The Turn of the Tide - Fred M. White - ebook

The Turn of the Tide ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

An old-fashioned frivolous firm for a long time, which more progressive competitors talk about with good-natured contempt, they were still in the markets of the business world. They called themselves ordinary merchants selling mixed goods from all over the world, and, as people say, Mortimer Croot, the current sole owner, was considered a person of integrity and being. He had been manager and confidential clerk to an ailing owner, and when the latter was no more Croot quite naturally stepped into all there was left of the once great concern, together with the freehold house in Great Bower Street where the business was carried on.

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Liczba stron: 422

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Contents

I. VERITY & CO., LTD

II. CROMBIES WHARF

III. A BROKEN LIFE

IV. THE UNEXPECTED GUEST

V. LOCK IS PUZZLED

VI. FOUND DROWNED

VII. ARCADES AMBO

VIII. A WOMAN’S WAY

IX. THE TEA-TIME HOUR

X. A MONTH’S ADJOURNMENT

XI. A MIDNIGHT INTRUDER

XII. THE NAVAL GROUP

XIII. 17 GREENCORN STREET

XIV. THE PATIENT WATCHER

XV. BEHIND THE DOOR

XVI. DOWN THE RIVER

XVII. THE LATCH KEY

XVIII. VERA’S GHOST

XIX. IN THE LABORATORY

XX. THE MAJOR SPEAKS

XXI. THE LIVE WIRE

XXII. THE KAMALOO COPPER TRUST

XXIII. THE LETTER BOOK

XXIV. FINDING THE PROOFS

XXV. THE CASE OF CIGARS

XXVI. THE HIDING-PLACE

XXVII. IN THE TRAP

XXVIII. ONE WAY OUT

XXIX. EXODUS

XXX. CROOT’S WAY OUT

I. VERITY & CO., LTD

The offices of Verity & CO. were situated in Great Bower Street, and had been a feature there for over two centuries. An old-fashioned easy-going firm from the old days, and spoken of with good-natured contempt by more progressive rivals, they were still out in the markets of the world for business, albeit there had not been a Verity in the firm for more than fifty years. They called themselves general merchants trading in mixed cargoes from all parts of the world and, as men go, Mortimer Croot, the present sole proprietor, was regarded as a man of integrity and substance. For fifteen years he had been manager and confidential clerk to an ailing owner, and when the latter was no more Croot quite naturally stepped into all there was left of the once great concern, together with the freehold house in Great Bower Street where the business was carried on. He was a man of fifty now, but looking a great deal less with his alert easy carriage and wiry upright figure and those blue-grey eyes looking out searchingly under shaggy brows. It seemed strange to those who knew him that Croot should be content to carry on in much the same way as his predecessors had done, and in the same old grimy offices looking out at the back on the Thames and in front contemplating a street of gloom and dirt as dingy and ruinous as a decayed tooth in an otherwise healthy set. Not a penny had been spent there any time the last three decades; no paint had brightened up the black front of those offices, which were just the same as they had been when George III was king and the Verities lived over the offices and warehouses, and footpads roamed the waterways by the river and the City lanes almost unmolested. The walls of the house were thick enough to withstand a siege almost, and most of the gloomy offices had iron bars still in front of the windows on the ground floor and basement. Behind the house lay a wide bare strip of ground which had once been a flourishing landing-place bordering on the river, and this was still known as Crombies Wharf, though it had been derelict as long as anyone in the City could remember. There were buildings on it still, strong buildings made of stone and with small windows now all boarded up as a protection against such of the Thames-side youth as disported themselves there after the tide of business had turned for the day. But Croot only smiled when it was suggested to him that he might get good money for this derelict land, and hinted vaguely that he knew what he was doing, and that in time his business friends would find that he was not so easy-going as he looked. So long as he had all he needed with enough for his wants and a little to spare and his charming house at Cray presided over by his adopted daughter Vera, he was not going to worry himself about money-grubbing...

The daily task was nearly over, and most of the staff had already left with the exception of the confidential clerk, Mark Gilmour, Miss Patricia Langley, private secretary and typist, and Geoffrey Rust, a subordinate who held a somewhat remarkable position in the office. He was a young man obviously set in the mould that turns out the clean and healthy athlete from our great public schools and universities. Not particularly handsome, for his features were too irregular, but very wholesome and good to look at, as more than one of his lady friends willingly testified. He was exceedingly well-dressed, his manners were easy and perfect, and he gave the idea of one who has not a single care in the world.

Discipline was relaxed now, and Rust was laughing and chatting with Patricia Langley in the outer office, beyond which the head of the firm was still at his desk. Pat Langley was a dark vivacious beauty, rather small, but with a perfect figure and a smiling face, which was, however, full of strength and resolution, as befitted one who, well-born and educated, had found herself face to face with the world at twenty-one, and had risen superior to her troubles. And she liked Geoffrey Rust perhaps more than she knew.

“Something attempted, something done, to earn a night’s repose,” Rust chanted. “Do you like the strenuous life, Pat?”

“Have you ever tried it?” the girl asked dryly.

“Oh, come! Haven’t I been here every day for two years bar holidays? Am I not the little ray of sunshine in the office? But, thank goodness, my sentence is nearly worked out.”

“And you come into your inheritance,” Pat said thoughtfully.

“Regular romance, isn’t it?” Rust said, showing his even teeth in that attractive smile of his. “City idyll with the real Daily Recorder flair. Pathetic orphan and only son of the type of Roman father who lives for business and never sees his loving offspring if he can avoid it. Dies in Spartan solitude, leaving a will to the effect that his white-haired boy shall, on leaving Oxford, go into a City office for two years and earn his living by the sweat of his brow for the said two years or forfeit his–what’s the word?–patrimony. And I’ve done it, Pat. Now that it is nearly finished I don’t regret it. Otherwise I should never have met you.”

Patricia Langley smiled with a shadow of wild rose on her cheeks. Before she could reply Mortimer Croot came out of his office with his hat and overcoat on. He smiled in his turn. There was very little of the martinet about the head of the firm.

“I’m going now, Miss Langley,” he said. “You might post the private letters that I have left on my desk. I shall have the pleasure of meeting you both again to-night, so I will not say adieu. Rust, you might tell Gilmour that I want him a moment.”

Gilmour came in, well set up, grim and clean-shaven, with his suggestion of strength and reserve, very like a well-educated and gentlemanly prize-fighter, as Rust always thought. In the office it was whispered that Gilmour had a past, though nobody really knew anything, and Gilmour himself never made a friend of any of them. He had come there three years ago, and Croot had simply stated that in future everybody must take their orders from Gilmour whenever the head of the firm was absent. And so it remained.

“You wanted me, sir?” Gilmour asked in his quiet way.

“Only just to remind you,” Croot replied genially. “Don’t forget it is my little girl’s birthday dinner to-night. We shall be disappointed if you turn us down, Gilmour.”

Croot smiled pleasantly enough, but it seemed to Rust, usually the most unsuspecting of mortals, that he detected a challenge in his employer’s eyes, and an answering gleam in Gilmour’s.

“I’ll do my best, sir,” the latter replied. “But those last lot of quotations must be posted to-night. If I can’t manage it, may I come down some time later in the evening, sir?”

Croot replied suitably, and Gilmour went back to his office. He was the sort of man who seems to love work for its own sake, and most evenings he was at his post till late and everybody else had gone, letting himself out and locking up, for the firm were of the old type that did not employ a resident watchman.

“I never cottoned to that chap somehow,” Rust said to Miss Langley as they turned into the street. “And I hope he will never capture our little Vera. But I don’t think Croot would stand that. Besides, Jack Ellis would have a word to say. May I walk as far as Cannon Street with you?”

Pat Langley also lived at Cray, and when Rust had seen her into her train he called a taxi and was wafted off to his own luxurious quarters in Orchard Street, for his daily work in the City by no means implied that he was on short commons so far as money was concerned. And very soon he would be his own master.

Though he passed most of his days in the dingy, dilapidated offices in Great Bower Street, Geoffrey Rust had his own circle of friends in the West End, and, of course, the fellow employés in the firm of Verity & Co. knew very little about this. So long as Geoffrey complied with what he regarded as the onerous terms of his father’s will, what he did with his spare time was his own business entirely. Before he went home to his rooms in Orchard Street to dress for the dinner that Croot was giving that night in honour of his adopted daughter’s birthday at the Moat House, Cray, which the young man would reach in his own car, he turned into the United Field Club for a cigarette and a cup of tea, and a chat with such kindred spirits in the world of sport as he was likely to meet there. The smoking-room was empty when he entered, and presently there came in a man who hailed him with enthusiasm.

This was his own particular friend Jack Ellis. He and Ellis had been at the same public school, and subsequently at Oxford together, where they had played for their College cricket eleven, and were both finally tried for the university team. They had neither of them got quite far enough for that crowning glory, but they were well known as two polished and reliable bats, and members of the famous and exclusive M.C.C. At holiday times they toured the country together, playing in various local cricket festivals, where they were both welcome guests.

Ellis, however, had his own living to get. He was an Irishman, and the only son of a man who had been a popular K.C. in his time, and who had died before he could achieve the fortune which at one time had seemed inevitable. He had, however, given his son what had seemed to him to be the best of educations, and when he died, Jack had to look to himself. He had been called to the Bar a year or two before, and, whilst waiting for briefs, was obtaining quite a good living in free-lance journalism. He had a graphic and fluent pen, and a positive thirst for adventure. He was a man utterly without fear, brave, and strong, with a strength which his somewhat slender figure altogether belied. He knew the East End like an open book; he had been in opium dens and dubious public houses, where many a robbery had been planned, and on more than one occasion had rendered Scotland Yard a distinct service. Just at the present moment he was deeply interested in the amazing series of robberies which were taking place almost daily on the Thames. Barges and lighters had been relieved of thousands of pounds’ worth of valuable goods, and the river-police were at their wits’ end to lay their hands upon the most daring and ingenious set of water-rats that the head of the service had come in contact with for many a long day. Ellis had suggested to the editor of the Daily Telephone that he should take up the matter on behalf of that great journal, and do his best to succeed where the authorities had failed. He pointed out that nothing might come of it, but if, on the other hand, he achieved success, then it would be a wonderful advertisement for the smartest of the morning journals.

The editor of the paper in question had jumped at the suggestion; he had placed ample funds at Ellis’s discretion, and, for three months now, the latter had haunted the lower regions of the Thames almost night and day. So far, he had had no substantial success, but he was on the track of a daring and utterly unscrupulous gang now, and his hopes were high. During the past year, thieves had stolen from various lighters and barges property to the value of nearly a million sterling, and though some of the smaller fry had fallen into the hands of the police, the big men behind the conspiracy were, as yet, unknown. And they were quite big men, some of them, as Ellis had good reason to know. Despite his hot Irish blood, and that quick impulsiveness of his, he had a wonderful patience which would have surprised his friends, had they only known of it, and so he was waiting his time till he could strike a blow at the very root of the conspiracy.

Something of this he had confided to Rust; at any rate, Rust knew what his friend was doing, and on more than one occasion he had been out at night on the river in the swift little petrol launch which the Telephone had placed at the disposal of their commissioner. There was just the spice of danger about the proceeding which appealed to Rust’s sporting instincts. It was he who introduced Ellis to the household at the Moat House, and, therefore, was more or less responsible for the fact that the Irishman had fallen over head and ears in love with Croot’s adopted daughter, Vera.

“Ah, here we are,” Ellis cried. “And, bedad, you are just the man I want to see. If you’ve got nothing better to do, perhaps you would like to join me to-night.”

“An adventure, Sir Galahad, an adventure,” Rust smiled. “I gather from your manner that it is something big, eh?”

“Well, that is as it may be,” Ellis said a little more seriously. “But I am on the track, my boy, I’m on the track, and when the explosion comes, it will be a mighty big one. The man behind the whole scheme is a prize fish, and the public will sit up and take notice when the Telephone is in a position to speak. It is only a side show to-night, but if it comes off, then I shall have my fingers on a thread that ought to lead right to the centre of the web. I’d like to count upon you, Geoffrey.”

“It sounds tempting enough,” Rust observed. “But I am afraid there is nothing doing, so far as I am concerned. I have got an engagement I cannot possibly get out of. You see, it’s Vera Croot’s twentieth birthday, and the old man is giving a dinner in her honour at the Moat House.”

Ellis’s smiling face clouded slightly.

“Begad, I had almost forgotten that,” he said. “In happier circumstances, I should be there myself, but old man Croot has a strong illogical prejudice against me. He seems to have got it into his head that I am keen on Vera myself.”

“Well, isn’t it true?” Rust asked.

“Bejabers, you’re right there, old man, and I’ll not deny it to an old friend like yourself. I was a fool, Geoff, I ought to have kept my thoughts to myself. Vera knows all about them, bless her, and she is just as miserable about the whole business as I am. Then, one night, three months ago, when I still had the run of Moat House, and was dining there, I was fool enough to sound the old man on the subject of the little darlin’. But I think I told you all about it before.”

“I seem to have some recollection of it,” Rust said dryly.

“Ah, now it’s poking fun at me, you are. And I am dead in earnest, and if Vera is only willing I’ll marry her in the face of a thousand Croots. She is not his flesh and blood, after all, and I am making enough to keep her quite comfortably. But what’s the use of me talking like this? I have got the key of the street, so far as the Moat House is concerned, with a strong hint not to show my face there again. Oh, the old man was friendly enough, very bland and fatherly, and sort of sorry for the white-haired boy who dared to lift his eyes to one of the prettiest girls in the country, and a great heiress to boot. But he hasn’t done with Jack Ellis yet.”

As he spoke, Ellis dropped his voice and a fighting gleam came into his eyes. Something had evidently stirred him to the depths, and, just for a moment, the sunny, inconsequent Irishman had disappeared, and the primitive man seemed to be carved on his face.

“Why, what’s the matter?” Rust cried.

“Ah, well,” Ellis said, obviously forcing a laugh. “Tragedy is not in my line, though I have been getting pretty close to it in the last few days. But let’s forget it. Perhaps you think I have overlooked the fact of Vera’s birthday, but not so, my son, not so. I have a little thing here in my pocket that I want you to give her to-night when you get a quiet opportunity, and tell her that Jack Ellis is not the man to change.”

“With pleasure,” Rust said. “There are hidden depths in you, Jack, that few people give you credit for. But I know, and if all goes well, then Vera will be a lucky girl.”

“That is very nice of you, Geoff,” Ellis said with a certain sincerity. “I don’t know so much about being a lucky girl, but I shall be a very fortunate man. And how is your little affair going on? You know what I mean!”

“What little affair are you speaking about?”

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