Sergeant Sir Peter - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Sergeant Sir Peter ebook

Edgar Wallace



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. Wallace’s „Sergeant Sir Peter” is a collection of stories about an aristocratic young man who becomes a Police Sergeant. Despite this conceit, this collection is much more realistic about life in Britain than many Golden Age works. The stories deal sympathetically with people who are discriminated against in British society: Indians, women, and the working poor. Wallace bluntly shows discrimination against racial minorities, and the oppression of women. He also delights in exposing the flaws of the rich and there is also an emphasis on the financial needs of workers.

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PETER DUNN walked into his grandfather’s study in Berkeley Square, and the old man scowled up at him from over his gold-rimmed pince-nez.

This was in the year ‘18. when the street lamps were painted black so that wandering German aeroplanes should not be quite sure whether they were over Berkeley Square, or Hyde Park, and when Marylebone Road was all lit up like Piccadilly to attract enemy bombs–happily, Marylebone did not know this.

Peter met the scowl with a large smile.

“No good roasting me, sir. I’m not going to argue with you or say anything unpleasant about the Germans–I’ve been fighting ‘em and they’re pretty sporting....”

“Don’t let us discuss it,” said Sir Leslie with dangerous calm. “What do you want?”

“Well, sir–I’ve left the army and I’ve no money and no equipment except a knowledge of human weakness. Thank God, sir. I’ve lived long enough with you–”

“Don’t let us quarrel,” Sir Leslie’s calm was pre-typhonic.

Peter smiled happily.

“Well. the point is this, sir–I’ve got no profession and no occupation except getting my leg X-rayed to find odd hits of shrap, and I thought, now that the last of the hardware was out of my system, I might as well do something.”

Sir Leslie removed his glasses with offensive deliberation. He was a tall, spare man with a gaunt face and the palest blue eyes.

“And you want me to finance you in a motor-car business.... or is it a poultry farm?” His voice was silky–but a sort of hard silk. “Or possibly you and a few other optimists are thinking of ranching in Canada? A pleasant occupation: riding expensive horseflesh around a wilderness looking for new faces amongst your calves.”

Peter’s grin broadened.

“You ought to write a book, sir?” he said admiringly. “You’ve got imagination and a style!”

‘Let us confine ourselves to realities,” said Sir Leslie, not wholly displeased: “and to simplify matters let me say that I am allowing you five hundred pounds per annum. Beyond that I will not go. You have a certain spuri ous glamour because you were shot in the leg. A man at my club once referred to you, emotionally, as a hero. I don’t think you are a hero, You are what they call in America a nit-wit. Every time I see you I regret that I accepted a baronetcy from this damn Government–”

“Let’s keep politics out of it.” said Peter cheerfully. “I’m going to he a policeman.”

Sir Leslie surveyed him dispassionately.

“A what man?” he asked.

“A copper.” said Peter. “You know–the blokes who wear helmets and try doors and run in old gentlemen who get chucked out of the Empire.”

Sir Leslie winced. It had happened nearly thirty years before. And he was certainly not old then.

“Have you any respect in your system?” he asked.

“None whatever. You’re a grouchy devil and I’m very fond of you. But I don’t respect you. You’re not harmless enough to be respected. Now what about it–do I lose that monkey?”

“If you refer to the five hundred a year–no,” said Sir Leslie. “I don’t care whether you’re a policeman or a postman. I was perfectly sure you’d get a job where the unfortunate taxpayer would have to provide your salary. Good night, Peter.”

“Cheerio!” said Peter, and went out.

Eight years later almost to the day, Detective Sergeant Peter Dunn came into the office of the Assistant Commissioner and addressed him familiarly. It had taken various officers of the Metropolitan Police Force all those eight years to accustom themselves to Peter’s friendliness. Quite a number decided to remain unaccustomed, and, if his reprimands from outraged superiors had not been weighed down in the balance by the awards and commendations of magistrates and judges, he would have remained plain Constable Dunn. And that not long.

“Sorry to bother you, sir, but I’m in rather a hole–by the way, that Bridlington case is cleared up: we took the son-in-law of the murdered woman this morning and he made a true and penitent confession. No third degree, I assure you–just a little persuasion of the gentlest kind.”

The Commissioner pointed to a chair.

“Sit down, Peter–what’s the trouble?”

Peter frowned and shook his head. He was very tall and fair and young-looking, broad of shoulder and long-legged. He was the type that sings in its bath and walks as if on springs. As a constable he had taken to the station, unassisted, Wilfred Lamb, a notorious beater of policemen, wives and miscellaneous citizens. And the divisional surgeon worked through the night like a sempstress, putting stitches into Wilfred where and as they were required.

“My grandfather’s dead–good old boy. Got tight on vintage port and fell down the stairs. A glorious death. I believe he has left me a quarter of a million–and the baronetcy. I could keep very quiet about the quarter of a million, but the baronetcy is a label–I can’t duck it. ‘Sergeant Sir Peter’ is too silly, so I’ll have to clear out. And after all the amazing knowledge I’ve accumulated–it’s a dead waste.”

The Commissioner nodded.

“Your chief charm is your immodesty,” he said. “Yet for once I’m in sympathy with you. You are a brilliant policeman and I don’t know how we’ll find somebody to take your place. I’ll see the Chief and try to wangle something.”

A week later Detective Sergeant Sir Peter Dunn was passed to the Reserve. And from time to time he was called to New Scotland Yard to assist in certain investigations. receiving for his services fees which about paid the licence on his 20 h.p. Rolls and left a little over for cigarettes.

Peter knew Dr. Lal Singh. He had prosecuted him once for obtaining money by a trick and had failed to secure a conviction. The doctor was a little, round-faced Indian with a London degree and no practice. He was a clever surgeon, one of the cleverest that had passed through St. Giles’ Hospital, but there was a prejudice against his colour, and men of his own race avoided him because he had a sharp tongue and an invincible weakness for being paid in advance for his services. He lived in lodgings near Gower Street and had his surgery in a slum off the Edgware Road,

Undoubtedly he could have made, by certain illicit practices, quite a large income, but he was superior to the importunities of dope peddlers and others. Possibly he took up clairvoyance to save himself from starvation. This he practised first at his lodgings, hiring a sitting-room for his séances, and afterwards in a Bayswater flat, For money began to come to him in respectable quantities, and he was able to rent and furnish an apartment near Westbourne Grove.

Hither came many ladies of society and ladies who were not in society, and members of the younger set who had been told how perfectly marvellous this seer was. And Dr. Lal gazed into crystals and saw tall, fair men who loved his clients, and short, dark women who were working to rob them of their husbands. And he told the discontented young matrons that they would be married twice and have two children, a boy and a girl, and would be shortly going on a long journey which would bring them great profit. One day a tall, fair man called on Dr. Lal and was told that he would inherit a title and a vast sum of money. “How the devil did you know that?” asked the astonished Peter.

“Recognition of distinguished police official and private knowledge of circumstances,” explained Dr. Lal, showing his white teeth in a smile.

It was his jest to ape the style of his less educated compatriots. He dropped into good English now.

“I do not charge for my services, sergeant,” he said, and waved his podgy hand to a side table near the door. On this was a large box of Benares brass, and above it a small printed notice:

"No charge is made by Dr. Lal Singh for his demonstrations. Money placed in this box will be distributed to such charities or employed for such purposes as he may determine.”

The prosecution which followed was none of Peter’s business. He had been detailed for a duty which he carried out gladly, for he was the Yard’s authority on Human Weakness and was a tower of strength to the Modus Operandi (or, as they call it, “M.O.”) department.

He rather liked the little doctor, and was glad when the prosecution collapsed. After the case he went down to Bayswater and had a talk with Dr. Lal.

“I don’t want to go back to India. I have hundreds of loathful relations and to tell you the truth I am not persona grata with the ruling political organisation in India. I should be boycotted and humbugged. Here there is opportunity for brainy man even if handicapped by excessive colour.”

“What will you do now?” asked Peter,

There came a strange gleam to the brown eyes of the doctor, and he tapped his nose with a coppery finger.

“I have a truly brain-turning idea! It requires capitalistic help, but, what a success is promised if project is satisfactorily pursued! My skill, my studies, the poetry of my imagination–”

“Are you going to be a bookmaker?” asked the interested Peter, but the little doctor did not reveal his dream.

“Money can be made with celerity,” he said earnestly. “I shall appeal to certain human emotions–the most prevalent ambition in the bosom of mankind! I can do this thing better than any man, and for obvious reasons. As a boy I enjoyed the dubious advantage of association with certain magical fakirs of India, Some of their deeds were so much nonsense and chicanery. On the other hand, there was wheat amidst the chaff of their so-called knowledge. I set you a puzzle, mister! Disintegrate the same!”

The clairvoyant business languished after this but although the frugal doctor sold up his furniture and let his flat, Peter suspected that poverty had nothing to do with the flit. Soon after Dr. Lai closed his surgery in Edgware Road, and the next thing Peter heard about him was that he had drawn a prize in the Calcutta Sweepstakes, some six or seven thousand pounds. Peter wondered if he would exploit his brain-turning idea now that he had capitalistic help.

All this was ancient history when there came to Scotland Yard three inquiries concerning the Lost City Men. Peter came up from Southampton in response to an urgent wire and interviewed the Chief Constable.

“I want you to take this case, Peter.” said the chief. “You will be nominally under Crowther, but you’ll have a free hand. Here are the facts.”

The first fact was Thomas Henry Middlethall, of Middlethall, Merton & Payne, silk merchants of the City of London.

Mr. Middlethall was a rich bachelor who lived in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead. He was a man of fifty-six, with artistic tastes, and was well known in theatrical circles. He had financed one or two musical shows, was to be seen in the more sedate of night clubs, and on these occasions generally accompanied a pretty young actress. It was not always the same lady.

He had left his house one day, saying he would be away not more than ten days. A month, two months had passed and he had not returned. A letter had been received by, his partners, written in his own hand. saying that he intended taking a longer holiday, and asking if he might be spared. Four weeks after his disappearance there was a curious happening in Fitzjohn’s Avenue.

It was a Wednesday night, and of the four servants he employed three were absent from the house. On Wednesdays he invariably gave three servants an afternoon and an evening off.

The servant in charge of the house was a middle-aged housemaid, a woman named Keating. She was not in the servants’ hall, where she should have been, but in a little room opening from the first landing at the head of the stairs. It was, in fact, Mr. Middlethall’s private snuggery. and there were certain forbidden books on his bookshelf which it was the ambition of his servants to read. These were behind a locked grille fastened to the front of the bookcase, but Peter gathered on investigation that the grille could be opened very easily, and every servant in turn had profited by his absence to sample the volumes printed “for private circulation only” whenever opportunity offered.

Engrossed as she was. she heard the sound of a key turning in the outer door, but thought it was the cook returning and did not stop reading. Presently she heard another sound–another key was being turned. This time it could only be in the lock of Mr. Middlethall’s study.

Very alarmed, she put down her book and, opening the door, listened. She heard nothing, and gaining courage, she went out onto the landing. There was a dim light burning in the hall. Mr. Middlethall was conservative enough to use gas as an illuminant.

As she looked over the banisters she saw a man emerge from the study. At first she thought it was Mr. Middlethall. That gentleman of a peculiar method of dressing which bordered upon the eccentric. She recognised the rather long jacket and the shepherd’s plaid trousers–but the wearer was not Mr. Middlethall. He was a much younger man, and thinner.

Too horrified to scream, she stood motionless and watched the intruder pass into the street. From where she stood she could see through the fanlight a car waiting outside. He had hardly disappeared from view when the car moved off.

Miss Keating seems to have shown a presence of mind rare in such circumstances. She called up the police station. and in a few minutes was telling her story to the divisional inspector. The study had been left unlocked, one of the desk drawers had been opened. and, on the floor, the inspector found a long envelope, the red wax seal of which was broken. It had obviously contained a new cheque-book posted from Mr. Middlethall’s bank. The police instantly communicated with the bank, traced the cheque numbers, and gave instructions that no cheque taken from this book should be honoured.

This took a little time. as did the interviewing of general managers, and before the stop order went forth the first of the cheques had been cashed at a City branch of the bank. Apparently Mr. Middlethall had an arrangement whereby his cheques could be cashed at any of four branches. The cheque was in his handwriting and it was indubitably his signature. Peter made a microscopic examination, and the result left no doubt in his mind that this was not a forgery.

The next day brought a letter from Mr. Middlethall, obviously written in some haste, with no evidence that it had in any way been dictated. It was addressed to the manager of the bank, and ordered that functionary to cash any cheque not exceeding five hundred pounds at intervals not shorter than a fortnight that might be drawn on his account. it bore a London postmark–S.E.I.

“That’s genuine too,” said Peter. interviewing his immediate superior.

“He may have been kidnapped and kept a prisoner somewhere,” suggested Crowther.

Peter shook his head.

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