The Man Who Changed His Name - Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis - ebook

The Man Who Changed His Name ebook

Edgar Wallace, Robert Curtis

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Over her head hung the menace of murder – and; of The Man Who Changed His Name...Best remembered for penning the screenplay for the classic film „King Kong”, author Edgar Wallace was an astoundingly popular luminary in the action-adventure genre in the early twentieth century. „The Man Who Changed His Name” is a Robert Curtis’s adaptation of a screenplay by Edgar Wallace. This story packed with intrigue, mystery, murders, and it highlights Wallace’s unmatched skill in setting a pulse-pounding pace. An entertaining tale, this book constitutes a must-read for lovers of crime fiction.

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Liczba stron: 377

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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 I

NITA CLIVE was sitting in a deck chair on the well-trimmed lawn, gazing, with a slight pucker between her well-trimmed eyebrows, at what was described by Messrs. Truman & Co., Estate Agents and Purveyors of Adjectives, as “Sunningbourne Lodge, Ascot; a charming, detached, picturesque, creeper-clad, freehold residential property, standing in a matured, old-world garden of three acres.” At this time of the year both the house, draped with greenery so that not a brick was visible, and the garden, with its riot of rambler roses in full bloom, bore witness to the accuracy of Messrs. Truman & Co.‘s description.

If called upon to describe Mrs. Clive as she sat there with her dark hair confessing to the sunlight a secret tendency to be auburn, her mouth rather wistful, and her grey eyes thoughtful, Messrs. Truman & Co. would probably have used some of the same adjectives, “Charming” and “picturesque,” as applied to the slim, girlish figure lolling in the deck chair, would have stood; “detached” she certainly was at the moment, with an air of being quite unaware of her surroundings; and since, three years ago, she had been legally conveyed to Selby Clive as his wife, they might have felt justified in leaving unaltered the words “freehold residential property.”

Nita glanced again at the letter which she held in her hand. It was from Truman & Co. They were pleased to inform her that they had forwarded particulars of Sunningbourne Lodge to a Mr. Denham, who was looking for a residence in the district, and he proposed calling tomorrow to view the property. They trusted that she could conveniently allow him to look over the house and grounds and that a satisfactory sale would ensue.

Nita’s glance suddenly shifted to the French windows that gave onto the terrace from the library. They were open, and she could see her husband busily writing, his grey head, as he bent over his desk, showing up clearly against the oak-panelled wall. Selby, she reflected, disliked being interrupted when at work, but it might be as well, she thought, to beard him at once and show him the letter. It would be a difficult interview. Selby, of course, would refuse to discuss the matter seriously–try to laugh it off, as he had always done in the past. Probably, to appease her, he would suggest an evening in town–dinner at some highly respectable restaurant where the music was “good” and the food “wholesome,” followed by a visit to some show, during which he would yawn every few minutes and glance frequently at his watch.

But this time she did not mean to be appeased. She had never seriously opposed Selby before, and she was a little nervous as to what would happen when he discovered that she had flouted his wishes and taken matters into her own hands. She had never seen him angry, and the knowledge that he would almost certainly be furious when he heard what she had done gave her a strange thrill of excitement–and nervousness.

It would be something of an achievement to stir the placid, imperturbable Selby to anger; something of an interesting experiment. Rather alarming too, perhaps. She had always felt that Selby, if ever he should lose his temper, would be a rather terrifying person; which partly explained, no doubt, why she had been at pains to avoid making him lose it. Selby set at defiance was an unknown quantity, and she supposed, now she came to think of it, that she had always been just a little afraid of him.

Frank O’Ryan had often said as much, and, though she had stoutly denied it, Frank was probably right. But she would not be afraid this time. She would go to him now, show him the letter, and, if she were compelled to go so far, tell him bluntly that it was a choice between parting with Sunningbourne Lodge and parting with her. That, after all, was the truth.

With sudden resolution she got up from her chair, and as she did so she saw her husband step through the French windows and come towards her across the lawn–tall, broad-shouldered, grey-haired, his face rather grave, looking, as she had often told him, so much like Mr. Justice Somebody at the assizes that she wanted to call him “M’lud.” She hastily slipped the letter into her pocket.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” he began, “but I’m afraid the trip to Scotland will have to be postponed. I’ve just had a cable from Muller. He reaches England at the end of next week, and I must be here to see him.”

Nita frowned.

“Muller? Have I ever heard of him?”

“Someone from my mysterious past,” smiled her husband. “He’s my lawyer in Canada–looks after all my affairs out there for me–besides being one of my oldest friends. There’ll be a good deal of business to discuss, Nita, and as he’ll only be in England for a few days I’m wiring him to come straight down here and stay with us. We can make the trip to Scotland later.”

“But you won’t want me for the business discussions, Selby, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t go to Scotland, is there?”

He glanced at her quickly.

“You mean–alone?” He was so obviously surprised and shocked that Nita could not restrain a smile.

“Is there any reason why I shouldn’t go–alone?”

“I suppose not, my dear, except that–up till now––”

“Except that up till now, ever since we’ve been married, I’ve never been anywhere without you?” interrupted Nita. “But we can’t always live in each other’s pockets, Selby. Frankly, I can’t stand much more of the sort of life I’ve been leading lately–mooning about down here, doing nothing, seeing no one but you and old Sir Ralph Whitcombe–that stuffy old bore! I can’t sit in the same room with him unless the window’s open. And now, when I’ve a chance of getting away from it all for a few days, you expect me to cancel the trip and stay at home to entertain some fusty old lawyer.”

He laid a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, darling,” he said. “I had no idea that you felt like that about it.”

“Well, I do, Selby.”

He took her hand between his.

“In that case, my dear,” he said, “by all means, go.”

He turned abruptly and went back to the library, and Nita, with a sigh of relief, returned to her chair. She had not meant to say all that, but it was just as well that it had been said. It was more than time that Selby realized that a girl of twenty-five could not go on indefinitely living like a hermit. The news had obviously surprised him–and hurt him. There was a big streak of sentimentality in Selby, and it had come as a shock to him that she should contemplate going anywhere by herself. But he had been quite nice about it. If only he weren’t always quite so nice, quite so reasonable, quite so irreproachable! It was his flawlessness more than anything else that sometimes irritated her almost beyond endurance. If he would sometimes be wrong or inconsiderate or selfish or short-tempered, he would be so much easier to live with.

There came the sound of a car in the drive, and a few moments later she saw Frank O’Ryan sauntering towards her across the lawn. She greeted him with a smile. There were few women below the age of thirty who did not greet Frank O’Ryan with a smile, and in her present mood the sight of a good-looking, well-dressed young man was more than welcome to Nita.

He tossed his hat aside and seated himself on the grass beside her chair.

“I say, Nita,” he exclaimed, glancing round the garden, “you’ve a marvelous spot here. You’ve improved the place no end.”

“There’s this much to be said for Sunningbourne Lodge, Frank,” she replied: “you can’t do anything to it without improving it.”

“Rambler roses all a-bloom, Nita, well-trimmed lawns, picturesque creeper-clad house–what more do you want?”

She gave a shrug.

“The worst of living in a creeper-clad house is that you’re liable to get like it.”

He nodded.

“I know. Beats me how you stick it, Nita. You’re unhappy, aren’t you?”

“Are you suddenly becoming observant, Frank?”

“Not suddenly. I’ve always wondered why you married old Selby. He’s a good chap, of course. I admire him immensely––”

“But–? You may as well say it, now you’ve started. When one man says he admires another man, it usually means that he’s going to start slanging him.”

“Well, he’s not your sort, Nita. It doesn’t need very acute observation to see that Selby wants nothing better than to loaf about down here and watch the antirrhinums grow, but that sort of thing bores you to tears. You’ve been married for three years, and for two years and eleven months you’ve been wondering how much longer you could stick it. But you haven’t the pluck to do anything else: you’re scared stiff of Selby; and so the farce goes on. Why don’t you break away?”

“Break away–from Selby?”

“He doesn’t mean a thing to you.”

She did not contradict him. She had so often told herself just what Frank was telling her now. But then, as now, she had not been sure how far it was true. Often, too, during the last three years, in a rather timid, halfhearted way, feeling all the time that she was not in earnest about it and that she was considering something which could never be, she had toyed with the idea of cutting herself free and living a life in which Selby played no part. It was only lately that she had begun to look upon a break with her husband as a practical proposition; and even now, when she had come to feel that her life, like the house, could not suffer alteration without improvement, she still hesitated. After all, there were points about Selby. Whatever he had failed to give her, he had given her a sense of security–some solid foot-bold in a slippery sort of world. Anchored to him, she was in no danger of shipwreck, and however much she might long for adventurous voyaging, there were compensations in safe anchorage.

“He doesn’t mean a thing to you,” repeated O’Ryan. “Oh, I don’t know. I admire him, Frank–tremendously–and respect him––”

“But?” grinned O’Ryan. “You may as well go on, Nita, now you’ve started. When a woman says she admires and respects a man, it usually means he’s the last man she’d care to marry. Don’t tell me you haven’t often wanted to break out. You’ve been thinking about it ever since you were married, but you’re too much of a Puritan to do it. At one act per year it’s already a three-act farce. How much longer is it going on?”

Nita smiled.

“You’re always rather transparent, Frank,” she said, “when you start giving advice.”

“Women’s most hoary delusion,” he chuckled. “It’s good advice, anyway.”

“And disinterested?”

“Of course not. I’ve never pretended it was,” said O’Ryan. “But, if you prefer it, we’ll put it bluntly. How much longer am I to be kept waiting? You’re treating me pretty badly, you know, and we can’t go on like this forever. I can’t, anyway. It isn’t fair to expect it of me.”

“And has it occurred to you, Frank, that if I were to do what you want me to, it might be a little unfair to Selby?”

“I’m not thinking of Selby. I’m thinking of you. In a case like this, Selby doesn’t count. It’s bad luck on him, but it can’t be helped. Good Lord, Nita, if you really cared for Selby I’d be the last man to butt in. But you don’t. You know damned well that if Selby never kissed you again you’d be grateful and––”

“Frank–please!”

“It’s true,” persisted O’Ryan. “Do you suppose I haven’t noticed? You hate him to touch you, and when he kisses you good-night you put up with it because you fancy it’s your duty, and pull a face as if you were swallowing a dose of poison. That’s pretty rotten for you, Nita–and for me. I’ve stood it for a good time, but I can’t stand much more of it.”

He caught her hand suddenly and held it.

“Nita,” he said, “we could be tremendously happy together, couldn’t we? You know we could. If you’ll only give me the chance––”

She withdrew her hand sharply.

“When you’re proposing to rob a man of his wife, Frank,” she said, “it isn’t wise to hold her hand in full view of the library window.”

O’Ryan’s glance travelled swiftly to the open windows of the library and back to the girl’s face.

“It’s not a case of robbery, Nita,” he said. “You’d be giving me something you could never give to Selby, and I’d be taking nothing from him. You can’t rob a man of something he doesn’t possess–and you’ve never really belonged to Selby. Being married to a man and sharing a house with him and eating your meals at the same table doesn’t mean that you really belong to him. It may just be a case of two strangers being miserable together under the same roof because neither of them has the courage to leave it. That’s how it is with you and Selby and I don’t see anything to laugh at, Nita.”

She was gazing, with a smile of amusement, at the library windows.

“I was just wondering, Frank,” she said. “Suppose I did agree to do as you suggest, what would Selby do when he found out? Do you think he’d just be pathetic and broken-hearted and blame himself for not having understood me?” She shook her head. “I can’t quite see Selby crumpling up and feeling sorry for himself. And I don’t think he’d get dramatic about it; he hates anything approaching a scene, and he’s much too self-conscious to be really dramatic. He’d feel all the time what a fool he was making of himself.”

“Why worry about that now, Nita? I’m ready to risk––”

“I think I know what he would do,” she interrupted. “He wouldn’t make the least fuss about it. He’d take it all very calmly–say nothing to either of us and go on just as if nothing had happened, until the right moment arrived; and then he’d quite coolly put a bullet through each of us.”

O’Ryan shot a quick glance at her.

“Good God, Nita! You don’t really believe––”

“Oh, he’d do it ever so kindly, Frank,” she added, “but I’m sure that’s what he’d do–commit a nice, considerate murder and then refuse to discuss the matter further.”

The man forced a smile.

“I’ll risk the bullet if you will,” he laughed. “But seriously, my dear–how much longer? Or how soon?”

She shrugged her shapely shoulders.

“Seriously, Frank, I don’t know,” she told him. “Never, perhaps. If you forced me to answer you now, I should certainly say ‘never.’ But I know that’s only because Selby has just been rather sweet to me, and I’d feel a mean little worm at the moment if I agreed to let him down. Sometimes I feel–oh, I don’t know. You’re right in a way, of course: I don’t belong to Selby. I can’t ever feel towards him as I feel towards you–sometimes. You don’t know how near I’ve been once or twice to turning up with a bag at your flat and saying, ‘Here I am, Frank.’ I’ve felt that I simply must rush off to you, that I couldn’t stand another minute away from you. But the feeling has never lasted long enough for me to pack my bag. It may do so one day; I don’t know. It’s rather like cheating, isn’t it? Cheating Selby, I mean. But I’m cheating him now in a way–and cheating us, too. I’m not sure it wouldn’t be more honest to go to Selby and tell him frankly that I’ve made a mistake in marrying him and ask him to call the whole thing off in a friendly way.”

“Good Lord, Nita, don’t be crazy! You can’t.”

“I think I could, Frank. Selby must feel he’s not getting a square deal, and he might be glad to call it off. He’s too nice to suggest it himself, but if I suggested it––”

“You’re not going to suggest it. For heaven’s sake, my dear, be reasonable. If Selby had the least suspicion he’d–well, it would make things deuced awkward for me, anyway.”

“Any more awkward than for me?” she countered. “Or for Selby? I’m not suggesting it would be comfortable for any of us, but if I’m prepared to face it out––”

“I’m not prepared to let you,” he cut in. “Hang it, Vita, that would put paid to everything. The first thing Selby would do would be to call the whole deal off.”

“Deal?”

He nodded.

“The Tamagari property. I’ve been trying to get Selby to lease the land to me, and he seems inclined to do it. He has written to his lawyer in Canada about it, anyway, and I’m hoping to pull it off. I thought you knew–didn’t Selby tell you?”

“Yes, he did mention it.”

“He’s going to do it, isn’t he?”

“I believe so.”

He frowned.

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