John Lorney, for a horse called Sergeant Murphy won the Grand National Steeplechase and completed a double event which brought forty thousand pounds into the banking account of the landlord of the "Coat of Arms".

Captain Rennett went straight to Scotland Yard and presented his credentials, a letter of introduction from the Department of Justice at Washington, and the Chief Constable listened whilst the American explained just why he had come.

"We'll give you all the facilities possible," said the Chief, "but, as you probably know, Scotland Yard has no jurisdiction outside the Metropolitan area, and the matter is more or less in the hands of the local police. Their theory—and it is one we share—is that the old man must have learnt the business from some other inmate of the institution. He has no criminal history so far as the records show, but he is undoubtedly a great hoarder. That is one of the forms his lunacy took. We have been in touch with the best-known receivers, and, so far as we can discover, not a single piece he has stolen has been on the market. He is probably stealing for the sake o' stealing, and it is likely that we shall find his hoard intact."

"Where is it cached?" asked Rennett.

Chief Collett smiled.

"That's a pretty foolish question," admitted Rennett. "I suppose it is in one of the caves under the wood?"

"They've never been thoroughly explored," said the Chief Constable. "There are four or five strata, probably more—one layer under the other. If the old man dies, as he is likely to, the stuff may never be found. On the other hand, he may do something eccentric which will bring him into our hands. The country is terrified—I mean that part of the country."

He looked at the big American with a twinkle in his eye.

"You're an authority on burglaries?"

"That's my speciality," said Rennett calmly. "I suppose the letter from Mr. Adelton told you that? Yes, I've even written a book about them." He smiled good-humouredly.

He drove down to Sketchley that afternoon, and throughout the journey his mind was occupied by one problem. Bill Radley he expected to find in the Guildford area, but would his sleek partner be with him?


Chapter 2

 

Lord Arranways had not been fortunate in his first marriage. It had ended dramatically, almost tragically, when he was Governor of the Northern Provinces.

The Indian Secret Service is admirably efficient and can arrange most things, but it found it a little difficult to explain why one of the Governor's good-looking A.D.C.'s was found in his pyjamas in the Residency garden with a bullet through his shoulder, and why Lady Arranways had fled in her night things to the house of his military secretary, an hysterical woman, half mad with fear.

His lordship resigned his governorship; a divorce was arranged, with the wounded A.D.C. cited as co-respondent. Almost before the hurt was soothed Eddie Arranways met the Canadian beauty and was married again within two months.

He was a tall, rather faded man. He was good-looking, could be fascinating. Marie Mayford was flattered as well as fascinated. She too was caught on the rebound after an affair which had left her a little scared. She was very much in love with her husband at first. She discovered the second man in him almost before the honeymoon ended. He was querulous, suspicious, rather sorry for himself. He brooded over the humiliation of his first marriage, and too obviously anticipated no better result from his second. He questioned her every movement; called for an account of every hour of her time; left her, apparently to make long journeys, and arrived unexpectedly in the early hours of the morning. She was shocked, outraged, and once turned on him in a fury. If he had been penitent there might have been some hope for them, but he had a weakness for justifying himself.

"You've got to make allowances for me, my dear. I've had a pretty dreadful experience. Here was a woman I trusted—"

"I'm not interested in your first marriage," she said in a cold fury. "If I had an opportunity of meeting the first Lady Arranways and discussing the matter with her, I should probably find that she had received the same treatment as I am receiving."

He was hurt at this, and when he was hurt he sulked.

Dick Mayford, her brother, came down to Arranways and patched up the quarrel.

"She is a little unreasonable, Dick," Eddie Arranways complained. "You know the horrible time I went through in India—naturally it's left its mark, and it will be years before I get back to normal. I admit I'm suspicious. Why shouldn't I be, after my perfectly horrible experience? Marie is hard, a little unforgiving, and she absolutely refuses to take my point of view. The other day a fellow broke into the house—that old man—and I took a shot at him. She was furious with me."

Dick grinned.

"Of course she was furious with you. If you'd killed that poor old devil you'd have been the most unpopular man in England. Good lord, Eddie, you're a Justice of the Peace, and you know you're not allowed to shoot a man because he pinches a two-hundred-pound cup! You're mediaeval! You're living about three hundred years after your time. Your ancestors would of course have pinched the poor old man and put him in a dungeon with a large assortment of rats, or cut off his head or hung him on a gallows. But this is the twentieth century, old boy."

Eddie accepted much from his brother-in-law which was unacceptable from any other course. There was a reconciliation and very ceremoniously he marked the occasion by presenting Marie with an onyx and gold cigarette-lighter with her monogram in diamonds. She was touched by his awkward penitence, or the semblance of it.

Two months later, when Eddie was called to Washington to confer with an old colleague, she learned through her maid that he had commissioned a firm of detectives to watch her and prepare an account of her movements against his return. Dick Mayford's qualities as fixer were severely taxed in the weeks that followed.

It was Dick who suggested the trip to Egypt, and for the greater part of that holiday Eddie's behaviour was faultless, and the old pleasant relationships were revived. It was at the races in Cairo that his lordship met a very agreeable young man, Mr. Keith Keller, the son of a rich Australian. Keith had been educated in England. He was dapper, young, amusing, beautifully valeted, extraordinarily good-looking, but above all respectful. He did not seem greatly interested in Marie. He was, he confided to Lord Arranways, very much in love with a girl in Australia, who was coming to Europe in the fall. He knew a little about racing and a great deal about Lord Arranways, though his lordship was not aware of this. To all his excellent qualities add this, that he could listen without interruption and could express wonder and suggest admiration at the proper and appropriate moments.

He read the 360-page report which Eddie had written on the subject of Indian land tenure from cover to cover, and, what was more, understood it. He listened for three hours after dinner at Shepheard's Hotel whilst Eddie enlarged upon the irrigation scheme he had put before the Council, and which the Council had so summarily and so stupidly rejected. He had heard about the divorce, and, when Eddie touched on the matter, offered proper comment in a hushed tone.

Dick Mayford was rather amused. Lady Arranways was interested. One night, after a second-rate opera performance, Eddie asked the young man if he would escort her ladyship to the hotel. He had met a brother diplomat and they were going to the club together. Mr. Keller drove her home, one hand on the driving-wheel, the other in hers. She didn't know exactly why she was not annoyed. Perhaps she too was amused.

When, just before they reached the hotel, he kissed her, she did not protest. Eddie had been very trying that night.

He went up with her to their suite. He did not stay long. Before he left he kissed her again, and left her a little breathless.

They came home by easy stages, and Mr. Keller was a member of the party. They arrived in Rome at the height of the spring season. Venice was rather dull and silly; a white mist lay on the lagoon. They spent two nights at the Danielli and went on to Vienna.

One afternoon, when Marie left the Bristol, she saw a man standing on the sidewalk. He was chewing the unlighted stub of a cigar. A tall, rather stout man, with horn-rimmed spectacles. She only noticed him as she passed in the car, but later she saw him again, in the Ringstrasse, and pointed him out to Dick, who was with her.

"He looks like an American."

"What does an American look like?" asked Dick flippantly. And then, in a more serious tone; "How long is Keller staying with us?"

"Why?" she asked.

"Has he attached himself to the party?"

She shrugged one pretty shoulder.

"Eddie likes him, and he's rather amusing."

Then she changed the subject.

"I've had a letter from the Pursons, and it's all about the old man."

Dick frowned; he had forgotten the old man.

"Do you remember that detective who came down to Arranways? What's his name—Collett?"

Dick nodded.

"The fellow who expected the old man to do something tremendously eccentric?"

She nodded.

"He's done it," she said. "The Pursons' plate has been returned! When the servants came down one morning they found that a window had been forced and all the stolen property laid out neatly on the dining-room table. Somebody saw the old man walking on the edge of the wood that night, carrying a heavy bag. Isn't it the most amazing thing you ever heard! I hope to heaven he'll put back the Arranways cup. Eddie never lets a day pass without telling me that I'm responsible for its loss."

"Is Keller coming back with us to England?" asked Dick bluntly.

She half turned to look at him.

"Why?" Her voice was cold; those lovely eyes of hers were a little hard.

"I was just wondering." said Dick.

"Why don't you ask him? I don't know what he's going to do. For heaven's sake, Dick, leave all that nonsense to Eddie."

"Where did you go yesterday afternoon?" he persisted. "You went out with him."

"And the courier," she added. "We went to a restaurant on one of the hills. I don't know the name of it. There's an hotel there. Eddie knew all about it—in fact Eddie suggested it. We met him there."

Dick nodded.

"You met him at half past four; I heard him make the appointment. But you left the hotel soon after one, and you can get there in half an hour."

She sighed impatiently.

"We drove through the Prater. We stopped for coffee somewhere, and then we went on to Schonbrunn and saw the gardens. Have you any other questions to ask? We had the courier with us."

"You dropped the courier in the Prater and you picked him up there nearly two hours later," said Dick quietly. "Now don't look like that, darling I wasn't spying on you, only I happened to be in the Prater with a man from the American Embassy: I saw you drop the courier and spoke to him. Don't be a fool, Marie."

She did not answer.

Eddie was very difficult in Vienna; he was maddeningly unreasonable in Berlin. He quarrelled with everybody except Keith Keller.

He lived in a state of perpetual annoyance, and he had a certain justification, for in Berlin something happened. Marie lost a diamond bracelet, one of her wedding gifts. She had been to the theatre, had supped and danced at the Eden, and gone back to the hotel at one in the morning. She had put the bracelet with other articles of jewellery on her dressing-table, and in the morning it was gone. Her window was open at the top; the door was locked, and she was, as Eddie knew, a very light sleeper.

Three members of the criminal police came up from Alexanderplatz and conducted an investigation. There was no sign that the room had been entered from the outside, and the only possible way a thief could have got in was through the bathroom, the window of which opened into a deep well. There was also a door from the bathroom into the corridor, but this, so far as Marie could remember, was locked. Eddie was furious, although the wedding gift was not his but her father's.

"I can't understand it! I really can't understand it, Marie," he said. "You couldn't possibly have had the bracelet when you went to your room. Why should a burglar just choose that and leave all the other stuff?"

"I don't know. Ask the police." She was a little pale; her good-humour had momentarily failed her. "I won't swear that I remember taking it on, I was very tired. I may have dropped it while I was at the Eden."

But the police had already made inquiries in that direction. Eddie grumbled through every meal.

"Worth a couple of thousand pounds… sheer carelessness. Can't you remember, my dear?"

On the morning they left Berlin she went out to order some flowers to be sent to the ambassador's wife, and when she had concluded this errand she walked down Unter den Linden, turned into Wilhelmstrasse, having no definite objective, but desirous only of being alone.

Glancing idly across the road, she saw a man whom she instantly recognized. It was the tall, stout American she had noticed in Vienna. He still wore the same old brown suit, still clenched between his teeth the unlighted stub of a cigar. He was walking slowly, looking neither to left nor right, seemingly absorbed in thought. She stopped, watched him pass, and turned back towards the hotel. Glancing back over her shoulder as she turned into the Linden, she saw him. He had crossed the road and was following her at a distance.

She spoke to her brother about it. Dick Mayford was unimpressed.

"Americans are everywhere," he said. "Oh, by the way, Eddie has a new theory about your bracelet."

"I am getting a few theories about Eddie which I'm afraid are not as new as they should be," she said shortly.

Eddie's theory was, in reality, Keith Keller's theory. Keith had been down to the Alexanderplatz, and had inspected the criminal museum and had had a talk with its genial custodian, who was an encyclopaedia of information on criminal methods.

It was quite simple, explained Keith, for a clever thief to take a bracelet from a woman's arm. He had seen photographs and had had ocular demonstration performed for his benefit.

"I remember a fellow standing by you when we got up and danced at the Eden. A tall, rather dark-looking man. I thought he had coloured blood in him. Do you remember, when you took off your shawl—"

"I don't remember anything," she said, a little sharply.

Marie Arranways was worried. Though she could recall taking off her bracelet, she was not quite sure whether it was on the night it was lost or on some previous night. There is a certain timeless mechanism in the process of disrobing. When you do the same things night after night for years…

At dinner Eddie revived the hateful topic. "When you locked your door that night, do you remember where you left the key—"

"For God's sake talk about something else!" she said.

Eddie did not speak to her again until the day they arrived in England.