The Hand of Power - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Hand of Power ebook

Edgar Wallace

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The name, „Edgar Wallace”, threads through early twentieth century crime fiction like a stream that turns out to be a lot deeper and wider than you thought. During the 1920’s and 30’s, it was said that one of every four books read in England was written by Wallace, who ultimately produced 173 books and 17 plays. „The Hand of Power” is a tale about the sale of a desk designed by a butler who murdered his wife. This book has all the aspects of good mysteries from around 1930 – a beautiful woman, a young man infatuated with her, a secret society, an evil man, lots of twists of plot, and a surprise ending. It takes place in London and elsewhere in England and on an ocean liner. Highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle.

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Liczba stron: 534

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Contents

I. THE MEN OF THE MOOR

II. DR. LAFFIN COMMANDS

III. PAWTER’S SERVICES

IV. CAPTAIN HARVEY HALE

V. BENSON

VI. BETTY CONSENTS

VII. AT THAMES HEAD

VIII. THE PROUD SONS

IX. NO-ARREST BULLOTT

X. THE DESK STORE

XI. MR. LAMBERT STONE

XII. THE MAN FROM NOWHERE

XIII. THE MESSAGE

XIV. THE LOCKED ROOM

XV. GETTING IN

XVI. THE NOVITIATES

XVII. BROTHER JOHN

XVIII. A SHOT IN THE STREET

XIX. THE MAN IN CHARGE

XX. THE INITIATION

XXI. JENNY HAMSHAW

XXII. DR. LAFFIN’S OFFER

XXIII . GONE!

XXIV. THE DREAM

XXV. BETTY DOES NOT REMEMBER

XXVI. A TALK WITH DR. LAFFIN

XXVII. RAGUSA TALK

XXVIII. THE SEEN PRIOR

XXIX. A STRANGE OCCURRENCE

XXX. DOPE

XXXI. IN EPPING FOREST

XXXII. TOBY MARSH GOES TO A PARTY

XXXIII. THE LISTENER IN THE CHIMNEY

XXXIV. MR. PAWTER EXPLAINS

XXXV. THE PRIORY

XXXVI. THE GRAND PRIOR SHOWS HIS HAND

XXXVII. A TRIP TO DEVON

XXXVIII. A MAN AND A MAID

XXXIX. THE TEST

XL. THE WOMAN WITH THE JUG

XLI. FLORETTE COMPLAINS

XLII. AN ADDITIONAL PASSENGER

XLIII. ON BOARD THE “ESCORIAL”

XLIV. BETTY’S FEAR

XLV. “SIR JOHN AND LADY WILFORD”

XLVI. THE BLUE BOTTLE

XLVII. AN ATTACK IN THE NIGHT

XLVIII. A RADIO FROM NEW YORK

XLIX. BULLOTT EXPLAINS

L. THE EVENING OF THE BALL

LI. THE CONTROL

LII. CHANGED CONDITIONS

LIII. BILL HAS A PLAN

LIV. IN THE WIRELESS HOUSE

LV. THE “THOMAS INLAND”

LVI. HARVEY HALE AND LAFFIN

LVII. WARSHIPS

LVIII. TOWARD THE FOG

LIX. THE SIREN

LX. THE MAN IN CONTROL

LXI. BULLOTT MAKES AN ARREST

LXII . BULLOTT’S STORY

I. THE MEN OF THE MOOR

A GALE of wind and rain swept across the barren face of Dartmoor, that ancient desolation. The howl and shriek of it came to Betty Carew above the rattle and roar of the motor engine as the old car grunted and groaned up the steep hill.

The lights of Tavistock had long since disappeared. Princetown was three miles beyond the crest of the hill. About them was an infinite loneliness, and the sobbing of wind that drove the needle-sharp sleet into their faces. The yellow-faced old man who drove did not speak–he had not spoken since they left Tavistock; would not willingly break his silence before they reached Exeter–or after.

The car laboured up the twisting road, skidding and sliding from left to right, and with every lurch the girl’s heart came into her mouth.

At the top of the hill the full force of the gale caught them and all but brought the car to a stand-still. Rain smacked viciously against the screen, whipped under the lowered brim of her hat, thrashing her face till it smarted intolerably.

“Don’t you think we’d be wise if we went back to Tavistock?”

She had to raise her voice to a scream before he heard her.

“No!”

The answer came like a pistol shot, and she said no more. Dr. Laffin had bought the car cheap at a sale of Army derelicts–it had been old before the requisitions of war had called it for military service. It served him well enough; gave him the illusion of economy at a moment when economy was necessary. He had a small starveling property on the edge of the moor, a farm where a ploughshare touched rock every rood or so. His tenant was a man who complained regularly and paid his rent occasionally. The further illusion of proprietorship almost compensated Dr. Laffin for other deficiencies.

West of Princetown the wind slackened and normal speech was possible.

“You won’t try to get beyond Exeter to-night?” asked the girl nervously. It was not beyond the bounds of possibility that he would continue the journey to London.

“I don’t know.” His tone was uncompromising.

Betty could have said something unpleasant, but wisely held her tongue. They skirted the prison fields; the lights of the car showed momentarily the ugly arch before the jail, and a muffled figure leaning upon a rifle beyond the gate; and in another minute they had passed through Princetown and were facing the winds of the open moor.

In spite of her oilskin coat, the girl was soaked through; she was cold and stiff and hungry, and for the first time in her life thought longingly of the grim house in Camden Road. Then, to her surprise, the man spoke.

“This is better than play-acting… living reality… there are spirits in this place I can feel them. Hail thou!”

His hand came off the driving wheel and was raised in stiff salute. Betty, shivering with terror, shut her eyes tight.

Play-acting! If that wretched road engagement hadn’t come to an abrupt end–at Tavistock of all places in the world, and, by a hideous coincidence, at the very moment Joshua Laffin was making a half-yearly visit to his “property”!

“There are evil things chained to the dark!” His voice prim, emotionless, pierced the whine and flurry of gale and engine. “Terrors undreamt of by shallow minds… what of the forty million spirits of Atlantis?”

She put her hands to her ears, and the next moment could have shrieked her fears. Ahead of them gleamed a red spot of light in the very centre of the road. It was like a fiery eye glowering from some cyclopean socket.

The car jangled and shuddered to a standstill before she saw the figure with the red lantern.

The lights of the car were poor, aged oil-burning lamps, and the man who had swung the lantern showed dimly. He seemed to be dressed in a long, close-fitting gown like the habit of a monk…. Her mouth opened wide in wonder and fear–the head was shrouded in a cowl that covered the face–and she saw only a gleam of eyes behind narrow slits cut in the cloth.

“May I speak to you, please?” said the cowled man, and now she saw that he had a companion, a sombre companion similarly attired.

“What is it? What is the meaning of this foolery?” grated Joshua Laffin.

The man walked to his side and said something in a tone so low that Betty could not hear a word.

“Huh… well, I am–”

Laffin’s voice sank to a rumble, and for a minute or two they carried on a conversation in an undertone. Presently:

“I’ll draw the car up by the side of the road,” said Dr. Laffin, and, twisting his head toward the girl: “You’ll wait here.”

“Here!” she said, aghast. “In the middle of Dartmoor… alone!”

“This gentleman will look after you–there is no occasion for panic. I would not leave you if there were.”

He indicated the shadowy form of the second “monk” standing just outside the spread of the lamp’s rays.

Betty made no answer, but watched Laffin and his sinister companion till they disappeared in the darkness.

The second man did not stir. Vainly she tried to keep her eyes away from the cowled face.

Laffin had been gone a quarter of an hour, when there came a sound that added to the fearfulness of the night. The deep boom of a bell… She tried to locate it and failed.

Dong!

Again, and then…

The faint sound of voices–deep-chested voices of men chanting.

Dong!

She was trembling in every limb. What did all this portend? She looked round nervously. The man still stood where he had been, watching–what? She had a feeling that he was listening too, his ears strained–for what?

An hour passed before she heard feet on the hard road and somebody saying “Good-night.” It was the doctor and he was returning alone: he must have left his guide somewhere in the darkness. When she looked, the second man had disappeared as if he had vanished into the earth.

Laffin cranked up his car and climbed in.

“Who were they?” she asked.

He did not reply, and the car jerked on its way. She had added one more to the many questions he never answered.

Fifteen months later he offered a solution to the riddle of the moor: but this she did not know.

II. DR. LAFFIN COMMANDS

BETTY CAREW listened, aghast. In that gloomy, dusty room, ill-lit, badly ventilated, redolent of musty paper and ancient leather bindings, she had heard many fantastic views and commands expressed by Dr. Joshua Laffin, but never one so bizarre as this.

“I don’t quite understand.” She was speaking no more than the truth. “Why do you wish me to do this?”

He took a pinch of snuff from a tortoiseshell box, replaced the box on the table and leant back in his high-backed chair, his dark eyes fixed on hers. He wore his customary black, and in the candle-light and against the dark background he was just a long, yellow face and a pair of lined, thin hands that moved restlessly.

“I give you neither ‘why’ nor ‘wherefore’,” he said, in a queer voice that had something of the softer notes of an owl in it; the whoo-ing of a man who habitually spoke through lips that were pursed as if to whistle. “I command. You know me, Elizabeth. I will have my way. Especially now. One has had disappointments; certain plans have miscarried. In this last matter there must be no hitch. As you know, I am but the servant of others–not of this plane.”

He waved his hand to the shadowy corners of the room, and the girl experienced all the old terror that this gloomy house had inspired in her during the fourteen years she had been an inmate.

“Here is Kama, the tamed Nemesis, vitalised by my genius. Here the great Manasuputra, divine force of beneficence,” he said. “You, who might have become acquainted with these mysteries, preferred the transient pleasure of sense.”

An old story and an old reproach that left her unperturbed.

“My immeasurable superiority to the world,” he went on, “and, therefore, to its opinions, should have helped you to overcome any stupid qualms. You are vain, you are conceited, just as all girls with a title to prettiness are vain and conceited. Your ego is distorted. Contact with me, which would have humbled most people, has merely puffed you up with pride. I am not even flattered. I would wish that my greatness abashed you. But no! Charity child, workhouse child, though no decent man or woman could know the truth about you without shrinking in horror, you persist in opposing your wishes, your ‘whys’ to my instructions. Gutter brat, gallows child, scum of the very dregs, I cannot teach you humility!”

He did not raise his voice in anger; the epithets fell in his cold, finicking tones, like the tappings of cold rain upon glass.

She was neither distressed nor amused. The candlelight played upon the mouldings of a spiritual face, singularly lovely. Another mystery than that he spoke about was in the shadowed eyes, mystery in the dusky shadings of her throat. Only the glory of her hair persisted, as superior to the meagre illumination as Dr. Laffin was to the world.

Dr. Laffin saw nothing of beauty in her through his hard, brown eyes, that glared without winking, vulture-like in their dispassionate intensity.

“I may be all these things,” said Betty calmly, “and yet feel a natural diffidence at sitting in a shop window for people to gape at me. I see no sense in it. I don’t profess to be a great actress–I know I’m not–but I love my profession too much to let it down in the way you suggest. What am I supposed to advertise?”

A gesture answered her.

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