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His future was therefore assured in the colonial service. However, after becoming ill with black-water fever, Freeman was sent back to England to recover and finding his finances precarious, embarked on a career as acting physician in Holloway Prison. In desperation, he also turned to writing where he went on to dominate the world of British detective fiction, taking pride in testing different criminal techniques.
So keen was he, part of one of his best novels was written in a bomb shelter. For the first twenty-five years of his writing career, Freeman was to dominate and remain unrivalled in the world of detective fiction, introducing the well-loved and highly memorable 'Dr Thorndyke'. I have merely come down for a few days to stay with him and be an interested spectator of the chase. It is he who should have the buttons.
Philip laughed scornfully. You are thinking in terms of bait. Do you imagine Dr. Thorndyke and the professor go a-worming with a bully-beef tin and a garden fork as you do when you are getting ready for a fishing jaunt? What do they do? Set traps for 'em with bits of cheese inside? They go out with a boat and a dredge, and very interesting it must be to bring up all those curious creatures from the bottom of the sea.
She spoke rather absently, for her thoughts had gone back to Mr. Penfield's letter. There was certainly something a little cryptic in its tone, which she had taken for mere professional pedantry, but which she now recalled with vague uneasiness. Could the old lawyer have stumbled on something discreditable and written this ambiguously worded letter as a warning? Her husband was not a communicative man, and she could not pretend to herself that she had an exalted opinion of his moral character.
It was all very disquieting. The housekeeper, who had been retained with the furnished house, brought in the coffee, and as Margaret poured it out she continued her reflections, watching Varney with unconscious curiosity as he rolled a cigarette. The ring-finger of his left hand had a stiff joint, the result of an old injury, and was permanently bent at a sharp angle. It gave his hand an appearance of awkwardness, but she noted that he rolled his cigarette as quickly and neatly as if all his fingers were sound. The stiff finger had become normal to him.
And she also noted that Dr. Thorndyke appeared quite interested in the contrast between the appearance of awkwardness and the actual efficiency of the maimed finger. From Varney her attention—or inattention—wandered to her guest. Absently she dwelt on his powerful, intellectual face, his bold, clean-cut features, his shapely mouth, firm almost to severity; and all the time she was thinking of Mr.
R. Austin Freeman
Don't wait for me. I will join you in a few minutes, but I want first to have a few words with Mr. Philip, who, like the others, understood that this was a consultation on the subject of Mr. Penfield's letter, rose and playfully shepherded Varney out of the door which his brother held invitingly open. No lagging behind and eavesdropping. The pronouncements of the oracle are not for the likes of you and me. Varney took his dismissal with a smile and followed Dr.
Thorndyke out, though, as he looked at the barrister's commanding figure and handsome face, he could not repress a twinge of jealousy. Why could not Maggie have consulted him? He was an old friend, and he knew more about old Penfield's letter than Rodney did.
But, of course, she had no idea of that. As soon as they were alone, Margaret and Rodney resumed their seats, and the former opened the subject without preamble. She rose and left the room, returning almost immediately with an official-looking envelope, which she handed to Rodney. The letter, which he extracted from it and spread out on the table, was not remarkably legible; an elderly solicitor's autograph letters seldom are. But barristers, like old-fashioned druggists, are usually expert decipherers, and Rodney read the letter without difficulty.
It ran thus:. The envelope is addressed to me in his handwriting, and the letter, which is unsigned, is also in his hand; but neither the letter nor the other contents could possibly have been intended for me, and it is manifest that they have been placed in the wrong envelope. It was opened by me, and the contents, which have been seen by no one but me, have been deposited in my private safe, of which I alone have the key. Rodney read the solicitor's letter through twice, refolded it, replaced it in its envelope, and returned it to Margaret.
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Now do drop the lawyer and tell me just what you think like a good friend. Rodney looked at her quickly with a faint smile and yet very earnestly. He found it strangely pleasant to be called a good friend by Margaret Purcell. Penfield's letter, that he found something in that envelope that your husband would not have wished him to see—something that he had reasons for wishing no one to see but the person for whom it was meant.
Penfield is very reticent, so, presumably, he has some reasons for reticence, otherwise he would have said plainly what the envelope contained. But why does he write to you? Doesn't he know your husband's address? I have been wondering myself why he wrote to me. He was going straight to London and so on to Oulton the same night.
I wonder what Mr. Varney can have meant. Oddly enough, he hasn't written, which is unlike him. He generally sends me a line as soon as he arrives anywhere. Penfield's letter at once. And I think I wouldn't refer to the subject before any of our friends if I were you. I oughtn't to have said what I did. But, of course, I didn't dream that Mr. Penfield really meant anything.
Shall we go out into the garden? Rodney opened the door for her, and they passed out to where their three companions sat in deck-chairs facing the sea. Two chairs had been placed for them, and, as they seated themselves, Varney remarked:. The explicitness is exceptional. Rodney tells me that Dan said something to you about Falmouth. What was it? He was going direct to London and straight on to Oulton the same night. You must have misunderstood him. Still, he only mentioned the matter casually, and I wasn't paying particular attention.
Margaret made no rejoinder, and the party became somewhat silent. Philip, realizing Margaret's uneasy preoccupation, engaged Dr. Thorndyke in an animated conversation respecting the natural history of the Cornish coast and the pleasures of dredging. The other three became profoundly thoughtful. To each the solicitor's letter had its special message, though to one only was that message clearly intelligible. Rodney was puzzled and deeply suspicious. To him the letter had read like that of a man washing his hands of a disagreeable responsibility.
The curious reticence as to the nature of the enclosures and the reference to the private safe sounded ominous. He knew little of Purcell—he had been a friend of the Haygarths'—and had no great opinion of him. Purcell was a financier, and financiers sometimes did queer things. At any rate, Penfield's excessive caution suggested something fishy—possibly something illicit.
In fact, to speak colloquially, Rodney smelt a rat. Margaret also was puzzled and suspicious, but, womanlike, she allowed her suspicions to take a more special form. She, too, smelt a rat, but it was a feminine rat. The lawyer's silence as to the contents of that mysterious envelope seemed to admit of no other interpretation. It was so pointed. Of course he could not tell her, though he was an old friend and her trustee, so he had said nothing.
She reflected on the matter with lukewarm displeasure. Her relations with her husband were not such as to admit of jealousy in the ordinary sense; but still, she was married to him, and any affair on his part with another woman would be very disagreeable and humiliating to her. It might lead to a scandal, too, and from that her ingrained delicacy revolted.
Varney, meanwhile, sat with his head thrown back wrapped in thought of a more dreamy quality. He knew all about the letter, and his mind was occupying itself with speculation as to its effects. Rodney's view of it he gauged pretty accurately, but what did she think of it? Was she anxious—worried at the prospect of some unpleasant disclosure?
He hoped not. At any rate, it could not be helped. And she was free, if she only knew it. He had smoked out his cigarette, and now, as he abstractedly filled his pipe, his eye insensibly sought the spot where the diamond and ruby flashed out alternately from the bosom of the night. A cloud had crept over the moon, and the transitory golden and crimson gleam shone out bright and clear amidst the encompassing darkness, white—red, white—red, diamond—ruby, a message in a secret code from the tall, unseen sentinel on that solitary, wave-washed rock, bidding him be of good cheer, reminding him again and again of the freedom that was his—and hers, made everlastingly secure by a friendly iron sinker.
The cloud turned silvery at the edge and the moon sailed out into the open. Margaret looked up at it thoughtfully. You remember that stuffed pike, Jack? His brother nodded. I wonder why people become so intolerably boresome about their fishing exploits. The angler is nearly as bad as the golfer. It is more of an achievement to catch a pike or a salmon than merely to whack a ball with a stick.
Thorndyke is not an enthusiast. Varney's simplification. His definition of the game is worthy of Dr. But I must tear myself away. My host is an early bird, and I expect you are, too.
The Shadow of the Wolf
Good-night, Mrs. It has been very delightful to meet you again. I am only sorry that I should have missed your husband. As Dr. Thorndyke rose, the other three men stood up. The four men went into the house to fetch their hats and took their departure, walking together as far as the cross-roads, where Thorndyke wished the other three "good-night" and left them to pursue their way to the village. The lodging accommodation in this neighbourhood was not sumptuous, but our three friends were not soft or fastidious. Besides, they only slept at their "diggings," taking their meals and making their home at the house which Purcell had hired, furnished, for the holiday.
It was a somewhat unconventional arrangement, now that Purcell had gone, and spoke eloquently of his confidence in the discretion of his attractive wife. The three men were not in the same lodgings. Varney was "putting up" at the "First and Last" inn in the adjoining village—or "church-town," to give it its local title—of Sennen, while the Rodneys shared a room at the "Ship" down in Sennen Cove, more than a mile away.
They proceeded together as far as Varney's hostel, when, having wished him "good-night," the two brothers strode away along, the moonlit road towards the Cove. For a while neither spoke, though the thoughts of both were occupied by the same subject, the solicitor's letter. Philip had fully taken in the situation, although he had made no remark on it, and the fact that his brother had been consulted quasi-professionally on the subject made him hesitate to refer to it. For in spite of his gay, almost frivolous, manner, Philip Rodney was a responsible medical practitioner, and really a man of sound judgment and discretion.
Presently his scruples yielded to the consideration that his brother was not likely to divulge any confidence, and he remarked:. It sounded to me as if there was a touch of Pontius Pilate in the tone of Penfield's letter. So it struck me. I do sincerely hope there isn't anything in it. Of course we don't know anything against Purcell—at least, I don't—but somehow he doesn't strike me as a very scrupulous man.
His outlook on life jars a bit; don't you feel that some times? But I know of nothing to Purcell's discredit. But he isn't the same class as his wife; she's a lot too good for a coarse, bucolic fellow like that. I wonder why the deuce she married him. I used to think she rather liked you. But to come back to Purcell, we may be worrying ourselves about nothing. To-morrow we shall get into touch with him by telegraph, and then we may hear something from him.
Here the consideration of Purcell and his affairs dropped so far as conversation went; but in the elder man's mind certain memories had been revived by his brother's remark and occupied it during the remainder of the walk. For he, too, had once thought that Maggie Haygarth rather liked him, and he now recalled the shock of disagreeable surprise with which he had heard of her marriage. But that was over and done with long ago, and the question now was, how was the Sandhopper, at present moored in Whitesand Bay, to be got from the Land's End to her moorings above Westminster Bridge?
In spite of Mrs. Purcell's admonition they were some minutes late on the following morning.
Their two friends were already seated at the breakfast table, and it needed no extraordinary powers of observation to see that something had happened. Their hostess was pale and looked worried and some what frightened, and Varney was preternaturally grave. A telegram lay open on the table by Margaret's place, and as Rodney advanced to shake hands, she held it out to him without a word. He took the paper and read the brief but ominous message that confirmed but too plainly his misgivings of the previous night.
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Rodney laid down the telegram and looked at Margaret. It is just possible that Purcell may have gone home after all. Still, we may as well make sure, if you will be so kind. But won't you have your breakfast first? Little was said until he returned, and even then the breakfast proceeded in a gloomy silence that contrasted strangely with the usual vivacity of the gatherings around that hospitable table. A feeling of tense expectation pervaded the party and a vivid sense of impending disaster. Dreary efforts were made to keep some kind of conversation going, but the talk was colourless and disjointed with long and awkward pauses.
Varney especially was wrapped in deep meditation. Outwardly he preserved an appearance of sympathetic anxiety, but inwardly he was conscious of a strange, rather agreeable excitement, almost of elation. When he looked at Margaret's troubled face he felt a pang of regret, of contrition; but principally he was sensible of a feeling of power, of knowledge. He sat apart, as it were, Godlike, omniscient. He knew all the facts that were hidden from the others. The past lay clear before him to the smallest detail; the involved present was as an open book which he read with ease, and he could even peer confidently into the future.
And these men and the woman before him, and those others afar off—the men at the office, the caretaker, Penfield the lawyer, and Bradford at his inn in Norfolk—what were they but so many puppets, moving feverishly hither and thither as he, the unseen master-spirit, directed them by a pull at the strings? It was he who had wound them up and set them going; and here he sat, motionless and quiet, watching them do his bidding. He was reminded of an occasion when he had been permitted for a short time to steer a five-thousand-ton steamer.
What a sense of power it had given him to watch the stupendous consequences of his own trifling movements! A touch of the little wheel, the movement of a spoke or two to right or left, and what a commotion followed! How the steam gear had clanked with furious haste to obey, and the great ship had presently swerved round, responsive to the pressure of his fingers! What a wonderful thing it had been! There was that colossal structure with its enormous burden of merchandise, its teeming population sweating in the stokehold or sleeping in the dark forecastle, its unconscious passengers chatting on the decks, reading, writing, or playing cards in saloon or smoking-room; and he had had it all in the grasp of one hand, had moved it and turned it about with the mere touch of a finger.
The magical pressure of his finger on the trigger, a few turns of a rope, the hoisting of an iron weight, and behold! In a little over an hour the replies to Rodney's discreetly worded inquiries had come in. Purcell had not been home nor had he been heard of at the office.
Penfield had been inquiring as to his whereabouts and so had Mr. That was all. And what it amounted to was that Daniel Purcell had disappeared. He isn't very fond of being questioned, you know. In reality she did not wonder at all. She felt pretty certain that she knew. But pride would not allow her publicly to adopt that explanation until it was forced on her. Don't you think so, Mr. He is the only one who knows anything and is able to advise.
Margaret considered for a few moments. But, really, there would be no use in breaking up your holidays. What could you do? We can't make a search in person. Why not take over the house and stay on here? We shall probably get there to-morrow night. Varney reflected. And suddenly it was borne in upon him that he felt an unspeakable repugnance to the idea of going on board the yacht, and especially to making the voyage from Sennen to Penzance.
The feeling came to him as an utter surprise, but there was no doubt of its reality. Penfield says, and if you would like us to come up to town to help you? So the matter was arranged. By twelve o'clock, the weather being calm, the yacht was got under way for Penzance. And even as on that other occasion, she headed seaward with her crew of two, watched from the shore by a woman and a man.
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For he had hooked the wrong fish. His letter to Maggie Purcell had been designed to put him immediately in touch with Purcell himself, whereas it had evoked an urgent telegram from Maggie announcing her intention of calling on him "on important business" and entreating him to arrange an interview. It was really most unfortunate. There was no one in the world whom he had less desire to see, at the present moment, than Margaret Purcell.
And yet there was no possible escape; for not only was he her solicitor and her trustee, but he was an old family friend, and not a little attached to her in his dry way. But he didn't want her just now. He wanted Purcell, and he wanted him very badly. For a solicitor of irreproachable character and spotless reputation his position was highly unpleasant. As soon as he had opened the letter from Penzance he had recognised the nature of the enclosures, and had instantly connected them with the forgeries of Bank of England notes of which he had heard.
The intricate water-marks on the "blanks" were unmistakable. But so was the handwriting of the accompanying letter. It was Daniel Purcell's beyond a doubt, and the peculiar, intensely black ink was equally characteristic. And, short as the note was, it made perfectly clear its connection with the incriminating enclosures. It wrote down Daniel Purcell a banknote forger. Now Mr. Penfield was, as we have said, a man of irreproachable character.
But he was a very secretive and rather casuistical old gentleman; and his regard for Margaret had led him to apply his casuistry to the present case, pretending to himself that his discovery of the illicit blanks came within the category of "clients' secrets," which he need not divulge. But in his heart he knew that he was conniving at a felony, that he ought to give information to the police or to the Bank, and that he wasn't going to. His plan was to get hold of Purcell, make him destroy the blanks in his presence, and deliver such a warning as would put a stop to the forgeries.
But if he did not propose to give Purcell away, neither did he intend to give himself away. He would share his compromising secret with no one—especially with a lady. And this consideration raised the difficult question, What on earth was he to say to Margaret Purcell when she arrived?
A question which he was still debating, with her telegram spread out before him and his silver snuff-box in his hand, when a clerk entered his private office to announce the unwelcome visitor. Fortifying himself with a pinch of snuff, he rose and advanced towards the door to receive her, and as she entered he made a quick mental note of her anxious and troubled expression. How very unfortunate that this business, to which you refer in your telegram, should have arisen while you were on holiday so far away!
Penfield smiled deprecatingly. Pray be seated.
And now," he continued, as Margaret subsided into the clients' chair and he resumed his own, resting his elbows on the arms and placing his finger-tips together, "let us hear what this new and important business is. And I thought I gave you all the particulars.
Penfield, checking them off on his fingers. My object in writing to you was to get into touch with him so that I could hand back to him this letter, which should never have come into my possession. Shall I take down his address now? He left Sennen on the 2nd to go to Oulton via Penzance. But he never arrived at Oulton. He has not been home, he has not been to the office, and he has not written. It is rather alarming, especially in connection with your mysterious letter. Penfield, rapidly considering this new but not very surprising development. It was not intended to be. What was there mysterious about it?
There is a strong hint of something secret and compromising in the nature of Dan's letter and enclosures. Penfield saw the connection very plainly, but he was admitting nothing. He did, indeed, allow that "it was a coincidence," but would not agree to "a necessary connection. Theologically they are one; legally they are separate persons subject to a mutual contract. As to this letter, it is not mine, and consequently I can show it to no one; and I must assume that if your husband had desired you to see it he would have shown it to you himself.
There is the question of the secrets of a third party. If I had the felicity to be a married man, which unfortunately I have not, you would hardly expect me to communicate your private, and perhaps secret, affairs to my wife. Now would you? Margaret had to admit that she would not. But she instantly countered the lawyer by inquiring:. This letter came to me by an error, and my position must be as if I had not seen it. I want to know if Dan's letter was addressed to anyone whom I know.
You could tell me that, surely? There was nothing to indicate the identity or even the sex of the person to whom it was addressed. At length she looked up with a somewhat wry smile and said: "Well, Mr. Penfield, I suppose that is all I shall get out of you? And now, as we have finished with the letter, there is the writer to consider. What had I better do about Dan? He may have met with an accident and be in some hospital. Do you think that I ought to notify the police that he is missing? Penfield replied emphatically, for, in his mind, Purcell's disappearance was quite simply explained.
He had discovered the mistake of the transposed letter, and knew that Penfield held the means of convicting him of a felony, and he had gone into hiding until he should discover what the lawyer meant to do. To put the police on his track would be to convince him of his danger and drive him hopelessly out of reach. But Mr. Penfield could not explain this to Margaret, and to cover his emphatic rejection of police assistance he continued: "You see, he can hardly be said to be missing; he may merely have altered his plans and neglected to write.
Have patience for a day or two, and if you still hear no tidings of him, send me a line, and I will take what measures seem advisable for trying to get into touch with him. She was in the act of shaking Mr. Penfield's hand when, with a sudden afterthought, she asked: "By the way, was there anything in Dan's letter that might account for his disappearance in this fashion?
This was rather a facer for Mr. Penfield, who, like many casuists, hated telling a direct lie. For the answer was clearly "Yes," whereas the sense that he was compelled to convey was "No. May I ask if that letter has been returned? Then we shall know what he was writing to me about and who is the other correspondent.
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Good-day, good-day, Mrs. He shook her hand warmly, and hastened to open the door for her in the hope, justified by the result, that she would not realize until she had left that her very significant question had not been answered. Indeed, she did not realize how adroitly the old solicitor had evaded that question until she was too far away to return and put it afresh, even if that had seemed worth while; for her attention was occupied by the other issue that he had so artfully raised. She had overlooked the presumable existence of the second transposed letter, the one that should have been in Mr.
Penfield's envelope. It ought to have been returned at once. Possibly it was even now waiting at Sennen to be forwarded. If it arrived, it would probably disclose the identity of the mysterious correspondent. On the other hand, it might not; and if it were not returned at all, that would confirm the suspicion that there was something gravely wrong. And it was at this point that Margaret became conscious of Mr.
Penfield's last evasion. Its effect was to confirm the generally disagreeable impression that she had received from the interview. She was a little resentful of the lawyer's elaborate reticence, which, coupled with the strange precautionary terms of his letter to her, convinced her that her husband had embarked on some questionable transaction, and that Mr. Penfield knew it and knew the nature of that transaction. His instant rejection of the suggestion that an accident might have occurred and that the police should be notified seemed to imply that he had some inkling of Purcell's proceedings, and his final evasion of her question strongly suggested that the letter, or the enclosures, or both, contained some clue to the disappearance.
Thus, as she took her way home, Margaret turned over again and again the puzzling elements of the mystery, and at each reshuffling of the scanty facts the same conclusion emerged: her husband had absconded, and he had not absconded alone. The secret that Mr. Penfield was guarding was such a secret as might, if divulged, have pointed the way to the divorce court. And with this conclusion and a frown of disgust, she turned into the entry of her flat and ascended the stairs.
As she let herself in, the maid met her in the hakl. Varney is in the drawing-room, ma'am," she said. I am getting tea for him. She passed on to her bedroom for a hasty wash and change, and then joined her visitor in time to pour out the tea. Varney," she said warmly, as they shook hands, "to come to me so quickly! You must have only just arrived.
I thought you would be anxious to know if I had heard anything. Margaret looked at him critically. There was something in his manner suggestive of doubt and reservation. He hadn't been at the 'Ship,' where I put up and where he used to stay when he went to Falmouth, and of course I couldn't go round the other hotels making inquiries. But I went down the quay-side and asked a few discreet questions about the craft that had left the port since Monday, especially the odd craft, bound for small ports.
I felt that if Dan had any reason for slipping off quietly he wouldn't go by a passenger boat to a regular passenger port. He would go on a cargo boat bound to some out-of-the-way place. So I found out what I could about the cargo boats that had put out of Falmouth; but I didn't have much luck. But that turned out a mistake after all. She had a lading of china clay and was bound for Malmo, but she was calling at Ipswich to pick up some other cargo.
I learned that she took one or two passengers on board, and one of them was described to me as a big red-faced man of about forty, who looked like a pilot or a ship's officer. That sounded rather like Dan, and when I heard that he was carrying a biggish suitcase and had a yellow oilskin coat on his arm, I made pretty sure that it was. For a while she could think of nothing further to say. To her, of course, the alleged disproof of the passenger's identity was "confirmation strong as Holy Writ.
At length she ventured: "Do you think that is quite conclusive? I mean, is it certain that the woman belonged to the man? There is the possibility that she may have been merely a fellow-passenger whom he had casually accompanied to the ship. Or did you ascertain that they were actually—er—companions? I heard that the man went on board with a woman, and at once decided that he couldn't be Dan. But you are quite right. They may have just met at the hotel or elsewhere and walked down to the ship together. I wonder if it's worth while to make any further inquiries about the ship—I mean at Ipswich, or, if necessary, at Malmo.
She left Falmouth early on Tuesday morning, so she will probably have got to Ipswich some time yesterday. She may be there now, or, of course, she may have picked up her stuff and gone to sea the same day. Would you like me to run down to Ipswich and see if I can find out anything? Varney," she said, in a low, unsteady voice, "you make me ashamed and proud—proud to have such a loyal, devoted friend, and ashamed to be such a tax on him.
He paused for a moment, and then concluded: "I'll go down to-night and try to pick up the scent while it is fresh. But I am ashamed to let you take so much trouble, though I must confess that it would be an immense relief to me to get some news of Dan. I don't hope for good news, but it is terrible to be so completely in the dark.
Good-bye, Mrs. Purcell, and good luck to us both. The leave-taking almost shattered Varney's self possession, for Margaret, in the excess of her gratitude, impulsively grasped both his hands and pressed them warmly as she poured out her thanks. Her touch made him tingle to the finger-ends. And to think that she might in time be his own!
A wild impulse surged through him to clasp her in his arms, to tell her that she was free and that he worshipped her. Of course, that was a mere impulse that interfered not at all with his decorous, deferential manner. And yet a sudden, almost insensible change in her made him suspect that his eyes had told her more than he had meant to disclose.
Nevertheless, she followed him to the lobby to speed him on his errand, and when he looked back from the foot of the stairs, she was standing at the open door, smiling down on him. The thoughts of these two persons, when each was alone, were strangely different.
In Margaret's mind there was no doubt that the man on the steamer was her unworthy husband. But what did Varney think? That a man of the world should have failed to perceive that an unexplained disappearance was most probably an elopement seemed to her incredible. Varney could not be such an innocent as that. The only alternative was that he, like Mr.