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Authors: Leslie Charteris

Prelude for War

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PRELUDE

FOR WAR

LESLIE CHARTERIS

 

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRELUDE FOR WAR

Copyright © 1938 by Leslie Charteris

All rights reserved. No
part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, except for the
inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without permission in writing from
the
publisher.

All characters in this
book are fictitious. Any resemblance
to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Military props for cover design courtesy of Jacques
Noel
Jacobsen Jr., Collector Antiquities, Inc.

An Ace Charter Book
by
arrangement
with
Doubleday and Company, Inc..

First Ace Charter
Printing: July 1982

Printed simultaneously in Canada

 

PRELUDE
FOR WAR

 

CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

I
       
How Simon Templar Went to a Fire, and
         
Patricia
Holm Heard of a Financier

II
        
How
Lady Valerie Complained about Heroes,
           
and Mr Fairweather Dropped His Hat

III
     
How Simon Templar Drove to London, and
           
General
Sangore Experienced an Impedi
ment in His Speech

IV
       
How
  
Kane
 
Luker
  
Spoke
  
His
  
Mind,
  
and
           
Hoppy Uniatz Did the
Best He Could with
His

V
        
How Simon Templar Obliged Lady Valerie,
           
and
Chief Inspector Teal Refused Break
fast

VI
       
How Mr Fairweather Opened His Mouth,
           
and
Mr Uniatz Put His Foot in It

VII
     
How Simon Templar Conversed with Sundry
Persons,
           
and Police-Constable Reginald
Congratulated Him

VIII
    
How Kane Luker Called a Conference, and
           
Simon
Templar Answered Him

Epilogue

 

 

I

 

How Simon Templar Went to
a Fire,

and Patricia Holm Heard
of a Financier

 

P
ERHAPS THE STORY
really began when Simon Templar
switched
on the radio. At least, before that everything was
peaceful;
and afterwards, for many memorable days which
were
to find an unforgettable place in his saga of hair
breadth
adventure, there was no peace at all. But Simon
Templar’s
life always seemed to run that way: his inter
ludes
of peace seemed to have something inescapably tran
sient
about them, some inborn predestined seed of dynamite
that
was foredoomed to blast him back into another of
those
amazing episodes which to him were the ever-recur
rent
breath of life.

He was not thinking of
trouble or adventure or anything
else exciting. He lounged
back comfortably in the long-nosed rakish Hirondel, his finger tips barely
seeming to
caress the wheel as he nursed it over
the dark winding roads
at a mere whispering sixty;
for he was in no hurry. Over
head a bright moon was
shining, casting long shadows over
the fields and
silvering the leaves of passing trees and
hedges.
His blue eyes probed lazily down the white reach
of
the headlights; and the unruffled calm of his brown face
of a mocking buccaneer might have helped anyone to un
derstand why in many places he was better known as “The
Saint” than he was by his own name—without giving any
clue to the disturbing fact that a mere mention of the Saint
in initiated quarters was capable of reducing detectives and
convicted criminals alike to a state of unprintable inco
herence. None of the adventures that had left that almost
incredible legend in their trail had left a mark on his face
or in his mind: he was simply and serenely enjoying his
inter
lude, though he must have known, even then, that it
could
only be an interlude until the next adventure began,
because
Fate had ordained him for adventure …

“You know,” he
remarked idly, “much as I’ve cursed
them
in my time, there’s something to be said for these
kindergarten
English licensing laws. Just think—if it wasn’t
for
the way our professional grandmothers smack our bot
toms
and pack us off to bed when the clock strikes, we might
still be swilling inferior champagne and deafening ourselves
with saxophones in that revolting roadhouse instead of
doing our souls a bit of good with all this.”

“When you start
getting tolerant I’m always afraid
you’re sickening
for something,” said Patricia Holm sleepily
.

He turned his head to
smile at her. She looked very lovely
leaning back at his
side, with her blue eyes half closed and
her lips softly shaped
with humour: he was always discover
ing her
loveliness again with an exciting sense of surprise,
as if it had so many facets that it was never twice
the same. She was something that was always changing and yet never
changed; as much a part of him as his oldest
memory, and
yet always new; wherever
he went and whatever other
adventures
he found, she was the one unending and exqui
site adventure.

He touched the spun gold of
her hair.

“All right,” he
said. “You can have the saxophones.”

And that was when he
switched on the radio.

The little dial on the
dashboard glowed alight out of the
darkness, and for a
few seconds there was silence while the
set
warmed up. And then, with an eerie suddenness, there
were
no saxophones, but a loud brassy voice speaking in French. The set picked it
out of the air in the middle of a sentence, flung it gratingly at them as it
rose in a snarling
crescendo.

“…
to crush them like vermin, to destroy
them like
rats who would carry their plague germs
through our fair
land! The blood of a
million Frenchmen, dead on the fields
of
glory, cries out to you to show yourselves worthy of their
sacrifice. Rise up and arm yourselves against this peril
that
threatens you from within; stamp out
these cowardly paci
fists, these skulking
traitors, these godless anarchists, these
alien
Jews who are betraying our country for a handful of
gold… . Sons of France, I call you to arms. Fling yourselves into
the fight with a song on your lips and glory in
your
hearts, for only in the blood and fire of battle will our
nation be purified and find once more her true soul!”

The brassy voice stopped
speaking, and there was an
instant’s stillness. And
then, like a thunderclap, another
sound burst in—a
hoarse, frenzied howl, shrill and hideous
as
the clamour of ten thousand hungry wolves maddened
by
the smell of blood, an inarticulate animal roar that scarcely seemed as if it
could have come from human
throats. Wild, savage,
throbbing with a horrible blood lust,
it fouled the
peaceful night with visions of flame and car
nage,
of mad mindless mobs, of torture and the crash of
guns,
of shattered broken buildings and the shattered
broken
bodies of men and women and children. For a full
minute
it swelled and pulsed on their ears. And then came
the
music.

It was not saxophones. It
was brass and drums. Brass
like the voice that had
been speaking, blasting its brazen rhythm of ecstatic sacrifice in rasping
fanfares that lashed
clean through the filmy
gloss of civilization to clog the
blood with
intolerable tension. Drums thudding the mad
dening
pulse beats of a modern but more potent voodoo, hammering their insensate strum
into the brains until the
mind was stunned and
battered with their merciless insistence. Brass shouting and shrieking its
melodic echo of the
clash of steel and the scream of human
torment. Drums
pattering their glib mutter of the
rattle of firearms and the
rumble of rolling iron.
Brass blaring its hypnotic hymn of
heroic death. Drums
thumping like giant hearts. Brass and
drums. Brass and
drums. Brass and drums …

“Turn it off,”
said Patricia sharply, abruptly. “Stop it, Simon. It’s horrible!”

He could feel her shiver.

“No,” he said.
“Listen.”

He was tense himself, his
nerves drawn to threads of quivering steel. The music had done that to him. The
music
went on, drowning out the incoherent voices until
there
were no more voices but only the crystallized blare
and beat
that was one voice for all. Brass and
drums. And now into
it, in rime with it, growing with it,
swelling above it, came
a new sound—the
unmistakable monotonous crunch of booted feet. Left, right, left, right, left.
The terrible jug
gernaut tramp of masses of marching
men. Legs swinging
like synchronized machinery. Heels
falling together steadily,
heavily, irresistibly,
like leaden pile drivers pounding the
bruised earth… .

BOOK: Prelude for War
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