The Mystery of the Four Fingers

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Online Distributed Proofreading Team

The Mystery of the Four Fingers

BY FRED M. WHITE

Author of “THE MIDNIGHT GUEST,” “THE CRIMSON BLIND,” Etc., Etc.

1908

CONTENTS

I. THE BLACK PATCH
II. THE FIRST FINGER
III. THE LOST MINE
IV. IN THE LIFT
V. A PUZZLE FOR VENNER
VI. A PARTIAL FAILURE
VII. THE WHITE LADY
VIII. MISSING
IX. A NEW PHASE
X. THE SECOND FINGER
XI. AN UNEXPECTED MOVE
XII. THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR
XIII. THE WHITE LADY AGAIN
XIV. MASTER OF THE SITUATION
XV. FELIX ZARY
XVI. FENWICK MOVES AGAIN
XVII. MERTON GRANGE
XVIII. A COUPLE OF VISITORS
XIX. PHANTOM GOLD
XX. THE PRODIGAL’S RETURN
XXI. THE THIRD FINGER
XXII. “THE TIME WILL COME”
XXIII. SMOKED OUT
XXIV. THE MOUTH OF THE NET
XXV. AN ACT OF CHARITY
XXVI. THE LAST FINGER
XXVII. NEMESIS
XXVIII. EXPLANATIONS
XXIX. THIS MORTAL COIL
XXX. A PEACEFUL SUNSET

CHAPTER I

THE BLACK PATCH

Considering it was nearly the height of the London winter season, the
Great Empire Hotel was not unusually crowded. This might perhaps have
been owing to the fact that two or three of the finest suites of rooms in
the building had been engaged by Mark Fenwick, who was popularly supposed
to be the last thing in the way of American multi-millionaires. No one
knew precisely who Fenwick was, or how he had made his money; but during
the last few months his name had bulked largely in the financial Press
and the daily periodicals of a sensational character. So far, the man had
hardly been seen, it being understood that he was suffering from a chill,
contracted on his voyage to Europe. Up to the present moment he had taken
all his meals in his rooms, but it was whispered now that the great man
was coming down to dinner. There was quite a flutter of excitement in the
Venetian dining-room about eight o’clock.

The beautifully decorated saloon had a sprinkling of well-dressed men
and women already dining decorously there. Everything was decorous about
the Great Empire Hotel. No thought had been spared in the effort to keep
the place quiet and select. The carpets were extra thick, and the waiters
more than usually soft-footed. On the whole, it was a restful place,
though, perhaps, the decorative scheme of its lighting erred just a
trifle on the side of the sombre. Still, flowers and ferns were soft and
feathery. The band played just loudly enough to stimulate conversation
instead of drowning it. At one of the little tables near the door two men
were dining. One had the alertness and vigor which bespeaks the dweller
in towns. He was neatly groomed, with just the slight suspicion of the
dandy in his dress, though it was obvious at the merest glance that he
was a gentleman. His short, sleek hair gave to his head a certain
suggestion of strength. The eyes which gleamed behind his gold-rimmed
glasses were keen and steady. Most men about town were acquainted with
the name of Jim Gurdon, as a generation before had been acquainted with
his prowess in the athletic field. Now he was a successful barrister,
though his ample private means rendered professional work quite
unnecessary.

The other man was taller, and more loose-limbed, though his spare frame
suggested great physical strength. He was dark in a hawk-like way,
though the suggestion of the adventurer about him was softened by a pair
of frank and pleasant grey eyes. Gerald Venner was tanned to a fine,
healthy bronze by many years of wandering all over the world; in fact, he
was one of those restless Englishmen who cannot for long be satisfied
without risking his life in some adventure or other.

The two friends sat there quietly over their dinner, criticising from
time to time those about them.

“After all,” Gurdon said presently, “you must admit that there is
something in our civilization. Now, isn’t this better than starving under
a thin blanket, with a chance of being murdered before morning?”

Venner shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

“I don’t know,” he said. “There is something in danger that stimulates
me; in fact, it is the only thing that makes life worth living, I dare
say you have wondered why it is that I have never settled down and
become respectable like the rest of you. If you heard my story, you
would not be surprised at my eccentric mode of living; at any rate, it
enables me to forget.”

Venner uttered the last words slowly and sadly, as if he were talking
to himself, and had forgotten the presence of his companion. There
was a speculative look in his eyes, much as if London had vanished
and he could see the orchids on the table before him growing in their
native forests.

“I suppose I don’t look much like a man with a past,” he went on; “like
a man who is the victim of a great sorrow. I’ll tell you the story
presently, but not here; I really could not do it in surroundings like
these. I’ve tried everything, even to money-making, but that is the
worst and most unsatisfactory process of the lot. There is nothing so
sordid as that.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Gurdon laughed. “It is better to be a
multi-millionaire than a king today. Take the case of this man Fenwick,
for instance; the papers are making more fuss of him than if he were the
President of the United States or royalty travelling incognito.”

Venner smiled more or less contemptuously. He turned to take a casual
glance at a noisy party who had just come into the dining room, for the
frivolous note jarred upon him. Almost immediately the little party sat
down, and the decorous air of the room seemed to subdue them. Immediately
behind them followed a man who came dragging his limbs behind him,
supported on either side by a servant. He was quite a young man, with a
wonderfully handsome, clean-shaven face. Indeed, so handsome was he, that
Venner could think of no more fitting simile for his beauty than the
trite old comparison of the Greek god. The man’s features were perfectly
chiselled, slightly melancholy and romantic, and strongly suggestive of
the early portraits of Lord Byron. Yet, all the same, the almost perfect
face was from time to time twisted and distorted with pain, and from time
to time there came into the dark, melancholy eyes a look of almost
malignant fury. It was evident that the newcomer suffered from racking
pain, for his lips were twitching, and Venner could see that his even,
white teeth were clenched together. On the whole, it was a striking
figure to intrude upon the smooth gaiety of the dining-room, for it
seemed to Venner that death and the stranger were more than casual
acquaintances. He had an idea that it was only a strong will which kept
the invalid on this side of the grave.

The sufferer sank at length with a sigh of relief into a large armchair,
which had been specially placed for him. He waved the servants aside as
if he had no further use for them, and commenced to study his menu, as
if he had no thought for anything else. Venner did not fail to note that
the man had the full use of his arms, and his eye dwelt with critical
approval on the strong, muscular hands and wrists.

“I wonder who that fellow is?” he said. “What a magnificent frame his
must have been before he got so terribly broken up.”

“He is certainly a fascinating personality,” Gurdon admitted. “Somehow,
he strikes me not so much as the victim of an accident as an unfortunate
being who is suffering from the result of some terrible form of
vengeance. What a character he would make for a story! I am ready to bet
anything in reason that if we could get to the bottom of his history it
would be a most dramatic one. It regularly appeals to the imagination. I
can quite believe our friend yonder has dragged himself out of bed by
sheer force of will to keep some appointment whereby he can wreak his
long nursed revenge.”

“Not in a place like this,” Venner smiled.

“Why not? In the old days these things used to be played out to the
accompaniment of thunder and lightning on a blasted heath. Now we are
much more quiet and gentle in our methods. It is quite evident that our
handsome friend is expecting someone to dine with him. He gives a most
excellent dinner to his enemy, points out to him his faults in the most
gentlemanly fashion, and then proceeds to poison him with a specially
prepared cigar. I can see the whole thing in the form of a short story.”

Venner smiled at the conceit of his companion. He was more than half
inclined to take a sentimental view of the thing himself. He turned to
the waiter to give some order, and as he did so, his eyes encountered two
more people, a man and a woman, who, at that moment, entered the
dining-room. The man was somewhat past middle age, with a large bald
head, covered with a shining dome of yellow skin, and a yellow face
lighted by a pair of deep-sunk dark eyes. The whole was set off and
rendered sinister by a small hook nose and a little black moustache. For
the rest, the man was short and inclined to be stout. He walked with a
wonderfully light and agile step for a man of his weight; in fact he
seemed to reach his seat much as a cat might have done. Indeed, despite
his bulk, there was something strangely feline about the stranger.

Venner gave a peculiar gasp and gurgle. His eyes started. All the blood
receded from his brown face, leaving him ghastly white under his tan. It
was no aspect of fear—rather one of surprise,—of strong and
unconquerable emotion. At the same moment Venner’s hand snapped the stem
of his wine glass, and the champagne frothed upon the table.

“Who is that man?” Venner asked of the waiter. His tone was so strained
and harsh that he hardly recognised his own voice. “Who is the man, I
say? No, no; I don’t mean him. I mean that stout man, with the lady in
white, over there.”

The waiter stared at the speaker in astonishment. He seemed to wonder
where he had been all these years.

“That, sir, is Mr. Mark Fenwick, the American millionaire.”

Venner waved the speaker aside. He was recovering from his emotion now
and the blood had returned once more to his cheeks. He became conscious
of the fact that Gurdon was regarding him with a polite, yet none the
less critical, wonder.

“What is the matter?” the latter asked. “Really, the air seems full of
mystery. Do you know that for the last two minutes you have been
regarding that obese capitalist with a look that was absolutely
murderous? Do you mean to tell me that you have ever seen him before?”

“Indeed, I have,” Venner replied. “But on the last occasion of our
meeting, he did not call himself Mark Fenwick, or by any other name so
distinctly British. Look at him now; look at his yellow skin with the
deep patches of purple at the roots of the little hair he has. Mark the
shape of his face and the peculiar oblique slit of his eyelids. Would you
take that man for an Englishman?”

“No, I shouldn’t,” Gurdon said frankly. “If I had to hazard a guess, I
should say he is either Portuguese or perhaps something of the Mexican
half caste.”

“You would not be far wrong,” Venner said quietly. “I suppose you thought

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