The Three Oak Mystery - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Three Oak Mystery ebook

Edgar Wallace

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Opis

Ex police officer Socrates Smith and his brother Lexington, who is also an amateur sleuth, are invited to spend a weekend at Peter Mandle’s country home. Shortly after they arrive the brothers notice many precautions taken against intruders, a message flashed in Morse code, and someone skulking across the lawn. „Come three oaks”, it spells in Morse code. Early next morning the brothers take a stroll, and there, tied to an oak branch, is a body with a purple mark where the bullet struck. A nicely convoluted mystery with plenty of incident, murder, forced marriage, kidnapping and so on from the master of mystery Edgar Wallace.

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Liczba stron: 302

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Contents

I. INTRODUCING SOCRATES SMITH

II. JOHN MANDLE’S STEP-DAUGHTER

III. THE FEAR OF JOHN MANDLE

IV. THE MAN ON THE TREE

V. THE SHOE AND MR. JETHEROE

VI. THE VANISHING OF MOLLY TEMPLETON

VII. AT PRINCE’S PLACE

VIII. A BIT OF FLUFF

IX. WHO WAS JETHEROE?

X. MOLLY TELLS HER STORY

XI. FIRE!

XII. WHAT GRITT HEARD

XIII. A SHOT IN THE DARK

XIV. THE DIARY

XV. DON’T LEAVE MOLLY

XVI. A MARBLE THRONE

XVII. POOL-IN-THE-MOOR

XVIII. MOLLY GOES AWAY

XIX. THE STRANGLER

XX. WHAT HAPPENED TO MOLLY

XXI. IN THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY

XXII. THE MAN IN THE ATTIC

XXIII. THE STORY OF THE MURDER

XXIV. THE SECRET OF POOL-IN-THE- MOOR

I. INTRODUCING SOCRATES SMITH

“MURDER is neither an art nor a science, it is an accident,” said Socrates Smith, and Lex Smith, his younger brother, his most devoted admirer and his dearest trial, grinned sardonically.

A greater contrast between the two men it would be difficult to imagine. “Soc” Smith, was nearing fifty and was a lean, tall, stooping man with a lined face–it seemed to be carved by careless hands from a block of seasoned teak. A tiny iron grey moustache lay above a firm mouth, set tight and straight.

Lex was twenty-five years his junior, and two inches shorter. But so straight was his back that most people thought the brothers were of the same height, and if they had had to say off-hand which was the taller, would, with little hesitation, have named the good-looking boy.

“Lordy, Uncle Soc,” said Lex Smith solemnly, “how you do aphorise!”

“If you call that an aphorism you’re a goop,” said Soc. “Pass the marmalade.”

They were sitting at breakfast in the big dining-room overlooking Regent’s Park. The brothers occupied the first and second floors of one of those big houses in the outer circle of Regent’s Park. The house was the property of Socrates Smith and had been acquired by him when he was in his thirties.

In those days he had vague ideas of matrimonial responsibility. But though he had secured the house he had never had time to fall in love, and expended what Lex described as his “maternal instincts” in the care of his baby brother.

Life had been too full for Socrates Smith to allow room for the gentle distractions of courtship, and there were times when he blessed the Tollemarsh murder which had occupied his every thought at a period when his aunt, his one relative in the world save Lex, had planned an alliance and had made the most elaborate preparations for hurrying him into the blessed state. For the lady chosen had since been three times through the Divorce Court and had a London reputation.

Soc had taken up the study of crime as a regular member of the constabulary. Probably there never was before or since a policeman who walked his beat by day and night and spent his leisure hours in one of London’s most exclusive clubs.

He had an income of six thousand a year but police work had been his passion, and as there was no other way, in those days, of securing admission to the books of the Criminal Investigation Department but through service in the uniformed branch, he had served his hard apprenticeship as a “cop.”

For four years he had been alternately office man and executive officer, with the rank of Sergeant–an amazingly rapid promotion, and then he had resigned from the force and had devoted himself to the examination of foreign police methods and the even more fascinating study of anthropology.

Scotland Yard is a very jealous and a very loyal institution. It looks askance at the outsider and turns a freezing stare upon the enthusiastic amateur, but Soc had left the Yard with the good wishes of the administration and had contributed to the sum of official knowledge.

When the fingerprint system was installed, he was called in and worked with an official status, and it was usual to consult him in cases where especial difficulties confronted the patient investigators. So that Socrates knew something of fame. He was an acknowledged authority upon finger-prints and blood-stains, and was the first man to standardise the spectrum and guaiacum tests for the discovery of blood upon clothing.

“What train are we catching?” asked Lexington.

“Two o’clock from Waterloo,” said his brother, rolling his serviette.

“Am I going to be bored?” demanded Lex.

“Yes,” replied the other, with a twinkle in his eye, “but it will be good for your soul. Boredom is the only discipline which youth cannot reject.”

Lex laughed.

“You’re full of wise sayings this morning,” he said. “Prophetically were you named Socrates!”

Socrates Smith had long since forgiven his parents for his eccentric name. His father had been a wealthy iron-founder with a taste for the classics, and it had only been the strenuous opposition of their mother which had prevented Lex from being named “Aristophanes.”

“If a child’s birth name is Smith, my dear,” Smith senior said with truth, “he should have something striking and distinguishing before it.”

They had compromised on “Lexington,” for it was in Lexington Lodge, Regent’s Park, that the boy had been born.

“I’m full of wise sayings, am I?” repeated Soc Smith, showing his small white teeth in a smile, “well, here’s another. Propinquity is more dangerous than beauty.”

Lex stared at him.

“Meaning, how?” he asked.

“Mandle’s daughter is reputedly lovely, and you’re going to spend three days in the same house–verbum sapienti.”

“Bosh!” said the younger man inelegantly, “I don’t fall in love with every girl I meet.”

“You haven’t met many,” was the answer.

Later in the morning Lex interrupted his packing to stroll into his brother’s room. At that moment Socrates was cursing with great calmness the inadequacy of his one battered suitcase which refused to accommodate all the personal belongings he wished to take with him on his visit.

“Why not shoot out the impedimenta of your noxious craft?” asked Lex, pointing to a small brown box which he knew contained his brother’s microscope, “you aren’t likely to light upon a murder at Hindhead.”

“You never know,” replied Socrates hopefully. “If I didn’t take it something would happen–packing it ensures a quiet and peaceable week-end.”

“What sort of a fellow is Mandle?” demanded the youth, remembering why he had come into the room.

“He was a very good officer and a brilliant detective,” said Socrates. “He’s not an easy man to get on with by any means, but when he left the police at the height of his career, the force lost a good man. He and Stone left together. Stone lives within–well, within a stone’s throw.”

He chuckled.

“A feeble jest,” said his critical brother. “Stone was an inspector of the C.I.D. also?”

“Sergeant,” said Socrates, “they were bosom friends and when Mandle began speculating on the Stock Exchange, Stone followed him and they made pots of money. Mandle was quite frank about it. He saw the Chief Commissioner and told him that he couldn’t keep his mind on two things, and do both properly, and so he had decided to chuck the police.

“He was a disappointed man, too; he had set his heart upon capturing Deveroux, the man who robbed the Lyons Bank and got away to South America, and the fellow slipped through his fingers. That and one or two other happenings brought an unofficial reprimand from the chief. Still, the old man was quite upset when Mandle got out.

“Stone was a clever chap, too, so the Yard lost two really good men at a time when they couldn’t spare one.”

“Three, you old fossil,” said Lex, slapping his brother on the back. “You got out about the same time.”

“Oh yes,” said the indifferent Socrates, “but I didn’t count.”

II. JOHN MANDLE’S STEP-DAUGHTER

“THE WOODLANDS,” John Mandle’s home, was delightfully sited on the slope of a hill. Four acres of pine and gorseland surrounded it, and the house itself was invisible from the road.

It stood a mile away from Hindhead and from its sloping lawns John Mandle could command a view over miles of pleasant country.

He sat in his drawing-room, a thick rug over his knees, gazing gloomily through the French windows at the pleasant countryside. A grim grey man with a strong face, and a heavy jaw, he communicated some of his own gloom to his surroundings.

A girl who came in with his letters stood meekly by whilst he glanced through them.

“No wire from Smith,” he growled.

“No, father,” said the girl quietly.

Socrates Smith had not exaggerated when he described her as lovely. Ordinarily, loveliness is a little inhuman, but this girl radiated humanity. In the presence of her step-father she was chilled, repressed, and as near to being colourless as it was possible for her to be. She feared the man–that was apparent; hated him a little, probably, remembering the hardness of her dead mother’s lot and the tyranny which she had inherited.

Mandle had no children of his own and never seemed to feel the need for them. His attitude to the girl was that of a master to a superior servant, and in all the days of their acquaintance he had never once shown her the least tenderness or regard.

His caprice had taken her from a good boarding-school and the pleasant associations of children of her own class and age, and had brought her to the strained atmosphere of “The Woodlands,” to the society of a nerve-racked wife and a glowering unreasonable man, who would go for days without speaking a word. She felt that he had cheated her–cheated her of the happiness which her school had brought to her, cheated her of the means by which she could have secured a livelihood and independence, cheated her of all of her faith in men and much of her faith in God.

“Are the two rooms ready?” he barked.

“Yes, father,” she replied.

“You have got to do your best to make them comfortable,” he ordered. “Socrates Smith is an old friend of mine–I haven’t met his brother.”

A faint smile played about the corner of the girl’s mouth.

“It’s a curious name he has,” she said.

“If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you” said John Mandle.

The girl was silent.

“I haven’t seen Socrates for ten years,” John Mandle went on, and she felt that he was really thinking aloud, for he would not trouble to take the girl into his confidence. “Ten years! A clever fellow–a wonderful fellow!”

She made another attempt to enter into conversation.

“He is a great detective, isn’t he?” she asked, and expected to be snapped up, but to her surprise he nodded.

“The greatest and the cleverest in the world–at any rate in England,” he said “and from what I hear, his brother is likely to follow in his footsteps.”

“Is the brother young?”

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