The Great Court Scandal - William Le Queux - ebook

The Great Court Scandal ebook

William Le Queux

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”The Ladybird will refuse to have anything to do with the affair, my dear fellow. It touches a woman’s honour, and I know her too well.” „Bah! We’ll compel her to help us. She must.” „She wouldn’t risk it,” declared Harry Kinder, shaking his head. „Risk it! Well, we’ll have to risk something! We’re in a nice hole just now! Our traps at the Grand, with a bill of two thousand seven hundred francs to pay, and ‘the Ladybird’ coolly sends us from London a postal order for twenty-seven shillings and sixpence–all she has! „

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Liczba stron: 358

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Contents

PREFACE. WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

PROLOGUE.

I. CONCERNS A COURT INTRIGUE.

II. HER IMPERIAL HIGHNESS.

III. THE REVELATIONS OF A COMMONER.

IV. HIS MAJESTY CUPID.

V. SOME SUSPICIONS.

VI. THE HOUSE OF HER ENEMIES.

VII. A SHAMEFUL TRUTH.

VIII. IS MAINLY ABOUT THE COUNT.

IX. THE THREE STRANGERS.

X. THE PERIL OF THE PRINCESS.

XI. DOOM OR DESTINY.

XII. "AN OPEN SCANDAL!"

XIII. THE MAN WITH THE RED CRAVAT.

XIV. IN SECRET.

XV. THE SHY ENGLISHMAN.

XVI. LIGHT FINGERS.

XVII. IN WHICH "THE MUTE" IS REVEALED.

XVIII. THE LADYBIRD.

XIX. LEUCHA MAKES CONFESSION.

XX. THE HERMIT OF HAMMERSMITH.

XXI. LOVE AND "THE LADYBIRD."

XXII. SHOWS HINCKELDEYM'S TACTICS.

XXIII. SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

XXIV. ROMANCE AND REALITY.

XXV. SOME UGLY TRUTHS.

XXVI. PLACE AND POWER.

XXVII. A WOMAN'S WORDS.

XXVIII. CONCLUSION.

PREFACE. WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

WILLIAM LE QUEUX, one of the most popular of present-day authors, was born in London on July 2, 1864. He has followed many callings in his time. After studying art in Paris, he made a tour on foot through France and Germany. Then he drifted into journalism, attaching himself to the Paris “Morning News.” Later, he crossed to London, where he joined the staff of the “Globe” in the Gallery of the House of Commons. This was in 1888, and he continued to report Parliament till 1891, when he was appointed a sub-editor on the “Globe.” Along with his work as a journalist he developed his faculty for fiction, and in 1893 resigned his position on the press to take up novel-writing as a business. His first book was “Guilty Bonds” published in 1890. Since that date he has issued an average of three novels a year. One of Mr. Le Queux’s recreations is revolver practice, and that may account for the free use of the “shooting iron” which distinguishes some of his romances.

PROLOGUE.

“THE Ladybird will refuse to have anything to do with the affair, my dear fellow. It touches a woman’s honour, and I know her too well.”

“Bah! We’ll compel her to help us. She must.”

“She wouldn’t risk it,” declared Harry Kinder, shaking his head.

“Risk it! Well, we’ll have to risk something! We’re in a nice hole just now! Our traps at the Grand, with a bill of two thousand seven hundred francs to pay, and `the Ladybird’ coolly sends us from London a postal order for twenty-seven shillings and sixpence–all she has!”

“She might have kept it and bought a new sunshade or a box of chocolates with it.”

“The little fool! Fancy sending twenty-seven bob to three men stranded in Paris! I can’t see why old Roddy thinks so much of her,” remarked Guy Bourne to his companion.

“Because she’s his daughter, and because after all you must admit that she’s jolly clever with her fingers.”

“Of course we know that. She’s the smartest woman in London. But what makes you think that when the suggestion is made to her she will refuse?”

“Well, just this. She’s uncommonly good-looking, dresses with exquisite taste, and when occasion demands can assume the manner of a high-born lady, which is, of course, just what we want; but of late I’ve noticed a very great change in her. She used to act heedless of risk, and entirely without pity or compunction. Nowadays, however, she seems becoming chicken-hearted.”

“Perhaps she’s in love,” remarked the other with a sarcastic grin.

“That’s just it. I honestly think that she really is in love,” said the short, hard-faced, clean-shaven man of fifty, whose fair, rather scanty hair, reddish face, tightly-cut trousers, and check-tweed suit gave him a distinctly horsey appearance, as he seated himself upon the edge of the table in the shabby sitting-room au troisième above the noisy Rue Lafayette, in Paris.

“`The Ladybird’ in love! Whatever next!” ejaculated Guy Bourne, a man some ten years his junior, and extremely well, even rather foppishly, dressed. His features were handsome, his hair dark, and outwardly he had all the appearance of a well-set-up Englishman. His gold sleeve-links bore a crest and cipher in blue enamel, and his dark moustache was carefully trained, for he was essentially a man of taste and refinement. “Well,” he added, “I’ve got my own opinion, old chap, and you’re quite welcome to yours. `The Ladybird’ may be in love, as you suspect, but she’ll have to help us in this. It’s a big thing, I know; but look what it means to us! If she’s in love, who’s the jay?” he asked, lighting a cigarette carelessly.

“Ah! now you ask me a question.”

“Well,” declared Bourne rather anxiously, “whoever he may be, the acquaintanceship must be broken off–and that very quickly, too. For us the very worst catastrophe would be for our little `Ladybird’ to fall in love. She might, in one of her moments of sentimentality, be indiscreet, as all women are apt to be; and if so–well, it would be all up with us. You quite recognise the danger?”

“I do, most certainly,” the other replied, with a serious look, as he glanced around the poorly-furnished room, with its painted wood floor in lieu of carpet. “As soon as we’re back we must keep our eyes upon her, and ascertain the identity of this secret lover.”

“But she’s never shown any spark of affection before,” Bourne said, although he knew that the secret lover was actually himself. “We must ask Roddy all about it. Being her father, he may know something.”

“I only wish we were back in London again, sonny,” declared Kinder. “Paris has never been safe for us since that wretched affair in the Boulevard Magenta. Why Roddy brought us over I can’t think.”

“He had his eye on something big that unfortunately hasn’t come off. Therefore we’re now landed at the Grand with a big hotel bill and no money to pay it with. The Johnnie in the bureau presented it to me this morning, and asked for payment. I bluffed him that I was going down to the bank and would settle it this evening.”

“With twenty-seven and sixpence!” remarked the clean-shaven man with sarcasm.

“Yes,” responded his companion grimly. “I only wish we could get our traps away. I’ve got all my new rig-out in my trunk, and can’t afford to lose it.”

“We must get back to London somehow,” Harry said decisively. “Every moment we remain here increases our peril. They have our photographs at the Prefecture, remember, and here the police are pretty quick at making an arrest. We’re wanted, even now, for the Boulevard Magenta affair. A pity the Doctor hit the poor old chap so hard, wasn’t it?”

“A thousand pities. But the Doctor was always erratic–always in fear of too much noise being made. He knocked the old fellow down when there was really no necessity: a towel twisted around his mouth would have been quite as effectual, and the affair would not have assumed so ugly a phase as it afterwards did. No; you’re quite right, Harry, old chap; Paris is no place for us nowadays.”

“Ah!” Kinder sighed regretfully. “And yet we’ve had jolly good times here, haven’t we? And we’ve brought off some big things once or twice, until Latour and his cadaverous crowd became jealous of us, and gave us away that morning at the St. Lazare station, just when Roddy was working the confidence of those two American women. By Jove! we all had a narrow escape, and had to fly.”

“I remember. Two agents pounced upon me, but I managed to give them the slip and get away that night to Amiens. A good job for us,” the younger man added, “that Latour won’t have a chance to betray his friends for another fifteen years.”

“What! has he been lagged?” asked the horsey man as he bit the end off a cigar.

“Yes, for a nasty affair down at Marseilles. He was opening a banker’s safe–that was his speciality, you know–and he blundered.”

“Then I’m not sorry for him,” Kinder declared, crossing the room and looking out of the window into the busy thoroughfare below.

It was noon, on a bright May day, and the traffic over the granite setts in the Rue Lafayette was deafening, the huge steam trams snorting and clanging as they ascended the hill to the Gare du Nord.

Guy Bourne was endeavouring to solve a very serious financial difficulty. The three shabbily-furnished rooms in which they were was a small apartment which Roddy Redmayne, alias “The Mute,” alias Ward, alias Scott-Martin, and alias a dozen other names beside, had taken for a month, and were, truth to tell, the temporary headquarters of “The Mute’s” clever and daring gang of international thieves, who moved from city to city plying their profession.

They had been unlucky–as they were sometimes. Harry Kinder had succeeded in getting some jewellery two days before, only to discover to his chagrin that the diamonds were paste. He had seen them in a bad light, otherwise, expert that he was, he would never have touched them. He always left pearls religiously alone. There were far too many imitations, he declared. For three weeks the men had done themselves well in Paris, and spent a considerable amount in ingratiating themselves with certain English and American visitors who were there for the season. Kinder and Bourne worked the big hotels–the Grand, the Continental, and the Chatham, generally frequenting the American bar at the latter place each afternoon about four o’clock, on the keen lookout for English pigeons to pluck. This season, however, ill-luck seemed to constantly follow them, with the result that they had spent their money all to no purpose, and now found themselves with a large hotel bill, and without the wherewithal to discharge it.

Guy Bourne’s life had been a veritable romance. The son of a wealthy country squire, he had been at Eton and at Balliol, and his father had intended him to enter the Church, for he had an uncle a bishop, and was sure of a decent preferment. A clerical career had, however, no attractions for Guy, who loved all kinds of sport, especially racing, a pastime which eventually proved his downfall. Like many other young men, he became mixed up with a very undesirable set–that unscrupulous company that frequents racecourses–and finding his father’s door shut to him, gradually sank lower until he became the friend of Kinder and one of the associates and accomplices of the notorious Roddy Redmayne– known as “The Mute”–a king among Continental thieves.

Like the elder man who stood beside him, he was an audacious, quick-witted, and ingenious thief, very merry and easy-going. He was a man who lived an adventurous life, and generally lived well, too; unscrupulous about annexing other people’s property, and therefore retaining nowadays few of the traits of the gentleman. At first he had not been altogether bad; at heart he hated and despised himself; yet he was a fatalist, and had long ago declared that the life of a thief was his destiny, and that it was no use kicking against the pricks.

An excellent linguist, a well-set-up figure, a handsome countenance, his hair slightly turning grey, he was always witty, debonair and cosmopolitan, and a great favourite with women. They voted him a charming fellow, never for one moment suspecting that his polished exterior and gentlemanly bearing concealed the fact that he had designs upon their jewellery.

His companion, Harry Kinder, was a man of entirely different stamp; rather coarse, muscular, well versed in all the trickery and subterfuge of the international criminal; a clever pickpocket, and perhaps one of the most ingenious sharpers in all Europe. He had followed the profession ever since a lad; had seen the interior of a dozen different prisons in as many countries; and invariably showed fight if detected. Indeed, Harry Kinder was a “tough customer,” as many agents of police had discovered to their cost.

“Then you really don’t think `the Ladybird’ will have anything to do with the affair?” Guy remarked at last, standing beside him and gazing aimlessly out of the window.

“I fear she won’t. If you can persuade her, then it’ll all be plain sailing. They’ll help us, and the risk won’t be very much. Yet after all it’s a dirty trick to play, isn’t it?”

His companion shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Roddy sees no harm in it, and we must live the same as other people. We simply give our services for a stated sum.”

“Well,” declared Kinder, “I’ve never drawn back from any open and straightforward bit of business where it was our wits against another’s, or where the victim is a fool or inexperienced; but I tell you that I draw a line at entrapping an innocent woman, and especially an English lady.”

“What!” cried Bourne. “You’ve become conscientious all at once! Do you intend to back out of it altogether?”

“I’ve not yet decided what I shall do. The only thing is that I shall not persuade `the Ladybird’ either way. I shall leave her entirely in Roddy’s hands.”

“Then you’d better tell Roddy plainly when he comes back. Perhaps you’re in love, just as you say `the Ladybird’ is!”

“Love! Why, my dear Guy–love at my age! I was only in love once–when I was seventeen. She sat in a kind of fowl-pen and sold stamps in a grocer’s shop at Hackney. Since then I can safely say that I’ve never made a fool of myself over a woman. They are charming all, from seventeen to seventy, but there is not one I’ve singled out as better than the rest.”

“Ah, Harry!” declared Guy with a smile, “you’re a queer fellow. You are essentially a lady’s man, and yet you never fall in love. We all thought once that you were fond of `the Ladybird.’”

“`The Ladybird!’” laughed the elder man. “Well, what next? No. `The Ladybird’ has got a lover in secret somewhere, depend upon it. Perhaps it is yourself. We shall get at the truth when we return to town.”

“When? Do you contemplate leaving your things at the Grand, my dear fellow? We can’t. We must get money from somewhere–money, and to-day. Why not try some of the omnibuses, or the crowd at one of the railway stations? We might work together this afternoon and try our luck,” Guy suggested.

“Better the Cafe Americain, or Maxim’s to-night,” declared Kinder, who knew his Paris well. “There’s more money there, and we’re bound to pick up a jay or two.”

At that moment the sharp click of a key in the lock of the outer door caused them to pause, and a moment later they were joined by an elderly, grey-haired, gentlemanly-looking man in travelling-ulster and grey felt hat, who carried a small brown kit-bag which, by its hotel labels, showed sign of long travel.

“Hulloa, Roddy!” Kinder cried excitedly in his Cockney dialect. “Luck, I see! What have you got?”

“Don’t know yet,” was the newcomer’s reply, his intonation also that of a born Londoner. “I got it from a young woman who arrived by the rapide at the Gare de l’Est.” And throwing off his travelling get-up he placed the kit-bag upon the table. Then touching a spring in the lock he lifted it again, and there remained upon the table a lady’s dressing-bag with a black waterproof cover.

“Looks like something good,” declared Guy, watching eagerly.

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