A Front of Brass - Fred M. White - ebook

A Front of Brass ebook

Fred M White

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Another of the greatest works written by Fred M. White. In this book, the protagonist Eleanor Marsh is at the top of social circles. She is not a very good person, and in this book she is described as adventurers. She is always looking for an opportunity to make some money no matter who it hurts.

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Liczba stron: 273

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Contents

The Shadow

Why?

Enter Mr. Smith

By Whose Hand?

“Red Ruin”

Flight

The Trouble Widens

A Desperate Expedient

On The Thorns

The Unexpected Guest

Midas Up To Date

By Telephone

“A Front Of Brass”

Bluff

Delilah!

The Ghost

The Eve Of Reckoning

A Woman Scorned

“An Angel Unawares”

The Ghost Approaches

A Pregnant Message

17 John-Street

A Scrap Of Paper

The Ghost Appears

Light

The Reason Why

I. THE SHADOW

Hubert Grant stood on the veranda looking over the garden at Ledge Point. Just for the moment he was glad enough to be alone. He wanted to stand there and contemplate his new possession. Everything there was his–the rainbow trout in the pool in the Dutch garden, the starry flowers of the anemones in the larch woods behind the house. And he had paid for it all with his own hard- earned money!

Ledge Point was his ideal of what a country retreat should be. The house was modern, no doubt, but the fact had its advantages, and the rambling white front was covered with a tender green that presently would bear its tribute of blossoms. The big houseplace opened on two sides into a conservatory where the flowers gleamed all the year round. Here were treasures of oak and china and silver gathered by the late owner for many years. To the left was a cosy study; on the right a drawing-room in white and carmine charmingly furnished. Grant’s eyes softened a little as he thought of the drawing-room. May Leverton would be presiding over that some of these early days.

Grant had bought the place as much for her as for himself. He had purchased it only a few days before just as it stood, from his partner old Paul Spencer, and he had paid for it with a cheque drawn upon his own private account.

“I’m selling it you cheap,” Mr. Spencer had said. “Four thousand pounds is very little. The house cost more than that, to say nothing of the furniture. Ledge Point has been a hobby of mine, as you know, but I shall not need it any more. My doctor tells me that I must live almost entirely in the South of France in future. That means practically giving the whole control of the business into your hands, Grant.”

“No hurry for that, sir,” Grant hastened to say.

“Perhaps not. But still it has to be done. We must have a big talk over the money side of affairs before long. I’ve always looked after the money department, as you know. That was part of our original contract. Why, for all you may know to the contrary, the firm of Spencer and Grant may be on the verge of bankruptcy.”

Hubert Grant smiled at the suggestion. “I certainly have not worried about that,” he said. “There is nobody whose name for sound finance stands higher than yours.”

“All the same, you will have to know very shortly, Grant. You are inclined to trust people just a little too far. For instance, it would have been far wiser if you had refrained from paying me for this place till after the conveyance was signed. If anything went wrong with me you would simply lose your money.”

Grant smiled again. He was not in a business mood at that moment.

“After all, one can’t live entirely without sentiment,” he said. “I had a whim to call this place mine. And if I can’t trust you, who am I to put my faith in?”

“You have some thought of getting married, I suppose?”

Grant’s face flushed slightly. The lines about his square firm jaw hardened. His was not exactly a handsome face, but the regular features were attractive. He had, moreover, that suggestion of physical and moral strength that goes so far with most women. They know by instinct that here was a man who would not fail in the hour of trial, who would stand before the world with a front of brass. He stood upon the veranda in fine contract to his companion.

“I am going to be married,” he said. “There are reasons why the matter must be kept a secret for the present, and therefore I am telling you this much in confidence. When the time comes I am going to marry the daughter of Sir Bruce Leverton.”

A smile, quick, elusive, sinister almost, crossed Paul Spencer’s face. He huddled up in a big deck chair sunning himself on the balcony, he was a little, dried-up man, with a skin like badly tanned leather, his high yellow forehead was bald, he had long ropy hands that trembled as he carried a cigar to his lips. Yet, despite his age, his teeth were wonderfully sound and firm, his eyes shrewd and clear. He had a way of laughing to himself in a sardonic fashion; much as he loved company, he was as secretive as an oyster as to his own affairs. He passed more or less as an invalid, yet on occasions he should sit at the bridge table till daylight. He would take out a gun, protesting that a walk of a mile was dangerous to him, yet at the end of a day over the moors he was as fresh as any of them. And he was reported to be worth a million of money.

Who he was and where he came from nobody knew. He had no relations, he managed the financial side of the business, and Grant knew no more about it than the junior office boy. There were moments when Paul Spencer repelled him. He had one of those old feelings upon him now. For Spencer was smiling in his sinister fashion like some elderly Mephistopheles.

“Do you find the matter so amusing?” he asked, coldly.

Spencer ceased to smile. His leathery features grew grave again.

“It always amuses me to hear a young man talk of getting married,” he said. “Didn’t some wise man define marriage as an insane desire to keep somebody else’s daughter? Well, I suppose that it is necessary for the propagation of the race. But Bruce Leverton’s child! My dear fellow, Leverton would never consent!”

“I am aware of it,” Grant replied. “My father did Leverton a great wrong. My father betrayed and nearly ruined the best friend he ever had. But that is no fault of mine. I have never been in company with Sir Bruce, and so far as I know he has never so much as seen me. And that is all the greater reason why he should not judge me by my father’s standard.”

“So you have met his daughter and made love to her? That’s very like you, Grant–very like you indeed. And does the young lady know that you are–well, the son of your father?”

“She does. Upon my word, I hardly know why I am discussing this matter with you. It is hardly a subject that is likely to be of interest to a hard- cured bachelor like yourself.”

The sinister smile was on Spencer’s face again. His deep-set eyes twinkled.

“On the contrary, I am deeply interested.” he said. “Some of these early days you will understand why. Now, let me tell you of something more than passing moment. Leverton is a big man in his way. He aspires to belong to the country and his place, Grant Lea, which is not far from here, is a fine old mansion. But he really cannot afford to live in it, and very frequently he is hard pressed for money. I make it a point of knowing these things because they are useful in business. I am telling you this because–well, because you may be able to use the information to your advantage.”

Grant shook his head. He did not approve of some of his partner’s methods.

“There will be no occasion,” he said. “I am going to ask no favour of Sir Bruce Leverton, and I am not going to put pressure on him in the way you suggest. If he refuses his consent to my marriage with his daughter I shall make her my wife all the same. We shall set up housekeeping here, and I can give May everything that she has been accustomed to. Still, the engagement is a secret for the present, and I need not ask you to respect my confidence.”

Grant walked to the far side of the balcony with an air of finality. So far as he was concerned the subject under discussion was closed. Spencer watched him with a queer gleam in his eyes. The hard, leathery face was wrinkled with malice; the mouth was cold and cruel. And with it was that furtive mirth that rendered the whole face so hideously repulsive.

“Very well, my boy,” he said, “I’ll say no more about it. Let us take a walk together round the estate so that I can show you the full extent of your possessions. There is a summer-house on the edge of the cliff beyond the pines that is a very favourite retreat of mine. It is one of the quietest and most beautiful spots that I know.”

Grant followed his partner through the charming grounds with a pleased feeling of possession upon him. The Dutch garden was a blaze of yellow tulips, and daffodils and hyacinths edged with masses of some mauve creeper; beyond this the long festoons of roses were bursting into leaf. The young May afternoon was soft and balmy; the air was heavy with the fragrance of white lilac. Away to the left the massed stem of the larches trembled in a sheet of verdure. Up the slope at the end of the woods was a small chalet in the form of a summer-house surrounded by the yellow flare of the gorse, and beyond this again the dancing blue haze of the Channel. The wide stretch of sea lay blue, 200 ft. below.

“Now. What do you think of that?” Spencer asked with some pride. “This is the one thing that makes Ledge Point perfect. It’s a little dangerous, perhaps, and if you take my advice you will have the cliff fenced in. You can see for yourself what a sheer drop it is. But for solitude and beauty the place is very hard to beat.”

Grant was silent for a moment. He stood there drinking in the marvellous restfulness and beauty of it all. And what an ideal home it would make for May Leverton. What a pleasant surprise it would be when he brought her here for the first time.

“Yes, you are a lucky young fellow.” Spencer murmured as if he had read Grant’s thoughts. “On the whole I should say that you–well, what is it?”

A servant stood there with a telegram on a tray.

“I found this in the letter-box, sir,” the man said. “Perhaps the telegraph boy could not make anybody hear. We were all out in the garden, sir.”

Spencer snatched at the orange-coloured envelope eagerly. He appeared to be strangely agitated over it. For a business man accustomed to such things, his agitation was astounding. His fingers shook as he tore off the cover, Grant could see the hard leathery face grow pale.

“There is no answer, Jenner,” Spencer said in a hard dry voice.

“Grant, I’ve got to go over to Fairford on urgent business. I have to meet a man there at once. It is a very unpleasant matter that I had forgotten all about years ago. A trifling indiscretion–. My dear fellow, as you grow older you will find how inconvenient these indiscretions become. I’ll try and get back to dinner, but I can be by no means certain about that. If I’m not back by half-past 10, I shall be glad if you will come as far as this place and look for me.”

“I–I beg your pardon,” Grant stammered. “I am afraid I don’t understand–”

“Of course you don’t,” Spencer said irritably. “How should you? My dear boy, this is a matter of life and death to me. We all have our troubles and anxieties, and they are generally none the less acute because they are of our own making. I wish I could take you into my confidence, but that is impossible. Now, will you do as I suggest? If I am not back by half-past 10 will you come as far as this particular spot and look for me?”

Grant promised in a dazed kind of way. The thing was unexpected, dramatic, inexplicable! Here was black and bitter trouble, perhaps disgrace, for this model of respectability! What did it all mean, and where was it all going to end? Grant was still asking himself this question, when Spencer had turned away and was hurrying along in the direction of the house.

A moment or two later and the big car that Spencer always drove himself was hurrying along the road towards Fairford. The fateful telegram had fallen on a patch of young gorse and lay there fluttering in the breeze. In a mechanical way Grant took it up. The message was by no means a long one, but it was very curt and to the point:–

Must see you at once at the old place in Fairford. You had better not fail.

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