The Golden Face. A Great Crook Romance - William Le Queux - ebook
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Imagine an organized gang of thieves, ruthless, working together like a modern machine, run by one man referred to only as „Golden Face."This tale inexorably takes you step-by-step into the organization, as we follow the main character’s fall into the underworld of crime.Takes place around the 1900s, but action packed and loaded with intrigue; even room for a budding romance in with all the twists and turns of the story.Really enjoyed this story, looking for more like it.

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Liczba stron: 282

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Contents

I. PRIVATE AND PERSONAL

II. ROOM NUMBER 88

III. THE MAN WITH THE HUMP

IV. THE FOUR FALSE FINGERS

V. CONCERNS MR. BLUMENFELD

VI. AT THREE-EIGHTEEN A.M

VII. LITTLE LADY LYDBROOK

VIII. THE CAT'S TOOTH

IX. LOLA IS AGAIN SUSPICIOUS

X. THE PAINTED ENVELOPE

XI. THE GENTLEMAN FROM ROME

XII. THE SILVER SPIDER

XIII. ABDUL HAMID'S JEWELS

XIV. THE VENGEANCE OF TAI-K'AN

XV. OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY

XVI. THE MAN WHO WAS SHY

XVII. THE SIGN OF NINETY-NINE

I. PRIVATE AND PERSONAL

IN order to ease my conscience and, further, to disclose certain facts which for the past year or two have, I know, greatly puzzled readers of our daily newspapers, I have decided to here reveal some very curious and, perhaps, sensational circumstances.

In fact, after much perplexity and long consideration, I have resolved, without seeking grace or favor, to make a clean breast of all that happened to me, and to leave the reader to judge of my actions, and either to condemn or to condone my offenses.

I will begin at the beginning.

It has been said that service in the Army has upset the average man’s chances of prosperity in civil life. That, I regret, is quite true.

When I, George Hargreave, came out of the Army after the Armistice, I found myself, like many hundreds of other ex-officers, completely at a loose end, without a shilling in the world over and above the gratuity of between two and three hundred pounds to which my period of commissioned service entitled me.

Grown accustomed during the war, however, to fending for myself and overcoming difficulties and problems of one sort and another, I at once set to work to look about for any kind of employment for which I fancied I might be fitted. After answering many advertisements to no purpose, I one day happened upon one in The Times which rather stirred my curiosity.

It stated that a gentleman of good position, who had occasion to travel in many parts of the world, would like to hear from a young man with considerable experience in motor driving. The applicant should not be over thirty, and it was essential that he should be a gentleman and well educated, with a knowledge of foreign languages if possible; also that he should be thoroughly trustworthy and possessed of initiative. The salary would be a very liberal one.

Application was to be made by letter only to a certain box at the office of The Times.

I wrote at once, and received some days later a reply signed “per pro Rudolph Rayne,” asking me to call to see the advertiser, who said he would be awaiting me at a certain small hôtel-de-luxe in the West End at three o’clock on the following afternoon.

I arrived at the highly aristocratic hotel at five minutes to three, and was conducted to a private sitting-room by a page who, on ushering me in, indicated a good-looking, middle-aged man seated near the window, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar.

The gentleman looked up as I approached, then put down his paper, rose, and extended his hand.

“Mr. George Hargreave?” he inquired in a pleasant voice.

“Yes. Mr. Rudolph Rayne, I presume?”

He bowed, and pointed to a chair close to his own. Then he sat down again, and I followed his example.

“I have received hundreds of replies to my advertisement,” was his first remark, “and the reason why your application is one of the few I have answered is that I liked the frank way in which you expressed yourself. Can you sing?”

“Sing?” I exclaimed, startled at the unexpected question.

“Sing,” he repeated.

“Well, yes, I do sing occasionally,” I said. “That is to say, I used to at the sing-songs in France at sergeants’ messes, and so on. But perhaps you mightn’t consider it singing if you heard me,” I ended lightly.

“Very good, very good,” he observed absent-mindedly. “And you can drive a Rolls?”

“I can drive a Rolls and several other cars as well,” I answered. “I was a driver in the R. A. S. C. early in the war.”

Suddenly he focused his gaze upon me, and his keen, penetrating gray eyes seemed to pierce into my soul and read my inmost thoughts. For perhaps half a minute he remained looking at me like that, then suddenly he said shortly:

“You are engaged, Mr. Hargreave. Your salary will be six hundred pounds a year, paid monthly in advance, in addition to your living and incidental expenses. I leave for Yorkshire by the midday train from King’s Cross to-morrow, and you will come with me. Good afternoon, Mr. Hargreave. By the way, you might take this suit-case with you, and bring it to the station to-morrow,” and he pointed to a small suit-case of brown leather on the floor beside his chair.

The whole interview had not lasted three minutes and I went away obsessed by a feeling of astonishment. Mr. Rayne had not cross-questioned me, as I naturally had expected him to do, nor had he asked for my credentials. In addition he had fixed my salary at six hundred pounds, without even inquiring what wages I wanted.

Obviously a character, an oddity, I said to myself as I passed out of the hotel.

Had I suspected then that Mr. Rudolph Rayne was the sort of “oddity” I later found him to be, I should have refused to accept the situation even had he offered me two thousand a year.

Though, during the interview, my attention had been more or less concentrated on Mr. Rayne, I had not been so deeply engrossed as to fail to notice an exceptionally beautiful, dark-eyed girl, who had entered while we had been speaking and who was seated on a settee a little way off. She, too, had stared very hard at me.

Mr. Rayne was accompanied on that journey to Yorkshire by the pretty dark-eyed girl who was his daughter Lola, and by his valet, a very silent, stiff-necked, morose individual, whose personality did not attract me. He seemed, however, to be an exceptionally efficient person, so far as his duties were concerned, and on our arrival at the little wayside station about twelve miles beyond Thirsk, where we had changed trains, he proceeded to take charge of the luggage, all but the suit-case which I still carried.

Outside the little station a magnificent Rolls limousine, colored a dull gray, awaited us, and when the luggage had all been put on it, Mr. Rayne surprised me by asking me to take the wheel then and there.

“My chauffeur left last week, but Paul will show you the road,” he said, as the valet seated himself beside me. “Overstow is about ten miles off.”

I don’t know why it was, but that girl’s dark eyes seemed to haunt me. She was just behind me with her father, and twice when I had occasion to look round to ask Mr. Rayne some question or other, I found her gaze fixed on mine, which, foolishly I will admit, disconcerted me.

Mr. Rayne himself addressed me only once of his own accord during the drive, and that was to ask me again if I sang.

“Why the dickens does he want to know if I sing?” was my mental comment when I had replied that I sang a little, without reminding him that he had put the same question to me on the previous day. For an instant the thought flashed across me that perhaps my new employer had some kink in his brain to do with singing; and yet, I reflected, that seemed hardly likely to be the case with a man who in all other respects appeared to be so exceptionally sane.

I was still cogitating this, when the car sped round a wide curve in the road and beyond big lodge gates a large imposing mansion of modern architecture came suddenly into view about half a mile away, partly concealed by beautiful woods sloping down to it from both sides of the valley. Slackening speed as we came near the lodge, I was about to stop to let Paul alight to open the gates, beyond which stretched the long winding avenue of tall trees, when a man came running out of the lodge and made haste to throw the gates open.

My first surprise on our arrival at Overstow Hall–and I was to have many more surprises before I had been long in Mr. Rayne’s service–was at finding that though my employer had quite a large staff of servants, there was not a woman amongst them! Several guests were staying in the house, including a middle-aged lady, called Madame, whose position I could not exactly place, though she appeared to be in charge of the establishment, in charge also of Lola.

Towards ten o’clock next morning the footman came to tell me that Mr. Rayne wanted to see me at once in the library.

“He’s in one of his queer moods this morning,” the young man said, “so you had better be careful. His letters have upset him, I think.”

I thanked the lad for his hint, but on my way to the library, a room I had not yet been in, I missed my bearings, entered a room under the impression that it might be the library, and had hardly done so when the sound of men’s voices in a room adjoining came to me–the door between the rooms stood partly open.

“Are you certain, Rudolph,” one of the men was saying, “that this new chauffeur of yours is the man for the job?”

“Have I ever made a mistake in summing up a man?” I heard Rayne answer. “I always trust my judgment when choosing a new hand.”

Where, before, had I heard the first speaker’s voice? I knew that voice quite well, yet, try as I would, I could not for the life of me place it.

“Yes,” the first speaker replied; “but, remember, in this case we are running an enormous risk. If the least hitch should occur––”

They lowered their voices until their talk became inaudible, and presently I heard one of them go out of the room. After waiting a minute longer I left the room and went along the short passage, which I now knew must lead to the room where I had heard them talking.

Rayne was alone, standing on the hearthrug with his back to the big, open firegrate.

“Did you send for me, sir?” I inquired.

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