The Lone House Mystery and Other Stories - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Lone House Mystery and Other Stories ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Edgar Wallace, author of „The Lone House Mystery”, was a celebrated British author in the early twentieth century. Over 160 of his novels have been made into films, and he is known especially for his part in writing the story for the movie „King Kong”. The dead man was rich. In life he lived in a lonely house by a river. In the earth outside it is the imprint of a bare foot. His secretary, with whom he was having an affair, is locked in a room. The key is in the dead man’s pocket. Superintendent Minter considers it a most queer and unsatisfactory case. A thrilling, thoroughly intriguing tale of double murder and love. This collection also includes the following short stories: „Clues”, „The Sooper Speaking”, and „Romance In It”.

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Liczba stron: 199

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Contents

1. The Lone House Mystery

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

2. The Sooper Speaking

3. Clues

4. Romance in It

1. The Lone House Mystery

CHAPTER I

I AM taking no credit out of what the newspapers called the Lone House Mystery. I’ve been long enough in the police force to know that the man who blows his own trumpet never gets into a good orchestra. So that, if anybody tells you that Superintendent Minter of Scotland Yard is trying to glorify himself, give them a dirty look for me.

“Superintendent” is a mouthful, and anyway, it is not matey. Not that I encourage young constables to call me “Sooper” to my face. They never do. I want “ sir “ from them and every other rank, but I like to overhear ‘em talking about the old Sooper, always providing they don’t use a certain adjective.

Mr. John C. Field always called me Superintendent. I never knew until he pronounced the word that there were so many syllables in it.

No man likes to admit he was in error, but I’m owning up that I broke all my rules when I liked him at first sight. It’s all very well to go mad about a girl the first time you meet her, but it’s wrong to file a man on your first impressions. Because a man who makes a hit the first time you meet him is going out of his way to make you think well of him. And normal men don’t do that. Commercial travellers do and actors do, but they’re not normal.

John C. Field was the type that anybody could admire. He was tall, broad-shouldered and good-looking, for all his fifty odd years and his gray hair. He had the manners of a gentleman, could tell a good story and was a perfect host. He never stopped handing out the cigars.

I met him in a curious way. He lived in a smallish house on the banks of the Linder. I don’t suppose you know the Linder–it’s a stream that pretends to be a river until it runs into the Thames between Reading and Henley, and then it is put into its proper place and called the “Bourne.” There is a house on the other side of the stream called Hainthorpe, and it was owned by a Mr. Max Voss. He built it and had an electric power line carried from Reading. It was over this line that I went down to make inquiries. I was in the special branch of Scotland Yard at the time and did a lot of work that the county police knew nothing about. It is not an offence to use electric power, but just about this time the Flack brothers and Johnny McGarth and two or three of the big forgery gangs were terribly busy with private printing presses, and when we heard of a householder using up a lot of juice we were a bit suspicious.

So I went down to Hainthorpe and saw Mr. Voss. He was a stout, red- faced man with a little white moustache, who had lost the use of his legs through frostbite in Russia. And that is how his new house came to be filled with electric contraptions. He had electric chairs that ran him from one room to another, electric elevators, and even in his bath-room a sort of electric hoist that could lift him from his chair into his bath and out again.

“Now,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “you’ll want to see the printing presses where I make phoney money!”

He chuckled with laughter when he saw he’d hit the right nail on the head.

I went there for an hour and stayed three days.

“Stay to-night, anyway,” he said. “My man Veddle will give you any sleeping kit you require.”

Voss was an interesting man who had been an engineer in Russia. He wasn’t altogether helpless, because he could hobble around on crutches, though it wasn’t nice to see him doing it.

It was pretty late when I arrived, so I did not need any persuasion to stay to dinner, especially when I heard that young Garry Thurston was coming. I knew Garry–I’d met him half-a-dozen times at Marlborough Street and Bow Street and other police courts. He had more endorsements on his driving licence than any other rich young man I know. His hobbies were speeding through police traps and parking in unauthorised places. A bright boy–one of the new type of criminals that the motoring regulations have created.

He had a big house in the neighbourhood and had struck up a friendship with Mr. Voss. I suppose I’m all wrong, but I like these harum- scarum young men that the public schools and universities turn out by the thousand.

He stopped dead at the sight of me in the smoking room.

“Moses!” he said. “What have I done?”

When I told him that I was after mere forgers he seemed quite disappointed.

He was a nice boy, and if I ever have the misfortune to be married and have a son, he would be the kind that would annoy me less than any other. I don’t know what novelists mean when they write about “clean- limbed men,” unless they’re talking about people who have regular baths, but I have an idea that he was the kind of fellow they have in mind.

We were half-way through dinner when I first heard the name of Mr. Field. It arose over a question of poaching. Voss remarked that he wished Field’s policemen would keep to their own side of the river, and that was the first time I knew that Field was under police protection, and asked why. It was then that young Thurston broke in.

“He’ll need a regiment of soldiers to look after him if something happens which I think is happening,” he said, and there was something in his tone which made me look at him. If ever I saw hate in a man’s eyes I saw it in Garry Thurston’s.

I noticed that Mr. Voss changed the subject, and after the young man had gone home he told me why.

“Thurston is not normal about this man Field,” he said, “and I needn’t tell you it’s about a girl–Field’s secretary. She’s a lovely creature, and so far as I can tell Field treats her with every respect and deference. But Garry’s got it into his thick head that there’s something sinister going on over at Lone House. I think it’s the psychological result of poor Field living in a place called Lone House at all!”

That explained a lot to me. Young men in love are naturally murderous young animals. Whether it’s normal or abnormal to want to murder the man who squeezes the hand of the young lady you’ve taken a fancy to, I don’t know. I guess it’s normal. Personally speaking, I’ve never been delirious except from natural causes.

“Field’s policemen” rather puzzled me till Mr. Voss explained. For some reason or other Field went in fear of his life, and paid a handsome sum per annum for individual police attention. There were usually two men on duty near the house all the time.

I couldn’t have come to a better man than Max Voss to hear all the news of the neighbourhood. I think that red-faced old gentleman was the biggest gossip I have ever met. He knew the history of everybody for twenty miles round, could tell you all their private business, why engagements were broken off, what made Mrs. So-and-So go to the Riviera in such a hurry last March, and why Lord What’s-his-name was selling his pictures.

And he told me quite a lot about Field. He lived alone except for a few servants, and had no visitors, with the exception of a negro who came about once a month, a well-dressed young fellow, and a rather pretty half- caste woman who arrived at rare intervals.

“Very few people know about this. She comes up river in a launch, sometimes with the negro and sometimes without him. They usually come in the evening, stay an hour or two and disappear. Before they come, Field sends all his servants out.” I had to chuckle at this. “Sounds to me like a mystery.” Voss smiled. “It is nothing to the mystery of Lady Kingfether’s trip to North Africa,” he said, and began to tell me a long story.

It was a pretty interesting story. Every time I woke up something was happening.

I went to bed late and tired, and getting up at six o’clock in the morning, dressed and went out into the garden. Mr. Voss had told me his man Veddle would look after me, but devil a sign of Veddle had I seen, either on the previous night or that morning, and I understood why when I came upon him suddenly on his way from the little cottage in the grounds where he lived. He tried to avoid me, but I’ve got pretty good eyesight for a man of sixty. No man who had ever seen Veddle could forget him. A heavy-looking man with a roundish face and eyes that never met you, I could have picked him out a mile away. When Voss had said “Veddle,” I never dreamed he was the same Veddle who had passed through my hands three times. Naturally, when criminals take on respectable employment they become Smith.

He knew me, of course.

“Why, Mr. Minter,” he said in his oily way, “this is a surprise!”

“Didn’t know I was here, eh?” I said.

He coughed.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I did,” he said, “but I thought it would be better if I kept out of your way. Mr. Voss knows.” he went on quickly.

“About your previous convictions?”

He nodded.

“Does he know that two of them were for blackmail?” I asked.

He smiled lopsidedly at this.

“It’s a long lane that has no turning, Mr. Minter. I’ve given up all that sort of thing. Yes, Mr. Voss knows. What a splendid gentleman! What a pity the Lord has so afflicted him!”

I didn’t waste much time on the man. Blackmail is one of the crimes that makes me sick, and I’d sooner handle a bushel of snakes than deal with this kind of criminal. Naturally I did not mention the conversation to Voss, because the police never give away their clients. Voss brought up the subject himself at lunch.

“That man Veddle of mine is an old lag,” he said. “I wondered if you’d recognise him. He’s a good fellow, and I think I pay him enough to keep him straight.”

I didn’t tell him that you couldn’t pay any criminal enough to keep him straight, because there isn’t so much money in the world, because I did not want to discourage him.

I saw Veddle again that afternoon in peculiar circumstances. He was always a bit of a dandy, and had considerable success with women of all classes. No man can understand the fascination which a certain kind of man exercises over a certain kind of woman. It isn’t a question of looks or age, it’s a kind of hypnotism.

I was taking a long walk by myself along the river bank. The river separated Mr. Voss’s property from the Lone House estate. Lone House itself was a square, white building that stood on the crest of a rising lawn that sloped up from the river, which is almost a lake here, for the stream broadens into what is known locally as the Flash.

A small wood on Mr. Voss’s side of the river hides the house from view. I was coming out of Fay Copse, as it was called, when I saw Veddle waiting by the edge of the stream. A girl was rowing across the Flash. Her back was turned to the servant, and she did not see him till she had landed and tied up the boat. It was then that he approached her. I was naturally interested, and walked a little slower. If the girl did not see Veddle, Veddle did not see me, and I was within a dozen yards of the two when he went up to her, raising his hat.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody so lovely as this girl, Marjorie Venn, and I could quite understand why Garry Thurston had fallen for her. Except for police purposes, I can’t describe women. I can write down the colour of their eyes and hair, their complexion and height, but I’ve never been able to say why they’re beautiful. I just know they are or they’re not; and she was.

She turned quickly and walked away from the man. He followed her, talking all the time, and presently I saw him grip her by the arm and swing her round. She saw me and said something, and Veddle turned and dropped his hand. She did not attempt to meet me, but walked off quickly, leaving the man looking a little foolish. But it’s very difficult to embarrass a fellow who’s done three stretches for felony. He met me with his sly smile.

“A nice little piece that,” he said–“A friend of mine.”

“So it appears,” said I. “Never seen anybody look more friendly than she did.”

He smiled crookedly.

“Women get that way if they like you,” he said.

“Who was the last woman you blackmailed?” I asked; but, bless you, you couldn’t make him feel uncomfortable. He just smiled and went on his way.

I watched him, wondering whether he was trying to overtake the girl. He hadn’t gone a dozen paces when, round the corner of a clump of trees, came swinging a man who I guessed was Field himself. You can tell from a man’s walk just what is in his mind, and I wondered if Veddle was gifted with second sight. If he had been he would have run, but he kept right on.

I saw Field stand squarely in his path. He asked a question, and in another second his fist shot out and Veddle went down. To my surprise he made a fight of it, came up again and took a left swing to the jaw that would have knocked out any ordinary man.

It wasn’t any business of mine, but I am an officer of the law and I thought it was the right moment to interfere. By the time I reached Mr. Field, Veddle was running for his life. I was a little taken aback when Field held out his hand.

“You’re Superintendent Minter? I heard you were staying in the neighbourhood,” he said. “I hope you’re not going to prosecute me for trespass–this is a short cut to Hainthorpe Station and I often use it. I don’t know whether Mr. Voss objects.”

Before I could tell him I didn’t know what was in Mr. Voss’s mind about trespassing he went on:

“Did you see that little fracas? I’m afraid I lost my temper with that fellow, but this is not the first time he has annoyed the young lady.”

He asked me to come over to his house for a drink and, going back to where the skiff was moored, he rowed me across. We landed at a little stage and walked together up the lawn to the open French windows of his study. I noticed then that in front of these the grass was worn and that there was a patch of bare earth–it’s funny how a police officer can register these things automatically.

The little study was beautifully furnished, and evidently Mr. Field was a man who had done a lot of travelling, for all the walls were covered with curios: African spears and assegais, and on the shelves was a collection of native pottery. He saw me looking round and, walking to the wall, picked down a broad-bladed sword.

“This will interest you if you know anything about Africa,” he said. “It is the Sword of Tuna. It belonged to the Chief of Ituri–a man who gave me a lot of trouble and who predicted that it would never be sheathed till it was sheathed in my unworthy person.”

He smiled.

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