For The Defence. Dr. Thorndyke - R. Austin Freeman - ebook

For The Defence. Dr. Thorndyke ebook

R. Austin Freeman

0,0

Opis

Dr. Thorndyke is the CSI of his day. Most of the book is taken up with the account of how an innocent man gets himself thoroughly entangled in what looks like the certainty that he will be hanged, either for the death of a man he saw only once, or amazingly, for his own death! But, of course, Dr. Thorndyke is able to extricate him from this awful situation and triumph yet again. This is the amazing story of a polite, artistic gentleman who, by a series of mistakes, accidents, bad decisions and bad luck finds himself accused of two murders and a fraud. One of the murder victims is himself! No one but Dr. Thorndyke could possible clear up the confusion.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 425

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
Oceny
0,0
0
0
0
0
0



Contents

I. THE LETTER

II. ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS

III. IN THE MIDST OF LIFE

IV. THE SHADOW OF THE GALLOWS

V. BLACK MAGIC

VI. TWO INQUESTS

VII. MOLLY

VIII. THE DESERTED WIFE

IX. THE AXE FALLS

X. GAOL

XI. THE LAST STRAW

XII. DR. THORNDYKE

XIII. PRISONER AT THE BAR

XIV. THE EVIDENCE FOR THE PROSECUTION

XV. THE WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENCE

XVI. THORNDYKE’S ADDRESS TO THE JURY

XVII. THE VERDICT

I. THE LETTER

IT was about four o’clock on a summer afternoon when Andrew Barton, pipe in mouth and garden shears in hand, suspended for a moment his operations on the privet hedge in his front garden to glance down the lane at the postman, who had just turned into it from the road at the end. It was a glance of no special interest. He was not expecting any communication. But as there was no other house in the lane–which presently petered out into a foot-path across fields–it was obvious that his own residence was the goal of the postman’s peregrinations.

He observed the man’s approach intermittently, punctuating his observations with perfunctory snips at the hedge and speculating vaguely and incuriously on the source of the letter which the messenger was presumably coming to deliver. He was not particularly interested. Yet even a rural postman, though less portentous than the telegraph boy, embodies untold potentialities of good or evil, of joy or sorrow, of fortune or disaster. But Andrew was not particularly interested; and thus he watched, unmoved and unsuspecting, the approach of Fate’s special messenger, charged with a message the significance of which was only by degrees to be unfolded.

The man strode up to the gate with a letter in his hand and ran his eye critically over the half-cropped hedge. “I see you are havin’ a bit of a tidy-up, sir,” he remarked as he handed the letter over the gate; “and none too soon. He was getting rare straggly. But Lord! How the stuff do grow this weather! ‘Tis out of bounds almost afore you’ve done a-trimmin’ of it.”

As Andrew showed no sign of rising to this conversational bait, beyond a vague assent, the postman wished him “good afternoon”, took another glance at the hedge and turned back down the lane, a little disconcerted by Mr. Barton’s unwonted taciturnity. “Didn’t seem to like the look of that letter,” he mused as he swung along in his heavy, nailed boots. “Someone dunning him for money, maybe.”

It was a simple and reasonable explanation of the sudden change in Andrew’s expression as he read the address on the envelope and glanced at the postmark, and not so very wide of the truth. But “dunning” was not quite the right word, since that implies a demand for payment of a lawful debt. Of such demands Andrew Barton had no experience, being a scrupulously prompt paymaster. But a glance at the too-familiar handwriting prepared him for a demand of another kind, and the only question was, “How much does he want this time?” He tore the envelope open with angry impatience and read the answer to that question.

“16, Barleymow Street, Crompton-on-Sea. 21st August, 1928. “My dear Old Chappie, “What a time it is since I had the felicity of looking at your blessed old mug! Years and years! I am just pining for the sight of you; and no doubt you are equally pining for the sight of me. I hope so. Because I am going to satisfy my yearning and I should like to satisfy yours at the same time. In short, I propose to pop over this day week and shed the light of my countenance on you and Molly. I shall turn up to lunch. “Your affectionate and devoted, though unfortunate cousin, “RONALD. “P.S. I have just got the offer of a top-hole job in the North. £300 a year and commission. But the fly in the ointment is that they want me to deposit £50, and I haven’t got it. I hope you will be able to help me to that extent, for it would be a thousand pities to miss a chance like this. Of course, I shall be able to let you have it back in a month or two, with five per cent interest if you like. Further particulars when we meet. By the way, if you should be writing to me, please address me as Mr. Walter Green. I am adopting that name temporarily, for business reasons. R.B.”

Andrew read the letter through twice, returned it to its envelope and put it away in his pocket-book. Then he resumed his operations on the hedge, with increased energy but diminished attention, whereby its symmetry was somewhat impaired but the job was more speedily completed. When the last savage snip had done its work, he hastily raked the cuttings together, conveyed them to the destructor in the back garden and deposited the shears and the rake in the tool-shed. Then he sauntered down to the studio which he had built at the bottom of the garden and let himself in with his key. A half-finished picture stood on the water-colour easel, the palette, brushes and water-dipper reposed invitingly on the table alongside, and the Windsor chair seemed silently to offer its services. He sat down wearily. He even dipped a brush in the water. But it would not do. Painting is no occupation for a mentally preoccupied man. Finally he rose, and, leaving the studio, walked up to the house, where he scribbled a note to his wife and laid it on the hall table, (they kept no maid, and the daily “help” had gone after lunch,) put on his hat and went forth, turning to the right as he emerged from the gate and taking his way along the foot-path that led across the fields.

His cousin’s letter had given him matter for serious and somewhat difficult thought. As to the money, the nominal loan–which would certainly never be repaid–was an inconvenience to a man of his modest means. But it was not that which disturbed him. He was used to being “milked” periodically by this thriftless scallywag, who was always in low water and always on the point of making his fortune. But these transactions had been conducted through the post. They involved no personal contact. It was the threatened visit that was the cause of his trouble and that gave him so difficult a problem to solve. For on one point he was resolved; that visit must not be allowed to take place. And, furthermore, Molly must not become aware that it had been proposed. He would, if it must be, submit to the extortions of this wastrel, if not with pleasure, at least with resignation. But he would not have him in his house. And thereby hangs a tale which may as well be told now, to the end that the reader of this narrative may start with a clear understanding of all the circumstances.

Andrew Barton’s life lay under the shadow of a tragedy. The origin of that tragedy was insignificant even to triviality. But so it is in the affairs of men; from the merest trifles consequences develop which bear no reasonable proportion to their determining antecedents. The chance burrowing of a mole robbed a nation of its king; a trivial error of our most remote ancestress “Brought death into the world and all our woe.” The tragedy that darkened Andrew Barton’s life was due to nothing more impressive than a misplaced cricket ball.

But, on occasion, a cricket ball can be a formidable missile. This one, driven by a vigorous stroke of the bat, impinged with a terrific impact on Andrew’s face between the eyes, just below the level of the brows, and laid him on the field insensible and gory. Perhaps something in the way of plastic surgery might have been done; but, for a time, his condition was so critical as to occupy the whole of the doctor’s attention in the effort to save his life; and when at length his recovery was assured it was too late. The fractured nasal bones had united firmly in their displaced position.

It was a tragedy indeed. The Andrew Barton who had gone to the cricket match was a rather strikingly handsome young man. The convalescent who came out of the hospital was one at whom the passing wayfarer cast one curious glance and then looked away. The fine Grecian nose was flattened level with the cheek-bones, excepting the uninjured tip, which jutted out from the face like a sparrow’s beak.

The disfigurement alone was tragedy enough, especially to an artistic young man who had been accustomed to take an innocent pleasure in his own good looks. But his exaggerated disgust of his uncomely face and the self-consciousness that it engendered were not the worst results of the disaster. There was his wife. To do her justice, she made heroic efforts, in her pity and sympathy, to appear unaware of the change. But her efforts to seem not to notice the disfigurement were misinterpreted. To him, with his morbid conviction that he was a curiosity of hideousness, the fact that she seemed to avoid looking at his battered nose conveyed the impression that she could not bear the repulsive spectacle. In short, in respect of his personal appearance, Andrew suffered in an intense degree from what it is fashionable to call “an inferiority complex”; and that complex led him to take a perverted view of his relations with his wife.

The marriage had been a typical love-match; but, in its beginnings, very largely based on physical attraction. The beautiful girl and the handsome young man had fallen in love with each other’s good looks; which, as they were both amiable, kindly and pleasant mannered, was not a bad start. But at that their relations had tended to remain. They continued to be lovers, mutually devoted; but the deeper comradeship of man and wife seemed slow to develop.

The fault was undoubtedly with Molly. Unconsciously, she made the fatal mistake of failing to enter into her husband’s chief interest. Andrew was devoted to his art. She was aware of the fact and took it for granted, but she made no attempt to share his artistic interests. She admired his pictures, was pleased with the recognition that they received and praised them in somewhat inexpert terms; indeed, the rather naive and ignorant comments that she made jarred on him, so that he unobtrusively discouraged her from frequenting the studio. So she tended to live her woman’s life apart, treating the studio and its activities as matters outside her province. The love and mutual admiration that had brought them together had continued unchanged and undiminished during their married life up to the time of the accident; nor was there, even then, any sign of a change. But still, they were little more than lovers.

Hence, it was not perhaps unnatural that, when the misfortune befell, Andrew should experience a certain sense of having failed to keep his covenant. Molly had married a handsome man and had given her beauty in exchange. And now the bargain was, on his side, unfulfilled. He still received, but had nothing to give. Still, he could delight in her loveliness and charm; but she must put up with a husband who was a monster of ugliness. It was rather unreasonable and perverse, and it was largely untrue. But that was what he felt. And he felt it bitterly.

But his fatal misadventure had yet another unfortunate effect; which brings us back to our story. Andrew had but one near relative–his cousin Ronald. Ronald, however, was a very near relative indeed. He was, in fact, a cousin twice over; for, not only was his father a brother of Andrew’s father, but his mother was a sister of Andrew’s mother. In view of this double relationship, it is not surprising that the two men were a good deal alike. Actually they were as much alike as a pair of twins. But the remarkable resemblance was masked to some extent by the one point of difference. Andrew’s nose had been of the straight, or Grecian type; Ronald’s was curved on the bridge-a definite Roman nose. Now, a Roman nose imparts a very distinctive character to a face, particularly in profile; and hence this really trifling difference served effectually to disguise the fact that these two men were almost identically alike.

Nor was the resemblance limited to the facial characteristics. As in the case of twins, it pervaded the whole personality. They were of much the same colouring, stature and figure. Their voices and intonations were recognizably similar; and even in those elusive muscular habits which express themselves in pose and gait, there was in each man a suggestion of the other.

Their mental similarity was less marked. But yet it was distinguishable. For Ronald was not devoid of artistic aptitude. He painted in a somewhat dilettante fashion, and could have done better if he had taken more trouble; and in other respects he showed a certain mental affinity to his cousin. But just as the almost uncanny physical resemblance was masked by a single salient dissimilarity, so, but in a much more marked degree, were the mental resemblances masked by a profound contrast in the moral qualities. It seemed as if, in Ronald, some “recessive” moral taint, which had lain dormant for a generation or two, had suddenly come to the surface. He was an undeniably “bad egg”. To the precise, thrifty, conscientious Andrew, his thriftless, slippery cousin was an object of puzzled contempt, and, moreover, a source of constant anxiety. For Ronald Barton was an inveterate cadger, a confirmed borrower; and, as is the way of the habitual borrower, as soon as the loan had been obtained, the transaction was finished and the incident closed so far as he was concerned. Thus it happened that at the end of each year, Andrew found his bank balance substantially eaten into by the “trifling loans” that this plausible rascal had wheedled out of him.

But, as we have already hinted, it was not the drain on his resources that was troubling him now. He had accepted Ronald–his only near kinsman–as a sort of troublesome younger brother and was resigned to his extortions. What was disturbing him so profoundly was the fear that he might not be able to stave off the proposed visit. He loathed the very idea of having his cousin under his roof; and especially did he loathe the idea of any association between Ronald and Molly.

That was the real trouble. It was not that he was in general a jealous man or that he had the slightest mistrust of his wife. But he distrusted Ronald profoundly. Of that gentleman’s mode of life he knew nothing; but he suspected a good deal. And he was very clearly convinced that this shabby knave was no fit associate for Molly. And there were certain special reasons why he disliked the idea of their meeting.

They had met twice. The first time was shortly after the wedding, and, then, Andrew had been not displeased by Molly’s warm admiration of his cousin. For Ronald was an undeniably fine-looking young man, and he had been on his best behaviour.

But the second meeting had been a very different affair. The experience had been one of which Andrew could not bear to think. It had occurred soon after the accident, when the “inferiority complex” was at its worst, and Andrew had found himself constantly following Ronald with his eyes, noting with envy the strikingly handsome face and the swaggering, confident carriage, and contrasting them with his own hideousness and insignificance. And he suspected that Molly was making a like comparison, and he knew that Ronald was. For, on this occasion, that gentleman had been somewhat less discreet. Ostentatiously respectful, with a certain oily civility, he was nevertheless disposed to assert the privileges of cousinship with an insinuating familiarity that made Andrew squirm. And, beneath his deferential manner there seemed a sinister suggestion of a new consciousness of power; a suggestion that he had discovered a new way to put on the screw if the need should arise. Andrew had then and there determined that he should never come into the house again.

To that resolution he still held firmly. But the problem that he had to solve was how, decently, to evade the proposed visit. He could not write bluntly refusing it, and, even if he did, the thick-skinned Ronald would pretty certainly come, notwithstanding. In any case, there would be a letter in reply, which Molly would probably see; and then he would have to tell her of the proposal, and it would be difficult to explain his objection. But he wanted to keep the whole affair from her knowledge. In this he was, perhaps, unwise. It would certainly have been simpler to accept the visit and prepare Molly with a few words of advice and caution. But he could not do it. Deep down in his soul was a feeling that bade him keep Ronald completely out of her life.

Thus he turned his difficulties over and over as he strode along the foot-path through the fields. And gradually a plan shaped itself in his mind. It was quite a simple one. He would first send Ronald a postcard acknowledging his letter but making no comment. Then, on the day before that of the proposed visit he would send a letter stating that he had some business in Crompton–which was only thirty miles distant–and would call on Ronald to talk over the financial situation. There would be no time for an answer to his letter, and, if he agreed to the “loan”–which experience told him he probably would–the matter would be settled and the reason for the unwelcome visit would cease to exist.

There was only one detail at which he boggled. If he went to Crompton, he would be away from home all day, and he would have to give Molly some sort of explanation of his absence. And it could not be a true explanation. It seemed a small matter. But Andrew hated the making of a directly untrue statement at any time, and especially did he hate the idea of telling his wife a lie. However, it seemed that there was no choice. The only way in which his day’s absence from home could be simply and naturally explained would be by saying that he was going up to London to show some of his work to a dealer; and that was the course that he decided to adopt.

When he arrived home, he found, rather to his relief, that Molly had not yet returned. With his decision fresh in his mind, he went straight to the writing table in the sitting-room and wrote a brief note to Ronald, acknowledging his letter. Having sealed and stamped it, he dropped it into his pocket, ready for posting later, and then went into the little kitchen to make preparations for tea. But still, as he filled the kettle and set it on the gas ring, collected the tea-things and arranged them on the tray, his perplexities and the plans he had made to solve them continued to revolve in his mind as a sort of background to his present occupation. Impatiently, he tried to dismiss them. He had decided what to do, and further thought was but a useless, purposeless travelling back and forth over the same ground. But the emotional jar that Ronald’s letter had inflicted, with its vivid revival of unpleasant memories, had disturbed him profoundly; and, strive as he would to concentrate his attention on what he was doing, he could not silence the running accompaniment of futile reflection. Nevertheless, he carried out his task quite efficiently and with careful consideration of Molly’s very definite views on the niceties of the tea-table. The embroidered tea-cloth was spread on the table in the sitting-room in exactly the correct manner and garnished with little top-heavy flower glasses, artfully disposed so as to develop the maximum of inconvenience and liability to capsize. The tray, symmetrically set with its proper appointments–excepting the teapot and hot-water jug, which lurked in the kitchen awaiting the co-operation of the kettle–was placed at the head of the table. Biscuit box, cake basket, butterdish, jam and preserve jars and other minor articles of “family plate” were posted with the strictest regard to their customary stations (and with no regard at all to the fact that the biscuit box was empty and there was no cake). In Molly’s mind the “five o’clock tea” tradition still lingered, and the occasion was one of some ceremony.

When he had laid the table, Andrew surveyed his work critically, and, having decided that all was in order, proceeded to cut some wafery slices of brown bread and butter, which he adroitly rolled up into little sausage-like scrolls. Of these he prepared quite an imposing pile, in view of Molly’s partiality for them and of the fact that she usually returned from her expeditions in a state of ravenous hunger (she had gone over for an afternoon’s shopping to the little town of Bunsford, some two miles away).

At length he laid down his knife, and, having taken a glance at the kettle, went out to the garden gate and looked down the lane. His wife had just turned into it from the road and was now advancing briskly with an enormous parcel in either hand and a smaller one tucked under her arm. For a moment he was disposed to run and meet her and relieve her of her burdens, but, experience having taught him that Molly’s parcels usually ran to bulk rather than weight, he turned back into the house, leaving the garden gate and the front door ajar, and went to the kitchen to make the tea.

He had just placed the silver teapot and hot-water jug on the tray when he heard her coming up the garden path, whistling cheerfully to announce her approach. He went out into the hall to welcome her, and, when she had held up her face for the customary kiss, she tenderly deposited her parcels on the hall table. “You seem to have been going it,” Andrew remarked, with an eye on the parcels.

“I have,” she admitted. “I’ve had a lovely time–a regular beano. They were simply giving the things away, so, of course, economy suggested that one should take the opportunity. And I did. I’ve bought no end of things. You shall see what I have brought with me, presently; the rest are being sent. Do I smell tea? I hope so, for I am simply starving.”

She entered the sitting-room and stood for a moment regarding the arrangements with smiling approval. “How nicely you’ve laid the table, Andy,” she exclaimed, “and, my word! what a heap of roly-polys you’ve cut.”

She picked one up and bit off half. Then she continued, with slightly impaired enunciation: “There are some pastries in a box on the hall table. Puffs and things. I hope I haven’t squashed them under my arm. I was nearly eating them in the train. Shopping does make you hungry.”

Andrew fetched in the box and transferred its contents–bilious little tarts and cakes and three-cornered puffs, apparently produced with the aid of a pair of bellows–to the cake-basket. Then he lifted Molly’s hat off–it came off quite easily, being of the coalscuttle-extinguisher type then in vogue–while she placidly poured out the tea with one hand and fed herself with the other, continuing her cheerful babbling, punctuated with mastication.

Andrew sat down at the table, and, as he sipped his tea, looked thoughtfully at his wife. Perhaps a little furtively, too, with an unpleasant and guilty consciousness of the letter in his pocket. But principally his mind was occupied, half-unconsciously, in admiring contemplation of his beautiful wife. Her charm seemed to him always new, as something freshly discovered. To look at her was a pleasure that never staled. It was not only that he was as much, or even more, in love with her as ever, but as an artist, and a figure-painter at that, he was peculiarly sensitive and appreciative of human beauty, and especially the beauty of women. “So you’ve had a good day’s sport,” said Andrew.

“Rather!” she replied, in a tone of deep satisfaction. “Of course, Bunsford is not like London, but there are quite a lot of good shops there. And didn’t I turn them upside down! And didn’t I make the money fly! You’ll have to hurry up and sell some more pictures or we shall be on the rocks.”

Now, Andrew knew quite well that this was all nonsense. Molly’s little raids on the Bunsford shops were dissipations of the most inexpensive sort. She never nearly spent the hundred pounds a year that had come to her on her father’s death. Nevertheless, he seized the opportunity. “Yes,” said he, “it is about time I raked in some fresh supplies. There are one or two small things that I have got on hand, ready for the market. I must take them up to Montagu and turn them into cash.”

“You needn’t, Andy,” she said, with one of her delightful dimpling smiles. “I was only joking. I didn’t really spend much, and I’ve got quite a lot in the bank.”

“I know, dear,” he replied. “I wasn’t such a mug as to take you seriously. But still, I think I may as well take those things up to Monty. It’s no use keeping stuff in the studio cupboard. I think I will go up one day next week, probably Tuesday.”

She made no comment on this proposal, and their talk drifted into other channels. After tea she produced the two hats–the principal spoils of the raid–and exhibited them to Andrew; who looked at them as Lord Dundreary looked at the chimpanzee, with surprise and incomprehension. (The feminine hat is usually outside the scope of the masculine intellect, and the hats of that period were beyond belief as things intentionally created.) Then Molly went about her lawful domestic occasions, and Andrew sneaked out to drop his letter into the post-box down in the village. It was a harmless letter, devoid of significance and committing him to nothing. Yet, as he held it in the slit of the post-box, he felt an unaccountable reluctance to let it go; and when at length he released it and heard it fall to the bottom of the box, he had the sense of having done something portentous and irrevocable.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.