Double Dan - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Double Dan ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Various people had tried, and failed, to break the strong will of Diana Ford. Her lawyers, for instance, thought they could dissuade her from coming to England. Her cousin, Gordon Salisbury, found she had moved in as a permanent houseguest, uninvited and defiant of convention. So, it was not surprising that when she suspected Gordon of being the victim of a clever impersonation, Diana should take charge. Recommended for Edgar Wallace fans and fans of old-time, classic crime thrillers. Edgar Wallace was one of the most popular and prolific authors of his era.

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Liczba stron: 281

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Contents

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

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 I

“She is an orphan,” said Mr. Collings emotionally.

Orphans were Mr. Collings’ weakness.

In ordinary intercourse as between lawyer and client, he was a stern, reserved man with a cold passion for compromise. Litigants entered his office charged with bubbling joy that their enemies had delivered themselves into their hands; they came talking five figure damages and the stark ruin of men and corporations who and which had offended them. They slunk out again into the glare of an Australian sun, their cases demolished, their spirits broken, their futures clouded. Mr. Collings did not believe in litigation. He believed that things could be arranged.

If it was possible for a murdered man to walk into Mr. Collings’ office and say: “I’ve got an excellent case against Binks: he has just shot me dead. Do you think I can get damages?” Mr. Collings would reply: “I very much doubt it. There is a great deal to be said for Binks. And aren’t you in rather an awkward position yourself? You are carrying about a bullet which undoubtedly is the property of Binks. You never know what point of view a jury will take. You had better let me try to settle this.”

But in the matter of orphans Mr. Collings was slightly unbalanced. He was strictly brought up by parents who compelled him to read books on Sunday that were entirely devoted to orphans and good organ-grinders and little girls who quoted extensively from precious books and died surrounded by weeping negroes. In such literature the villains of the piece were young scoundrels who surreptitiously threw away their crusts and only ate the crumbly part of bread; desperadoes who kicked dogs and threw large flies into spiders’ webs and watched the spider at his fell work with glee.

“She is an orphan,” said Mr. Collings again, and blew his nose loudly.

“She has been an orphan for ten years,” said Mr. William Cathcart cynically.

Mr. Collings was stout, bald, given to afternoon naps; Mr. Cathcart was thin, narrow-faced, not so bald, and never slept at all, so far as anybody knew. He hated orphans. They stood for questions of cestui que use, problems of cy-près, perplexities of donatio mortis causa and the Guardianship of Infants Act. He never saw an orphan without his hand going instinctively to his hip pocket.

“And the most irregular orphan I have ever met,” continued Mr. William Cathcart remorselessly. “An infant in law with a bank balance of a hundred thousand! I refuse to drop a tear–positively!”

Mr. Collings wiped his eyes.

“She is an orphan,” he insisted. “Mrs. Tetherby gave her the money during her lifetime: there is nothing irregular in that. If I gave an–an orphan”–he swallowed hard–“a penny, a pound–a thousand–is that a breach of the law, an impropriety, even though it is practised de die in diem?”

Mr. Cathcart considered.

“You might in certain circumstances be acting de sont tort,” he said.

Mr. Collings pondered this; found the term almost inapplicable, but not so much so that he could be offensive in a gentlemanly way. Wisely he returned to lamb.

“Mrs. Tetherby was inert. Stout women are often inert–”

“Lazy,” suggested the dyspeptic Cathcart.

“She was fond of Diana. Few aunts are fond of nieces. Her will proves that. She left everything–”

“There was nothing to leave,” interrupted Mr. William Cathcart with sour satisfaction. How that man hated orphans! “There was nothing to leave because in her lifetime she gave Diana full control of her money.”

“She was inert,” murmured Mr. Collings. “She loved this orphan child–”

“If there was one woman in the world who ought never to have been allowed–”

“Never ought have been,” corrected Mr. Collings gently.

“–to have charge of a girl of Diana Ford’s temperament, it is or was Mrs. Tetherby. A child of sixteen who has a raging love affair with a student–”

“A theological student,” insisted Mr. Collings. “Don’t forget that. A young woman may well feel that she could give her heart to a theological student when a medical student would have revolted all that was most sensitive in her nature.”

“A theological student makes it worse.”

“At least Mrs. Tetherby consulted us on that matter.” Mr. Collings was a shade reproachful. “Inert or energetic, she consulted us.”

“She consulted us to discover whether she would be liable to trial for murder if she waylaid and shot Mr. Dempsi. She said that she had set a dog on to him, but he was incapable of taking a hint. Those were her words.”

“Dempsi is dead,” said Mr. Collings in a hushed voice. “I spoke to Diana on the subject only eight months ago–when her dear aunt died. I asked her if the wound had left a scar. She said she scarcely remembered a scratch, and that she often amused herself in the evenings by trying to draw him from memory.”

“A heartless little devil,” said Mr. Cathcart.

“A child–youth has no memory, not even for its stomach aches,” said Mr. Collings oracularly.

“Did you discuss those too?” sneered his partner.

Mr. Collings raised his eyebrows. Such a man as he is hopeless in the face of sheer vulgarity.

“An orphan…” he began.

The clerk at the door spoke in the strained way of managing clerks.

“Miss Diana Ford, sir,” he said.

The legal house of Collings & Cathcart exchanged glances.

“Show the young lady in.” The door closed. “Be gentle with her, William.”

Mr. Cathcart writhed.

“Will she be gentle with me?” he asked bitterly. “Will you guarantee that she will be reasonably polite to me–and back your guarantee with real money?”

There came through the door a peach tree, blossoming in the spring of the year; summer dawn on riverside meadows with the dew winking from a thousand gossamers. The froth of hawthorn in an English country lane; a crystal brook whispering between slim larches. Miss Diana Ford.

During the war Mr. Cathcart had held a commission in the Army Service Corps (Home Service) and had acquired the inventory habit. He saw:

Girl: Slim, medium size. One.

Eyes: Grey-blue; large, more or less innocent. Two.

Mouth: Red, Bow-shaped, largish. One.

Nose: Straight, in perfect shape. One.

Hair: Slightly golden, bobbed.

One complete head.

Diana was as unrecognisable from the inventory as the average man from the description on his passport. She had the atmosphere of spring and dawn. Her colouring belonged to such season and time, having a pink of its own and a whiteness which looked pink when compared with white. She moved with such supple grace that Mr. Cathcart suspected an entire absence of corsets–he was a married man.

She came impulsively to Mr. Collings and kissed him. Mr. William Cathcart closed his eyes, so did not meet the smirk of satisfaction which his partner loosened for his benefit.

“Good morning, Uncle. Good morning. Uncle Cathcart.”

“‘Mornin’,” said Mr. Cathcart, hostile to the last.

“‘Mornin’!” she boomed in imitation. “And I’ve come feeling awfully nice toward you! I called you ‘Uncle’!”

“I heard you,” glowered the newly elected relative. “It would be much better, Miss Ford, if we proceeded on business lines–”

“You can proceed on tram lines if that pleases you,” she sighed, taking off her hat and tossing it on to the nearest deed-box. “Oh, Uncle Collings, I’m sick…”

Mr. Cathcart half rose in his alarm.

“Sick of Australia, sick of the station, sick of the people, sick of everything. I’m going home.”

“Home!” gasped Mr. Collings. “But, my dear little Diana. If by ‘home’ you mean England and not–er–”

“Heaven,” suggested Mr. Cathcart.

“I mean England, of course I mean England. I am going to stay with my cousin, Gordon Selsbury.”

Mr. Collings scratched his nose.

“An elderly person, of course?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged her indifference.

“Married, eh?”

“I suppose so. If he’s nice. All the nice men are married–present company excepted.”

Mr. Collings was a bachelor and could afford to laugh very heartily. Mr. Cathcart, on the other hand, was married and was not even amused.

“You have cabled and written, of course: there is no objection to your going to–er–Mr. Selsbury’s?”

“None whatever.” She was overridingly brisk. “He will be delighted to have me.”

“Twenty!” said Mr. Cathcart and shook his head. “An infant in law! I really think we must know more about Mr. Selsbury and his condition before–eh, Collings?”

Mr. Collings looked appealingly at the girl; she had never seemed more or looked less orphaned than at that moment.

“It would be wise, perhaps–?” he no more than suggested.

When Diana smiled her eyes wrinkled up and you saw both rows of her small white teeth.

“I have taken my cabin: a lovely one. With a bathroom and sitting-room. The walls are panelled in blue brocade silk and there is a cute little brass bedstead in the middle–so that you can fall out either side.”

Mr. William Cathcart felt it was the moment to bring down his foot.

“I am afraid I cannot consent to your going,” he said quietly.

“Why?” Up went her chin.

“Yes, why?” demanded Mr. Collings. He was anxious to know.

“Because,” said Mr. Cathcart, “because, my dear young lady, you are an infant in the eyes of the wise old law of this country; because Mr. Collings and I stand in loco parentis to you. Now I am old enough to be your father–”

“And grandfather,” she said calmly. “But does that matter? There was a lad of sixty trying to find opportunities for squeezing my hand all the way down in the train from Bendigo. Age means nothing if your heart is young.”

“Exactly!” said Mr. Collings, whose heart was very young.

“The long and the short of it is that you can’t go,” said Mr. William Cathcart defiantly. “I do not wish to apply for an order of the court–”

“One moment, little friend of the poor,” said Diana. She threw several priceless law books and a pile of affidavits from a chair and sat down. “A few moments ago–correct me if I am wrong: I seldom am–you produced your hoary Mr. Loco Parentis to crush me to the earth. Meet Colonel Locus Standi!”

“Eh?” said William, dithered.

“My knowledge of legal formula is slight,” said Diana gravely. “I have lived a pure and a sheltered life amidst the rolling grass lands of Kara-Kara, but ignorant orphan though I am…”

Mr. Collings sighed.

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