The Last Adventure - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Last Adventure ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Edgar Wallace was a prolific author of crime, adventure and humorous stories, whose best known creations include „The Four Just Men”, „Sanders of the River”, and „J. G. Reeder”. Although Wallace wrote many „stand alone” novels it is, perhaps, for his series based material always popular with readers that he remains best known. „The Last Adventure” is a story packed with intrigue, treachery, assassinations, and machinations, and it highlights Wallace’s unmatched skill in setting a pulse-pounding pace. As the novel is rather short and quite fast-paced with a lot of scenery-changes and adventures, this nice. Edgar Wallace provides a thrill of another sort!

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Liczba stron: 395

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Contents

I. BIG LITTLE BROTHER

II. THE LAST ADVENTURE

III. THE TALKATIVE BURGLAR

IV. THE WILL AND THE WAY

V. A JUDGE OF HORSES

VI. THE PEDLAR IN THE MASK

VII. MR. JIGGS MAKES GOOD

VIII. THE TRIMMING OF SAM

IX. THE WINNING TICKET

X. HIS GAME

XI. THE DEVIL DOCTOR

XII. THE ORIGINAL MRS. BLANEY

I. BIG LITTLE BROTHER

I. THE MAN FROM THE FOREST

JOHN CALTHORPE stood seventy-two inches in his stockinged feet, and he was cursed with the good looks and muscular equipment which should rightly go with seventy-two inches and so seldom do. He had been apostrophized by a distant relation, a poetical spinster, in a poem which likened him to the Apollo Belvedere and other good-looking gentlemen of mythology, and, by a fatality which he never ceased to curse, a copy of the poem, cut from the poets’ corner of the Westchester Times (to which his maiden aunt was a regular contributor) found its way to Oundle School, and he became variously “Polly” or “Polo”.

Being in trade, he broke no hearts, because the opportunities for social recreation were few and far between: being the brother of the Earl of Heverswood and nephew of the Duke of Taunton, people wondered that he was in trade at all, for not even the surpassing value of yaga wood, of which he was the sole importer, shifted the basis of his standing from the commercial to the scientific.

When people talked to Selwyn he shrugged his shoulders, and suggested, rather than stated, that Johnny was on the eccentric side, that there was no need at all for his peculiar incursion into the wood trade, and that both he and his mother were a little annoyed.

And here he spoke the truth in one respect: the Dowager Lady Heverswood was in a perpetual state of annoyance with her stepson. The position in the Heverswood household was a peculiar one. The late Lord Heverswood had married twice. He and his first wife had separated after a painful period marked by violent quarrels and long intervals during which this gentle-minded man had not been on speaking terms with his wife, whose acrimony and malignity of temper were notorious. There was a divorce: one of those accommodation arrangements by which people sometimes overstep the boundaries of justice; and Lord Heverswood had married again. For five years he was supremely happy, and then a railway accident had taken away his desire for fife.

He was left, a broken man, with a small baby of fifteen months, and it was whilst he was in this state of depression and unhappiness that friends of the family reconciled him with his former wife and there was a quiet marriage at Heverswood church. Within six months Lord Heverswood was laid in the family vault by the side of his second wife, and Selwyn, Earl of Heverswood, reigned in his place.

That her ladyship resented Johnny, the small child she was called upon to mother, was understandable in a lady of her temperament. But for her wholesome fear of the boy’s fiery uncle, Johnny’s association with Heverswood Castle would have been a very slight one. As it was, she never saw him for seven years, and as soon as he was old enough had bundled him off to a preparatory school.

At five o’clock one summer’s morning, when the night mist still lay on the Port of London, John Calthorpe stepped down from his ancient car at one of those narrow entrances near Dockhead which lead to the water, and found waiting for him, by a rickety and rotting wharf, a ship’s lifeboat manned by two nondescript individuals (one of whom wore a derby hat) who, while they did not approach the ideal of the British Mercantile Marine, were, in spite of their griminess and their strange attire and lack of smartness, typical of the sailor men who man the tramps which have gone up and down the oceans of the world for all time.

His agent was aboard; Johnny found him in the captain’s cabin, and interrupted a glowing dissertation on the merits of yaga wood.

“… Any fool could have found the trees, but he discovered the only way to season it. We’ve had yaga wood on the market here for fifty years: good stuff, but it powdered on the first cold day….”

“Good morning, Captain.”

The master of the Pealego rose and found a chair for the newcomer.

“Just telling the captain––” began the plumpfaced Mr. Dibbs.

“I heard you–you are appointed publicity manager from this moment,” smiled John, taking the preferred chair. “Good voyage, captain?”

“Yes, sir … got into a snorter round the Horn, and this stowaway rather rattled me. I don’t know what to do with him. I suppose I’d better hand him over to the police, but he’d be worth a fortune to one of these showmen.”

“A stowaway–what sort of a man?” asked John, interested; and the old captain scratched his head.

“I don’t know–he may be one of these Belize Creoles rim wild; he’s not Carib or pure Indian. My mate says he comes from the other side of the Manatee Hills, but that’s bosh! They’re civilized. He’s a Deep River man and a long way up!”

“When did you find him?”

“We were coming through the Cays when my bo’sun spotted him in number one hold: lyin’ doggo between two parcels of vanilla that I bought for my owner. He doesn’t speak any language I know; my second tried him in Yucatan Spanish, but it was no good.”

“Let me see him!” said John, and a few minutes after there was pushed into the cabin the most extraordinary creature that he had ever rested his eyes upon. Save for a pair of blue shorts about his waist the brown-skinned man was naked. His black hair fell in a mane over a face that was puckered and creased with apprehension. Below middle height, the breadth of his massive shoulders gave him a squat appearance which his stooping attitude accentuated. But his arms …!They were so long that his finger-tips were below the level of his knees–the muscles lay in swathes under the skin, the biceps, even inactive, were the size of a grown boy’s thigh.

Johnny stared at the apparition. He was not Carib or native Indian. The fillet of cloth about his long hair suggested his origin, and the white man began to speak in a language which the captain and the curious mate had heard but had never correctly spoken. At the first word the native raised his head and his little eyes twinkled. “Man, why did you come on this ship?”

“To look at the world, caballero–also to follow the stars that moved. Where they fall is paradise.”

Johnny knew the old Yucatan legend about the shooting stars and smiled.

“Your mysterious man is a woodman–I’m afraid Mr. Greyson’s Yucatan Spanish needs a little polishing– he speaks the language all right. What are you going to do with him?”

Again the captain rubbed his grey hair.

“I’ll hand him over to the police,” he suggested. Johnny looked at the man again and hesitated. He knew the tribe, the one wholesome race he had met in Central America. Mighty woodmen, who had that peculiar contempt for agriculture in all its branches which distinguished the forest dwellers. They were something more than this: there were no trackers in the world like this tribe, for, although they had the queer gifts of the Australian aborigine, they enjoyed a civilization higher than any of the purely native peoples of South America.

“He’s as strong as an ox–couldn’t you make a porter of him?”

The agent shook his head.

“There would be trouble with the union,” he said.

“We must either have him arrested or else take him back.”

The brown man was listening, turning his head from speaker to speaker as though to read in their faces the meaning of their strange words.

“Master, I will go with you,” he said suddenly. “I could serve such a man as you: you have the face of a god. I am a good cook and once I was servant to a caballero from Mexico and cleaned his clothes with a long brush.”

John laughed.

“Also,” the man went on eagerly, “I am a hunter of men! If the caballero has an enemy I will track him; for I can smell the blood of a man on the hands of his killer I”

John was not laughing any more, though his eyes were troubled.

“O hombre, I am a poor man and I clean my own clothes with a long brush. And I have no enemies–such as you could track. In this country there are men appointed by the Government to do these things.” Then, to the captain: “He really would make an excellent bodyguard if one needed such a thing. Keep him here; give him all he wants. His people were good to me when I had fever on Deep River.” He patted the man’s shoulder. “Here you stay till the ship goes back to your land–the men will be land to you. In this land you would die: la helada is terrible for men like you. Adios.”

He waved the conventional farewell and the brown man went out sullenly.

“What do you think of him?” asked the captain.

John smiled.

“An unusual type of native–I was surprised that he understood Spanish. Is he tractable?”

“He gave no trouble at all,” said the captain; “and I’m glad. You’d have to take a capstan bar to that fellow if he started a rough house!”

For the next two hours John Calthorpe was a busy man. The Pealego carried a record cargo of yaga logs–black, unshapely billets of wood, as hard as ebony and almost as light as ash–and since he was in the position of monopolist, the fixing of its market price was not the least delicate of his operations. And he was due at Heverswood that morning. This was the only unpleasant feature that the day promised

II. AT HEVERSWOOD

THOMAS, the footman, sidled into the library, stood for a moment surveying the room with a critical eye, then, walking slowly to the fireplace, took up the silver tongs and daintily lifted three pieces of coal from the old-fashioned wooden scuttle. This done, he arranged the newspapers on the long table, pulled back one damask curtain which arrested a few inches of spring sunshine, and was gazing through the long window across the stretch of the deer park when the muffled click of the door-handle turning brought him round, alert and busy.

The member of the household who came into the big panelled room did not so much as look at the servant. He crossed wearily to the chair behind the empire writing-table and fell rather than sat into it.

A thin, weedy man, ungainly of build and awkward of movement, his yellow, haggard face was disfigured by a perpetual frown; the eyes under the straight black brows were small, lustreless, suspicious. This morning there were two distinct pouches beneath them, and the hand that reached out to take his letters was shaky. A weak chin, disfigured with a deep cleft, and a lower lip so full that it seemed to be swollen, added to his unattractiveness.

He opened one letter and threw it aside with an exclamation of disgust, and for a while sat staring across the room at the fire, stroking his little black moustache.

“Has my–has Mr. Calthorpe been in?”

“No, my lord.”

Selwyn Earl of Heverswood never spoke of Johnny Calthorpe as his brother except in moments of absent-mindedness.

“What the devil do you want?” he snapped, as Thomas waited.

“Your lordship asked me to remind you of something.”

Selwyn’s frown grew deeper.

“Was it you who let me in … umph … pretty well stewed, wasn’t I? Did my mother hear me?”

“No, my lord. I have not seen her ladyship this morning, and she did not ask her maid what time your lordship returned.”

One side of Lord Heverswood’s mouth twisted up in an unpleasant smile.

“If my–if Mr. John asks you, you can say I came in early–that will do.”

Long after the footman had gone, he sat with his head in his hand. Even when his mother came into the room he did no more than look up.

A tall, stout woman of sixty-five, with a dead white face, her Ups were a vivid carmine, her hair as vivid a red. People meeting the Dowager Countess of Heverswood for the first time were repelled, then amused, by her blatant artificiality–their last impression was one of vague fear, for there was a malignity in her coal-black eyes, a cruel purpose in the set of her thin lips, that made sensitive men and women shudder.

Her servants hated her; the very woman who spent an hour making up her mistress’s face had a secret loathing of the work which transformed this ugly virago into the semblance of beauty.

She walked to the fire. Not all the massage in the world could make plump the withered hand she held to the warmth. Her fingers were laden with costly rings that twinkled and flashed in the light of the dancing flame. About her neck was a double row of exquisitely matched pearls. There were diamonds in her ears, on her broad bosom, in the thickly jewelled bangles about her wrists.

“What time did you come home, Selwyn?” she asked harshly.

“About one o’clock “ he began.

“You’re a liar.”

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