The Man Who Was Two - Fred M. White - ebook

The Man Who Was Two ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

Walter Pennington and Raymond Mallison were best friends. And it would seem that can prevent such a strong friendship. However, after a while a lawyer, Walter Pennington is found dead. His friend is under arrest. This news surprises their friends, because they were good friends, but before their death, they quarreled. Is Raymond Mallison to blame for the death of his friend?

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Liczba stron: 433

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Contents

I. The Man In Motley

II. The Valet’s Story

III. The Green Spectacles

IV. The Dragging Hour

V. The Verdict

VI. Behind The Bars

VII. The Hangman’s Rock

VIII. Over The Brink

IX. From Tragedy To Comedy

X. The Heels Of Adventure

XI. The Right Track

XII. The Man Called Marne

XIII. The Other Man

XIV. “Mr. S. Allison”

XV. The Conjuring Trick

XVI. The Trick Finished

XVII. Towards The Dawn

XVIII. In The Caravan

XIX. A Story In A Story

XX. Paving The Way

XXI. A Blind Witness

XXII. The Nurse’s Story

XXIII. Under The Castle

XXIV. For Big Stakes

XXV. A Telegram For Barros

XXVI. Allison Comes In

XXVII. On The Way

XXVIII. Following The Trail

XXIX. “An Accident”

XXX. The Man With The Grey Beard

XXXI. A Family Gathering

XXXII. Gilette’s Hour

XXXIII. The Last Word

I. THE MAN IN MOTLEY

The Throne Room in the Royal Windsor Hotel was discreetly full of diners–the management never allowed that sacred haven to be packed even in holiday times–and every little table, with its shaded pink lights, held its sheaf of youth and beauty spilling with laughter and dazzling with eyes as bright and alluring as the gems that seemed to float there on a sea of foamy froth cradled in pink and mauve chiffon and diaphanous lace. There was something exceedingly intimate in the half-shrouded tables, each encrusted with the loveliest things that breathe and palpitate in this transient life of ours, and yet it seemed part of one smooth harmonious whole as if the elect gathered there were, after all, one exclusive family.

It was warm and alluring there that eventful New Year’s Eve, with its lights and warmth and laughter, its well-trained waiters, and the scent of roses that clung caressingly to it all. The mere whisper of care or sorrow or tragedy there would have savoured of outrage, and yet those inconsequent diners were no more than ordinary flesh and blood with the heritage of sorrow and suffering that comes to us all. But not to-night, surely not to-night, amidst the wealth of flowers and the ripple of laughter and the sheer joy of being. And it was some half humorous philosophy like this that Roy Gilette was casting inconsequently before his three dinner companions as he sat at Sir Marston Manley’s table in the centre of the room.

“Now, to an old traveller like me,” he frivolled on, “this is a lasting joy. To a man of the world, Sir Marston, this is a dozen novels rolled into one. How many stories, how many plots for my film dramas that one day shall thrill the world are awaiting me here if only the gifts of Asmodeus were mine?”

Gilette waved his well-manicured hand comprehensively around and smiled into the faces of his companions. That clean-shaven, handsome face of his was distinctly alluring. Sir Marston smiled, too, but it was a smile of envy, that the famous painter successfully disguised behind his white flowing beard and wide-rimmed silver spectacles. Yet he loved to be with youth and bathe in it. And that was why he was entertaining youth and beauty tonight.

“It’s good to hear that you are going to do something at last,” he said “Even the youngest of us has his responsibilities. But the cinema! Really, my dear Roy.”

“And why not?” Gilette demanded. “There’s a great future before the pictorial drama when the cowboys cease from troubling and the Chaplins are at rest. And it fills me with grief, my dear old guardian, to see this professional jealousy. A painter who is the friend of kings ought to be beyond such weakness.”

“Oh, well,” the famous artist laughed, “I ought to be happy in the knowledge that you are doing something useful. But do you really mean it, dear boy? What about the famous comedy that was to make the shade of Sheridan turn uneasily in his grave? And the novel that should cause folk to forget the very name of Dickens.”

The girl in the pink chiffon rippled merrily. There were lurking little demons in her eyes that looked like limpid lakes of unfathomable blue in the half-shades of the lights. And even the inconsequent Gilette was fully conscious of the witchery of them, though he knew that they could never be meant wholly for him. But he noted the round firmness of the cheeks and the exquisite colouring, indeed everything that gave Peggy Ferriss her own particular charm. Not that he was in love with this almost flawless little Devonshire beauty–what heart he cherished in that hot adventurous youth of his belonged to the more stately and self-contained beauty of Hetty Bond–the tall, dark girl who sat by Peggy’s side.

There was nothing between Roy Gilette and Hetty Bond except the understanding of a perfect silence, no terms of intimate endearment, no exchange of caresses, only an ideal realisation that someday, when the wander lust had burnt itself out, Gilette would come home and lay his sheaves and sword at Hetty’s feet.

Dinner was nearly over now, and the spirit of the night was beginning to be felt on the air, a quickening of the pulses and the relaxation of New Year’s Eve. There were little spurts and snaps as some of the many children there were getting busy with the crackers that lay in silver and blue and dazzling gold on the various tables. There were sharp crackles of laughter on all sides. Gilette had pulled one with Peggy, and the Quaker cap out of its gorgeous interior lay on the table. Roy’s suggestion that Peggy should wear it had met with no response so far. Sooth to say, she was looking just a little wistfully at the two empty covers that lay undisturbed on the table.

“Oh, he’ll come presently,” Gilette laughed. “My dear Peggy, it you will bestow those engaging young charms on a cold-blooded man of science, you must put up with the consequences. But there really is no excuse for Pennington not turning up. I hope that those two have not been quarreling again.”

This was the first allusion to the fact that the supper-party was not complete. It should have been made up with Walter Pennington, a barrister of some repute, and Raymond Mallison, Peggy’s fiance, a man who was regarded as one of the coming celebrities in the scientific world that revolved round the afflicted in the way of blindness and deafness and the loss of speech. These two men had been fast friends at one time, but a misunderstanding had forced them apart, and this little dinner was intended to bring them together again. Mallison was ever a little uncertain, but there was no excuse for the defection of Pennington. So the meal had commenced without them: and now Peggy was beginning to get a little uneasy and annoyed.

“Oh, Raymond will be here in time for the Christmas tree and the dance,” she said lightly. “Do go on telling us all about this new venture of yours, Mr. Gilette. Are you actually going to run a cinema company? Somewhere here in England?”

“See what Eton and Christ Church have done for him,” Sir Marston smiled grimly, “What his poor mother would have said if she were alive I tremble to think. She, poor dear, could never make up her mind between the Woolsack and Canterbury. Personally, I could never visualise Roy in the role of an Archbishop.”

“Oh, well,” Gilette said. “One must not be too hard on the morbid fancies of a fond parent. It was one of my mother’s delusions that I was capable of anything in that line.”

As he sat there with the light shining on his dark, handsome face, with its keen humorous and intellectual lines, even the most cynical might have pardoned a fond parent’s dreams. The man seemed to exude strength and power, bravery and courage were deeply stamped on him, and he possessed in a marked degree a bland audacity and assurance that was almost childlike in its semblance of unconsciousness. Indeed that charming impudence of his was almost a household word amongst his friends. As he was fond of quoting, the world was his oyster, and he had the weapons to open it. Youth and strength and fortune–what could any darling of the Gods ask for more?

“What can a man do?” he asked as he waved a comprehensive hand towards the brilliantly lighted room. “I can’t get my plays produced unless I take a theatre of my own and that way madness lies. No publisher will look at my novels. Those wily old Turks Say ‘bosh’ to my works, as some profound philosopher remarked on a certain historic occasion. So I am trying the pictures. My own crowd, called ‘The Long Trail Players,’ with a studio at Sheen and a big company are at present waiting for fine weather down in Devonshire. By the way, they are not far from Merston, Sir Marston.”

“How splendid.” Peggy cried. “Why, that’s close to my home. Do you know that Raymond Mallison was brought up there too? And Sir Marston’s summer studio is close by. I feel that I am going to have a most interesting summer. What a background Merston will make with all those glorious rocks and cliffs. Is it some great historical novel that you are adapting, Mr. Gilette.”

“Well, no,” Gilette said. “A modern story of crime and temptation. ‘A poor thing but mine own,’ as the immortal bard said. I got on to it when I spent all those months in the Argentine last year. And such a villain! A man with the polished manners of an archdeacon and the face of a Byron. I call it the ‘Story of a Crime.’ The crime isn’t finished yet, but I hope to be in at the death. There’s a lot in it about lip-reading that ought to interest Mallison. He’s a dab at that sort of thing, and that’s why I am so anxious to meet your young man. Not but what I am pretty good at the game myself.”

“Oh, Roy is wonderful,” Peggy exclaimed. “He says that with a proper school of lipreading and Braille, blind people and deaf mutes will in the future be as well–”

“Really?” Hetty Bond exclaimed. “It sounds like a fairy tale to me. I should like to see it done.”

“Then you shall,” Gilette said in his most audacious manner. “I got on to my big story entirely through it. Now watch those two people at the table opposite. With all this noise and clatter it is impossible to hear a word they say. Watch the woman’s lips, one moment. Yes, that’s right. She is saying that the din is making her head ache and wants to go on to a music hall for an hour and then come back for the dance. One moment and I will tell you where she wants to go. See, the man is speaking now. He calls the waiter. A box of Pathe’s gloves, Hetty, to a ripe banana that he will tell the man to get him two stalls for the Palace.”

To Miss Bond’s astonishment it was exactly as Gilette had said. She caught the word ‘Palace’ as it fell from the waiter’s lips, she saw him hurry away to the telephone and come back again with the lady’s wraps, and watched her and her companion as they strolled away.

“Alone I did it,” Gilette cried. “There’s for you now, as they say in Wales. Magic while you wait. That sort of thing ought to teach the spiritualist mugs a lesson, but of course it won’t. And when Mallison does come and after he is introduced to me–Good God! Talk of spirits–here’s one. I wouldn’t have him see me for a million. Excuse me, Sir Marston.”

With that Gilette coolly but promptly lifted the big silver-rimmed glasses from the astonished painter’s face and fitted them over his own eyes. Then he proceeded to snatch up the tissue paper Quaker cap from the table and hide his sleek dark head in it. As he did so a diner strolled down the gangway between the tables. He was not in evening dress, but was clad in a thick dark overcoat and carried a soft hat in his gloved hand. His clothes fitted his spare, elegant figure to perfection, his fine face exuded benevolence and high intelligence, his smile was broad and kindly. A fine silver beard swept his chest, and his shining white hair set off a presence that would have commanded attention in any company. He passed into the vestibule and out of sight.

“What a fine, attractive man,” Peggy cried, “Mr. Gilette, anyone would imagine that you were afraid of him.”

“Well, I was in a mortal funk lest he should see me,” Gilette confessed. “I–I–didn’t know that he was in England.”

There was just a shade of grey under Gilette’s healthy tan as he spoke. The gay debonair manner and easy audacity had been wiped out as if with a sponge. Sir Marston noticed it as he held out an impatient hand for the ravished spectacles.

“Why, what is the matter!” he asked. “Any one would think that you had seen a ghost. Upon my word, you don’t flatter the fighting blood of your ancestors just at present. But perhaps this benevolent-looking stranger has something to do with the immortal film-story.”

Gilette seemed to shake himself free from some unseen horror with an effort. Then he was his old audacious self again.

“Never mind that,” he said. “We famous authors don’t believe in giving away the mystery in the early chapters. If that man had spotted me–but that would have been another story. Would you do me a great favour, Sir Marston? The height of cheek to ask, of course, but it is almost a desperate matter. Would you mind following that man out and ascertain where he goes to? I would not trouble you, but–”

“Sir Galahad to the rescue,” the great painter laughed. “The spirit of adventure is not dead in me yet. Perhaps I also may have the felicity of appearing on your deathless film.”

“Well, upon my word, it is more than likely,” Gilette chuckled. “But time is fleeting. If you really don’t mind–”

Sir Marston vanished with an agility that did more than credit to his years. Gilette dropped back in his chair with an air of undisguised relief. By this time the big room was quite full–coloured lamps began to twinkle and sparkle amidst the floral decorations, the ripple of happy childish laughter made music on the air. From all round the room came the whip-like crack of exploding bon-bons. Gilette could see the flush on the fair faces of his companions as the spirit of the hour wove its lure about them. Peggy seemed a little perturbed as she glanced at the still unoccupied places.

“‘He cometh not, she said,’” Gilette quoted gaily. “Oh, these men of science. Wilt thou tread a measure with me, fair lady, for by my halidame the fiddlers are inviting us to the floor. I don’t in the least know what a halidame is, but you are welcome to half mine. Waiter, a halidame on the half shell.”

Gilette frivolled on for some minutes, and then in the doorway saw Sir Marston beckoning to him. There was a certain agitation about the great man that set Gilette fluttering. With a muttered excuse he followed the older man into the lounge.

“What is wrong?” he asked a little anxiously. “Has he gone?”

“To catch the American boat at Liverpool,” Sir Marston explained. “Staying in the hotel and giving the name of Marne. But never mind that, Roy. Something dreadful has happened. I met your friend Rivers in the hall. He was looking for you. Listen. Pennington has been found in his chambers foully murdered.”

“Murdered!” Gilette gasped. “Oh, impossible! When?”

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