The Four Faces. A Mystery - William Le Queux - ebook
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Michael Berrington is a bachelor leading a quiet life in London. Overhearing a conversation at his club one day, he becomes interested in a discussion regarding a man named Gastrell. Gastrell is somewhat of a mystery to the club members in spite of his renting a house from one of them. Berrington’s interest in Gastrell intensifies as his fiancé, Dulcie Challoner, befriends a wealthy widow, Mrs. Connie Stapleton who evidently has some type of relationship with Gastrell. As the plot progresses, Berrington finds himself involved with sensational robberies, brutal murders, coded messages, and even mind control! As in many Le Queux books, there are twists and turns as new characters and locations are introduced.

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Liczba stron: 458

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Contents

I. CURIOSITY IS AROUSED

II. THE ANGEL FACES

III. A HAMPSTEAD MYSTERY

IV. IN FULL CRY

V. HUGESSON GASTRELL AT HOME

VI. THE HOUSE IN GRAFTON STREET

VII. OSBORNE'S STORY

VIII. MORE SUSPICIONS

IX. THE SNARE

X. NARRATES A CONFESSION

XI. CONCERNS MRS. STAPLETON

XII. THE BROAD HIGHWAY

XIII. THE BARON

XIV. IN THE MISTS

XV. THE MODERN VICE

XVI. SECRETS OF DUSKY FOWL

XVII. IS SUSPICIOUS

XVIII. CONTAINS ANOTHER SURPRISE

XIX. "IN THE PAPERS"

XX. PRESTON AGAIN

XXI. A CHANNEL MYSTERY

XXII. THE THIN-FACED STRANGER

XXIII. RELATES A QUEER ADVENTURE

XXIV. IN STRANGE COMPANY

XXV. THE GLITTERING UNDERWORLD

XXVI. "THAT WOMAN!"

XXVII. THE FOUR FACES

XXVIII. THE FACES UNMASKED

XXIX. CONCLUSION

I. CURIOSITY IS AROUSED

“I CONFESS I’d like to know somethin’ more about him.”

“Where did you run across him first?”

“I didn’t run across him; he ran across me, and in rather a curious way. We live in Linden Gardens now, you know. Several of the houses there are almost exactly alike, and about a month ago, at a dinner party we were givin’, a young man was shown in. His name was unknown to me, so I supposed that he must be some friend of my wife’s. Then I saw that he was a stranger to her too, and then all at once he became very confused, inquired if he were in Sir Harry Dawson’s house–Sir Harry lives in the house next to ours–and, findin’ he was not, apologized profusely for his mistake, and left hurriedly.”

“Anyone might make a mistake of that kind in some London houses,” the second speaker said. “What is he like? Is he a gentleman?”

“Oh, quite.”

“And for how long have you leased him your house in Cumberland Place?”

“Seven years, with option of renewal.”

“And you mean to say you know nothing about him?”

“I won’t say ‘nothin’,’ but I know comparatively little about him. Houston and Prince, the house agents, assure me they’ve made inquiries, and that he is a rich young man whose uncle amassed a large fortune in Tasmania–I didn’t know fortunes were to be made in Tasmania, did you? The uncle died six months ago, Houston and Prince tell me, and Hugesson Gastrell has inherited everything he left. They say that they have ascertained that Gastrell’s parents died when he was quite a child, and that this uncle who has died has been his guardian ever since.”

“That sounds right enough. What more do you want to know?”

“It somehow seems to me very strange that I should have come to know this man, Gastrell, without introduction of any kind–even have become intimate with him. On the day after he had come to my house by accident, he called to fetch a pair of gloves which, in his confusion on the previous evenin’, he had left in the hall. He asked if he might see me, and then he again apologized for the mistake he had made the night before. We stayed talkin’ for, I suppose, fully half an hour–he’s an excellent talker, and exceedingly well-informed–and incidentally he mentioned that he was lookin’ for a house. From his description of what he wanted it at once struck me that my Cumberland Place house would be the very thing for him–I simply can’t afford to live there now, as you know, and for months I have been tryin’ to let it. I told him about it, and he asked if he might see it, and–well, the thing’s done; he has it now, as I say, on a seven years’ lease.”

“Then why worry?”

“I am not worryin’–I never worry–the most foolish thing any man can do is to worry. All I say is–I should like to know somethin’ more about the feller. He may be quite all right–I have not the least reason for supposin’ he isn’t–but my wife has taken a strong dislike to him. She says she mistrusts him. She has said so from the beginnin’. After he had asked to see me that mornin’, the mornin’ he called for his gloves, and we had talked about the house, I invited him to lunch and introduced him to my wife. Since then he has dined with us several times, and–well, my wife is most insistent about it–she declares she is sure he isn’t what he seems to be, and she wanted me not to let him the house.”

“Women have wonderful intuition in reading characters.”

“I know they have, and that’s why I feel–well, why I feel just the least bit uneasy. What has made me feel so to-day is that I have just heard from Sir Harry Dawson, who is on the Riviera, and he says that he doesn’t know Hugesson Gastrell, has never heard of him. There, read his letter.”

Seated in my club on a dull December afternoon, that was part of a conversation I overheard, which greatly interested me. It interested me because only a short time before I had, while staying in Geneva, become acquainted at the hotel with a man named Gastrell, and I wondered if he could be the same. From the remarks I had just heard I suspected that he must be, for the young man in Geneva had also been an individual of considerable personality, and a good conversationalist.

If I had been personally acquainted with either of the two speakers, who still stood with their backs to the fire and their hands under their coat-tails, talking now about some wonderful run with the Pytchley, I should have told him I believed I had met the individual they had just been discussing; but at Brooks’s it is not usual for members to talk to other members unintroduced. Therefore I remained sprawling in the big arm-chair, where I had been pretending to read a newspaper, hoping that something more would be said about Gastrell. Presently my patience was rewarded.

“By the way, this feller Gastrell who’s taken my house tells me he’s fond of huntin’,” the first speaker–whom I knew to be Lord Easterton, a man said to have spent three small fortunes in trying to make a big one–remarked. “Said somethin’ about huntin’ with the Belvoir or the Quorn. Shouldn’t be surprised if he got put up for this club later.”

“Should you propose him if he asked you?”

“Certainly, provided I found out all about him. He’s a gentleman although he is an Australian–he told Houston and Prince he was born and educated in Melbourne, and went to his uncle in Tasmania immediately he left school; but he hasn’t a scrap of that ugly Australian accent; in fact, he talks just like you or me or anybody else, and would pass for an Englishman anywhere.”

Without a doubt that must be the man I had met, I reflected as the two speakers presently sauntered out of the room, talking again of hunting, one of the principal topics of conversation in Brooks’s. I, Michael Berrington, am a man of leisure, an idler I am ashamed to say, my parents having brought me up to be what is commonly and often so erroneously termed “a gentleman,” and left me, when they died, heir to a cosy little property in Northamptonshire, and with some £80,000 safely invested. As a result I spend many months of the year in travel, for I am a bachelor with no ties of any kind, and the more I travel and the more my mind expands, the more cosmopolitan I become and the more inclined I feel to kick against silly conventions such as this one at Brooks’s which prevented my addressing Lord Easterton or his friend–men I see in the club every day I am there, and who know me quite well by sight, though we only stare stonily at each other–and asking more about Gastrell.

So Lady Easterton had taken an instinctive dislike to this young man, Hugesson Gastrell, and openly told her husband that she mistrusted him. Now, that was curious, I reflected, for I had spoken to him several times while in Geneva, and though his personality had appealed to me, yet–

Well, there was something about him that puzzled me, something–I cannot define what it was, for it was more like a feeling or sensation which came over me while I was with him–a feeling that he was not what he appeared to be, and that I saw, so to speak, only his outer surface.

“Hullo, Michael!”

The greeting cut my train of thought, and, screwing myself round in the big arm-chair, I looked up.

“Why, Jack!” I exclaimed, “I had no idea you were in England. I thought you were bagging rhinoceroses and things in Nigeria or somewhere.”

“So I have been. Got back yesterday. Sorry I am back, to tell you the truth,” and he glanced significantly towards the window. A fine, wetting drizzle was falling; dozens of umbrellas passed to and fro outside; the street lamps were lit, though it was barely three o’clock, and in the room that we were in the electric lights were switched on. The sky was the colour of street mud, through which the sun, a huge, blood-red disc, strove to pierce the depressing murk of London’s winter atmosphere, thereby creating a lurid and dismal effect.

Jack Osborne is a man I rather like, in spite of the fact that his sole aim in life is to kill things. When he isn’t shooting “hippos” and “rhinos” and bears and lions in out-of-the-way parts of the world, he is usually plastering pheasants in the home covers, or tramping the fields and moors where partridges and grouse abound.

“Had a good time?” I asked some moments later.

“Ripping,” he answered, “quite ripping,” and he went on to tell me the number of beasts he had slain, particulars about them and the way he had outwitted them. I managed to listen for ten minutes or so without yawning, and then suddenly he remarked:

“I met a man on board ship, on the way home, who said he knew you–feller named Gastrell. Said he met you in Geneva, and liked you like anything. Struck me as rather a rum sort–what? Couldn’t quite make him out. Who is he and what is he? What’s he do?”

“I know as little about him as you do,” I answered. “I know him only slightly–we were staying at the same hotel in Geneva. I heard Lord Easterton, who was in here half an hour ago, saying he had let his house in Cumberland Place to a man named Gastrell–Hugesson Gastrell. I wonder if it is the man I met in Geneva and that you say you met on board ship. When did you land?”

“Yesterday, at Southampton. Came by the Masonic from Capetown.”

“And where did Gastrell come from?”

“Capetown too. I didn’t notice him until we were near the end of the voyage. He must have remained below a good deal, I think.”

I paused, thinking.

“In that case,” I said, “the Gastrell who has leased Easterton’s house can’t be the man you and I have met, because, from what Easterton said, he saw his man quite recently. Ah, here is Lord Easterton,” I added, as the door opened and he re-entered. “You know him, don’t you?”

“Quite well,” Jack Osborne answered, “Don’t you? Come, I’ll introduce you, and then we’ll clear this thing up.”

It was not until Osborne and Lord Easterton had talked for some time about shooting in general, and about “hippo” and “rhino” and “‘gator” killing in particular, and I had been forced to listen to a repetition of incidents to do with the sport that Jack Osborne had obtained in Nigeria and elsewhere, that Jack presently said:

“Berrington tells me, Easterton, he heard you say that you have let your house to a man named Gastrell, and we were wondering if he is the Gastrell we both know–a tall man of twenty-eight or so, with dark hair and very good-looking, queer kind of eyes–what?”

“Oh, so you know him?” Easterton exclaimed. “That’s good. I want to find out who he is, where he comes from, in fact all about him. I have a reason for wanting to know.”

“He came from Capetown with me–landed at Southampton yesterday,” Osborne said quickly.

“Capetown? Arrived yesterday? Oh, then yours must be a different man. Tell me what he is like.”

Osborne gave a detailed description.

“And at the side of his chin,” he ended, “he’s got a little scar, sort of scar you see on German students’ faces, only quite small–doesn’t disfigure him a bit.”

“But this is extraordinary,” Lord Easterton exclaimed. “You have described my man to the letter–even to the scar. Can they be twins? Even twins, though, wouldn’t have the same scar, the result probably of some accident. You say your man landed only yesterday?”

“Yes, we came off the ship together.”

“Then he was on board on–let me think–ten days or so ago?”

“Oh, yes.”

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