Sanctuary Island - Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis - ebook

Sanctuary Island ebook

Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis



1936. „Sanctuary Island” is a crime novel by the pioneer of detective fiction Edgar Wallace (an adaption by Robert Curtis). Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace was born in London, England in 1875. He received his early education at St. Peter’s School and the Board School, but after a frenetic teens involving a rash engagement and frequently changing employment circumstances, Wallace went into the military. He served in the Royal West Kent Regiment in England and then as part of the Medical Staff Corps stationed in South Africa. Over the rest of his life, Wallace produced some 173 books and wrote 17 plays. These were largely adventure narratives with elements of crime or mystery, and usually combined a bombastic sensationalism with hammy violence.

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ANYONE who had seen Elizabeth Anson as she lay, clad in her bathing-dress, with her dark hair shaken free and her hands clasped behind her head, allowing the warm sunshine to play on her golden-brown limbs, still glistening with sea water, would have found it hard to believe that she could have any cause to grumble against life. Yet, as she stared up at the blue of the sky, she was telling herself, as she had told herself often enough during the last two years, that life had cheated her.

She had just finished her morning swim and was lying in the small sandy cove which was the only spot where a boat could put ashore on the island, and from which a steep winding path led up to the higher ground. “Sanctuary Island” she called it, because it was here, when the thought of the swindling trick which life had played on her made her bitter and rebellious, and tempted her to play a swindling trick herself, that she fled to find sweetness and submission and at least a temporary contentment.

Cartographers, if they deigned to mark the island on their maps at all, marked it with a tiny dot and left it nameless; among the fisherfolk on the mainland it was known simply as “the island”; and she had not confided to anyone the name which she had secretly given it. Not to her mother, because she had realized that Mrs. Stellman, who had spent the whole of her married life in a vicarage, would have thought her blasphemous to apply to a mere island a word which she had always associated with the east end of a church, and would have failed utterly to understand if Elizabeth had tried to explain to her that even an island could be a Holy of Holies; and not to Richard Anson, because she had been quite sure that her husband would raise his eyebrows and say, “And from what, my dear Elizabeth, do you wish to seek sanctuary?”–which would be a question to which she could not very well make a truthful answer.

She smiled now as she thought how amazed and shocked and incredulous Richard would be if she were to tell him the truth, as she had sometimes been tempted to do. He would be utterly unable to comprehend how any woman who had not taken leave of her senses could ask more from life than to be the wife of Richard Anson. He was, Elizabeth felt, quite convinced that, if she thanked God for anything, it was for having selected her from among all women as being worthy of that privilege and happiness. To be the wife of Richard Anson, Chairman and Managing Director of Anson’s Bank, Patron of Dilchester Hospital, President of every society in the district, twice Mayor of the town; who lived at Dilchester Court, ran a Rolls-Royce car, was a prospective Member of Parliament, and had contributed so generously to the funds of the local Conservative Association that he could hardly avoid inclusion in the next Honours List–what more, he would wonder, could any woman want?

It would seem to him preposterous for any woman so blessed to complain that life had cheated her. Mast people, Elizabeth knew, would have agreed with him. There had been friends who, at the time of her marriage, had been at pains to impress on her the magnitude of the good fortune that had come her way, and to congratulate her on her adroitness in landing such an eminently satisfactory catch, but probably not one of them had given a thought to the price she had paid for the privilege, or had drawn up, as she had done, a balance sheet of the transaction, showing her profit and her loss.

“Transaction” was the right word. She had never thought of it as anything more than that, never tried to delude herself that in marrying Richard Anson she was doing more than sell herself. That was like Elizabeth. She had faced the fact that, in exchange for all her future husband had to offer her–and she had realized that the price he was prepared to pay was a higher one than she, as the daughter of a country parson with a vocation for poverty, had ever expected to fetch–she had no love to give him; but she had quietened her conscience with the argument that love did not enter into the bargain on either side.

Richard Anson was not offering her love, as she understood the word. When he had made his rather pompous proposal to her, no mention had been made of love, and he had asked her to marry him in a manner which left her in no doubt that he considered it an act of condescension on his part. He had not wanted love: he had wanted a wife, someone whose beauty would flatter him, who could play the great lady to his great gentleman, who could entertain his guests and grace his drawing-room, and who would acquiesce with at least a show of graciousness in the exercise of his rights as a husband. Knowing all that, Elizabeth had married him and had not felt that she was cheating him of anything.

She had been twenty-three at the time and her husband fifty. Thinking of it now, as she basked in the sunshine, she wondered how she had ever found the courage to do it. But she had really had no choice. Her father had died as he had lived, a saint with a load of debts, leaving behind him a wife who had never managed to make two shillings do the normal work of one, and a daughter who had been only half-trained for a musical career–and that against her father’s wishes, since he had always believed that in visiting the poor of his parish and teaching in the Sunday-school she was fulfilling life’s highest purpose. “The Lord will provide”, had been his favourite text; and when, soon after her father’s death, at a moment when she and her mother were secretly living on a diet which was largely bread and marmalade, the Lord had provided Richard Anson’s offer of marriage, she had felt that, it only out of duty to her mother, she must accept it.

It was then that she had drawn up the balance sheet of the transaction, and had placed on the credit side all those material advantages to herself and her mother which the marriage would provide–security, the luxurious surroundings of Dilchester Court, a generous allowance, freedom from a diet of bread and marmalade and those hundred and one nagging worries which took all the sweetness out of life, and the role of Dilchester’s leading lady. These were the gains, which she had seen as clearly as had her friends.

And the losses? Only she had known of them. Not even her mother had any idea that there were any entries to be made on the other side of the account; and even if she had known of them, she would have considered them too insignificant to worry about. As Elizabeth put it, the ointment smelt so sweet that it was absurd to refuse to use it because deep down at the bottom of the jar there was a fly in it. She had been puzzled by Elizabeth’s hesitation to accept Richard Anson’s proposal, and a little impatient with her for not instantly jumping at such a chance, because she had not realized that before Elizabeth could jump she must first cut the bonds that bound her to John Hackett.

It had needed courage to cut those bonds. But she had done so– ruthlessly, brutally, because she had known that if she had tried to do it more gradually, letting them slowly wear away until they frayed and snapped, she would never have the courage to see the business through. Now, as she thought of John, a softness came to her eyes and a rather rueful little smile to her lips, as always happened when she thought of him.

She remembered him as he had been when she had first met him–a hefty young giant of eighteen, the son of a neighbouring parson, with unruly fair hair and a multitude of freckles, very much in love with her and terribly afraid to tell her so. She remembered him later, after he had spent a few terms at Oxford, with his new self-assurance and tremendous knowledge of the world.

She remembered, with a sudden little stab of pain, the evening when he had first kissed her, and she, clinging to him, had listened in breathless wonder while he so confidently planned their future. He would finish his time at Oxford and then set to work seriously with his writing, and soon–very soon– they would be married. They would do great things when they were married, both of them. He with his writing and she with her music would make the welkin ring. She recalled how they had laughed when they discovered that neither of them knew what a welkin was.

She remembered him as she had last seen him, leaning through the window of the railway carriage holding her hand, dreading the moment when the guard would blow his whistle and he would be forced to release her, yet not knowing how to endure those last few dragging minutes. He had been going no further than America for a brief visit to relatives, and as soon as he returned they were to be married and set about the welkin business; but she had felt that if all space were to be placed between them it could not hurt her more. Very vividly she recalled the sound of the guard’s whistle and how John’s lips had twitched as he drew her closer to the window and kissed her. “Keep on loving me, Elizabeth,” he had whispered, and she had managed no more than, “John– darling!” and a squeeze of his hand.

That had been more than two years ago, and she had not seen him since. Within a month of saying goodbye to him had come the offer from Richard Anson, which she had somehow found the courage to accept. How could she possibly explain to John? How could she expect him to understand? John would not see it as a sacrifice which she was in duty bound to make, but as a heartless betrayal, a ruthless smashing of the wonderful world which they had built together, a cold-blooded bartering of all that was most beautiful for mere worldly possessions.

Elizabeth sat up, took her cigarette-case from the pocket of the bathing-gown that lay on the sand beside her, and lighted a cigarette. Life had cheated her out of John, though life, up to that point, had not been entirely to blame. She could, she supposed, have refused to marry Richard, if she could have persuaded herself that she would be justified in grasping her own happiness and leaving her mother to continue indefinitely on a bread-and-marmalade diet. But she had not felt justified, and had thrown her happiness aside, and it was only when she had done so beyond all hope of recovery that life had played its swindling trick on her, put its fingers to its nose and jeered at her for having been so easily tricked.

For within six months of her marriage to Richard Anson had come the news that she was a wealthy woman, heiress to the sum of a hundred and fifty thousand pounds left by a forgotten relative of her father’s who had gone to America forty years ago and had been astute enough to die wealthy and unmarried.

But the money had come too late: the world which she and John had built together was already in ruins, and not even a hundred and fifty thousand pounds could build it again. A cheating, swindling trick!

She rose, slipped on the bathing-gown and went slowly up the steep, winding path. As she reached the top and saw the bungalow with its broad, shady verandah and roof of dull-red tiles, she smiled. The money, after all, had its uses. It could not rebuild her world, but it had made it possible for her to build this little world of her own, this sanctuary to which she could come when life in Dilchester became unbearable, or when the memory of the fraud which life had perpetrated at her expense made her feel that she could not go on.

She had discovered the island daring a visit to the golf links for which the little village of Whitbourne was chiefly noted. Inquiry had produced the information that the island was for sale, and within a week she had bought it and the bungalow was in process of construction. She had been recklessly extravagant, excusing the bills to herself on the plea that Sanctuary Island was to be a substitute for heaven, and even a substitute for heaven was bound to cost money.

The bungalow consisted, in addition to kitchen and bath-room, of only two rooms, a bedroom and a sitting-room, but each of them had big windows to admit the sunshine, and was furnished just as she and John had planned that they would furnish that wonder house which she had smashed to pieces.

In the sitting-room was a grand piano, at which, during her visits to the island, she would sit for hours, not, perhaps, making the welkin ring, but losing herself in the music which she could rarely play at Dilchester Court, since Richard’s taste was limited to music that had a good tune in it. At other times she would swim or read or go cruising about in the little motor-boat, or laze on the beach, content to feel that she was utterly cut off from everyone and everything that comprised her normal life, amusing herself sometimes by trying to calculate how many millions of gallons of salt water were contained in the couple of miles of sea that separated her from the mainland.

True, there was a telephone–it had cost a terrible lot of money, that telephone!–but it was to be used only in case of emergency, and not even Richard knew of its existence. Sanctuary Island would be a very poor substitute for heaven if there were the constant risk of Richard’s voice interrupting her dreams.

Her husband had been inclined to be awkward about the island, obviously puzzled to understand how she could wish for any place better than Dilchester Court, and not a little uncertain as to the propriety of a young married woman going off unchaperoned to spend days–and nights–on an island two miles away from the mainland.

Elizabeth had not tried to explain. She had laughingly told him that, strange as it might seem, there were times when a woman preferred the company of seagulls to that of her husband. She had been very resolute and obstinate, and because in those early days he had been quite intoxicated with the beauty of which he had become the proprietor, he had let her have her way without too much opposition. Moreover, a wife with a hundred and fifty thousand pounds could not be treated in quite the same high-handed way as a wife who did not possess a penny, and something in Elizabeth’s manner had warned him that it would be wiser to indulge her whim.

But he did not like “this island business”, and it was a source of constant irritation and uneasiness to him that, after his first tour of inspection, when Elizabeth had hurried him round the island and bustled him off in the motor-boat within a quarter of an hour, he had never been invited to it again.

Elizabeth passed through the sitting-room and went into the bedroom to dress; and when, half an hour later, she stepped on to the verandah, intending to spend an hour with a book, she suddenly paused and stood gazing, her hand above her eyes, towards the mainland. Half-way between the mainland and the island was a rowing-boat, and she could see that it was coming in her direction.

A pucker appeared between her eyebrows. Except for occasional trippers, whom she promptly sent about their business, no boat but her own ever came to the island. Anything that she required she herself fetched from Whitbourne, and none of the village people, who had grown accustomed to her “queer ways”, would dream of visiting her uninvited.

As the boat drew nearer, she saw its single occupant clearly–an elderly, bearded man with the sleeves of his jersey rolled above the elbows and a peaked cap pulled down over his eyes. He was pulling the boat with the powerful, leisurely strokes of a fisherman, and Elizabeth, wondering what the man could want with her, made her way down to the sandy beach and was standing on the water’s edge when the boat grounded and the man got out and came splashing towards her through the shallow water.

It was Jim Huggett, one of the local fishermen whom she knew well, having several times employed him to carry out repairs to her boat, and in spite of the heinousness of his offence in calling on her uninvited, she welcomed him with a smile.

“Good morning, Jim. What’s the trouble?”

“Well, I’m not saying there’s any trouble, missie,” replied Jim Huggett, pulling off his cap and smiling at her; “but there’s no knowing with telegrams.”

“You’ve a telegram for me?”

“I have, missie. It come this morning–about an hour ago. Addressed to you, it is. Poste Restante, Whitbourne, it says, though I don’t rightly get the meaning of that. Postmaster, he says it’s a way of saying you’ve got to call for it and he’s got no sort of right to go delivering it. ‘But you never know with telegrams, Jim,’ he says. ‘Maybe someone’s dead or something, and I don’t like the idea of that Mrs. Anson staying out there on the island and not calling at the post-office when maybe her husband or someone’s broke his neck. You’d best take it out to her, Jim,’ he says, ‘though it isn’t regular, so to speak, and I’d get into trouble if it was known.’ But we reckoned you aren’t the sort, missie, to go splitting on anyone who meant well by you–”

“Where’s the telegram, Jim?”

“I did have it somewhere,” replied Jim, and began fumbling in his pockets. “Ah, yes, I remember now. ‘Don’t you go losing it, Jim,’ the postmaster says, ‘or you’ll be getting me into serious trouble. You’d best put it in your ‘baccy pouch,’ he says, and that’s where I put it. You see, the postmaster, he knew I’d never go losing my ‘baccy pouch–ah, there it is, missie.”

He pulled the telegram from the pouch, brushed off the clinging shreds of tobacco, and handed it to her. Elizabeth glanced at the envelope. Mrs. Richard Anson, she read. From her husband, undoubtedly; the “Richard” told her that. It was like Richard to insist on his proprietorial interest in her even on a telegram. Opening the envelope, she pulled out the slip of paper. Telephone to me immediately–Richard, she read.

She glanced up to find Jim Huggett eyeing her anxiously. “Not bad news, I hope, missie?”

“No, Jim, not bad news.”

Jim smiled and put on his cap, as though he had decided that, since there was no question of a corpse, there was no longer any need to remain bare-headed.

“If there’s any answer, missie, postmaster said as I was to take it back with me.”

“No. Jim, there’s no reply, thanks.”

Jim nodded, scratched his head and seemed disinclined to go.

“Boat running all right?” he inquired.

“Splendidly, thanks.”

Jim shook his head.

“Them new-fangled things,” he said, in a tone of disgust–“spitting and coughing and stinking and getting troubles in their innards! Maybe I don’t get along so fast, missie, but I’d rather trust to the arms God gave me.”

Elizabeth smiled at him.

“But God didn’t give me arms like yours,” she reminded him. “It was kind of you to bring the telegram out to me, Jim. And thank the postmaster, won’t you?”

“I will that,” Jim assured her. “Good-day to you, missie.”


ELIZABETH stood watching until the boat was just out of the cove, and then, with a wave of her hand to him, she turned and went back up the path towards the bungalow, frowning thoughtfully.

It was just like Richard to send that curt, peremptory telegram without a word of explanation. He was not accustomed to giving explanations: he issued his orders and expected unquestioning obedience. He was like that in business, she had heard–brusque, domineering, the hard, inscrutable man of affairs–and he ran his home on the same lines. Many a time, during the first few months of her marriage, she had flamed into furious resentment against his hectoring way with her, but she had soon discovered that any expression of her resentment was not worth while, and that for the sake of peace it was better to ignore his frequent rudeness.

She was puzzled to think what could have occurred of sufficient importance to make her husband wire to her. A sudden thought that her mother might be ill she instantly dismissed. Her mother, since the legacy of debts left by her husband had been removed from her shoulders, and she had enjoyed good food, expensive clothes, the comforts of Dilchester Court, and the dignity of being the mother-in-law of Richard Anson had shed a good ten years; her aches and pains had miraculously disappeared, and although there was always an array of patent medicines in her bedroom, of each of which she occasionally took a few doses, she was actually in excellent health.

But if not her mother, then what? Richard had never before telegraphed to her during her spells at Sanctuary Island, though there had always existed the arrangement that in case of emergency he could wire to her at the post-office at Whitbourne. Perhaps he himself was ill...

She fetched the telephone from her bedroom, seated herself in an arm-chair in the sitting-room, placed the instrument on a table beside her and plugged in; a few moments later came her husband’s clear, precise voice: “Is that you, Elizabeth?”

“Yes. What’s wrong, Richard?”

“Are you quite well?”

“Of course. Why?”

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