Captains of Souls - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Captains of Souls ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opis

Ambrose Sault finds a quasi-scientific way to insert his soul into another man’s body before he is hanged for murder. The murder of Moropulos by Sault is a mystery in motive and deed. Twice a murderer, Sault is nevertheless a commanding figure and an appealing character. He is the center of a tragedy... The novel is long and breezy and a bit confusing, a comedy of manners at some points, a melodrama at others. This story from the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, Edgar Wallace was an immensely popular author, who created exciting thrillers spiced with tales of treacherous crooks and hard-boiled detectives.

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Liczba stron: 438

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Contents

BOOK THE FIRST

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

BOOK THE SECOND

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

BOOK THE THIRD

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER XLI

CHAPTER XLII

CHAPTER XLIII

BOOK THE FOURTH

CHAPTER XLIV

CHAPTER XLV

CHAPTER XLVI

CHAPTER XLVII

CHAPTER XLVIII

CHAPTER XLIX

CHAPTER L

CHAPTER LI

CHAPTER LII

CHAPTER LIII

CHAPTER LIV

CHAPTER LV

CHAPTER LVI

CHAPTER LVII

CHAPTER LVIII

CHAPTER LIX

BOOK THE FIRST

CHAPTER I

BERYL MERVILLE wrote:

“Dear Ronnie, We are back again from Italy, arriving this afternoon. Daddy thought you would be there to meet us, and I was so disappointed to find nobody but Mr. Steppe. Oh yes! I know that he is a most important person, and his importance was supported by his new car, such an impressive treasure, with a collapsible writing-table and cigar-lighter and library–actually a library in a cunning little locker under one of the seats. I just glanced at them. I am a little afraid of Mr. Steppe, yet he was kindness itself, and that bull voice of his, bellowing orders to porters, and chauffeurs, and railway policemen was comforting in a way. Daddy is a little plaintive on such occasions.

I thought he was looking unusually striking; Steppe I mean. People certainly do look at him, with his black, pointed beard and his bristling black eyebrows. You like him, don’t you? Perhaps I should, too, only–he is very magnetic, a commanding person, he frightens me, I repeat. And I have met another man; I don’t think you know him, he said he had never met you. Daddy knows him rather well, and so does Mr. Steppe. Such a queer man, Ronnie! He arrived after daddy had gone to his club, to collect some correspondence. The maid came, and told me there was a strange man in the hall who said Dr. Merville had sent for him; so I went down to see him. He made the queerest impression on me. You will be amused, but not flattered, when I confess that the moment I saw him, I thought of you! I had a sort of warm impulse toward him. I felt as though I were meeting you, as I wanted you to be. That sounds feeble, and lame, but employing my limited vocabulary to the best of my poor ability, I am striving to reduce my mad impression to words.

How mad it was, you’ll understand. For, Ronnie, he was a stoutish man of middle-age–no more like you than I am like Mr. Steppe! Yet when I saw this shabbily-dressed person–the knees of his trousers shone, and the laces of his untidy boots were dragging–I just gasped. He sat squarely in one of the hall chairs, a big rough hand on each knee, and he was staring in an absent-minded way at the wall. He didn’t even see me when I stood almost opposite to him. But his head, Ronnie! It was the head of a conqueror, one of those heroes of antiquity. You see their busts in the museums and wonder who they are. A broad eagle face, strangely dark, and on top a shock of grey-white hair brushed back into a mane. He had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen in a man, and when they turned in my direction, and he got up from his chair, not awkwardly as I expected, but with the ease of an Augustus, there was within them so much loving kindness that I felt I could have cried. And please, Ronnie, do not tell me that I am neurotic and over-tired. I was just mad–nothing worse than that. I’m mad still, for I cannot get him out of my mind.

His name is Ambrose Sault, and he is associated with daddy and Mr. Steppe, though I think that he is really attached to that horrid Greek person to whom daddy introduced me–Moropulos. What sort of work he does for Moropulos I have not discovered. There is always a great deal of mystery about Mr. Moropulos, and Mr. Steppe’s business schemes. Sometimes I am very uncomfortable–which is a very mild way of describing my feelings–about daddy…and things. Ronnie, you have some kind of business dealings with father. What is it all about? I should so like to discover. It is to do with companies and corporations, isn’t it? I know Mr. Steppe is a great financier, but I don’t quite know how financiers work. I suppose I ought not to be curious, but it worries me–no, bothers is a better word, sometimes.

Come and see me soon, Ronnie. I promise you I won’t…you know. I’ve never forgiven myself for hurting you so. It was such a horrid story…I blame myself for listening, and hate myself for telling you. But the girl’s brother was so earnest, and so terribly upset, and the girl herself was so wickedly circumstantial. You have forgiven me? It was my first experience of blackmailers, and I ought to have known you better and liked you better than to believe that you would be such a brute…and she was such a common girl, too…”

She stopped writing and looked round. “Come in.” The maid was straightening her face as she entered. “That gentleman, miss, Mr. Sault, has called.”

Beryl tapped her lips with the feathered pen holder. “Did you tell him that the doctor was out?”

“Yes, miss. He asked if you were in. I told him I’d go and see.” Something about the visitor had amused the girl, for the corners of her lips twitched.

“Why are you laughing, Dean?” Beryl’s manner was unusually cold and her grave eyes reproving. For no reason that she could assign, she felt called upon to defend this man, against the ridicule which she perceived in the maid’s attitude.

“Oh, miss, he was so strange! He said: ‘Perhaps she will see me’. ‘Do you mean Miss Merville?’ says I. ‘Merville!’ he says in a queer way, ‘of course, Beryl Merville’, and then he said something to himself. It sounded like ‘how pitiful’. I don’t think he is quite all there, miss.”

“Show him up, please,” said Beryl quietly. She recognized the futility of argument. Dean and her type found in the contemplation of harmless lunacy a subject for merriment…and Dean was the best maid she had had for years. She sat waiting for the man, uncertain…Why did she want to see him? She was not really curious by nature, and the crude manners of the class to which he belonged usually rubbed her raw. The foulness of their speech, the ugliness of their ideals and their lives; the gibberish–almost an unknown language to her–of the cockney man and woman, all these things grated. Perhaps she was neurotic after all; Ronnie was quite sure of his judgement in most matters affecting her.

Ambrose Sault, standing in the doorway, hat in hand, saw her bite her lower lip reflectively. She looked round with a start of surprise, and, seeing him, got up. He was a coloured man! She had not realized this before, and she was unaccountably hurt; just coloured, and yet his eyes were grey!

“I hope I haven’t disturbed you, mademoiselle,” he said. His voice was very soft and very sweet. Mademoiselle? A Creole…a Madagascan…an Octoroon? From one of the French foreign territories perhaps. He spoke English without an accent, but the ‘mademoiselle’ had come so naturally to his lips.

“You are French, Mr. Sault…your name, of course…” She smiled at him questioningly and wondered why she troubled to ask questions at all.

“No, mademoiselle.” He shook his great head, and the mask of a face did not relax. “I am from Barbadoes, but I have lived in Port de France, that is, in Martinique, for many years. I was also in Noumea, in New Caledonia, that is also French.” There was an awkward silence here. Yet he was not embarrassed and displayed no incertitude of his position. Her dilemma came from the fact that she judged men by her experience and acquaintance with them, and the empirical method fails before the unusual…Ambrose Sault was that.

“My father will be home very soon, Mr. Sault. Won’t you please sit down?”

As he chose a chair with some deliberation it occurred to her that she would find a difficulty in explaining to the fastidious Dr. Merville why she had invited this man to await him in the drawing-room. Strangely enough, she herself felt the capacity of entertaining and being entertained by the visitor, and she had no such spasm of dismay as had come to her, when other, and more presentable visitors, had settled themselves for a lengthy call. This fact puzzled her. Ambrose Sault was…an artisan perhaps, a messenger, more likely. The shabbiness of his raiment and the carelessness of his attire suggested some menial position. One waistcoat button had been fastened into the wrong buttonhole; the result was a little grotesque. “Have you been working very long with my father?” she asked.

“No…not a very long time,” he said. “Moropulos and Steppe know him better than I.” He checked himself. She knew that he would not talk any more about his associates, and the enigma which their companionship presented would remain unsolved, so far as he could give a solution. ‘Moropulos’–‘Steppe’? He spoke as an equal. Even Ronnie was deferential to Mr. Steppe, and was in awe of him. Her father made no attempt to hide his nervousness in the presence of that formidable person. Yet this man could dispense with the title. It was not bravado on his part, the conscious impertinence of an underling desirous of asserting his equality. Obviously he thought of Mr. Steppe as “Steppe’. What would he call her father? No occasion arose, but she was certain he would have been ‘Merville’ and no more.

Sault’s eyes were settled on her, absorbing her; yet his gaze lacked offence, being without hostility, or notable admiration. She had a ridiculous sensibility of praise. So he might have looked upon Naples from the sea, or upon the fields of narcissi above Les Avants, or the breathtaking loveliness of the hills of Monticattini in the blue afterlight of sunset. She could not meet his eyes…yet was without discomfort. The praise of his conspection was not human. She laughed, artificially, she thought, and reached out for a book that lay on the table. “We have just returned from Italy,” she said. “Do you know Italy at all, Mr. Sault?”

“I do not know Italy,” he said, and took the book she held to him. “That is rather a wonderful account of Lombardy and its history,” she said. “Perhaps you would like to read it?” He turned the leaves idly and smiled at her. She had never seen a man smile so sweetly.

“I cannot read,” he said simply. She did not understand his meaning for a while, thinking that his eyesight was failing.

“Perhaps you would care to take it home.”

He shook his head and the book came back to her. “I cannot read,” he said, without shame, “or write–at least I cannot write words. Figures, yes, figures are easy; somebody told me–he was a Professor of English, I think, at one of the Universities–that it was astonishing that I could work out mathematical problems and employ all the signs and symbols of trigonometry and algebra without being able to write. I wish I could read. When I pass a bookshop I feel like an armless man who is starving within hands’ reach of salvation. I know a great deal, and I pay a man to read to me–Livy and Prescott and Green and, of course, Bacon–I know them all. Writing does not worry me…I have no friends.”

If he had spoken apologetically, if he had displayed the least aggression, she might have classified and held him in a place. But he spoke of his shortcomings as he might have spoken of his grey hair: as a phenomenon beyond his ordering.

She was thunderstruck; possibly he was so used to shocking people from this cause that he did not appear to observe the effect he had produced.

He was so completely content with this, the first contact with his dream–woman, that he was almost incapable of receiving any other impression. Her hair was fairer than he had thought, her nose thinner, and the moulding of her delicate face was more spiritual. The lips redder and fuller, the rounded chin less firm. And her eyes…He wished she would turn her head so that he could be sure of their colour. They were big, set wide apart, there was depth in them and a something upon which he yearned. The figure of her he knew by heart. Straight and tall, and most gracious. A patrician; he thought of her as that. And Oriental. He had pictured her as a great lady at Constantine’s court; he set her upon the marble terrace of a decent villa on the hills above Chrysopolis; a woman of an illustrious order.

She could never suspect that he thought of her at all as a distinct personality. She could not guess that he knew her as well as his own right hand; that, day after day, he had waited in the Row, a shabby and inconspicuous figure amongst the smart loungers; waited for the benison of her presence. She had not seen him in Devon in the spring…he had been there. Living on the rain-soaked grass of Tapper Downs to watch her walking with her father; sitting amidst gorse on the steep slope of the cliff, she was unconscious of his guardianship, reading in her chair on the smooth beach.

“How curious, I nearly said ‘sad’. But you do not feel very sad about it, Mr. Sault, do you?”

Amused, he shook his head. “It would be irritating,” he said, “if I were sorry for myself. But I am never that. Half the unhappiness of life comes from the vanity of self-pity. It is the mother of all bitterness. Do you realize that? You cannot feel bitter without feeling sorry for yourself.”

She nodded. “You miss a great deal–but you know that. Poetry? I suppose you have that read to you?”

Ambrose Sault laughed softly. “Yes–poetry.”

“Out of the dark which covers me,

Black as a pit from Pole to Pole,

I thank whatever gods there be,

For my unconquerable soul.”

“That poem and Theocrite, and only two lines of Theocrite are the beginning and the end of my poetical leanings. I attend lectures, of course. Lectures on English, on architecture, music, history–especially history–oh, a hundred subjects. And mathematics. You can get those in the extension classes, only, unfortunately, I cannot qualify for admission to the classes themselves.”

“Have you never tried to–to…”

“Read and write? Yes. My room is packed with little books and big books. A-b, ab; c-a-t, cat; and copy-books. But I just can’t. I can write the letters of the alphabet, a few of them that are necessary for mathematical calculations, very well; but I cannot go any further. I seem to slip into a fog, a sort of impenetrable wall of thick mist, that confuses and baffles me. I know that c-a-t is ‘cat’, but when I see ‘cat’ written it is a meaningless combination of straight and curved lines. It is sheerly physical–the doctors have a word for it…I cannot remember what it is for the moment, I just can’t read…”

Dr. Merville came in at that moment, a thin, colourless man, myopic, irritable, chronically worried. He entered the drawing-room hurriedly. Beryl thought he must have run upstairs. His frowning, dissatisfied glance was toward Sault; the girl he ignored. “Hello, Sault–had no idea you were here. Will you come into my study?” He was breathless, and Beryl knew by the signs that he was angry about something. It occurred to her instantly that he was annoyed with her for entertaining the untidy visitor. The study was next door to the drawing-room, and he walked out with a beckoning jerk of his chin.

“I am glad to have met you, mademoiselle.” Ambrose Sault was not to be hurried. Returning to the open doorway, Dr. Merville, clucking his impatience, witnessed the leisurely leave-taking. The study door had scarcely closed on the visitor before it opened again and her father returned. “Why the deuce did you ask that fellow up, Beryl? He could have very well waited in the servants’ hall–or in the breakfast-room, or anywhere. Suppose–somebody had called!”

“I thought he was a friend of Mr. Steppe’s,” she said calmly. “You know such extraordinary people. What is he?”

“Who, Sault? Well, he is…” Dr. Merville was not immediately prepared to define the position of his visitor. “In a sense, he is an employee of Moropulos–picked him up in his travels. He is an anarchist.”

She stared. “A what?”

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