The Mystery of the Clasped Hands - Guy Boothby - ebook

The Mystery of the Clasped Hands ebook

Guy Boothby

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Australia-born writer Guy Newell Boothby burst onto the literary scene with a series of best-selling adventure action movies, but The Mystery of Clasped Hands discovers that Boothby is trying to try his hand at classic detective fiction. Fans of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle will love this exciting mystery.

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Liczba stron: 303

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Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 1

“I never knew such a fellow as you are for ferreting out these low, foreign eating-houses,” said Godfrey Henderson to his friend, Victor Fensden, as they turned from Oxford Street into one of the narrow thoroughfares in the neighbourhood of Soho. “Why you should take such trouble, and at the same time do your digestion such irreparable injury, I can not imagine. There are any number of places where you can get a chop or steak, free of garlic, in a decent quarter of the Town, to say nothing of being waited upon by a man who does look as if he had been brave enough to face the dangers of washing once or twice within five years.”

His companion only laughed.

“Go on, my friend, go on,” he said, blowing a cloud of cigarette smoke. “You pretend to be a cosmopolitan of cosmopolitans, but you will remain insular to the day of your death. To you, a man who does not happen to be an Englishman must of necessity be dirty, and be possessed of a willingness to sever your jugular within the first few minutes of your acquaintance. With regard to the accusation you bring against me, I am willing to declare, in self-defence, that I like burrowing about among the small restaurants in this quarter, for the simple reason that I meet men who are useful to me in my work, besides affording me food for reflection.”

The taller man grunted scornfully.

“Conspirators to a man,” he answered. “Nihilists, Anarchists, members of the Mafia, the Camorristi, and the Carbonari. Some day you will enter into an argument with one of them and a knife thrust between your ribs will be the result.”

“It may be so,” returned Victor Fensden, with a shrug of his narrow shoulders. “Better that, however, than a life of stolid British priggishness. How you manage to paint as you do when you have so little of the romantic in your temperament, is a thing I can not for the life of me understand. That a man who rows, plays football and cricket, and who will walk ten miles to see a wrestling match or a prize fight, should be gifted with such a sense of colour and touch, is as great a mystery to me as the habits of the ichthyosaurus.”

And indeed, what Fensden said was certainly true. Godfrey Henderson, one of the most promising of our younger painters, was as unlike the popular notion of an artist as could well be found. He had rowed stroke in his “Varsity boat, had won for himself a fair amount of fame as a good all-round athlete, and at the same time had painted at least three of the most beautiful pictures–pictures with a subtle touch of poetry in them–that the public had seen for many years. His height was fully six feet one and a half, his shoulders were broad and muscular; he boasted a pleasant and open countenance, such a one in fact as makes one feel instinctively that its owner is to be trusted. Taken altogether, a casual observer would have declared him to be a young country Squire, and few would have guessed that the greater portion of his life was spent standing before an easel, palette and brush in hand.

Victor Fensden, his companion, was of an altogether different stamp. He was at least three inches shorter, was slimly built, and at first glance would appear to possess a highly nervous and delicate constitution. In his dress he also differed from his friend. His taste betrayed a partiality for velvet coats; his ties were usually startling, so far as colour went; he wore his hair longer than is customary, and further adorned his face with a neat little Vandyke beard and mustache. Like Henderson he was also a votary of the brush. His pictures, however, were of the impressionist order–pretty enough in their way, but lacking in form, and a trifle vague as to colouring. On occasions he wrote poetry. There were some who said he was not sincere, that his pictures were milk-and-water affairs, suggestive of the works of greater men, and only intended to advertise himself. If that were so, the success they achieved was comparative. Sad to relate, there were people in London who had not heard the name of Victor Fensden; while the walls of the Academy, which he affected so much to despise, had not so far been honoured by his patronage. “The whole thing,” he would say, adopting the language of our American cousins, “is controlled by a Business Ring; the Hanging Committee and the dealers stand in with each other. If you prefer to do bad work deliberately, or at any rate are content to be commonplace, then you’re safe for admission. But if you prefer to do something which may, or may not, please the multitude, but which will last longer than Burlington House, or the National Gallery itself, then you must be content to remain outside.” After this tirade, regardless of the implied sneer at his work, Godfrey would laugh and turn the matter off by proposing dinner, luncheon, or some other distraction. He knew the value of his own work, and was content to estimate it accordingly.

Having reached the end of the street down which they had been walking, when the conversation already described occurred, they found themselves before the entrance to a small eating-house. One glance was sufficient to show that it was of the foreign order, so derided by Henderson a few moments ago before. They entered and looked about them. The room was long and narrow, and contained some ten or a dozen small tables, three or four of which were already occupied. Pictures of the German school, apparently painted by the yard, and interspersed with gaudy portraits of King Humbert with his mustache, Victor Emmanuel with his wealth of orders, the latter cheek by jowl with Mr. Garibaldi in his felt hat, decorated the walls. The proprietor, a small, tubby individual, with the blackest of black hair and eyes, and an olive skin that glistened like the marble tops of the tables, came forward to welcome them. At his request they seated themselves and gave their orders.

“What enjoyment you can find in this sort of thing I can not imagine,” repeated Henderson, almost irritably, as he looked about him. “If you take a pleasure in macaroni and tomato, and find poetry in garlic and sauer-kraut, the divine instinct must be even more highly developed in you than your warmest admirers believe. We might have gone to the club and have had a decent meal there.”

“And have had to listen to a lot of supercilious young idiots chattering about what they are pleased to call “their work,’” the other replied. “No, no, we are better off here. Set your imagination to work, my dear fellow, and try to believe yourself in Florence, with the moonlight streaming down on the Ponte Vecchio; or in Naples, and that you can hear the waves breaking up on the rock under the Castello del Ovo. You might even be listening to Funiculi-Finicula for the first time.”

“Confound you! I never know whether you are serious or not,” replied Godfrey. “Is it a joke you’re bringing me here to-night, or have you some definite object in view?”

He looked across the table at his companion as if he were anxious to assure himself upon this point before he said anything further.

“What if I had an object?” the other answered. “What if I wanted to do you a good turn, and by asking you to come here to-night were able to help you in your work?”

“In that case,” Henderson replied, “I should say that it was very kind of you, but that you have chosen a curious way of showing it. How a low Italian restaurant in Soho can help me in the work I have on hand I can not for the life of me understand. Is it possible for you to be more explicit?”

“If the critics are to be believed you ask too much of me,” Fensden returned, with one of his quiet laughs. “Are they not always declaring that my principal fault lies in my being too vague? Seriously, however, I will confess that I had an object in bringing you here. Have I not heard you grumbling morning, noon, and night, that the model for your new picture is about as difficult to find as, well, shall we say, an honest dealer? Now, I believe that the humble mouse was once able to assist the lion–forgive the implied compliment–in other words, I think I have achieved the impossible. It will take too long to tell you how I managed it, but the fact remains that I have discovered the girl you want, and what is more, she will be here to-night. If, when you have seen her, you come to the conclusion that she will not answer your purpose, then I shall be quite willing to confess that my knowledge of a beautiful woman is only equal to your appreciation of an Italian dinner in a cheap Soho restaurant. I have spoken!”

“And so you have really brought me here to eat this villainous concoction,” Henderson answered, contemptuously regarding the mess before him, “in order to show me a face that you think may be useful to me in my work? My dear fellow, you know as well as I do that we think differently upon such matters. What you have repeatedly declared to be the loveliest face you have ever seen, I would not sketch upon a canvas; while another, that haunts me by day and night, does not raise a shadow of enthusiasm in you. I am afraid you have had your trouble in vain. But what abominable stuff this is to be sure! Order some wine, for pity’s sake.”

A flask of chianti was brought them, and later some goat’s milk cheese. Upon the latter, bad as it was, Henderson elected to dine. He had barely finished what was placed before him when an exclamation from his companion caused him to turn his head in the direction of the door. Two women were entering the restaurant at the moment, and were approaching the table at which the young men sat. The elder was a stout and matronly party, dark of eye, swarthy of skin, and gorgeous in her colouring, so much so, indeed, that not the slightest doubt could have existed as to her nationality. She was a daughter of Italy from the top of her head to the soles of her ample feet. Her companion, however, was modelled on altogether different lines. She was tall, graceful, and so beautiful, in a statuesque way, that Henderson felt his heart thrill with pleasure at the sight of her. Here was the very woman he had been so anxious to discover. If he had hunted the Continent of Europe through, he could not have found any one better suited to the requirements of the work he had in hand. Since it was plain that it was she for whom Fensden was waiting, it looked as if their tastes, for once, were likely to be the same.

“What a perfect face!” exclaimed Godfrey, more to himself than to his companion. “At any hazard, I must induce her to sit to me.”

Fensden looked at his friend’s face, made a note of the admiration he saw there, and smiled to himself.

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