The Green Pack - Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis - ebook

The Green Pack ebook

Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis

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The Green Pack” is a novel adapted from a successful play by the playwright Robert Curtis. Robert Curtis was the private secretary to British crime writer Edgar Wallace. Curtis and Wallace met for the first time in 1913, before parting following the outbreak of World War One, as Curtis had to do his military service. In 1916, he was discharged from the service after contracting malaria. In 1918 he was reunited with Wallace who employed him as his secretary, he had the task of copying out Wallace’s dictations, this task he accomplished at such a speed that he was known as the fastest secretary in England. He accompanied Wallace on his travels, and was rarely from the side. After Wallace’s death, he completed some of Wallace’s unfinished manuscripts and turned several plays and film scripts into novels in the style of Wallace as well as writing several original novels.

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Liczba stron: 370

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER I

Mount Lodge, Kensington, bore every outward sign of respectability. It stood detached in its own grounds, a solid, sedate, dignified mansion, discreetly withdrawn from the road, with a massive portico over its front door and a massive iron gate in its high surrounding wall.

A relic, obviously, of the austere days of hansom cabs and chaperones, when no lady rode on the top of an omnibus, and the glimpse of a well-shaped ankle would set a young man writing poetry, it gave an impression of rigid conventionality and seemed to stand frowning with heavy disapproval at an age of cocktails and night clubs, in which it declined to take part.

On the gate, as a protest against the vulgar intrusions of modern life, was a small metal plaque bearing the words, “No Hawkers, No Circulars.” Monty Carr, who rented the place from a landlord who regarded as a godsend any tenant willing to relieve him of the rates and had not even troubled to take up Monty’s unimpeachable references, once remarked that, had there been the least likelihood of the addition proving effective, he would have added the words, “No Police.”

Not that the police had ever betrayed interest in Mount Lodge. If the constable on whose beat it lay had been asked what he knew of the house, he would have replied that it was just an ordinary residence, and continued with the more serious business of noting the numbers of the cars which had overstayed their two hours’ welcome in the neighbouring park–an attitude of mind which Monty Carr considered to be a tribute to his skill and discretion. For there was little that was ordinary about Mount Lodge,

The only room patronized by Louis Creet was on the ground floor, on the left of the hall–a fact which, had the police ever made a tour of inspection of the house, must have redounded to his credit in some degree and would possibly have saved him from anything more serious than a fine.

In Room A, as it was called, on any night they might have chosen for their visit, the police, provided they had evaded the complicated system of alarm signals devised by the ingenious brain of Monty Carr, and had effected their entrance unannounced, would have come upon a picturesque scene: a spacious, lofty room, with heavy curtains drawn close across the windows and a thick pile carpet that caressed the feet; in darkness save for a patch of brilliance beneath a shaded electric light that hung low over the table; a haze of tobacco smoke; in the dimness that fringed the pool of light, the shadowy outlines of men and women seated around the table–white shirt-fronts and ivory shoulders; and, on the green cloth, ashtrays, glasses, a dainty wisp of handkerchief, a scattering of cards, little heaps of brightly coloured counters, a woman’s shapely arm, a man’s hand with restless fingers.

It was here that on one occasion a certain subaltern of the Guards, owing to the utterly unexpected behaviour of the ace of clubs, tossed a four-figure check across the table to Monty Carr and two minutes later, on the steps of Mount Lodge, placed the muzzle of a service revolver against the roof of his mouth and pressed the trigger. This inconsiderate action on the part of an officer and a gentleman had annoyed Monty Carr, for it was only with the greatest difficulty that the affair had been hushed up. Prudence, moreover, had demanded that the four-figure check should not be presented for payment.

Comparatively, however, Room A was a place of innocent amusement. Mount Lodge had other rooms. Since the night when, in one of the rooms upstairs, some puritanical young woman had started screaming, a powerful radio-gramophone had been installed in the hall, and the butler had instructions to set it going whenever occasion arose. It was set going quite frequently. Louis Creet, when he heard it, would glance at Monty Carr and give a queer sort of smile.

Tonight the radio-gramophone was silent, but none the less, as Monty Carr slipped a card from the pack and turned it face upwards on the table in front of Jacqueline Thurston, Louis gave a quick glance in Monty’s direction. It was scarcely perceptible; his eyes just shifted for an instant to Monty and then returned to Jacqueline’s face.

Jacqueline, as she saw that the card dealt to her was the ace of diamonds, could scarcely restrain the exclamation that rose to her lips. The colour rushed to her cheeks, and her eyes grew suddenly bright with excitement. Novice as she was compared with the other players around the table, she had learned enough from her few previous visits to the room with Louis Creet to realize the significance of that ace of diamonds. The ace of clubs and the ace of spades had already been dealt to other players, and there was only one card left in the pack–the ace of hearts–which could beat hers. Jacqueline had no idea what the chances were against Monty turning up the ace of hearts, but she knew that the probability of his doing so was so remote that it need not seriously be considered.

“Ace of diamonds, Jacqueline,” remarked Monty, and glanced enquiringly towards her.

Jacqueline’s mind was in a turmoil, and she sat staring at the card, uncomfortably conscious of silence in the room and of the dozens of eyes watching her. A chance like this might never come again as long as she lived, and if she staked her usual £100. But that would be idiotic. The others had backed their aces for £300, and their chances had been nothing like as good as hers; and what, if she won, would be the use of a pound to her? It would help her out of none of her troubles. If she missed a chance like this she didn’t deserve to be helped. If only she dared... enough to clear up everything and put her straight...

“No limit tonight, Jacqueline,” came Monty’s voice. “Any stake you like. I’m here to be shot at.”

The girl glanced up and nodded.

“Thanks, Monty,” she said, in a voice which she hardly recognized as her own. “I–I’ll make it–a thousand.”

Monty Carr’s impassive face relaxed into a faint smile. But Jacqueline did not see it; her whole attention was riveted on his slender white fingers as, steady and unhurried, they balanced his cigarette on the edge of an ashtray and moved towards the pack of cards in front of him.

She was making a tremendous effort to appear calm. She had seen others win and lose far more than a thousand pounds without the flicker of an eyelid, and had realized that in Room A the least display of emotion was considered not quite good form. She did her utmost not to fall below the Room A standard; but Louis Creet, watching her closely, noted the whitened knuckles of her hand as it rested on the table, and the pulse throbbing in her neck.

With a deft flick, Monty Carr slipped the top card from the pack, and as it fell face upwards on the table, it seemed to Jacqueline for one suffocating moment that all the blood in her veins went suddenly surging to her heart and as suddenly drained away again–to pound against her temples, pulsate in her throat, and cloud her eyes so that all she could see was a blurred vision of the card which lay exposed in front of her. Monty Carr had turned up the ace of hearts.

She sat rigid, her mind in a panic, conscious that critical eyes were watching her as she stared at the blurred red pip of the card, not daring to turn her gaze from it and meet the glance of Monty Carr across the table. Once she did that, she would have to say something to him, and she had no idea what she could say.

“Hard luck, Jacqueline,” came Carr’s voice

She looked across at him. With the hint of a smile on his thin lips he was coolly shuffling the cards. Jacqueline forced herself to smile “Beginner’s luck won’t hold forever,” she laughed. That’s a thousand I owe you, Monty. I’ll send you a check, may I?”

One of Monty Carr’s eyebrows just perceptibly rose, but he nodded, and began to deal the cards again Jacqueline pushed back her chair and rose

“Miss me, Monty,” she said. “I’m through for tonight. Louis is going to take me home.”

Louis Creet rose and followed her from the room and a few minutes later they were seated together in his limousine as it purred along Kensington High Street. Jacqueline was silent, gazing, with puckered forehead, at the back of the chauffeur’s head, and nervously drumming her knee with her fingers. It was Louis’s voice, smooth and soothing as the purr of the engine, that broke the silence.

“I must congratulate you, Jacqueline,” he said “It was magnificent. You took it with a nonchalance worthy of a hardened gambler. It takes a very hardened gambler to smile, as you did, over the loss of a thousand pounds.

The girl glanced at him.

“If it had been a thousand pence, Louis, I probably shouldn’t have smiled. But a thousand pounds–” she shrugged. “I can’t pay, so why worry?”

Louis raised his eyebrows.

“Can’t pay?”

“Of course I can’t; and Monty won’t expect me to pay. He knew the bet wasn’t serious. He took it as a joke.”

Creet pursed his lips.

“If I were you, Jacqueline,” he said, “I wouldn’t count too much on Monty’s sense of humour.”

She looked round at him quickly.

“You don’t think that Monty might really expect–”

“My dear girl,” interrupted Louis, “I’m afraid you don’t appreciate the position. You seem to imagine, with charming feminine inconsequence, that you can contract a debt of honour, and then, if it is inconvenient to pay, airily dismiss it as a joke. But visitors to Mount Lodge don’t indulge in that sort of joke. If they lose, they pay; if they win, they expect to be paid. Monty Carr will expect to be paid–”

“A thousand pounds?” She laughed. “Monty knows as well as you do that I couldn’t write a check for ten.”

Louis shook his head.

“You visited Mount Lodge as my guest, and Monty would assume that you would meet your obligations. I don’t relish the idea of a guest of mine taking her winnings and shirking her losses.”

“Louis, you’re being poisonous.”

“Only frank, my dear. If you’d won a thousand from Monty you’d have expected him to pay, wouldn’t you?”

She gave a little shrug.

“I suppose so,” she admitted, and stared again at the chauffeur’s head. Then she turned suddenly to her companion and laid a hand on his arm.

“Louis,” she said, “I’ve been every sort of a fool.”

He smiled.

“Losing a thousand makes us all feel like that, Jacqueline–”

“Oh, I didn’t mean that particularly,” she interrupted. “I’ve made a hash of things all round lately, and I’m not feeling desperately in love with myself I haven’t done a single thing during the last six months that has really been worth doing. I’ve just fooled around with a crowd of wasters and never given a thought to anything but chasing after some new thrill and being just a bit more stupidly up-to-the-moment than anyone else. But somehow nothing has seemed to matter since–”

She paused and shrugged her shapely shoulders.

“The fact is, I’m up to my neck in debt, and I’m scared. Fooling around as I’ve been doing costs money, and I’ve borrowed and run up bills, and things can’t go on. But it’s all right, Louis; I’m not going to sob my heart out on your shoulder. Give me a cigarette and talk of something pleasant.”

Creet produced his case.

“And if luck had been with you tonight,” he said, “the thousand pounds would have put you right. Was that the idea?”

She nodded.

“Something had to be done,” she said. “Things really are pretty septic–I owe nearly three hundred–and messing about on the Stock Exchange has only made matters worse. I was crazy with worry tonight, and when Monty dealt me that ace I suddenly saw daylight. It looked like an act of Providence. With three aces out there was practically no chance of Monty turning up the fourth.”

“And as he did so, you propose to pretend that the whole thing was a joke and back out of paying? It won’t do, Jacqueline,” he said decisively. “You must at least make some effort to pay him. You owe me that much consideration. Perhaps, after all, the simplest way out of the trouble would be to make a clean breast of everything to Dr. Thurston. Your father would be the first to say that a debt of this kind–”

She turned to him quickly.

“Father must know nothing about it,” she said sharply. “I’ve got into the mess, and it’s up to me to get out of it.”

“It isn’t a very pleasant task, I admit,” said Creet. “But if you feel you can’t face it, I should be quite willing to explain matters to your father for you. In fact, if you refuse to tell him and can suggest no reasonable alternative, I’m inclined to think it will be my duty–”

“Father is not to know,” interrupted Jacqueline, with sudden vehemence. “He has no idea what sort of a rotter I’ve been making of myself lately, and I don’t intend that he shall know. It’s not cowardice; it’s because it would hurt him abominably, and he doesn’t deserve to be hurt like that. Besides, you don’t suppose he has a thousand pounds to give to Monty, do you?”

“In a case like this, when the honour of his daughter is concerned, any man would do his utmost to pay the debt. I don’t profess to know anything of your father’s financial position, but I don’t imagine the payment of a thousand pounds would reduce him to penury.”

She shook her head.

“You can cut Father right out of it, Louis,” she said. “He hasn’t got a thousand pounds in the world. He’s had a pretty rough time lately. He was saying yesterday that he was far better off as an ordinary G.P., curing measles and whooping cough, than he is as a specialist in Harley Street. He never knows now where the next five pounds is coming from. I don’t care particularly what Monty thinks of me, but I do care what Father thinks, and I don’t intend to let him and Mother suffer because I’ve been an idiot.”

“All very noble and dutiful, Jacqueline,” said Louis, “but unfortunately it doesn’t help. Unless you can suggest some other means of finding the money, I must, in justice to myself–”

“If you dare to breathe a word to Father or Mother, I’ll never forgive you.” She laid a hand on his sleeve and glanced at him with pleading eyes. “Louis, promise me–please!” she begged. “They’re both such dears, and they think so much of me, and they’ve had a dreadfully thin time lately, and I simply can’t let them down. And I won’t let you down, either. If Monty really expects me to pay, I’ll manage it somehow. Leave it at that, Louis, will you?”

He laid a hand on hers.

“Very well, my dear,” he said. “Since it means so much to you, I’ll leave it at that.”

She squeezed his arm gratefully.

“Thanks, Louis–and I won’t let you down,” she said again. “I’ll fix things with Monty somehow.” She smiled faintly. “And if I can’t possibly pay him, you needn’t worry. I’ll make it quite clear to him that Louis Creet is an honourable man.”

As the car pulled up outside a large block of flats she glanced out of the window and turned to Louis.

“I thought you were taking me home?”

He smiled as he opened the door and got out.

“Stimson is going to mix you one of his famous cocktails,” he laughed, “and you’re going to inspect my bachelor quarters, as you’ve so often promised to do. I’ll take you home afterwards.”

He saw her hesitation and smiled again.

“The proprieties?”

“Well, it’s rather late–”

“Louis Creet is an honourable man,” he laughed, and with a shrug she got out of the car and followed him towards the lift.

CHAPTER II

During the two years of Louis Creet’s progress from the position of her father’s wealthiest patient to that of a trusted friend of the family, though she had been almost everywhere with him, from such innocuous amusement as is found at the Zoological Gardens to the somewhat less innocent entertainment provided at Mount Lodge, Jacqueline Thurston had never visited his flat; and now, when Stimson had relieved her of her cloak, she glanced curiously round the room into which Louis led her.

“If you will excuse me, Jacqueline,” he said, “I’ve a phone call to make. Stimson will mix you a drink.”

The girl nodded, seated herself in a corner of the big settee by the fire, and, when the manservant had supplied the cocktail, continued her inspection of the room. She had a theory that a room was always a true reflection of the character of its occupant; but it puzzled her to reconcile Louis and this apartment.

It was large and lofty, with windows in two walls; the corners were rounded, and the walls merged into the ceiling in graceful curves. The windows were uncurtained and shuttered; the floor of highly polished parquet was bare of even a rug, and the mahogany furniture, though obviously expensive, was of the plainest design without a trace of ornament. Jacqueline decided that it might well be the room of an austere but wealthy ascetic. She had never thought much about Louis Creet, but that description did not seem to fit him. She could not decide whether she liked the room or hated it.

The few ornaments that were in it–some pieces of choice porcelain and a couple of exquisitely carved ivories–she certainly liked. They struck her as a flat contradiction of her theory of an austere ascetic, as did the low, luxurious couch on which she was sitting, and the alabaster statuette on the mantelpiece.

It was the figure of a dancing girl, undraped, a beautiful example of the sculptor’s art. Jacqueline picked it up, gazed at it thoughtfully, and suddenly replaced it. She searched for the right word to describe it and could not find it. But emphatically she did not like it.

Louis came in and paused at the door, gazing at her.

“The riddle is solved,” he laughed. “I’ve always felt, Jacqueline, that this room just fell short of perfection, but I could never decide what it lacked. Now I know. It needed the presence of a beautiful woman.”

Jacqueline shook her head.

“What it needs more than anything else,” she laughed, “is curtains and a few cushions and a rug or two on the floor. At present it’s rather like–well, a hospital ward.”

With a smile he crossed the room and seated himself beside her.

“A hospital ward has the advantage of being hygienic, my dear,” he said. “Rounded corners and no rugs or curtains are a fad of mine. Corners and rugs and curtains mean dust, and dust means germs. You can’t be too careful.”

Jacqueline smiled. She remembered now. It was common knowledge that Louis Creet was convinced that space was packed with innumerable millions of deadly bacteria intent on inhabiting his person. There was a drawer in his desk stocked with every conceivable drug calculated to discourage their invasion. She knew that he was constantly swallowing tablets from a small silver box which he carried in his waistcoat pocket, and that regularly once a week he made an appointment with her father to undergo a thorough medical overhaul, and as regularly telephoned to say that he was perfectly well and the examination would be waste of time. “A bit of a hypochondriac” was how she had heard her father describe him; but she had never suspected a room with rounded corners and uncarpeted floor. Now she understood: it was nervousness rather than austere taste that accounted for its bareness, and the figure of the dancing girl might not be so incongruous after all.

“I’ve just been on the phone to Monty Carr,” announced Louis. “I’m afraid it’s a case of paying up and looking pleasant. Monty took the bet quite seriously and is expecting your check in the morning. I’m afraid, Jacqueline, that unless you can find some way of settling with him he is quite capable of making himself a nuisance. He’d probably consider himself justified in approaching your father–”

“But, Louis, he mustn’t–you mustn’t allow him–”

“I can hardly hope to prevent him, my dear. But we will hope it won’t come to that. Perhaps if we put our heads together we can find some way to set matters right. I might possibly be of some use myself.”

She glanced at him sharply.

“You?”

He smiled.

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