The Case for the Crown - Fred M. White - ebook

The Case for the Crown ebook

Fred M White

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Fred M. White is famous for mystical, sometimes difficult to understand little stories. One of these stories is „"A Case For the Crown"”. Almost from the very beginning, the author gives us such an intriguing description of events: „From the mouth of a tortured person came a strange, terrible whistling cry, a man’s cry on the verge of epilepsy. His eyes were full of nameless horror, sweat running down his face”. Many questions appear in our story first.

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Liczba stron: 353

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Contents

I. “A Dose In Emergency”

II. The Last Dose In The Bottle

III. In The Gardens

IV. The Other Bottle

V. A Blow From The Grave

VI. The Veiled Woman

VII. The Evidence Of The Chemist

VIII. Max Archenfield

IX. The Cormorant

X. The Mandarin’s Sweet Box

XI. “No Effects”

XII. The House On The River

XIII. The Story Of The Crime

XIV. The Second Gem Ring

XV. On The Quest

XVI. Gunter’s Circus

XVII. The Shadow On The Blind

XVIII. The Other Man

XIX. 77777

XX. Following It Up

XXI. “The Sport Of Kings”

XXII. The Bookmaker At Home

XXIII. In The Music-Hall

XXIV. Out Of The Past

XXV. In The Library Again

XXVI. Turning The Screw

XXVII. A Lengthening Thread

XXVIII. Coventry Comes Back

XXIX. Flint In Trouble

XXX. In The Dock

XXXI. A Thrilling Performance

XXXII. In The Roof

XXXIII. The End Of Flint

XXXIV. In The Garden

XXXV. In The Inspector’s Office

XXXVI. A Dramatic Development

XXXVII. Archenfield Sees His Way

XXXVIII. The Treasure

XXXIX. Found

XL. On The Rack

XLI. Confession

XLII. The End Of The Reel

I. “A DOSE IN EMERGENCY”

The woman at the table languidly peeling a peach looked like a beautiful white flower floating on a lake of flame as she sat half hidden in ferns and flowers under the glare cast by the shaded electric lights. Any less fortunate sister of hers who had glanced in through the open windows leading to the garden would have envied her as one of those who toil not, neither do they spin. She looked so beautiful, so detached and aloof from the cares and troubles of the world. She was dressed in a pallid evening gown, all lace and dainty chiffon, and about her was all the evidence of luxury and wealth. Nothing was wanting there, from the dull red of the walls with their pictures, the glint of silver on the table, the gleam of crystal glass; it seemed not unlike a scene from some society comedy. And yet the girl’s face was drawn and hard, there were deep lines under her eyes and a queer, proud tremor about the corner of a mouth that was made for smiles and kisses, rather than for the hard lines of sorrow.

At the other end of the table the man was seated, a big fine-looking man with the frame and appearance of an athlete, comparatively young, handsome in an animal way, and the owner of this beautiful house. But, at the same time, the blue eyes were dull and bleared, the hand that trifled with the coffee cup was tremulous and shaky, and on the man’s forehead a bead of perspiration had gathered. A doctor would have guessed what Robert Molyneux was suffering from at a glance. To the trained eye those twitching muscles and the loose, hanging lips would have told their own story in a word. For Robert Molyneux was a dipsomaniac, and the beautiful girl sitting opposite to him was his wife. The beautiful surroundings were no more to her than a human cage.

For two years Cecil Molyneux had lived a life that it would be impossible to describe. If there was one comfort that she deprived, one drop of consolation in her sea of misery, it lay in the fact that she cared nothing for her husband, and that he was equally indifferent to her. He had never loved her; he had married her because he would, because she had loathed and despised him, and because it had seemed good to him that he should break that proud spirit of hers. He had known at the time that her heart was given to Godfrey Coventry, but this had merely been part of the punishment that he had designed for her. He had taken every advantage of the fact that fate had placed her father’s good name in the hollow of his hands, and with this lash over her head she had gone like a statue to the altar. She had known, too, only too well, the character of the man whose name she had taken. She was used now to his insults and humiliations, and she was little better than a nurse who is charged with looking after a dangerous lunatic. And there were times when her husband was dangerous, there were times when she carried the marks of his violence on her white flesh, times when she knelt by her bedside and prayed a merciful Providence to put an end to it. And one of these times was at hand now. She knew the signs too well to be deceived even for a minute.

For an hour or more Molyneux sat opposite to her, glowering at her, muttering, and threatening her. He had touched nothing of the dainty dinner which had been set before him. She had contrived to swallow a mouthful or two. The peach before her was the first thing that appealed to her appetite. And all this time Molyneux had been steadily drinking. Cecil knew that he was fighting off the horrors that were fast closing in upon him after a week during which he had hardly touched anything save the brandy which at times like this was his sole support. She could see in his clenched muscles and the narrow pupils of his eyes that the crisis was at hand. At any moment now he might break out wildly, might lay his hands upon her and do her some deadly violence. Not that she was afraid, for it seemed to her that she was afraid of nothing now, except the prospect of the dreary existence before her.

“Why don’t you say something?” Molyneux demanded. “Why do you sit there sneering at me like that?”

“What can I say?” Cecil asked. “What is the use of saying anything? You know perfectly well–”

“There you go. Always so superior. Always so cold and distant when I am suffering the tortures of the damned. I wonder what the devil I married you for.

“I have often asked myself the same question.” Cecil replied. “If you had really cared for me, if you had had any affection for anybody but yourself–”.

“I should have let you go, of course.” Molyneux sneered, “Then you could have married Coventry, and deluded yourself that you were happy with love in a cottage. But you didn’t know then that Coventry’s father’s old partner was going to die and leave him all that money. If you had–”

“If I had,” Cecil cried, “then I should not be here to-night. But it is like you to twit me with this after you have deliberately spoilt my life.”

“Why don’t you go to him now?” Molyneux demanded. “Shall I tell you why you don’t?”

“You know perfectly well why I don’t.”

“Because you are too proud. Because you are too cold. It isn’t in you to love any man as a man likes to be loved, I don’t see you, in spite of that infernal beauty of yours, driving a man mad for love of you, making him forget everything for a kiss and a smile. Oh, I know I can trust you all right, though you do meet Coventry sometimes. You see, I know all about it. But I’m not worrying. When is he going–Coventry I mean?–When is he going to America?”

“To-morrow, I believe,” Cecil said coolly. “I think he is coming to see me before he goes.”

She forced herself to speak quietly, conscious at the same time that the blood had mounted to her checks. She would not let this man see how he was stinging her; she would not let him know that he was torturing her till she could have cried out with the agony that wrung her to the soul. And yet she knew that all this was so much sport to the man opposite. She knew that he played with her most sacred feelings as a cat plays with a tortured little mouse. Apparently it was all he lived for now. There was a time when he would go off for a day or two with his golf clubs or his gun, or, perhaps pass a week or so at Newmarket. Now he was past all that sort of thing. His shattered nerve kept him in the house, his friends had fallen away one by one, and the only comfort that he knew, and the only transient happiness that he felt, lay behind the glass of a bottle of brandy. He looked at his wife now with a cold, cruel gleam in his eyes.

“You look at me as if I were so much dirt,” he said. “Well, perhaps I am. But you are my wife, and don’t you forget it. You treat me as if I were a dog, but you don’t mind spending my money on your clothes. I wonder what that dress cost you, and I see you are wearing that ring I gave you the day we were engaged. It belonged, to a–a friend, of mine in China, the only creature on God’s earth who ever cared for me. Take it off, do you hear me? Take it off at once.”

Cecil scornfully obeyed. It was a beautiful ring, an antique, quite unique in its workmanship, and a striking ornament which would have been noticed anywhere. It lay flashing on the table till Molyneux reached for it with a shaking hand, and dropped it with a laugh into his pocket.

“You are obedient,” he sneered. Then he stopped and placed his hand to his head and staggered to his feet.

“Oh. Oh,” he cried. “Here they come. All the devils in hell after me. Give me that stuff at once.”

II. THE LAST DOSE IN THE BOTTLE

From the lips of the tortured man there came a queer, horrible whistling scream, the scream of a man on the verge of epilepsy. His eyes were full of a nameless horror, the sweat poured down a face white and ghastly. Molyneux staggered across the room in the direction of the fireplace, where a large plant in a big pot stood. He picked it up, and held it at arm’s-length as if it were a feather weight. At that moment he possessed the strength of a dozen men. Then the pot came crashing down upon the Persian carpet, and the next moment the tortured drunkard was fighting a legion of unseen horrors as if his life depended on it. His cries rang through the house, they echoed out into the garden and carried far down the road. But it was only for a brief space, and then the temporary madness passed, leaving Molyneux faint and helpless, and so spent that he dropped into a chair with no strength left in that big frame of his. He wiped the horror from his face, and out of his eyes.

“For goodness sake, make haste,” he cried in a voice so small and still that it hardly carried to Cecil’s ears. “Give me a dose of the stuff that Barclay prescribed. Hurry up, or all those devils will be back again. Do what I tell you, or by Heaven I won’t be responsible for what happens. Give me a double dose. If it kills me, so much the better for you.”

Cecil crossed the broad hall and made her way to her own sitting-room. Here she took a key from a dragon vase on a little Chippendale table, and opened her desk. From it she took a tiny blue bottle in which were a few drops of some white fluid. This was a powerful drug that had been placed in her hands by the London specialist who had pulled Molyneux through his last bout. The phial and the prescription had been placed in Cecil’s hands with strict injunctions that she was to keep them carefully under lock and key, and that in no circumstances was she to allow either of them out of her possession. She knew that the drug was a powerful poison, to be most carefully administered; she knew that the local chemist would not make up the medicine unless she presented the prescription herself. And she knew, too, that those deadly drops were only to be administered when a violent attack came on. And that was why she kept the bottle in a secret place, knowing only too well the recklessness and cunning of the man with whom she had to deal. She knew, too, that more than once Molyneux had threatened her with violence because she would not hand over to him the prescription. She had found him searching for it on more than one occasion, and now he was trying to bully her into giving him a double dose. She was thankful to know that there were only sufficient drops in the bottle to comply with the doctor’s orders, and that there was not another drop in the house. Dr. Barclay had told her that her husband’s heart was in a terrible state, and that any sudden exertion might prove fatal. And this was why he had been so careful to warn her of the necessity of exercising the greatest care in pouring out the medicine. In no circumstances was it to be administered more than once in twenty-four hours.

Cecil hastened back to the dining-room with the bottle in her hand. She rang the bell and the butler appeared.

“Can I get anything for you, madam?” he asked.

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