Chick - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Chick ebook

Edgar Wallace



Among the most prolific of all authors of adventure fiction was the redoubtable Edgar Wallace. During the peak of his success during the 1920’s, it was said that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. In this classic comedy, an office boy unexpectedly inherits the title of Marquis. As well as dealing with this unexpected elevation in his status, and learning how to behave as a member of the aristocracy he also has to protect his newly inherited estate from clever con-men who try to convince him that there is oil on his land and after a series of adventures win the girl he loves. Mildly comic with a likeable title character, an enjoyable piece of fluff.

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Mr. Jonas Stollingham was station-master, head porter, local switchman, ticket-collector, and dispatch clerk at Pelborough Halt. He was also Chief of the Information Bureau. He was an aged man, who chewed tobacco and regarded all innovation as a direct challenge to Providence. For this reason he spoke of aeroplanes, incubators, mechanical creamers, motor-cars, and vaccination with a deep growling “Ah!” Such intangible mysteries as wireless telegraphy he dismissed as the invention of the newspapers.

Jonas knew most of the happenings which had occurred within twenty-five miles of Pelborough Halt during the past forty-seven years. He could tell you the hour and the day that Tom Rollins was run over by a hay-cart, and the number of eggs laid at Poolford Farm on a record day. He knew the Vicar’s family skeleton, and would rattle the same on the slightest encouragement. He had had time in his life to form very definite ideas about most subjects, since only four trains stopped at Pelborough Halt on weekdays and half that number on Sundays.

It was a cold, moist Sunday in January that the 10.57 “up” discharged a solitary passenger, and Jonas moved toward him with a gathering frown.

“Where’s your ticket?” he demanded.

The passenger, who carried no baggage, dived into the pockets of his worn overcoat, and, increasing the pace of his search till Jonas could hardly follow his movements, he patted and prodded successively his trousers, waistcoat, and jacket pockets.

“If you ain’t got a ticket, you’ve got to pay,” said the hopeful Jonas. “You ain’t supposed to keep me waiting here all day. I’m only doing the company a favour by being here at all on Sunday.”

He was disappointed when the young man produced a piece of pasteboard, and scrutinized it suspiciously as the train moved out.

“Date’s all right,” he confessed.

“Mr. Stollingham–er–is my–er–uncle well?”

Mr. Stollingham fixed his steel-rimmed spectacles nearer his eyes.

“Hullo!” he greeted. “Mr. What’s-your-name?”

“Beane,” murmured the youth apologetically. “Charles Beane. You remember I was here for a month.”

“I know ye.” Jonas chewed accusatively, his rheumy eyes on the passenger.

“The old doctor ain’t well.” He emphasized the negative with some satisfaction. “Lots of people round here don’t think he’s all there.” He tapped his forehead. “He thinks he’s a dook. I’ve known fellows to be took off to the lunytic asylum for less. Went down to Parliament last month, didn’t he?”

“I believe he did,” said “Chick” Beane. “I didn’t see him.”

“Asked to be made a lord! If that ain’t madness, what is it?”

“It may be measles,” said Chick gravely. “The doctor had an attack last year.”

“Measles!” The contempt of Jonas was always made visible as well as audible. “We don’t like your uncle’s goings-on; it’s bringin’ the village down If a man’s a lord, he’s born so. If he ain’t, he ain’t. It’s the same with these air’planes. Was we intended to fly? Was we born with wings? Suppose them crows over there started to chew terbaccer like a human bein’, wouldn’t the law stop it?”

“But chewing tobacco isn’t human, Mr. Stollingham–it’s nasty! Good morning!”

He left the station-master gazing after him with a baneful stare.

Charles Beane had never had any other name than “Chick.” It had been given to him as a child by one of his father’s “helps.” For Chick was born at Grafton, in the State of Massachusetts, whither his male parent had gone as a young man to seek the fortune which rural England had denied to a gentleman-farmer. There he had married and died two years after his wife, and Chick, at the age of seven, had been brought to England by an aunt, who, on passing from this world to a better, had left him to the care of another aunt.

Chick saw life as a panorama of decaying aunts and uncles. Until he was fifteen he thought that mourning was the clothing that little boys were, by the English law, compelled to wear. Hence, too, he took a cheerful view of dissolution which often sounded callous. He had the kindest of hearts, but he who had seen the passing of mother and father, three aunts, one uncle, and a cousin, without human progress being perceptibly affected, could hardly take quite so serious a view of such matters as those to whom such phenomena are rare.

Chick appeared a little more than medium height and weight. Both impressions were deceptive. His trick of bending forward when he spoke gave him the slightest stoop, and his loose carriage favoured the illusion. Nor was he deaf; that strained look and bent head was his apology for troubling people with his presence and conversation. This also was innocent and unconscious deception. Many people mistook his politeness for humility, his fear of hurting people’s feelings for sheer awe and shyness.

He was not shy, though few believed this. His characteristic was a certain bald frankness which could be disconcerting. The art which is comprehended in the word “diplomacy” was an esoteric mystery to him. He was painfully boyish, and the contours of the face, the rather high cheek-bones, the straight small nose, the big forehead and the baby-blue eyes, no less than his untidy yellow hair, belonged to the sixth form, though the average boy of the sixth is better acquainted with a razor and lather brush than was Chick.

The way to Pelborough Abbey lay through the village of that name. The bell of the parish church was tolling mournfully, and in consequence the straggling street was as crowded as could be. He walked quickly past the curious worshippers and turned into the dilapidated gate of the Abbey, a large and ugly cottage which at some time had been painted white. Once a veritable abbey had stood on the very spot where Josephus Beane had laid the foundations of his house. A few blocks of masonry, weed-covered and weathered, until the very outlines of the dressing had vanished, remained to testify to the labours of the forgotten monks.

An untidy servant opened the door and smirked at the visitor.

“He’s in bed,” she said cheerfully. “Some say that he’ll never get out again. But, lor, he’s always makin’ people liars. Why, last winter he was took so bad that we nearly got a doctor to him!”

“Will you tell him I’m here, please?” said Chick gently.

The room into which he was ushered was on the ground floor, and normally was Dr. Beane’s library. The walls were hidden behind book-shelves; a large and aged table was literally piled with papers, pamphlets, and deed-boxes, books and scattered manuscript. Over the mantelpiece was a brilliant coat-of-arms which always reminded Chick of a public-house sign.

Into this literary workshop had been insinuated a narrow high bed with four polished posts and a canopy. Supported by large pillows, the slips of which had not been changed for a week, lay a man of sixty-five–a grim, square-jawed, unshaven man, who, with a stiff cardboard pad on his doubled-up knees, was writing as Chick appeared.

The invalid’s face took a turn for the worse at the sight of the figure in the doorway.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he growled.

Chick came cautiously into the room and put his hat down on a chair. “Yes, sir, it’s me. I hope you’re better.”

The old doctor snorted and shifted in his bed. “I suppose you know I’m not long for this world, eh?” he scowled up under his tremendous eyebrows. “Eh?” he repeated.

“No, sir, I don’t think you are,” said Chick agreeably, “but I’m sure a gentleman of your experience won’t mind that?”

Dr. Beane swallowed and blinked.

“I am very glad you are alive today, sir,” Chick hastened to add, feeling that perhaps he had better say all the nice things he could think of whilst he had the opportunity.

“You are, are you?” breathed the doctor.

“Oh, yes, sir,” Chick was eager to help. “I don’t, of course, like coming to Pelborough, because you are usually so very disagreeable, owing, I often think, to your age and your–er–infirmity.” He looked down at the speechless invalid with solemn eyes. “Were you ever crossed in love, sir?”

Dr. Beane could only stare.

“One reads in books that such things happen, though, of course, it may be sheer invention on the part of the novelists, who aren’t always quite correct in their facts–unintentionally, I am sure–”

“Will you shut up?” bellowed the sick man. “You’re annoying me, sir! You’re exasperating me, sir! Confound you, I’ll outlive you, sir, by twenty years!”

The old man almost hissed the words, and Chick shook his head.

“I am sure it is possible,” he agreed, “but of course it is against the law of average–we know a great deal about that in the insurance business. Are you insured, sir?”

Dr. Beane was sitting bolt upright in bed now, and he was terribly calm.

“Boy,” he said awfully, “I am not insured.” And Chick looked grave.

“One ought to insure,” he said; “it is the most unselfish thing one can do. One ought to think of one’s relations.”

“Confound you, sir! You’re my only relation!” wailed the doctor.

Chick was silent. That idea had never struck him.

“Isn’t there anybody who is fond of you?” he asked, and added regretfully: “No, I suppose there isn’t.”

Dr. Beane swung his legs out of bed.

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