Eve’s Island - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Eve’s Island ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Edgar Wallace was one of the most popular and prolific authors of his era. This novel is framed as several witness’ accounts to a fictious journalist and starts as an entertaining adventure yarn with even some pirate episodes, but the story looses steam at the half-way point when it turns into a very predictable society novel. Wallace follows his passions for horse-racing and adventure, and the title character in all his generosity and extravagance is clearly autobiographical. The story of a man who founds his own colony on an uninhibited island, returns to England to find true love and manages to keep the island out of the hands of various foreign powers.

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Liczba stron: 288

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Contents

THE GENESIS OF THE HISTORY

I. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FIRST WITNESS: CAPTAIN WALTER FORD, R.N., C.M.G

II. THE EVIDENCE OF THE SECOND WITNESS: ERNEST GEORGE STUCKEY

III. THE EVIDENCE OF THE THIRD WITNESS: WILLIAM C. HACKITT

IV. THE EVIDENCE OF THE THIRD WITNESS: WILLIAM C. HACKITT {continued)

V. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS

VI. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

VII. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

VIII. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

IX. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

X. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

XI. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

XII. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

XIII. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS (continued)

XIV. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FIFTH WITNESS: SIR GEORGE CALLIPER

XV. FURTHER EVIDENCE BY THE FOURTH WITNESS: RICHARD CALLUS

THE GENESIS OF THE HISTORY

EDWARD G. TATHAM was born in Virginia in the United States of America. All the world knows that now. There are people in Springville, Va., who say they remember him as a child sitting before old Crubbs’s Store twiddling his bare toes in the dust. A tow-headed boy they described him, with a long, serious face, and blue eyes that looked you through and through, as though you were a new variety of insect, or a fabulous freak of nature. They say too that he was talkative even in that far-away time, would recite conventional pieces, had a marvellous head for detail and was admitted to the debating society which forgathered daily at Crubbs’s, on terms of equality.

This Mr. Crubbs the Elder told me himself, but I have advised my Government to attach little credence to his statement, because, I am informed, Crubbs is an inveterate remembrancer, and for a consideration would give you personal reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, or for the matter of that, of George Washington.

Such meagre records as Springville affords point to the fact that Edward Garfield Tatham was born on April 1st, 1873, his father being Clark Thomas Tatham, his mother before marriage a Miss Georgina Mary Daly. They came from an Eastern State, Tatham senior being a dealer in horses, and they remained long enough in Springville to distinguish the town by producing the child who was afterwards to be a European casus belli (nearly), and then returned East.

The father died in Baltimore in ‘81, the mother in Troy, N.Y., in ‘84, and Edward G. Tatham, so far as I can ascertain, was reared by a Michael Joseph Daly who ran a pool room on the East Side. Daly became an Alderman, and was presumably a good man, for he died at a comparatively early age, and what happened to his nephew (for this was the relationship in which Edward Tatham stood) is rather a matter of conjecture than definite history.

At the age of twelve he crossed the Atlantic and took up his residency with some disreputable relations, to whose tender care Uncle Mike on his death-bed had consigned him, and he lived in a street very near to the Rotunda, Dublin.

I find that he was convicted and fined two shillings and sixpence for selling newspapers in the street. That is not an offence; but the charge was “that he did on the 8th of October wilfully obstruct the Queen’s highway, to wit Sackville Street, and when warned by Constable Patrick O’Leary, used insulting and abusive language calculated to cause a breach of Her Majesty’s peace. Further, that he did assault and do injury to one Patrick Moriaty, an itinerant vendor of newspapers, aged 14, by striking him in the face.”

I have seen in a newspaper file of the period an account of the trouble which rose as a result of young Tatham’s first interference with vested interests–for Patrick Moriaty claimed the monopoly of selling Freeman’s Journals in that particular section and resented the appearance of a newcomer.

Selling newspapers in Dublin was not young Tatham’s forte; three months later he was in London. He had severed his connection with his relatives–possibly, indeed probably, they had taken the initiative.

Of his life in London as a boy little is known. He worked, that is certain. But he was never more than two or three months in any one job. I have traced him to printers, shoemakers, and milk vendors. He seemed to be consumed with a spirit of restlessness which made the monotony of any form of employment maddening. “He just threw up and tried another stunt,” said one authentic witness. It is certain that he attended the evening classes which a beneficent county council instituted for the benefit of those victims of neglected opportunity which abound. Here, for a few coppers payable weekly, he was perfected in the elements of education. He won a prize for practical chemistry worth much more than his year’s school fees. One of his history essays was reprinted in the council magazine. He was quick to learn, immensely alert, “and,” said a master who remembered him, “gifted with an extraordinary imagination.” He had other qualities which were to come to fruition later.

I can picture him, a raw lank boy, crouched over the pine desk of the board school, hungry, for his salary, so far as I could learn, was never higher than $2.50 at the period, and more than half of that went in lodging.

“He was more hungry for knowledge,” said the master; “he devoured information as bears devour buns. As fast as one threw him a scrap he gobbled it. And if his food came too slowly, he reached out a paw the claws of which were notes of interrogation.”

In ‘89 Tatham vanished. I can find no trail, no single clue of his movements. My own view is that he joined the British Army, but I have no support for this theory. Tatham himself is silent, and since I do not regard that period as being of vital importance in the compilation of the history, I have not pursued inquiries with any great diligence.

It was after the events which led to the assembling of our fleet in the Southern Atlantic, and when the name of Edward G. Tatham was on the lips of every man, woman, and child in the civilised world, that I was summoned to Washington to interview the President. He had previously been pleased to congratulate me on my history of the Spanish-American War–a history which I might claim in all modesty was as unprejudiced an account of actual happenings as was possible to collect so soon after the event.

I was ushered into his private office, and he shook hands with me warmly.

“It is good of you to come,” he said with that expansive smile of his; “I wanted to see you for reasons which are half official, half sentimental.”

He paced up and down the apartment, his hands deep in his trousers’ pockets.

“You know what has happened in the South Atlantic,” he said. “You are aware that there has been a bother over President Tatham–trouble which is now happily at an end–and you know some of the causes which led up to that trouble?”

I nodded. The story was common property.

“The English Government has held a secret commission,” continued the President; “it has been sitting for three weeks to root out the whys and the wherefores, and the evidence will never be published.”

I nodded again.

“There is very little to learn,” I said; “we know that Tatham–”

He lifted his hand to stop me, and smiled.

“You know nothing,” he said. “Do you know Eve Smith? Do you know Callus the Correspondent? Do you know Hackitt the engineer?” he tapped the table before him and spoke deliberately. “Do you know the Scout?”

I was puzzled.

“The Scout, Mr. President?”

“It is a racehorse,” he said, enjoying my bewilderment, “and the racehorse was the crux of the whole crisis–though few knew it, or know it now.”

He opened a drawer in his desk, and took out a large envelope: from this he withdrew a number of sheets of paper.

“Here are the bones of the story,” he said. “I have them through–er–diplomatic channels. Now I want you to go to Europe and encase these bones with flesh. You will find a list of people who will give you information–the British Government will offer no objection, once they understand that you know who the witnesses are. Tatham was a citizen of this country–he would be still if he had not made laws of his own–he has been in conflict with Europe and has won out. Do you go and tell us how he did it–good-bye, and a pleasant voyage.”

And that is how I came to write the strangest book that has ever been written. A book with material for a good novel, if somebody more gifted than I care to take it in hand. And the fragments of the story, now presented to the English and American public for the first time, were collected in strange places.

For when I arrived in England many of the principal actors of the drama had scattered. The man Stuckey I interviewed in Wormwood Scrubbs prison, the war correspondent I ran to earth in a little café in Cadiz in the south of Spain, Sir James Calliper I found in Scotland, and fortunately he had the necessary blue books with him to elucidate his end of the story. Captain Ford I crossed Siberia to meet–his ship was on the China station–and Hackitt I met last of all in Rio de Janeiro.

Each of these witnesses was necessary. Their independent stories made the complete history of the most extraordinary adventure that ever man embarked upon.

The Congo Government side of the story I have not given. It was obviously prejudiced. In Brussels they regard Tatham as a vulgar thief, though he made generous reparation.

In piecing the story together I give the statements of the witnesses, not in the order in which they were given, but in such sequence as carries the story without a break.

I. THE EVIDENCE OF THE FIRST WITNESS: CAPTAIN WALTER FORD, R.N., C.M.G.

Captain Walter Ford, Royal Navy, Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, commanding the first-class cruiser Ontario. Captain Ford is a tall, spare man of fifty, slightly grey. He received me on board his ship off Hong Kong, and was a little stiff and reluctant to give me the information I required. Fortunately the letter which our Ambassador in London procured for me from the British Admiralty was sufficient to relieve him of every anxiety regarding a possible breach of the Official Secrets Act, and he told me all he had to tell concisely and briefly, with an admirable regard for essential facts.

“I WAS for some years in command of the survey ship Charter,” said Captain Ford, “and I am well acquainted with the island which is now known as Tatham Island. As far as I can remember its exact position is Lat. 20.5.5 West, and Long. 37.15.4 South. I last visited the place in October, 1897, to take soundings at the northern side of the island. The island has all the appearance from the sea of being uninhabited, in fact it seems to be little more than a huge barren rock that rises perpendicularly from the water. It reminded me in conformation of an enormous iceberg. So unpromising was the aspect that it was only after considerable persuasion that I yielded, with great reluctance, to the suggestion of my chief officer that an attempt should be made to explore the interior.

“The island itself is ten miles in length, and at its widest point eight miles across.

“What finally decided me to make a more complete and searching examination was the discovery by the navigating officer, Lieutenant A. S. W. Sanders, R.N. This was no less than evidence of a subterranean river which apparently emptied itself on the south side of the island immediately beneath the cliff, which we named Signal Hill. The presence of fresh water had been unsuspected by those explorers who had from time to time sighted the island, and it was due to this fact that the sovereign claims of Great Britain had never been pushed home.

“Up to within two years ago the exact nationality of this island had not been determined, and its proprietorship was nebulous. It was claimed by Great Britain in conformity with the Tsai-Lang Treaty, by Portugal, as the result of an ‘Occupation,’ and by Holland. It is marked on all German maps as a German possession.

“On the discovery of the subterranean river I decided to make an investigation into the interior of the island, and in consequence, on the 28th of October, 1897, I despatched Lieutenant Granger, R.N., in the steam pinnace, with instructions to circumnavigate the island, and report upon possible landing-places.

“On his return he informed me that, notwithstanding a most painstaking search, he had failed to discover a foothold on the precipitous cliffs that formed the coastline. At only one spot had he been able to secure a landing, and that was on the northeastern side, where a strip of beach, totally covered at high water, but measuring 50 feet by 17 feet (from water’s edge to the base of the cliff) at low water, enabled him to land.

“But from this spot, as from all others, so far as he could see, the rock rose to the height of 500 feet without a break or cranny that could afford foothold. So unusual were these features that, after perusing Lieutenant Granger’s report, I myself made a personal inspection of the island, but with no better fortune than my officer. I should have returned without pursuing what appeared to be a fruitless search, but for the suggestion of Mr. Granger that a photograph might be taken of the interior of the island by means of a kite.

“A kite was accordingly rigged up, and the necessary apparatus to secure a picture was ingeniously improvised by Surgeon Doyle. Our first efforts were crowned with success: the camera worked satisfactorily. Before the plate was developed I sent the kite up again, but it was unfortunately carried away by a gust of wind.

“The third and fourth attempts were successful, and the photographs we secured were highly satisfactory. So far as we could see, the interior of the island was a great green valley, plentifully wooded and watered, with a number of small rivers converging towards the southern ‘wall’ of the island. There was no sign of human habitation, but on enlarging the photograph there was evidence of abundance of game and of animal life–so far as I could make out: herds of animals resembling the South African quagga.

“Isochromatic plates were employed, which enabled me to gauge the geological formation; especially do I refer to the range of hills that lines the inside of the western wall. Of these I reported:

“‘Have the appearance of being highly mineralized.’

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