The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

0,0

Opis

Mr. Roger Ferrison has just returned to London after several years of living rough in Canada. He takes a small room in the boarding house run by Mrs. Dewar. There he meets the bewitching invalid Fiona Quayne who rapidly develops a consuming passion for Ferrison. Meanwhile, back at the Boarding House, Colonel Dennett is murdered. One suspects from the very beginning that not all of the boarders at Mrs. Dewar’s establishment in Palace Crescent are what they appear to be, and Mr. Oppenheim does not attempt to hide for long the existence of some secret and probably criminal bond between Mrs. Dewar and some of her boarders. The sensational theft of a Jewelry collection, missing Indian rubies, and the lackadaisical intervention of Scotland Yard all contribute to the plot.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 424

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



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 XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER I

NEITHER the day upon which Roger Ferrison, a tall sturdy young man of sufficiently pleasing appearance, presented himself at Mrs. Dewar’s Palace Crescent Boarding House, situated within a stone’s throw of the Hammersmith Road, nor the manner of his initiation presented any unusual incident. He stepped off a bus at the corner of the shabby but pretentious looking thoroughfare and, carrying a large kit bag in his hand, walked slowly along, scrutinising the numbers until he had found the one of which he was in search. He rang the bell of Number Fourteen, was peered at from the area below and, after a not unreasonable delay, was admitted by an elderly manservant of somewhat impressive appearance. He was thin but tall, and of athletic build. His striped jacket and carefully brushed black trousers conformed to type. He threw open the door hospitably and regarded the visitor’s bag with interest.

“You were wishing to see Mrs. Dewar, sir?” he enquired.

“I am the new boarder,” Roger Ferrison announced. “I called to see Mrs. Dewar the other day when, I understand, you were out. I should like to have a word with her before I go to my room, if she is disengaged.”

“Certainly, sir.”

The man carried the bag a few yards into the somewhat sombre and barely furnished hall, deposited it against the wall and led the way past the curtained-off apartment which seemed to be a sort of lounge, past a somewhat extensive hat-and-cloak room and through a green baize door a few yards along a much narrower passage on the left. He paused at a door on whose panel was painted the single word office, knocked in punctilious fashion and simultaneously ushered in the newcomer.

“Mr. Ferrison, Madam,” he announced. “Says he’s a new boarder. I have left his kit bag in the hall for the moment.”

The room was an epitome of uncouth untidiness and discomfort. Two hard cane chairs were set against the wall and a horsehair couch with a gaping wound in its side stood by the fireplace. Behind a cheap American roll-topped desk sat a woman who, though she lacked every form of feminine allure, seemed still in odd contrast to her unattractive surroundings. She was almost painfully thin–a defect which she accentuated by the plain black dress drawn tightly over her flat bosom. Her dark hair in which, curiously enough, there was not a streak of grey, was brushed severely back from her forehead. Her features were hard but regular, her grey eyes were almost stony in their calm. The sole adornment of her person was a singularly ugly cameo brooch. She looked at her visitor without any gleam of welcome in her face. It seemed impossible to believe, in fact, that her lips had ever been trained to smile. Nevertheless, her voice, when she spoke, startled the young man. He had seen something of several grades of life and he recognised it as what is mysteriously known as the voice of a lady.

“You are Mr. Ferrison, are you not?” she said. “You called last week and I showed you Number Sixteen which I think you agreed to take.”

“That’s right,” he assented. “It was arranged, you remember, that I should try it for a month at thirty-five shillings a week.”

“Including breakfast and dinner,” Mrs. Dewar amplified, “without coffee or any form of drink except water, and the first month to be paid in advance.”

“Quite so,” he agreed. “Here I am and here is the money.”

He produced a somewhat shabby pocketbook, came nearer to the desk and counted out seven limp-looking pound notes. The lady at the desk gathered them in, locked them in a small black cashbox and wrote out a receipt in a firm unhesitating hand. He watched her fingers as they gripped the pen. It seemed to him that they were like the talons of some bird of prey.

“I hope you will be comfortable, Mr. Ferrison,” she said. “We dine at half-past seven. My boarders generally assemble in the lounge, on the right as you came in, for a few minutes first. Aperitifs are supplied there, if you need one, at a low price. Are you in the habit of dressing for dinner?”

“I am afraid not,” Ferrison replied.

“That is of no consequence,” she continued, her tone remaining singularly monotonous. “My boarders do as they please. A place shall be allotted to you in the dining room.”

“If such a thing is possible,” he suggested, “I should like a table to myself. I drink nothing and am generally too tired at the end of the day to want to talk.”

Mrs. Dewar considered the matter.

“There is a small table just inside the door you might have,” she told him. “I will speak to Joseph about it. Joseph is our only manservant. He is not a wonderful waiter, but he is willing. You will just have time to wash your hands and look at your room once more before the gong goes. If your bag is heavy, I am afraid I must ask you to carry it up yourself.”

“I shan’t need any service of that sort,” Roger Ferrison assured her. “I have been in the colonies and I am quite used to doing things for myself.”

He left the room with a queer feeling that some one had been dropping cold water down his spine. Outside, Joseph was waiting. He had the air of one who has been listening.

“You will be staying here, sir?” he asked.

“I shall,” the new arrival answered. “You need not worry about my bag. I shall carry it up myself. You won’t find I shall be much trouble to you. I shave in cold water and I shall use the bathroom any time it is vacant after six o’clock.”

Joseph looked at him critically from underneath his bushy dark eyebrows–the most distinguishing feature of his face.

“Seems to me you are planning to be amongst the star boarders, sir,” he remarked.

“I don’t believe in giving trouble if I can help it,” Ferrison smiled.

“There’s one thing I’ve got to show you, sir,” the man confided, as they reached the bottom of the stairs. “It’s the only thing the old lady is really cranky about. You see this cloakroom, sir?”

He opened a door by the side of the lounge and displayed a long, narrow cupboard-like apartment. Upon one side of it was a row of hooks, a number painted above each and a slit below for a card. From most of the hooks were suspended keys.

“If you happen to have a card in your pocket, sir,” Joseph suggested, “I would be glad of it.”

“I have only a business card,” Roger Ferrison said, producing one.

“I’ll trim it up, sir, and make it fit,” the man replied. “The Missus will want to see that it’s in its place before she goes to bed to-night. The rule of the house is if you go out after dinner you take your key with you and come in silent. You come right in here and hang your key up. You are not supposed to take it up to your room or anything of that sort. Then, if Madam wants to see whether any of her boarders are out what she considers too late, she can come in here with a candle or a torch and see for herself.”

“Seems an odd idea,” the new boarder commented. “However, I won’t forget. I don’t suppose I shall use my key very often.”

“Them cinemas now,” Joseph observed, “they run away with a lot of money.”

“Quite right,” the young man agreed. “I very seldom go to them, myself. A book from the library and a quiet evening is more my form. I am on my feet most of the daytime.”

The butler glanced curiously at the kit bag.

“Any more luggage, sir?”

“I have a few odds and ends down at my office,” Roger told him. “If I decide to stay here I may bring them up.”

“Well, you may like it and you may not, sir,” Joseph remarked cryptically. “I’ve got to go and brush up now and bring the vermouth before dinner.”

He took his leave. Roger watched him for a moment with a certain degree of interest. There was something curiously inhuman about his appearance, with his thin neck, his heavy eyebrows and exceptionally smooth face, which looked as though he were relieved even from the necessity of using a razor. Roger Ferrison, as he marched up the stairs carrying his bag, decided that the pair of them–his landlady and the butler, the only two he had met of his new associates–were both human beings of an unusual type.

CHAPTER II

AT a few minutes past seven o’clock that evening Roger Ferrison, having carefully brushed his brown business suit and indulged in the luxury of a clean collar, descended to the lounge. He entered without curiosity, without even that interest which a healthily minded young man of twenty-five might naturally be expected to feel in the little company of people who were to be his occasional associates for, at any rate, the next two weeks. Life had almost a stranglehold upon him in those days and he was living chiefly upon his courage. Nevertheless, a certain kindliness of disposition and a leaven of good manners kept him more or less in touch with the acquaintances of the moment. Mrs. Dewar came forward to greet him.

“I shall not introduce you to every one,” she announced. “You will soon find out who people are for yourself but you should perhaps know Mr. Luke, my oldest supporter here.”

A man of youthful middle age, pale, with light-coloured eyes, greying hair, but with a certain amount of strength in his face, detached himself from a little group of men and held out his hand to Roger.

“Hope you will like it here, Mr. Ferrison,” he said. “We are not a very sociable crowd, I am afraid, but that too has advantages.”

Roger Ferrison shook hands and made some indeterminate speech. He was introduced to three or four others, commercial men apparently of his own standing but possibly more prosperous. Several ladies’ names were mentioned but in such a manner that a bow was sufficient. Then Mrs. Dewar led him a little further into the room. A girl, who on first appearance seemed to Roger to be startlingly beautiful, was seated in an easy-chair with three or four young men gathered around her. She was very thin and very pale, but her copper-coloured hair was beautifully coiffured, parted in the middle and brushed smoothly back. She had hazel eyes and artistically treated lips. She would have been noticeable anywhere but in the crowd which was gathered in Mrs. Dewar’s lounge she possessed a very rare and palpable distinction. She held out her hand with a smile to Roger.

“I hope you will like it here and stay with us a long time, Mr. Ferrison,” she said. “We need a few younger people. That is where Mrs. Dewar and I sometimes do not agree. She likes all these elderly, staid, successful professional and business people. Some of us would like a little more frivolity.”

“I’m afraid I shan’t be much of a help in that direction,” Roger Ferrison acknowledged, smiling. “I have to work very hard indeed, and where I live and what I do after business hours just now seems to make no difference to me. You like to dance and that sort of thing, I expect?”

There was a queer silence around the chair. A young man kicked him lightly on the foot. Suddenly Roger became aware of two large rubber-shod ebony sticks leaning against the chair. The colour mounted almost to his forehead. The young woman hastened to relieve his embarrassment.

“Of course, I should love to, Mr. Ferrison,” she said. “Just now, you see, I cannot. I have had an accident, but I like people to realise that I want to, all the same. Still, there are other things–theatres, cinemas, all manner of amusements, for which I think we young people ought to have more appetite than some of our elders.”

“I’m so sorry,” Roger apologised. “I had no idea.”

“Of course you hadn’t,” she interrupted. “And believe me, I’m not at all sensitive. Some day, I am convinced, something will happen–some great doctor will lay hands upon me and I shall throw away my sticks and you shall teach me all the new dances.”

“I hope you will find a better teacher,” he observed. “And indeed, Miss Quayne, it is so kind of you to make light of my blunder.”

She laughed happily at him.

“How on earth were you to know?” she questioned. “Come and talk to me after dinner, won’t you?”

He passed on. A slim pretty girl in a simple frock, a little shy and just a little shabby, reminded him somehow of himself, as he made his way across the hall. She was evidently of no great importance, however, for he did not remember that Mrs. Dewar had mentioned her name…

Roger found that his wish had been granted. He was seated at a very small, very uncomfortable table between the service entrance and the sideboard, but he shared it with no one. There was a carafe of water on his table in place of the usual bottle or half bottle of wine or whisky with their clip labels. The linen, he noticed, although coarse in quality, was clean and the table utensils bright and well polished. From his point of vantage he took stock of the assembled company. His first impressions were drab enough. The only person who stood out at all seemed to be the lame Miss Quayne. She was also the only one who shared her table with no other guest, but unlike his own, hers was in the best position, facing the door, on the other side of the room in a pleasant corner. She sat with a book in front of her in which she was apparently absorbed. She was served different food from the others on a different sort of china, and he admired the colour of the wine–a faint amber–which sparkled in her glass. Once she looked up and their eyes met. She smiled across the room at him, a smile that left him for a moment puzzled. She was trying to say something but his wits were not sufficiently acute to receive the message. He bit his lip in some discomfiture. He was rather a stupid person, he feared, amidst a crowd. He would have been better in a solitary room, even if he had been unable to afford regular meals. The shy little girl whom he had thought so pretty coming in seemed to him to have been watching his discomfiture. There was a touch of sympathy in her dark shaded eyes which he resented. Perhaps that was the reason why, when he entered the lounge after dinner, he ignored the fact that she was seated upon a divan by herself and joined the handful of young men who were hanging around Flora Quayne’s chair.

“How nice of you to come and talk to me, Mr. Ferrison,” she said. “Bring a chair up, won’t you? I am sure you are tired. You look as though you had had a long day’s work. Or sit here, won’t you?”

Roger, who had been on his feet since eight o’clock in the morning, glanced around but, finding no chair, accepted her gestured invitation and sat on the arm of her fauteuil.

“You must know these other kind friends of mine, Mr. Ferrison,” she went on. “This is Mr. Reginald Barstowe, our Beau Brummel, who is in a bank somewhere and sends me beautiful flowers. He has a great many friends and is a terrible gadabout, but I always feel we shall know all about him some day!”

Mr. Barstowe, a dark, olive-skinned young man, who was one of the few beside Mr. Luke who wore a dinner jacket, nodded to Roger and looked at the speaker speculatively.

“What do you expect to find out about me, Miss Quayne?” he enquired. “I am a very simple person and my life is an open book.”

“Oh, you are in finance and that is always mysterious,” Miss Quayne observed, “and you go rushing off to the continent and come back looking as though you had just saved the country from sudden terrible disaster. You talk gold. Mr. Bernascon too. What do we others know about gold?”

“What do I know, or Bernascon either, for that matter, about Walter Pater?” the young man demanded, turning over the book that lay in her lap. “We each have our way to travel in life. I dare say even from a very ordinary boarding house like this the roads branch out in many different ways.”

“I should like to compare notes with you all some day,” Flora Quayne remarked. “I think there is something very interesting about the day-by-day life of even the simplest human being. Look at Mr. Luke over there, reading a detective story all by himself in that corner. Does any one know what he does in life–what he is interested in? He talks a great deal and he talks about very interesting things, and we know that he belongs to the best clubs and is a very good golfer, but I have never heard him say a single self-revealing word as to what his tastes really are.”

Bernascon, a shrewd, powerful-looking man, carelessly dressed yet with something of an air, joined in the conversation.

“You never know what an Englishman’s business is,” he said “When I was living down at Forest Hill, I travelled up to London off and on in the same carriage with a neighbour for two years before I found out that during all that time he ought to have been a customer of mine. We lose a lot by our taciturnity.”

“Kind of self-consciousness, I suppose,” a young man named Lashwood observed, whom every one knew to be a manufacturer of leather trifles in the East End. “I do my own travelling and meet so many people I know in my job that I could not keep it quiet if I wanted to. On the other hand, present company excluded, I have been here two or three years and there have been at least a score of fellow boarders I have sat down and talked to and taken a drink with, exchanged cards and all that sort of thing. I have seen them walk down the street, hop on and off buses, run against them sometimes in the City, and yet I haven’t the faintest idea what line they are in.”

“Wonderful place, the City,” Mr. Bernascon reflected. “Millions of us crawling about like flies and not one of us has the slightest conception of what the man he jostles in the crowd is thinking about, or who he is or what he is making out of life.”

Flora Quayne smiled.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.