The Little Green Man and Other Stories - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Little Green Man and Other Stories ebook

Edgar Wallace

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The Little Green Man and Other Stories” is an excellent collection of mystery stories by Edgar Wallace. These are fast-paced, with good twists and turns, an unusual criminal scheme and a little romance. Edgar Wallace was a British novelist, playwright, and journalist who produced popular detective and suspense stories and was in his time „"the king"” of the modern thriller. Wallace’s literary output – 175 books, 24 plays, and countless articles and review sketches – have undermined his reputation as a fresh and original writer. Moreover, the author was a wholehearted supporter of Victorian and early Edwardian values and mores, which are now considered in some respects politically incorrect. In England, in the 1920s, Wallace was said to be the second biggest seller after the Bible.

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Liczba stron: 219

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Contents

1. THE LITTLE GREEN MAN

2. CODE NO. 2

3. THE STRETELLI CASE

4. THE MAN WHO NEVER LOST

5. CHRISTMAS EVE AT THE CHINA DOG

6. CHUBB OF THE “SLIPPER”

7. THE KING’S BRAHM

8. THE MAN WHO KILLED HIMSELF

9. THE UNDISCLOSED CLIENT

1. THE LITTLE GREEN MAN

I

AN UNDERSTANDING, disturbed or terminated, has a more tragic aspect than a broken contract. For understandings are without the foundations of pledge and promise written or spoken.

There was an understanding between Molly Linden and Thursby Grant. Neither was important, because they were young; they were as yet nebulæ, hoping to be worlds. He was poor in the sense that he could afford no more than a Kensington flat and the lightest of light cars; he was (Molly thought) very handsome and very, very nice.

Mr. Fathergill amused her–fascinated her by reason of his great age and romantic past. He was forty, and his immense riches were common knowledge. But that did not count with Molly. She much preferred riding in his smooth-running limousine to being buffeted and rattled in Thursby’s two-seater. Mr. Fathergill’s little dinners at the Ritz had a comfort which was not afforded by the solid restaurant where table-cloths were only changed when absolutely necessary.

Still, there was a sort of understanding. If the matter had been allowed to remain where Charles Fathergill left it, that warm night in June when they paced the scented dusky garden, Thursby Grant might have become a tender memory or a bitter disappointment, according to the way he accepted his congé. Unhappily, Molly’s father had been a little tactless.

She carried the news to him in his study; she was fluttered, a little tearful. One nice word about Thursby would have swung her definitely to the side of Charles Fathergill.

Instead, Mr. Linden said:

“Thank God for that, Molly! You had better write to young Grant and tell him he need not call again.”

There was no reason in the world why he should not have called again; why he should not have appeared with a sad, brave smile and a hearty, “Good luck, old girl!”

But Mr. Linden had been brought up in the Victorian tradition. Then and there Thursby Grant was martyred for love; became a radiant figure of persecution. Worse, he himself accepted the martyr’s rôle, and indited severe and haughty letters to Molly’s father, to Molly’s fiancé.

One evening he walked fiercely down Pall Mall, entered the sublime portals of the Disraeli Club and, thrusting his hat at an inoffensive page- boy, was ushered into the smoke-room. For the greater part of an hour he sat in a sort of trance, listening to Mr. Charles Fathergill, who was never averse from talking….

Just beyond Fathergill’s chair was a high marble pillar of a rich red, broken by white spots and minute serpentines. Thursby Grant had been staring at that pillar for twenty minutes with a painful intensity, some place in his brain busy with the baffling quest for the exact part of the world where such marble may be quarried. Rosso antico–that was its technical description. He remembered a big house in Marlborough with a fireplace. Rosso antico. That was it.

Behind the pillar, half concealed, was a hatchet-faced little waiter, whose livery hung upon him in folds. He was staring out of the window at the white façade of the Auto Club.

A big room, rather over decorated, with red paper and dingy gildings. Scores of well-used, cozy chairs about round tables, where middle-aged men sat smoking over their coffee and told one another of the queer thing that happened to them, twenty?–no, it must be twenty- five–years ago.

Rosso antico….

A buzz of talk as even as an asphalt pavement lay on the club smoking-room. Fathergill’s voice, pitched on an infinitesimally higher plane, rippled along its surface.

All Thursby’s brain which was not occupied by rosso antico was at Fathergill’s disposition.

“… hundred, two hundred years ago, quite a lot of people would have hired a bravo to cut me up. Possibly you would not have descended to hiring an assassin. A quarrel in a coffee-house, chairs to Leicester Gardens, and a few passes with our swords would have settled the matter. Satisfactory–in a way. It would depend entirely upon who was pinked. Now we take no risks, carry no swords, do nothing stupid, and only a few things that are vulgar. Slay and heal with currency; the age of reason.”

Fathergill’s head was long and narrow. He had a dark face and black, abundant hair brushed back from his forehead. He affected a tiny black moustache, an adequate occupation for his long fingers in moments of abstraction. His lank body was doubled up in a low chair, and he lay back so that his knees were level with his chin. When he spoke he waved one hand or the other to emphasize a point.

With the free part of his mind Thursby found himself wishing that the man did not wear diamond studs in his dress shirt.

“I asked you to dinner tonight–you preferred to come in for coffee. I appreciate your feelings. You are hurt. You are saying to yourself: ‘Here am I, a struggling engineer, who has found a nice girl who likes me’–I grant that–‘and here is a fellow worth millions who comes along and cuts me out, not because he’s more attractive, but because he has enough money to order life as he wishes it.’”

“It isn’t much to boast about, is it?” asked Thursby, his voice husky from a long, dry-mouthed silence.

Charles Fathergill shook his head.

“I am not boasting. You have suddenly found the door of a nice house on Wimbledon Common closed to you–or only opened as far as is necessary to tell you that Miss Molly Linden is not at home. All this is unexpected–rather staggering. Your letters are returned, your telephone messages not delivered. You know I am a friend of the family, and you ask me if I can explain. I bring you to my club, and I tell you plainly and honestly that I intend within the next twelve months marrying Molly Linden, that her father has agreed, and that she–seems reconciled. Could I be fairer?”

Thursby drew a long breath. It almost seemed that he had suddenly awakened from a heavy, ugly sleep.

“Money could not have been the only inducement,” he said.

Fathergill shrugged one shoulder, silently inserted a cigarette in the end of a long holder, and lit it with deliberate puffs.

“The key to all power is knowledge,” he said–“and ruthlessness.”

Throughout the interview his tone, his manner, had been most friendly. The wrath of this good-looking young guest, who had come with murder in his heart, had been blanketed under the unconscious friendliness of one whom Thursby Grant so little regarded as a host that he had not sipped the coffee that had filmed itself cold under his eyes.

“I started life as a bricklayer’s assistant”–Fathergill watched the ragged wisps of smoke dissipating with an air of enjoyment–“and at an early stage of my career I began to know. I knew that we were cheating the Borough Surveyor. The Borough Surveyor gave me ten shillings for my information. He took me into his office. He had a love affair with his typist. I knew–I was assistant store-keeper at eighteen.”

“That sounds almost like blackmail to me,” frowned Thursby.

Mr. Fathergill smiled slowly.

“Never label things,” he warned. “Know them, but never commit yourself to labels.”

“You mean you have some hold over Linden?”

“Melodrama,” murmured the other, closing his eyes wearily. “How terribly young you are! No. I know that John Linden wants to marry again. He is fifty, and young for fifty. A good-looking man, with an ineradicable sense of adventure. You would not be able to marry Molly for three years–at least I would marry at once; she asks for a year. Molly must have an establishment of her own before John Linden makes his inevitable blunder and brings his inevitably youthful bride to Wimbledon!”

Again Thursby discovered that he was breathing heavily through his nose, and checked his rising anger.

“I think that is about all I wanted to know,” he said, and rose awkwardly.

“You know: that is important,” said Fathergill, and offered a lifeless hand.

As much of this interview as he deemed necessary went forward to Wimbledon.

John Linden, gray and red-faced, read scraps of the letter written on club notepaper to his daughter. Over his glasses he looked to see how she took the news. Her face was expressionless.

“I really think that a year will make all the difference,” he told her–and himself. “I like Thursby, but, my dear, I have to consider you.”

She raised her eyes from the plate. She was not especially beautiful: she was distinctly pretty–the kind of cultivated-garden prettiness which youth brings, and good, simply cut clothes adorn.

“Are you very rich, father?”

She had never asked him such a question before.

“Why, my dear? I’m not rich in money and not particularly rich in property. Why?”

She looked past him through the leaded casement window.

“Only… Charles never made the least suggestion that he wanted to marry me until he came back from Roumania.”

He laughed loudly at this.

“What a romantic little devil you are!” he said good-humoredly. “I see how your queer little mind is working. Fathergill went to Roumania and discovered my oil property is worth a fortune; he kept the knowledge to himself and came back to propose to my daughter”.

If she had not thought this, she should not have gone scarlet. He did not add to her embarrassment.

“I should be glad to get back the money I have sunk in Roumanian oil,” he said. “You seem to forget that I have an agent in Bukharest who keeps me au fait with all that is happening.”

“Thursby says you can buy any Roumanian agent for a thousand lei,” she protested, and he shook his head.

“You seem to forget that Charles Fathergill is a millionaire–”

“He says so. Thursby says–”

Mr. Linden consigned Thursby to the devil.

“I really am in love with Thursby,” she said haltingly.

Mr. Linden said nothing. Soon after she got up from the table hurriedly. She was rather young.

It could not be said that Charles Fathergill was well known in the City. The obvious is accepted without analysis: that is the deadly danger of the obvious. One knows that Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square is built of stone. Nobody knows or cares who built it or what stone was employed. Everybody knew that Mr. Charles Fathergill was immensely rich. He had a flat in Carlton House Gardens, and paid a twenty-thousand-pounds premium to secure it. The cabmen he tipped, the club servants, the policeman on the beat–who else matters?–could all testify to his wealth and generosity. He grew richer by being rich. When interested people inquired as to his stability, Stubbs pointed out the fact that he had never had a judgment recorded against him; his lawyers certified him as a desirable client or customer to any person who wished him as a client or customer; one of his bank managers–he employed several bankers–seconded the reference. There is only one peculiarity which need be mentioned–each of his bankers was under the impression that they were carrying his smallest account, and often hinted to him that they would like to carry one of his heavier balances.

As has been remarked before, he was not known in the City, for he did not speculate or engage in commerce. And not being known in the City has this advantage, that nothing is known to your disadvantage.

Mr. Linden met his prospective son-in-law at the club a few days later.

“Going to Roumania?” Mr. Fathergill’s eyes opened. “Good heavens!–why? I haven’t been back four months.”

Mr. Linden tossed down a cocktail and wiped his mouth busily.

“I thought I’d go… may meet the girl of my dreams, eh?” A long chuckle: John Linden was old enough not to be ashamed of dreams.

“When do you think of leaving? I am going as far as Budapest. I have some big interests there.”

A rapid calculation produced the assurance that Mr. John Linden’s many directorships and annual general meetings would make it impossible to leave before another month. Charles pursed his lips thoughtfully. He must go before then, he said.

He left London within a week.

Thursby Grant was at Victoria Station saying good-bye to a friend who was traveling to the Near East. He acknowledged Fathergill’s smiling nod without effort, being helped to toleration by a letter which crashed all solemn promises made by the writer.

“Good Lord!” said Thursby’s friend. “Do you know Charles Fathergill? They say he is a millionaire five times over.”

“Six times,” said Thursby, suddenly sour. “Why damn his reputation for a million?”

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