The House on the River - Fred M. White - ebook

The House on the River ebook

Fred M White

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Barnes Place – the house, fascinated everyone who saw it. However, his host, Ralph Enderby, didn’t care much about him and saw the house as a week-end office where he entertained his friends and weaved those business schemes which had made his name a byword amongst the City men who knew. One evening Enderby, as always was not at home. This took advantage of an attacker who tried to steal something from the safe. It turned out that it was a girl who was unhappy with the frauds of Ralph Enderby and in the safe was evidence that he wanted to ruin the life of a young woman.

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Liczba stron: 269

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Contents

Chapter I. In The Library

Chapter II. On The Common

Chapter III. In The Garden

Chapter IV. The Skeleton At The Feast

Chapter V. A Bootless Errand

Chapter VI. The Sanctuary

Chapter VII. The Involuntary Host

Chapter VIII. “When Thieves Fall Out…”

Chapter IX. A Helping Hand

Chapter X. As From The Dead

Chapter XI. Kent Knows Something

Chapter XII. Missing

Chapter XIII. “Friend Or Foe?”

Chapter XIV. A Letter From Claw

Chapter XV. Written Evidence

Chapter XVI. The Man At The Window

Chapter XVII. Rogues In Council

Chapter XVIII. The Search

Chapter XIX. A Fight For Freedom

Chapter XX. The Gold Cup

Chapter XXI. The Dollar King

Chapter XXII. The Trap

Chapter XXIII. The Boat Express

Chapter XXIV. The Weasel’s Teeth

Chapter XXV. Click!

Chapter XXVI. The Open Door

CHAPTER I. IN THE LIBRARY

Outside, it was a thick November night, with now and again a rift in the bank of fog, with a sheaf of misty stars, half blurred against a sky of indigo. A warm night withal, and with a hint of rain behind, the gentle breeze that fanned the lights on Barnes Common and set them trembling in a waving ribbon of fire. Somewhere in the distance a church clock was chiming the hour of nine.

Barnes Place stood out against the gloom as it had done any time the last four centuries, for it was a survivor in an area of constant change, and one of the landmarks along the river. Not that Ralph Enderby cared much about that, not that he valued the beautiful old-world gardens and the ancient lawns or the old oak with which the house was panelled through out, because he cared for none of these things, except as the outward semblance of his wealth, and his credit in the city. To him it was no more than a week-end office where he entertained his friends and, weaved those business schemes which had made his name a byword amongst the city men who knew, though, outside that class, he was popular enough and passed as a good sportsman and a good fellow. He was a member of most prominent golf clubs, he wore the M.C.C. tie on occasion, and his handicap at Sandwich was three.

The house stood, silent and solitary, in the darkness of the night. Apparently Enderby was away, for no lights shone out across the fog, except one over the hall door, and the whole place might have been deserted to all outward appearance, though, behind the closely drawn blinds in the library, with its French windows opening on to the terrace, the electrics were ablaze and the door leading into the hall stood open. From somewhere out of the dim recesses of the hall there came a faint murmur, not unlike the ripple of a telephone bell, only more mechanical and dull, as if the bell had been muffled. In the big oak-panelled room itself, with its old prints and its book-lined walls, a solitary figure stood in front of an old-fashioned safe which rested in an angle. It was a small, youthful figure, alert and quick, with furtive eyes darting here and there, from time to time as if the intruder was half-afraid of being discovered at any moment. It was a slender figure, too, not unlike that of a woman, though the rough tweeds and the cloth cap at the back of the small head were masculine enough. At the burglar’s feet was a bag of up-to-date tools, including all the latest appliances of the predatory art, such as an acetylene flame, and the last word in the way of wedges and cutting instruments.

For quite a long time the man in front of the safe worked on, till, at length, the hinges of the safe gave way, and the door fell open.

Apparently the burglar knew what he was looking for, for his eyes lighted with triumph and a chuckle of pleasure escaped him. He swooped on the safe like a hawk, and a second later had concealed a bundle of papers in the inside pocket of his coat. At that moment the clicking, whirring sound ceased, and the burglar rose to his feet.

“I think that will do,” he said to himself. “Yes, I think that will do very well. Perhaps it would be––”

The intruder broke off suddenly as he turned at a slight noise that came from the direction of the window curtains in an angle of the room that was hidden from the doorway, and, as the curtains parted, a face looked in.

It was a man’s face, a pleasant face with regular features and a clear slate-blue eye, the face of a younger man, unmistakably an athlete, though his hair was quite grey and fell in thick locks over the intruder’s forehead. Then a finger was upraised as if commanding silence, and the youthful burglar stepped across the room towards the window.

“I think that will do, George,” he said aloud. “You had better ask Mr. Enderby to come this way.”

Out of the blackness of the hall the hidden George responded suitably, and then, with a sudden change of manner, and a suggestion of almost fear in his eyes, the burglar crossed over to the window where the intruder was standing, half-hidden by the curtains.

“It’s all right, Ennie,” the intruder said. “For God’s sake don’t raise an alarm, and, whatever you do, don’t let Enderby know I am here. I want five minutes; just five minutes at that safe. I must have it.”

The youthful burglar faltered. And then, as she removed her cap, it became plain enough that it was a woman who was doing this thing. A young woman with a touch of flame in her abundant hair, and a look, half mischievous, half frightened, in a pair of brown eyes as innocent and clear as those of a child, but full of a certain audacity. It was quite plain, too, that she was on the best of terms with the white-haired, brown-skinned athlete who stood, half-concealed behind the curtains.

“I had to come, Ennie,” he said. “There is devil’s work going on here, and that scoundrel Enderby is at the bottom of it. He is trying to ruin me and Ted Somerset and the proofs are in that safe. I know they are–he brought them down with him to-night. I watched him place them in the safe. Ah, if only I could have caught him when he was crossing the common! But the devil always looks after his own, and I was five minutes too late.”

“But Mickey,” the girl began.

Michel Quint made an impatient gesture.

“There’s no time to explain,” he said. “I’ll do that later on. I have been waiting for a couple of hours for my chance. Then I recollected that you were coming down here to-night to be filmed in the burglary scene of that big crook drama of yours. It was just as if providence had played into my hands. But Lord! I am wasting time. Here let me––”

Michel Quint strode into the room, just as a footstep echoed in the hall, and he had scarcely time to conceal himself again before Ralph Enderby entered.

A thin, tall man, about fifty, with grey hair, sparse and thin, and a furtive expression on a face that he strove in vain to render genial and good-natured, Enderby was suspect by those who knew him, though he found it easy enough to impose himself on outsiders. He came forward now, and held out a flabby hand to Ennie Barr, and paid her a fulsome compliment or two in his own repulsive fashion. For he was a great man in the cinema world, the controlling shareholder in the “Open Road” Company, and he knew, full well, the value of his star artiste. He knew that she was young and beautiful. He knew that she had come to him from America, but, beyond that, he knew nothing, and Ennie Barr was not in the least likely to enlighten him.

“Ah, so it has been a success, young lady,” Enderby said, in that familiar way of his that always filled Ennie with disgust and loathing. “But, of course, it was. Why my dear child, how pale you look! I am afraid you have been throwing yourself too much into your part. The operator tells me that he has never seen you do anything better. But come into the dining room, come and have supper with me. A glass of champagne, and a cold grouse, or something of that sort.”

“I’d much rather not,” Ennie said coldly. “I have a taxi waiting for me outside now.”

“Oh, nonsense,” Enderby said. “You must have something. Are you cold? Why, you’re trembling. By Jove, I believe someone’s left the window open.”

Ennie stood there, holding her breath. Her face had grown pale though her lips were steady enough, for it seemed to her that Michel Quint must be discovered. She could see the curtain shake and then it seemed to her that she could catch the faint echo of a footstep on the terrace outside. When Enderby crossed and drew the curtains back to close the window, Ennie saw, to her immense relief, that Quint was no longer there. So great was the relief that she laughed aloud. Meanwhile, the safe door stood open, with the precious papers to obtain which Michel Quint had taken so great a risk, still intact inside.

“Ah, that’s better,” Enderby smiled. “Here, come along. Just a glass of champagne and a biscuit, anyhow. I hoped I should have the pleasure of motoring you back to town. Now, confess it, Miss Ennie, wasn’t it a good idea of mine to have that scene from your big drama filmed down here? That’s going to be one of our biggest successes, and I don’t mind telling you I’ve got a far bigger thing than that up my sleeve. What do you say to a new invention by which we can make our characters stand out like real figures on the stage, and get them to speak in perfect time with their action. You know what I mean. Well, let me tell you it will be done before long.”

“Do you actually mean that, Mr. Enderby?” Ennie asked.

“My dear girl, it’s as good as done. I’ve got everything in that safe yonder. It’s only a matter of the necessary machinery. But come along.”

“My tools,” Ennie exclaimed. “I must not forget them. They were borrowed for me by Mr. Michel Quint from a friend who is a great criminologist. Quite as a favour you understand, and I wouldn’t lose one for worlds.”

With that the famous film actress gathered up her implements and placed them in her bag. She was cool and collected enough now, outwardly, at any rate, and was only too anxious to find herself outside the house. She drew a long deep breath when the door of the taxi closed behind her.

“Thank goodness, that’s over,” she said to herself.

“On the contrary, my dear Ennie,” a quiet voice by her side said. “I’m afraid it’s only just beginning.”

It was Michel Quint who spoke.

CHAPTER II. ON THE COMMON

A little cry broke from Ennie’s lips.

“Michel,” she exclaimed. “How did you get here?”

“Oh, that was easy enough,” Quint said. “I slipped into the taxi when our driver was fraternizing in the kitchen, and I trusted to the darkness to help me. Now, are you going to drive straight back to London.”

“I don’t know,” Ennie said. “I picked up this taxi at the station. But what do you want me to do?”

“That I hardly know,” Quint confessed. “It all depends upon circumstances. Let me try and explain, and when I have explained, we can either go back to London together or dismiss this man and return by train. Ennie, do you know that I am in danger of arrest at any moment?”

“Oh, Michel,” Ennie cried. “What have you done? I can’t conceive you doing anything wrong.”

“I’ve been a fool,” Quint groaned. “A perfect fool. You know all about me. During the year you’ve been sharing my sister’s flat you have seen quite enough of me to know that I am a good bit of a rotter.”

“You’re nothing of the sort, Mickey,” Ennie said indignantly. “You’re one of the best and kindest men in the world. I know no one who has more friends.”

“Ah, that’s just it,” Quint muttered. “I’ve got a jolly sight too many friends. It’s all very well to be an International Rugger hero and an ex-amateur champion golfer, but you can’t do that sort of thing on two pence per week. After all, any fool can be good at sport, though I’ve only come to realize it lately. But all this time when I’ve been a little tin god in my way, welcomed in country houses, and having my photograph in the paper once a week, I’ve been living on next to nothing. And I was never a sponge, Ennie, never. I ought to have passed my final medical examination by this time, instead of which I lave been running about the country with a bag of golf clubs, or posing to the gallery in Richmond Old Deer Park. Look here, Ennie, I haven’t got a bob; worse than that, I owe a goodish bit. So when Ralph Enderby asked me to join him in a big sport’s enterprise I jumped at it. And so did Ted Somerset. You know old Ted, one of the very best, but an awful ass, so far as business is concerned. Well, I got him to come in, too. I introduced that invention of his––”

“What invention,” Ennie asked quickly.

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