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

The Yellow Snake darmowy ebook

Edgar Wallace

(0)
0,00 zł
Do koszyka

Ebooka przeczytasz na:

e-czytniku EPUB
tablecie EPUB
smartfonie EPUB
komputerze EPUB
Czytaj w chmurze®
w aplikacjach Legimi.
Dlaczego warto?

Pobierz fragment dostosowany na:

Opinie o ebooku The Yellow Snake - Edgar Wallace

Fragment ebooka The Yellow Snake - Edgar Wallace

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

Copyright: This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70.
Note: This book is brought to you by Feedbooks
http://www.feedbooks.com
Strictly for personal use, do not use this file for commercial purposes.

Chapter 1

 

There was no house in Siangtan quite like Joe Bray's. For the matter of that, Joe was unique even in China, to which so many unusual personalities have drifted since the days of Marco Polo.

The house was of stone and had been designed by one Pinto Huello, a drunken Portuguese architect, who had left Portugal in circumstances discreditable to himself, and had drifted via Canton and Wuchau to this immense and untidy town.

The general theory is that Pinto drew his plans after a night of delirium in a paradise of smoke, and had amended them in remorse. The change of plans came when the building was half erected, so that the portion of 'Northward' which had so strong a resemblance to the porcelain tower, stood for Pinto in his unregenerate mood, and all that had any likeness to a riverside go-down fairly represented the erratic Portuguese in the period of reaction.

Joe was big and many-chinned, a mountain of a man who loved China and gin and his long daydreams. He dreamt of wonderful things, mostly impracticable. It was his joy and delight to feel that from this forgotten corner of the world he could pull levers and turn switches that would produce the most profound changes in the lot of mankind.

A lethargic Haroun al-Raschid, he would have walked in disguise amidst the poor, showering gold upon the deserving. Only he could never find the right kind of poor.

China is a land greatly conducive to dreaming. From where he sat he could glimpse the crowded waters of the Siang-kiang. In the light of the setting sun a streak of purple oil that appeared and disappeared behind the rambling skyline of Siangtan. The rhomboid sails of the sampans that go down to the big lake were bronze and golden in the last red rays, and from this distance the buzzing life of this vast hive of a city was neither apparent nor audible; nor, for the matter of that, smellable.

Not that old Joe Bray objected to the scent which is China's. He knew this vast land from Manchuria to Kwang-si—from Shan-tung to the Kiao-Kio valley where the queer Mongolian folk talk pidgin French. And China was the greater part of the world to him. The sin and the stink of it were the normalities of life. He thought Chinese, would have lived Chinese but for that inexorable partner of his. He had tramped the provinces on foot, fought his way out of more forbidden towns than any man of his years, had been stripped for death in the Yamen of that infamous Fu-chi-ling, sometime governor of Su-kiang, and had been carried in honour in a mandarin's palanquin to the very court of the Daughter of Heaven.

It was all one to Joe Bray, English by birth, American by barefaced claim when America found most favour, for he was a millionaire and more. His house on the little hill where the river turns was a palace. Coal had helped, and copper, and the trading-posts of the syndicate that went up as far as the Amur goldfields had added to the immense reserves which had accumulated with such marvellous rapidity in the past ten years.

Joe could sit and dream, but rarely had his dreams materialized so faithfully as the vision which lolled in a deep deck-chair. Fing-Su was tall for a Chinaman and good-looking by European standards. But for the characteristic slant of his black eyes there was nothing that was typically Chinese about him. He had the petulant mouth and the straight, thin nose of his French mother, the jet-black hair and peculiar pallor of old Shan Hu, that crafty old merchant and adventurer, his father. He wore now a thick padded silk coat and shapeless trousers that ran into his shoes. His hands were respectfully hidden in the loose sleeves of his coat, and when he brought one to daylight to flick the ash from his cigarette, he returned it mechanically, instinctively, to its hiding-place.

Joe Bray signed and sipped at his potion.

"You got everything right, Fing-Su. A country that's got no head has got no feet—it can't move—it's just gotter stand still and go bad! That's China. There's been some big fellers here—the Mings and—and old man Hart and Li Hung."

He sighed again, his knowledge of ancient China and her dynasties was nothing at all.

"Money's nothing unless you use it right. Look at me, Fing-Su! Neither chick nor child, an' worth millions—millions! My line as they say, is finished—almost."

He rubbed his nose irritably.

"Almost," he repeated, with an air of caution. "If Certain People do what I want 'em to do it won't be—but will Certain People do it? That's the question."

Fing-Su surveyed him with his fathomless eyes.

"One would have imagined that you had but to express a wish for that wish to be fulfilled."

The young Chinaman spoke with that queerly exaggerated drawl which is peculiar to the University of Oxford. Nothing gave Joe Bray greater pleasure than to hear his protégé's voice; the culture in it, the pedantry of each constructed sentence, the unconscious air of superiority of tone and manner, were music to the ears of the dreamer.

Fing-Su was indeed a graduate of Oxford University and a Bachelor of Arts, and Joe had performed this miracle.

"You're an educated man, Fing, and I'm a poor old roughneck without hist'ry, geography or anything. Books don't interest me and never did. The Bible—especially Revelation—that's a book and a half."

He swallowed the remainder of the colourless liquor in his glass and exhaled a deep breath.

"There's one thing, son—them shares I gave you——"

A long and awkward pause. The chair creaked as the big man moved uncomfortably.

"It appears from somethin' He said that I oughtn't to have done it. See what I mean? They're no value—it was one of His ideas that they was ever got out. Not worth a cent 's far as money goes."

"Does He know that I have them?" asked Fing-Su.

Like Joe, he never referred to Clifford Lynne by name, but gave the necessary pronoun a significant value.

"No, He doesn't." said Joe emphatically. "That's the trouble. But he talked about 'em the other night. Said that I mustn't part with one—not one!"

"My revered and honoured father had nine," said Fing-Su, in his silkiest tone, "and now I have twenty-four."

Joe rubbed his unshaven chin. He was in a fret of apprehension.

"I give 'em to you—you've been a good boy, Fing-Su… Latin an' philos'phy an' everything. I'm crazy about education an' naturally I wanted to do somep'n' for you. Great stuff, education." He hesitated, pulling at his lower lip. "I'm not the kind of man who gives a thing and takes it back again. But you know what he is, Fing-Su."

"He hates me," said Fing-Su dispassionately. "Yesterday he called me a yellow snake."

"Did he?" asked Joe dismally.

His tone conveyed his utter helplessness to rectify a distressing state of affairs.

"I'll get round him sooner or later," he said, with a wan effort to appear confident. "I'm artful, Fing-Su—got ideas back of my mind that nobody knows. I gotta scheme now … "

He chuckled at a secret thought, but instantly became sober again.

"… about these shares. I'll give you a couple of thousand for 'em—sterling. Not worth a cent! But I'll give you a couple of thousand."

The Chinaman moved slightly in his chair and presently raised his black eyes to his patron.

"Mr Bray, of what use is money to me?" he asked, almost humbly. "My revered and honoured father left me rich. I am a poor Chinaman with few necessities."

Fing-Su threw away his burnt-out cigarette and rolled another with extraordinary dexterity. Almost before paper and tobacco were in his hands they had become a smoking white cylinder.

"In Shanghai and Canton they say that the Yun Nan Company has more money than the Government has ever seen," he said slowly. "They say that the Lolo people found gold in Liao-Lio valley——"

"We found it," said Joe complacently. "These Lolo couldn't find anything except excuses to burn down Chinese temples."

"But you have the money," insisted Fing-Su. "Idle money——"

"Not idle—gettin' four 'n' half per cent on it," murmured Joe.

Fing-Su smiled.

"Four and a half per cent! And you could get a hundred! Up in Shan-si there is a billion dollars worth of coal—a million times a billion! You can't work it, I know—there is no strong man sitting in the Forbidden City to say 'Do this' and it is done. And if there was, he would have no army. There is an investment for your reserves; a strong man."

"I dessay."

Joe Bray looked round fearfully. He hated Chinese politics—and He hated them worse.

"Fing-Su," he said awkwardly, "that long-faced American consul was up here to tiffin yesterday. He got quite het up about your Joyful Hands—said there was too many 'parlours' in the country anyway. An' the central government's been makin' inquiries. Ho Sing was here last week askin' when you reckoned you would be goin' back to London."

The Chinaman's thin lips curled in a smile.

"They give too great an importance to my little club," he said. "It is purely social—we have no politics. Mr Bray, don't you think that it would be a good idea if Yun Nan reserves were used——?"

"Nothin' doin'!" Joe shook his head violently. "I can't touch 'em anyway. Now about them shares, Fing——"

"They are at my bankers in Shanghai—they shall be returned," said Fing-Su. "I wish our friend liked me. For him I have nothing but respect and admiration. Yellow Snake! That was unkind!"

His palanquin was waiting to carry him back to his house and Joe Bray watched the trotting coolies until a turn of the hill road hid them from view.

At Fing-Su's little house three men were waiting, squatting on their haunches before the door. He dismissed his bearers and beckoned the men into the dark mat-covered room which served him as a study.

"Two hours after sunset, Clifford Lynne" (he gave him his Chinese name) "comes into the city by the Gate of Beneficent Rice. Kill him and every paper that he carries bring to me."

Clifford came to the minute, but through the Mandarin Gate, and the watchers missed him. They reported to their master, but he already knew of Clifford's return and the way by which he came.

"You will have many opportunities," said Fing-Su, Bachelor of Arts. "And perhaps it is well that this thing did not happen whilst I was in the city. Tomorrow I go back to England, and I will bring back Power!"


Chapter 2

 

It was exactly six months after Fing-Su left for Europe, that the partners of Narth Brothers sat behind locked doors in their boardroom in London, facing an unusual situation. Stephen Narth sat at the head of the table; his big, heavy, white face with its perpetual frown indicated that he was more than usually troubled.

Major Gregory Spedwell, yellow and cadaverous, sat on his right. Major Spedwell with his black, curly hair and his cigarette-stained fingers, had a history that was not entirely military.

Facing him was Ferdinand Leggat, a wholesome John Bull figure, with his healthy-looking face and his side-whiskers, though in truth the wholesomeness of his appearance was not borne out by his general character, for 'John Bull Leggat' had endured many vicissitudes which were not wholly creditable to himself—before he came to the anchor of comparatively respectable harbourage of Narth Brothers Ltd.

There had been a time when the name of Narth was one with which one could conjure in the City of London. Thomas Ammot Narth, the father of the present head of the firm, had conducted a very excellent, though limited, business on the Stock Exchange, and had for his clients some of the noblest houses in England.

His son had inherited his business acumen without his discrimination, and in consequence, whilst he had increased the business of the firm in volume, he had accepted clients of a character which did not find favour with the older supporters of his firm, and when he found himself in court, as he did on one or two occasions, disputing the accuracy of clients' instructions, the older supporters of his house had fallen away, and he was left with a clerk and speculator which offered him the opportunities rather of sporadic coups than the steadiness of income which is the sure foundation of prosperity.

He had eked out the bad times by the flotation of numerous companies. Some of these had been mildly successful, but the majority had pursued an inevitable and exciting course which landed them eventually before that official whose unhappy duty it is to arrange the winding up of companies.

It was in the course of these adventures that Stephen Narth had met Mr Leggat, a Galician oil speculator, who also conducted a theatrical agency and a moneylending business, and was generally to be found on the ground floor of jerry-built flotations.

The business which had brought the three members of the firm at nine o'clock in the morning to their cold and uninviting offices at Minchester House had nothing whatever to do with the ordinary business of the firm. Mr Leggat said as much, being somewhat oracular in his methods.

"Let us have the matter fair and square," he said. "This business of ours is as near to bankruptcy as makes no difference. I say bankruptcy, and for the time being we will let the matter stay right there. What may be revealed at the bankruptcy proceedings doesn't affect Spedwell and doesn't affect me. I haven't speculated with the company's money—neither has Spedwell."

"You knew——" began Narth hotly.

"I knew nothing." Mr Leggat waved him to silence. "The auditors tell us that the sum of fifty thousand pounds is unaccounted for. Somebody has been gambling on 'Change—not me; not Spedwell."

"It was on your advice——"

Again Mr Leggat held up his hand.

"This isn't the moment for recrimination. We're short fifty thousand, more or less. Where and how are we going to raise the money?"

His eyes met Spedwell's, and for an instant of time that saturnine man showed evidence of approval and amusement.

"It is all very well for you fellows to talk," growled Narth, wiping his moist face with a silk handkerchief. "You were all in the oil speculation—both of you!"

Mr Leggat smiled and shrugged his broad shoulders, but made no comment.

"Fifty thousand pounds is a lot of money." Spedwell spoke for the first time.

"An awful lot," agreed his friend, and waited for Mr Narth to speak.

"We didn't come here today to discuss what we already know," said Narth impatiently, "but to find a remedy. How are we going to face the music? That is the question."

"And simply answered, I think," said Mr Leggat, almost jovially. "I for one have no desire to face again—when I say 'again' let me correct myself and say for the first time—the miseries of Wormwood Scrubbs. We have—I should say you have—got to raise the money. There remains only one possibility," said Mr Leggat slowly, and all the time he was speaking his keen eyes did not leave Stephen Narth's face. "You are the nephew or cousin of Mr Joseph Bray, and, as all the world knows, Mr Joseph Bray is rich beyond the dreams of avarice. He is reputedly the wealthiest man in China, and I understand—correct me if I am wrong—that you and your family are in receipt of a yearly stipend—pension—from this gentleman——"

"Two thousand a year," broke in Narth loudly. "That has nothing whatever to do with this business!"

Mr Leggat glanced at the Major and smiled.

"The man who allows you two thousand a year must be approachable on one side or another. To Joseph Bray fifty thousand pounds is that!" He snapped his finger. "My dear Narth, this is the situation. In four months' time, possibly sooner, you will stand your trial at the Old Bailey, unless you can secure the money to lock up the bloodhounds who will soon be on your trail."

"On all our trails," said Narth sullenly. "I'm not going alone—understand that! And you can get out of your head the idea that I can persuade old Joe Bray to send me a cent more. He is as hard as nails and his manager is harder. You don't suppose that I haven't tried him before, do you? I tell you he is impossible."

Mr Leggat looked at Major Spedwell again, and they both sighed and rose as though some signal, invisible to Narth, had been given.

"We will meet the day after tomorrow," said Leggat, "and you had better work the cable to China, because the only alternative to Mr Joseph Bray may be even more unpleasant than penal servitude."

"What do you mean?" demanded Narth, rage in his smouldering eyes.

"I mean," said Mr Leggat, as he lit a cigar with great deliberation, "the assistance of the gentleman named Mr Grahame St Clay."

"And who the devil is Grahame St Clay?" asked the astonished Narth.

Mr Leggat smiled cryptically.


Chapter 3

 

Stephen Narth ordinarily left his office in Old Broad Street at four o'clock, at which hour his limousine was waiting to carry him to his beautiful house at Sunningdale. But this evening he lingered on, not because he had any especial business to transact, or because he needed the time to brood over his unfortunate position, but because the China mail was due by the five o'clock post, and he expected the monthly draft to which Leggat had made reference.

Joseph Bray was his second cousin, and in the days when the Narths were princes of commerce and the Brays the poorest of poor relations (they called themselves Bray-Narth, but old Joseph had dropped the hyphenated style, being a man of little education), the great family was scarcely cognisant of Joe Bray's movements. Until, ten years before, Mr Narth had received a letter from his cousin saying that he was anxious to get in touch with his only relative, they were unaware that such a man as Joseph existed, and Mr Stephen Narth's first inclination, as he read the ill-spelt, illiterate letter, was to tear it up and throw it into the wastepaper basket, for he had sufficient troubles of his own without being called upon to shoulder the burden of distant relatives. It was only at the tag-end of the letter that he discovered his correspondent was that Bray whose name was famous in the Stock Exchanges of the world—the veritable Bray, of Yun Nan Concession. Thereafter, Joseph assumed a new importance.

They had never met. He had seen a photograph of the old man, grim and grey and hard, and it was probably this picture which had inhibited those appeals for further help which he so glibly claimed to have sent.

Perkins, his clerk, came in with a letter soon after five.

"Miss Joan came this afternoon, sir, whilst you were at the board meeting."

"Oh!" replied Stephen Narth indifferently.

Here was a Bray that represented a responsibility, one of the two members of the cadet family he had known about until old Joseph's letter came. She was a distant cousin, had been brought up in his home and had received the good but inexpensive education to which poor relations are entitled. Her position in his household he would have found it difficult to define. Joan was very useful. She could take charge of the house when the girls were away. She could keep accounts and could replace a housekeeper or, for the matter of that, a housemaid. Though she was a little younger than Letty, and very much younger than Mabel, she could serve to chaperone either.

Sometimes she joined the theatre parties that the girls organized, and occasionally she went to a dance when an extra partner was wanted. But usually Joan Bray remained in the background. There were times when it was inconvenient even that she should join one of his select little dinner parties, and then Joan had her meal in her big attic room, and, if the truth be told, was more than a little relieved.

"What did she want?" asked Mr Narth as he cut open the flap of the only letter that counted.

"She wanted to know if there was anything to take back to Sunningdale. She came up to do some shopping with Miss Letty," said his old clerk, and then: "She asked me if any of the young ladies had telephoned about the Chinamen."

"Chinamen?"

Perkins explained. There had appeared that morning in the grounds of Sunni Lodge two yellow men, "not wearing much clothing either." Letty had seen them lying in the long grass near the farm meadow—two powerful-looking men, who at the sight of her had leapt up and had fled to the little plantation which divided Lord Knowesley's estate from the less pretentious domain of Mr Narth.

"Miss Letty was a little frightened," said Perkins.

Miss Letty, who lived on the raw edge of hysteria, would be frightened, undoubtedly.

"Miss Joan thought the men belonged to a circus which passed through Sunningdale this morning," said Perkins.

Mr Narth saw little in the incident, and beyond making a mental note to bring the matter to the notice of the local police, dismissed from his mind all thought of Chinamen.

Slowly he tore open the flap of the envelope. The cheque was there, but also, as he had realized when he handled the package, a letter of unusual length. Joe Bray was not in the habit of sending long epistles. As a rule, a sheet of paper bearing the inscription 'With Comps.' was all that accompanied the draft.

He folded the purple-coloured draft and put it into his pocket, and then began to read the letter, wondering why this relative of his had grown suddenly so communicative. It was written in his own crabbed hand and every fourth word was mis-spelt.

Dear Mr Narth (Joe never addressed him in any other way).

I dare say you will wonder why I have written to you such a long letter. Well, dear Mr Narth, I must tell you that I have had a bad stroke, and am only getting better very slowly. The doctor says he can't be sure how long I've got to live, so I thought I would fix up the future and make a will, which I have now done, through Mr Albert Van Rys, the lawyer. Dear Mr Narth, I must tell you that I have got a great admiration for your family, as you well know, and I have been long thinking how I should help your family, and this is what I have done. My manager, Clifford Lynne, who has been with me since a boy and was my partner when I found this reef, is a good young fellow (Clifford Lynne, I mean), so I have decided he should marry into my family and keep the name going. I know you have several girls in your house, two daughters and a cousin, and I want Clifford to marry one of these, which he has agreed to do. He is on his way over now and should be with you any day. My will is as follows: I leave you two thirds of my share in the mine, one-third to Clifford, on condition that one of these girls marries him. If these girls refuse, all the money goes to Clifford. The marriage is to occur before the thirty-first of December of this year. Dear Mr Narth, if this is not agreeable to you, you will get nothing on my death.

Yours sincerely,

Jos. Bray.

Stephen Narth read the letter open-mouthed, his mind in a whirl. Salvation had come from the most unexpected quarter. He rang a bell to summon the clerk and gave him a few hasty instructions, and, not waiting for the lift, ran down the stairs and boarded his car. All the way to Sunningdale he turned over in his mind the letter and its strange proposal.

Mabel, of course! She was the eldest. Or Letty—the money was as good as in his pocket…

As the car went up the drive between bushes of flowering rhododendrons he was almost gay, and he sprang out with a smile so radiant that the watchful Mabel, who saw him from he lawn, realized that something unusual had happened and came running to meet him, as Letty appeared at the big front door. They were handsome girls, a little plumper than he could wish, and the elder inclined to take a sour view of life which was occasionally uncomfortable.

"… Did you hear about those horrid Chinamen?" Mabel fired the question as he stepped from the car. "Poor Letty nearly had a fit!"

Ordinarily he would have snapped her to silence, for he was a man who was irritated by the trivialities of life, and the irruption of a yellow trespasser or two was not a matter to interest him. But now he could afford to smile indulgently and could make a joke of his daughter's alarming experience.

"My dear, there was nothing to be afraid of—yes, Perkins told me all about it. The poor fellows were probably as much scared as Letty! Come into the library; I have something rather important to tell you."

He took them into the handsomely appointed room, shut the door and told his astonishing news, which, to his consternation, was received silently. Mabel took out her perennial cigarette, flicked the ash on the carpet and looked across at her sister, and then:

"It's all very fine for you, father, but where do we come in?" she asked.

"Where do you come in?" said her parent in astonishment. "Isn't it clear where you come in? This fellow gets a third of the fortune——"

"But how much of the third do we get?" asked Letty, the younger. "And besides, who is this manager? With all that money, father, we ought to do better than a mine manager."

There was a dead silence here which Mabel broke.

"We shall have to depend on you for the settlement, anyway," she said. "This old gentleman seems to think it quite good enough for any girl if her husband is rich. But it wouldn't be good enough for me."

Stephen Narth turned suddenly cold. He had never dreamt that opposition would come from this quarter.

"But don't you see, girls, that unless one of you marries this fellow we get nothing? Of course I would do the right thing by you—I'd make a handsome settlement."

"How much is he leaving?" asked the practical Mabel. "That's the crux of the whole question. I tell you frankly I'm not going to buy a pig in a poke; and besides, what is to be our social position? We'd probably have to go back to China and live in some horrible shanty."

She sat on the edge of the library table, clasping her crossed knee, and in this attitude she reminded Stephen Narth of a barmaid he had known in his early youth. There was something coarse about Mabel which was not softened by the abbreviation of her skirts or by the beauty of her shingled head.

"I've had enough scrimping and saving," she went on, "and I tell you honestly, that so far as marriage with an unknown man is concerned, you can count me out."

"And me," said Letty firmly. "It is quite right what Mabel says, there is no position at all for this wretched man's wife."

"I dare say he would do the right thing," said Stephen Narth feebly. He was entirely dominated by these two daughters of his.

Suddenly Mabel leapt to her feet and stepped down to the floor, her eyes shining.

"I've got it—Cinderella!"

"Cinderella?" He frowned.

"Joan, of course, you great booby! Read the letter again."

They listened breathlessly, and when he came near to the end, Letty squeaked her delight.

"Of course—Joan!" she said. "There's no reason why Joan shouldn't marry. It would be an excellent thing for her—her prospects are practically nil, and she'd be an awful bore, father, if you were very rich. Goodness knows what we could do with her."

"Joan!" He fondled his chin thoughtfully. Somehow he had never considered Joan as a factor. For the fourth time he read the letter word by word. The girls were right. Joan fulfilled all Joe Bray's requirements. She was a member of the family. Her mother had been a Narth. Before he had put the letter down, Letty had pressed the bell on the table and the butler came in.

"Tell Miss Bray to come here, Palmer," she said, and three minutes later a girl walked into the library—the sacrifice which the House of Narth designed to propitiate the gods of fortune.