The Undisclosed Client - Edgar Wallace - ebook

The Undisclosed Client ebook

Edgar Wallace



The Undisclosed Client” is a collection of short stories published between 1904 and 1929 from the British Mysteries’ master Edgar Wallace, directly from the Golden Era of the genre. Edgar Wallace was an English novelist, journalist and playwright, who was an enormously popular writer of detective, suspense stories, and practically invented the modern „thriller”. His popularity at the time was comparable to that of Charles Dickens. The stories are fast-paced, with good twists and turns, an unusual criminal scheme and a little romance. These genuine mystery stories take the reader from one exciting adventure to another with all the adroitness and ingenuity of Mr. Wallace’s previous successful books. The book highly recommended for people who like to treat a mystery story as a solvable riddle.

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Liczba stron: 218

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A SNOWY night in early March; underfoot, the stone sidewalk smeared with a film of mud. Yet Mr. Lester Cheyne did not hurry: his walk, the slow pace of a man who was thoroughly enjoying a happy experience which he was loathe to bring to the end, which was marked by the cozy lobby of Northumberland Court and the luxury of a suite that lay beyond.

The snow fell in a picturesque and almost theatrical way, large distinct flakes that fell vertically and showed themselves to the best advantage in the light of the big arc gas-lamps. Along the Embankment the bare arms of the plane trees were marked white; in the dark river that ran at the far side of the granite parapet, two tug-boats were passing, one up and one down river. They were tagged with green and red lights that splashed shivering and grotesque reflections on the water. A span of yellow lamps located a distant bridge...

Lester, his throat enveloped in the upturned lambskin of his coat collar, could admire and absorb and enjoy. He had a wonderful feeling of content, such as any healthy man might experience who had performed a difficult task to his entire self-satisfaction.

It was the rush hour: the offices were emptying and the sidewalk held a triple line of hurrying walkers. He edged near to the railings of the Temple, not desiring to hamper the toilers of the world in their homeward trek. He also was a toiler, but in another sphere. He liked to think of himself as a general who, in the silence of a room aloof from his fellows, planned subtle and successful movements against an enemy, overwhelmingly superior in point of numbers and backed by limitless resources.

He was a slim, good-looking man of thirty-five, who looked ten years younger. When he was revealed to strangers as a successful lawyer, they were politely incredulous; yet he was very successful, and his sleek limousine and the apartment with the waxed walls and the silken tapestries were there to proclaim his prosperity to the world.

It was not a novel experience to be jostled as he strolled: elbows had grazed him, shoulders had lurched against his. A grunted pardon politely waved, and they passed on into the obscurity of the night and the oblivion of their unimportance.

But the Girl in the Brown Coat did more: touched him with her arm, slipped sideways, and was caught deftly by the smiling Lester, and remained everlastingly in his life as a memory never to be expunged.

She fell ungracefully, one foot sliding outward, one doubled beneath her, arms flung violently in an effort to balance.

He caught her as awkwardly under the arm, and she slid forward, so that she became a human wheelbarrow that he was unconsciously pushing.

“Sorry... awfully sorry!”

He must either allow her to sit down in the snow and mud, or she must get up of her own power, for his rubbers had caked up with half-frozen slush and his foothold was precarious.

She recovered herself with the commendable agility of youth.

Twenty... younger perhaps. Or older. He wasn’t sure. The white light of the spluttering arc lamp was merciless enough to tell whatever unpleasant truth there was to be told. But the verity was very pleasant. Eyes any color, but big and with little droops at the corners that gave her a certain lure. Mouth very red. Complexion faultless so far as could be judged.

She came erect, gripping at his fur collar: it was not an unpleasing sensation.

“I’m dreadfully sorry–I slipped.”

“I noticed that,” he said, and laughed.

When she smiled she was rather beautiful. He had not seen any woman... girl, whatever she was... quite so beautiful. At least, not for a very long time. And because they met in the atmosphere and environment of adventure she was almost painfully interesting.

“I knew something was going to happen to me this night,” she said in the friendly way of one who shared equal mastership of the situation, if mastership was called for. “I slipped up once this morning at home, and I slipped over a rug in the office; the third trip was sure to come.”

She gave him the grim little smile that naturally accompanies a nod of farewell, and quickened her pace to leave him behind. Then her right arm shot out and caught hold of the railings. In a fraction of a second he overtook her.

“You’d better walk with me–I am wearing rubbers. Have you far to go?”

“Charing Cross tube,” she said ruefully. “Thank you, I will: I seem rather short on suitable footwear.”

She lived in a girls’ club at Hampstead and worked in an office on King’s Bench Walk. She had seen two of the plays he mentioned...

Shabby? Not exactly. Cheaply dressed described her better. He could price the coat–the bargain stores sold them in saxe, tête de nègre, tobacco, fawn, navy, and black, and the fur collar had been, in the lifetime of its original wearer, attached to a frisky white tail and a pair of lop ears.

Mr. Lester Cheyne had his private and personal record of past adventures, and these included at least one young lady who had pounded the keys of a typewriter by day, and had grown sentimental in his society after business hours.

But high or low, he could not parallel that face or overcome the irritating sense that he had once met... seen... heard her before. A face in a crowd perhaps, or he had caught a glimpse of her one sunny evening in summer. He often walked this beat before dinner. The river inspired him.

“Have you had dinner?” he asked.

“I? Lord, no! I take supper when I get home–when I’m hungry. I think I shall be hungry enough tonight!”

He seemed to be considering something; his head drooped forward.

“If I suggested that I should give you dinner, would you call the police?”

He had a mock solemn brand of banter that never offended even a chance acquaintance, and seldom failed to bring about whatever lay at the end of it.

“I don’t think so. One can’t walk between the Temple and Charing Cross six hundred times a year without gathering a few invitations to dinner,” she smiled.

“And how many have you accepted?” he asked blandly.

She shook her head. He gathered that these extemporaneous hosts had drawn blank.

“I didn’t think you would,” he said, “and yet I am most respectably placed. I have a Member of Parliament as my neighbor on the left, and the Dean of Westchurch has the flat on my right–”

There was the slightest tinge of disappointment in her voice. “That would be impossible, wouldn’t it–I mean...”

She did not say what she meant, but that hardly mattered. He was not amazed that she had even considered the dinner invitation, because women could not amaze him. He understood them too well. They were made of the very stuff of unexpectedness. But he was a very quick thinker: as a general he struck like lightning at the first weak spot exposed. This quality of his had been of enormous profit to him.

“I almost wish my dean was a bishop and the Member of Parliament a Cabinet Minister,” he murmured regretfully, “and that I, instead of being the most humble of lawyers, were the Chief Justice on his bench!”

Here was the parting of her ways. She had either to talk of snow and tugs that went gleaming up and down Thames River, or else she must dovetail a comment to his last words.

“Are you a lawyer? Then I must know you. There isn’t a barrister in the Inner Temple I haven’t seen.”

So he talked lawyers and his own insignificance until they began to slow their paces, the yellow glow of the Underground station being just ahead of them. Before the open booking-hall they lingered, yet nearer to the sidewalk’s edge than to the station. She wore a sort of pinky-brown silk stocking, ludicrously inadequate in this weather. The neat ankles were mottled with mud.

“I would not dare ask you to dine and go to a show–you’d hate going as you are. But a grilled pheasant and a spineless sole and a plebeian rice pudding to follow–”

“Don’t! You are making me feel like a shipwrecked sailor.”

Still she hesitated and shook her head.

“It is awfully nice of you, and somehow I know that you are–right. But I couldn’t possibly. Where do you live?”

He nodded towards the railway bridge. Beyond, you can just see the austere corner of Northumberland Court, all gray stone and sedate and statesmanlike windows.

“Where is that?”

“Northumberland Court–next to the National Liberal Club. Its austerity is depressing. My two maids are Churchwomen, and, fearing the worst, peek through keyholes to make sure they are not missing it. At least I suspect them. One goes to church on Sunday morning and one on Sunday night. They are very English and can reconcile their deep religious convictions with a moderate but regular consumption of Pale Ale!”

She was looking at him all the time he talked, a half smile on her face, a kind of reluctant amusement in her eyes. They were gray, turning blue on the slightest provocation.

“You talk like a novelist!” she said, and he was faintly annoyed. There was an inference of plagiarism. “There is no sense in half-adventures,” she said. “Produce your roasted pheasants and your Church of England parlormaid!”

She walked more quickly now; seemed to him a little breathless. He hoped that he was not mistaken in this. He thought he could define exactly her point of view. She was crossing a Rubicon–but a shallow Rubicon. One could wade back at the first hint of danger–could even stop in the middle and cogitate upon the wisdom of the passage. So many women had created in their minds this practicable stream, learning later in some pain of soul the unfathomable depth of it, the swirl and fury of its inexorable current.

His flat was on the ground floor. One frosty-faced virgin opened the door to him, and vanished rapidly into the dining-room to set another place. Her counterpart hovered at the door of the little drawing-room, ready to act as guide or vestiare, or to perform whatever service woman can render to woman.

“Put your coat and hat in my room,” said Lester. “Mary will show you–”

“Gosh–look at me!”

The girl’s eyes were wide opened–she pointed a white finger towards the photograph that leant limply against a vase on the mantelshelf.

His first emotion was of anger at his stupidity in leaving the photograph lying about. It came that morning; he thought he had locked it away in the drawer. Possibly the dyspeptic Mary had propped it against the Chinese candlestick.

Followed a thrill of wonder. There certainly was a distinct likeness between Lady Alice Farranay and Miss Brown Coat. A likeness and yet not a likeness... that of course accounted for the strange sense he had had of meeting a familiar face. He explained the dissimilarity.

“Don’t be silly!” She had the lofty contempt of an elder sister. “I’m shingled and she isn’t–that’s the only difference. I don’t know”–she was suddenly dubious–“the nose... These studio photographers retouch so... but I am like her.”

She had pulled off her hat with a shake of her head, and now the likeness was not so apparent.

“She has a fringe... I haven’t. If I grew a fringe and allowed my hair to grow, and dressed it in that blobby way over the ears...”

Mary at the door was stepping from foot to foot impatiently–the girl became aware of her ingratiating smirk–a painful grimace which at once beckoned and inquired and went out.

Lester took up the photograph, examined it coldly, and laid it away in a drawer. After dinner it must go into the safe, with the photograph of Lady Alice that the butler took the day Johnny Basterby went to India, and the letters he wrote to her, vulgarizing in the crudity of words a something which had brought Alice Farranay into the splendid haze which is God.

A difficult proposition.

That is why Lester looked so coldly on the picture. The stuff of unexpectedness was here. A fighter, and yet she did not have the appearance of a fighter. Would she go down battling?–that was a question which very nearly concerned Lester Cheyne. Never before had he felt a qualm of misgiving or had the shade of a desire to back out, or recognized the depth and strength of his own private Rubicon. The letters? Could they be interpreted in any other than the obvious way? The butler’s photograph... a back view, though unmistakably her ladyship. But might not a second cousin be permitted the liberty of an encircling arm as they paced towards Gollards Covert? He was leaving for India the next day, remember. These problems Mr. Cheyne had taken to the Thames Embankment and had settled to his complete satisfaction, when the brown-coated girl had executed pirouettes in the snow.

She would not fight. That kind of woman never fought, especially when they had money to burn. Not intelligent women. Alice could draw a check for twenty-five thousand pounds as easily as for ten. And the Undisclosed Client would benefit as usual.

Lord John Farranay was immensely rich. If he lived to inherit his father’s dukedom he would be even richer. There was some doubt as to whether he would live. His father was ninety, Lord John a little over fifty, nearly thirty years his wife’s senior. But John Farranay had lived–not nicely, it is true, and he was an older man than his father, who had sown his wild oats in the hunting-field.

A tap at the door.

“Oh, there you are!”

He was relieved to see her. That word was revelation. Relieved. Never before in all his life had he welcomed diversion from the business at hand.

“You look awfully nice. What have you been doing to yourself?”

“Nothing. I tried to work down a fringe. What have you done with the picture? What a shame! You have put it away!”

“Pheasant!” he smiled. “And rice pudding!”

She admired the furnishing, the taste, the quiet luxury of everything. In the hall she stopped to look at the etchings, and before she sat down at the polished table must inspect the Corot over the sideboard.

“Soft... and air and breeze in it, isn’t there!”

The lace mats on the table were rather fascinating. She fingered their texture with a sure, understanding touch.

“I suppose you are married? There’s a sort of woman atmosphere which can’t be your Pale Ale–”

Entered Mary with plates and dishes on a dumb waiter, and comment continued along these lines would have been embarrassing.

She was immensely pretty; not skinny either, as so many of these poor- eating typists are. And rather beautiful hands. Her throat too–he was a connoisseur in the matter of throats. The line of them should incline a little forward and have as their capitol a peculiarly rounded chin.

“Wine you won’t have, of course. Water is good for the young. I think I will take water too, Mary.”

When the white-aproned servitor woman had gone:

“Do you know, this is very unreal? It is rather like one of those day- dreams that wanders on under its own power and brings you into such strange places. My name is Lois Martin. I suppose you are entitled to know that.”

“Mine is Lester Cheyne... I’m sorry, I should have told you that before.”

She took up the glass of water and drank slowly; put it down, patted her lips with the serviette.

“Who is she?–is that a very impertinent question?”

“Who? You mean the photograph? She’s–er–just an acquaintance... a friend of a friend. I don’t know much about her except that she is married to a very rich man who is rather jealous, rather mean, and desperately unwholesome. He is thirty years older than she.”

“Why did she marry him?”

“He is very rich.”

Lois Martin sighed.

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