The Grey Woman - Fred M. White - ebook

The Grey Woman ebook

Fred M White

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Often in the stories written by Fred M. White the main character is mysterious. The model of such a hero is George Verily, Ex-Company Sergeant-Major. He was madly in love with his maid. However, he could not even decide on the first step. Some of the events that occurred recently in front of George Verili made him believe that an unforeseen circumstance could happen...

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Liczba stron: 397

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Contents

I. THE GOLD SNUFF-BOX.

II. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY.

III. THE APHRODITE CLUB.

IV. PAMELA SEES IT THROUGH.

V. SINISTER HOUSE.

VI. INSIDE.

VII. INTRODUCING PRINCE SERGIUS PHASY.

VIII. THE STORY OF A SIN.

IX. A SPIDER’S WEB.

X. STOLEN!

XI. ROGUES IN COUNCIL.

XII. A SURPRISE FOR MUSGRAVE.

XIII. IN THE STUDIO.

XIV. PAMELA WAKES UP.

XV. A MATTER OF FINANCE.

XVI. THE WOMAN IN WHITE.

XVII. RATTY DUTTON OBLIGES.

XVIII. THE EMBOSSED ENVELOPE.

XIX. NO THOROUGHFARE.

XX. GLENTOWER.

XXI. THE OLD MILL.

XXII. S.O.S.

XXIII. HERONSPEY AT BAY.

XXIV. JULIE CORTI.

XXV. HERONSPEY MOVES.

XXVI. HARTLEY HORNE BREAKS SILENCE.

XXVII. THE OTHER WOMAN.

XXVIII. STILL ANOTHER WOMAN.

XXIX. THE YALE LATCHKEY.

XXX. THE RUINED MILL.

XXXI. THE MILL LOFT.

XXXII. MARY’S LITTLE WAY.

XXXIII. PAMELA HEARS SOMETHING.

XXXIV. AFTER MANY YEARS.

XXXV. GATHERING THREADS.

XXXVI. THE SNUFF-BOX AGAIN.

XXXVII. MARY COTTON’S TRUMP CARD.

XXXVIII. GAS!

XXXIX. ELINOR HERONSPEY.

XL. ELINOR’S STORY.

I. THE GOLD SNUFF-BOX

Ex-Company Sergeant-Major George Verily, V.C., took the early morning tea tray, with its orange pekoe and the thin toast, from the pretty parlourmaid, and proceeded to the Captain’s room. It was almost part of George’s ritual to speak of his employer, Mr. Joseph Musgrave, as the Captain. In point of fact, Musgrave had been no more than a mere private in the Great War, and the man who now served him as a valet and factotum had been his superior officer. And when the strife was over, Joe Musgrave had come back to something a little better than mere civilisation, and had taken George Verily with him, and the latter had remained more or less in command of Number 4 Mayfair Mansions ever since. Some of these days George would probably marry Mary Cotton, the parlourmaid, and start an establishment of his own. Meanwhile, he was perfectly content to serve a kind-hearted and generous master, who was wise enough in his day and generation to appreciate a really good servant when he had one.

Verily had started life in a small tailor’s shop somewhere off Holborn. There he had learnt the art of repairing and pressing clothes, and the general care of wardrobes belonging to the minor aristocracy, who had to be careful in such things. There had been a time when George had cherished certain vague ambitions, but, four years of Armageddon had knocked all that out of him, and he was only too glad when the time came to avail himself of the offer that Musgrave had made him.

Between the two there was a kind of half-intimacy that was not displeasing to George Verily. He had a fine appreciation of the lighter side of inconsequent humour, in which Musgrave was a past master–not an unusual flair in a man who enjoys perfect health and an income which is more than his needs, despite the stern demands of the super-tax collector. So, for five years or more, this queer, lopsided friendship had gone on, much to Verily’s benefit, and was likely to continue until Musgrave abandoned his bachelor habits and settled down to what he himself called fettered responsibility. And certain events which had recently come under the eye of George Verily, led him to believe that such a contingency was not so remote as he and the pretty parlourmaid, Mary Cotton, had imagined.

Verily stole on respectful tip-toe into his master’s bedroom and drew back the blinds, letting in the sunlight of what promised to be a beautiful morning. He approached the bed with its luxurious hangings as Musgrave opened a pair of sleepy blue eyes and came back to the consciousness of his splendid young manhood. He sat up, a towsled figure in orange silk pyjamas.

“Morning, George,” he said. “The tea. Ah, yes. Nice morning. What am I going to do to-day?”

“Well, sir,” Verily murmured. “Your birthday, I think, sir.”

Musgrave took a gulp of his tea and those fine white teeth of his bit into the crisp toast.

“By Jove, so it is,” he exclaimed. “Another of those dashed things, George. Why, I think I remember having one just a year ago. Am I thirty-three or thirty-four? Dashed if I don’t forget which. Milestones, George, milestones on the road of life. It’s a solemn thought. According to all the philosophers and writers who devote themselves to showing us the path of progress, I have reached a time when youth must be served. At least, so they say, though they take dashed good care to keep youth in the background as much as possible. But let’s get back to more serious things. What did I tell you I was going to do to-day? I expect you to remember these things, George.”

“I do my best, sir,” Verily said, with a solemnity fitting the question. “You were going out this morning to buy a wedding present for the Honourable Lionel Desmond.”

“Ah, yes, so I was. Extraordinary thing, George, how the spirit of adventure lures us on. Here is Desmond, with everything he wants, plunging headlong into matrimony, much in the same spirit as a man trying a new brand of champagne. It might be my own fate one of these days, George.”

“I should think that it is extremely likely, sir,” Verily said. “You always were venturesome.”

“Venturesome!” Musgrave laughed. “That is rather good, George. But these modern girls, eh, what?”

George was under the impression that there was not very much wrong with the modern girl, if you regarded her from the proper angle. He might have said a good deal more had he been inclined, but, after his modest opinion remained silent.

“And what else was I going to do?” Musgrave asked.

“Take a lady out to lunch, sir. Then spend the afternoon on the new ice rink. And then, unless I am wrong, sir, you are dining at the Cosmopolis with Miss Pamela Dacre and Miss Daphne Lyne, together with Mr. James Primrose. And I think you said something about going on to a dance-club afterwards.”

“Perfectly right George,” Musgrave agreed. “I remember it all now. Turn on my bath water and get the boxing gloves out. We’ll just have ten minutes with them before I bath and breakfast. That will do.”

So Musgrave and his man set to heartily, after which followed a hearty breakfast, and then, beautifully turned out, Musgrave sauntered into the sunshine with the intention of making a purchase or two and spending an hour or so at the club.

He found himself presently in a by-street off Soho. He was going to buy a wedding present for a friend without having the least idea as to what shape the present would take, which is a frame of mind common to most people in search of wedding offerings. Cigarette cases and cuff links and waistcoat buttons wandered through his mind. For a little time he stood outside an old curiosity shop studying the various treasures in the window. Presently an object there attracted his attention. He turned resolutely into the shop and asked to see the platinum watch chain in the window. A little man behind the counter with a huge hooked nose and a curious accent laid the chain before his prospective purchaser. He knew his business, did the Jew dealer, so that, in a minute or two there were other tempting objects displayed before Musgrave’s eyes. There were not many of these, but Musgrave could see that they were choice. He had an eye for that sort of thing, so he was not a little interested.

“I’ll take the chain,” he said. “How much did you say it was? Seventeen pounds. Yes. Here, what’s this?”

As he spoke, Musgrave’s manner changed. He bent eagerly over what appeared to be a shallow gold snuff-box. It was some five inches in length and the same in width, with a thin base and, by comparison, a thick, heavy lid. On the top was some fine filigree work, and, in the centre of it a medallion of a woman’s head painted on ivory, and protected by an oval sheet of crystal let into a narrow claw-like frame.

“By Jove,” Musgrave murmured. “By Jove!”

“Is there anything wrong, sir?” the little man behind the counter asked anxiously. “You haf seen that case before, yes? It is to you von memory.”

“Well, in a sense,” Musgrave said. “But I can assure you I have never seen that box before.”

“Ve never know,” the shopkeeper said. “Ve do our best, but zometime ve get things offered for zale by der thieves. And den the police make trouble. I get him from a zailorman, and because he is valuable, I ask the zailorman his name and address. I give him for that case ten pound.”

“And jolly cheap, too,” Musgrave laughed. “A very nice piece of work, Old French, I should say. If you will accept a fiver on your bargain, I will take it off your hands.”

The man behind the counter hastily agreed, and Musgrave walked out of the shop with the two purchases in his pocket. He seemed very thoughtful as he strolled towards his club.

“It’s a wonderful likeness,” he murmured to himself. “Making an allowance for the difference in the age and the dress, and the way the hair is arranged, it might be one and the same. There could hardly be a chance likeness like that.”

The long day of ease and luxury wore on until Musgrave lounged back to his flat and dressed leisurely for his birthday dinner. He was inviting no more than an old friend and Pamela Dacre, the girl he intended to marry, together with Daphne Lyne. Pamela he had known ever since she was a child. She was one of those peculiar products of modern Society, concerning which so much has been written in the public Press during the last ten years. The typical modern Society Girl who affords so many stray guineas to writers who affect to see in her the coming decay of the British Empire. The bachelor girl, who lives entirely for herself and who has no ideas beyond sport and dancing and the wearing of clothes. The cocktail girl, turning night into day and burning up her physical energy what time she ought to be thinking about the future of the race. There was a certain grain of truth in this, so far as Pamela was concerned, because, so far, she had pursued her ruthless, selfish way along the perilous path without need for the feelings of others. And there was an air of mystery, too, about Pamela Dacre. Nobody quite knew who she was. She had been educated in England and Paris, she was seen everywhere and known to everybody; but who her people were and where she came from nobody cared to ask. She appeared to have the command of considerable money which she derived directly from an elderly lawyer of the Tulkinghorn type who lived in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. And because this Hartley Horne was attorney to a score of great country families, and seeing that he tacitly vouched for Pamela’s unimpeachable respectability, nobody asked any questions and everybody took Pamela for granted. It is one of the characteristics of the age.

As to Pamela’s beauty and charm, there were no two opinions. And as to her birth and breeding the mere sight of her was a satisfactory answer. It was her pose at the mature age of twenty-three to be bored and weary of the world, and as one who had sucked life’s orange and found it dry. There were few people who knew what lay under this shallow crust of painted artificiality, but Musgrave was one of them and, though he carefully disguised his sentiments, he had watched over her and cared for her more than a brother during the last three years.

It would be absurd to believe that a girl like Pamela, with her cleverness and her knowledge of the world, was ignorant of Joe’s feelings. But whether she was or not, she made no sign, though, sooner or later, she knew that she would have to come to a decision. There was no suggestion that she was lonely or desolate, or that there were times when she bared her soul to herself and asked that self certain searching questions. But these thoughts Pamela kept entirely to herself. And so the pose went on.

It was characteristic of Pamela that she lived in a tiny flat where she was looked after by a mysterious elderly female, and that she came and went just as she pleased. Nobody asked any questions and there was no scandal, simply because Pamela Dacre was just Pamela Dacre and no man could ever boast that she had thrown him a flower or showed him a favour.

But it was not altogether a happy Pamela who came back to the flat, tired out after a day’s motor racing on a private track in Sussex and changed into one of her most striking costumes to go out to dine when she would far rather have gone to bed.

II. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY

It was an hour later that Pamela drifted into the palm lounge of the Cosmopolis with a weary air of one who has been surfeited on Dead Sea fruit. She wanted a watching world to know that she had been everywhere and done everything, that she had shed all her illusions at the early age of twenty-three. There are lots of Pamelas like that in these times, but very few carry it off in the finished way peculiar to our particular Pamela.

She looked so exceedingly pretty and alluring, with her slim boyish figure, the liquid grey eyes, and the rebellious brown-bronze hair clustering round her shapely head. With it all, she had that semi-insolent, semi-patronising air which proclaims breeding all the world over. She seemed to carry all the insolence and courage which go with a score of sheltered generations and the subsconsciousness of race, with it all a sense of power and knowledge, because there were few things that Pamela could not do, and do well. She rode like Diana of the Chase, she could handle a gun with the best of them, and at tennis and golf she was to be taken almost religiously. Small wonder, then, that this spoilt child of the gods should carry herself before the eyes of men and women as if she were the heiress of the ages.

But, to put it quite plainly, she was an exceedingly spoilt young woman, allowed to go entirely her own way since her school days, with more money to spend than was good for her, and only casually looked after by that snuffy old guardian of hers, who sat in Lincoln’s Inn Fields amongst the dusty cobwebs, like some bloated old spider whose whole life is devoted to the guardianship of family secrets. Thus, Pamela, as she drifted into the lounge, conscious, as always, of the sensation she was creating.

As a matter of fact she did not want to be there at all. At the last moment she had dragged herself to the hotel, more out of loyalty to Joe Musgrave than anything else, because she had been out in the open all day and had driven herself back to town in her two-seater at a speed which more than once had threatened to land her in serious trouble. Then, tired as she was, she flung herself into the flimsy sketchiness which modern fashion calls an evening frock and had come round to the Cosmopolis, feeling rather more dead than alive.

She dropped wearily into a seat and nodded to her companions who had been patiently awaiting her coming. She was half asleep and made no effort to conceal the fact.

“Cheerio, people,” she drawled. “Cheerio. But, tell me, why this atmosphere of gentle melancholy?”

“You are jolly late,” Musgrave ventured almost timidly.

“Is that all? I call half an hour’s grace a miracle of punctuality. I motored back from Haddon without any tea and when I got home I was almost too exhausted to change. What an ungrateful beast you are, Joe. Daphne, you look topping. Wearing the family pearls, and all.”

Daphne Lyne expanded under the compliment. She was much of the same type as Pamela on a less rapid scale. Pretty and rather clinging, the stamp that settles down eventually in some country home to a life of placid domesticity. But she was not insensible to the compliment Pamela paid her.

“Perhaps I ought not to have worn the pearls, Pam,” she said. “But in honour of Joe’s birthday, don’t you know. I shouldn’t have had them if mother had been at home, but I happen to know where she keeps the key of her safe, and I–well–I sneaked them. Positively for one appearance only.”

“Anyhow, they go jolly well with that coral frock of yours,” Pamela said. “Oh, do wake up, some of you. What are you dreaming about, Joe? A nice host you are. If I don’t have a cocktail I shall never get as far as the dining-room.”

Musgrave summoned the hovering waiter grudgingly. This was the sort of thing in Pamela that he hated. He knew well enough that she possessed a sound mind and a sound body, and that the cocktail business was all part of the pose which she had been assuming for a good many months past. He knew perfectly well that if Pamela never saw another cocktail in her life, it would not cause her so much as a passing pang. And yet–and yet in public places like this she invariably assumed the suggestion that a cocktail to her was as the breath of life.

The discreet waiter stood there non-committally.

“Dry Martini for me,” Pamela drawled.

“Oh, all right,” Musgrave growled. “Waiter, dry Martini for four. Not that I want it–I hate the confounded things myself. However––”

“Not for me, thanks,” Daphne protested.

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