The White Glove - Fred M. White - ebook

The White Glove ebook

Fred M White

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A simple story to read, but as always fascinating and make you plunge into a new story written by Fred M. White. A simple man with financial problems is recruited by a rich old man to spy on a scam who robbed his diamonds. Such an adventure has never ended in anything good. But this story may end differently.

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Contents

Desperation

The Streets Of London

Park Lane

Modern Society

Michel Rayne

A Letter

Where The Poor Sleep

Madeline Decides To Act

Turned Back

Temptation

‘Twixt Love And Duty

A Midnight Intruder

Not All A Failure

Madeline Has Visitors

The First Move

On The Right Path

A Useful Ally

A Clue

17 Beemor Street

Thieves Fall Out

Tragedy

A Tiny Clue

The Glove Again

Back To Reason

Getting Nearer

Haunted

[No Title In Source Text]

The Dried Ferns

Despite Himself

At Bay

Forced To Speak

The Glitter Of The Gems

The End Of It All

I. DESPERATION

The sweet face in the tangle of golden hair looked strangely out of place there. One does not usually meet with such beauty and refinement in a dingy restaurant where bread and butter is retailed by the slice and the coffee makes a tardy appearance in a pint pot. And yet the shabby hat and worn, thin jacket told a tale. As Clifford Marsh glanced at his wife a passionate anger shook him, and a yearning look came into his honest, grey eyes.

“I’m sorry I brought you here, darling,” he said. “But when one comes down to one’s last sovereign–Well, well. But I’m not beaten yet.”

Marsh spoke with a certain fierce energy. The sweet face opposite smiled bravely. Madeleine Marsh was slender and pretty as a dainty picture by Greuze; nothing could rob her of her inherent refinement. Even a fuzzy-headed, bold-eyed waitress recognised the presence of a lady, and lowered her strident voice accordingly. As for Clifford Marsh, he would have passed anywhere. He was well dressed enough. But, then, he was ‘looking for work,’ and Madeleine knew by bitter experience how desirable appearance was. Most of her own clothes and all her little articles of jewellery had gone. She had parted from them with the utmost cheerfulness. Clifford felt that he had never loved his wife as he did at this moment. And yet there was a certain sense of shame behind his passion.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to go back to Crowborough without me,” he said. “Barrymore’s people said that Sir Arthur might see me if I called back again at six. I dare not miss this chance, Maddy. If you don’t get back by the excursion you’ll have to pay full fare.”

And she had come up to town to try and sell some of her Christmas cards that her whilom friends used to praise so much. She was finding out the difference now between trifling as an amateur and competing with the professional for bread.

“All right, Clifford,” she said, with the sunniest of smiles. “You’ll get back to-night. Please pay for the tea and let us go.”

Clifford changed his last sovereign, blushing a little as the fuzzy-headed waitress refused to accept the threepence offered her. The kindly significance of the refusal touched Clifford, and the hard lump at his heart melted a little. It was just five as he saw Madeleine into the train at Victoria, and then Marsh turned his steps citywards.

“Poor little girl,” he said softly. “I was a beast to marry her, to take her away from all that wealth and refinement. Old Forfitt said he would make me pay for it, and he has! And here am I, a mining engineer with a practical knowledge of diamonds, three years’ experience of the war, and that other distinction, and I can’t get a living for my darling! And if I do get that billet in Sir Arthur Barrymore’s office, and old Matthew Forfitt finds out, I shall be dismissed to a certainty. It’s hard on a fellow like me when he incurs the undying enmity of a millionaire–even if he is one’s father-in-law.”

The palatial offices of Barrymore and Co. were reached at length. Clifford’s knees shook slightly as he passed up the stairs, his throat was dry and husky. He was perilously near to eating the bread of charity as it was. The pretty, rose-colored cottage at Crowborough, where he and Madeleine at present resided, had been placed at the girl’s disposal by an old nurse at present visiting some relatives in Scotland. But for that lucky happening, Clifford shuddered to think what kind of quarters he and Madeleine would have come to by this time.

In a vague, dreamy way, Clifford listened to a smart clerk who was saying something. As a matter of fact, Clifford was faint and weak for want of proper food. Then it came to him more tangibly that Sir Arthur had gone away for the day–had been called away on special business. With something like despair in his heart, Clifford stumbled down the steps. This meant coming up again to-morrow–another precious four shillings gone.

It was getting dark as Clifford turned into Maiden Lane, behind Holborn. He felt disposed to envy every well-dressed man and woman who passed him. He wondered who they were and whence they came, and what they would think if they knew his story. There was a tall woman, lithe and graceful, her features hidden by a veil, her superb dress held up by a gloved hand. Quite idly Clifford noticed that the glove was white velvet. He had never seen a lady wearing a velvet glove before. The woman seemed to fascinate him.

She waited for a block of traffic to pass, then darted impatiently across the street. Then there was a shout and a roar, a quick dissolving view of a prostrate figure, and before Clifford quite knew what had happened he was half-carrying the tall lady with the velvet glove into a little chemist’s shop, and cursing the curious crowd that seemed to rise out of inaction and block his way. Clifford pushed through the people steadily. He had forgotten his own hunger and faintness now in the sheer joy of doing something. The woman hung on his shoulder a mere dead weight, hungry eyes looked out of the darkness.

“For goodness sake clear out all this lot,” Clifford said fiercely.

“This way.”

Without ceremony Clifford pushed on into the little room at the back of the shop. Outside a policeman was driving the curious crowd on. Somebody was saying something about a doctor. The chemist looked in on inquiry as to whether he could do anything. Meanwhile the unconscious figure lay on a shabby sofa, one arm hanging down, the long, slim fingers in the velvet glove touching the floor.

“She seems to have fainted,” the chemist said. “Evidently no bones are broken. See how regularly she is breathing.”

“There’s mischief here somewhere,” said Clifford, as his quick eye detected a curious spasm in the fingers of the left hand. “Seems to have been crushed. Get that glove off.”

They proceeded to strip the left glove away when the woman snatched her hand with a sudden and unexpected energy. She spoke like one in her sleep.

“No, no,” she cried; “not that one. What am I saying? It doesn’t matter. But I am quite right by this time. I must go away at once. Call a cab.”

The stranger pulled herself up fiercely, but her will was too strong for her body. She fell back again with a queer, defiant, pitiful laugh. The veil was closely drawn, but Clifford could see the dark eyes gleaming almost savagely behind it. The one velvet glove had fallen unheeded to the floor, the maimed hand was hidden in the woman’s breast as if it hid a secret that she was prepared to guard with her life.

“I am not hurt,” she said in a voice at once pleading and commanding. “I swear to you I am not hurt. Call me a cab, if you please. Hark! what is that?”

Merely a voice in the shop proclaiming the fact that a doctor had arrived. But the voice had a marvellous effect on the listener. She jumped to her feet, her lithe, graceful body quivering, with fear and anger like a tiger brought to bay.

“Send him away,” she whispered. “For God’s sake say I have gone. Tell him some lie–some subtle and ingenious lie. Oh, why don’t you go?”

The chemist crept away. The woman came close to Clifford and laid her right hand upon his shoulder. The likeness to the tiger had strangely intensified.

“I am in danger,” she whispered. “Turn down the gas. Ah, that is better. Ask no questions, and remember only that you are helping a defenceless woman. I am faint and giddy yet, so I must lean on you...There must be a back way out. Lead me down the yard and put me into a cab. Come along.”

Clifford obeyed more or less mechanically. He found the way down a crowded yard into a little alley beyond. A cab was passing, and he hailed it. Without a word of thanks, the woman scrambled in, and muttered an address in Grosvener Road that Clifford could not catch, and was gone. Then he made his way back to the chemist’s little parlor again. He could hear the so-called doctor still talking in the shop. He saw the long, slender, velvet glove as it lay neglected and forgotten upon the floor. In a fit of idle curiosity Clifford picked it up. There was not a stain upon it, and yet it felt heavy, as if the hand, or part of the hand, was still inside. Clifford peeled back the fingers.

“Good heavens!” he cried. “What have we got here? Surely it is not possible that–”

Yes, part of a human hand–four white, slender fingers severed at the top of the second joint, and ringed with two magnificent diamond hoops. The sudden feeling of nausea passed as the full extent of the discovery flashed upon Clifford.

The portion of the exquisite hand was perfectly, humanly modelled in a wax!

Clifford’s excitement passed away altogether. He was quite cool and collected now, and he had entirely forgotten his own present troubles. With his wits clear and sharpened, he was wondering how he could turn this discovery to the best account. The woman was evidently rich, she moved in the best of society, as her dress and speech clearly proved; at the same time, she was evidently mixed up in some strange conspiracy. She had been dreadfully afraid lest the secret of her left hand should have been discovered; and, indeed, she might probably have preserved that intact had she not been far weaker than she thought, and had not the doctor come upon the scene.

But was he a doctor at all, or merely somebody on the track of the mysterious lady? Certainly the woman’s conduct on hearing the intruder’s voice pointed to the latter conclusion. Clifford decided that he would like to see the doctor. He crept cautiously as far as the little glass door, and peeped into the shop.

Certainly the stranger bore little resemblance to the ordinary surgeon who would be likely to have a practice in that locality. To begin with, he was too well-dressed, his air was redolent of Bond Street, his dark moustache was carefully groomed. There was something sinister about his smile, a hard look in the dark eyes. One thing Clifford carefully noted, the stranger kept his left hand thrust inside the breast of his overcoat all the time. His cigarette had gone out, but even when he re-lighted it the hand was not removed. The coincidence made a strong impression upon Clifford.

The stranger puffed a long trail of blue smoke in a highly unconcerned fashion, and left the shop. If he was in the least baffled, he did not show it.

“The lady has gone,” Clifford said. “I suppose it was all right, but a very strange case all the same. Wonder why she was so anxious not to see a doctor.”

The little chemist shrugged his shoulders.

“Can’t say,” he replied. “I don’t care about mysteries of this kind, and personally I owe you one for getting rid of her. Mystery generally means crime, and crime means being dragged into a witness-box a score of times when one’s business is going to the deuce.”

“I see,” Clifford nodded. “A fashionable doctor, that.”

“Doctor, be hanged! He was no doctor. I could see that from his hand and the scent he had about him. Probably the woman’s husband, or something of that kind. Good night.”

Clifford took the hint and departed. There was nothing for it but to go home after all. A glass of milk and a bun first, he decided to have. Mechanically he felt for his purse. He tried one pocket after another. But the purse was gone.

II. THE STREETS OF LONDON

The dreadful discovery almost broke Clifford down for a moment. In his weak state he could have sat down and cried. He had no watch or rings to pawn–they had all gone long ago–even his return ticket to Crowborough had been lost.

Well, there was no help for it. Clifford steeled himself to face the inevitable ordeal. Like many a better man before him, he resolved to walk the streets all night. Perhaps he would be able to see Sir Arthur Barrymore early to-morrow before the rush and fret of the day’s work began, and secure a post, and once that was done it might be possible to request an advance. The fit of trembling passed away, and left Clifford cool and collected again. No doubt his pocket had been picked as he had carried the mysterious lady to safety.

Clifford shut his teeth together, and resolved to go through with the business now. No doubt in the hours to come, when the great city grew quieter, he might find some sheltered spot to sleep where he would be free from the attentions of the gentlemen in blue. But the secluded spot would have to be somewhere near the City. Morning would find him worn out and exhausted, and the closer he was to the office where all his hopes and fears were centred the better.

It was nearly nine o’clock when Clifford dragged himself wearily along Cheapside. There were very few people about in Long Lane, where the offices of Barrymore and Co. were situated, and Clifford was languidly surprised to see a carriage and a pair of horses, a very high-class equipage, stop at one of the big buildings, and a graceful girl alight.

Clifford looked on in a dazed, sleepy kind of way. What was that pretty girl doing here at this time of the evening? Perhaps she was coming to fetch some relative who had been working late, and take him to the theatre. But the carriage, with its blood horses, had gone at a swift trot, and turned into Cheapside, as if they were not required again–at any rate, not for some considerable time. It was poor sort of curiosity, but it kept Clifford from dwelling on himself, for he felt that way madness lay.

He looked up at the big building into which the pretty girl had disappeared, and he was not in he least surprised to see that it was the offices of Barrymore and Co. A strong electric light gleamed from two upper windows, evidently the office windows of some prominent employee of the big firm. Clifford stood staring at it stupidly.

Suddenly the big swing doors flew open, and the pretty girl in the evening dress came down the steps. Her wrap had been thrown aside, the electric lights gleamed on her golden hair. She looked very sweet and fragile and helpless, Clifford thought; then he noticed the terror in her eyes. An impulse to address her was not to be resisted.

“You are in trouble,” he said. “Can I do anything for you–why, May!”

“Clifford!” the girl gasped. “What are you doing here? And yet you may ask me the same question. Where have you been all this long time? And Madeleine?”

“Madeleine is quite well, May. You see, there were reasons why she did not care to look up her old friends. But you are in trouble?”

“It is Sir Arthur Barrymore. He is my guardian, you know. But many things have happened since we last met–things I can’t tell you of now. I came to fetch my guardian to the opera, and he was not quite ready, so I waited in the other office. I heard him cry out, and when I rushed in he was all huddled up in a chair. Somebody had been saying something to him on the telephone, but he seemed unable to reply.”

“I’ll come at once,” Clifford said. “I feel there is a kind of providence here. But I am going to ask you to make me a promise, May.”

“Dear Clifford, I promise anything if you will only come along.”

“Then you are not to know me. I am a stranger that you picked up in the streets. Your guardian was ill, and you sought the first assistance that you could get. Now, lead the way.”

May Denton led the way up the broad steps, so silent and deserted now. In a private office that might have passed for some millionaire’s dining-room, save for the desks and the telephone, a man sat holding his head in his hands. A tall, white-haired, aristocratic-looking man, one evidently born to command. By his side stood a desk telephone, the bell of which was continually ringing, but the man with the staring eyes did not seem to heed.

“Who is this man, May?” he asked in a hollow tone.

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