The Five Knots - Fred M. White - ebook

The Five Knots ebook

Fred M White

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Frederick Merrick White is an eminent writer who became famous for his short stories. The main character, Samuel Flowers, is a wealthy man and owns a fleet of ships. In England, where precious treasures are missing, some people begin to search for them. Will they be found, and what will happen to Flowers and his niece?

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Liczba stron: 367

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Contents

I. No Bigger Than A Man’s Hand

II. A Little Bit Of String

III. The Registered Letter

IV. In The Wood

V. Under The Trees

VI. The Lighted Lamp

VII. The Shadow On The Wall

VIII. The Blue Terror

IX. Behind Locked Doors

X. “Mr. Wil—”

XI. On The Way Home

XII. In The Ring

XIII. An Old Acquaintance

XIV. Russell Explains

XV. The Real Thing

XVI. The Yellow Hand

XVII. The Diamond Moth

XVIII. A Tangled Clue

XIX. Fencing

XX. The Waterfall

XXI. A Double Foe

XXII. From East To West

XXIII. An Expected Trouble

XXIV. The Long Dark Hour

XXV. The Diamond Moth Again

XXVI. Dr. Jansen

XXVII. No Foe Of Hers

XXVIII. Beyond Surgery

XXIX. A Message

XXX. A Slight Misunderstanding

XXXI. A Question Of Honour

XXXII. No Place Like Home

XXXIII. By Whose Hand?

XXXIV. A Human Derelict

XXXV. Jansen At Home

XXXVI. Leading The Way

XXXVII. A Respite

XXXVIII. A Sinking Ship

XXXIX. The Vaults Beneath

XL. Towards The Light

XLI. Vanished!

XLII. Treasure Trove

XLIII. In Hot Pursuit

XLIV. The Meaning Of It

XLV. Aladdin’s Cave

XLVI. Uzali’s Way Out

I. NO BIGGER THAN A MAN’S HAND

Something like a shadow seemed to flicker across the dim hall and then the strange visitant was lost to view. But was it substantial, real and tangible, or only the creature of imagination? For at half-past four on a December afternoon before the lamps are lighted one might easily be deceived, especially in an old place like Maldon Grange, the residence of Samuel Flower, the prosperous ship-owner. Some such thought as this flashed through Beatrice Galloway’s mind and she laughed at her own fears. Doubtless it was all imagination. Still, she could not divest herself of the impression that a man had flitted quietly past her and concealed himself behind the banks of palms and ferns in the conservatory.

“How silly I am!” she murmured. “Of course there can be nobody there. But I should like–”

A footman entered and flashed up the score or so of lights in the big electrolier and Beatrice Galloway’s fears vanished. Under such a dazzling blaze it was impossible to believe that she had seen anybody gliding towards the conservatory. Other lights were flashing up elsewhere and all the treasures which Mr. Flower had gathered at Maldon Grange were exposed to the glance of envy or admiration. Apparently nothing was lacking to make the grand house absolutely perfect. Not that Samuel Flower cared for works of art and beauty, except in so far as they advertised his wealth and financial standing. Nothing in the mansion had been bought on his own responsibility or judgement. He had gone with open cheque-book to a famous decorative artist and given him carte blanche to adorn the house. The work had been a labour of love on the part of the artist, so that, in the course of time, Maldon Grange had become a show-place and the subject of eulogistic notices in the local guide-books. Some there were who sneered at Samuel Flower, saying there was nothing that interested him except a ship, and that if this same ship were unseaworthy and likely to go to the bottom when heavily over-insured, then Flower admired this type of craft above all others. The reputation of the Flower Line was a bad one in the City and amongst seafaring men. People shook their heads when Flower’s name was mentioned, but he was too big and too rich and too vindictive for folk to shout their suspicions on the housetops. For the rest of it Flower stuck grimly to his desk for five days in the week, spending the Saturday and Sunday at Maldon Grange, where his niece, Beatrice Galloway, kept house for him.

Beatrice loved the place. She had watched it grow from a bare, brown shell to a bewitching dream of artistic beauty. Perhaps in all the vast establishment she liked the conservatory best. It was a modest name to give the superb winter garden which led out of the great hall. The latter structure had been the idea of the artist, and under his designs a dome-like fabric had arisen, rich, with stained glass and marble and filled now with the choicest tropical flowers, the orchids alone being worth a fortune. From the far end a covered terrace communicated with the rose garden, which even at this time of year was so sheltered that a few delicate blooms yet remained. The orchids were Beatrice’s special care and delight and for the most part she tended them herself. She had quite forgotten her transient alarm. Her mind was full of her flowers to the exclusion of everything else. She stood amongst a luxuriant tangle of blooms, red and gold and purple and white hanging in dainty sprays like clouds of brilliant moths.

By and by Beatrice threw herself down into a seat to contemplate the beauty of the scene. The air was warm and languid as befitted those gorgeous flowers, and she felt half disposed to sleep as she lay in her comfortable chair. There would be plenty to do presently, for Flower was entertaining a large dinner party, and afterward, there was to be a reception of the leading people in the neighbourhood. Gradually the warmth of the place stole over her drowsy sense and for a few minutes she lost consciousness.

She awoke with a start and uneasy feeling of impending evil which she could not shake off. It was a sensation the like of which she had never experienced before, and wholly foreign to her healthy nature. But nothing was to be seen or heard. The atmosphere was saturated with fragrance and delicate blossoms fluttered in the lights like resplendent humming-birds. As she cast a glance around, her attention became riveted upon something so startling, so utterly unexpected, that her heart seemed to stand still.

The door leading on to the terrace was locked, as she knew. It was a half-glass door, the upper part being formed of stained mosaics, leaded after the fashion of a cathedral window. And now one of the small panes over the latch had been forced in, and a hand, thrust through the opening, was fumbling for the catch.

The incident was sinister enough, but it did not end the mystery. The hand and the arm were bare, and Beatrice saw they were lean and lanky and brown, like the leg of a skinny fowl. From the long fingers with blackened nails depended a loop of string which the intruder was endeavouring to drop over the catch. Unnerved as Beatrice was, she did not lose her self-possession altogether. While she gazed in fascinated horror at that strange yellow claw, it flashed into her mind that the hand could not belong to a white man. Then, half unconsciously, she broke into a scream and the fingers were withdrawn. The string fell to the ground, where it lay unheeded.

Beatrice’s cry for help rang out through the house, and a moment later hurried steps were heard coming towards the conservatory. It was Samuel Flower himself who burst into the room demanding to know what was amiss. At the sight of his stalwart frame and the strong grim face Beatrice’s fears abated.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“The hand,” Beatrice gasped. “A man’s hand came through that hole in the glass door. He was trying to pass a loop of string over the latch. The light was falling fully on the door, and I saw the hand distinctly.”

“Some rascally tramp, I suppose,” Flower growled.

“I don’t think so,” Beatrice said. “I am sure the man, whoever he was, was not an Englishman. The hand might have been that of a Hindoo or Chinaman, for it was yellow and shrivelled like a monkey’s paw.”

Something like an oath crossed Flower’s lips. His set face altered swiftly. Though alarmed and terrified, Beatrice did not fail to note the look of what was almost fear in the eyes of her uncle.

“What is the matter?” she asked. “Have I said or done anything wrong?”

But Flower was waiting to hear no more. He dashed across the floor and threw the door open. Beatrice could hear his footsteps as he raced down the terrace. Then she seemed to hear voices in angry altercation, and presently there was a sound of breaking glass and the fall of a heavy body. It required all Beatrice’s courage to enable her to go to the rescue, but she did not hesitate. She ran swiftly down the corridor, when, to her profound relief, she saw Flower coming back.

“Did you see him?” she exclaimed.

“I saw nothing,” Flower panted. He spoke jerkily, as if he had just been undergoing a physical struggle. “I am certain no one was there. I slipped on the pavement, and crashed into one of those glass screens of yours. I think I have cut my hand badly. Look!”

As coolly as if nothing had happened Flower held up his right hand from which the blood was dripping freely. It was a nasty gash, as Beatrice could tell at a glance.

“I am so sorry.” she murmured. “Uncle, this must be attended to at once. There is danger in such a cut. I will send one of the servants into Oldborough.”

“Perhaps it will be as well,” Flower muttered. “I shall have to get this thing seen to before our friends turn up. Tell them to fetch the first doctor they can find.”

Without another word Beatrice hurried away, leaving Flower alone. He crossed to the outer door and locked it. Then he threw himself down on the seat which Beatrice had occupied a few minutes before, and the same grey pallor, the same queer dilation of his keen grey eyes which Beatrice had noticed, returned. His strong lips twitched and he shook with something that was not wholly physical pain.

“Pshaw!” he muttered. “I am losing my nerve. There are foreign tramps as well as English in this country.”

II. A LITTLE BIT OF STRING

Wilfrid Mercer’s modest establishment was situated in High- street, Oldborough. A shining brass plate on the front door proclaimed him physician and surgeon, but as yet he had done little more than publish his name in the town. It had been rather a venture to settle in a conservative old place like Oldborough, where, by dint of struggling and scraping, he had managed to buy a small practice. By the time this was done and his house furnished, he would have been hard put to it to lay his hands on fifty pounds. As so frequently happens, the value of the practice had been exaggerated: the man he had succeeded has not been particularly popular, and some of the older patients took the opportunity of going elsewhere.

It was not a pleasant prospect, as Mercer admitted, as he sat in his consulting-room that wintry afternoon. He began to be sorry that he had given up his occupation of ship’s doctor. The work was hard and occasionally dangerous, but the pay had been regular and the chance of seeing the world alluring. But for his mother, who had come to keep house for him, perhaps Wilfrid Mercer would not have abandoned the sea. However, they had few friends and Mrs. Mercer was growing old and the change appeared to be prudent. Up to the present Wilfrid had kept most of his troubles to himself, and his mother little knew how desperately near the wind he was sailing in money matters. Unfortunately he had been obliged to borrow, and before long one of his repayments would be falling due. Sorely against his will he had gone to the money-lender, and he knew that he could expect no quarter if he failed to meet his obligations.

While he sat gazing idly into the growing darkness, watching the thin traffic trickle by, he heard the sound of a motor horn and a moment later a big Mercedes car stopped before his door. There was an imperative ring at the bell, which Wilfrid answered in person.

“I believe you are Dr. Mercer,” the driver said. “If so, I shall be glad if you will come at once to Maldon Grange. My master has met with an accident, and if you cannot come immediately I must find somebody else.”

“I believe I can manage it,” Wilfrid said with assumed indifference. He was wondering who the man’s master was and where Maldon Grange must be. A stranger in the neighbourhood, there were many large houses of which he knew nothing. It would be well, however, to keep his ignorance to himself. “If you’ll wait a moment I’ll put a few things into my bag.”

Few words were spoken as the car dashed along the road till the lodge gates at Maldon Grange were passed and the car pulled up in front of the house. A footman came to the door and relieved Wilfrid of his bag. He speedily found himself in a morning room where he waited till Beatrice Galloway came in. She advanced with a smile.

“It is very good of you to come so promptly,” she said. “I did not quite catch your name.”

“Surely you have not forgotten me?” Wilfrid said.

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