The Island of Terror - H.C. McNeile - ebook

The Island of Terror ebook

H. C. Mcneile



The protagonist, the real adventurer Jim Maitland returns to England. There he meets a charming girl, Judy Draycott, who needs his help. She tells the story of her brother Arthur, who knew where the treasures were hidden, but he was killed. Judy decides to first get to the treasure and asks Jim to help her.

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Liczba stron: 346

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JIM MAITLAND tilted his top-hat a little farther back on his head, and lit a cigarette. In front of him twinkled the myriad lights of London; behind the door he had just closed twinkled the few candles that had not yet guttered out. The Bright Young Things liked candles stuck in empty bottles as their illuminations.

The hour was two of a summer’s morning; the scene–somewhere in Hampstead. And as he walked down the steps into the drive he pondered for the twentieth time on the asininity of man–himself in particular. Why on earth had he ever allowed that superlative idiot Percy to drag him to such a fool performance?

Percy was his cousin, a point he endeavoured unsuccessfully to forget. In fact the only thing to be said in favour of Percy’s continued existence was that since he embodied in his person every known form of fatuitousness, he might be regarded as doing duty for the rest of the family.

He had seen Percy afar off in the club before dinner, and with a strangled grunt of terror had fled into the cloak-room only to realise a moment later that he had delivered himself bound hand and foot into the enemy’s hands. For the cloak-room was a cul-de-sac, and already a strange bleating cry could be heard outside the entrance. Percy had spotted him, and relinquishing the idea of burying himself in the dirty towel basket he prepared to meet his fate.

“Jim, my dear old friend and relative, you are the very bird I want. When did you return to the village?”

He gazed dispassionately at his cousin through his eyeglass, and a slight shudder shook him.

“Hullo! Percy,” he remarked. “I hoped you hadn’t seen me. Are you still as impossibly awful as you were when I last met you?”

“Worse, far worse, old lad. We dine together–what?”

Another shudder shook him; short of physical violence all hope was gone. He was in the clutches of this throw back to the tail period.

“But for the fact that I adore your dear mother nothing would induce me to dine anywhere near you,” he answered. “As it is I happen to be free, so I will.”

“Splendid. And afterwards I shall take you to a gathering of the chaps.”

“What chaps?”

“You’ll love ‘em, old fruit. We have one once a month. Starts about midnight. Just a rag, don’t you know. We’re meeting this time in a cellar up in Hampstead. Beer and bones. Or perhaps scrambled eggs. Or even kippers. Except that kippers whiff a bit in a cellar, don’t they?”

He suffered Percy to lead him to the dining-room, and as he looked round the familiar room it seemed impossible that it was more than five years since he had last been in it. A new face or two amongst the waiters–though not amongst the senior ones, they were all there; a few new faces, of course, amongst the members; otherwise it might have been yesterday that he was dining there with Terence Ogilvy and Teddy Burchaps preparatory to their departure for the interior of Brazil. And of the three of them only he had returned...

“You’re looking very fit, sir.”

He glanced up to find the wine steward standing by the table.

“Thank you, Soames, I am. And you?”

“Much the same, sir. There is still some of the Lafite vintage wine left.”

Good old Soames! Remembering that after five years. And yet–why not? That was life; to him a member’s taste in wine was a thing of paramount importance. Especially, though he did not add this mentally, when the member was Jim Maitland.

That he was a sort of legendary hero in the club, was a fact of which Jim was completely ignorant. And had anyone hinted at it he would either have been annoyed or else roared with laughter. To him a journey to the interior of Turkestan came as naturally as one to Brighton comes to the ordinary man. He had been born with wanderlust in his bones; and being sufficiently endowed with this world’s goods to avoid the necessity of working for a living, he had followed his bent ever since he left Oxford.

And the result, had he known it, would have surprised him. For it was not only in the club that a glamour lay round his name, but in a hundred odd places fringing the seven seas. Anywhere, in fact, where the men who do things are gathered together, you will sooner or later hear his name mentioned. And if some of the stories grow in the telling it is hardly to be wondered at, though in all conscience the originals are good enough without any embroidery.

Talk to deep-sea sailors from Shanghai to Valparaiso; talk to cattlemen on the estancias of the Argentine and after a while, casually introduce his name. Then you will know what I mean.

“Jim Maitland! The guy with a pane of glass in his eye. But if you take my advice, stranger, you won’t mention it to him. Sight! his sight is better’n yourn or mine. I reckons he keeps that window there so that he can just find trouble when he’s bored. He’s got a left like a steam hammer, and he can shoot the pip out of the ace of diamonds at twenty yards. A dangerous man, son, to run up against, but I’d sooner have him on my side than any other three I’ve yet met.”

Thus do they speak of him in the lands that lie off the beaten track, the man with a taste for Château Lafite. And as he sat sipping his wine, warmed to the exact temperature by the paragon Soames, there came the glint of a smile into his eyes. Dimly he was aware that near at hand the impossible Percy was drivelling on, but it seemed as far removed from him as the buzzing of an insect outside a mosquito curtain. White tie, white waistcoat, boiled shirt–and six weeks ago...London: the solidity, the respectability of his club–and six weeks ago...

“Have you ever hit a man on the base of the skull with a full bottle of French vermouth, Percy?” he said suddenly. “I suppose you haven’t. You’d wait for an introduction, wouldn’t you, before taking such a liberty?”

“I don’t believe you’ve heard a word I’ve said, Jim,” answered his cousin plaintively.

“I haven’t, thank God! I heard a continuous droning noise somewhere: was that you?”

“Are you coming to-night?”

“Coming where?”

“I knew you hadn’t been listening. To this meeting of the chaps in Hampstead.”

“Nothing would induce me to. I don’t want to see them, and they don’t want to see me.”

“But they do, dear old lad. I’ve told ‘em about you, and they’re all simply crazy to meet you.”

“What have you told ‘em about me?”

“All sorts of things. You see, I sort of swore I’d bring you along the first possible chance I had, and what could be fairer than this?”

And in the end Jim Maitland had allowed himself to be persuaded. Though he ragged him unmercifully for the good of his soul, he was really quite fond of his cousin: moreover, he was possessed of a genuine curiosity to gaze upon the post-war young in bulk. Since 1918 he had spent exactly seven months in England, so that his knowledge of the genus was confined to what he had read in books.

Presumably they were much the same as the young have ever been au fond. Only conditions to-day afforded them so much more freedom. Certainly the lad Percy could drive a motor-car all right, he reflected. He had one of the big Bentleys. Providence in the shape of a defunct aunt of doubtful sanity endowed him with more money than he knew what to do with. But he drove it magnificently, and Jim Maitland was a man who loathed inefficiency.

The traffic was thinning as they spun across Oxford Street, and Percy who had been silent for nearly five minutes began to give tongue again. He rattled off a string of names–the blokes, as he called them, who would probably be there. And then he paused suddenly.

“By Jove! That reminds me. I wonder if she’ll roll up. The last of these shows I went to,” he explained, “a girl beetled in who was a new one on me. Came with Pamela Greystone and her bunch. And I happened to be talking about you at the time. Well, as soon as this wench heard that you knew something about South America she was all over it.”

“I should think there must be quite a number of people who know something about South America,” said Jim, mildly sarcastic.

“Yes, but I was telling ‘em, you see, that you knew all about the interior.”

“All about the interior!” Jim laughed. “My dear old Percy, draw it mild.”

“Anyway, she’s damned keen to meet you. Got a brother out there or something.”

“As long as she doesn’t feel certain that I must have met him as we were both out there at the same time, I can bear it. What’s her name, by the way?”

“Haven’t an earthly, old lad. As far as I remember, Pamela called her Judy. But I’m not even certain about that. Here we are!”

They drew up in front of a largish house standing in its own grounds. Half a dozen other cars were already there, and two more were in the drive. A large notice board proclaimed that the place was for sale, and Jim remarked on it to his cousin.

“Been for sale for months, old lad. Belongs to the father of one of our push, and he lets us use it. Let’s get in: there’s most of ‘em here already.”

He approached the front door and knocked twice, upon which the top of the letter-box was lifted.

“Pink Gin with guest,” said Percy.

“Pass Pink Gin and guest,” answered a voice, and the door opened.

“To prevent gate crashing,” explained Percy solemnly. “We have a different pass-word each time, and it’s always the name of some drink.”

“I see,” said Jim gravely. “A most necessary precaution. What do we do now?”

“Go below to the cellar and drink beer.”

“Excellent,” remarked Jim. “But why the cellar?”

“My dear old lad, why not?”

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