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The Gentleman Who Vanished
Published by Mystery Mavens, 2017.
The Gentleman Who Vanished by Fergus Hume. First published in 1890. This edition published 2017 by Mystery Mavens.
Cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 Mystery Mavens. All rights reserved.
FIRST E-BOOK EDITION 2017.
Chapter I | Flying from Justice
Chapter II | The Recluse
Chapter III | The Dissection of a Soul
Chapter IV | A Curious Transformation
Chapter V | New Wine in an Old Bottle
Chapter VI | The Tortures of Hell
Chapter VII | The Woman He Loved
Chapter VIII | The Man She Hated
Chapter IX | The Philosophy of Mr. Dentham
Chapter X | Teddy Rudall's Ideas
Chapter XI | A Modern Judas
Chapter XII | A Perilous Situation
Chapter XIII | A Startling Discovery
Chapter XIV | Dentham Makes Terms
Chapter XV | Resurgam
Further Reading: The Man Who Fell Through the Earth: A Pennington Wise Mystery
About the Publisher
IT WAS AN OPPRESSIVELY hot night towards the end of June, and the heavy still atmosphere surcharged with electricity was full of premonitions of storm. Here in London the glare and glitter of myriad lamps seemed to be crushed down by a lowering sky, in which the stars were almost hidden by great masses of somber clouds. Every now and then a thin thread of lightning flashed ghost-like through the murky air and the low hoarse roll of the thunder which followed, seemed to warn mankind that Nature was in one of her angry moods. So hot, terribly hot, one could hardly breathe in the crowded streets, where throngs of people, well-dressed and otherwise – principally otherwise – were sweeping along intent on business and pleasure, paying no attention to the sultry heavens pressing so cruelly down upon the panting earth.
The signs and tokens of heaven were not for them, with their sordid souls longing for gold, or their empty stomachs yearning for bread, as they worked, danced, sang, and busied themselves with the material things of this life, the same today as their forefathers centuries ago on the eve of that Deluge they did not believe would ever come.
In a handsomely-furnished room, in a large house which stood in one of the fashionable streets off Piccadilly, sat two young men playing cards. The windows of the apartment were open on to a flower-decorated balcony, from whence one could see the people walking, and the cabs flashing past. The rhythmical beat of the horses' hoofs, the quick tread or weary dragging gait of passers-by, the subdued murmur of distant voices and the sultry air of the hot night, penetrated into the room, but the occupants were too busy with their game to pay any attention to outside disturbances. A handsome room it was, but evidently that of a bachelor, as in the picturesque confusion there was wanting that subtle touch of refinement and order which indicates the hand of a woman. Curiously-patterned carpets of Turkish workmanship were scattered about on the polished floor and here and there stood small tables laden with photographs in chased silver frames, books, principally consisting of English and French novels, flowers and other things too numerous to mention. A pipe rack, fencing foils and boxing gloves over the mantelpiece, pictures of race-horses and pretty women on the walls, and plenty of plush-covered lounging-chairs placed in luxurious corners, with spirit-stand, glasses, pipes, cigarettes and tobacco jars, handy to anyone who sat down.
In the center of all this confusion was a green covered table at which sat the two young men aforesaid in evening dress, with several packs of cards scattered at their feet and their eyes intent upon the game, which seemed to be rather an expensive one, judging by the pile of gold pieces that lay on the green cloth.
One of the players was tall, with clearly cut features, dark hair, closely cropped, and a small dark moustache, beneath which gleamed regular white teeth when he smiled, which he did not seem inclined to do at the present moment. Adrian Lancaster was not at all pleased, as luck was dead against him, and he frequently took deep draughts of a brandy-and-soda which stood near him, in order to console himself for his bad fortune. His friend Philip Trevanna was short, fair, and insignificant-looking, so much so that not even the well-cut clothes he wore could give him a distinguished appearance.
The Louis Quinze clock on a bracket in one corner of the room chimed eleven, with a silvery ring, but still the two young men played on steadily. The savage look on Adrian's face showed that he was losing still, until at last the look of triumph on his companion's smug countenance proved too much for his philosophy, and rising from his seat with a stifled oath he flung down his cards, upset the table by his sudden movement and lounging over to the fireplace, lighted a cigarette.
"Hullo," said Trevanna lazily, looking at the overturned table and the scattered cards with an air of well-bred surprise, "what's the matter?"
"Nothing," replied Adrian, thrusting his hands into his pockets and looking down at the debris from his height of six feet odd, "only I'm sick of playing you've won a deuce of a lot, so unless I want to leave myself a pauper, I think I'll give the game best for tonight."
"Better luck next time," said Trevanna, rising and stretching himself, "you're a bad loser."
"There never yet was a philosopher who could bear the toothache patiently," quoted Adrian with a grim smile.
"You call losing at cards, toothache," murmured Philip indolently, "I daresay you're right, it's quite as disagreeable at all events." He glanced complacently over the bundle of I.O.U's he held in his hand, added the amounts together, then offered them to his companion.
"I'm rather in luck's way tonight," he said in a satisfied tone, "if you don't mind, old chap, I'd like a cheque for a thousand."
Adrian bit his nether lip angrily, then walking towards his desk, and pulling out a blank cheque, made it out for the amount named, which he handed to Philip without a word, then taking the I.O.U's he tore them up and threw the pieces on the floor.
"That pretty well clears me out of ready money," he said at length, resuming his position in front of the mantelpiece, while Philip filled himself a glass of brandy-and-soda, "it will pull me up for a bit."
"Never mind," said Trevanna with an evil smile, "your marriage with Olive Maunders will put you straight."
"Leave Miss Maunders out of the question," observed Adrian imperiously, "you've no right to use her name."
"I'll use the name of anybody I like," retorted Trevanna, into whose head the liquor he had drunk was rapidly mounting.
"Except hers," said Lancaster quietly, although his dark face was flushed with anger.
Philip Trevanna laughed insolently at the remark and taking up a few cards, lightly balanced them in his hand.
"A nice one you are, to preach morality," he said scoffingly, "you're about as bad a lot as there is in Town."
"You're not much better, at all events," observed Adrian wrathfully. "Look here, Trevanna, shut up—I'm not in the best of tempers, and you know I've got hot blood in my veins, so when I get angry it's dangerous. Don't rouse the tiger in me."
"Don't talk bosh," said Trevanna politely, "you know you only want to marry Olive Maunders for her money."
"Speak for yourself," cried Lancaster, going over to a side table and taking up a decanter to pour himself out some brandy. "I know you'd give anything to be in my place."
"Tell you what," said Trevanna, with an ugly look. "I'll play you for her—if I win, I marry her."
"Hold your tongue," retorted Adrian, grasping the stem of the decanter in a paroxysm of rage.
"I'll back this thousand against Olive Maunders," observed Trevanna, ignoring the menacing look of his friend. "Will you play?"
"Then go to the devil," shouted Philip, losing control of himself and flinging the cards he was holding into the face of Adrian. "Take that."
The hot blood flamed in Lancaster's face, and with a stifled roar of anger he threw the heavy decanter he was holding at Philip Trevanna's head. It struck him full on the temple, and without a word the young man fell like a log on the floor, while the decanter, smashing into a thousand pieces, was scattered over the carpet, and the contents diffused an odor of spirits through the room.
There was a dead silence for one awful moment, broken only by the steady tick of the clock. Suddenly a woman in the street laughed shrilly, and the sound seemed to arouse Adrian out of the lethargy into which he had fallen. A red mist floated before his eyes and his limbs seemed paralyzed. Even when he strove to cry out his voice died away in a hoarse whisper, and he stood with a terrible look of anguish on his face staring at the overturned card-table, the broken pieces of glass, and the figure lying at his feet so still and deathlike, with a thin red stream of blood flowing from an ugly wound in the temple.
Once more the woman laughed, and Adrian rapidly sprang to the windows, in a stealthy manner, closed them and pulled down the blinds so as to shut out this terrible sight from the eyes of the prying world.
A sullen roll of thunder startled him, and with a hurried glance around he crept towards the still form of his friend.
"Philip," he whispered, kneeling beside Trevanna's body, "Philip."
No answer! Adrian opened Trevanna's shirt and placed his hand on the heart—it did not beat—he leaned his face downward to the slightly parted lips; there was no breath, and then, for the first time, a sense of what he had done seemed to break on him.
"Dead!" he whispered with ashen grey lips, in a paroxysm of terror, clasping his hands. "Dead!—I've killed him."
He arose slowly to his feet, looked vacantly round the room, at the still, white face, at the stream of blood, then staggering to a side table he snatched up a bottle of whisky, and without waiting to fill a glass placed it to his lips. The fiery spirit put new life into him, and as his blood coursed swiftly through his veins, he braced his muscles, shook his head to clear the clouds which seemed to fog his brain, and nerved himself for action.
"I can't stay here," he whispered to himself, putting one hand up to his throat, "they would arrest me for murder—I would be hanged—Oh, God, the disgrace—poor Olive!"
The storm so long threatening had burst at last over the city, and the rain was pouring down with tropical violence, while every now and then, through the interstices of the Venetian blinds, gleamed the blueish flash of the lightning, and the deep roll of thunder which followed seemed to the ears of Adrian like the voice of an accusing angel denouncing him as a murderer.
There was no time to be lost, for at any moment someone might come up to his rooms and discover his crime; he would have to fly—but where could he fly to? Where, in all this great city, was there a refuge for a murderer? Still, he dare not stay; he could give no plausible explanation, the evidence of his guilt was too strong; the police would come up, he would be arrested, then the inquest, the trial, the verdict—with the rapidity of lightning the possibility of these things flashed across his mind—and with a hoarse cry he sprang past the body on the floor into his bedroom.
There he put on a heavy ulster, which, reaching nearly to his feet, effectually hid the evening clothes he had no time to change. Then he put on a soft hat, pulled it down over his eyes, caught up a heavy stick and stole out again into the sitting-room, half thinking that it was all some hideous dream. But no, it was only too true—there on the floor lay the body of the man he had killed, and he, Adrian Lancaster, was a murderer.
The clock struck twelve with a silvery chime as he slowly pulled the dead man's cloak off the back of a chair, and with a sudden movement flung it over the body as if terrified to look upon his handiwork. He turned out the gas which was flaring in the pink globes, and then crept towards the door in the darkness, carefully avoiding the place where the body lay. Once outside the door, which opened with a loud creak as if to denounce him, he locked it, and dropping the key into his pocket stole stealthily downstairs out into the stormy night, feeling that on his brow burned the mark of Cain, which, from henceforth, would make him a hunted fugitive on the face of the earth.
He walked slowly down the street towards Piccadilly, not heeding the direction, but only longing to get as far away from the scene of his crime as he could, and when a hansom suddenly drew up at the side of the pavement he felt a sudden convulsion of terror at hearing the voice of the driver asking if he wanted a cab. For a moment he hesitated, then, without a word, sprang in and flung himself back among the cushions, closing the doors, as if he could thus hide himself from the eyes of Justice.
"Where to, sir?" asked the driver, peering down through the trapdoor in the roof of the cab.
Where to, indeed? Was there any sanctuary in this mighty London where he could hide? No, he could think of none; but with that instinct of self-preservation which is strong in the breast of every human being, he wished to fly as far away as he could, so said at a venture the first name that came into his head.
"Right sir," said the driver, and closing the trapdoor with a bang he let down the glass and drove off.
The wheels spun round, the lights of the gas-lamps flashed dully in through the blurred windows, and the man shrinking back among the cushions clenched his teeth and stared out at the night, painting with vivid fancy on the curtain of the dark the hideous scene from which he was flying.
THE RAPIDITY OR SLOWNESS with which time passes depends entirely upon the feelings, and although the drive to Hampstead occupied only an hour, it seemed to Adrian Lancaster as if centuries had passed since he left his chambers. Between his past life of carelessness and ease and this one of agonizing feelings, a great gulf had widened which he knew would ever more separate him from his former state. A short time ago, he was a pleasure-loving man, rich, honored and courted, but now he was a hunted fugitive—a social outcast, scorned of all men and pitied by none. The shock had been so great that he did not yet understand his position, but lay back among the cushions in a kind of dull apathy, the whole journey seeming to him to be a kind of hideous nightmare.
Suddenly the cab stopped, and the trapdoor in the roof was opened by the driver.
"This is Hampstead, sir," he said in a hoarse voice, "and the limit of the radius."
"Very good," replied Adrian dully, "I will get out here."
He jumped out on to the sodden ground, turning up the collar of his coat, for the rain was still coming down heavily, and gave the cabman ten shillings in gold.
"I have no change, sir," began the driver. "I—"
"It doesn't matter," said Adrian, waving his hand. "Good night," and he tramped off into the darkness, while the cabman, with a muttered expression of thanks, drove back to town.
It was a lonely road, with a high fence on each side, topped by trees, and, beyond, great houses all in darkness, as the inmates had apparently gone to bed. Adrian had no idea where he was, but walked slowly along the muddy path with downcast head, and his hands thrust well into his pockets. His boots were more adapted to Piccadilly than to country roads, and the cold chill struck through the thin soles, but he paid no attention, mechanically walking onward without heeding where he was going. Above, the heavens were slightly clearing of their masses of clouds, and a few stars showed brightly in the cold blue, while the trees on each side shook their branches complainingly in the cold wind, and heavy drops of rain fell from their moist leaves.
At last he found himself walking along under a weather-stained brick wall, on the top of which grew luxurious ivy, and towards the end a low door appeared, which stood slightly open. Half thinking that it would admit him into some park where he could conceal himself, Adrian, with no very definite purpose in his mind, pushed it wide open and entered.
He found himself in dense darkness, standing in a path which apparently ran through a belt of beech trees whose branches meeting overhead shut out the midnight sky. With outstretched hands he carefully advanced, following the windings of the path, and carefully avoiding collision with the trunks of the tall trees on either side. At last he emerged into a wide lawn, half ringed by dense masses of trees, while at one end stood a large house with many gables and turrets standing black against the clear sky beyond.