The Day of Uniting - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Day of Uniting ebook

Edgar Wallace



Edgar Wallace established his reputation as a writer of detective thrillers, a genre in which he wrote more than 170 books, with the publication of „The Four Just Men”. Moreover, the author was a wholehearted supporter of Victorian and early Edwardian values and mores, which are now considered in some respects politically incorrect. In England, in the 1920s, Wallace was said to be the second biggest seller after the Bible. „The Day of Uniting” by Edgar Wallace was originally published in 1930 and features a World War One ace as the lead detective who tries to solve a mystery. The story is fast-paced with some surprising twists, well written and great to read.

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Liczba stron: 236

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BY the side of a printer’s steel table, a young man was working busily with tweezers and awl. A page of type neatly bound about with twine was the subject of his attention, and although his hand was shaky and he was, for reasons of expediency, working with only one of the two hundred lights which illuminated the “book-room” of Ponters’, he made no mistake. Once he raised his head and listened. There was no other sound than the clacketty-clack of a linotype on the floor below, where the night shift was “setting up” a Sunday newspaper; and as a background to this clatter, the low rumble of the presses in the basement.

He wiped his streaming forehead, and bending lower over the page, worked with incredible rapidity.

He was a man of twenty-three or twenty-four. His face was a little puffy, and his eyes were dull. Tom Elmers liked his cups a little too well, and since that day when Delia Sennett had told him, in her quiet, earnest way, that she had other plans than those he suggested with such vehemence, he had not attempted to check the craving.

Again he raised his head and listened, putting one hand up to the key of the hanging light, in readiness to switch it out, but there was no sound of footsteps on the stone corridor without, and he resumed his work.

So engrossed was he, that when the interruption came he was not aware of another presence in the room, and yet he should have remembered that when Joe Sennett was on night work he invariably wore felt slippers, and should have known that the swing-door was practically noiseless to the firm of Ponters Limited, stood with his back to the door, looking in amazement at the solitary workman. Then he came softly across the floor, and stood at the other’s elbow.

“What are you doing?” asked Sennett suddenly, and the man dropped his awl with a little cry and looked around.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” he gasped. “What are you doing?” asked Sennett again, fixing those china-blue eyes of his upon the young man.

“I remembered those corrections I had to make. I didn’t get them down until just before we knocked off, and they were worrying me, Mr. Sennett.”

“So you came back on Saturday night to do them?” said the other dryly. “Well, you’re a model workman, Tom.”

The man gathered up his tools, and slipped them into his waistcoat pocket.

“A model workman,” repeated the other. “I’d like to know why you came back, Tom.”

“I’ve told you, haven’t I?” growled Elmers, as he put on his coat.

Joe Sennett looked at him suspiciously. “All right,” he said, “you can clear out now, and don’t do it again. If you haven’t time to finish your work, leave it.”

Near the entrance was a yellow painted iron door marked “Private.” It was towards this that Joe went. He stopped to switch on three pilot lights that gave the room sufficient illumination to allow him to move without risk of damage, and then, taking a key from his pocket, he inserted it. The light pressure he exercised was sufficient to send the door ajar. He turned in a flash.

“Have you been to this room?” he asked sternly.

“No, Mr. Sennett.”

Joe pushed open the door and switched on another light. He was in a small case-room, which was also equipped with a hand-press. It was the holy of holies of Ponters’ vast establishment, for in that chamber two trustworthy compositors, one of whom was Joe Sennett, set up those secret documents which the Government, from time to time, found it necessary to print and circulate.

“Who opened the door?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Sennett.”

Joe walked into the room and looked around. Then he turned.

“If I thought it was you, Tom, do you know what I’d do with you?”

“What’s the use of threatening me?” said the young man sullenly. “I’ve had enough trouble with you already. Delia’s put you against me.”

“I don’t want you to mention Delia’s name to me, Tom,” said Joe Sennett sharply.

He lifted a warning finger.

“You’re going the right way to get into bad trouble, Tom Elmers. For the sake of your father, who was a friend of mine, I’d like to save you from your own folly, but you’re one of the clever kind that’ll never be saved.”

“I don’t want any saving, either,” growled Elmers, and the old man shook his head.

“You’re keeping bad company. I saw you in the High Street the other night with that man Palythorpe.”

“Well, what about it?” asked the other, defiantly. “He’s a gentleman, is Mr. Palythorpe. He could buy up you and me a hundred times over. And he’s a newspaper proprietor, too––”

Joe chuckled in spite of his annoyance. “Mr. Palythorpe is an ex-convict who served ten years for blackmailing Mr. Chapelle’s daughter. You know that. If you don’t, you ought to.”

Tom shuffled uneasily. He had been somewhat disconcerted to learn that his friendship with a man of doubtful antecedents was so well known.

“He was innocent,” he said a little lamely, feeling that he must justify himself at any rate.

“Dartmoor is full of people who are innocent,” said Joe. “Now, Tom, you’re not a bad boy,” he said in a more kindly voice, “but you’ve got to keep away from that sort of trash. He could give you a job, I daresay. He’s running a paper now, isn’t he? But it’s not the kind of job that’s going to get you anywhere, except into the cell which he has just left.”

He jerked his head in sign of dismissal, and Tom, without a word, pushed through the swing-doors and disappeared.

Old Joe paced the length of the big room–it occupied the whole of the floor, and “room” was a ridiculously inadequate description–his hands behind his back, speculating upon the reason for Tom Elmers’ sudden industry. His own impression was that the surprise of Elmers was simulated and that he had heard the master printer coming and had busied himself with a page of type in order to hide his real occupation.

Joe looked carefully at every case as he passed, switching on the local lights for the purpose of his scrutiny.

Ponters were the biggest printers in the kingdom, and from their book-room went forth a good proportion of the educational works which were published every year. Here men of all nations worked. French, German, Japanese, and Chinese, for the publishing business of Ponters had a world-wide clientele.

He finished his inspection and went back to what was known as the Secret Press Room, and settled himself down for the night to put into print a very important memorandum which had been issued that morning by the First Lord of the Admiralty.

But the thought of Tom and his visit constantly intruded. It was true that Palythorpe was an undesirable acquaintance for any honest man. He had been the proprietor of a scurrilous little sheet, which enjoyed a semi-private circulation–it was sent out to its subscribers in envelopes–and he had utilized the paper for the collection of information which might be, and was, extremely useful and profitable to him. The paper was called Spice, and it purported to deal in a flippant manner with the dealings of high Society, enjoying in consequence a circulation in certain basement kitchens of Mayfair.

Because he offered generous payment for news about the doings of Society people, Mr. Palythorpe had gathered about him a staff of correspondents ranging from valets to tweeny-maids, who sent him, in addition to such items as were put into print, news that he could not publish, but could embody in letters written under an assumed name; and, being addressed to the subjects of these paragraphs, might produce results which were at once lucrative and satisfactory.

Family scandals, the pitiful little tragedies which break and mar the lives of ordinary men and women, indiscreet letters left about by their careless recipients, these were the marketable commodities which gained for Mr. Palythorpe a handsome income, and might have continued, had he not made the mistake of attempting to blackmail a foolish girl, whose father was the cleverest lawyer of the day. A bad companion for the susceptible Tom Elmers.

“Palythorpe and Tom between them are going to give me trouble,” said Joe aloud.

But his prophecy was only realized in part. Mr. Palythorpe himself had small responsibility for the events which sent three men to their graves, and made the hair of Jimmy Blake go white, not in a night, but in one stormy afternoon on Salisbury Plain.


TO Jimmy Blake, mathematics were as the Greek of Socrates to the unlearned senator. As for the calculi, they would have filled him with awe and wonder, if he had had any idea of their functions.

When, in the days of his extreme youth, Jimmy had been asked to prove that a circle was equal in area to a triangle whose base was equal to the circumference, and whose height was equal to the radius of the circle, Jimmy magnanimously accepted his master’s word that it was so, and passed on to something more human. Though by some extraordinary means he scraped through school with a certificate and emerged from Oxford with a sort of degree, his mathematical paper would have caused Archimedes to turn in his grave.

It was his fate to live in the closest contact with the scientific mind. Jimmy Blake was a rich man and by some accounted eccentric, though the beginning and end of his eccentricity were to be found in his dislike for work and his choice of Blackheath as a desirable residential quarter. He had inherited from his father a beautiful old Georgian house, facing the Heath, and which an enterprising auctioneer would have truthfully described as “standing in extensive and parklike grounds.”

Such an agent might have gone on to rhapsodize over the old world gardens of Blake’s Priory, the comfort of the accommodation, the Adams’ decorations; and when he had exhausted its aesthetic and sylvan charms, his utilitarian mind would probably have descended to such mundane advantages as the central heating, electric installation and the character of the soil on which it stood.

Within these grounds there had once been a veritable priory. At some period of the seventeenth century when Greenwich and Blackheath were fashionable rendezvous for the elite and fashion of Elizabeth’s court and when the stately palace by the river saw Raleigh and Leicester, and the grand gentlemen and dames of society strolling on the grassy slopes of the Royal Park, a Major Blake had acquired the property and had erected a pleasure house for himself and his friends. The house no longer existed, but the gardens he had planned still sent forth their ancient fragrance.

To Jimmy the Priory was home, and, though he maintained a modest flat at the back of Park Lane, he spent very little of his time there. The glories of Elizabeth’s Greenwich had departed definitely and completely and were one with the Court of Jamshid. Aged pensioners shuffled along the marble halls where the bucks of the Virgin had pranced and prinked, and a heavy-footed Drake had stalked with news of victories on the Spanish Main. Incidentally, Jimmy came from a long line of adventurers and could trace his descent from an uncle of the great Blake.

“It is a standing wonder to me, Jimmy,” said Van Roon one night, “why a man like you, with the blood of filibusters in your veins, should be content to loaf through life behind the steering wheel of a Rolls, having no other objective than the satisfaction of your unscientific curiosity.”

“No curiosity is unscientific,” said Jimmy lazily. “I’m surprised at you, Jerry! Didn’t Huxley or one of those Johnnies say––”

Van Roon groaned. His was the scientific mind, against which Jimmy’s intelligence was for ever rubbing. Gerald Van Roon was Jimmy’s cousin, a brilliant genius to whom the world was a great laboratory, alternating with a small bedroom, with the furnishing of which he had never become acquainted, because he had not remained in the room long enough.

A tall, angular man with large bony hands, a big bulging forehead, two small deep-set eyes which even his immense and powerful spectacles did not magnify, Gerald Van Roon seemed the least suitable of companions for a man of Jimmy’s tastes. He was exact, precise, orderly, had no human interests and absolutely no tastes in common with his happy-go-lucky cousin. And yet to the surprise of all who knew them, they lived together in the greatest harmony. Gerald amused Jimmy in one way and impressed him in another. The man’s high principles, his almost fanatical passion for the truth, which is after all the basic layer of the scientific mind, his childlike innocence in all worldly matters, his contempt for commerce and the rewards which commercial success brings, his extraordinary idealism–all these were very endearing qualities, which appealed strongly to the younger man.

“You’re a funny devil,” said Jimmy, throwing his serviette in a heap on the table. (Gerald Van Roon rolled his precisely and fitted the napkin ring exactly over the centre of the roll.) “I suppose you’re going to that stink-shop of yours?”

“I’m going to the laboratory,” said Gerald, with a faint smile.

“Good Lord!” said Jimmy, shaking his head in wonder. “On a gorgeous day like this! Come with me to the sea, Jerry. I’ve got the old roller at the door, and in an hour and a half we’ll be on the Sussex Downs, sniffing the beautiful ozone and watching the baa-lambs frisk and gambol.”

“Come to my lab, and I’ll make you some ozone in two seconds,” said Gerald, getting up from the table and fumbling for his pipe.

Jimmy groaned. His companion was at the door when he turned, his hand upon the handle.

“Jimmy, would you like to meet the Prime Minister?” he asked.

“Good Lord, no,” said Jimmy, astonished. “Why should I want to meet the Prime Minister. I loathe his politics and I thought the speech he made the other day about the tyranny of the farmers was in shocking bad taste.”

Gerald frowned.

“Oh, did he make a speech?” he asked in a vague, surprised tone, as though he had heard of some abnormality on the part of the Prime Minister of England. “I never read speeches, and of course it really doesn’t matter what politicians say–they mean nothing.”

“Why do you want me to meet the Prime Minister?”

“I don’t really want you to meet him,” said Gerald, “but I thought you would enjoy the experience. Chapelle is very strong for science and he is really an excellent mathematician.”

“I gathered that from his last budget,” said Jimmy grimly, for the Prime Minister was also Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He saw the puzzled look on Van Roon’s face.

“A budget,” he explained politely, “is an apology made by a responsible minister in the House of Commons for the robberies he intends to commit in the ensuing year. But what about his mathematical qualities? I have no wish to meet mathematicians. Don’t you think the scientific atmosphere in which I live is sufficiently thick without introducing a new brand of fog?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Gerald, opening the door. “Only he’s giving a luncheon to a few interesting people.”

“Including yourself?”

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