The Edge of the Sword - Fred M. White - ebook

The Edge of the Sword ebook

Fred M White

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Fred M. White knows how to write an intriguing story. Some people think that the ending is obvious, but it is not. In the story of The Edge of the Sword story is booming. The nobleman is found half dead in his library and lies next to the safe. The key is missing. But this unusual mystery has just begun...

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Liczba stron: 307

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Contents

Chapter I. Accusing Conscience

Chapter II. The Mystery Deepens

Chapter III. The Lady In The Box

Chapter IV. The Three Candles

Chapter V. Sidelights

Chapter VI. The Human Instinct

Chapter VII. A Path Of Thorns

Chapter VIII. The Story Of A Life

Chapter IX. The Edge Of The Sword

Chapter X. The Bait In The Trap

Chapter XI. A Waiting Game

Chapter XII. A Surprise

Chapter XIII. A Daring Experiment

Chapter XIV. Baiting The Trap

Chapter XV. Mystery

Chapter XVI. The Back Of The Draft

Chapter XVII. To The Rescue

Chapter XVIII. The Courage Of Despair

Chapter XIX. A Battle Of Wits

Chapter XX. More Light

Chapter XXI. Two Of Them

Chaffer XXII. The Private Safe

Chapter XXIII. Home Truths

Chapter XXIV. Open Sesame!

Chapter XXV. A Final Effort

Chapter XXVI. A Happy Release

I. ACCUSING CONSCIENCE

LIONEL HARVEY turned over the card with fingers that trembled slightly. There was nothing that he hated more than being disturbed in his study hours, when he was on one of his stories, and he had given strict orders that he was not to be disturbed.

The maid stammered something in the way of an apology. “I–I’m very sorry, sir,” she said. “But the lady seemed so disappointed when I told her that you never saw anybody in the morning. She said it was a matter of life and death, that she must see you, that you would be angry if she went away, and–and, sir, she is such a beautiful young lady.”

“I know that,” Harvey said, absently. “Seeing that–but no matter. Did she ask for me by name or under my pseudonym of Rodney Payne?”

“Well, sir, she called you Mr. Payne. And, of course, I knew she meant you. She said she had managed to get your address from the Daily Record Office. She said, too, that she would be quite a stranger to you.”

Lionel Harvey smiled grimly, yet his eyes were very sad. His hands were trembling again now as he pushed his copy-paper away from him. He half hesitated for a moment, as if struggling with some terrible emotion.

“Very well, Maria,” he said, curtly. “I’ll break my rule for once. Show the lady up.”

There was a timid tap at the door presently, and the slim figure of a girl entered. The maid had made no mistake, the intruder on the privacy of the novelist was certainly very beautiful. One might have called her expression very sweet and spiritual as a rule, but now she was pale and drawn with some great trouble. But nothing could detract from the perfect contour of the features, or dim the liquid blue of those eyes, or take the warm gleam of sunshine from the golden hair.

“I am sure I beg your pardon,” his visitor gasped. “My unaccountable intrusion–Lionel! Mr. Harvey! What does this mean? I imagined that I should find––”

The girl broke off and started back; she laid her hand on her heart; her breast heaved as if she had run fast and far. Then gradually the pink and white confusion of her face gave way to a frosty coldness and disdain. Harvey stood there like a statue. He had the advantage over the girl, for he had known what to expect.

“If I had only known,” the girl murmured–“if I had only known!”

“You would have stayed away, Elsie. I beg your pardon, Miss Armstrong. I would remind you that this interview is no seeking of mine. Probably the maid told you that in no circumstances did I suffer callers in the morning.”

“Oh she did. I came to see Rodney Payne. I had no idea––”

“That the author who calls himself Rodney Payne and your old–lover–Lionel Harvey were one and the same person. I guessed that when your card was brought up to me. It was my impulse to decline to see you. But I am not one of those who forget so easily. I have not succeeded in eradicating from my memory the recollection of the old days. I daresay you regard me as one of those men who deserved little or no consideration at the hands of a woman; and yet, if you knew everything, I am quite certain you would come to the conclusion that your own conduct is not beyond the reach––”

Harvey paused abruptly, and walked up and down the room with impatient strides. He was a great deal more upset by this sudden and dramatic meeting than he would have cared to own, and, manlike, he disguised this feeling as far as possible. He did not notice the shy and timid way in which the girl was looking at him. He did not heed the half-pathetic expression in her eyes. His mind had gone back to the past. He was living certain scenes and situations over again, and yet, though he was striving hard to keep up his coldness, it needed but little on the girl’s part to break down the barriers of his pride had she only known it.

The silence became embarrassing, and at length the girl forced herself to speak. The words came hesitatingly from her lips.

“I hope you do not think,” she said, “that I have any ulterior motive in coming here to-day. You see, it is hardly possible for me to have been aware of the fact that Rodney Payne and my old––”

The girl broke off abruptly, and a vivid crimson stained her face. Harvey guessed what word the girl was going to use, and a bitter smile trembled on his lips.

“Why not finish your sentence?” he said. “Why not be candid? Still, I am quite prepared to believe that you did not know who I was when you came here. You are the same, yet, not the same. You have grown older, but no less beautiful. Remember, I have not––”

“Don’t you think you are speaking beside the point?” Elsie said, coldly. “I was under the impression that all that kind of thing was relegated to the past. I am only sorry to find that I have placed myself in so cruel a position. It is open for you to put the worst construction you like on my conduct. For instance, you might imagine that I came here with some trumped-up story, anything to get an interview with you. After all is said and done, though you disguise yourself under the pseudonym, it is not such a very difficult matter to ascertain the real name of a writer. I beg to tell you that nothing was further from my thoughts.”

“Always suspicious,” Harvey said, bitterly. “With the many beautiful points which I know exist in your character, it seems such a lamentable thing that you should be spoilt by that one little strain of hysterical jealousy. What do you take me for? Do you think because I am a soured and disappointed man that I impute the lowest of motives to all mankind? I don’t wish to blow my own trumpet, but you know that all my life I have always been ready to help others. I would help even my bitterest enemy if he came to me and asked my pardon for the wrong he had done me. I am going to help you now. If I can be of the slightest assistance to you I shall only be too pleased. Your eyes tell me that you have some dreadful trouble. If you will tell me what it is––”

“You are very good,” the girl said, humbly.

“Indeed, I am nothing of the kind,” Harvey went on. “I never could refuse anybody in distress, and you must forgive me if I forgot myself for the moment and alluded to the past. After all, I cannot forget the fact that I have not set eyes on you for two years. And the maid said it was a case of life and death. Elsie, Elsie, if there is anything I can do for you––”

The girl flung out her hands with a passionate gesture. “You are cruel,” she said. “You dare take that tone to me because you know that I am in deep distress. I came here prepared to humiliate myself––”

“But why? You must be perfectly aware that there is nothing I would not do for you. I am not the kind of man to change. We parted two years ago irrevocably. I accepted your decision as final, and bowed to it. But that did not cure me of my passion for you. Because you regarded me as a scoundrel and your brother as an injured man I loved you none the less. I love you just the same, you have the same power over me, Elsie. Oh, you may toss your head in proud scorn, you can turn from me, but the fact remains. And now you have come to me to assist you. What call I do?”

“I came to see Rodney Payne. How could I know that you were Rodney Payne! And yet if I had known I should have been compelled to come all the same. To come and stand here and let you insult me with words of love. If you had any feeling––”

“Stop! I have had enough of this. I was learning to forget, to be resigned, when you forced yourself on me in this fashion. Do I look like a liar?”

Elsie Armstrong turned her eyes upon the stern, clear-cut face, with its fine chin and clean-shaven, sensitive mouth. It was not precisely a handsome face, but it was a good one, and the eyes were pleasantly grey and honest. Elsie had not forgotten him in the old days. Children and dogs had always come quite naturally to Lionel Harvey.

“You–you don’t,” she admitted, grudgingly. “You never did. But I am merely wasting your time with these idle recriminations. What I want to know is why you are persecuting us in this way. At first I could not understand it at all. You see I did not know who Rodney Payne was. I was reading the serial story by ‘Rodney Payne’ at present appearing in the Daily Record, and it struck me that the author must know my brother and myself. His description of Dick was exact, his likeness of me a little flattering, but there were touches that enabled me to identify myself.”

“But what has all this to do with your visit here?”

“Oh, I am coming to that in good time. As the Daily Record story developed so it grew on me. I was forced to the conclusion that the author knew both Dick and myself. Certain reference to discreditable episodes in my brother’s past was made in the story. Then he escapes from a great danger, and finally becomes secretary to a newly-made nobleman, who is the possessor of a vast fortune. That is exactly what has happened to Dick. The peer in the story has a lovely daughter, and the secretary falls in love with her. That is precisely what has taken place in Dick’s case!”

“Really!” Harvey murmured. “It is a rather remarkable coincidence.”

“Coincidence! Do you ask me to believe that? But I have not gone far enough. It becomes pressingly necessary for the bold young secretary to procure a large sum of money to replace some which he has lost on the turf. He has forged a certain signature, and unless the money is forthcoming to cover the forgery he is lost. So goes your story, and so goes mine.”

“Oh! Your brother has done that same thing,” Harvey cried. “Well, there is nothing so very remarkable in that. Thousands of young men do the same thing every year. It struck me, too, as quite a commonplace plot when I was writing the story. I might have created something different, but I let it pass. So your brother is in immediate danger of losing his liberty. When I left the firm of Hudson and Co. two years ago there was a cloud over my name. I was suspected of robbing my employers. Had not my father been in the same bank for 40 years I should have been prosecuted. For your sake I refused to clear myself and point, as I could have done, to the real thief. I told you who the real thief was, and you ordered me out of your house. After what you have just told me are you prepared to take your brother’s word in preference to mine still?”

The blue eyes filled with tears. Lionel could see the crystal drops hanging to the long dark lashes. A great wave of pity came over him.

“Forgive me,” he said, gently. “Think how for two years I have suffered. For months I was on the verge of starvation. Until I discovered that I had the trick of imaginative writing I hardly earned my bread. I took the name of Rodney Payne because my story was known to more than one. Perhaps in writing the Record story my imagination was coloured by the recollection of your sweet self; perhaps, unconsciously, I drew my villain from your brother Dick. As to the rest I know nothing.”

“But you must, you are bound to,” Elsie cried. “How could this be mere coincidence? I am prepared to grant you the characters, but the rest is too great a strain upon my credulity. Can you say you didn’t know that my brother had left the bank and taken up the position of secretary to Lord Manningtree? You have described the man, you have drawn an excellent portrait of his daughter, you have even indicated the position in the library where the safe stands–the safe containing his late wife’s famous emerald!”

Lionel started. He was more interested than he cared to say. “I swear to you that it is mere coincidence,” he cried, hotly. “Most of us dramatise the common incidents of life, with crime and cunning to add colour to the picture. These kind of things are happening every day, Elsie. There are scores of serial writers like myself, there are literally hundreds of sensational stories published every year. If you will consider the matter you will see how easy it is to hit upon a chain of events that is happening to somebody. I have heard of Lord Manningtree, of course, but I have never been in his library, and I have no idea that his safe contains his late wife’s emeralds.”

“But you mentioned those jewels in to-day’s instalment of your story,” Elsie Armstrong protested. “You actually speak of the emeralds! You accentuate the fact that the secretary–in other words, my brother Dick–means to get them. In your story there is a certain Kate Bradley, a mysterious, anaemic pensioner of the family. Are you going to make her responsible for the robbery that you foreshadow; and who is she?”

“Really, you try my patience,” Lionel protested. “Did I not tell you that the whole thing was pure fiction and nothing else. Kate Bradley is a mere subordinate character––”

“Who exists in real life,” Elsie interrupted, breathlessly. “I forgot what she is called, but there is a creature just like her who has a place in Lord Manningtree’s household. It is absolutely impossible for me to stand here and believe that––”

“You may believe what you like,” said Lionel, coldly. “I have already explained to you how these things come about. As to the prototype of Kate Bradley––”

“I have not finished,” Elsie went on. “Please hear me to the end. I can’t rid myself of the idea that you know far more than you are prepared to admit. I came to you, Rodney Payne, because you are a clever man, and because you might save me from a great unhappiness. You can get your characters into desperate situations, and you can get them out again. Nobody could do that better than a novelist. If I were a desperate criminal flying from justice, I should go to some writer like yourself and ask him to scheme me an avenue of escape. I would far rather have his advice than that of the greatest detective at Scotland Yard. But it is not for myself that I ask this favour, but for Dick’s sake. In to-day’s instalment of your story you indicate the fact that your nobleman is found in his library half-dead by the side of the safe, the key of which is missing. And here comes the most amazing part of my story. Lord Manningtree––”

“Elsie! For heaven’s sake don’t tell me that he was–was––”

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