A Secret Society - Talbot Mundy - ebook

A Secret Society ebook

Talbot Mundy



William Hulbert Footner was a Canadian writer of non-fiction and detective fiction. He was once described as ‘one of the most charming men who was ever on earth.’ His love for his family, travelling and writing is reflected in his stories, many of which are in the crime fiction genre. At the same time Footner began to write detective fiction; his first series detective character being Madame Rosika Storey. This novel featuring Madame Rosika Storey – psychologist and criminal investigator. „Dangerous Cargo” (1934) sees her take to the high seas in a millionaire’s yacht in order to prevent a suspected murder.

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Liczba stron: 208

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CHAPTER I “See here, Jim, you quit the British army!”

CHAPTER II “We three now haven’t a parasite between us.”

CHAPTER III “I have sworn a vow. Henceforward I serve none but queens!”

CHAPTER IV “Jaldee jaldee Secret Society Shaitan-log Eldums Range Kabadar!”

CHAPTER V “The policy of the man in armor.”

CHAPTER VI “The more I’m defeated the harder I fight.”

CHAPTER VII “We’re invading the United States this year, you know!”

CHAPTER VIII “Indiscreet subjected to sympathy.”

CHAPTER IX “I understand you have changed sides!”

CHAPTER X “And, no boaster though I be—”

CHAPTER XI “It’s nice to know a millionaire who isn’t wiser than the rest of us!”

CHAPTER XII “Crooks are just crooks.”


CHAPTER XIV “I but acted as other men would act!”


“See here, Jim, you quit the British army!”

D’you remember Mark Twain’s advice to read the Bible? It’s good. There’s one verse in particular in Genesis that quotes old Israel’s dying words.

He says to his son Joseph–

“Deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt.”

To my mind that sums up Egypt perfectly.

No sensible man can blame the Israelites for wanting to get away. It charms you for a while, but leaves you wondering why; and there’s a sting in all of Egypt’s favors just as surely as there’s a scorpion or an adder underneath the first stone you turn, and a hidden trick in every bargain.

Like old Israel, I’d rather my carcass were disposed of almost anyhow than buried in Egypt’s finest mausoleum. But it isn’t bad fun all the same to sit on the big front veranda of Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo and watch the world go by. Sooner or later all trails cross at Cairo. It’s a sort of adventurers’ Clapham Junction.

James Schuyler Grim, Jeremy Ross, and Narayan Singh were with me in 1920, and Cairo was complaining bitterly that she hadn’t a tourist to rob. All of us except Narayan Singh sat at a little table in the corner of Shepheard’s Hotel veranda, with Jeremy bubbling jokes at intervals and none of us knowing what would happen next.

My friend Narayan Singh had borrowed a five-pound note from me and broken his rule of only getting drunk once in three months. His periodical debauch wasn’t due for six or eight weeks–which was why I had dared to lend him money–but we had found his bedroom empty that morning of everything except an equally empty whisky bottle. He had even put the furniture out of the window, possessed by some distorted notion of getting even with the world for old wrongs, and we neither knew what had become of him, nor dared inquire.

He might be standing stark naked on top of the Pyramid, delivering a lecture on Swadeshi to the kites. Or he might be trying to invade a harem, proclaiming himself the deliverer of lost princesses. Basing conjecture solely on past occurrences, he was possibly at that minute storming the house of the High Commissioner, flourishing sheets of scribbled paper, wearing no trousers; and demanding to be washed in wine. He was certainly being bold, probably prayerful, and perhaps using scandalous language; but subject to those provisos there was no limit to what he might be doing.

The one sure thing was that we were his friends and would hear of it, if he should fall foul of the authorities. And the one best bet was not to call official attention to ourselves or him meanwhile. We weren’t going to leave Narayan Singh in the lurch, for he was a man and a brother who had risked his neck with us; but we should have been idiots to go about asking for him at the moment. So we sat still and refused to worry, while Jeremy exploded jokes until he suddenly grew deadly serious and turned his fire on Grim.

“See here, Jim,” he said, tossing his head to get the chestnut hair out of his eyes. “You quit the British Army!”

“Why?” demanded Grim, looking calmly at him, unastonished.

You never are astonished at anything Jeremy says or does, once you’ve known him for a few days.

“I’ll tell you why. I know the British Army. They’ll serve you the same they served us Anzacs every time after a war was won–kick you and tell you to go to Hell. Got any money? No! Got a profession? No! Can you write signs–shear sheep–shave lumbermen–sell canned goods–cook for a fourpenny buster outfit? Those are the chaps who don’t have to worry when the job slips out from under them. Can you splice wire rope, or ballyhoo the greenhorns outside a one-ring circus in a bush town? No! And you’ll starve, when the British Army’s through with you! There you sit, waiting for a red-necked swab with gold lace on his collar and the rim of a monocle eating the skin of his nose to tell you you’re fired!”

Grim laughed.

“D’you think it’s as bad as that, Jeremy?”

“It’s worse! I’ve seen your sort–sacked from the army to cover a bad break made by some sore-bags in an armchair. They come to Australia in shoals. Sydney and Melbourne are lousy with them. Most of ‘em would suicide if they weren’t too proud to steal a gun. They end by joining the Salvation Army and calling with a can from house to house for swill and spud-peel! You grin–good lord! With that in front of you!”

“Don’t you think I could land a job out here as interpreter or something?” Grim suggested pleasantly.

“You’ve a better chance of a contract to serve ice-cream in Hell! You one- track Yankee visionary! You’re so dead set on cleaning up Arabia that you can’t see daylight for the dust you’ve made. For the love of luck, think a minute. Will they fire you for knowing too much, and let you stay here in the country? Golly! I’ll tell you exactly what’s going to happen. The French Ambassador will tell the King of England to roll his hoop, and the Prince o’ Wales will be sent to deputize. He’ll apologize for your having saved the French from doing worse dirt than they did to Feisul; and Downing Street will be so bull-angry at having to know of your existence that they’ll grease the cables and suspend all other business until you’re cashiered in disgrace. You’ll be kicked through your headstall, they’ll be in such a hurry! It’ll be: ‘Out o’ the country quick! No recommendation. No pension. Your back pay held up for a year in case of possible claims against you. Watch your step on the way out, and don’t ever let us see your face again!’ The U.S. consul will refuse to ship you to the States because you aren’t a distressed seaman. The British won’t ship you anywhere because you’re not British. And in the end you’ll have to do exactly what you might do now, if you’d listen to sense!”

“Sing on, Cassandra!” Grim laughed.

“Who the Hell’s Cassandra?” demanded Jeremy.

“A lady in ancient Troy, who got out the Evening News.”

“Well, I’m no lady. Jim, you fire the British Empire before it fires you! Write out your resignation and file it, with compliments, before the French Ambassador has time to ring the front-door bell at Windsor Castle! If they ask you what for, tell ‘em the War’s over; maybe they don’t know it!”

“I’d still be out of a job,” Grim suggested.

“Join Ramsden and me. Grim, Ramsden, and Ross. Thirty-three and a third per cent. apiece of kicks as well as ha’pence. We’ll take along Narayan Singh as office murderer. What do you say?”

Grim cocked one bushy eyebrow.

“I’ve got no money, so I can’t buy into your firm, old scout. That’s all about it.”

Jeremy thrust out his jaw, and drummed his fingers on the table. “I’ve a draft for two thousand pounds in my pocket, and I don’t know how much in the bank in Sydney. Haven’t been home for five years and the bank may have busted, but I guess not. Rammy here’s been saving two thirds of his income ever since pa died. Never mind what Rammy says at the moment, he’ll put in two pounds to my one; take my word for it. We’ll make you senior partner, Jim, ‘cause you’re the one who’ll get the worst of it if we lose out, so you’ll be cautious. Rammy can do the hard work; I’ll think up ideas. I know millions of ways of making money.”

That was the first I had heard of any such partnership, but I made no comment, for a man had come up the front steps whom I hadn’t seen for years, but whom I have crossed two oceans more than once to have a talk with–a man of about my own size but twenty years older, upstanding and hale, without a gray hair on his head, although carrying rather more stomach than I would care to tote around. He saw me, smiled, and nodded, but turned to the left, choosing a table at the other end of the veranda, where he buried himself at once behind a newspaper.

“Wake up, Rammy!” said Jeremy, kicking my shin under the table. “Tell him you’ll kill him if he don’t come in with us! Tell him it’s true that you’ve got capital. Go on!”

“It’s true that I’ve saved something,” I answered. “But a man’s a fool who risks his savings. I’d like a partnership with you and Grim, if you’ve a prospect; but we ought to be able to work it without staking both capital and energy. There are lots of men with capital.”

“Not in Egypt,” said Jeremy. “All they’ll buy here is manicure sets and big expensive cars. We’re selling guts and gumption. We’d find ten Gyppies in five minutes to stake money for a crooked deal, but–”

“Suppose you argue a while with Grim,” I answered. “I’ll go talk with Meldrum Strange.”

“Who the Hell’s Meldrum?”

“One of the nine richest men in the world. I made a million for him once. Wherever Meldrum Strange is, something’s doing. He’s on the level, but a durned hard nut.”

“Go crack him!” answered Jeremy. “I’ll stay here and comb Jim out of the army like a louse out of a dog’s hair. So long.”


“We three now haven’t a parasite between us.”

I sat down beside Meldrum Strange without saying anything and it wasn’t until the chair creaked under my weight that he laid the newspaper down.

“Oh, hello,” he said then.

“Hello yourself,” said I. “How’s business?”

“I’ve gone out of business.”

I looked hard at him and he at me. He was good to look at, with a face carved out of granite and a neat black beard. There was a suggestion of Ulysses Grant, with the same look of good humor balancing an iron will.

“I’ve come all the way from the States to see you,” he said.

“Nothing else?”

“Just that,” he answered, biting the end of a dark cigar.

“I don’t believe you,” I answered, “but I’ll smoke while you elaborate the fiction.”

“You’re going out of business too,” he said, passing me his leather case.

“I did that during the first year of the War,” I answered. “Cleaned up in Abyssinia and quit for keeps.”

“Uh. Who was behind that Abyssinian thing? You put it up to me. Cohn and Campbell fell, didn’t they? Make anything?”

“Three times what they put in.”

“Uh. What did you get?”

“Enough,” I answered.

He nodded and began chewing his cigar.

“Well,” he said presently, “I heard you were wandering in these parts. Tried to reach you by cable, but you’d left no address.”

“Any banker out here would have delivered a message sooner or later,” I answered, puzzled. I’m not used to being in such demand.

“I daresay. Nothing to keep me in Chicago. Came to look for you–P & O from Marseilles. Saw your name on the hotel register.”

“Did you ask for me?”

“No. No hurry. Met some people. Up at Government House. Seems you’ve been trying your hand at international politics?”

“I’ve a friend who was interested. Helped him,” I said.

“Did you like it?” he asked suddenly, looking sharply at me.

“You bet! We spiked a crooked game and pulled a good man out of a tight place.”

“I’m in that game nowadays,” he said.

He took hold of his chin in his left hand and eyed me steadily.

“Can you afford to be independent?”

I nodded.

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