The Leopard’s Spots - Fred M. White - ebook

The Leopard’s Spots ebook

Fred M White

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Fred M. White wrote fascinating fiction. The main character, Stagg made his living in an interesting way. He wrote letters to potential investors, warning them of danger. However, he soon fell into a terrible situation, connected with a brutal murder.

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Liczba stron: 387

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Contents

I. A Friend Of Humanity

II. Diamond Cut Diamond

III. The Wrong House

IV. In The Bedroom

V. Next Door

VI. Empty!

VII. In The Papers

VIII. The Dead Man’s Ring

IX. In The Agony Column

X. At Tagoni’s

XI. Introducing Albert Josh

XII. Talking It Over

XIII. The Cheque That Came Back

XIV. On The Golf Links

XV. A Game Of Bluff?

XVI. The Two Notes

XVII. Josh Gets Busy

XVIII. A Reconstructed Crime

XIX. A Haven Of Rest

XX. Dr. Gilbert Speaks

XXI. A Student Of Criminals

XXII. Gilbert Gets Interesting

XXIII. Another Job For Stagg

XXIV. A Trap For Scoundrels

XXV. Josh Tells A Story

XXVI. The Home Of A Millionaire

XXVII. Familiar Chords

XXVIII. The Blank Cheque

XXIX. Feeling His Way

XXX. What “The Times” Said

XXXI. The Voice Of The Camera

XXXII. An Unexpected Check

XXXIII. The Blind Alley

XXXIV. The Wild Scientist

XXXV. The Princess Is Friendly

XXXVI. The Two Hawthornes

XXXVII. Worrying Hawthorne

XXXVIII. In The Moonlight

XXXIX. Inside The House

XL. The Freezing Chamber

XLI. Stokes Comes In

XLII. “Open Locks, Whoever Knocks”

XLIII. “Olive Kesler”

XLIV. “The Best-Laid Schemes—”

XLV. Back To “The Wilderness”

XLVI. The Prisoner

XLVII. The Hawthorne Blooms

XLVIII. The Lost Memory

XLIX. Grandison Finds Himself

L. The Wooden Box

LI. Quits

LII. The End Of It

I. A FRIEND OF HUMANITY

To all outward appearances Montagu Stagg was in what financial detectives call “easy circumstances.” He had a charming little bungalow, which was supposed to be his own property (and wasn’t), on the edge of Minchin Common, where he indulged every morning in a round of golf and devoted the rest of the day indifferently to financial pursuits and philanthropic objects. He was not a great golfer, but, because he knew his limitations and never allowed vaulting ambition to overleap itself, he won more matches than he lost, though he was always willing enough to liquidate the minatory half-crown in sustaining refreshment for the defeated foe. It was a fairly cheap way of earning a reputation for generosity, but it sufficed. A popular man, on the whole, a man of uncertain age by reason of a fine crop of patriarchal grey hair allied to a face round and innocent as that of a child, and, with no suggestion of evil on a complexion that many a woman might have envied. He looked like something between a man and boy, he had a constant flow of humorous small talk, and a joyous outlook on life that would have been a tonic to any liver-haunted pessimist.

A man, apparently, in the possession of an easy conscience and a comfortable balance in his bank, achieved either by his own efforts or by inheritance, it did not matter which. A man respected by his tradesmen, who never had to wait a day for their money, and who never deemed it necessary to make inquiries into those little slips of arithmetic which do happen occasionally, even in the books of the most highly respected shopkeeper.

People who knew Stagg best–and they were exceedingly few–declared that he was a philanthropist who lived down on the before mentioned common in his modest way so that he might have plenty of scope for his expeditions into the field of his efforts. But that was hardly correct. As a matter of fact, Montague Stagg was no philanthropist, and, in reality, lived up to every penny of a hardly-earned income, though occasions when he had to ask favours of his banker were few and far between. He lived in a neat little bungalow with its trim lawns and flower-beds with his niece, Stella Henson, and a small household staff. Stella had lived with her uncle as long as she could recollect. She was a typical bright and wholesome English girl, quite good-looking in a boyish sort of way, and eminently good-natured. Exceedingly popular with the Minchin lady golfers, and on the best of terms with most of the men. She was emphatically what might be called a good sort, open-hearted and generous, and, like so many girls of her type, utterly transformed on those rare occasions in which she condescended to get into evening dress. For the rest she acted as secretary to her uncle who dictated those brilliant journalistic articles to her; she typed his letters and saw that they were posted. In Stella’s eyes Stagg was undoubtedly a great man, a publicist who devoted most of his spare time and that fine financial mind of his to giving advice to all and sundry who had money to invest. In other words, Stagg wrote articles for one or two obscure financial papers, and in the aforesaid papers he kept a standing advertisement to the effect that he was a gentleman well versed in city matters–a retired stockbroker, in fact–who gave gratis advice to would-be investors desirous of laying out their savings to the best advantage, which, no doubt, was very noble on Stagg’s part, for, at any rate, those advertisements brought letters to Minchin Lodge in a constantly flowing stream and in every case they were most scrupulously answered.

It was early one afternoon towards the end of May that Stagg, pacing up and down his little study, was dictating replies to his secretary. He had pretty well finished with a big batch of correspondents, and he turned to the mantelpiece and lighted a well-earned cigarette.

“I think that is about all, my dear,” he said. “What an extraordinary thing it is that these people learn no wisdom. Now, how many letters have we dealt with this morning?”

“Oh, quite fifty,” Stella smiled.

“Fifty blithering idiots, if I may be allowed to say so. Now, I suppose these people on the average have about five and twenty pounds each to invest. You will notice, my child, that no one with what I call real means ever writes to the man who calls himself ‘Frank Fair.’”

“Otherwise Montagu Stagg,” Stella laughed. “Precisely, my dear. And if I may say so, a jolly good name, too. Now, ‘Frank Fair’ is a philanthropist. He is a sort of father confessor of the small investor. They write to me care of the papers I advertise in, and I save them from throwing away their hard-earned pennies to the city rascals who are always laying traps for the small investor. Now, on a moderate computation, you and I have saved a thousand pounds to-day. I don’t say we have saved it altogether, because these people are sure to go off sooner or later and fool their cash away in some other direction. But you and I have done our best, Stella. We don’t try and discourage people from gambling, because we know human nature better than that. But we can advise our confiding correspondents to apply to certain firms who will, at any rate, give them what I might call a good run for their money.”

“That’s true enough,” Stella said.

All this to Stella was real enough. She had not the slightest doubt as to the integrity of her beloved uncle. She was quite convinced that those elaborate letters dictated by ‘Frank Fair’ to small investors in a breathless hurry to get rich quick were inspired by the purest motives. What she did not know, however, was that every letter was followed up within 24 hours by another letter despatched from an obscure office in the city to the would-be gambler advising him as to the certainly rich emoluments by the investment of a small sum in certain syndicates. And, needless to say, these circulars did not bear the signature of ‘Frank Fair,’ though they were directly inspired by him. To put it plainly, Stagg was making quite a handsome living by the ingenious expedient of writing letters to potential investors warning them off certain things, and, at the same time, by means of those bucket-shop circulars luring the cash into his coffers in quite another direction. It was a brilliant scheme, and redounded to the credit of ‘Frank Fair,’ alias Montagu Stagg, who was thus able to pose before his confiding young relative as a man of the highest and purest motives. Of course, Stella could know nothing of the little dingy office in the city where Stagg spent a couple of hours each afternoon sending out his circulars and posting them in person. It must not be imagined, of course, that all this money came to his net. If Stagg gleaned a daily ten per cent. of it, he was perfectly satisfied, and so the great game went on. As a matter of fact, Stagg was a cheery, breezy, humorous rascal, perfectly straight in all his dealings outside what he regarded as his legitimate business, and generous and easy-going to a fault. In other words, he spent his money as fast as he got it, as such men do, so that there were occasions when the exchequer ran perilously low.

Just at the moment the barometer pointed to stormy. But, on the other hand, the day’s correspondence had been unusually prolific, and Stagg correspondingly expansive.

“Is that all, my child?” he asked. “I really must be getting to the city. I have two articles to write before dinner, and with any luck I shall be back by then. And I think you had better tell cook to grill the soles, not fry them. And you might call round at Smith’s, the wine merchants–”

“There’s one more letter,” Stella said. “I kept it back to the last so as not to disturb you. It is a most extraordinary letter. Really, any one would think that the writer regarded you as a common thief.”

II. DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND

Stagg looked just a little anxious.

“Eh, what’s that? what’s that?” he asked. “Some disappointed client, no doubt. Really, my dear child, the amount of human ingratitude one encounters is most discouraging. When did the letter come? This morning’s batch? Well, read it out; I’d like to hear it.”

Stella proceeded to read as follows:

21 Porchester-place,

May 19, 19–.

“Dear Sir,

“I venture to address you on a little matter which I am sanguine that you will find interesting. Now, it so happens that a friend of mine, a lady friend in straitened circumstances and a widow of an officer in his Majesty’s service, expressed some little time ago a natural desire to increase her very limited income. I am sure that a gentleman of the experience of Mr. Frank Fair will bear me out when I say that the case presents no phenomenal features. My dear sir, the world is crammed with sanguine unworldly widows (not to say orphans) who are filled with an eager longing to expand the elasticity of their scanty sovereigns. Otherwise, how would so many respectable gentlemen in spotless white waistcoats who permeate the city be able to afford Rolls-Royce cars and send their promising progeny to Public schools and the University? But I need not enlarge upon that. That is a subject to which Mr. Frank Fair has probably devoted more time than I have, and, believe me, as city editor and part proprietor of the ‘Searchlight,’ I am not altogether a child in such matters.

“Now, my lady friend, instead of coming to me, as she ought to have done, sold out a thousand pounds of Great Western preferred stock and went off adventuring in the city. She managed, by the interposition of Providence, to escape from the clutches of at least two of the aforesaid white-waistcoated gentlemen, and then, being still desirous of further exploits in the financial field, she conceived the brilliant idea of writing to Frank Fair. I suppose she had seen that distinguished philanthropist’s advertisement in the papers.

“In reply Mr. Fair wrote a letter filled with the noblest sentiments and paternal advice. He strongly advised the lady to put her money back where she took it from, which, of course, was exceedingly fine of him, but he went on to say if it was necessary to her health that she should have what city circles call a flutter, he gave her the names of half a dozen firms which he ventured to recommend. And, strange to say, the next morning came a circular from a modest firm of outside brokers recommending a particular stock. Need I tell so astute a gentleman as Mr. Frank Fair what happened. The thousand pounds is no more, at least, so far as its original proprietor is concerned, and I strongly suspect that the whole of that sum found its way into the pockets of a firm that only exists to put good things in the way of idly-greedy people who are looking for a hundred per cent. interest on their money.”

“Oh, this is monstrous, uncle,” Stella cried. “One would almost think that the writer was sarcastic.”

“Oh, not at all, my dear, not at all,” Stagg said genially. “Evidently a man who fancies himself as a word painter. But pray proceed.”

“Now, as the unfortunate lady is a friend of mine, and as I know something of the City, I have made it my business to thoroughly investigate the matter. It has taken me a couple of months to get to the bottom of it, but I assure you that I have done so. And in my opinion, and I may say in the opinion of an eminent King’s Counsel, there are grounds for prosecution. But I am not vindictive. I have something more to do besides wasting my time on a lot of fools whose main anxiety seems to be separated from their money, and if I can get my friend’s thousand pounds back again I shall be perfectly satisfied and say no more about the matter.

“To bring this about I cordially invite the co-operation of Mr. Frank Fair, otherwise Mr. Montagu Stagg, of Minchin, in the County Middlesex. I shall be at home this evening between ten and twelve, and if the aforesaid ‘gentlemen’ care to give me a call, a warm welcome awaits them. I really think that you will not fail me.

“Yours faithfully, Everard Stokes.”

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