Found Dead - Fred M. White - ebook

Found Dead ebook

Fred M White

0,0

Opis

Found Dead is the story of Sir John Mortmain, who was a bum. He was a rich man, owning one of the best estates in North Devon. He was also one of the best novlist in his early years and almost made a name for himself. In a sense, he was quite popular, and yet there was a strange sensation of the abyss between him and the locals.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 238

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



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 I

Sir John Mortmain turned over the Sunday papers idly in search of some item of possible interest. It was one of those perfect mornings at the end of June, without the semblance of a cloud in the sky and the warm, languid air that conduces to sleepiness. Moreover, it was a Sunday morning, and Mortmain had nothing whatever to do. He sat in a long cane chair on the terrace in front of Mortmains, looking out across the slumbering sea and half wondering how he was going to get through the day.

Mortmain was a good deal of a sportsman and, though a good many people wondered what he did with himself half his time, he was no idler despite the fact that he was a rich man in possession of one of the finest estates in North Devon. More than that, he had been, up to a certain time one of the most promising of the younger school of novelists. His was a strange and whimsical fancy with a decided bent in the direction of the gruesome and the grim–in fact, a sort Stevenson-cum-Edgar Allen Poe frame of mind. In his earlier days he had written a couple of novels on these lines, and they had found decided favour in the eyes of the most discerning critics. In fact, he was well on the way to making a name for himself when fate took a hand in his affairs, and from a mere University graduate, more or less fighting his way in Fleet-street, he found himself in the possession of a title, to say nothing of a handsome income and one of the great ancestral estates, on the northern side of the county of Devon. It had only needed a motor accident in a fog along the romantic valley that led up to Mortmains Lodge, and two lives that stood between him and the twinkling of an eye. Then the late property had been swept away in the late baronet, who was already an old man, bent before the shock of his sons’ death, and John Mortmain found himself master of the fine old domain and the owner of a fortune that he had never expected.

He had come down there from London almost at once. He had turned his back upon all his old friends and had shut himself up in that glorious old house, where he entertained none and asked nobody, though there were plenty of his own class in the neighbourhood who would have been only too glad to have made much of the new owner of Mortmains.

Not that John Mortmain was in the least exclusive or distant. He was friendly enough with his neighbours when they met. He rode regularly to hounds and subscribed handsomely to the pack. He shot and fished and played cricket with the local team. In a way, he was popular enough, and yet there was that strange feeling of a gulf between himself and the local inhabitants. Certainly he managed to convey the impression that he wanted to be left alone, and that he was not particularly anxious to exchange amenities outside the field of sport. He was writing another book, or so he gave the people to understand, and perhaps when that was finished he would be less exclusive.

But John Mortmain was not engaged upon another novel, at least, not in the practical sense of the word. That he would publish something new in the course of time was sure enough, but, so far, the plot was only beginning to simmer in his mind. It was to be something of a tragic nature, with a good deal of the sensational in it, and a lot connected with Scotland Yard.

But Mortmain was too much of an artist to set about a romance of that kind without having his facts correct to the last detail. If he wrote about the modern detective and his ways, he would do so from life, and not draw one of the sleuths who is so familiar in current works of fiction. When he was ready to tackle that part of his story, then he would go to the fountain head and obtain all his information first hand. Or perhaps he might get the details he needed brought to him. It was a happy thought, and Mortmain turned it over in his mind again and again until it became almost an obsession with him.

Meanwhile, he had nothing much to do but to pass the golden days as best he might and contemplate nature from the terrace in front of that mediaeval house and soak his soul in some of the most wonderful scenery that England boasts. Thus he was sitting there on that beautiful Sunday morning late in June, smoking his cigarette and turning his papers over idly with the full intention of staying where he was till luncheon.

And then, suddenly, a paragraph caught his eye and arrested his attention. It was only personal allusion contained in a few lines, but it served to hold Mortmain and cause him to draw a sharp breath between his lips. It ran thus:–

“I looked in at the ‘Frivolity’ last night to find that the new revue there is going as strong as ever. By the way, it has been considerably strengthened by a new sketch written by Miss Margaret Debenham, whose sprightly paragraphs in the ‘Weekly Herald’ are so well known to most of my readers. Miss Debenham tells me that she has just finished a comedy which will shortly see the light in the West End, though she was charmingly discreet as to the name of the famous comedian who is fathering it. Miss Debenham, by the way, is well worth watching.”

Just a mere paragraph with a faint suggestion of the work of the Press agent about it. But it was enough to bring a cloud across Mortmain’s handsome, bronzed face and a look of pain to his clear, brown eyes. Those few lines in cold print brought back to him with startling clearness something which he had hoped he had put behind him for all time.

He remembered, as if it had only been yesterday, his first meeting with Margaret Debenham. It was barely two years ago, and in that time so much had happened. He had been coming out of one of the Fleet-street offices when she was going in, and just for a moment they had almost collided. A half-apology on either side, and they had gone their several ways. Just one of those chance meetings that mean so little–or so much.

Mortmain had gone on towards Charing Cross, thinking a good deal of those blue eyes and that lovely, clever little face, and had laughed at himself as a cheap sentimentalist. He would never see her again, of course, and, anyway, it would be all the same if he did. A man who was making a bare living had no business to allow himself to think about the future, especially a future in which a pretty girl was involved.

All the same, those two were destined to meet again more than once. They seemed to have mutual friends in the Bohemian set in which they moved, so that there came a time when Margaret became “Peggy” and John Mortmain became “Jack.” And so it progressed by easy stages until the two were engaged.

There were many ties between them; they were both engaged in the same literary pursuits, and both had their ambitions clearcut before them. One was to become a great novelist and the other an equally famous dramatist. Still, there was one advantage that Margaret held over her lover. Whilst he had his pen to depend upon for a living, she had come to London after the death of her father with some hundreds a year of her own. And it was a long time before she could induce Mortmain to regard this as anything but a personal disadvantage. She had overcome his scruples at length and their marriage was dimly in sight when the blow fell. It came out of nowhere, like a flash of lightning in a blue sky, and it left Mortmain stunned and bewildered. Moreover it reached him by the same post as the letter, telling him of the tragedy in the Valley of Rocks, and that he was now heir to the title and property. Would he come down to Devonshire at once.

Moved by this appeal, and being the really good fellow that he was, John put his own troubles on one side and hastened down to Devonshire. There would be time enough to untie the complicated knot after the funeral, and meanwhile he would not communicate with Margaret or make any attempt to see her and get an explanation of her most amazing letter.

But he was detained by the grief-stricken and broken old gentleman longer than he had expected. And when he found himself at liberty to get back to London, it was too late. To begin with he could find no trace of Margaret at her lodgings.

“Do you mean to say she has left?” he asked the landlady in Bloomsbury-square. “Left altogether?”

The old lady looked at him wonderingly.

“Why, didn’t you know that, sir?” she responded. “She went over a week ago. Come in one night in a great hurry, she did, and told me she had to go to Paris for some months. So we parted, and very sorry indeed I was. And no one more surprised than me when I see a day or two afterwards in one of the papers as she was married, and not to you, sir, neither.”

Mortmain remembered vividly how he stood there asking questions and hoping that he was not showing his feelings too much to the good natured old gossip who was more or less unconsciously dealing him an almost mortal stab. And it was true, every word of it. He found that out as soon as he could get amongst the Bohemian circle in which they both moved. By that time he was prepared to face the inevitable, so that he could hear exactly what had happened without betraying himself too far. It was a little comedy actress who told him all he wanted.

“Yes, we were awfully surprised,” she said. “And not at all the sort of man one would have expected Peggy to marry. You ought not to have gone away, Jack. She never told me what your quarrel was about, and I didn’t like to ask her. Oh, yes, a man named Grimshaw, Richard Grimshaw, a rich Australian, so I am told. But what you call a rough diamond, all the same. I can’t say that he made a favourable impression upon us.”

So Mortmain had turned away with a shrug of the shoulders and an epigram on his lips. The wound had gone deep and the expiration of two years had not cured it.

CHAPTER II

Mortmain sat there in the sunshine, turning it all over in his mind. He wondered rather morbidly if he could have saved the situation had he seen Margaret before he left London on the most momentous day of his life. But it was no use to think about that now. After all, if the gods had taken away with one hand, they had given liberally with the other, and there was more than one Margaret in the world if he cared to seek her.

Still, what did that paragraph mean? He had not been in London for two years, he had dropped out of the old Bohemian set entirely, and knew nothing of the doings of that world in which, at one time, he had taken so keen a delight. He had been under the impression that Margaret had married that man Richard Grimshaw and had gone back to Australia with him. And yet here she was, apparently still in London, living in the same old environment and, what was more extraordinary, passing under her maiden name. Now, why was she doing that? She was not an actress nor had she ever had the slightest ambition that way. But there it was plainly in print for everyone to see, and the more John turned it over in his mind, the more puzzled he became.

But what did it all matter to him, he asked himself impatiently. Margaret had turned him down over some fancied grievance, without giving him even the chance to explain. And if for some reason, she had parted with her Australian husband, then it would be all the same, in any case. She was married now, and there was an end to it and, if Mortmain had his way he would never see her again. Still, the old memories were bitter in the mind and took away all the flavour of his cigarette.

He was still trying to forget when the old family butler, Thomas Farthing, came out of the house and approached the long basket chair in which he was seated.

“Excuse me, sir,” the elderly servitor said, “but would you be pleased to come in for lunch?”

“Lord, I didn’t know it was as late as that,” Mortmain smiled. “Really, Farthing, it is almost a pity to go in the house on a day like this. The finest day we have had this year. The coast of Wales looks as if it was cut out of marble. To-morrow morning I think I will go out prawning. Let me see, what time is low water? I mean to-morrow morning’s tide?”

“Half-past three, sir,” Farthing responded. The old man had been born on the coast, and knew every trick and turn of the tide as he had done from early boyhood. “Half-past three, sir, and the tide will be dead out. And there won’t be a breath of wind either. If you go down the zig-zag path and start away out from under the Castle Rock you ought to get a sackful.”

“So I have been thinking,” Mortmain smiled. “And not a soul to disturb me. You get my traps together, as usual, and leave the rest to me. See that everything is in my bedroom, so that I need not disturb anybody at that time of the morning, and set my alarm clock for a quarter-past three. It will be more or less daylight by then, and with any luck I shall be back for a change and a bath before my breakfast at the usual hour. And don’t forget the alarm.”

“Oh no, sir, of course not, sir. And if there is nothing else, sir, perhaps you will come in to luncheon.”

Mortmain followed languidly enough. He had the natural appetite of the clean-living athlete, but he did not particularly feel the call to the mid-day meal just then. And though he was looking forward keenly enough to his sport on the morrow, his mind was half engaged on other things. It was ten o’clock in the evening before he threw aside some notes he was making with an air of impatience and went up to bed, although outside it was still more or less daylight. But Mortmains was an early household, and an hour later all its inhabitants were in bed and asleep. Then morning came, as morning does, and the household began to stir. First the maidservants, then Mrs. Morse, the housekeeper, and, after her, the two footmen, followed by Farthing, whose work consisted mainly at that time of the day in seeing that everything was in order in the library.

He came down leisurely enough, as befitted his age and dignity and threw open the library door. It was a majestic room in the left wing, running the whole depth of the house, with a large mullioned window at either end. At one time, it had been a sort of chapel, as shown by the arched roof with its finely carved timbers and the floor of encaustic tiles, covered, for the most part, with a magnificent Persian carpet, which, however, showed the patterns of the tiles for some six feet round the side of the room. The walls were covered with shelves bearing volumes of various ages and in divers bindings. For the Mortmains’ library was a famous one, and more than one transatlantic visitor had tried to buy it from its late owner. On the whole, a wonderful room, placid and calm and dignified and filled with that ancient peace that Tennyson sang about. In one window was a great carved writing desk, and against one of the high shelves lay the light ladder which is usually found where libraries are concerned. This rested on its side against a book shelf, and Farthing scratched his head as he contemplated it.

“Um, that’s a funny thing,” he told himself. “What’s that ladder doing down there? I could have sworn that I put it under the far window before I went to bed last night. And nobody couldn’t have moved it, because I was last out of the room.”

With that, he made his way to the window facing the sea and pulled back the heavy velvet curtains, so that the fine old apartment was flooded with sunlight. Then the old man did a strange thing.

He stood there as if gasping for breath. He tottered across the room and pulled back the other curtains. Then, almost mechanically he looked to see if the windows had been properly fastened the night before. With another gasp, he found that the window farthest from the sea was not only unfastened, but opened a good two feet or more. Then, carrying himself as best he might, he walked out into the corridors leading to the domestic offices and thence into the steward’s room where Charles, one of the men servants in the house, was busily engaged on his domestic duties. The old man clutched him frantically by the collar.

“Charles,” he said quaveringly.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.