The Lady Called Nita - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Lady Called Nita ebook

Edgar Wallace



Few people today would recognize the name „Edgar Wallace” but before his death in 1933 he was a literary force to be reckoned with. He was both prolific and popular and his books reportedly sold at the rate of 5,000 a day. This enjoyable collection includes eight mystery stories by Edgar Wallace: „The Lady Called Nita”, „The Man Who Married His Cook”, „Mr. Sigee’s Relations”, „The Knight Who Could Not Kneel”, „Her Father’s Daughter”, „The Dramatic Butler”, „Diana Helps”, „Con-Lacto Is Strength”. These stories are fast-paced with some surprising twists, well written and great to read. Highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle.

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Liczba stron: 152

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THE lady, called by her intimate friends Nita, stopped at the end of the crowded path which leads to the bandstand.

“Mary, I do not think you need come any farther. Take a park chair and wait for me. I may be an hour–I may be longer. If you see me with–with the gentleman, you will not recognise me by a sign.”

“Yes, mademoiselle.”

“If you think I am being followed, then you may warn me. But I do not think that is likely. M. Goucouldis has no idea that–er–the Prince has any entanglements. But if it should be so that I am watched, then very likely his–agents–will try to get into touch with you. In that case you will tell them that I am Mademoiselle Lemair from Paris. That I am the daughter of M. Lemair, the leader of the Popular Party of Sergovia. If your questioner has a fit at this, send for a policeman: I understand that the English police are trained in first aid.”

“Yes, mademoiselle.”

It was not an unlikely contingency that the agent of M. Goucouldis, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Sergovia, would grow a little faint at even second-hand contact with the daughter of M. Lemair. For M. Lemair’s was a name that is only whispered in Sergovia. For fifteen years he had been exiled from his native land, and though his followers were numerous, they were, under the iron régime of the Chancellor, a trifle inarticulate. What was known as “The Law of 1909” was a comprehensive measure, so framed that it was humanly impossible for a member of the Popular Party to eat, drink or sleep within the confines of the kingdom. The Law of 1909 was a modernised version of the Ten Commandments, created for the preservation of the ruling dynasty, and M. Goucouldis was at once its author and avenging angel.

It might be explained, lest the Chancellor be shown in an unfavourable light, that the Law of 1909 merely replaced the Law of 1903, which made it a penal offence to be a Constitutionalist, and was designed to preserve an altogether different dynasty, and that the high priest of the Popular measure was M. Lemair. In Trans-Balkania, policies are poles apart, and the warmth and comfort of an equatorial toleration is an unknown experience.

On this particular night of July, M. Goucouldis had many worrying thoughts, but the spectre of M. Lemair did not intrude its grisly shape. It was disturbing to him that he was in London, away from his comfortable villa and his subservient bridge partners; more disturbing that he was in attendance upon his Prince; most disturbing of all that his Prince at that moment had dispensed with attendance.

“Diplomacy,” said the Chancellor oracularly, “is the art of stating unpleasant facts inoffensively. It is an unpleasant fact that His Serene Highness refuses to marry; it is a pleasant interpretation of his obduracy that he is wedded to the interest of Sergovia and its people. He may be secretly married already; he may be in love with the unattainable–God knows. In a court like ours I think that it would be impossible that such secrets could be kept. And what constitutes the unattainable to a Serene Highness, I would ask you? Not any woman in this world. Dear no!”

The English of M. Goucouldis was of the best, except that in the matter of idioms he was occasionally at fault. He was a tall, melancholy man, big headed, big nosed, hard mouthed. His blue-grey beard was stiff and uncompromising, his tired eyes held something of tragedy. For he had spent seven years in a fortress prison in the busy days of the Slavola dynasty, when the Popular Party held office, and had seen good men die for their patriotism. That was far away and long ago. The Michaeloffs were firmly established on the throne of Sergovia–there had not been a revolution in fifteen years. In these days he could appear publicly wearing the hated cerise and green ribbon of Sts. Michael and Sofia, without fear that a fanatic’s bullet would spit a viperish protest against his unorthodoxy.

Nowadays the rival Churches of Sergovia dwelt together in harmony–had joint conferences to reconcile the Nestorian theory with that of the Monophysites, and were tolerant of Orders named after unqualified saints.

The Chancellor stared out over the darkening park. From somewhere beyond the flaming rhododendrons came the soft “humph-humph” of an euphonium–the band was playing, and in the gloom, starred now with yellow lights, London was finding relief from the hot work-day.

“It is not easy to watch a Serene Highness,” he grumbled, “and in London especially. In Germany it would be simple, but for the moment Germany is ... And all the time Paul is growing older, and there appears ever before my eyes the nightmare of mésalliance! Sa! At nights I wake up in a sweat, dreaming that I must announce to the Diet that he has contracted marriage with some little dancer from the–the Lyceum? No–Gaiety? These things happen. A Serene Highness is human. He loves and desires; before him is the barrier of virtue and principle. There is no way past but a little door called ‘marriage’... it so often happens. And John is so very English. Here he was educate’, here he was for his boyhood, here he imbibed democracy and similar new movements. Where does he go to-night, you think? To the opera. Ha, ha! If I laugh, excuse! He is there!”

He pointed his strong, stubby finger toward the yellow lights.

“He promenades to the band. Perhaps with an equerry–more likely alone. And a man of romance, you understand? In spite of English training, the cricket game, and the box-fighting! To him the Caliph of Bagdad who wandered incognito amongst his subjects is an adorable figure. But how could any caliph make a mésalliance? Or if he did, having so many wives, it would be a matter of percentage–five per cent, of frightful marriages would hardly be noticeable in a well-arranged harem... and there was always the bow-string and the sack and the Tigris–or is it the Euphrates? I have got so mixed in my geography since the English have been in Mesopotamia–they alter things so.”

His vis-à-vis on the balcony of the Grand Knightsbridge Hotel was a sympathetic Excellency from the Balkans en route to report to Washington his success in the matter of a commercial treaty–a dried-up little man with big white teeth which he showed permanently. Joshua Higginbotham was the most easily amused Excellency that had ever occupied an European Embassy.

“Wa-al,” he drawled, flicking off the ash of his cigar, “romance has its place–especially in court circles. I guess the people like it. It looks fine in two-inch type across the front page–sort of makes the whole world kin. Did you expect to meet the Duchess here in London?”

Goucouldis nodded.

“She is here. Of the most exclusive family, poor but royal. The most desirable of all the matches, though one hears stories of her levity. But that is youth. They say that she plays pranks, has something of the same peculiar obsession of my Serene Highness.”

He reached out blindly for a cigar, found it by touch, and did not speak until he had puffed the end to a glowing red.

“There is sufficient romance for him. Marriage with a lady of such ingenuity would supply him with an interest in life beyond the ordinary.”

“The Duchess Marie–I have heard of her. She is the girl who worked for three months in a West End milliner’s.”

M. Boucoulclis grunted.

“She desires to shock. That was a passion of her sainted mother, to tease, to alarm. Did not that same sainted mother once run away to Siberia and live alone in a tent, with twenty sotnyas of Cossacks of the Don searching for her? Yes, she is full of pranks. But marriage will steady her. And the Michaeloffs are wealthy. Better to be a Crown Princess of Sergovia than a pensioned Duchess of Lemberg. If the accounts I have of her be true, they are made for one another, John and she. And such a marriage would have enormous effects in Sergovia: it would end for ever the poisonous propaganda of the viper Lemair, who from his foul Parisian gutter issues a vile and scurrilous sheet which still circulates in Sergovia, in spite of the efforts of my police.”

They smoked in silence, and then the American asked:

“What are the chances of a mésalliance?”

For a second the hard mouth of M. Goucouldis relaxed.

“Happily, none,” he said, with a comfortable sigh. “By the constitution, no marriage of a Prince of the House is recognised unless it bears the approval of my signature–or the Chancellor for the time being. When I framed the constitution I foresaw everything. In the prison at Albana one has time to think.”

He stared wistfully out into the darkness.

“I could wish to know what my Prince was doing,” he said.

His Prince at that moment was most harmlessly occupied. He sat in a park chair, his hands folded on his lap, listening and yet not listening to one of those descriptive pieces which bandmasters love to concoct from the popular and half-forgotten airs of yesterday, his eyes searching every passer-by. He was young, good-looking, and the girls who paced arm-in-arm to the tempo of the music voted him distinguished-looking.

Presently he saw what he sought, and, springing out of the chair, went rapidly towards the slim figure that had come out of the darkness.

“I was so afraid you weren’t coming,” he said.

She laughed softly as she fell in by his side and walked slowly back the way she had come.

“Really afraid?” she asked.

“Really afraid,” he repeated. “My time in London Is so very short that I am simply terrified at the prospect of missing any opportunity of meeting you. You’re not English?” he asked suddenly.

She shook her head.

“Or American?”

“No, I’m neither English nor American.”

“I knew you weren’t,” he nodded. “I haven’t been able yet to place you. If you were French, I think I should detect your accent.”

“Does it matter what I am?” she asked carelessly, slipping her arm into his as they turned into a by-path and solitude. “Now tell me what you were going to tell me last night.”

It required some courage, but John of Sergovia was not lacking in that quality. She listened without interruption until he had reached a period of protestation.

“Your Duchess may be rather nice,” she said softly, “and you may be very happy with her.”

“Happy!” he said scornfully. “Could I be really happy with anybody but you, Marie?”

“They tell me she is very pretty.”

“She’s freakish,” he said impatiently. “Even Goucouldis admits that. And she has no dignity. Have you not heard of her escapade at Tranter’s? To act as a shop-girl! I could not submit to be married to a buffoon, however attractive and charming she might be. No, I am going to tell Goucouldis that in no circumstances will I marry the Duchess.”

“That is definite?” she mocked him, and in another instant she was in his arms.

Presently she pushed him away.

“You’re mad,” she said. “Do you realise what it would mean to you if you were to marry a woman unknown... unknown to you... a chance acquaintance? I might be anything–nothing.”

“You’re everything to me,” he breathed. “I’ve loved you from the very first moment I saw you.”

“The very first moment you saw me”–she laughed quietly–“was in the river. John, dear, it is all very romantic, and it began beautifully with a handsome young man rescuing a not unattractive young woman from imminent death–not that I should have died, because I can swim like a fish, and the river was so shallow that I could have walked ashore. But–”

“There are no buts,” he said almost savagely.

“There’s a big but. If you marry me”–she was watching him closely–“ you may lose your throne. And at this moment, Johnny, there are so many dethroned monarchs in Europe, and they are so undistinguished!”

“I’d lose the world for you,” he said, gripping her by the arm, “the world and all hope of heaven! Don’t you know what you are to me, Marie?”

“And your Duchess?” she murmured.

“Curse my Duchess! Suppose” he began, but she put her hand on his mouth.

“Suppose,” she said gently, “suppose your Duchess isn’t such a fright as you think–I do so want to be fair to her. Suppose her vulgar escapades are just expressions of her high spirits–”

“I’ll suppose nothing,” he said doggedly. “Marie, I’ve applied for a marriage licence at the registrar’s.”

Her mouth was an O of amazement, but he went on:

“We’ll be married to-morrow. Goucouldis has to go to the Foreign Office to a reception, and I’ll have two hours free in the afternoon. I want you to come to dinner to meet him afterwards.”

“Do you know what you’re doing?” she whispered.

“I know what I am doing. Will you?”

“Suppose I was somebody terrible–suppose I was a girl called Lemair? M. Lemair has a daughter!”

He laughed.

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