Circumstantial Evidence - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Circumstantial Evidence ebook

Edgar Wallace



Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was an English crime writer, journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and numerous articles in newspapers and journals. One of 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. He was known for the „The Four Just Men”, the „Ringer”, and for creating the Green Archer character during his lifetime. Over 160 films have been made of his novels. This volume contains 11 short stories with surprises and twists. Courtroom drama from the master of crime and creator of King Kong!

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Colonel Chartres Dane lingered irresolutely in the broad and pleasant lobby. Other patients had lingered awhile in that agreeable vestibule. In wintry days it was a cozy place; its polished panelled walls reflecting the gleam of logs that burnt in the open fireplace. There was a shining oak settle that invited gossip, and old prints, and blue china bowls frothing over with the flowers of a belated autumn or advanced spring-tide, to charm the eye.

In summer it was cool and dark and restful. The mellow tick of the ancient clock, the fragrance of roses, the soft breeze that came through an open casement stirring the lilac curtains uneasily, these corollaries of peace and order had soothed many an unquiet mind.

Colonel Chartres Dane fingered a button of his light dust-coat and his thin patrician face was set in thought. He was a spare man of fifty-five; a man of tired eyes and nervous gesture.

Dr. Merriget peered at him through his powerful spectacles and wondered.

It was an awkward moment, for the doctor had murmured his sincere, if conventional, regrets and encouragements, and there was nothing left but to close the door on his patient.

“You have had a bad wound there, Mr. Jackson,” he said, by way of changing a very gloomy subject and filling in the interval of silence. This intervention might call to mind in a soldier some deed of his, some far field of battle where men met death with courage and fortitude. Such memories might be helpful to a man under sentence.

Colonel Dane fingered the long scar on his cheek.

“Yes,” he said absently, “a child did that–my niece. Quite my own fault.”

“A child?” Dr. Merriget appeared to be shocked. He was in reality very curious.

“Yes... she was eleven... my own fault. I spoke disrespectfully of her father. It was unpardonable, for he was only recently dead. He was my brother-in-law. We were at breakfast and she threw the knife... yes....”

He ruminated on the incident and a smile quivered at the corner of his thin lips.

“She hated me. She hates me still... yes....”

He waited.

The doctor was embarrassed and came back to the object of the visit.

“I should be ever so much more comfortable in my mind if you saw a specialist, Mr.–er–Jackson. You see how difficult it is for me to give an opinion? I may be wrong. I know nothing of your history, your medical history I mean. There are so many men in town who could give you a better and more valuable opinion than I. A country practitioner like myself is rather in a backwater. One has the usual cases that come to one in a small country town, maternity cases, commonplace ailments... it is difficult to keep abreast of the extraordinary developments in medical science....”

“Do you know anything about Machonicies College?” asked the colonel unexpectedly.

“Yes, of course.” The doctor was surprised. “It is one of the best of the technical schools. Many of our best doctors and chemists take a preparatory course there. Why?”

“I merely asked. As to your specialists... I hardly think I shall bother them.”

Dr. Merriget watched the tall figure striding down the red-tiled path between the banked flowers, and was still standing on the doorstep when the whine of his visitor’s machine had gone beyond the limits of his hearing.

“H’m,” said Dr. Merriget as he returned to his study. He sat awhile thinking.

“Mr. Jackson?” he said aloud. “I wonder why the colonel calls himself ‘Mr. Jackson’?”

He had seen the colonel two years before at a garden party, and had an excellent memory for faces.

He gave the matter no further thought, having certain packing to superintend–he was on the eve of his departure for Constantinople, a holiday trip he had promised himself for years.

On the following afternoon at Machonicies Technical School, a lecture was in progress.

„... by this combustion you have secured true K.c.y.... which we will now test and compare with the laboratory quantities... a deliquescent and colorless crystal extremely soluble....”

The master, whose monotonous voice droned like the hum of a distant, big, stationary blue-bottle, was a middle-aged man, to whom life was no more than a chemical reaction, and love not properly a matter for his observation or knowledge. He had an idea that it was dealt with effectively in another department of the college... metaphysics... or was it philosophy? Or maybe it came into the realms of the biological master?

Ella Grant glared resentfully at the crystals which glittered on the blue paper before her, and snapped out the bunsen burner with a vicious twist of finger and thumb. Denman always overshot the hour. It was a quarter past five! The pallid clock above the dais, where Professor Denman stood, seemed to mock her impatience.

She sighed wearily and fiddled with the apparatus on the bench at which she sat. Some twenty other white-coated girls were also fiddling with test tubes and bottles and graduated measures, and twenty pairs of eyes glowered at the bald and stooping man who, unconscious of the passing of time, was turning affectionately to the properties of potassium.

“Here we have a metal whose strange affinity for oxygen... eh, Miss Benson?... five? Bless my soul, so it is! Class is dismissed. And ladies, ladies, ladies! Please, please let me make myself heard. The laboratory keeper will take from you all chemicals you have drawn for this experiment....”

They were crowding toward the door to the change room. Smith, the laboratory man, stood in the entrance grabbing wildly at little green and blue bottles that were thrust at him, and vainly endeavoring by a private system of mnemonics to commit his receipts to memory.

“Miss Fairlie, phial fairly; Miss Jones, bottle bones; Miss Walter, bottle salter.”

If at the end of his collection he failed to recall a rhyme to any name, the owner had passed without cashing in.

“Miss Grant–?”

The laboratory of the Analytical Class was empty. Nineteen bottles stood on a shelf and he reviewed them.

“Miss Grant–?”

No, he had said nothing about “aunt” or “can’t” or “pant.”

He went into the change room, opened a locker and felt in the pockets of the white overall. They were empty. Returning to the laboratory, he wrote in his report book:

“Miss Grant did not return experiment bottle.”

He spelt experiment with two r’s and two m’s.

Ella found the bottle in the pocket of her overall as she was hanging it up in the long cupboard of the change room. She hesitated a moment, frowning resentfully at the little blue phial in her hand, and rapidly calculating the time it would take to return to the laboratory to find the keeper and restore the property. In the end, she pushed it into her bag and hurried from the building. It was not an unusual occurrence that a student overlooked the return of some apparatus, and it could be restored in the morning.

Had Jack succeeded? That was the thought which occupied her. The miracle about which every junior dreams had happened. Engaged in the prosecution of the notorious Flackman, his leader had been taken ill, and the conduct of the case for the State had fallen to him. He was opposed by two brilliant advocates, and the judge was a notorious humanitarian.

She did not stop to buy a newspaper; she was in a fret at the thought that Jack Freeder might not have waited for her, and she heaved a sigh of relief when she turned into the old-world garden of the courthouse and saw him pacing up and down the flagged walk, his hands in his pockets.

“I am so sorry....”

She had come up behind him, and he turned on his heel to meet her. His face spoke success. The elation in it told her everything she wanted to know, and she slipped her arm through his with a queer mingled sense of pride and uneasiness.

„... the judge sent for me to his room afterwards and told me that the attorney could not have conducted the case better than I.”

“He is guilty?” she asked, hesitating.

“Who, Flackman... I suppose so,” he said carelessly. “His pistol was found in Sinnit’s apartment, and it was known that he quarrelled with Sinnit about money, and there was a girl in it, I think, although we have never been able to get sufficient proof of that to put her into the box. You seldom have direct evidence in cases of this character, Ella, and in many ways circumstantial evidence is infinitely more damning. If a witness went into the box and said, ‘I saw Flackman shoot Sinnit and saw Sinnit die,’ the whole case would stand or fall by the credibility of that evidence; prove that witness an habitual liar and there is no chance of a conviction. On the other hand, when there are six or seven witnesses, all of whom subscribe to some one act or appearance or location of a prisoner, and all agreeing... why, you have him.”

She nodded.

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