White Face - Edgar Wallace - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1930

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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

 

Michael Quigley had a fair working knowledge of perverse humanity, having acquaintance with burglars, the better class of confidence man, professional forgers, long firm operators, swindlers, ingenious and naive, bank workers, bucket-shop keepers and pickpockets. He did not know White Face because nobody knew him, but that was a pleasure deferred. Sooner or later, the lone operator would make a mistake and come within the purview of a crime reporter.

Michael knew almost everybody at Scotland Yard and addressed chief constables by their first names. He had spent week-ends with Dumont, the hangman, and had helped him through an attack of delirium tremens. He had in his room signed photographs of ci-devant royalties, heavy-weight champions and leading ladies. He knew just how normal and abnormal people would behave in almost any circumstances. But personal experience failed him in the case of Janice Harman, although lie had heard of such cases.

He could understand why a girl with no responsibilities (since she was an orphan) and three thousand pounds a year should want to do something useful in life and should choose to become a nurse in an East End clinic; other girls had allowed their enthusiasm for humanity to lead them into similar vocations, and Janice only differed from the majority in that she had not wearied of her philanthropy.

She was very lovely, though he could never analyse the qualities which made for loveliness. She had amazingly clear eyes and a mouth that was red and sensitive—perhaps it was the quality of her skin. He was never sure—the only thing he was certain about was that he could look at her for hours and wanted to look at her for ever.

The one quality in her which made him wriggle uncomfortably was her cursed motherliness. He could never bridge the gulf which separated her from his twenty-seven years.

She was twenty-three and, as she often told him, a woman of twenty-three was at least twenty years older than a man of the same age. But twenty-three can be motherly or cruel. One night she told him something that struck all the colour out of life. It was the night they went to supper at the Howdah Club—the night of Michael's pay-day.

He knew, of course, about her romantic correspondent. Had sneered at him, raved at him, grown wearily amused about it all. The correspondence started in the most innocent fashion. One day a letter had come to Janice's flat in Bury Street, asking if she would be kind enough to place the writer in touch with his old nurse, who had fallen on evil times. This was a few months after she had begun her work in Dr. Marford's clinic and one of the newspapers had found a good story in the "rich young society woman" who had given her life to good works. The letter was written from South Africa and enclosed five pounds, which the writer begged her to hand to his old nurse if she found her, or to the funds of the clinic if she did not.

"How do you know this fellow isn't working a confidence trick on you?" demanded Michael.

"Don't be stupid," said Janice scornfully. "Because you are a wretched crime reporter you think that the world is made up of criminals."

"And I'm right," said Michael.

That the unknown stranger had arrived in England Michael did not know until ten days later. She called him up, asked him to take her to supper: she had some important things to tell him.

"You're one of the oldest friends I have, Michael," she said, speaking rather breathlessly. "And I feel that I ought to tell you."

He listened, stunned.

She might have seen how pale his face was, but she purposely did not look at him, fixing her eyes on the dancing couples on the floor.

"I want you to meet him—you may not think he is wonderful, but I've always known… from his letters, I mean… he has lived a terrible life in the wilds of Africa; I'll be terribly sorry to leave Dr. Marford… I shall have to tell him, of course… "

She was incoherent, a little hysterical.

"Let me get this right, Janice. I'll try to forget that I love you and that I was only waiting until I got my salary raised before I told you." His voice was very steady, so unemotional that there was every encouragement to look at him. Nevertheless she kept her eyes steadily averted.

"This isn't unusual—I have heard of such cases. A girl starts a correspondence with a man she has never seen. The correspondence grows more intimate, more friendly. She weaves around him a net of romance. And then she meets him and is either—disillusioned, or else falls for him. I've heard of happy marriages which started that way—I've heard of others. I can't believe it is true—but obviously it is, and I don't exactly know what to do or say."

It was at this moment that he missed something from her hand—a long oval-shaped ruby ring that she had worn since he had first known her.

Instantly she knew what he was looking for and dropped her hand out of sight.

"Where is your ring?" he asked bluntly.

She had gone very red: the question was almost unnecessary.

"I've—I don't see what it has to do with you?"

He drew a long breath.

"Nothing has to do with me—but I'm curious. An exchange of love tokens?"

He was very tactless to-night.

"It was my ring and I refuse to be cross-examined by a—by somebody who hasn't any right. You're being horrible."

"Am I?" He nodded slowly. "I suppose I am, and I know I've no right to be horrid or anything else. I won't ask you to show me what you got in exchange. A bead necklace perhaps—"

She started at this chance shot.

"How did you know? I mean, it is very valuable."

He looked long and earnestly at the girl.

"I want to vet this fellow, Janice."

She saw his face now and was in a panic—not on his behalf, but on her own.

"Vet—I don't know what you mean?"

He tried, with a smile, to minimise the offensiveness of what he had to say.

"Well, make inquiries about him. You vet a horse before you buy him—"

"I'm not buying him—he is a rich man—well, he has two farms." Her manner was cold. There was a touch of resentment in her voice. "Vet him! You'll find he is a criminal, of course; if you can't find this, your fertile imagination will invent something. Perhaps he is White Face! He is one of your specialities, isn't he?"

He groaned miserably. Yet here was an opportunity to escape from a maddening topic.

"He is not an invention; he's a fact. Ask Gasso."

Gasso, the slim maitre d'hotel, was near the table. Mike beckoned him.

"Ah! That White Face! Where is your so-called police? My poor friend Bussini has his restaurant ruined by the fellow."

It was to Bussini's restaurant that White Face had come in the early hours of a morning and, stepping to the side of Miss Angela Hillingcote, had relieved her of six thousand pounds worth of jewels before the dancers realised that the man in the white mask, who had appeared from nowhere, was not a guest in fancy dress. It was all over in a second or two and he was gone. A policeman at the corner of Leicester Square saw a man fly past on a motor cycle. The cycle had been seen on the Embankment going eastward. It was the third and most spectacular appearance of White Face in the West End of London.

"My patrons are nervous—who is not?" Gasso apparently shared their nervousness. "Fortunately they are refined people—" He stopped suddenly and stared at the entrance of the room. "She should not come!" he almost shrieked and darted forward to meet an unwanted guest.

This was a blonde lady who called herself Dolly de Val. It was found for her by an imaginative film agent, who thought—and rightly—that it sounded more pretentious than Annie Gootch, which name she had borne in the days of her poverty. She was not a good actress, because she could never quite remember all that the producer told her, and more often than not she was the only girl in the front line who kicked with her right leg when she should have kicked with her left. And frequently she was not in the line at ail.

But there were quite a lot of people who found her attractive, and in the course of the years she became very rich, and packed a considerable amount of her fortune into platinum settings, so that in all the fashionable night clubs of London she was known as "Diamond Dolly."

Managers of such clubs and fashionable cabaret restaurants grew a little nervous after the Hillingcote affair, and when Dolly booked a supper table table they rang up Scotland Yard and Superintendent Mason, who was in control of "C" area, but had an executive post at head-quarters, would delegate a couple of detectives arrayed like festive gentlemen, but looking remarkably like detectives, to the club or restaurant favoured by her dazzling display, and these were generally to be found lounging in the vestibule or drinking surreptitious glasses of beer in the manager's office.

But sometimes Dolly did not notify her intentions beforehand. And she would glitter into the club surrounded by handsome young men, and a hasty table would be wedged impossibly on the packed floor and waiters would lay the table with extraordinary enthusiasm, conveying the impression that this was a favoured position for a table.

She came this night unheralded into the Howdah Club and Gasso, who was Latin and entirely without self-control, threw up his hands to the ceiling, stiff with cupids, and said things in Italian which sounded very romantic to people who only understood English.

"No room—don't be stupid, Gasso! Of course there's room. Anywhere will do, won't it, boys?"

So they put a table near the door, and Dolly sat and ordered consomme Julienne, chicken a la Maryland.

"I don't like you to seet here, madam," said Gasso fearfully, "with so much beautiful jewellery… Miss 'Illingcote—ah, what a disaster! This fellow with the white face—"

"Oh, shut up, Gasso!" Dolly snapped. "And, after that, we'll have coupe Jacques and coffee… "

The Russian dancers had taken the floor and had made their exit after the third encore, when—"Bail up—you!"

Dolly, who had seen the face of her escort suddenly blanch, half turned in her chair.

The man in the doorway wore a long black coat that reached to his heels, his face was covered by a white cloth in which two eye-holes had been cut.

He carried an automatic in his gloved hand, with the other, which was bare, he reached out.

There was a "snick"—the long diamond chain about Dolly's neck parted. She stood frozen with fear and saw the glittering thing vanish into his pocket.

Men had risen from the tables, women were screaming, the band stood ludicrously grouped. "After him!" yelled a voice.

But the man in the white mask was gone and the cowering footmen, who had bolted on his entrance, came out from cover.

"Don't move—I'll get you out in a minute." Mike's voice was urgent, but she heard him like one in a dream. "I'll take you home; I must get through to my paper. If you faint, I'll be rough with you!"

"I'm not going to faint," she quavered.

He got her out before the police came, and found a cab.

"It was dreadful; who is he?"

"I don't know," he answered shortly. Then—"What's this romantic lover's name—you've never told me?"

Her nerves were on edge; she needed the stimulant of righteous anger to recover her poise and here was an excuse.

Mike Quigley listened unmoved to her tirade.

"A good looker, I'll bet; not a gaunt-faced, tow-haired brute like me," he said savagely. "O God, what a fool you are, Janice! I'm going to meet him. Where is he staying?"

"You'll not meet him." She could have wept. "And I won't tell you where he is staying. I hope I never see you again!"

She declined the hand he offered to assist her out of the cab; did not answer his "good night."

Mr. Quigley went raging back to Fleet Street, and all the vicious things he wrote about White Face he meant for the handsome and romantic stranger from South Africa.


Chapter 2

 

A slovenly description of Janice Harman would be that she was the product of her generation. She had inherited the eternal qualities of womanhood as she enjoyed a freedom of development which was unknown in the formal age when guardians were restrictive and gloomy figures looming behind the young and beautiful heiress.

Janice had attained independence almost unconsciously; had her own banking account when she was seventeen, and left behind the tangibilities of discipline when she passed from the tutelage of the venerable head mistress of her school.

A bachelor uncle was the only relative she had possessed. In a spasmodic and jolly way he was interested in his niece, made her a lavish allowance, sent her beautiful and useless presents at Christmas and on her birthday, which he invariably remembered a month after. When he was killed in a motor accident (the three chorus girls who were driving with him escaped with a shaking) she found herself a comparatively rich young woman.

He had appointed as trustee a friend whose sole claim to his confidence lay in the fact that he was the best judge of hunters in England, and was one of the few men who could drink half a dozen glasses of port blindfolded and unerringly distinguish the vintage of each.

Janice left school with an exalted code of values and certain ideals which she religiously maintained. She had in her bedroom a framed portrait of the Prince of Wales, and she took the Sacrament on Christmas mornings.

At eighteen all men were heroes or dreadful; at nineteen she recognised a middle class which were neither heroic nor unspeakable. At twenty the high lights had receded and some of the duller tones were taking shape and perspective.

Donald Bateman belonged to the old regime of idealism. In his handsome face and athletic figure she recaptured some of the enthusiasm of the class-room. He was Romance and Adventure, the living receptacle in which were stored all the desirable virtues of the perfect man. His modesty—he no more than inferred his excellent qualities—his robust personality, his good humour, his childish views about money, his naivete, were all adorable. He accepted her judgments and estimates of people and events, giving to her a sense of superiority which was very delightful.

In one respect he pleased her: he did not embarrass her more than once. He never forgot that their acquaintance was of the slightest, and the word "love" had never been uttered. The second time they had met he had kissed her, and she was ridiculously uncomfortable. He must have seen this, for he did not repeat the experiment. But they talked of marriage and their home and the wonders of South Africa; she could even discuss in a prim way the problem of children's education. A breezy figure of a man, delightfully boyish.

She was taking afternoon duty at the clinic and had been worrying about him all the morning—he had been a little depressed when she had seen him last.

"Did your money come?" she asked, with a smile.

He took out his pocket-book and drew forth two crisp notes. She saw they were each for a hundred pounds.

"It arrived this morning. I drew out these in case of emergency—I hate being without money when I'm in London. Angel, if the money hadn't turned up, I should have been borrowing from you this morning, and then what would you have thought of me?"

She smiled again. Men were so silly about money. Michael, for instance. She had wanted him to have a little car, and he had been almost churlish when she offered to help him.

He sat down and lit a cigarette, blowing a cloud of smoke to the ceiling.

"Did you enjoy your dinner?"

She made a little face.

"Not very much."

"He's a reporter, isn't he? I know a reporter on the Cape Times—quite a good chap—"

"It wasn't Michael who made the dinner a failure," she intervened loyally. "It was a man who came into the club with a white mask."

"Oh!" He raised his eyebrows. "The Howdah Club—White Face? I've been reading about it in this morning's papers. I wish I'd been there. What is happening to the men in this country that they allow a fellow like that to get away with it? If I'd been within reach of him one of us would have been on the floor. The trouble with you people in England is that you're scared of firearms. I know from my own experience… "

He told a story of a prospector's camp in Rhodesia; it was a story which did not place him in an unfavourable light.

He sat facing the window, and during the narrative she had time to scrutinise him—not critically, but with indiscriminate approval. He was older than she had thought; forty, perhaps. There were little lines round his eyes, and harder ones near his mouth. That he had led a difficult and a dangerous life, she knew. One cannot starve and thirst in the desert of the Kalahari, or lie alone racked with fever on the banks of the Tuli River, or find oneself unarmed and deserted by carriers in the lion country west of Massikassi, and present an unlined and boyish face to the world. He still bore beneath his chin the long scar which a leopard's claw had left.

"Living in Africa nowadays is like living in Bond Street," he sighed. "All the old mystery has departed. I don't believe there's a lion left between Salisbury and Bulawayo. In the old days you used to find them lying in the middle of the road… "

She could listen to him for hours, but, as she explained, there was work to do.

"I'll come down and bring you home—where is it?" he asked.

She explained the exact location of Tidal Basin. "Dr. Marford—what sort of a man is he?"

"He's a darling," said Janice enthusiastically.

"We'll have him out at the Cape." He echoed her enthusiasm. "It's very easy. There's an extraordinary amount of work to be done, especially with the coloured children. If I can buy that farm next to mine, we might turn the farm building into a sort of convalescent home. It's one of those big, rambling Dutch houses and, as I've rather a nice house of my own, I shouldn't have use for the other."

She laughed at this.

"You're suffering from land hunger, Donald," she said. "I shall have to write and get particulars of this desirable property!"

He frowned. "Have you any friends at the Cape?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I know a boy there—he was a Rhodes scholar—but I haven't written to him since he left England."

"H'm!" He was rather serious now. "When strangers come into the property market they soak 'em! Let me give you a word of advice: never try to buy land in South Africa through an agent—half of 'em are robbers, the other half an incompetent lot. One thing is certain, that the property at Paarl—that is where my farm is—will double itself in value in a couple of years. They are running a new railway through—it passes at the end of my land—and that will make an immense difference. If I had a lot of money to invest I should put every cent of it in land."

He explained, however, that the Cape Dutch, who were the largest landowners in the country, were a suspicious folk who never did business with an Englishman, except to the latter's disadvantage.

He took out the two hundred pound notes and looked at them again, rustling them affectionately.

"Why don't you put it back in the bank?" she asked.

"Because I like the feel of it," he said gaily. "These English notes are so clean-looking."

He returned the case to his pocket, and suddenly caught her by both arms. She saw a light in his eyes which she had never seen before. She was breathless and a little frightened.

"How long are we going to wait?" he asked in a low voice. "I can get a special licence; we can be married and on the Continent in two days."

She disengaged herself; discovered, to her amazement, that she was trembling, and that the prospect of an immediate marriage filled her with a sense of consternation.

"That is impossible," she said breathlessly. "I've ever such a lot of work to do, and I've got to finish up my work at the clinic. And, Donald, you said you didn't want to be married for months."

He smiled down at her.

"I can wait months or years," he said lightly, "but I can't wait for my lunch. Come along!"

She had only half an hour to give to him, but he promised to meet her and take her to dinner that night. The prospect did not arouse in her any sense of pleasurable anticipation. She told herself she loved him. He was everything that she would have him be. But immediate marriage? She shook her head.

"What are you shaking your head about?" he asked.

They were at Pussini's, and, as it was before one o'clock, the restaurant was empty save for themselves.

"I was just thinking," she said.

"About my farm?" He was looking at her searchingly. "No? About me?"

And then suddenly she asked: "What is your bank, Donald?"

He was completely surprised at the question.

"My bank? Well, the Standard Bank—not exactly the Standard Bank, but a bank that is affiliated with it. Why do you ask?"

She had a good and benevolent reason for putting the question, but this she was not prepared to reveal.

"I will tell you later," she said, and when she saw that she had worried him she was on the point of making her revelation. "It's really nothing, Donald."

He drove down with her to Tidal Basin, but refused the offer of her car to take him back, his excuse being that he felt nervous of the London traffic. She was secretly glad that there was some feature of London life of which he stood in awe.

Mr. Donald Bateman came back to town in a taxi and spent the afternoon in the City office of a tourist agency, examining Continental routes. He would like to have stayed in London; but then, he would like to have stayed in so many places from which expediency had dragged him. There was Inez. She had grown into quite a beautiful woman. He had seen her, though she was not aware of the fact. It was curious how women developed. He remembered her—rather sharp-featured, a gawk of a girl who had bored him utterly. In what way would Janice grow? For the moment she was very delectable, though she had qualities which exasperated him. Perfect women, he decided, were difficult to find.

When he had caught her by the shoulders that morning and looked down into her eyes, he had expected some other reaction than that fit of shivering. She had shown her alarm too clearly for him to carry the matter any further. It must be marriage, of course. But marriage was rather dangerous in a country like this. That reporter friend of hers? He hated reporters; they were a prying, unscrupulous lot. And crime reporters were the worst.

He began to feel uncomfortable, and turned relief to a contemplation of the physical perfection of Inez. From Inez his mind strayed to other women. What had become of Lorna, for example? Tommy had found her, probably, and forgiven everything. Tommy was always a weak-willed sap. But Inez!…

He and Janice dined together that night, and most resolutely he chose the Howdah Club. Already the outrage had had effect upon the attendance: the dining-room was half empty, and Gasso stalked up and down, a picture of gloom.

"This has ruined me, young miss," he said brokenly. "You were here last night with the newspaper gentleman. People will not come unless they have no jewels. And I particularly desire jewelled people here, but not jewelled as Miss Dolly!"

"I hope he comes to-night," said Donald with a quiet smile.

"You 'ope so, eh?" asked the agitated Gasso. "You desire me to be thrown into the street with only my shirt on my back? That is good for business!"

Janice was laughing, but she succeeded in pacifying the outraged maitre d'hotel.

"It certainly is empty, but I don't suppose we shall see our white-faced gentleman." said Donald. "It's rather like old times. I remember when I was in Australia there was a gang which held up a bank—they wore white masks, too. They got away with some money, by Jove! Ever heard of the Furses? They were brothers—the cleverest hold-up men in Australia."

"Perhaps this is one of them," she said thoughtlessly.

"Eh?"

She could have sworn he was frightened at that moment. Something she saw in his eyes. It was absurd, of course, for Donald Bateman was afraid of nothing.

"I shouldn't think so," he said.

Half-way through dinner, when they were discussing some amiable nothing, he dropped his knife and fork on the plate. Again she saw that frightened look intensified. He was staring at somebody, and she followed the direction of his eyes.

A man had come in. He must have been nearly sixty, was slim, dandified, rather fussy. He had a small party with him, and they were surrounded by waiters. Curiously enough, she knew him: curious, because she had made his acquaintance in a slum.

"Who—who is that?" His voice was strained. "That man there, with the girls? Do you—do you know him?"

"That is Dr. Rudd," she said.

"Rudd!"

"He's the police surgeon of our division—I've often seen him. In fact, he once came to the clinic. Quite an unpleasant man—he had nothing at all nice to say about our work."

"Dr. Rudd!"

The colour was coming back to his face. He had gone pale! She was astounded.

"Do you know him?" she asked in surprise.

He smiled with difficulty.

"No; he reminds me of somebody—an old friend of mine in—er—Rhodesia."

She noticed that when on their way out he passed the doctor's group Donald was patting his face with a handkerchief as though he were healing a scratch.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

"A little neuralgia." He laughed cheerily. "That is the penalty one pays for sleeping out night after night in the rain."

He told her a story of a rainfall in Northern Rhodesia that had lasted four weeks on end.

"And all that time," he said, "I had not so much as a tent."

She left him at the door of the flat in Bury Street, and he was frankly disappointed, for he had expected to be asked up to her apartment. There was consolation on the way back to the hotel, certain anticipations of an interview he had arranged for the morrow. It was not with Janice.