The Man from Sing Sing - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Man from Sing Sing ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Cruelly betrayed by the testimony of Reuben Argels, his business partner and close friend, Moran Chambers is sentenced to 10 years in Sing Sing Prison. Haunted by the feeling that Chambers will exact revenge, Argels flees on the next boat to London, where he finds their third partner, the dour Scotchman Andrew Pulwitter, and Moran’s mistress, the lovely actress Ambouyna Kotinzi. Argels finds success in London, but is all the while haunted by the thought – when will Chambers wreak his revenge? It presents a fascinating picture of the frenzy which possessed financial markets at the beginning of the Roaring 30’s with the twists and turns of the story.

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Liczba stron: 424

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Contents

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

BOOK TWO

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 XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I

The steamship Fernanda was three days out of New York before Reuben Argels left his stateroom. To his steward, who seldom read the newspapers and had a profound contempt for the illustrated press, his passenger was an enigma. He, the latter, took his bath in his private bathroom at seven o’clock, ate a hearty breakfast at eight, and spent the rest of the day, with brief intervals for lunch and dinner, which he also partook of in the seclusion of his stateroom, in the fretful perambulations of a caged tiger. At midday, he invariably rang for the steward and demanded particulars of the wireless news. When he had heard what the man had to report, he asked always the same question.

“Anything about Moran Chambers–the man who was sentenced to fifteen years’ penal servitude last week?”

The steward’s reply was invariably in the negative. On the third occasion of his receiving the report, which was evidently a relief to him, Reuben Argels came to a decision. He completed his toilette with care, glanced at his watch–it was a few minutes after midday–opened the drawer of a small cupboard which stood by the side of his bed, and drew out a flat, vicious-looking automatic, the steel of which shone blue in the sunlight. He examined the breech, placed it at safety, slipped the weapon into his coat pocket, and strode boldly out onto the deck with the air of a man prepared to face anything which might be coming to him.

As he stood there, his feet firmly poised, apparently gazing out to sea, but in reality sweeping the deck with long, keen glances, Reuben Argels was undoubtedly, according to some standards, a good-looking man and certainly a man of presence. His rounded figure was inclined towards embonpoint, but he carried himself well and his features, although small for the size of his face, were shapely and regular. His lips were a little protuberant and full-coloured, but they were partly concealed by a slight black moustache, which had a tendency to droop. His hair, parted in the middle, was also jet black and luxuriant in growth. His eyes were dark and brilliantly clear. There were indications of mental disturbance about the man as he loitered there, uncertain whether to pursue his enterprise or to return to the shelter of his cabin. The shadow of some undefined apprehension lurked in his furtive glances. The fingers playing with his moustache only partially concealed slight twitchings of the lips. A psychologist would have understood that Reuben Argels was a man unused to fear, or rather to being in a position likely to provoke fear, and that he was afraid.

The shipboard life flowed equably about him. Passengers strolled by indifferently. Acquaintances were ripening into friendships, flirtations into transitory love affairs, and the sting of the Atlantic wind and the fire of her sunshine were potent aggressors against the vice of curiosity. Reuben Argels remained unnoticed and unmolested. He began to realise the feeling of shipboard isolation. Nobody cared about him. He was on a tiny ship in the middle of an immense ocean. There was no one there whose eyes could look backwards to that gloomy, thickly populated court, with its weird mixture of dignity and horror, its atmosphere heavy with human sweatings. He wondered dimly whether the nightmare of that scene would ever leave him. He recalled the line after line of white, staring faces, all turned towards him, listening to the poisonous lie which had just left his lips so calmly–worse even than that, the slim figure in the dock, so indifferent, so scornful of the drama which counsel, with the thunder of their rhetoric, had created around him, slowly turning to face a lying witness. Their eyes had met! No power on earth could have aided Reuben Argels in his futile effort to resist the challenge. Then that awful thing had happened. A smile had dawned on Moran Chambers’ lips–a smile which was to haunt the life of the liar, a smile which was to linger like a graven gesture through the avenue of time until the day of reckoning. All in the court must have seen it–the judge, the crowd of lawyers and counsel, the police, the gloating sight-seers. Those who saw it might well have been haunted by its memory for the rest of their lives, but him for whom the smile was meant, whose eyes, like the eyes of a terrified rabbit, were drawn towards the eyes of that still figure in the dock, for him was intended the inner meaning of that strange parting of the lips, the message of horror, more poignant than any spoken word or gesture of hate.

The smile of Mona Lisa has intrigued generations, and not even the greatest of art critics can claim that he has properly interpreted it. The smile of Moran Chambers, which puzzled every person in the teeming courthouse, and supplied headlines on the following morning for the whole of the New York press, paralysed the nerves and seared the heart of the man against whom it was levelled. Three days out upon the Atlantic–and Moran Chambers behind the walls of Sing Sing! Yet fear–cold, grizzly fear–had chilled the whole being of Reuben Argels when he left the courthouse and had remained with him ever since–his woefully undesired travelling companion. . . .

It was the careless laugh of a passing woman which dispelled his nightmare. With furtive glances here and there, Reuben Argels commenced his promenade–the first time he had ventured outside the shelter of four walls since the trial, except twice to cross a strip of pavement to a waiting limousine. He walked the full length of the deck and returned. He recommenced his enterprise, and then, halfway between the exit from his own deck cabin and the door of the smoking room, he came to a sudden halt. His fingers stole into his coat pocket. In the face of danger, or what might have been danger, his instinct of self-preservation made him almost a brave man. He waited. Slowly along the deck there came towards him a familiar figure–a man of later middle age, tall, with a melancholy visage, lank and thin, almost hatchet-faced. He saw Reuben Argels rooted in the middle of the deck with his hand straying towards that hidden pocket and he recognised the situation. On board a crowded steamer he did nothing so melodramatic as to throw up his hands. He stretched them out wide on each side and came lumbering along like a gaunt sign-post. Arrived within speaking distance, he addressed the perturbed but motionless figure.

“That’s all right, Reuben,” he assured him smoothly, speaking with a pronounced Scotch accent. “I’m not taking it that way. You ought to know me better. I’ve never in my life even handled firearms for a serious purpose.”

Reuben Argels, although his lips were fresh from the task of telling the poisoned lies which had sworn away a man’s liberty, nevertheless knew the truth when he heard it. His features relaxed. His right hand came out.

“Glad to see you, Andrew,” he exclaimed, with a nervous effort at enthusiasm. “I thought somehow you might be on the boat.”

Andrew Pulwitter looked at the outstretched hand, but made no movement towards taking it. He shook his head.

“Reuben Argels,” he confided, “I’d have you understand that I’m a Scotchman and a man of peace. I’m not for risking my life or liberty by punishing you as you deserve, but to shake hands with you is not in my mind for the moment.”

“What I did saved your bacon, anyhow,” Argels pointed out.

“Verra possibly,” the Scotchman assented. “I didn’t ask you to do it, though. I’d rather have gone to prison than have done it myself.”

“You hadn’t the nerve,” Argels rejoined.

“Granted,” the other acquiesced calmly. “I shouldn’t have had the nerve. I’m not so good at lying at any time. A scheme like yours would have been outside my comprehension. What I didn’t realise until afterwards was that you had made a deal with the prosecution. I didn’t realise that, nor, I think, did any one in court until it became evident that there was to be no cross-examination.”

Reuben Argels shrugged his shoulders.

“This world–especially the moneyed world of New York,” he said cynically–“wasn’t made for philanthropists. I was offered a chance of saving my liberty and my money. We couldn’t all get out of that unholy mess. Some one had to suffer. It was Moran’s own scheme. He led us into it. Why shouldn’t he pay?”

Andrew Pulwitter stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“You’ve put a problem up against me, Reuben,” he admitted.

“Problem be damned!” was the irritated rejoinder. “We have made a great deal of money together, the three of us, and mostly honestly, even for Wall Street. This time we went, perhaps, a trifle too far, but if we did, it was Moran’s fault more than ours. We brought off a big coup and we’ve got our money. But, listen here, Andrew. We’d never have touched a cent, if I hadn’t taken the line I did. We should all three of us have been in Sing Sing at the present moment. Moran Chambers had enemies of his own who had no grudge against us. I was offered a deal and I took it. You benefited by what I did just as much as I have. Come and have a drink and let’s forget it.”

“It’s not my wish to quarrel with any one,” Andrew Pulwitter observed. “You know my opinion of your behaviour, Reuben, but you’ll get what’s coming to you without my denying myself a free drink. The dry Martinis in the double glasses here beat Mother Hitchcock’s down on Forty-first Street to smithereens.”

They strolled towards the smoking room.

“Mother Hitchcock’s!” Argels scoffed. “Thank God we have done with those beastly speak-easies. I am going to spend the rest of my life in civilised countries, Andrew. I am going to touch the London suckers for what I want. And afterwards–”

“Well, afterwards?” his companion asked curiously.

Reuben Argels shrugged his shoulders. They were comfortably ensconced in the bar, with two large, clouded glasses in front of them. Already the world was a brighter place.

“France for me!” Argels exclaimed. “A permanent appartement in Paris, summer at Deauville or Le Touquet, winter at Cannes or Monte Carlo. That’s the life for you, Andrew. I’ve dreamed of it all my days.”

“Kind of making plans ahead, aren’t you?” the Scotchman murmured.

“And why shouldn’t I?” his companion demanded, setting down his half-empty glass. “I believe in knowing what you’re out for in life.”

Andrew Pulwitter, who had been leaning back in his chair, with his hands in his trousers pockets and his eyes fixed speculatively upon the ceiling, straightened himself. His hard blue eyes gleamed underneath their bushy white eyebrows as he turned towards his neighbour.

“Reuben,” he asked, “might you have noticed that smile on Moran Chambers’ face when he looked at you in the witness box?”

Reuben Argels finished his cocktail and signalled to the barman. He spoke with a certain amount of gusto, but, nevertheless, his voice shook and he was conscious of that uncomfortable sinking of the heart.

“Of course I did; so, apparently, did every journalist in New York. What about it?”

Andrew Pulwitter stroked his chin.

“If Moran Chambers had smiled at me like that,” he confided, “I shouldn’t have been troubling about making plans too far ahead.”

Argels lost his temper, as men sometimes do when in deadly fear.

“What the hell do you mean, Andrew?” he demanded. “We’ve fixed Moran up all right.”

“You have.”

“Very well then, I have. He got fifteen years. They led him down those stairs to fifteen years’ penal servitude. New York prisons aren’t cardboard houses. What harm is Moran Chambers going to do to me, or any one of us, from inside that steel-walled cell of his? Think, man. Use your common sense.”

Andrew Pulwitter stared at his glass for a moment, as though wondering what it contained. Then he raised it to his lips and drained its contents thoughtfully.

“Reuben,” he said, “I’m a man of intelligence, I hope, but common sense doesn’t get very far with me when I think of Moran Chambers. He is the one man I know who, I should say, was capable of performing impossibilities. If he had smiled at me as he smiled at you when they led him away, I should make my will, even if the walls of his cell were eight feet thick.”

There were two or three little beads of perspiration upon Argels’ forehead. He thrust his trembling hand into the breast pocket of his coat and produced a handful of Marconigrams.

“You are talking claptrap, Andrew Pulwitter,” he declared angrily. “Look at these! The warden of the prison is as close to me as any other man could be. We are like brothers. I have had a wireless every night since I have been on board. I’ll get another to-night. Read them.”

The Scotchman carefully adjusted his steel-rimmed spectacles and spelt out the typewritten characters of the first of the sheets he handled:

“ ‘Prisoner 1790 perfectly normal. Absolutely safe.

  Guarantee escape impossible. Walker, Warden.’ ”

“There you are, Andrew,” his companion almost shouted. “They are all the same. Straight to me from the warden of the prison. What have I to fear? What can there be to fear? He is there for fifteen years, with at the most five years’ remission–ten years. That’s good enough for me. I could make myself safe in ten years from any one.”

The words were confidently spoken, but there was anxiety in Argels’ eyes as they searched his companion’s. The latter nodded dubiously.

“ ’Tis a reassuring message,” he admitted, “and from any ordinary point of view the man would seem to be safe enough.”

“What do you mean ‘from any ordinary point of view’?”

The Scotchman took off his spectacles and polished them carefully before replacing them in their case.

“Reuben Argels,” he confided, “I am not what they call a superstitious man or given to fancying the impossible, but I tell you as man to man, lad–I didna like that smile.”

CHAPTER II

Reuben Argels, fortified by several visits to the smoking room, went down to dinner that night, and, with a bold front, faced for the first time the two hundred and thirty-eight passengers who filled the saloon. Things, however, went ill with him from the start. The second steward regretted that the place he had asked for at Mr. Pulwitter’s table was already taken. It was, as it happened, unoccupied, but that was because the passenger was ill and he might appear at any moment. He affected not to see the note which fluttered tentatively in Argels’ fingers and led him towards a solitary table at the far end of the room. Argels was taking his place–the steward, indeed, had bowed himself away–when he received the second and more poignant shock of this momentous day. The floor heaved up beneath his feet. The knuckles of the hand which gripped the side of his chair were tensely white. Seated only three tables away, looking at him, as it seemed at first, with indifferent eyes, was the woman whom he had last seen struggling to reach Moran Chambers’ hand as he was led from the court–Ambouyna Kotinzi, the world-famed cinema actress, whom New York had pronounced the most beautiful woman in the universe. . . .

An utterly commonplace incident forced Reuben Argels back into touch with his surroundings. A waiter stood by his side, an extended menu in his hand.

“What can I get for you, sir?”

Reuben Argels subsided into his chair. The man leaned sympathetically towards him.

“Not feeling very well, sir?” he enquired. “Shall I get you some brandy? She has started to roll a bit the last half-hour.”

Argels recovered himself.

“I’m all right,” he declared. “A glass of champagne would do me more good than brandy, I think.”

He ordered his dinner, selected some wine, and unfolded his napkin. Fate had dealt ill with him in his choice of a steamer. Andrew Pulwitter–Moran Chambers’ greatest friend–he had been prepared to meet, but this woman, the object of his own infatuation, whom all New York declared to be madly in love with Chambers, her presence seemed to him far more menacing. He summoned up his courage and ventured to look at her. She was so beautiful that, afraid though he was, he could scarcely glance at her without a twinge of emotion. Her skin, almost destitute of colour, had an exquisite smoothness. Her deep blue eyes were fringed with silky black eyelashes. The dark rims underneath seemed to detract nothing from her loveliness. He hated himself as he remembered the beginning of his infatuation for her. There had been letters, flowers, a jewel case, all returned unopened. Then at last he had met her in Moran Chambers’ apartment, her arm around his neck, her devotion blatant. He knew very well, although he had seldom acknowledged it to himself, that from that moment he had hated Moran Chambers. He had had his revenge, but much good it was likely to do him, so far as this woman was concerned. He had caught her eye for a moment, as he had descended from the witness box. He had passed close to her and she had drawn her skirts aside, as though from some loathsome animal. . . . It was a cruel stroke of fortune to place him within a few yards of her here. Perhaps–but there was no chance of that. All the world spoke of her fidelity. He was the last man upon whom she was likely to cast even a glance. He tried to persuade himself that revenge was worth having. To-night Moran Chambers was wearing prison garb and eating prison food. He poured some champagne into his glass and drank a silent toast. It was scarcely a pleasant one, but it was at least fervent. As he set down his empty goblet, some impulse, partly perhaps of defiance, impelled him to look across that space of empty tables. Ambouyna was watching him. Her eyes met his without a quiver. There was no recognition in them, but, on the other hand there was no flash of passionate anger, neither was there even a frown upon her beautiful face. Perhaps she was wondering what that toast had been. He had an insane longing to tell her. . . .

Afterwards, he drank his coffee and smoked his cigar in the verandah café. He was a lonely man, but that was almost to be expected. The cause célèbre in which he had just featured was none too savoury a one, and out of his own mouth, in the witness box, he had been forced into admitting himself responsible for many minor acts, dishonourable, if not dishonest. He had never hoped to be able to resume his position in New York. London, however, for which city he was bound, was different, less discriminating, if not more charitable. It was entirely a new world, this, to which he was going, a new form of enterprise to which he was committed. He thought of it without misgiving, even, when he could rid his mind of other matters, with enthusiasm. He had no lack of confidence in his own powers. A man who had started as an errand boy, who had made a quarter of a million on Wall Street before he had ever come into contact with Moran Chambers and his friends, could scarcely be at a disadvantage in the city of London. Besides, the basis of money making was the same all the world over. He drew a pencil from his pocket, and a piece of paper, and began to make calculations. Suddenly his fingers became numb. He was conscious of a queer sense of excitement. There was a perfume around him, a presence which the sensuous nature of the man swiftly interpreted. Some one was standing by his side. He looked up. It was Ambouyna, in a flaming red dress, the top part of which only, chiffon to her throat, he had seen in the dining room. She was looking down at him with contemplative eyes. Whatever bitter feeling she may have felt was at that moment concealed.

“You are Mr. Reuben Argels, are you not?” she enquired.

“That is my name,” he admitted, rising unsteadily to his feet. “The whole world knows yours.”

She nodded.

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