The Square Emerald - Edgar Wallace - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1926

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Edgar Wallace

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About
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

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

 

LADY RAYTHAM drew aside the long velvet curtains and looked down into Berkeley Square. It was half-past four o'clock on a cheerless February evening. Rain and sleet were falling, and a thin yellow mist added to the gloom of the dying day. An interminable string of cars and taxi-cabs was turning towards Berkeley Street, their shining black roofs reflecting the glare of the overhead lights that had just then hissed and spluttered to life.

She looked blankly towards the desolation of the gardens, a place of bare-limbed trees and shivering shrubs—stared, as though she expected to see some fog wraith take a definite and menacing shape, and give tangible form to the shadows that menaced reason and life.

She was a woman of twenty-eight, straight and slim. Hers was the type of classical beauty which would defy the markings of age for the greater part of a lifetime. A fascinating face—calm, austere, her eyes a cold English grey. You might imagine her the patrician abbess of some great conventual establishment, or a lady of broad manors defending inexorably the stark castle of her lord against the enemy who came in his absence. Analyse her face, feature by feature, put one with the other, and judge her by the standards which profess to measure such things, and brow and chin said "purpose" with unmistakable emphasis.

She was not in her purposeful mood now; rather was she uncertain and irritable, the nearest emotions to fear she knew.

She let the curtains fall back until they overlapped, and walked across to the fireplace, glancing at the tiny clock. The saloon was half lit; the wall sconces were dark, but the big lamp on the table near the settee glowed redly. This room bore evidence of money well but lavishly spent. The greater part of its furnishings would one day reach the museums of millionaire collectors; three pictures that hung upon the apple-green walls were earmarked for the National Gallery.

As she stood looking down into the fire there was a gentle tap at the door, and the butler came in. He was a tall man, rather portly in his way —a man of double chins and an unlined face. He carried a small salver in his hand, a buff oblong in the centre.

Lady Raytham tore open the envelope. It was dated from Constantinople and was from Raytham. She had been expecting the telegram all that afternoon. Raytham, of course, had changed his plans. In that sentence was epitomized his life and career. He was going on to Basra and thence to Bushire, to see the Interstate Oil Wells or the sites of them. He was expensively apologetic for two closely written sheets. If he could not return before April, would she go on to Cannes as she had arranged? He was "awfully sorry"; he must have said that at least four times.

She read it again, folded the pink sheets, and laid them on the table.

The butler was waiting, head slightly bent forward as though to catch her slightest whisper. She did not look at him.

"Thank you."

"Thank you, m'lady."

He was opening the door when she spoke.

"Druze, I am expecting the Princess Bellini and possibly Mrs. Gurden. I will have tea when they come."

"Very good, m'lady."

The door closed softly behind; she raised her sombre eyes and looked at the polished wood of it with a curious listening lift of her head, as though she expected to hear something. But the butler was going slowly down the stairs, a quizzical smile in his eyes, his white, plump hands sliding in and over one another. He stopped on the landing to admire the little marble statue of Circe that his lordship had brought from Sicily. It was a habit of his to admire that Circe with the sly eyes and the beckoning finger. And as he looked, his mouth was puckered as though he were whistling.

A sharp rat-tat on the door made him withdraw from his contemplation. He reached the hall as the second footman opened the door.

Two women came in out of the murk; through the open door he had a glimpse of a limousine drawing away.

"Her ladyship is in the drawing-room, your Highness—shall I take your Highness's coat?"

"You can't," said the first and the bigger woman brusquely. "Help Mrs. Gurden out of hers. Why you wear such horrible contraptions I can't understand."

Mrs. Gurden smiled largely.

"Darling, I must wear something. Thank you, Druze."

Druze took the transparent silk coat and handed it to the second footman; the Princess was already stamping up the stairs. She pushed open the door and walked in unannounced, and Lady Raytham, standing by the fire, her head pillowed on her arm, looked up, startled.

"I'm so awfully sorry. Push the light, Anita; the button is by your hand. Well?"

The Princess Anita Bellini struggled unaided out of her tweed coat and threw it over the back of a chair, jerked off her hat with another movement, and tossed it after the coat.

People who saw Anita Bellini for the first time gazed at her in a little awe; there was a certain ruthless strength in every line, every feature. She was something more than fifty and was just under six feet in height.

The masculinity of the powerful face was emphasized by the grey hair cut close in an Eton crop and the rimless monocle which never left her eye. Between her white teeth she gripped a long amber holder, in which a cigarette was burning.

Her speech was direct, abrupt, almost shocking in its frankness.

"Greta?"

She jerked the end of the cigarette-holder towards the door.

"Being fussed over by Druze. That woman would ogle a dustman! She's that age. It is a horrible thing to have been pretty once and to have produced certain reactions. You can never believe that the spirit has evaporated."

Jane Raytham smiled.

"They say you were an awfully pretty girl, Nita—" she began.

"They lie," said Princess Anita calmly. "Russells used to retouch my photographs till there was nothing left but the background."

Greta floated in, hands outstretched, her big, red mouth opened ecstatically.

"Darling!" she breathed, and caught both Jane's hands in hers. Anita Bellini's fleshy nose wrinkled in a sneer.

And yet she should have grown accustomed to Mrs. Gurden, for ecstasy was Greta's normal condition. She had that habit of touching people, holding them by the arms, stooping to look up into their faces with her big black eyes that sometimes squinted a little.

She had been pretty, but now her face was long and a little haggard, the face of a woman who was so afraid of missing something that she could not spare the time to sleep. Her lips were heavily carmined, her eyes carefully made up as though she were still expecting a call to return to the chorus from which Anita had rescued her.

"My lovely Jane! Exquisite as usual. That dress—don't tell me! Chenel,?? isn't it?"

"Is it?" Jane Raytham scarcely looked down. "No, I think it is a dress I bought in New York last year."

Greta shook her head speechlessly.

Anita Bellini blew out a smoke ring and tapped off the ash in the fireplace.

"Greta lays it on thick when she lays it at all," she said, and cast a critical eye over her hostess. "You're peaky, Jane. Missing your husband?"

"Terribly."

The irony of tone was not lost on Anita.

"Raytham—what is he doing? The man is ill of money and yet won't take a day off making it. Where the—oh, here he is."

Druze wheeled in the tea-waggon.

"Give me a whisky and soda, Druze, or I'll perish."

She drank the contents of the goblet at a gulp and handed back the glass.

Anita fixed her monocle more firmly and lit another cigarette. The door closed behind the butler.

"Druze wears well, Jane. Where did you get him?"

Lady Raytham looked up quickly.

"Does he? I scarcely notice him. He has always been the same so long as I can remember. He was with Lord Everreed before."

"That goes back a few years; I remember him when he was a young man."

The Princess had an unhappy habit of smiling with her mouth closed. It was not very pretty.

"It is funny how age comes—thirty to fifty goes like a flash of lightning."

She changed the subject abruptly and talked about her call of the afternoon.

"I went for bridge and got a string quartette playing every kind of music except one with a tune in it."

"It was lovely!" breathed Greta, her eyes screwed tight in an agony of admiration.

"It was rotten," retorted the grey-haired Anita. "And more rotten because my sister-in-law was there. The woman's narrowness depresses me."

Lady Raytham's eyes had returned to the fire.

"Oh!" she said.

"I asked her what she was going to do about Peter—thank heavens she has a little sense there! Peter has been wiped off the slate. Margaret would not even discuss him. The only person who believes in him is Everreed— but Everreed was always a simpleton. He would never have prosecuted, but the bank forced his hand."

She said this with some satisfaction. She had never liked her nephew, and Peter hated her—hated her gibes at him when he, the son of a wealthy man, had preferred a private secretaryship with that great Parliamentarian, Viscount Everreed, to entering his late father's bank. She had sat in court with a contemptuous smile on her lips when the haggard boy had been sentenced for forging his employer's name to a cheque for five thousand pounds.

The woman by the fire stirred her tea absently.

"When does—"

"He come out? About now, I think. Let me see, he had seven years, and they tell me that these people get a remission of sentence for good conduct—three months in every year. Why, the Lord knows. We pay enormous sums to catch 'em, and as soon as they are safe under lock and key we go tinkering with the lock to get them out."

"Disgraceful!" murmured Greta.

But Jane Raytham did not hear her.

"I wonder what he will do?" she mused. "Life will go pretty hardly for a man like Peter—"

"Rubbish!" Anita snapped the word. "For goodness' sake don't get melancholy about Peter! He has been five years in prison, and at Dartmoor —or wherever he is—they teach men to use their hands to do something besides forge cheques. He will probably make an excellent farm hand."

Lady Raytham shivered.

"Ugh! How awful!"

The Princess smiled.

"Peter Dawlish is just a fool. He belongs to the kind of human that is made for other people's service. If you start worrying about Peter, you'll shed tears over the partridge that comes to your table. I wonder what he thinks about Druze?"

Lady Raytham looked up.

"Do you think he still hates him?"

Anita pursed her large lips.

"Druze was Everreed's butler and cashed the cheque; the next day Peter disappears on his holiday—in reality, on his great adventure. He returns and is arrested, swears he knows nothing about the cheque, and accuses poor Druze of forgery—which doesn't save him from imprisonment."

Lady Raytham said nothing.

"Naturally Peter feels sore—if he still believes Druze was the villain of the piece. There may be trouble—we needn't deceive ourselves."

Her cigarette had gone out. She opened her bag with an impatient tug and searched.

"Matches? Never mind."

There was a letter in the bag; she tore a strip from the top and, bending, lit the paper at the fire.

"Who is Leslie Maughan?"

She was glancing at the signature which footed the letter.

"Leslie Maughan? I don't know him. Why?"

Anita crumpled the paper into a ball.

"Leslie Maughan would like to see me on a personal matter"—Anita invented the stilted and supercilious accent which she supposed the writer of the letter might assume. "And Leslie Maughan will be glad to know what hour will be convenient for me to see him. He is an inventor or a borrower of money or he has an expedition to the Cocos Islands that he would like me to finance. To the devil with Leslie Maughan!"


Chapter 2

 

DRUZE had come in noiselessly at the door and stood, hand clasping hand. His face was strangely pale; as he spoke his right cheek twitched spasmodically.

"Yes?"

"Will your ladyship see Miss Leslie Maughan—?"

"Miss!" snorted Anita, as Jane Raytham rose.

"Miss Leslie Maughan, of the Criminal Investigation Department, Scotland Yard?"

Lady Raytham put out her hand and gripped the back of the chair; her face was bloodless, she opened her mouth to speak, but no word came. Greta was staring at the big woman, but Princess Anita Bellini had no eyes but for the pale butler.

"I will see her—in the small drawing-room, Druze. Excuse me."

She swept out of the room and pulled the door behind her until Druze had disappeared round the lower landing. By her right hand was the door of her own room, and she entered swiftly and noiselessly, switching on the lights as she closed the door. She stared into the mirror. Ghastly! That white, drawn face of hers carried confession. Had she been betrayed? Had they fulfilled their threat?

Pulling out a drawer of her dressing-table, she fumbled for and found a little pot of rouge, and with a quick, deft hand brought an unaccustomed bloom to her cheeks.

Another glance at her face in the glass and she went out and sailed down the stairs, a smile on her lips and in her heart despair.

All the lights were lit in the little drawing-room, and her first emotion was one of surprise and relief. She had not known there were women detectives at Scotland Yard, but she could imagine them as hard-faced, sour creatures in ready-made clothes.

The girl who stood by the table looking down at the illustrated newspaper that Druze had supplied looked to be about twenty-two. She wore a straight nutria coat, a big bunch of violets pinned to one revere. As tall as Jane Raytham and as straight; trim, silken ankles, neatly shod; dark. The face under the upturned brim of a little felt hat was more surprising yet. A pair of dark eyes rose to meet Jane Raytham's. The lips, red as Greta's, yet owning nothing to artifice, were finely moulded, a firm, round chin, and the hint of a white throat somewhere behind the protective fur—in some confusion Lady Raytham catalogued the visible qualities of her unexpected caller.

"You are not Miss Maughan?" she asked.

When Leslie Maughan smiled, she smiled with eyes and lips, and the dimpled hollows that came to her cheek made her seem absurdly young.

"Yes, that is my name, Lady Raytham; I am awfully sorry to bother you, but my chief is rather a martinet."

"You are a detective? I didn't know—"

"That there were women detectives?" laughed the girl. "And you're right! My position is unique. I am assistant to Chief Inspector Coldwell. The Commissioners, who are rather conservative people, do not object to that. But I suppose I really am a detective. I make inquiries."

She stood by the table, one hand on her hip, one playing with the leaves of the picture paper, her unwavering gaze fixed on Jane Raytham.

"I'm making inquiries now, Lady Raytham," she said quietly. "I want to know why you drew twenty thousand pounds from your bank last Monday."

For a second the woman was panic-stricken; so far lost charge that she all but stammered the truth. The will that held her silent, apparently unmoved, was the supreme effort of her life. Then her training came to her rescue.

The control of her voice was perfect.

"Since when have the police had authority to supervise the banking accounts of private citizens?" she asked in cold, measured tones. "That is an extraordinary request. Is it, then, an offence for me to withdraw twenty thousand pounds from my own account? How did you know?"

"One gets to know things, Lady Raytham."

She was cool, unruffled by the indignation, real or simulated.

"Lady Raytham, you think we are being very impertinent and abominable. And it is certain that, if you report this matter to Scotland Yard, I shall be reprimanded. But we expect that."

Jane Raytham had so far recovered towards the normal that she could open her grey eyes in astonishment.

"Then why on earth have you come?" she asked.

She saw Leslie Maughan draw a deep breath, the ghost of a smile trembled at the corner of her mouth and vanished.

"Twenty thousand pounds is a lot of money," she said softly. There was a note of pleading in her voice, and, suddenly, with a cry she could not suppress, the significance of the visit flashed upon Lady Raytham. They knew. The police knew the destination or purpose of that money.

Her breath came faster; she could only look into those dark eyes in fear and try as best she could to order her thoughts. Dark eyes, violet—not the burnt brown of Greta's, but a violet that was almost black. A detective—this slip of a girl! She was well dressed, too; the femininity in Jane Raytham took stock unconsciously. The gloves were from Renaud's—only Renaud cut that quaint, half-gauntlet wrist.

"Won't you tell me? It might save you so much unhappiness. We try to do that at the Yard—save people unhappiness. You'd never dream that, would you? But the police are more like big brothers than ogres—won't you?"

Jane Raytham shook her head; it was a mistake, the only one she made, to attempt speech.

"No, I won't!" she said breathlessly. "There is nothing to tell—your interference is unwarrantable. I shall write—I shall write—"

She swayed, and instantly Leslie Maughan was by her side, and the strength of her grip was the second surprise that Jane Raytham had.

With an effort she wrenched her arm free.

"Now you can go, please. And if I do not report you, it is because I think you have acted in ignorance, over zeal."

She nodded towards the door, and Leslie slowly gathered up her bag and her umbrella.

"If you ever want me, you will find my telephone number on my card."

Lady Raytham still held the crumpled card in her hand. Now she looked at it, and very deliberately walked to the fire and dropped it into the flames.

"Or the telephone book," said Leslie as she went out.

Druze was in the hall, dry-washing his hands with nervous rapidity. He hastened to the street door and opened it.

"Good-night, miss," he said huskily, and she looked at him and shivered. And why Leslie Maughan shivered she did not know, but she had at that moment a vivid and terrifying illusion.

It was as though she were looking into the blank eyes of one who was already dead.


Chapter 3

 

LESLIE MAUGHAN came striding briskly along the Thames Embankment. It was a bitterly cold night, and the nutria coat was not proof against the icy northerner which was blowing. The man who walked by her side was head and shoulders taller than she. He had the gait of a soldier, and his umbrella twirled rhythmically to his pace.

"Suicide on the left," he said pleasantly, as though he were a guide pointing out the sights.

The girl checked her pace and looked back. "Really? You don't mean that, Mr. Coldwell?" Her eyes were fixed upon the dark figure sprawling across the parapet, his arms resting on the granite crown, his chin on his hands. He was a gaunt figure of a man, differing in no respect from the waifs who would gather here from midnight onward and strive to snatch a little sleep between the policeman's visits.

"It is any odds," said Mr. Coldwell carefully, "when you see one of these birds watching the river in that way, he is thinking up a new way of settling old accounts. Are you interested—sentimentally?"

She hesitated. "Yes, a little. I don't know whether it's sentiment or just feminine curiosity."

She left his side abruptly and walked back to the man, who may have been watching her out of the corner of his eyes, for he straightened himself up quickly.

"Down and out?" she asked, and heard his soft laugh.

"Down, but not out," he replied, and it was the voice of an educated man, with just a trace of that drawl, the pleasant stigmata which the Universities give to their children. "Did I arouse your compassion? I'm sorry. If you offer me money I shall be rather embarrassed. You will find plenty of poor beggars on this sidewalk who are more worthy objects of— charity. I use the word in its purest sense."

She looked at his face. A slight moustache and a ragged fringe of beard did not disguise his youth. Chief Inspector Coldwell, who had come closer, was watching him with professional interest.

"Would you like to know what I was really thinking about?" There was an odd quality of banter in his voice. "I was thinking about murder. There is a gentleman in this town who has made life rather difficult for me, and I had just decided to walk up to him at the earliest opportunity and pop three automatic bullets through his heart when you disturbed the homicidal current of my thoughts."

Coldwell chuckled.

"I thought I recognized you; you're Peter Dawlish," he said, and the shabby figure lifted his hat with mock politeness.

"Such is fame!" he said sardonically. "And you are Coldwell; the recognition is mutual. And now that I have hopelessly committed myself, I presume you will call the nearest City policeman and put me out of the way of all temptation."

"When did you come out?" asked Coldwell.

The girl listened, staggered. They had been discussing this man not a quarter of an hour before; she had spent the afternoon thinking of him, and now to meet him on that wind-swept pavement, he of all the millions of people in London, was something more than a coincidence. It was fatalistic.

"Mr. Dawlish, I wonder if you will believe me when I say that you're the one man in London I was anxious to meet. I only knew to-day that you were—out. Could you call and see me to-night?"

The man smiled.

"Invitations follow thick and fast," he murmured. "Only ten minutes ago I was asked into a Salvation Army shelter. Believe me, madam—"

"Mr. Dawlish"—her voice was very quiet, but very clear—"you are being awfully sorry for yourself, aren't you?"

She did not see the flush that came to his face.

"I suppose I am," he said, a little gruffly. "But a man is entitled—"

"A man is never entitled to be sorry for himself in any circumstances," she said. "Here is my card."

She had slipped back the cover of her bag, and he took the little pasteboard from her hand, and, bringing it close to his eyes, read, in the dim light that a distant standard afforded.

"Will you come and see me at half-past ten? I shan't offer you money; I won't even offer to find a job for you cutting wood or sorting waste-paper—it is a very much bigger matter than that."

He read the name and superscription again, and his brows met.

"Oh yes—really—yes, if you wish."

He was, of a sudden, awkward and uncomfortable. The girl was quick to recognize the change in his manner and tone.

"I'm afraid I'm rather a scarecrow, but you won't mind that?"

"No," she said, and held out her hand.

He hesitated a second, then took it in his. She felt the hardness of the palm, and winced at the thought of all that these callosities signified. In another second she had joined the waiting Coldwell. Peter Dawlish watched them until they were out of sight, and then, with a little grimace, turned and walked slowly towards Blackfriars.

"I knew about the smallness of the world," said Coldwell, swinging his furled umbrella, "but I had no idea that applied to London. Peter! It's years since I saw him last. He was rather a weed five years ago."

"Do you think he really is a forger?"

"A jury of his fellow-countrymen convicted him," said Mr. Coldwell cautiously, "and juries are generally right. After all, he needed the money; his father was an old skinflint, and you cannot run a hectic establishment and escort pretty ladies to New York on two hundred and fifty pounds per annum. He was a fool; if he hadn't taken that three months' holiday the forgery would never have been discovered."

"Who was she?" Leslie asked; she felt that this question was called for.

"I don't know; the police cherchezed la femme—forgive my mongrel French —but they never ran her to earth. Peter said it was a chorus-girl from the Paris Opera House. He wasn't particularly proud of it."

The girl sighed.

"Women are hell," she said profanely.

"Both places," suggested Mr. Coldwell, and twirled his grey moustache. "Both places!"

Near the dark entrance of Scotland Yard he stopped.

"Now," he said, standing squarely before her, "perhaps you will cease being mysterious, and tell me why you are so frantically interested in Peter Dawlish that you have talked Peter Dawlish for the past three days?"

She looked up at him steadily from under the lowered brim of her hat.

"Because I know just why Peter Dawlish is going to kill and whom he is going to kill," she said.

"Druze—a child would guess that!" scoffed the detective. "And he is going to kill him because he thinks Druze's evidence sent him to gaol."

She was smiling—a broad smile of conscious triumph.

"Wrong!" she said. "If Druze dies, it will he because he doesn't love children!"

Mr. Coldwell could only gaze at her.