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Authors: John Creasey

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A Sword For the Baron

BOOK: A Sword For the Baron
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Copyright & Information

A Sword for The Baron

 

First published in 1963

© John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1963-2010

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

 

The right of John Creasey to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.

 

This edition published in 2010 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.

 

Typeset by House of Stratus.

 

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.

 

ISBN
 
EAN
 
Edition
0755123999
 
9780755123995
 
Print
0755134028
 
9780755134021
 
Mobi
0755134435
 
9780755134434
 
Epub

 

This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.

 

www.houseofstratus.com

 

About the Author

 

John Creasey – Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
.

Creasey wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:

 

Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.

 

Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.

He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
Edgar Award
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.

 

1
THE SWORD

 

“I agree, it's a magnificent thing,” said John Mannering. “I've often seen photographs of it and its pair. Where is the other?”

“Ah,” said the silvery-haired man sitting opposite him in his Mayfair office. “That is what I want you to find out for me, Mr Mannering. By itself this sword is beautiful. Beautiful,” he repeated, and touched the jewelled scabbard, turning it slightly on the dark surface of the Queen Anne desk. It caught the light hanging over the desk only two feet above the sword; this was the lamp which Mannering shifted up and down on its pulley, so that he could examine all the precious objects brought to him here, in the best possible light. As the sword rocked slightly, brilliant colours darted from it, stabbing about the small room in vivid scintillas. Fiery stabs as of flames, some red, some green, some blue, some white, some a combination of all the colours of the rainbow, speared the room. These reflected on the glass of bow-fronted bookcases, on the painting of the cavalier just above Mannering's head, on the shiny dust covers of the reference books on open shelves, on the black telephone, on the gold solitaire ring on the silvery-haired man's left hand, and on the natural coloured varnish on his manicured fingernails.

The movement stopped, and the fire of the sword seemed to fade.

“So you want me to find the pair to this,” Mannering murmured.

“I do indeed.”

“Have you any idea where it might be?”

“None whatsoever.”

“How long have you had this one?”

“It has been in my family for at least four generations,” the old man said. “You may know of the history.”

“Some of it,” Mannering admitted. “One belonged to you, and the other to your brother, who was drowned in Africa, a long time ago.”

“Nearly forty years.” The old man closed his eyes.

“When did the other sword disappear?” inquired Mannering. He looked across at the pale face, the dark, clear blue eyes, the narrow features. He knew Lord Gentian – not well, but as well as most people did. He knew, for instance, that the peer was in his late seventies, that he had been something of a recluse for years whenever he lived in England, that from time to time he went off on long journeys – until recently alone except for servants and bearers hired in whatever country he happened to select. Mannering also knew enough to respect him as a man too old and too set in his ways to live with comfort of mind in a world where the moon was within shooting distance. If the stories were true, Gentian returned from each journey, be it trek, safari, or voyage, long enough to write a book about it; then he started off on another.

No one had yet published any of his books, although articles had appeared in intellectual journals, written in a fastidious, almost precise style, about wonders unknown to the modern world because they were still buried in the past.

A Jacobean clock in an ornately carved black case stirred and whispered before it struck:
One, two, three.
It settled back into dark silence until the gentle tick, tock, tick, tock of the pendulum made itself heard.

Gentian had been here for nearly half an hour.

“It disappeared some years ago. Will you search for it?” he asked at last.

“I don't yet know,” said Mannering.

“If it is a question of money—” Gentian broke off, as if he doubted the propriety of talking money to this man with a fabulous reputation, the man who owned Quinns in London and was part owner of Quinns in Boston, Massachusetts, and was believed to be the wealthiest dealer in
objets d'art
in the world.

“It isn't wholly money,” Mannering replied.

“I simply want to make it clear that money must not stand in the way,” Gentian said.

“Do you mean that there is no limit to what you will spend to find the other sword?”

“None whatsoever.”

The two men looked into each other's eyes, Mannering as if testing, Gentian as if determined to make the other believe him: and Mannering did. Some people might make the boast that there was “no limit” and would mean “no limit within reason”. Gentian meant exactly what he said.

“I might look for the sword,” Mannering conceded, smiling faintly. “In fact I'd like to.”

He did not know that when smiling, as he was now, he was the living image of the picture above his head. The portrait had been painted by his wife, showing him as he would have been as an adherent of King Charles. Another portrait was in existence, showing him dressed as a Regency Buck; it was Lorna Mannering who decided which should hang at any given time.

“You would like to, and yet you hesitate,” Gentian prompted.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“That's it exactly,” Mannering said.
“Why?
You have this sword, and I doubt if there's a more beautiful one in existence. Why do you want the pair?”

After a pause, Gentian's eyes crinkled at the corners.

“Aren't you a collector, too, Mr Mannering?”

“A dealer and a collector.”

“If you possessed such a rarity as this, wouldn't you want the other?”

“If I had one like this in my collection I would be glad to settle for it. If I had one and a customer wanted a pair – that would be a different matter.”

“There are collectors who would give their right arms to have such a pair.”

“There are indeed.”

“Why do you doubt that I am one?”

Mannering leaned back, and chuckled.

“If you were that kind of collector you would have been to see me long ago,” he said. “I know more or less what you have in your collection, in it are a number of single pieces for each of which there is a pair. The Dani Lyng vase, for instance; the Gainsborough of Lady Mortenson's elder daughter; the jewelled shoe of the Sakri dancer; the Eye of—”

“That's enough,” interrupted Gentian. “There is a pair to each of these, and obtainable if I wanted to spend the money. Is that what you mean?”

“It's precisely what I mean.”

“And as I don't worry about them, I don't want the second Mogul sword simply because it is a pair. Very well, Mr Mannering. I want it because I don't think I shall die content unless I know who has it.”

“Who
has
it? Or who took it?”

Gentian touched the sword again, as if intending to cause the distraction which the fiery scintillas would make. As he watched it move, Mannering saw the reflection on his eyes, and wondered what had turned this man into a recluse. In the old face there was great strength, and the bone structure told of an earlier handsomeness. It must be fifty years since Gentian had played any part at all in public life, yet at one time he had shown a lively interest.

“Yes,” Gentian said. “Who took the other sword. Who
stole
it.”

“And you are afraid that it was one of your family?”

“It is just possible.”

“Is that the possibility which really troubles you?”

“Yes.”

“If I say that I'll try to find the sword, and to find out who took it, will you give me all the information that I need?” When Gentian gave no answer, Mannering leaned forward intently. “Will you tell me everything about the family conflicts, the tensions, the suspicions – all there is to know?”

“There is a great deal to know,” Gentian murmured.

“Unless I know it, I can't begin to look for the sword. It would take far too much time.”

“I am not sure that I can tell you all you want to know, Mr Mannering.”

“All I
need
to know if I'm to find out the truth about the sword.”

“Does a professional detective always need to know everything so as to get results?”

“If he doesn't, he often gets the wrong results.”

“Mr Mannering—” Gentian began, then paused.

Mannering waited until he went on, repeating: “Mr Mannering, I said that there was no limit to the amount of money which I could spend on the search.”

“I know.”

“I am a wealthy man.”

“If I start the search for this it might take weeks and it might take months,” Mannering said. “While looking for it I won't lose any money, my staff will see to that. But I will miss a great deal of interesting business.”

“And you don't want to waste your time,” Gentian murmured. “Nor do I. I don't want to wait weeks or months – I want to know quickly. Mr Mannering, there is a great deal in my family history which is known only to members of the family. I don't want you, or anyone else, to know much of it. On the other hand, I am very anxious indeed to find out who—who
stole
the other Mogul sword. Will you let me sleep on this?”

“Of course.”

“And if I decide by tomorrow to tell you everything, will you undertake the search?”

“Yes.”

“Will you treat it as urgent?”

“The quicker the search is over the better for us both. I'll treat it as urgent, once I know everything that affects the sword.”

“That is all I have any right to expect,” Gentian said. “I am most appreciative. I shall be in London for the next two weeks, and would very much like the problem solved before I leave – if that is possible. I wonder—” he hesitated, glanced up at the cavalier but obviously not thinking about the portrait. “I wonder if you will have lunch with me tomorrow.”

“I will be glad to.”

“Let us say one o'clock,” Gentian said. “By then I will have made up my mind.”

He pushed his chair back, placed both hands on the desk, and began to stand up; it was an effort for him, just as it had been an effort for him to sit down. He held out his hand, once he was standing upright. Mannering took it, then rounded his desk. Gentian moved slowly towards the door. His right leg was stiff at the knee and hip, and he used it almost as an old salt would use a wooden leg. It was rumoured that the infirmity gave him a great deal of pain. There were other rumours, that hip and knee had been lacerated by a crocodile in the waters of the Indus, many years ago: that Gentian had ripped open the underbelly of the beast with a sharp flint snatched from the bottom of the river, and so saved his life. The fact that he moved with such difficulty made his recent travels more remarkable.

Mannering opened the door.

“Don't worry to come to the street,” Gentian said.

“Oh, but I shall.”

Mannering kept a little behind Gentian. On his right the curly-haired, white-haired manager, Josh Larraby was examining some miniatures with a watchmaker's glass screwed up in his eye; he did not appear to notice Gentian and Mannering. Two young assistants in the shop – comparatively new, for there had been staff changes lately – watched the slow, deliberate process almost as if they could feel the pain of Gentian's movements. One of them went ahead and opened the door. Two young girls were looking at a jewelled headdress of an Egyptian queen, their eyes almost popping; what they were whispering to each other could be heard inside the shop, because of a loud speaker system installed to give warning if someone was planning a raid on Quinns.

One girl said: “I was passing along here last night with Charley, and do you know what he told me?” She had the sing-song voice which was neither Cockney nor free from twang. “He really is a one, Charley is.”

“Don't I know it! What
did
he tell you?”

“He said that those old Egyptian and Bablons, or whatever they were called, knew a thing or two. He said some of the women didn't mind if a dozen chaps . . .”

A man went past on a motor scooter, pop-pop-popping noisily.

“. . . I don't believe it,” the other girl was saying when the voices were audible again.

“Well, Charley—”

“Oh,
Charley
'
ll tell you anything.”

“What a strange world we live in, Mr Mannering,” observed Gentian. “There are times when one wonders if the purpose of evolution was to create a worldwide farmyard.” He reached the open door. The girls looked up, and walked sheepishly away, as if they sensed they had been overheard. “Tomorrow, then.”

“At one o'clock.”

Gentian nodded, stepped out of the shop, and stopped abruptly. Mannering could see everything in the older man's line of vision, and had little doubt what had made Gentian stop. A slender young woman was on the other side of the road, ostensibly looking at some model hats. Her back was turned towards the narrow front of Quinns, but it was possible to see her reflection in the window.

She did not look round, but was in a position to see Gentian's reflection, too.

Gentian's chauffeur-driven Daimler moved up, and hid the girl and the window from Mannering. Gentian did not even turn his head to glance at Mannering, but as the elderly chauffeur got out, he climbed stiffly, awkwardly, into the big old car.

 

BOOK: A Sword For the Baron
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