The Wings of Victory - Fred M. White - ebook

The Wings of Victory ebook

Fred M White

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Lanson Place has always been famous for its magnificent history and beauty. Today, Lanson Place consists of half a dozen rooms, simple shells, hidden behind thick shafts of stone covered with climbing plants. Twenty years ago, a catastrophic fire destroyed most of Lanson Place. This is a tragic story about a cunning family. Two generations of reckless Dorns had wrecked the fortunes of the family and brought themselves to the verge of ruin.

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Liczba stron: 380

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Contents

CHAPTER I. SEALED LIPS

CHAPTER II. THE COMPLETE LETTER-WRITER

CHAPTER III. AGAINST LONG ODDS

CHAPTER IV. THE BUNGALOW

CHAPTER V. ON THE THORNS

CHAPTER VI. OLD FRIENDS

CHAPTER VII. BARON’S COURT

CHAPTER VIII. AT DINNER

CHAPTER IX. THE SILENT HOUSE

CHAPTER X. PROFESSOR JOHN BEVILL

CHAPTER XI. IN THE MOONLIGHT

CHAPTER XII. THE SCARECROW

CHAPTER XIII. ON THE TERRACE

CHAPTER XIV. ROGUES IN COUNCIL

CHAPTER XV. MARKHAM SPEAKS OUT

CHAPTER XVI. A GLIMMER OF REASON

CHAPTER XVII. THE PUMA

CHAPTER XVIII. THE OPEN SAFE

CHAPTER XIX. AN ERROR OF JUDGMENT

CHAPTER XX. AN ANXIOUS CONSULTATION

CHAPTER XXI. ON THE ROAD

CHAPTER XXII. A STRANGE OUTBREAK

CHAPTER XXIII. MRS. DORN’S DISCOVERY

CHAPTER XXIV. MISSING

CHAPTER XXV. TRAGEDY!

CHAPTER XXVI. THE FIRST DAY OF THE INQUEST

CHAPTER XXVII. A BLOW FOR DE BARSAC

CHAPTER XXVIII. MORE LIGHT

CHAPTER XXIX. THE MARK OF THE BEAST

CHAPTER XXX. A STRANGE DISCOVERY

CHAPTER XXXI. THE DOCTOR’S EVIDENCE

CHAPTER XXXII. ON THE SCENT

CHAPTER XXXIII. THE BLACK BOX

CHAPTER XXXIV. MORE LIGHT

CHAPTER XXXV. SUSPENSE

CHAPTER XXXVI. THE PICTURES

CHAPTER XXXVII. CLEAR AS DAYLIGHT

CHAPTER XXXVIII. FLIGHT

CHAPTER XXXIX. WIPED OUT

CHAPTER XL. ALL SAID AND DONE

CHAPTER I. SEALED LIPS

Once Lanton Place had been one of the historic landmarks in mid-Devon. What remains of it to-day is a mere shell, practically a ruin half-smothered in ivy and other parasites, and apparently hiding itself away in the wooded country as if half ashamed of the change that time has brought it.

At one time it had been, to all practical purposes, a castle, a long low line of noble buildings overlooking the Dart and dominating that part of the country. But that had been in the day when the Dorns were a great clan and the head of the family went into the field in front of a thousand or two of his own vassals and tenantry. The name is writ largely enough in the history of Devon.

To-day, however, it is another story. To-day Lanton Place consists of half a dozen rooms, mere shells hidden away behind thick ramparts of stone covered with ivy and clinging plants that served to hide the desolation of the place behind a mask of living greenery. For twenty years ago a disastrous fire had levelled most of Lanton Place to the ground, which was no bad thing in one way, for the fortunes of the family were as decayed as the building itself, and Major Dorn and his wife and daughter were more or less content to hide their diminished heads in what remained of a great historic house.

It had been the old story, told over and over again both in fiction and in fact. Two generations of reckless Dorns had wrecked the fortunes of the family and brought themselves to the verge of ruin. One farm after another had been mortgaged to meet dissipation and extravagance, and on the top of that had come a ruinous lawsuit which left Major Manby Dorn with practically nothing on which to live. But for the fact that the property was in Chancery he would not have been there at all. In his cynical moments he described himself as a caretaker, and that, literally, was exactly what he was. Some day an enterprising purchaser would come along and buy up the dilapidated estate with its weed-covered farms, which were a crying disgrace to the county, and turn it into smiling land again. Meanwhile Dorn clung there in his few rooms, which were still furnished with some taste, until the hour arrived when the Court would give him notice to leave. And, in the meantime, he contemplated the remains of the family story, the faded carpets and tapestry, and the few old pictures, with a certain melancholy pride and a bitterness that was but skin deep.

For he cared little or nothing for the family, of even his own reputation, so long as he had the wherewithal to pander to his own vices and dissipations. He was the last of his race on the male side, and there were plenty of people in the neighbourhood who declared that this was a good thing. For, sooth to say, Dorn was not popular. He was vicious and dissipated, absolutely and entirely selfish, a soured and disappointed man without a single redeeming feature. He was always well dressed, always beautifully turned out, and from time to time he managed, by some means known to himself, to obtain the funds necessary for an occasional jaunt to London.

What he did there neither his wife nor daughter knew, and, indeed, he would not have told them had they asked him. There were times, on the other hand, when he was practically penniless–times when he had not the necessary sixpence left for a cigar. And there were times, on the other hand, when cigars were plentiful enough and Dorn lived on the fat of the land–that is, so far as he was personally concerned. He had his own snug little sitting-room, where he kept his cases of cigarettes and his cases of wine, which he indulged all too freely. And these were the times when he expanded and became quite amiable to his wife and daughter, who, on the whole, preferred him in his darker moods. For that smooth manner and polished politeness of his almost covered a sneer or a sarcasm that at one time had brought the tears to Sylvia Dorn’s eyes, but now she had grown out of that and outwardly she was hard enough.

A gloomy, desolate place on the whole, a place suggesting crime and misery, with its weed-grown paths and ragged lawns and overgrown shrubbery rambling up to the edge of the house. There were people in the neighbourhood, farm labourers and the like, who whispered of the strange things that took place there, behind the screen of green that nobody ever penetrated. They said that Mrs. Dorn was mad, that her husband’s constant cruelty had driven her out of her mind, and that in all sorts of weathers she could be seen creeping furtively about the blackened ruins always searching for something with a rake in her hand. And perhaps there was some foundation for these dark legends, for an old servant of the family, now happily married, had spoken to intimates of the night when Lanton Place was burnt down, and how, on that dreadful evening, Dorn, in a fit of drunken passion, had thrown a lighted lamp at his wife. All this was legend of course, though plenty of people in the neighbourhood were prepared to believe it, and in this instance it happened to be true. It was true, too, that from then on Mrs. Dorn had never spoken a sensible word. Now and again some adventurous youth or sanguine poacher, approaching too near the house had seen that slim, sad-looking figure in black searching about in the charred ruins, like some poor woman hunting fuel in a wood. And the daring one had crept away, feeling just a little nervous and superstitious and rather afraid of encountering that pathetic vision there amongst the ruins.

So far, that was true enough. There must have been something more on that fateful night than tradition spoke of, some terrible shock that had robbed a beautiful woman in the prime of life of her reason.

There were plenty of people in the neighbourhood, of course, who could remember the time when Dorn had brought his wife home, a beautiful, sparkling, fascinating creature who had been a noted figure on the stage, both in London and Paris. Lots of people knew that Mrs. Dorn was half French, and in those early days, when things were more prosperous, and before the great crash came, she had been a popular figure in the neighbourhood. But for years now no local resident had called at Lanton Place. There were lots of people who were immensely sorry for Mrs. Dorn, and quite as many who would have held out their hand in friendship to Sylvia. But the girl had always kept them at arm’s length; she was proud enough in her way, and though, like most girls, she longed for friendship, she shrank naturally from anything that savoured of pity or sympathy.

Sylvia was about twenty now, tall and slim like her mother, and inheriting her proud spirit and vivacious beauty. She had waited patiently enough for the time to come when she could turn her back upon that dreary spot and earn her own living, and for the last six months she had been touring the country with a theatrical company. But misfortune had dogged the venture from the first, so that, reluctant as she was, she had been glad enough to come back home again till fortune should smile once more.

She was wondering about the dismal grounds that fine summer morning, a morning so fine that even Lanton Place seemed almost attractive. She came presently by a well-worn track at the back of the house past a thick belt of laurels to the blackened spot where the main portion of the house had stood. Her eyes dimmed slightly as she saw that sombre figure in black raking over the dead ashes, as she had seen her mother doing many a hundred times. And then the look in her eyes changed to one of contempt and loathing as she saw her father coming in her direction from the far side of what once had been a lawn.

Dorn was smiling to himself as if something had pleased him. There was a cigar in his mouth, his well-cut suit of grey flannels bore the unmistakable mark of Bond-street. He was handsome, distinguished enough, despite the weakness of his eyes and the shakiness of his lips, unmistakable signs of the kind of life he lived. But still, he was a fine figure of a man, looking every inch the country gentleman, with an air that there was no mistaking. And as Sylvia looked at him and then at the pathetic figure groping there amongst the ashes, her lip curled scornfully.

“Ah, a nice morning, Sylvia,” Dorn said, raising his hat gallantly. He always prided himself that no misfortune could ever make him forget that he was a gentleman. “A most delightful morning, my dear. Any news? Anything from those people in London?”

“I have had a letter,” Sylvia said coldly. “A letter from the man I told you about.”

“Ah, the man with the funny name?”

“Mr. Maxwell Frick, yes. He thinks, from my description, that Lanton Place would be ideal for the purposes of cinema photography. The firm that has engaged him are making a great picture, or rather a great drama, with Dartmoor for a background, and these people want a picturesque place like ours that suggests desolation and misery.”

“Well, upon my word, they couldn’t have selected a better spot,” Dorn said cynically. “This might be a haunted house where a murder was committed. But the point is, Sylvia, what are these people prepared to pay––”

“I don’t know,” Sylvia said impatiently. “Mr. Frick is coming down here in a day or two, and you can make all arrangements with him. They won’t want to use the interior of the house–at least, not very often–and they will erect their own studios here in the grounds. If it is any satisfaction, I believe that the firm is quite a wealthy one.”

Dorn turned aside, humming carelessly. Then his eyes turned upon his wife, and they narrowed and his thin lips were pressed together ominously. There was anger on his face as he spoke, but his words were smooth enough.

“Don’t you think, my dear,” he said, “that you have done enough–er–gardening for one morning?”

Mrs. Dorn looked up with a vacant expression on that still beautiful face of hers. She held up one blackened hand as if for silence.

“Sealed lips,” she whispered. “Sealed lips. But this I have found. Only this.”

CHAPTER II. THE COMPLETE LETTER-WRITER

As Mary Dorn spoke, a scrap of paper fluttered from her fingers. It was apparently part of a charred letter or envelope, and had no doubt been there, protected from the rain by a fragment of charred wood, all these years. Dorn glanced at it carelessly enough, much as one regards some gaudy flowering weed which a child has gathered from a neighbouring hedgeside under the impression that she has found a treasure. It was only a tiny scrap of paper with the ink faded, a scrap of paper that had been evidently torn from an envelope. There were only two words “street” and “London, E.C.”

“Ah, you are in luck this morning, my dear,” Dorn said. “And now having done so much, don’t you think it about time that you went in and looked after the lunch? Sylvia, I want you for a moment or two.”

“What is it?” Sylvia asked defiantly.

She would have turned and followed her mother slowly into the house if her father had not detained her. She had only been back home a day or two, but she guessed what he wanted.

“I’d like you to help me,” he said. “There is an important letter that ought to be written.”

“What, already?” Sylvia demanded. “I can’t do it, I won’t. I told you before I went away that I would have nothing more to do with that sort of thing. Of course, you know where it will end eventually.”

Once more Dorn’s eyes narrowed, and once more his thin lips were pressed together.

“My dear child,” he said, smoothly enough, “you must allow me to be the better judge of that. Besides, unnecessary as it may seem, we have to live. And when I tell you that I am down to my last five shillings you will see how pressing the situation is. As a certain philosopher once observed, ‘there are people who have plenty of money and no brains, and other people who have plenty of brains and no money.’ Therefore, by a natural evolution, the brains attract the money. You wouldn’t have your mother starving, I suppose?”

“Oh, I quite understand your natural solicitude for my mother,” Sylvia said bitterly. “You are––”

“There, that will do,” Dorn said ominously. “You forget who you are talking to.”

“As, I wish to Heaven I could.”

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