The Brigand - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Brigand ebook

Edgar Wallace



The Brigand” (1927) is a collection of a dozen fast-paced, frothy crime capers set in a Britain still reeling from 1926’s General Strike. An excellent collection of connected short stories all about likeable conman Anthony Newton. Newton returning from the Great War and unable to find employment decides start redistributing wealth in his own way. Deprived of a legal source of income and faced with homelessness and hunger he decides to become a brigand – a sort of modern-day Robin Hood – and trick rich capitalists into parting with their ill-gotten gains. Some of the ruses are clever, some only mildly interesting. This effectively boils down to a series of elaborate cons and heists with crooked and corrupt capitalists as his targets.

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Liczba stron: 239

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ANTHONY NEWTON was a soldier at eighteen; at twenty-eight he was a beggar of favours, a patient waiter in outer offices, a more or less meek respondent to questionnaires which bore a remarkable resemblance one to the other.

‘What experience have you?’

‘What salary would you require?’

There were six other questions, all more or less unimportant, but all designed to prove that a Public School education and a record of minor heroisms were poor or no qualification for any job that produced a living wage and the minimum of interest, unless the applicant was in a position to deposit fabulous sums for the purchase of partnerships, secretaryships and agencies.

And invariably:

‘I am afraid, Mr Newton, we haven’t a place for you at the moment, but if you will leave your address, we will communicate with you just as soon as something comes along.’

Tony Newton struggled through eight years of odd jobs. His gratuity had been absorbed in a poultry farm which as everybody knows, is a very simple method of making money. In theory. And at the end of the eighth year he discussed the situation with himself and soberly elected for brigandage of a safe and more or less unobjectionable variety. His final decision was taken on a certain morning.

Mrs Cranboyle, his landlady, presented a bill and an ultimatum. The bill was familiar–the ultimatum, not altogether unexpected, was both novel and alarming.

He looked at his landlady thoughtfully, and his good-looking face wore an unaccustomed expression of doubt. As for Mrs Cranboyle, a solid, stout woman with a flinty eye and a large, determined chin, she was very definitely beyond any kind of doubt whatever.

Anthony heaved a sigh, and his gaze wandered from his landlady’s face to the various features of his small and comfortless room. From the knobbly bed to the ‘What is home without a mother?’ (a masterpiece of German lithographic art) above the bed board, to the ‘All we like sheep have gone astray’ above the mantelpiece, to the two china dogs thereon, to the skimpy little hearth-rug before the polished and fireless grate, and then back to Mrs Cranboyle.

‘You can’t expect me to keep you, Mr Newton,’ she said significantly, not for the first time that morning.

‘Hush,’ said Anthony testily. ‘I am thinking.’

Mrs Cranboyle shivered.

‘I have worked very hard for all I’ve got,’ she went on, ‘and a young man like you should know better than to impose upon a widow who doesn’t know where her next pound is coming from–’

‘You’ve got seven hundred and fifty pounds in Government Bonds, two hundred and fifty in the Post Office, and a deposit account at the London and Manchester Bank of nearly five hundred pounds,’ said Anthony calmly, and Mrs Cranboyle gasped.

‘What–how–’ she stammered.

‘I was looking through your passbook,’ explained Anthony without shame. ‘You left it in the drawing-room one day, and I spent a very pleasant afternoon examining it.’

For a moment Mrs Cranboyle was incapable of speech.

‘Well, you’ve got a cheek!’ she gasped at last. ‘And that settles it! You leave my house today.’

‘Very good,’ said Anthony with a shrug. ‘I’ll go along and find other rooms, and I’ll send a man for my luggage.’

‘Send the six weeks’ rent you owe,’ said Mrs Cranboyle, ‘or don’t trouble to send at all. If you think I’m going to keep a house open for a gambling, good-for-nothing–’

Anthony raised his hand with some dignity.

‘You are speaking to one of your country’s defenders,’ he said, loftily, ‘one who has endured the terrific strain of war, one who, whilst you slept snug in your bed, was dithering through the snow, the sleet, the slush, the fog and the gunfire. Always remember that, Mrs Cranboyle. You can’t be sufficiently thankful to men like me.’ He glared at her. ‘Where would you be if the Germans had won?’

Mrs Cranboyle was quite incapable of speech. She wanted to remind him, for the third time, of the manner in which he had wasted his substance, but he saved her the trouble.

‘You tell me I am a gambler,’ he said. ‘It is true that I backed Hold Tight for the Sheppey Handicap; how true it is, you, who spend your spare time in rummaging amongst my papers, know only too well. Your curiosity will be your ruin.’

He looked out of the window and picked up his hat. Mrs Cranboyle was incapable of comment. She met his stern gaze with the stare of a hypnotised rabbit.

‘The least you can do for me, Mrs Cranboyle,’ he said sternly, ‘is to lend me ten shillings, which will be repaid in the course of the next few hours.’

The landlady came out of her trance, violently.

‘Not ten pence–not ten farthings!’

‘Your country’s defender,’ murmured Anthony. ‘People like you turn us ex-soldiers into anarchists.’

‘If you threaten me, I’ll send for the police,’ bawled Mrs Cranboyle.

He walked back to the dressing-table, brushed his hair carefully, took up his hat again and put it firmly on his head.

‘I will send for my luggage this afternoon,’ he said soberly.

She was muttering incoherent and menacing sounds as he walked slowly down the stairs; he realised that the crisis of his life was at hand.

That he was going forth into a hard and unsympathetic world, with six copper coins in his pocket, and the knowledge that he had yet to earn his board and his bed, worried Anthony not at all. He stepped forth into the spring sunlight with a joyous sense of physical well-being and strolled up the suburban street with the carefree air of one who has no worries.

An ex-lieutenant in the Blitheshire Fusiliers, ex-secretary to the veritable Mr Hoad, of Hoad and Evans (Anthony invariably referred to them as ‘Odds and Evens’, and cherished no malice in his heart against the spluttering and apoplectic Mr Hoad, who had fired him), he knew that the normal sources of income which, at the best, had produced but a trickling stream, were now dried up. He had been fighting when he should have been receiving training and his succession of odd jobs demonstrated the futility of a public school training and a military career as a means of acquiring steady or lucrative employment.

And as Anthony swung on to a bus and paid three of those six remaining coppers of his to the conductor, he had thoroughly made up his mind that the oyster of life was not to be opened either by sword or song.

He spent the morning at the National Gallery, which had ever been a source of inspiration to him, and came out at the hunger hour, singularly deficient in ideas. He was famished, for he was healthy and young and his breakfast had consisted of two hard slices of bread, meagrely buttered and a cup of Mrs Cranboyle’s impossible tea.

A policeman saw him standing about on the corner of Trafalgar Square and decided, from his air of indecision, that he was a country or colonial visitor, for Anthony affected soft felt hats, grey and large-brimmed, and he invariably appeared to be well dressed. ‘Are you looking for something, sir?’ asked the constable.

‘I want to know where I can get a good lunch,’ said Anthony, truthfully.

‘You ought to go to the Pallaterium. A gentleman told me yesterday that that was the best place in London.’

‘Thank you, constable,’ said Anthony gratefully, and to the Pallaterium he went, for Anthony had faith. He strolled carelessly into the broad vestibule which was crowded with people, the majority of whom were waiting either for guests or hosts, and seated himself in a deep armchair, stretching his legs luxuriously. And from the swing door of the restaurant came a fragrant aroma of food. He watched the greetings between apologetic late arrivals and hypocritical and patient guests; he saw the little family parties drift in and pass into the gilded heaven beyond the glass doors, but he saw nobody that he knew.

Presently four stout people came in, two men and two women. They were expensively dressed, and they were obviously ladies and gentlemen who would not lie awake on hard beds that night, wondering how they might scrounge a good breakfast. He watched them as they, too, went past into the restaurant, and sighed.

‘Now, if I were only–’ he began, and suddenly an idea occurred to him.

He waited for another ten minutes then, rising slowly, he handed his hat to the cloakroom attendant and passed into the restaurant. He saw the four stout people at a table at the far end of the long room; next to them was a small unoccupied table. The elder of the two men looked up at the sight of a very respectable figure.

‘Yes, sir?’ he asked.

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