The Lost Million - William Le Queux - ebook
Opis

”See! It’s–it’s in my kit-bag, over there! The thing–the Thing at which the whole world will stand aghast! „ The thin, white-faced, grey-bearded man lying on his back in bed roused himself with difficulty, and with skinny finger pointed at his strong but battered old leather bag lying in the corner of the small hotel bedroom.

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Liczba stron: 375

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Contents

I. DESCRIBES A MAN AND HIS SECRET.

II. CONTAINS SEVERAL SURPRISES.

III. WHAT MR ARNOLD LEFT BEHIND.

IV. THE MAN WITH THE RED CRAVAT.

V. THE SIGN OF THE GLOVES.

VI. THE QUICK AND THE DEAD.

VII. DAWNAY MAKES CONFESSION.

VIII. THE STORY OF THE CYLINDER.

IX. REVEALS GUY'S SUSPICIONS.

X. THE EVIL OF THE TEN PLAGUES.

XI. A SENSATION IN THE COUNTY.

XII. THE CRY IN THE NIGHT.

XIII. ONE POINT IS MADE CLEAR.

XIV. CONTAINS ANOTHER SUGGESTION.

XV. CONTAINS SOME FRESH FACTS.

XVI. THE SIGN OF THE HAND.

XVII. A FURTHER PROBLEM.

XVIII. I MAKE A DISCOVERY.

XIX. FALLING SHADOWS.

XX. THE MAN WITH THE CRIMSON BUTTON.

XXI. MORE MYSTERY.

XXII. THE SECRET OF HARVEY SHAW.

XXIII. "A FOREIGNER."

XXIV. A WOMAN'S WORD.

XXV. IN THE NIGHT.

XXVI. CONTAINS AN OMINOUS MESSAGE.

XXVII. IN THE BALANCE.

XXVIII. ANOTHER REVELATION.

XXIX. DISCLOSES SHAW'S SECRET.

XXX. THE THIRD OF NOVEMBER.

XXXI. THE TRUTH CONCERNING ARNOLD.

XXXII. A HEART'S SECRET.

XXXIII. PLOT AND COUNTER-PLOT.

XXXIV. WHAT THE CYLINDER CONTAINED.

XXXV. CONCLUSION.

I. DESCRIBES A MAN AND HIS SECRET.

“See! It’s–it’s in my kit-bag, over there! The thing–the Thing at which the whole world will stand aghast!”

The thin, white-faced, grey-bearded man lying on his back in bed roused himself with difficulty, and with skinny finger pointed at his strong but battered old leather bag lying in the corner of the small hotel bedroom.

“The keys–on my chain–Mr Kemball–“ he gasped faintly, his face slowly flushing. “Open it, quick!–ah no! you can’t deceive me, my dear fellow. I’m dying! I heard what the doctor told you–though he only whispered. But, Mr Kemball, although you are a young man, I–I’m going to trust you with a–with a strange responsibility. I–I trust you because you were so very kind to me on board. They all shunned me–all save you! They didn’t know my real name,”–and the old man chuckled bitterly to himself–“and they were not likely to!”

“You were unwell on the voyage, Mr Arnold, and it was surely my duty to–”

“Duty! What duty do you owe to me?–a perfect stranger–an adventurer for aught you know!” cried the old fellow with whom I had formed such a curious friendship. “No, Mr Kemball, you have acted as a real man, as a friend–one of the few friends one meets in this hard, workaday world,” and he clutched wildly at his throat, while his sunken cheeks slowly assumed a hectic flush. “Unlock the bag–get it out–before– before I lose my senses,” he added.

I took from the dressing-table the bunch of keys attached to his steel watch-chain, and was crossing the room towards the bag when he exclaimed–

“Listen, Mr Kemball! I’m a dying man. Will you make a solemn promise to me? Will you grant me one last earnest request? In half an hour– perhaps before–I shall be lying here dead. But I’m still alive–a man who has seen much, who knows strange things–a man who has lived through much, and who has stood by and seen men die around him like flies. God! If I dare only tell you half–but–”

“Well, Mr Arnold,” I asked quietly, returning to the bedside and looking into the pinched grey face, “how do you wish me to act?”

“I have already written it here–I wrote it on board ship, after my first seizure,” he said, slowly drawing a crumpled and bulky envelope from beneath his pillow and handing it to me with trembling fingers. “Will you promise not to open it until after I have been placed in the grave, and to act as I have requested?”

“Most certainly, Mr Arnold,” was my reply. “A promise given to one who is about to pass to the Beyond is sacred.”

His thin fingers gripped my hand in silent acknowledgment. He did not speak, but the expression in his eyes told of his profound thankfulness. I placed the letter in my breast-pocket. Something seemed to be enclosed within.

“Go and open the bag,” he whispered, after a brief silence.

I did so, and within, to my great surprise, found two huge bundles of fifty and hundred pound Bank of England notes, each packet several inches thick and tied with faded pink tape.

He beckoned me to bring them to him, and when I again stood near the bed, he selected one note, and then said–

“I wish you to destroy all of them–burn them there in the grate–so that I can watch you,” and he gave vent to a harsh, unnatural laugh, a hideous laugh of despair.

I looked at him in hesitation. The poor old fellow was surely mad. In my hands I held notes to the value of an enormous sum. And yet he wished to ruthlessly destroy them!

He noticed my hesitation, and in a quick, impatient tone, asked whether I would not carry out his wishes, at the same time handing me the note he had taken, telling me that it was to pay for his interment.

“As you desire,” I said, with some reluctance.

“But is it just–with so much distress here, in London–to deliberately destroy money like this?”

“I have a reason, Mr Kemball, a very strong reason,” he answered in a low tone.

So I was compelled to untie the bundles, and, separating the notes, placed them in the grate and commenced a fire, which I fed on and on, until the last note had been consumed, and there remained only a grate full of blackened tinder. I confess that I found myself wishing that I had the numbers of some of the notes, in order to reclaim their equivalent from the Bank.

The old man’s wild eyes, full of unnatural fire, watched the flames die down, and as they did so he gave a sigh of distinct relief.

Then, with difficulty, he turned to me and, putting out his hand, said–

“In the bag–at the bottom–you will find a sealed cylinder of metal.”

I searched as he directed, and drew forth a heavy ancient cylinder of bronze, about a foot and a half long and three inches in diameter. The top had, I saw, been welded down, but a long time ago, because of the green corrosion about it.

When I had carried it across to him, he looked me straight in the face with those deep-set glassy eyes, which haunted me for long afterwards, and said–

“I trust you with that, Mr Kemball, because–because–I feel assured that you will act as I direct. Do not attempt to seek–to discover what is within. That secret must be withheld–from you. In this I hope– that you will respect my desire–I hope so, for–for your own sake.”

I held the mysterious cylinder in my hand in wonder. Evidently he treasured it even far greater than his riches, and had brought it to London with some distinct purpose which he was now–owing to his heart-trouble–unable to accomplish.

“There are other things–other things in the bag. Bring them to me,” he said, in a low, weak voice, speaking with the greatest difficulty.

I brought the bag over to him and turned its contents pell-mell upon the floor. Among the several articles of clothing were a few old letters which, at his direction, I burned amid the tinder of the banknotes. Then, on searching further, I found a small, and evidently very antique, statuette of a figure standing, holding a kind of spear. It was about seven inches high, much worn, with a square base, and of solid gold. Around it I noticed an inscription in hieroglyphics.

“That,” my dying friend managed to gasp, “is an ancient image–of the Egyptian God Osiris, son of Seb, and Nut, or Heaven and Earth, and married to Isis. He was held to have gone through sufferings–to have died–to have risen again, and finally to have become the Judge of the Dead, His mysteries and rites were–were the most important part of Egyptian wisdom. The inscription upon it shows that it was made by one Mersekha, in the reign of King Radadef, in the Fourth Dynasty–or about three thousand five hundred years before the Christian era. Take it for yourself, Mr Kemball,” added the old man, his voice distinctly weaker. “It will serve as your mascot and will perhaps remind you of the friendless man whom you have to-day befriended.”

I stood by in silence, for I saw a distinct change had crept over him.

I took a glass in which the doctor had placed some drug, giving me instructions to administer it to him, and I forced a few drops of it between his teeth.

The evening was warm and oppressive. Twilight was just falling, and through the open window came the low hum of the motor traffic a few hundred yards away in the Strand. The hotel in which we were was a quiet, unostentatious little place in Surrey Street, to which, on leaving the ship two days before, he had persuaded me to accompany him. Some one had recommended him to go there, he said, in preference to the Savoy or Carlton.

On board the Miltiades, which he had joined at Naples, he had displayed no outward sign of wealth–or that he possessed money to burn. Indeed, his dress was mean and shabby, and by the wardrobe contained in his two ragged bags, one would certainly never put him down as a man of means. It is generally dangerous, however, to judge a man by his clothes.

The old clock of St Clement Danes struck eight, and a few moments later there came a low tap at the door, and the doctor again reappeared, and bent over his patient anxiously.

He gave him a few more drops of the medicine, but the old man made an impatient gesture, and refused to swallow more.

What request, I wondered, was contained in that crumpled and rather bulky letter which I held in my breast-pocket?

Outside, in the corridor, the doctor told me that the end was quite near, and suggested that I should obtain something from him concerning his friends.

“Mr Arnold has already told me,” I replied. “He possesses no friends.”

And at that the doctor shrugged his shoulders and descended the stairs.

Back at the bedside in the fast-fading light of the hot day of early June, I took the old man’s bony hand in silent farewell.

He turned his eyes upon me, gazing at me with a strange intense look, as though trying to read my very soul.

He endeavoured to speak, but though I bent my ear to his mouth, I could catch no words. His thin nervous hands clenched themselves, his grey beard moved, and he struggled violently to communicate with me, but without avail. Then with his right hand, he made a sign that he wished to write.

Instantly I obtained a pen and scrap of paper which I placed before him.

For a long time his hand trembled, so that he could make no intelligible writing. At last, however, he managed slowly, and with infinite difficulty, to trace very unevenly the words–

“Remember the name Harford–be friendly, but beware of him and the Hand.”

He watched my face eagerly as I read.

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