Tiny Carteret - H.C. McNeile - ebook

Tiny Carteret ebook

H. C. Mcneile



One of the few full-length novels by Sapper, in which the Bulldog Drummond does not appear. He does, however, show the second most important character, Ronald Standish. The two most intelligent characters were villains, but their schemes and plots remained mysterious for most of the novel. We are also told that all victims die from the same poison from a small scratch on the body, although the exact poison is nobody known. This is an unusual novel, which is full of mysteries.

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Liczba stron: 373

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TINY CARTERET stretched out a hand like a leg of mutton and picked up the marmalade. On the sideboard what remained of the kidneys and bacon still sizzled cheerfully on the hot plate: by his side a cup of dimensions suitable for a baby’s bath gave forth the fragrant smell of coffee. In short, Tiny Carteret, half-way through his breakfast.

The window was wide open, and from the distance came the ceaseless roar of the traffic in Piccadilly. In the street just below, a gentleman of powerful but unmelodious voice was proclaiming the merits of his strawberries: whilst from the half-way mark came the ghastly sound of a cornet solo. In short, a service flat in Curzon Street.

The marmalade stage with Tiny was always the letter-opening stage, and as usual, he ran through the pile in front of him before beginning to read any of them. A couple of obvious bills: three more in feminine hands which proclaimed invitations of sorts with the utmost certainty–and then one over which he paused. The writing was a man’s: moreover, it was one which he knew well although it was many months since he had seen it. Neat: decisive: strong–it gave the character of the writer with absolute accuracy.

“Ronald, by Jove!” muttered Tiny to himself. “And a Swiss postmark. Now what the dickens is the old lad doing there?”

He slit open the envelope, propped the letter against the coffee-pot, and began to read.

MY DEAR TINY [it ran]–

I know that at this time of year Ranelagh and Lords form your happy hunting-grounds, as a general rule by day, whilst at night you are in the habit of treading on unfortunate women’s feet in divers ballrooms. Nevertheless, should you care to strike out on a new line, I think I can promise you quite a bit of fun out here. At least when I say here, this will be our starting-point. Where the trail may lead to, Allah alone knows. Seriously, Tiny, I have need of you. There is not going to be any poodle faking about it: in fact, the proposition is going to be an extremely tough one. So don’t let’s start under false pretences. There is going to be the devil of a lot of danger in it, and I want someone with a steady nerve, who can use a revolver if necessary, who has a bit of weight behind his fists and knows how to use ‘em.

If the sound of this appeals to you send me a wire at once, and I will await your arrival here.


P.S.–A good train leaves the Gare de Lyons at 9.10 p.m. Gives you plenty of time for dinner in Paris.

Tiny pulled out his case and thoughtfully lit a cigarette. A faint twinkle in his eyes showed that he appreciated the full significance of the postscript: Ronald Standish knew what his answer would be as well as he did himself. Even as the trout rises to the may-fly, so do the Tiny Carterets of this world rise to bait such as was contained in the body of the letter. And just because he knew he was going to swallow it whole, he played with it mentally for quite a time. He even went through the farcical performance of consulting his engagement book. For the next month he had not got a free evening–a thing he had been fully aware of long before he opened the book. In addition, such trifles as Ascot and Wimbledon loomed large during the daylight hours. In fact, he reflected, as he uncoiled his large bulk from the chair, the number of lies he would have to tell in the near future would probably fuse the telephone.

And at this period it might be well to give some slight description of him. The nickname Tiny was of course an obvious one to give a man who had been capped fifteen times for England playing in the scrum. But though he was extraordinarily bigly made, he was at the same time marvellously agile, as men who played him at squash found to their cost. He could run a much lighter man off his feet, without turning a hair himself. The last half of the war had found him in the Coldstream: then, bored with peace-time soldiering he had sent in his papers and taken to sport of every description, which, fortunately for him, the possession of five thousand a year enabled him to do with some ease.

That he was extremely popular with both men and women was not to be wondered at: he was so completely free from side of any sort. In fact, many a net had been spread in the sight of the wary old bird by girls who would have had no objection to becoming Mrs. Tiny. But so far beyond flirting outrageously with all and sundry he had refused to be caught, and now at the age of thirty he was still as far from settling down as ever.

Once again he glanced at Standish’s letter. It had been sent from the Grand Hotel at Territet, a spot which he recalled as being on the Lake of Geneva. And once again he asked himself the same question–what on earth was Ronald Standish doing there of all places? Territet was associated in his mind with tourists and pretty little white steamers on the lake. Also years ago he had played in a tennis tournament there. But Ronald was a different matter altogether.

It had been said of Standish that only the Almighty and he himself knew what his job was, and that it was doubtful which of the two it would be the more difficult to find out from. If asked point blank he would stare at the speaker with a pair of innocent blue eyes and remark vaguely–“Damned if I know, old boy.” For months on end he would remain in London leading the ordinary life of a man of means, then suddenly he would disappear at a moment’s notice, only to reappear just as unexpectedly. And any inquiries as to where he had been would probably elucidate the illuminating answer that he had just been pottering round. But it was to be noticed that after these periodical disappearances his morning walk for a few days generally led towards that part of Whitehall where Secretaries of State live and move and have their being. It might also be noticed–if there was anyone there to see–that when Ronald Standish sent in his name he was not kept waiting.

Even with Tiny Carteret he had never been communicative, though they were members of the same clubs and the closest of friends. The farthest he had ever gone was to murmur vaguely something about intelligence. And it was significant that at the time of the Arcos raid the first question he had asked before opening the paper which contained the news, was the number of men who had been rounded up. Significant also that on two occasions after he had returned from these strange trips of his he had been absent from London for a day, once at Windsor and the other time at Sandringham.

At the moment he had been away for about a month. He had disappeared in his usual unexpected manner, leaving a Free Forester team one man short as a result. Which in itself was sufficient to show that the matter was important, for cricket was a mania with him. And yet Territet of all places! Tiny Carteret scratched his head and rang the bell.

“I’m leaving London, Murdoch,” he said, when his valet appeared. “I’m going to Switzerland.”

“Switzerland, sir?” The man looked at him as if he had taken leave of his senses. “At this time of year?”

“Even so, Murdoch,” answered Tiny with a grin. “But I shan’t want you.”

“Very good, sir. And when will you be leaving?”

At that moment the telephone bell rang.

“See who it is, Murdoch. And then find out if I’m in.”

The valet picked up the receiver, and Tiny heard a man’s voice coming over the wire.

“Yes, sir. This is Mr. Carteret’s flat. I will see if he is in.”

He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and turned to his master.

“A Colonel Gillson, sir, wishes to speak to you.”

“Gillson,” muttered Tiny. “Who the devil is Gillson?”

He took the receiver from Murdoch.

“Hullo! Carteret speaking.”

“Good morning.” The voice was deep and pleasant. “I am Gillson. Speaking from the Home Office. Would you be good enough to come round and see me this morning any time before noon? The matter is somewhat urgent.”

Tiny’s face expressed his bewilderment.

“Sure you’ve got the right bloke?” he said. “The Home Office is a bit out of my line.”

The man at the other end laughed.

“Quite sure,” he answered. “You needn’t be alarmed. Ask for Room 73.”

“All right,” said Tiny. “I’ll be round about half-past eleven.”

“Now what the dickens does Colonel Gillson of the Home Office want with me, Murdoch?” he remarked thoughtfully, as he hung up the receiver. “And where is the Home Office, anyway?”

“A taxi-driver might know that, sir,” said Murdoch helpfully. “But to go back, sir, for the moment: when will you be leaving?”

Tiny lit a cigarette, and blew out a great cloud of smoke.

“To-morrow,” he said at length. “That will leave me to-day to tell the necessary lies in, and get my reservations.”

“How long shall I pack for, sir?” inquired his man.

Tiny gave a short laugh.

“Ask me another,” he said. “I’m darned if I know, Murdoch. Give me enough to last a fortnight anyway. And one other thing.” He turned at the door. “Get that Colt revolver of mine oiled and cleaned, and pack it in the centre of my kit.”

He went down the stairs chuckling gently at the look of scandalized horror on his valet’s face. Revolvers! Switzerland in the middle of the London season! Such things were simply not done, as Murdoch explained a little later to his wife.

“Hindecent, I calls it: positively hindecent. Why we were dining out every night.”

But Tiny Carteret, supremely unconscious of the regal pronoun, was strolling happily along Clarges Street. The morning was perfect: London looked her best, but no twinge of regret assailed him at leaving. There were many more mornings in the future when London would look her best, but a hunt with Ronald Standish was not a thing a man could hope for twice. And as he turned into Piccadilly he found himself trying to puzzle out what the game was going to be.

The Lake of Geneva! Could it be something to do with the League of Nations? And Bolshevism? He rather hoped not. Unwashed international Jews, plentifully covered with hair and masquerading as Russians, failed to arouse his enthusiasm.

“Hullo! Tiny. If you want to kiss me, do you mind doing it somewhere else.”

He came out of his reverie to find himself towering above a delightful vision in blue.

“Vera, my angel,” he said, “I eat dirt. For the moment my brain was immersed in the realms of higher philosophy.”

“You mean you were wondering if it was too early for a drink at your club,” she answered. “Anyway don’t forget next week-end.”

“Ah! next week-end. Now that’s a bad affair–next week-end. For to-morrow, most ravishing of your sex, I leave for Switzerland.”

“You do what?” she cried, staring at him.

“Leave for Switzerland,” he grinned. “I am going to pick beautiful mountain flowers–roses, and tulips and edelweisses and all that sort of thing.”

“Tiny! You must be mad! What about our party?”

“I know, my pet. My heart is as water when I think of it. But it is the doctor’s orders. He says I require building up.”

“There’s a girl in it,” she said accusingly.

“Thumbs crossed–there isn’t. You are the only woman in my life. Good God! my dear–it is a quarter past eleven. I must hop it. Think of me, Vera, in the days to come–alone with chamois–yodelling from height to height in my endeavours to please the intelligent little fellows. Would you like me to yodel now?”

“For Heaven’s sake don’t. And I think you are a perfect beast.”

Tiny took out his handkerchief and began to sob loudly.

“Jilted!” he boomed in a loud voice, to the intense delight of a crowd of people waiting close by for a motor-bus. “Jilted by a woman for whom I have given up my honour, my fortune, even my morning beer.”

“You unspeakable ass,” she cried, striving vainly not to laugh. “Go away at once. And I hope you get mountain sickness, and die in an avalanche.”

He resumed his interrupted walk feeling rather guilty. He knew that the girl he had just left had engineered the week-end party simply and solely on his account, and he had gone and let her down. Now it would be to her even as gall and wormwood, and she really was a darling.

“In fact, young fellow,” he ruminated, “you must go easier with the little pretties in future. It’s a shame to raise false hopes in their sweet young hearts. And one of these days you’ll get it in the neck yourself.”

He hailed a passing taxi and told the man to drive to the Home Office. Vera Lethington was forgotten: the immediate and interesting problem was, What did Colonel Gillson want with him? Presumably it must be something to do with Ronald Standish, since he could think of no other possible reason for the summons.

He asked for Room 73, and on giving his name was at once shown up. Seated at the desk was a hatchet-faced man with an enormous nose, who rose as he entered. He was very tall, and his eyes, keen and steady, seemed to take in every detail of his visitor at a glance.

“Mornin’, Carteret,” he said, and the words were short and clipped. “Take a pew. I suppose you know why I rang you up.”

“Well, since I haven’t been copped in a nightclub raid, Colonel, I can hazard a pretty shrewd guess,” answered Tiny with a grin.

The other man smiled faintly.

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