The House of Mammon - Fred M. White - ebook

The House of Mammon ebook

Fred M White

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The House of Mammon is a new puzzle for readers. John Sairson, an influential businessman, bought a house about five years ago, after Sir George Lugard, the last of his family, was found dead in the library with a gun in his hand. Theories diverged: some suspected that it was a suicide, but others claimed that he was shot. One thing is clear, John Sairson was involved in questionable business. But did he kill his family member?

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Liczba stron: 498

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Contents

Chapter I. Father And Daughters

Chapter II. The Only Man

Chapter III. A Man Of Business

Chapter IV. The Open Window

Chapter V. A Human Document

Chapter VI. The Money God

Chapter VII. The Wheel Within The Wheel

Chapter VIII. A Stately Home Of England

Chapter IX. A Gentleman At Home

Chapter X. The Lord And Master

Chapter XI. "An Enemy Hath Done This Thing."

Chapter XII. A Game Of "Ghosts."

Chapter XIII. Something Missing

Chapter XIV. A Child Of Nature

Chapter XV. On The Border

Chapter XVI. A Lover Of Nature

Chapter XVII. Mr. Rufus Sebag

Chapter XVIII. Crossed Swords

Chapter XIX. Trying The Screw

Chapter XX. In The Open

Chapter XXI. Cross Questions

Chapter XXII. "A Poor Player."

Chapter XXIII. A Blood Relation

Chapter XXIV. A Half Told Story

Chapter XXV. The Midnight Message

Chapter XXVI. The Gentle Exile

Chapter XXVII. A "Star" Turn

Chapter XXVIII. La Veni

Chapter XXIX. Lady Laurisdale Takes A Hand

Chapter XXX. A Ray Of Light

Chapter XXXI. The Cagebirds

Chapter XXXII. The One Way Out

Chapter XXXIII. Plain Speaking

Chapter XXXIV. Into The Darkness

Chapter XXXV. In The House

Chapter XXXVI. Plain Speaking

Chapter XXXVII. Like One From The Dead

Chapter XXXVIII. A Plea For Mercy

Chapter XXXIX. A Master Of Surgery

Chapter XL. An Arrest

Chapter XLI. Towards The Light

Chapter XLII. For The Girl's Sake

Chapter XLIII. Tightening The Cords

Chapter XLIV. An Unexpected Witness

Chapter XLV. The "Ghost" In Evidence

Chapter XLVI. "I Am The Man."

Chapter XLVII. By The Same Hand

Chapter XLVIII. The Chosen Instrument

Chapter XLIX. The Hour Of Reckoning

Chapter L. The Debt Is Paid

I. FATHER AND DAUGHTERS

On either side of the road for the best part of a mile stood the Marlton beeches, which were among the glories of the Grange. This was one of the show drives for visitors staying in the neighborhood of Sheringham and Cromer; they came and admired these glorious beeches, with the tangle of fern and heather behind them, and mildly envied the fortunate possessor of Marlton Grange. Farther along the road a drive had been hewn out of what centuries ago had been a stone quarry, and here was a quaint thatch lodge built so far back as the time of Charles the Second. Beyond this was the park, with its herd of dappled deer and glimpses of the singular, twisted chimney-stacks of the Grange itself.

If the curious visitor asked–as was frequently the case–who lived there, the answer was to the effect that the place belonged to Mr. John Sairson, a London business man. He had purchased the property some five years ago, after Sir George Lugard, the last of his family, had been found dead in the library, with a revolver in his hand. If further details were needed, they were cautiously and grudgingly given. There were folk who said that Sir George had been badly treated. He had been robbed of his property by John Sairson in connection with some transaction. No; Mr. Sairson was not at the Grange very often. He kept up the property, but he did not shoot, or hunt, or play golf. He had a wife and daughters, and there was some talk of a son, but nobody seemed to be quite sure as to that. Mrs. Sairson appeared to be kind and generous, but the young ladies kept themselves to themselves, and practically there were no visitors at the Grange. Half the year Mrs. Sairson and her girls were abroad.

Now here was the making of a romance. Here was the grand house transferred at the end of three centuries from the old family to a new order with the mystery of a suicide hanging over the scene like some sinister shadow. Here were rich people deliberately avoided and shunned by neighbors who were quite ready in the ordinary way to hold out the right hand of friendship to trade itself. The Gilettes, for instance, owed everything to Leicester, and ready-made boots, and the Sylvesters were “in” provisions. Nevertheless, they had the freedom of the cover-side and the golf links and the ballroom, but the Sairsons remained beyond the pale. Nobody precisely knew why, nobody could lay a finger on anything definite, but such was the state of things. There are worse drawbacks than open scandal, and this was one of them.

Mansion and surroundings were very refined and beautiful. The grounds and gardens had never been so well kept, the splendid old furniture in the Grange was intact and undisturbed, a few good modern pictures had been added to the old ones, a new conservatory had been put up here and there. Sairson’s collection of enamelled armor stood in the great hall, possibly the finest specimens in Europe. The Grange was essentially the hiding-place of gentlefolk, and it must be confessed that the Sairsons, mother and daughters, were part of the picture.

The long grey front of the house slept in the misty sunshine, the velvet sheen of the lawn was pierced here and there by the crimson and gold and pallid blue of the flower beds. Beyond lay the park, a diaphanous study in emerald hues. Here and there were glimpses of the sea. The stone terrace was a tangled mass of yellow roses. Over all brooded that suggestion of mellowed peace and dignified detachment which one associates with age and happiness. Below the terrace, with its drip of bloom and wreath of foliage, Mrs. Sairson sat with some silken fancy-work in her hands.

She was not more than middle-aged, the masses of her hair were abundant, a beautiful grey, giving a note of distinction to the ivory tint of her face and the dark brown of her eyes. A quiet and delicate face it was, suggestive of resignation and suffering, mental more than physical. There was some trace of passion in the lines of the sensitive mouth, a reminiscence of tempestuous youth, of a soul that had fretted itself out against the bars of life. The slim hands were working restlessly and nervously, and the voice in which Mrs. Sairson spoke was clear and refined.

“My dear Nest,” she said, “what is the use of talking like that. I am sure you have a great deal to be thankful for. Your father––”

“Mummy, I believe there are times when I hate my father!”

Mrs. Sairson shuddered. A curious pallor increased, if possible, the whiteness of her cheeks, and a look of scorn crept into her eyes. She should have recoiled in horror from such an outburst. Glancing at the girl standing by her side, she could see, as in a glass dimly, the picture of herself some score of years before. Only two-and-twenty years! Surely, it must be longer than that! She saw a tall, slim girl, a defiant head poised under a mass of shining chestnut hair, a dark, wilful, beautiful face, tinged with exquisite coloring, a pair of sorrowful brown eyes, and a little mouth that quivered passionately. Here in the flesh was one of the reasons why Mrs. Sairson had learnt to control herself.

“My dear Nest,” she said, “I cannot permit you to talk like that.”

“Why not?” the girl went on rebelliously. “Don’t you hate him sometimes? If you were not the dearest, sweetest, most delightful old darling in the world––”

Mrs. Sairson smiled; She was not lacking in a sense of humor.

“I was exactly like you at your age.”

“Were you really, dearest? And yet to look at you now! What am I saying! But when I get restless and miserable, as I am to-day, I am ready to say anything. What is the matter with us, mother? Anyone can see that you are a lady, and I’m sure there is nothing the matter with Angela and myself. Why does everybody avoid us as if we had the plague? Why does nobody call? Why don’t you go and see some of the new people? Why does everyone stare at us in that furtive way when they meet us in the road. If father had ever been in gaol––”

“Your father has never been in gaol,” Mrs. Sairson smiled.

“Well, prosecuted, perhaps, escaped by the skin of his teeth; mixed up in some shady business in that horrid city where he spends most of his time!”

“I have never heard anything so absurd,” Mrs. Sairson answered.

“Well, if you say so, of course,” Nest admitted. “All the same, you are keeping something from me. You don’t know how sad and weary you look at times. And I am convinced that Angela knows. If there is any trouble, I have a right to share it. I’m twenty, remember, and haven’t forgotten what happened to Angela and Captain Barr three years ago.”

“Angela has not been alluding to her–her disappointment?”

“She his never said a word to me, mummy. I was seventeen at the time. I daresay you thought I was quite a child at that date, but I wasn’t. When you live under a cloud, as we do, you get–well, precocious; and if ever I saw real happiness it was that night Angela told me she was to marry Jack Barr. They were going to live at Dower House, and all kinds of good times were before me. I was in the drawing-room the night Jack came to see father. I shall never forget his face as long as I live–a sort of sad sternness, as if he had been told that his life was over. Angela, as white as a ghost, told me afterwards that it had all been a great mistake, and that she was not going to be married ever. She said she was glad, and cried herself to sleep as it was getting light. Mother, what does it all mean?”

There were tears in Mrs. Sairson’s eyes as she bent over her fancy work.

“Why did Jack Barr behave so badly?” said Nest, cruelly insistent.

“My dear, he did not behave badly at all. There–there was no alternative. The fault was entirely mine. I have never ceased to regret it. My child, why cannot you be content to leave well alone? You are happy, you are under no shadow––”

“Under no shadow, mother! Why, we live in the shade. It is only when we go abroad that we can be said to have any time at all. But for these few months every summer I should go melancholy mad. Then we see other people and exchange ideas. But nothing ever happens here.”

A neat parlor-maid, dainty in her black and white uniform, came out with a telegram on a salver. Mrs. Sairson read it with a certain vexed amusement in her eyes.

“There is no answer, Palgrave,” she said. “Here is a change for you, at any rate dear. You father telegraphs from London that he has found a prospective tenant for the Dower House. The gentleman will be here to lunch and will stay the night. Your father will be back in time for dinner. It will be a change for you.”

“It sounds promising,” Nest said dubiously. “But I must not build any hopes. Probably the new tenant will be middle-aged and devoted to business. What is his name?”

“It looks like Lugard,” said Mrs. Sairson, consulting the telegram. “Yes, it is Lugard, Cecil Lugard. Strange it should be the same name as the old family who––”

“Not at all,” Nest interrupted eagerly. “Probably a relative of the family who wants to come back to the old neighborhood. Well, I shall be glad to see him, anyway. It is possible he may be an interesting person, a good talker. If he is young, so much the better. I like the name of Cecil. It does not suggest a fat city man in a white waistcoat.”

“You can never tell,” Mrs. Sairson said sapiently. “Mr. Lugard will arrive about half-past twelve, your father tells me, and I am to send the car for him. Afterwards he will probably want to look over the Dower House, and you can take him.”

It was nearly one o’clock when Nest crossed the terrace in the direction of the drawing-room, with an eager curiosity she felt just a little ashamed of. She could hear someone talking easily and pleasantly in a mellow, baritone voice. She stepped through the open window and stood there for a moment, a pretty and graceful picture.

“This is my daughter, Nest,” Mrs. Sairson said. “Mr. Lugard.”

The stranger held out his hand. His expression was at once pleased and puzzled.

“I fancy we have met before,” he observed. “Have you forgotten me, Miss Nest?”

“At Berne,” Nest said with a dazzling smile. “But you did not call yourself Lugard then?”

“No, I was a Franklin at that time. But there was money, you see, if I took the family name. It is very delightful to see you again–and in such a lovely old place as this!”

II. THE ONLY MAN

The ivory pallor of Mrs. Sairson’s face deepened, and she raised her hand to her heart as if conscious of some physical pain there. The beauty of the place, the wide sweep of the lawns, the deer in the park, all seemed to mock her. In a sense Marlton Grange was a prison. There were times when its very grandeur oppressed and saddened her. Hitherto she could console herself that the prison was her own. Escape might be impossible; but, on the other hand, it was not possible for others to get in. And here was the intruder she had always dreaded. He came in desirable shape–in the form that all mothers who love their girls pray for–yet he filled Mrs. Sairson’s soul with dread. She marked the look of pleasure in Lugard’s face, the keen delight and admiration of his eyes. She saw the flush on Nest’s face, the smiling curves of her lips. She began to see with a startling clearness the hidden meaning of certain incidents when they had met this young man at Berne some time ago. Like all true women, she scented the delicate flavor of romance, but the mere suggestion of it filled her heart with terror.

“Mammy, aren’t you going to say something more to Mr. Lugard?” Nest asked.

A graceful phrase or two came from Mrs. Sairson’s lips. It was pleasant to meet Mr. Lugard again. They had been very agreeable days at Berne. Nest often spoke of them.

Lugard smiled as he wondered whether Nest had remembered everything–had mentioned everything. He was under the impression that Mrs. Sairson had deliberately spirited her girls away. He had not connected Mr. John Sairson with his charming acquaintance at Berne; he had dismissed the chance with a smile. The name was the same, of course, but John Sairson did not suggest the proud father of a lovely daughter. He suggested nothing but money.

“Positively I had no idea I was to have this delightful surprise,” Lugard said. “Quite by chance I saw that the Dower House was to let. It occurred to me as a good idea to take it. Though this used to be the family seat, I have never seen it before. I saw that a certain Mr. Sairson was the owner, and I went to see him. That is why I am here.”

“Your idea is to settle in the neighborhood?” Mrs. Sairson asked.

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