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Meet The Baron
This e-book was created by papachanjo, with the purpose of providing a digitized format of the books written by John Creasey without the least intention of commercial gain of any sort. This e-book should hence be utilized for reading only and if you like it and can buy it, please do to support the publishers.
I am trying to create at least an ample collection of all the John Creasey books which are in the excess of 500 novels. Having read and possess just a meager 10 of his books does not qualify me to be a fan but the 10 I read were enough for me to rake up some effort to scan and create these e-books.
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from back cover
John Manering (aka The Baron) makes his first appearance in this volume. Lord Fauntley cannot help showing off both his daughter and the security under which his precious jewels are kept. Mannering finds himself attracted to both . . . . Money is tight and so he plans a burglary, but this fails and unexpected consequnces result. The relationship with Lorna Fauntley flourishes, and a series of high profile thefts and adventures ensure Mannering's future, so he believes, until Lorna equates him with The Baron. One of the many further twists in this award winning novel occurs when the police appear to seek Mannering's help, only to have everything turned upside down as the plot develops . . . . .
Table of Contents
LADY MARY OVERNDON TICKLED THE END OF HER LONG AND patrician nose with a tortoiseshell lorgnette that was as old-fashioned as her bun-shaped coiffure. Thirty years before her long grey dress, with its flounces and its trimmings of fur and beads and its stiffened collar of fine muslin, might have been in the height of fashion; in this year of grace the only thing about Lady Mary in the height of fashion was her mind, and few were privileged to know much of its workings.
Colonel George Belton, her companion in the sunlit room overlooking the lawn and tennis-courts of Overndon Manor, studied her, and smiled to himself. She looked an arrogant old shrew — hard, embittered, and self-centred, as though sixty years in a fast-changing world had proved too much for her.
The Cornel laughed suddenly. Lady Mary looked at him, as he knew she would, and her grey eyes were sparkling. A man or woman of understanding had but to look into her deep grey eyes to know that her thin lips and pointed chin were lying. Her eyes bespoke humour and understanding. So did her voice — a rather slow, low voice.
“What’s the matter with you now, George?” she asked.
The Colonel smiled behind his bushy white moustache.
“I was thinking,” he said, “that, of all the men who’ve met you because of Marie, Mannering’s the only one who’s not been scared away. There are possibilities about that man, Mary.”
“I don’t think so, George, where Marie is concerned.”
Colonel Belton was surprised, and a little disappointed. He liked Mannering, he loved Lady Mary’s daughter, and he adored Lady Mary herself. His knowledge of the women, built up during the five years that he had been the Overndons’ next-door neighbour, had told him that John Mannering would make an admirable husband for Marie and an excellent son-in-law for Mary. True, none of them knew more than that Mannering was young — well, youngish: thirty-five, perhaps — handsome enough, apparently rich enough, and a member of a family as respected as the Overndons. But the Colonel had built for himself a pleasant little fairy-story with a happy ending. Marie was twenty-two, and the Colonel was old-fashioned enough to believe in early marriages for women. So he scowled, and demanded an explanation.
Lady Mary regarded the two people who had just left the tennis-court and were moving across the lawn towards the Manor. The Colonel whistled to himself, tor he knew that Lady Mary was sad, and for the life of him he couldn’t guess why.
“They make a handsome pair, don’t they?” he demanded doggedly. “What’s the matter with Mannering? This is the first time you’ve ever suggested anything against him. Damn it, and I . . .”
“George,” said Lady Mary gently, “you talk too much.”
There were some things that Colonel Belton took hardly, even from Lady Mary. He frowned, pursed his lips, and sulked.
Mannering, dressed in white flannels that were vivid against the sunlit green of the lawn, walked easily and carried his seventy-two inches well. Lady Mary could see him smiling as he talked to Marie, who hardly reached his shoulder. His face was tanned to the intriguing degree of brown that could make even a plain man distinguished, but he would have been presentable without that. Marie Overndon was small, dainty, and lovely. Her wide grey eyes, suggestive of her mother’s, looked out on the world with confessed enjoyment; she was alive. Slim, straight, and supple, she carried herself with easy grace as she walked with Mannering towards the house.i
They were within twenty yards when a “hallo” came from the end of the garden, and a man and a woman hurried through a wicket-gate, brandishing tennis-rackets and shouting as they came.
The Colonel scowled as the couple on the lawn turned to meet the newcomers. He continued to scowl as the four went to the tennis-court for a pre-arranged set and were lost to sight, hidden by a thick shrubbery. He took a pipe from his pocket and began to fill it with tobacco from a leather pouch. Not until the first puff did his face clear, and at the same moment Lady Mary laughed.
“What’s the matter with you?” demanded the Colonel explosively. “Damn it, Mary — why the blazes don’t you make up your mind and marry me?”
“So that you can put in more time at your club?”
“Bah!” said the Colonel.
“I’ll marry you,” said Lady Overndon, “when Marie’s married. Not before.”
“She’s a born spinster,” snapped the Colonel, “and you do your damnedest every time a likely fellow comes along to make him realise it, Mannering’s a bit old, perhaps, as today’s youth goes, but that’s almost an advantage; and they’re well matched, aren’t they? And they’re as much in love with each other as — as . . .”
“You with me?” suggested Lady Mary.
“There are times,” said the Colonel, “when I could bowstring you! Be fair, Mary. What’s Mannering done to upset you?”
Lady Mary used her lorgnette to scare a persistent fly from her small ear.
“Nothing,” she said, during the operation. “I like Mannering, George, and I can’t think of anyone I’d like better — for Marie, of course.”
“Then — then what the deuce are you driving at?”
“Shhh!” said Lady Overndon. “It’s hot, and you’ll get apoplexy — and burying you might be even more painful than marrying you. George, Mannering had a talk with me this morning.
“About Marie — and other things. He told me that he’s worth a bare thousand a year. No more, no less.”
The Colonel’s pipe dropped to the carpet, and the start of his outburst was spoiled somewhat by his hasty recovery of the brier. He was positively bristling as he spoke.
“A — a thousand ? Damn it, Mary, I thought he was — his father was rolling in it, wasn’t he?”
“His father didn’t gamble on the turf or off it.”
“And Mannering — Mannering’s lost his money?”
“Most of it.”
“George,” said Lady Mary severely, “there are times when I think you’ll get old long before your time. Yes, John Mannering lost most of his money. Not quite in the usual way; slow horses, yes, but not women. Or, at least, he says not and I believe him. Five years ago he reached his safety-line, left himself with capital enough to bring in a thousand a year, and retired into Somerset, where he plays cricket, rides when he can, reads a great deal, and is happy. He has a seven-roomed bungalow, one servant, two acres of land, and two horses. I’m telling you in his own words.”
The Colonel was breathing hard and scowling.
“He — he told you all this, and you — you told him to . . .”
“Are you reminding me I’m a Victorian mother, George? I didn’t tell him to go back to his bungalow; you ought to know me better.”
Colonel Belton heaved a great sigh, and smiled at last.
“Sorry, m’dear. I couldn’t see you in the part. Yet — you say there’ll be no marriage? Money isn’t so important. It’s a love-match, and quite a lot of people can live on a thousand a year, or so I’ve heard. He could give up things — one of the horses,” added the Colonel, as a man inspired
“I suppose a wife would be worth even that sacrifice,” said Lady Mary gently. “Well, now you know as much as I do, George. And I don’t think they’ll marry.”
“But that makes Marie a regular little — dammit — gold-digger !”
“Call it the wisdom of her age,” said Lady Mary. “I think I’m glad. Mannering and money could make her happy, but Mannering without it couldn’t I may be wrong, of course, but we’ll see.”
“My opinion,” said George Belton, a little bewildered, “is that you’re talking through your hat, m’dear.”
“And I’ve already said more than the modern hat could possibly cover,” said Lady Mary. “Let’s find some tea.”
Marie Overndon stood beneath the spreading branches of the oaks that bordered the lake in the Manor grounds and stared across the moonlit stretch of water. The moon shone on her, giving her a cold beauty that Mannering saw as if he were looking at something a long way off. She was very slim and straight, and she was motionless. Once Mannering moved, cracking a twig beneath his shoe. A light wind played with the leaves and the grass and the water, disturbing even Marie’s golden hair. But her lips, set tightly and more thinly than Mannering had ever seen them, did not move; nor did her eyes. The frigidity of her beauty, after its warmth of that afternoon, after those half-promises by look and gesture, spread to the man. The smile that had curved his lips, the gleam in his eyes, was gone. Understanding filled him.
“Well,” he said, after a silence that had seemed eternal, “you know everything, Marie. One thousand a year, one sizeable bungalow, all the love I can give you. Marie . . .”
He stepped forward, but the look in her eyes stopped him. He stood dead-still, a yard from her.
“Why didn’t you tell me this a month ago?”
“I hardly knew you. I didn’t dream that I’d fall in love with you. It’s not” — his lips curved, and the gleam in his hazel eyes brightened his face for a moment, but was soon gone — “it’s not a habit, Marie. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve ever proposed.”
“Is it?” She turned away from the lake, and away from Mannering, neither seeing nor caring for the look in his eyes. “I hope it won’t be the last, John. Now let’s forget it. I’m chilly, and we’d better get back.”
She had walked fifty yards before Mannering started to follow her. For a moment misery had lurked in his eyes, and he had stared after her, watching her disappear into the gloom of the September evening, fighting against himself, against the impulse to plead with her, to beg of her. And then the coldness of her beauty chilled him, even in retrospect, and he remembered the way in which her expression had altered as he had told her the story that earlier in the day he had told her mother. The thought fought with his memory of the past month, the nearness of her, the promise. He could remember with startling clarity the ripple of her laughter, the curving of her red lips, the fire in her grey eyes. God, what a fool he was! Not for a moment had he doubted her. When Lady Mary had said, that morning, “Try, John — you’ve my blessing,” he had told himself the battle was won. It hadn’t occurred to him that Marie would say no.
The muscles of his face moved, and his hands clenched at his sides. And then he swung round, with a bitter humour in his eyes, but a humour for all that.
“If I’d nine thousand a year more,” he mused, “I might have married her. Wild oats have their uses. Oi, Marie!” he called out, hearing her walking through the woods bordering the lake, but unable to see her.
“Yes?” Her voice was cold and clear, and she stopped moving.
“Better wait for me,” he said, making for a glimpse of white through the darkness, “or they’ll call this a lovers’ quarrel.”
He chuckled to himself as she moved again abruptly, and chuckled more when he realised she was hurrying back to the Manor. He followed, more leisurely, until he reached the lawn. Then the ghost of her laughter that afternoon mocked at him. He swung away, savagely, bitterly, blindly.
On the following morning the Colonel arrived late at the breakfast-table, to find Marie alone and on the point of finishing her meal. There was no sign of Mannering, and Marie did not mention his name. He waited impatiently until Lady Mary arrived and Marie had gone — where, no one knew. But even then the Colonel did not get his question out, for Lady Mary saw it in his eyes.
“He caught the morning train to town,” she said quietly. “I knew it, George. Marie’s money-mad. She always has been. And she’s selfish. . . . Don’t stand gaping there, man ! Sit down and light your pipe, and try to think of a millionaire whose waist-measurement isn’t more than forty-six and who . . .”
“Steady, m’dear, steady!” warned the Colonel.
“If I can’t let off steam with my prospective husband,” snapped Lady Mary, “what am I marrying him for? Give me a cigarette, or fetch me a drink, or slap my face . . . . Oh, George, you are a fool! Or am I ? I don’t know. But she broke something in Mannering — I know, I saw it this morning: in his eyes, on his lips. Oh, he took it all right — on top, but only on top.”
The Colonel grew suddenly wise. He slipped his arm round his lady’s shoulders and let her cry.
“ALL THIS,” GRUMBLED JIMMY RANDALL — SOMETIMES KNOWN as the Hon. James Randall, of Mortimer Hall, Yampton, Somerset, and 18 Dowden Square, London, W.1, “dates from the time you were with the Overndons, and two and two make four. No woman’s worth it.”