The Sentence of the Court - Fred M. White - ebook

The Sentence of the Court ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

The title of the story is misleading. There is no court, and no one is convicted, although the eminent specialist of Harley Street who essays the role of villain richly deserves to be. We meet some pretty charming people, as well as two extremely unpleasant people, and if the web of mystery is held together in places by a somewhat generous share of obtuseness on the part of the persons concerned it is not for us to complain, since we become aware of the defect only after the affair is over.

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Liczba stron: 433

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Contents

I. A Midnight Messenger

II. The White Hand

III. The Sard Intaglio

IV. The Three Cosways

V. A Second Miniature

VI. Madame Ninon Desterre

VII. A Compact

VIII. The High Road Of Adventure

IX. Along The Road

X. In The Dark

XI. A Social Function

XII. The Fortune-Teller

XIII. “Stop Thief!”

XIV. A Missing Link

XV. Harley Asks A Favour

XVI. A Sporting Chance

XVII. A Great Invention

XVIII. The Sentence Of The Court

XIX. After The Verdict

XX. Smash!

XXI. The Glass Disc

XXII. A Check

XXIII. A Glimpse Of The Gems

XXIV. Volunteer Or Pressed Man?

XXV. The Danger Zone

XXVI. The Family Pictures

XXVII. Hard Pressed

XXVIII. Enid Speaks Out

XXIX. A Grave Suspicion

XXX. The Face Behind The Glass

XXXI. On The Verge

XXXII. An Eye For An Eye

XXXIII. Plain Words

XXXIV. The Fire

XXXV. In The Gallery

XXXVI. The Sham And The Real

XXXVII. A Half-Confession

XXXVIII. The Real Man

XXXIX. Lord Shylock

XL. The Reason Why

I. A MIDNIGHT MESSENGER

Everard Gilray struggled to be free. What did this outrage mean? Who was this ragged, seedy fellow, who had thus dared to attack him on his own doorstep on the stroke of twelve? And this was not some slum in the East End–it was the respectable, dull, decorous Harley-street. Gilray had had slipped his Yale key in the front door, the polished mahogany portal stood open, showing the luxury and comfort and elegance of the hall in the dim, shaded electric light when this ragged nomad had emerged from the shadows and gripped him by the shoulder.

A beggar no doubt, some impudent fellow relying on the lateness of the hour and the stillness of the street to enforce a demand for alms.

Gilray turned fiercely upon him, his left shot out, and the ruffian staggered under the force of the blow. The street outside was absolutely deserted, there was no sign of a policeman anywhere. And Gilray’s house contained things of price. The servants had long gone to bed, it was impossible to alarm them.

The man was evidently desperate, his courage was growing in proportion to the lack of danger. All this Gilray could read in his hungry, glittering eyes. This was the kind of thing that led to murder. Here, in Harley-street. Gilray wondered what people would say...his patients...constituents, his many friends in society. Possibly–

He staggered back under a furious onslaught, and fell against a table in the hall. The shabby man followed quickly in, and shut the front door. He looked a little less dangerous and desperate now, but there was a grim smile on his face.

“Seems to have been a bit of a misunderstanding, sir,” he gasped.

“You infernal scoundrel,” Gilray cried. “What do you mean by it? If you had asked me civilly for assistance I would have helped you. But to attack me like this–”

“Who attacked you?” the man demanded sulkily. “I put my hand on your shoulder. I always put my hands on their shoulders, same as detectives do. ‘Tis allowed by the law. ‘Tis a symbol, that’s what it is. Tells as ‘ow you’re my prisoner without using the word.”

Gilray gasped. A curious feeling of nausea oppressed him. He felt sick and giddy and curiously unreal, as if he were some unworthy person masquerading as himself. The man was quite calm and collected now, and, in his way, not disrespectful.

“I am your prisoner, then,” he said, hoarsely.

“If you please, sir, Sheriff of London. What’s called a Writ of Attachment. You see, as there is a Bill of Sale on your goods ‘ere, there was no other way. Two hundred and thirty-eight pounds four shillings. You’ve got to come with me to Brixton Prison. Get the money from your friends to-morrow. Sorry to be so late, sir, but I missed you as you was going out to dinner. You got away in your taxi, only a few seconds in front of me.”

Gilray shuddered. He wondered if that pallid face in the Venetian mirror opposite was his own. That immaculately cut dress suit was a mockery. The pink-shaded hall, the thick Persian carpet, the pictures and the flowers were all a mockery. He was no longer Everard Gilray, the petted and fashionable eye specialist, a popular Member of Parliament, one of the idols of the hour. He was a hunted wretch with disgrace and worse before him. To-morrow he would be a byword, a failure, his specific services would be required no longer.

He pointed a shaking finger in the direction of the dining-room, that wonderful room in crimson and old oak that was the admiration of all his lady patients. Gilray was a born collector, he never could resist the artistic and the beautiful–he never could resist anything that cost money. He made 10,000 pounds a year, and he was doubly that in debt.

The more money he made the more hopeless grew his position. Betting, gambling, the Stock Exchange–every desperate remedy had been tried. And every venture found him nearer the brink. He was a humbug, a fraud–if nothing worse.

“Sit down,” he said hoarsely, “sit down and help yourself. Brandy, whisky, a cigar–anything. I suppose you could not accept a cheque?”

“I could not, sir,” the man said. “They never take cheques in these cases. Cash down and paid to the Sheriff. To-morrow–”

“Oh, curse it, man, there can be no to-morrow in my case,” Gilray burst out passionately, “Can’t you see that this means absolute ruin to me? Why, to-morrow I go to a palace to operate on Royalty. I shall not be there. Enquiries will be made the story will get abroad, and my practice will be dead. I represent a constituency in the north–a stern and rigid set who would turn and rend me if they knew to truth. Can’t you see that I must have time, man? Go away and come back to-morrow night. I’ll have the matter settled by then.”

The man with the glass in his hand shook his head resolutely. “Can’t be done, governor,” he said. “More’n my place is worth; I’ve got a missis and three kids, and one of ‘em’s a cripple. Not for all the money–”

Just for an instant something like murder gleamed in Gilray’s eyes. He seemed to be moving in a blood-red mist out of which loomed that man’s lean and narrow throat. Why not kill him and pretend that he had found him here stealing the plate? No, that would not do. Inquiries would be made, and the whole story come out. The man must be bribed; there was money yonder in the oak secretaire. Gilray pulled open the desk and tossed aside a heap of papers. Bills, bills, bills! Threatening letters, money-lending circulars, pressing hints from solicitors. Curse the bills! Curse the money-lenders who were sucking the life’s blood out of him!

But they could keep; nothing mattered now as long as this fellow could be got rid of. He was there at the instance of the one creditor whom Gilray had least feared. That was always the way. Yes, here was the money almost thrown at him earlier in the day by a grateful American patient. Twenty pounds in gold and some notes. Gilray took the sovereigns, and laid them in a neat pattern on the polished oak table. They glittered and gleamed temptingly in the light.

“Look at them!” Gilray said hoarsely. “Just think what they mean to a man like you. They are a small fortune. And they are yours for the asking. Take them and put them in your pocket!”

The man’s fingers went mechanically in the direction of the good red gold. The dirty hands hovered over the shining coins; Gilray could hear the fellow’s quick and strenuous breathing.

“Take ‘em away!” he said. “Take ‘em away, or I’ll do you a mischief! What do you mean by temptin’ a poor man in this way. It’s cruel of you, sir.”

“But where is the harm?” Gilray pleaded hoarsely. “And how are you going to suffer? Nobody saw you come here, and nobody will see you go away. You have not been able to execute your warrant. Circumstances have been against you. To-morrow I am at the palace. I’m not going to run away, you know. If the money owing is not paid by mid-day, come back here and take me. Don’t be a fool, man–don’t stand in your own light.”

The sheriff’s minion was hesitating now, his eyes twinkled and watered as if the gold dazzled them. Gilray snatched up the heavy, clinking coins, and thrust them in the other’s hand.

“There!” he said. “I knew that you would think better of it. Did you ever have so much money before? Did you over make it so easily? And all for waiting a few hours. There is no danger to yourself, and you help me. Do you suppose that I don’t mean to meet this liability? I’ve got to do it. If not, I might just as well jump into the Thames. Put the gold in your pocket.”

Gilray turned his back, knowing that he had won. He heard the muffled clink of the sovereigns as they dropped in the tipstaff’s pocket. For the moment, at any rate, the situation was saved!

Gilray was alone–the man had gone. He breathed more freely as he came back to the dining-room and helped himself liberally to brandy. This was not one of his usual habits, he was very rigid about that kind of thing. His was a popular figure at West End dining-tables, but he had never been known to exceed one glass of claret or hock. He was practically a non-smoker–one could not indulge in that kind of thing and retain the steady, steel-like hand necessary for the delicate eye operations. And tomorrow, for the first time, he was called upon to attend a Royal patient.

And to-morrow he had to find that money. It was a mere trifle, and yet it was as big as a mountain. He had absolutely reached the end of his resources. There was not a money lender in London who would look at his paper, not a friend from whom he could borrow.

He knew what a dainty, delicate plant was an operating surgeon’s reputation. Here he was surrounded with every luxury in a house full of costly trifles, pictures, work of art, rare silver, and he could not touch a single object there. They were only nominally his–they belonged to a creditor under an assignment. To take one of those precious treasures and raise money on it would be fraud.

Where was the money to come from? About two hundred and fifty pounds. A mere bagatelle. Gilray had spent that a score of times on a ring or cameo. And now–

He came back with a start to the reality of things. The house became a human habitation again, and somebody was moving in the basement. There was now no light in the hall, and the thick curtains in the dining-room effectively screened the gleam of the electrics from the road outside. Doubtless some burglar was at work below there under the impression that everybody was asleep. Well, Gilray would know how to deal with him. He wanted something to vent his rage and passion upon. He had run up against a night of adventure, and he would see the trouble through.

He crept to the door of the dining-room and waited. In the black, velvety darkness of the house he seemed to hear all the more clearly. Beyond question somebody was fumbling his way upstairs. It was possible to make out a soft footfall, the crack of a board, a sound of somebody breathing hard.

There was a smell of humanity there too, humanity that sleeps out of doors and wears its clothes far too long. Gilray touched the switch.

Just for a moment the blinding flood of light dazzled him. He made out a tall, spare figure in a shabby tightly-buttoned frock coat, once of fashionable cut, and with the evidence of the hand of Bond-street upon it.

He saw a dark, clean-shaven face, a pair of keen, glittering eyes, glistening in a face that bore evidence of recent illness or privation. And in one of the long, lean, capable-looking hands was a Browning automatic pistol.

“What is the meaning of this?” Gilray demanded.

“We’ll come to that presently,” the stranger said.

An educated man with the public school label on him, Gilray thought.

“No occasion for violence, Doctor Gilray. I rather fancy I can find you the money you are just now so sorely in need of.”

II. THE WHITE HAND

Gilray stared wonderingly at the speaker. He could only wait for the other man to speak. It looked that night as if all the world had gone mad, as if law and order, and the sacred rights of property were no more. For this man was not shirking or abashed; there was no suggestion of an apology about him. On the contrary, his manner was coolly contemptuous, even superior; it was as if a magistrate were addressing a first offender.

He was a waster, of course, and a failure–even his cool and easy audacity could not conceal that. But he was undoubtedly a strong man, and Gilray did not fail to recognise the fact.

“How did you get here?” he stammered.

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