Those Folk of Bulboro - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Those Folk of Bulboro ebook

Edgar Wallace



An Edgar Wallace detective thriller novel. The plot revolves around the nephew of a small town English doctor who takes over his uncle’s practice and runs into trouble with a religious fanatic. This book is in a new vein for Edgar Wallace, for it is not a story of mystery but a real novel, and goes to show where his versatility could take him if he wished, for „Those Folk of Bulboro” proves him to be the possessor of all the requisite gifts which go to make the really popular novelist against the writer of detective fiction. He has always been noted for his ability to sketch character vividly in a few strokes, and here his touch is as sure as ever, and the story he tells is sympathetic, true to life and deeply interesting.

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“My dear Tony,–I have addressed this letter to Dr. Anthony Manton, c/o The Congo Bolobo Mission, though if you are anything like your dear father was, before he made money and was spoilt for research work, you are probably masquerading as plain Mr. Manton, and trusting to luck that your brilliant essays in the Journal of Tropical Medicines have escaped the notice of your kind hosts.

“I hate telling young men that their work is brilliant, because a little praise from a fellow-craftsman has, as a rule, a disastrous effect; but family pride, no less than the fact that the opportunities for expressing my views are not likely to be many, induce me to pay this tribute to your genius. I do not entirely agree with your monograph on the Donovan-Leichmann body; that hypothesis seems to be fairly established, but you are on the spot and may know better.

“It was not to gossip about bugs that I sat down to write to you; it is of a more serious matter, because I believe that very soon I shall be in that state where either all things will be revealed or every sense of understanding will be obliterated.

“Picture me, a stoutish and elderly gentleman, red-faced, white-haired–though I swear that my venerable appearance is often ill in keeping with the evil passions which rage in my aged breast, ascending the stairs of Lady Heron Wendall, the wife of Bulboro’s rector. (I have written about this lady before; indeed, you know something about the circumstances which led to her marriage sixteen years ago–did not the erring Frenchman die most picturesquely in your care? But this is not the time to revive scandal.)

“I found her in bed, radiating that delicate beauty which a certain type of skinny woman has, which in my mind is always associated with a process of caducity. I forget now what exactly was the matter with her: I believe, when I come to think of it, she wanted to gossip about the latest curate’s delinquencies. Certain it is that, for very shame’s sake, she had to discuss the terms of her health. I leant over the bed to take her pulse, and then I straightened up, for I heard and felt something inside me which interested me as a doctor and saddened me as an individual. Mitral murmurs sufficiently distinct to be audible without stethoscopic examination would not bother me, indeed, have not bothered me, for I have been suspicious of the existence of some aortal thickening for some time.

“I went back to my surgery and had a little self-examination, and, my dear Tony, nothing which the musical instrument makers produce for their Christmas patrons was half as musical as my cardiac region.

“To make absolutely sure, I went up to town and saw Gregorley. He wanted to talk to me about his fans–he is a ‘devil of an old woman, you know, outside his job of work, and collects all sorts of fripperies and frumperies. But I cut short his talk of Greuze and Watteau and made him begin a nice cheap examination. He positively gloated over me, and really I had that pleasing sensation which every benefactor, who gives an unexpected treat to the poor, must possess, for I recognized that I was an exceptional case.

“He tells me that I have three weeks to live, and he was anxious that I should pack myself in wadding, stretch myself calmly upon cee-springs and await dissolution like a gentleman. That, of course, is absurd. If I thought that I should go out in an inconvenient manner I should do as he suggests, but I have made up my mind to die in the library, which is a nice, cosy, cheerful room, and one in which any man, with a taste for books and good prints, would elect to die in.

“Now, the climax of this letter comes hereunder.

“I have the best practice in England in this town, and I am most anxious that you shall come along and take it. You’ve got plenty of money–I am leaving you some twenty-four thousand pounds to add to your fortune–this house is a beautiful old place, dating back to the Elizabethan period, and the grounds and garden have been my especial care. I want you to take charge of my papers, destroying such as you wish, and publishing the others anonymously, for I think I have collected one or two facts concerning the Renaissance.

“You will get on with my patients if you are rude to them systematically, if your attitude is one of brusqueness tempered with scepticism. Keep clear of the churches–this place is a veritable hotbed of Christianity–avoid open partisanship, vote solidly Tory, and you will be happy.

“You will find Bulboro’ as full of microbes as the most pestilential of Congo swamps. The microbe which devastates this town most is the microbe of intolerance, and a genial hatred of every other person’s religion is a predominant characteristic of every citizen.

“I speak of the churches, because, between them, they make up Bulboro’s life. Not one of our hundred thousand but has a conviction amounting almost to a certainty, that life on the other side of the veil will hold something more precious for him than it holds for his neighbour.

“You will find Heron Wendall something of a slacker, but clever. He is the Rector, tending to the moral and spiritual needs of such as do not require salvation so much as encouragement to continue in the faith that salvation is superfluous in their cases; they are the old soldiers of Christianity, skilled in its goose-steps, in its battalion drills and its conventional formations.

“Childe is of the rabble, a Baptist, a Saint and a Martyr (he was in Bulboro’ jail for three weeks for non-payment of rates on the education question). Short, another variety of Baptist, is oleaginous, full of ‘God-bless-you’s!’ delivered with mechanical fervour. He has a history of gastric trouble. I think you will have him on your hands one of these days.

“Stope is the Congregationalist–a lean, youngish man with a stoop, and declamatory in conversation. An ambitious man, he’ll be the Liberal candidate at the next election. He is pleasant, sound on questions of research (‘ware Childe, by the way, who is anti-vivisection, anti-vaccination and a vegetarian), but a dangerous man.

“The Papist is Carter, austere, tolerant as a Jesuit, a gentleman and straight. Regarding you as irretrievably damned in the next world, he will do his best to entertain you in this.

“The lesser lights I won’t bother you with: there’s Wastrum, who burns incense, crosses himself, and is loathed by the Kensit people. He’s Oxford and enthusiastic. He has a watch-chain hung with bronze medallions, and like Catherine with her charms ‘jingles like a mule’. He is suspected of having taken a vow of chastity, which has annoyed the rabid section of Nonconformity, with their teeming nurseries and overloaded bassinets, no end. (Painter does all my maternity work–you’ll like him.)

“And now, dear lad, I take farewell of you, kissing you in the spirit as I kissed you as a dear child. To ‘whatever God there is’ I offer the record of my life for audit. I shall await you on the other side of the curtain, full of eagerness and curiosity. By the way, look after that grey filly of mine, she is by Grey Leg out of a Galopin mare. She is up to thirteen stone, and is a rare leaper. Later I should send her to stud; you might get a good foal, who knows?

“Am Tag! as the German officers said.

–Your uncle and friend,

“Jabez Manton.”


The guide-books say that Bulboro’ lies on the Avel, but you must leave Bulboro’ behind to find that pleasant stream.

It is true there is a large and sluggish basin where grimy barges lie, but the water is soulless and dead and streaked with the gloomy iridescence which speaks eloquently of oil drums carelessly handled.

The banks are stark and rubbled, or overlaid with staging on which the clumsy cranes puff up and down, slowly and asthmatically.

There is, too, in the lower town, a short iron bridge, depressing in its ugliness, which spans a dark stream and is known as Avel Bridge, though, as a matter of absolute fact, no Avel, but a half-hearted canal, flows beneath.

You must travel outside Bulboro’ for a glimpse of the stream as the poets know it and the painters have shown it. Away from the tall chimneys of the glass works, and the woollen mills, and the overpowering obesity of the Bulboro’ Gas Light and Fuel Company’s monstrous gasometers; away from the clang and the jangle of the electric cars, the melancholy drone of innumerable sirens, and the everlasting rattle of Siggses Iron Works, you will find the river flowing in its serene and natural beauty.

Bulboro’ is a discoloration at the bottom of a great saucer. All the dregs of the Avel valley have drained into the town. Outside there is a beautiful land of soft breezes, of yellow cornfields (in the proper season), of ancient farm-houses, thatched and decrepit old cottages, masked by clematis and approached by the narrowest of paths, through flowers waist high, so narrow because the cottages could spare no more space for the foot of man. There are inns for the seeking, inns with low-roofed parlours and spacious fire-places. Summer or winter, the Avel valley is a joy to the stifled folk of Bulboro’. Mist stealing over the hills and entangled like thinnest gossamer, means dense yellow fog in the town. Sunlight and shadow on the waving cornfields of the valley thicken to something which is neither sunlight nor shadow in the hot streets of Bulboro’. Snow in billows of virgin white is black slush in the city.

But Bulboro’ is by far too busy to devote overmuch attention to such matters as the aesthetic aspect of meteorology. In Bulboro’ it is “hot” or it is “cold”, or it is adjectived hot or adjectived cold–and only the adjective employed varies.

It was cold when Anthony Manton came out of the station buildings overcoated to the chin. The porter informed him that it was cold. The fly-driver paused in the operation of stacking his luggage to tell him as much, the little newsboy at the stall had handed him a paper and his change, with the respectful intimation that it was “very cold”.

It was cold enough for this young man, with the brown, lean face. He shivered a little as an icy gust came swirling through the open door of the booking office, and he pulled up the collar of his coat. He was tall and strongly built. He carried himself with the freedom of a sailor and had the sailor’s blue far-seeing eyes.

He was clean-shaven, save for a closely cropped moustache. His nose and the straight black eyebrows gave his features a T-square regularity. His chin was firm, and he was saved from nondescript handsomeness by a certain hollowness of cheek and an expression of severity which comes to the man who does not readily smile. Yet you might judge him to be capable of enormous laughter. There were possibilities of merriment in his solemn eyes and the uneven line of his lips.

Every man’s face has a message; a message which speaks with a great eloquence to the people who are wise in the reading of faces. Anthony Manton said some things plainly, offered grounds for speculation in others. He was the observer, keen, eager, patient. There was indifference amounting almost to contempt in the lips, inflexibility in the set of his jaw, concentration in the perpendicular lines of his forehead, shrewd sure reasoning power in the lift of his eyelids.

He might have found difficulty in offering an explanation for the more elusive qualities of his face. For the moment, at any rate, he was in no mood for self-analysis, for he agreed with the porter, the newsboy, and most emphatically with the fly-driver, that it was cold.

His companion, muffled up to the eyes, his neck thickly encircled with a great woollen muffler, said nothing. His brown eyes stared impassively from under his scarlet tarbosh at a peculiarly unattractive corner of an unpleasant land. His big brown hands were thrust into the depths of an enormous ulster and his feet were protected by two pairs of woollen stockings encased in large and strange boots.

“Ho, Ahmet!” said Anthony Manton, turning gravely to the other and speaking in the bastard Arabic of the Coast, “this is a world without comfort.”

Ahmet unthawed his voice huskily.

“God protect us,” he said, “for my marrow is frozen, and there is a pain in my ears as though all the tsetses in the world were drawing blood. Now I think this place is hell and I am being punished for my sins, lord. For never in my life have I been so sorrowful.”

Anthony’s lips twitched.

“Get into this carriage,” he said in the same language. “Afterwards we shall come to a place more pleasant, and you shall make me coffee of great heat and comfort.”

He closed the carriage door on his servant and looked round to say good-bye to his travelling companion.

He picked him out from a tangle of passengers, for it was two days before Christmas and there were many who called Bulboro’ “home” without shame.

Anthony walked swiftly to where the little man stood.

He was obviously Hebraic. The broad face, the heavy lids, the closely cropped beard were typical. He was not handsome, yet his brown eyes twinkled with good humour; his smile was quick to come, and you saw that life to him held none of the tragedy which is so unmistakably reflected on the Jew’s face. The world was a “funny place” to Ambrose Cohen. That was his favourite verdict.

He was well dressed in a long, fur-lined coat, that reached to his heels; his hat a grey bowler, his cigar large and fragrant. The coat concealed most of his raiment, and you might suspect hidden brilliance of stone and precious metal to testify his wealth; but Ambrose Cohen was in many ways an extraordinary man. For the display which appealed to his compatriots he had no desire, though he was a very rich man, a magnate, even by Johannesburg standards.

Sentiment brought him to Bulboro’, for in this tiny town he had first seen the day. His father, a working jeweller, was long since dead. Cohen lived in a beautiful house in West Hill, with a handsome wife and two little children whom he adored. The country attracted him because he was a keen horseman, rode regularly to hounds, and had so far overcome the prejudice of a conservative county, as to be one of the most popular members of the Hunt.

He saw Manton and came impetuously forward, offering his gloved hand.

“Good-bye,” he said, his eyes dancing with good humour, “you will see me again.”

“I hope not professionally,” said Anthony.

The other laughed.

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