The Magnificent Hoax - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Magnificent Hoax ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Captain Jan Henderson master of the cargo ship Henrietta Anne trading between London and Holland is working with mysterious conspirators (Sir Gregory Fawsitt and Lady Judith Martellon) to smuggle goods from Holland to London. His deck boy, David, falls in love with Judy, a pretty dancer. When Anthony Loman, an haggard traveler, staggers up the stairs of the tenement house at Bunter’s Buildings, Judy listens while he is flung to his death. As Police Sergeant Sanders’ investigation draws closer to the truth, will the killers be brought to justice? „The Magnificent Hoax” is a novel of drug-smuggling with yacht cruises to the Orient, Scotland Yard, aristocratic beauties and London’s waterfront.

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Liczba stron: 346

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Contents

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

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER I

A HUMAN BEING, the shrunken shadow of a man he seemed, was toiling slowly and painfully up the stone steps of the gaunt tenement house. With his left hand he grasped the iron balustrade. His head remained immovably lowered. His footsteps grew wearier and wearier. On the last landing but one he paused for breath. He leaned for a moment or two against the rail. His eyes, sad eyes they were, set in hollow depths, looked wistfully out of the dust-encrusted window, over the tops of the houses, to the curving line of the river with its tangled cluster of masts, a semi-derelict steamer or two moored against the wharves. He moved across to the narrow cracked slit of clouded glass. His fingers failed to dislodge it, to make the slightest effect upon its fastening. It seemed as though it had remained closed since the day it was built. He looked out for a few minutes like a prisoner from his cell, then he returned to his task. Wearily he crawled up to the landing and turned to face the last flight of stairs. After the third step he halted, trembling. It was the one place he dreaded. There was a gap in the balustrade for at least three yards. From where he was, he clutched the end of the iron rail and looked fearfully downwards. All that he could see was a terrifying pool of blackness.

“What a hell of a place,” he muttered to himself. He stood there shivering. It seemed impossible, with his insignificant stock of courage, that he should ever pass that unprotected space. Presently he decided that he must move over to the wall side and lean against that for the remainder of the journey. For a moment or two, however, that glance below seemed to have completely unnerved him. His knees were shaking. There seemed to be a vacuum at the back of his head.

From the landing below there was a sudden stream of light. A door had been opened. A gaudily dressed woman stepped out and paused for a moment, swinging a key upon her finger. She caught a glimpse of the shrinking figure above.

“Hello!” she exclaimed. “Who’s that?”

“I’m Loman,” he answered. “Anthony Loman–the top-floor lodger here. I’m just home from abroad and the climb is almost too much for me. You look good-natured,” he went on wistfully. “I wonder whether you would mind–er–leaving your door open whilst I tackle these last few steps.”

She laughed in a kind way.

“I believe you’re afraid of that gap in the balustrade,” she said.

“I am,” he confessed with a groan. “My nerve isn’t good.”

“Stay where you are,” she directed, “and I’ll come and help you up.”

“You’re very kind,” he murmured.

She swung up to his side, the powder puff which she had been using still in her hand. Her movements were unusual in their grace, and there was a certain elegance about her entirely at variance with her showy clothes and clumsy use of cosmetics. She seemed to envelop him with a wave of cheap perfume as she reached his side and passed her strong arm through his.

“Now then,” she said encouragingly, “you have nothing to fear. I’ll be your balustrade. You can lean on me as much as you like. One step–two–up we go. Nothing when you’ve got an arm to help you, is it? You’re the only one on this landing, aren’t you.”

“I am all alone up here,” he answered. “My room is just an attic.”

She looked around at the bare walls, at the heavy door of the fire escape which stood half open. The stark nakedness of the place oppressed her. She shivered as she tightened her grip upon his arm.

“Aren’t you lonely up here?” she asked.

“I want to be,” he assured her.

She shook her head.

“This house is full of bad characters, you know,” she warned him. “I should hate to be up here all alone. There are ten other rooms on my landing. It seems to me that the occupants must spend at least half their time in prison, but anyhow when they’re about they are human beings. I should hate it up here–without a soul near. How the wind whistles through that fire escape door, too!”

“I’m not afraid,” he told her weakly. “I’m only glad to get back. I’ve been in danger. I have been abroad and in hospital but I still have work to do.”

“What sort of work?” she enquired curiously.

“Not work that one talks about. One has to keep one’s mouth closed all the time.”

“Well, is there anything else I can do for you?” she asked. “I’ll be getting along if there isn’t. This place gives me the shivers.”

He made no answer. He had suddenly become almost a dead weight upon her supporting arm. There was an eager, half-terrified light in his deep-set eyes. His trembling finger was pointing towards the door of his room a few feet away.

“What’s that?” he gasped. “For God’s sake tell me. What is it?”

The girl’s eyes followed the direction of his shaking forefinger. She passed her other arm around him. It was obvious that he was on the point of collapse.

“Nothing to be afraid of,” she assured him encouragingly. “It’s just a telegram pinned onto your door.”

“A telegram!” he gasped.

“Yes. Don’t you understand?” she explained. “The telegraph boy has evidently been here, found no one at home and pinned it to the door. Better than pushing it underneath, anyway. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a telegram!”

The man made no movement. She was conscious, however, that he was making a great struggle.

“Here–give me your key,” she went on. “I’ll open the door for you. I can’t stand about here all night. Give me your key, then I’ll open the door for you and you can go inside and read your telegram. Seems to me you’ve come out of hospital a bit before your time.”

He moved unsteadily forward, still relying chiefly upon her support. She unlocked the door and pushed it back. His head remained fixed all the time. His eyes were rivetted upon the telegram attached to the door by a bent pin. His own name in crude white paint stared at him: L-0-M-A-N.

“Let’s see if we can get any light,” she suggested. “I expect your metre has run out.”

She tried the switch, A feeble light shone out from the single burner. She looked around. It was an attic room with a small iron bedstead, a single chair, a plain deal chest of drawers. There was no pretence at carpet or furnishings of any sort. “Why don’t you take down your telegram?” she asked. “Shall I do it for you? Here you are.”

She drew out the pin, threw it away and passed him the envelope. A feminine curiosity stirred for a moment in her.

“Want me to read it for you?”

His fingers gripped the envelope. He released her arm. His strength seemed to be returning.

“No,” he declined, with unexpected firmness. “Thank you very much. Miss–Judy, isn’t it?”

“That’s the only name I have hereabouts,” she admitted with a little laugh. “It’s good enough. My, you seem bare here,” she added, looking round. “Haven’t you got anything to eat, or a teapot or anything?”

He moistened his dry lips.

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