A Clue in Wax - Fred M. White - ebook

A Clue in Wax ebook

Fred M White

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Fred M. White gives us the opportunity to plunge into the past of Gladys Brooke. The book begins with the perfect life of Gladys in a small town. Then we come back three years ago, where we find out that she has a brother. And they, too, then lived well, but in another place. The main character begins to notice the strange behavior of her brother. At one point, a calm and perfect life ends.

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Liczba stron: 366

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER I

CLIFFORD CHERITON emerged from the bathroom into his modest sitting-room in a blithesome frame of mind. For it was one of those perfect April mornings of which the poet Browning speaks so feelingly, and which seldom comes in what is traditionally a month of tender greenery and sunshine. But here was an afternoon–because it was afternoon–full of flickering lights and shadows and even in the dingy square outside the prim house in Bennett-street the lilacs were in full bloom, and here and there a laburnum about to burgeon into its yellow chains. An afternoon for youth and happiness and everything that goes to make life a joy even in a drab London street.

In the tiny sitting-room Cheriton’s landlady had placed his breakfast on a table near the window so that he could command some sort of view of the outside world, and to his bacon and eggs the occupant sat down with the healthy appetite of an athlete and a man who has little or nothing on his conscience. There were sporting prints on the wall, a hanging bookcase containing some five hundred volumes, ranging from Anatole France’s ‘Revolt of the Angels’ to Manning Foster’s latest manual on the subject of auction bridge. So that it will be seen what a catholic taste in literature Cheriton possessed. In one corner of the room was a bag of golf clubs, and on the mantelshelf a rather elaborate silver clock bearing an inscription to the effect that the owner had won it in the open mile of the Lanchester school sports 15 years before. Which in itself was a proof that here was one who had made his mark in one of the finest scholastic institutions in the country. And to complete the whole thing, on a peg behind the door were a policeman’s helmet and a blue tunic with three stripes on the arm from which the intelligent observer would have judged that Cheriton was connected with the police force.

The intelligent observer aforesaid would have guessed right, because Clifford was a sergeant in the special reserve and had won that position after three years’ service with the Metropolitan Force. Not an unusual thing to happen in these hard times, when a public school career counts for little in the battle of life, and many a youth who had set out a few years before with lofty ambitions had come to regard himself as fortunate to occupy the front seat in a taxi-cab. And this, in a measure, had been Clifford’s career up to now. Just a sergeant of police, connected with the Criminal Investigation Department, and the hope that some day he might rise to inspector’s rank.

But it had been a hard row to hoe. A whole year in the humblest capacity possible for an officer of the law, then, by fortunate chance, the best part of another year chasing a fugitive from justice across the American continent, followed by an extradition case that lasted for months. Yet, on the whole, his time had not been wasted, because it was all experience, and it was going to help him later on as one of his superiors had told him only a few days before.

Time was when Cheriton had had ambitions towards literature. That, indeed, had been the line he had cut out for himself when he left school and one he had pursued until it had ended in a blind alley and something like starvation. Criminology was the subject that most fascinated him, and this it was that had impelled him to the writing of a novel, which had for a basis the study of an original criminal and the psychology that goes with the type of lawbreaker who sets out deliberately to prey on society, much in the same spirit as some men regard adventures in unexplored portions of the globe. There had been one or two short stories of Clifford’s published in the magazines and a rather longer effort which had won the approval of the literary agent in whose hands he had placed his work. But whilst the grass grows the steed starves, and there had come one bitter moment when the would-be author had to decide between a potential literary career and something in the nature of starvation. By this time he had nearly completed his novel, which was in type so that he had to throw it aside for some months and only work at it at odd times when he was off duty. And in this work he had been encouraged by the girl who had done his typing for him at a price that had barely paid for the paper on which it was written and who now, in some way or another, seemed to have slipped out of his life.

Anyhow, the story was finished, and for the last eight or nine months had been in the hands of Messrs. Amber and Lawrence, the famous literary agents in Whitefriars-street. They had succeeded in finding a publisher for the book, and had also arranged for its simultaneous appearance on the other side of the Atlantic. And there, for the moment, the matter rested.

“Of course, we shall be glad to see anything else you like to send us in the meantime,” Lawrence had told Cheriton, “I don’t suppose we shall hear anything about the book for months–perhaps not for a year. You see, the publishers are not under contract to supply an account for nine months after the book appears, and it will be difficult to tell whether it is a success or not until they communicate with us. Let us have what you can, my boy–forget all about your novel. When there is anything to report I will write to you.”

And so Cheriton had gone on with his work, trying to convince himself that there was an end of his literary career. Anyway, there was no time now to think even about short stories. But there were optimistic moments when he indulged in day-dreams of future glory, and in these dreams he could see the eager blue eyes and wistful beauty of Evelyn Marchand, the girl who had taken so keen an interest in the book when she was acting in a small capacity as Cheriton’s secretary.

What had become of her, he wondered. He had tried to trace her again on his return from America, and get her to go on with the work in which she had proved so fine an inspiration. But she had vanished, leaving no trace behind. She was little more than a girl, working hard to keep herself and a widowed mother by means of a typewriter and making but a poor success of it. A pretty girl, more than a pretty girl, with a delicacy of feature and a natural refinement that told Cheriton plainly enough a story. The story of a girl well- bred and born and fighting bravely against adversity and misfortune. There was something in the perfect spring afternoon that brought that dainty face and charming smile back vividly to Clifford’s recollection.

He put this out of his mind for the moment as he ate his breakfast, which was a belated meal seeing that he had come off night duty at 4 o’clock that morning, and was free now, not only for the rest of the day, but for tomorrow as well, it being his monthly day off. Then, when he had despatched his eggs and bacon and lighted a cigarette, he took from the mantelpiece a letter which had arrived by that morning’s post. Without any premonition of events he carelessly tore open the envelope and found that it was a short note from his agents, Amber and Lawrence, from whom he had not heard for months. It was a mere request that whenever the recipient had half an hour to spare, the people in Whitefriars-street would be glad to see him on a matter of considerable personal importance.

Forty minutes later, Clifford was seated in the luxurious office of the junior partner and regarding with somewhat envious eyes a series of black deed boxes with white lettering which were ranged all along one wall of the room. And on these white letterings were the names of men who were household words wherever the English language is spoken. Great novelists, most of them, and Cheriton wondered, half whimsically, if ever his own name would appear in that glittering constellation.

“Ah, sit down, Cheriton,” Lawrence said. “Help yourself to a cigarette. I dare say you were beginning to wonder if you were ever going to hear from us again.”

The speaker was a tall, spare man with a slightly greying moustache and a monocle in his left eye. A keen, shrewd individual whose mouth betrayed a sense of humour.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Clifford said modestly. “You warned me that it might be months and, besides, I have been pretty busy in other directions. And it doesn’t matter much whether the book turns out a success or not. You see, I am a sergeant now, with a promise of promotion, and I have one or two friends at court who will help me as long as I help myself.”

“Yes, I quite appreciate that,” Lawrence smiled “I must say you don’t look much like a policeman.”

Clifford smiled in his turn. In his suit of pearl-grey twill, beautifully polished brown shoes and old Lanchester tie, he was about the last individual in the world to be taken by the man in the street for a mere policeman.

“However, let us get to business,” Lawrence went on. “I heard from Gardiner and May the day before yesterday with a first account of the sales of your book. And, by a curious coincidence, this morning, we heard also from our New York office with a report of the sales on the other side. My dear young man, do you realise that you are about to become famous?”

“It hadn’t struck me,” Clifford said dryly.

“Well, you are. I dare say if you had read the papers you would have observed what favourable notices your book received on this side. Don’t you ever look at the papers?”

“Very seldom. Just to scan my favourite news sheet and that is about all. I don’t agree with Gilbert that a policeman’s life is not a happy one, but it’s dashed hard work and doesn’t leave much leisure for recreation.”

“No, I suppose not. Now, see here. Up to the time this account was made up your book had sold five thousand copies on this side, which means that the publishers have sent us a cheque for just over L250. That you can have, less our commission, and take it away with you if you like.”

“You don’t mean that?” Clifford gasped.

“Indeed I do. And, what is more, the book is selling rapidly. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if you don’t made L1000 out of what is called the library edition. And that is only one side of the matter. Now, I read your book before I sent a typed copy to America, and I was sanguine that the American scenes in it which were the result of your experience over there would attract a good deal of attention. As a matter of fact, they have. Up to the present moment over nineteen thousand copies of the book have been sold in the United States, and that means over L1500 for you. At least the cheque speaks for itself.”

Cheriton gazed with open-mouthed astonishment at the speaker.

“Oh, I assure you I am not joking,” Lawrence laughed. “That story of yours is going to be one of the best sellers in America. When the Americans once take up a thing they don’t let it go. Now, what do you say to an offer for three novels on a 16 per cent basis with L100 each for the serial rights, and, in addition, a series of six short stories, annually, at L150 a story.”

“Good Lord,” Clifford gasped. “Do the Americans pay like that? Wonderful!”

With a sweep of his hand, Lawrence indicated the white-lettered boxes on the wall.

“Look at those names,” he said. “Known all over the world. Celebrities, every man jack of them. Making incomes that a Cabinet Minister would envy. But not on this side, my boy, not on this side. The big money comes from the States. And that is where yours is coming from in future. Don’t make up your mind in a hurry. You have a career before you, apart from writing, which may easily become a distinguished one. On the other hand, you should be able to make four or five thousand a year for a long time to come by your pen. It doesn’t matter if you don’t earn a penny in England; you are going to get it in the States. You will leave here presently with the best part of L2000 in your pocket, and if you like to sign the contract, the draft of which our New York agent has sent us, then there is L1500 a year certain for the next three years. But, as I said before, don’t decide in a hurry. Come back in a few days and let us know your decision. Personally–but never mind that.”

“I have decided now,” Clifford said crisply.

“I am quite keen on my present work, but my heart has been with pen and ink ever since I left school. And I am sure, without boasting, that I can do better than I have already done. Of course, I have had no time to write, but on lonely night duty I have had plenty of time to think, and I have dozens of ideas pigeonholed for both long and short stories. If you don’t mind, I should be glad if you would put this matter through for me and, when those contracts are ready for signature, I will come along and sign them.”

“Ah, that is just what I expected you to say,” Lawrence smiled. “And I think you are right. Mind you, I am not saying that I am altogether disinterested, because we are always on the lookout for new clients. Do you know, that book of yours interests me for more reasons than one. The psychological study of your criminal is most fascinating. It strikes quite a new note. And thereby, in a way, hangs a tale. A lady client of ours sent us a long short story a few weeks ago which, she writes, was written from notes she made a year or two ago. The treatment was so like yours that both my partner and myself were struck at once by the similarity. It was just as if you had been talking over your story with her and inspiring her. Don’t misunderstand me, there is no suggestion of plagiarism, but it is just as if you had discussed your story at length with her and she had founded hers on a new angle you had discovered.”

Clifford looked up swiftly.

“Is that really so?” he asked. “Of course, I don’t want to be personal and I don’t want to ask any impertinent questions, but I wonder if you would tell me the name of the lady in question. That is, of course, if you think you can place her story and she is going to publish it under her own name. If she is using a ‘nom de plume,’ then please forget that I asked the question. I have a good reason for asking it.”

“Oh, I think we shall place the story easily enough,” Lawrence said. “The lady sent it to us in her own name, and there was no suggestion in her letter that she wanted to hide herself behind a ‘nom de plume.’ I asked her to come and see us, because I think we can do quite a lot with her.”

“And the name?” Clifford asked rather breathlessly.

“The name is Evelyn Marchand.”

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