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The Wiles of the Wicked

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Wiles of the WickedBy William Le QueuxPublished by Ward Lock and Co Ltd, London, Melbourne and Toronto.This edition dated 1919.

  The Wiles of the Wicked, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE WILES OF THE WICKED, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  Wilford Heaton is not my real name, for why should I publish it to theworld?

  The reason I do not give it is, first, because I have no desire to bemade the object of idle curiosity or speculation, and secondly, althoughthe explanation herein given will clear the honour of one of the mostpowerful of the Imperial Houses in Europe, I have no wish that my truename should be associated with it.

  I have, however, a reason for writing this narrative--a very strongreason.

  The story is an enthralling one; the adventures stranger, perhaps, thanever happened to any other living person. I have resolved to relate theplain unvarnished facts in their sequence, just as they occurred,without seeking to suppress or embellish, but to recount the strangeadventures just as they are registered in the small leather portfolio,or secret dossier, which still, at this moment, reposes in the archivesof a certain Ministry in one of the European capitals.

  There have recently been stories afloat--strange stories. At first Ilaughed at all the absurd rumours, but very quickly I saw how seriouslydistorted the real facts had become, for ingenious paragraphs of certainso-called Society papers, grasping the story eagerly, worked it up intoa narrative which reflected very seriously upon the honour of one who isdearest in all the world to me.

  Well, my tale--or exposure--is written here.

  In order that those who read may clearly follow the curious chain ofcircumstances, it is necessary for me to go back some eight years orso--not a long period as far as time goes, but to me a veritablecentury. I was young, just turned twenty five. I was decentlywell-off, having come into an income of nearly a couple of thousand ayear left me by my father, a sum which put me beyond the necessity ofentering business, pursuing the daily grind, or troubling about themorrow. My career at Oxford had, I fear, been marked by a good manyshortcomings and many youthful escapades, but I ended it by taking mydegree of Bachelor of Medicine, shortly afterwards pursuing thefashionable habit of "going abroad." Within two years, however, Ireturned to London world-weary--like so many other young men who, beingleft comfortably off, commence to taste the enjoyment of life tooearly--and settled down in a suite of smoke-begrimed rooms in EssexStreet, Strand.

  The place was horribly dingy, situated in that _cul-de-sac_ which isquiet and almost deserted, even though only a stone's throw from thebusiest, noisiest, and muddiest thoroughfare in the world. The groundand first floors of the house were occupied by several firms ofsolicitors, whose doors were covered with ragged and sadly faded greenbaize, while the second floor I rented as my abode. The quaint, shabby,bizarre old place had been built at the end of the last century forfamily residence, in the days when Bloomsbury was an aristocraticquarter and great men lived in Leicester Square; but now, alas!smoke-stained and time-dimmed, it was given over to the dust which thelaw accumulates. From its exterior, like those of its neighbours, thereprotruded those great iron extinguishers used by the linkmen of daysbygone, while the broad, thin-worn stairs, easy of ascent, the solidmahogany doors, the great carved handrail, and the fine Adams ceilings,like those in the older houses of the Adelphi, told mutely of theprosperity of its long-departed owners.

  I had taken over the furniture, a frowsy lot of faded horsehair, whichhad perhaps done duty there for half a century, together with the rooms,and even though they were so dismal and out-of-date, I must confess thatthey had one attraction for me, namely, that above, in the low-pitchedrooms on the top floor, there lived and worked my old college chum, DickDoyle, who had, after a good deal of wild-oat sowing, developed into arising journalist and _litterateur_.

  Curious though it may appear, I had returned from the Sunny South andtaken up my abode in that dingy, dispiriting place with one sole idea,namely, to be near the man who was practically my only friend in thewhole world. I was in sore need of him, for I was utterly heedless ofeverything past, present, or future.

  With the exception of old Mrs Parker, who had served my family fortwenty years, I was absolutely alone and helpless as a child. At theage of twenty-five I had ceased to interest myself in anything, andplunged in eternal gloom, all desire for life having left me, forknowing that its joys could no longer be mine I was, even though in thefull possession of all my youthful vigour, mental faculties, and bodilystrength, actually looking forward to the grave.

  The terrible truth must here be told. The reader will, I feelconfident, sympathise. While living abroad, travelling hither andthither through the old Italian towns, where I delighted to roam in thebig white piazzas and through the crumbling palaces, every stone ofwhich spoke of a brilliant and historic past, I had been suddenly seizedby disease, and for three months lay tossing upon my bed in an Englishpension in Florence, tended by two calm, sweet-faced sisters of charity,with their grey-blue habits and great white linen head-dresses, which inmy hours of fever and delirium seemed always so clean and cool. The twogreat Italian professors who were called to me shook their heads,believing that, even if they managed to save my life, it would be at aloss of one of my senses. In this, alas! they were not mistaken. Myeyes became affected by sclerotitis, a severe inflammation of thesclerotic. Gradually my eyes, those most beautiful structures of thehuman body which manifest in such small compass the great, theunspeakable, the incomprehensible power of our Creator, grew dim. Mysight was slowly but surely failing me. I was recovering from my bodilyailment to be attacked by the ophthalmic disease which the doctors hadall along feared.

  I implored of them to do something to preserve my sight, but they onlydropped into my eye certain liquids from their little brown glassphials, and regarded the effect gravely. A great oculist from Rome cameto give his opinion. I saw him but mistily, as though I were lookingthrough a dense fog; and he, too, told me that all that could be donehad already been done.

  I arose from my bed a fortnight later stone blind.

  With this terrible affliction upon me I returned to London with DickDoyle, who came out to Florence to fetch me home. For me, life had nofurther charm. The beauties of the world which had given me so muchpleasure and happiness were blotted out for me for ever. I lived nowonly in an eternal darkness which by day, when the sun shone upon myeyes, seemed to assume a dull dark red. At first it struck me thatbecause my sight had been destroyed my personal appearance must havealtered, but Dick assured me that it had not. No one, he declared,could tell by looking at my eyes that they were actually sightless.

  And so I, Wilford Heaton, lived in those dull old chambers in EssexStreet, in rooms that I had never seen.

  You, who have sight to read these lines, can you imagine what it is tobe suddenly struck blind? Close your eyes for a brief five minutes andsee how utterly helpless you become, how entirely dependent you are uponothers, how blank would be your life if you were always thus.

  Dick gave to me all the time he could spare from his work, and wouldcome and sit with me to chat, for conversation with him was all that wasnow left to me. He described my rooms and my surroundings with the sameminuteness with which he wrote, and tried to interest me by relatingscraps of the day's news. Yet when he was absent, away or at work inhis rooms above, I sat alone thinking for hours and hours, counting timeby the chiming of the clock of St Clement Danes.

  So heavily
did time hang upon my hands that at last I engaged a teacherfrom the Blind School over in Lambeth, and with his books of raisedletters he used to visit me each day and teach me to read. I was an aptpupil, I suppose, yet there was something strangely grotesque about aman who had already graduated recommencing to learn his alphabet like achild. Still, it saved me from being driven mad by melancholy, and itwas not long before I found that, by the exercise of pains, I could readslowly the various embossed books, standard works manufactured for therecreation of those unfortunates like myself, who would otherwise siteternally idle with their hands before them. And not only did I learnto read, but also to make small fancy baskets, work very intricate atfirst, but which, on account of the highly developed sense of touch thatI had acquired in reading, soon became quite easy.

  The long months of winter darkness went by; but to me, who could not seethe sun, what mattered whether the days were brilliant August or blackDecember? Sometimes I went out, but not often. I had not becomeproficient in finding my way by aid of a stick. I had practised