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William F. Nolan
Altus Press • 2018
© 2018 Steeger Properties, LLC, under license to Altus Press
“Introduction” appears here for the first time. Copyright © 2018 William F. Nolan. All rights reserved.
“The Darkness at Windon Manor” originally appeared in the April 21, 28, May 5, and 12, 1923 issues of Argosy magazine (Vol. 150, No. 6–Vol. 151, No. 3). Copyright © 1923 by The Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright renewed © 1950 and assigned to the Frederick Faust Trust. All rights reserved. Images copyright © 1923 by The Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright renewed © 1950 and assigned to Steeger Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.
“About the Author” originally appeared in the December 10, 1932 issue of Argosy magazine (Vol. 234, No. 5). Copyright © 1932 by The Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright renewed © 1960 and assigned to Steeger Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Special Thanks to Everard P. Digges LaTouche, Richard Mann, and William F. Nolan
HERE is a clever, charming, old-fashioned crime tale. Not old-fashioned for the period (1923) but a far cry from the tough-guy school as developed by Dashiell Hammett in the pulp pages of Black Mask. Frederick Faust (better known by his primary pen name, Max Brand) would later write much harder-edged novels in the Hammett tradition (“The Dark Peril,” “Cross Over Nine”) but “The Darkness at Windon Manor” is definitely “old school.” Criminals are presented here as gentlemen; there is much bowing and formal talk. Written when overseas travel was common, the story begins with an odd conversation aboard an ocean liner bound for America. (Such a trip was familiar to Faust, who often booked passage from his home in Europe to confer with editors in New York.)
“The Darkness at Windon Manor” features his oft-used theme of mistaken identity (“Montana Rides!,” etc.). However, it is presented here with a unique twist. Andrew Creel, Faust’s protagonist, finds himself identified as a key figure in the dark world of high crime. Faust is full of surprises. The story’s female lead, beautiful Anne Berwick, proves to be a jewel thief, and Creel finds himself drawn to her and to a life of crime like a drug he cannot resist. It is as if Creel is two men in one. How he handles this perplexing situation forms an off-beat tale that offers intrigue and romance in equal measure.
A missing case of precious stones, a wildly dangerous automobile ride, and a bold daylight bank robbery all add to the action.
“The Darkness at Windon Manor” is sheer pulp melodrama. You may not believe it, but you won’t forget it.
Prolific award-winning author William F. Nolan (best known for Logan’s Run) is the leading global authority on the life and career of the legendary Frederick Faust (“Max Brand”). Celebrated as “The King of the Pulps,” creator of Dr. Kildare, and (among 250 Western novels) Destry Rides Again, Faust was killed in action in 1944 while serving as a war correspondent during the Italian Offensive in World War II. (Kildare was named after county Kildare in Ireland—and Faust had used the name earlier for his pirate hero Ivor Kildare.)
William Nolan has edited six books on Faust: three volumes of his best Western stories, two collections of classic Faust tales, and a book of his best crime stories. His pioneering volume, Max Brand: Western Giant (1985) lists all of Faust’s 25 million words of fiction, his plays, non-fiction, verse, films (adapted from his works), radio, stage, and TV productions, and compiles memoirs and essays relating to Faust’s life and career.
Since the 1950s Nolan has written extensively about Faust (and his 20 pen names) for a wide variety of markets. He has seen his work appear in each issue of Singing Guns, a magazine devoted to Faust, and in The Max Brand Companion. For many years he was a close friend of Faust’s eldest daughter, Jane Faust Easton, and her husband, writer Robert Easton, now both deceased. Nolan’s novel, Rio Renegades, is an homage to Faust. Also, working with the Eastons, he compiled Max Brand’s Best Poems in 1992.
Nolan’s collection of works by and about “Max Brand” includes 1,100 books and nearly 600 full-issue pulps, and remains the world’s largest.
THOUGH the chair in which he sat was one of a long and closely filled line, Andrew Creel seemed sufficiently aloof. It was not that the steamer rug wrapped closely about his knees or the cap drawn far over his eyes differed from those of the men near him, not that his lean face and dark eye were forbidding in any degree; but he carried about him that air of self-completeness which does not invite inquiry.
Conversation, after all, generally starts with discomfort of mind or body. When a man is lonely, or too hot, or too cold, or wearied of his surroundings, he turns to a neighbor who seems to suffer mutually; he voices a common protest, and the conversation begins on common grounds. It is not hard to tell when a man is ready for and open to approaches. A slight wandering of the eye, a yawn which never springs from sleepiness, a sullen drooping of the mouth, a nervousness of hand and foot—these are the signs which betray a man who pines for conversation.
But Andrew Creel was one of those who can be heated neither by conversation nor wine, nor by a tropic sun; they cannot be crowded in a throng, and they cannot be made lonely in a desert. They neither criticize nor protest nor praise. They merely watch; and one cannot tell whether their observations are retained in mental notes or consigned to oblivion. All down the line of steamer chairs there were perpetual changes. Some one leaned forward to draw his rug closer or loosen it; some one rearranged his hat; some one leaned back and tried to sleep with a scowl on his forehead, as if defying any one to accuse him of ill success; but Andrew Creel seemed utterly unmoved. His hands never altered their position in his lap; a corner of his rug had worked loose in the wind, and it flapped unheeded; his head turned from time to time, slowly, never jerked about by irritation or curiosity.
Indeed, it seemed as if the quiet eye of Andrew Creel found something new in each one of the vast groundswells which heaved about the side of the ship and went wandering off against the distant sky line with ridges of white and little rushings of foam along its sides. The swagger of the ship on the crest of the wave and its drunken lunge into the hollow of the trough seemed equally soothing to him. When people passed, the eye of Creel followed them calmly down the deck at times, never prying and never omitting the slightest detail.
It did not irritate those he observed, for they knew that he noted, but felt that he made no criticism; it was not much more than the observant eye of an animal. Again, he fairly looked through a whole group and bent his observation past them on the familiar rise and fall of the waves. One could never prophesy his state of mind; he might be on the verge of whistling a tune or closing his eyes in dreamless sleep.
In fact, Creel was very much what he seemed. He had spent a number of years wandering the earth, living well within the limits of a comfortable income. In all places he was at home, and he became the back of a camel in Egypt as well as the saddle on a spirited horse in Central Park. Bohemia accepted him in Paris without a murmur, and respectability opened its doors to him in London. What he gained from his wanderings no one would be prepared to guess, for he had never opened his heart to a confidant. It was really hard to conceive of such a man having a confidant. And though one presumed that under stimulation he might be a most fascinating narrator, it was obvious that nature intended him for a listener rather than a talker.
Life had left him as unmarked within as his forehead was smooth without. He was a man untested, untried. If there was strength in him, it was like the speed of the pedigreed horse which has never trodden a race track. He did not make an appeal vital enough to stimulate wonder and puzzling estimates; perhaps he might have been called the Sphinx without her smile. At the most, people surmised in him cleanness of body, heart and mind; and probably Andrew Creel made no more definite estimate than this of himself. He had no enemies, and yet he did not feel ineffectual; he had no friends, and yet he was never lonely.
On a gray day he mildly enjoyed the dimness; on a bright day he mildly enjoyed the color. He did not object to liquor, and yet he had never been drunk; he found women amusing, but he had never been in love; he enjoyed money, but he never yearned hungrily for silken luxury. To be sure, he was not asleep, but one could not help asking: “What if this man should awaken? What if he should desire, dread, hate, love? What if the black and white of his life should be flushed with sudden color—golden, reds, and purples?”
This very question in much the same words passed through the mind of Creel as he sat in the sunshine of the deck of the steamer. The stimulus to the question was a man who stood half facing him at the rail. This fellow had taken his hat off and the sea breeze was ruffling his hair; his head was bent a little back, and with partially closed eyes and faintly smiling lips he breathed deep of the same wind. Undoubtedly, Andrew Creel had seen a hundred other men in similar postures and had never been stirred to question or to comparison of their mood with his own. The difference this time lay in the similarity which existed between the bareheaded man and himself.
Not that they at all approached the same identity. To be sure, no one could ever mistake them; but they belonged to the same physical type. There was the high, rather narrow forehead, with marked prominences just above the eyebrows, the straight lips, the thin chin, the arched nose, the dark, sallow complexion, the black eyes, the lean, erect body suggesting agility rather than downright strength, endurance rather than sudden bursts of speed.
It was the call of like to like which first drew Creel’s sharp attention. He noted one by one with unerring eyes the similarities, and in the second place he enumerated the differences. Here, however, there were difficulties. No matter how he concentrated on the subject, he could not make a list of the distinctions. His strong sense of order revolted against this failure. It was finally borne in upon him that the distinction was mostly a matter of differing spirits.
This man had rubbed shoulders with the world, had trodden the race track of human competition. The parallel lines had been engraved between his eyes by strife, victory, and perhaps defeat. He was capable of sorrow; he was capable of joy. Ah, there was the vital thing!
The salt wind in the face of Creel, which was a mere physical fact, made the stranger straighten his body and close his eyes in exquisite enjoyment. Creel caught the sense of the other covering space; that wind blew him into the past—how far? and into the future—how far? What keen associations pierced with that wind into the center of his being? For the first time in his entire life Creel was conscious of a hollow sense of loss, of desire. He had missed something in life. What was it?
The questions we ask ourselves cannot be evaded. Andrew Creel discovered with infinite discomfort that he could not turn his shoulder on himself as he had turned his shoulder on the world. He made, at last, a silent, sharp resolution to pierce the secret of this other man; to seek him out; to open him like a book and read therein. That resolution was the turning point in his life. He felt like the man who sits half dozing by the fire until a sudden thought comes knocking at his mind and he startles erect with the feeling that some one else has been in the room and watching him. Indeed, considering Creel in the light of what he did thereafter, it might be said that he had never before been awake.
UNACCUSTOMED as Creel was to feel under the positive necessity of meeting any human being, he was in doubt as to how he should approach the stranger. It seemed clumsy to go to him with some direct question in front of the crowd of languid passengers. He stared down, concentrating on the problem, and when he looked up again the stranger was gone.
He noted it with a quickening of the heart. There was no doubt now that he must exchange words with this man. Eventually he sauntered around the deck, but the stranger was nowhere in sight, and Creel carried his disappointment down to dinner with him. His gloom was the greater because this was the last evening on board ship, and the next morning everybody’s time would be taken in the bustle of making port: in fact, by sunrise they would be among the approaches to New York. To-night was his last chance to find his man.
After dinner, accordingly, he went directly up to the deck. Once there, it was the wind which led him, for it was strongly connected in his mind with his earliest picture of the other. Creel went straight forward to the point where the wind was sure to be strongest—the bow. He was correct. There, leaning on the railing and apparently watching the bow wave, was his quarry. So sharpened were his eyes for the search that he recognized his man by the shape of his back.
Creel approached slowly, pondering ways of opening the conversation, when the wind which had already helped him assisted him again. It flipped the hat from the head of the other and whisked it straight into the hands of Creel. He laughed; there was exultation in his voice, for he knew that chance was playing into his hand.
“The Lord be praised,” said the stranger, “for you’ve saved the only thing about me that won’t be alien in America.” He touched the hat into shape, for the crown had been deeply indented, and replaced it on his head.
“You see,” he explained, “before I left London I intended to get clothes from an American tailor—a whole outfit—but I dodged the job until the last moment, and then I only had time to get a hat.”
“Well,” nodded Creel, as he took a position at the rail near the other, “we’re certainly exact opposites; the only thing American about you is your hat, and the only thing English about me is the same article. Yet on the whole I prefer English styles throughout.”
The other shrugged his shoulders. He said:
“We’re on the way toward making comparisons between the English and Americans. Let’s avoid it.”
“And why?” asked Creel. “To the end of the world we’ll remain interested in our differences; I’ve never known an American who could spend an hour in London without making comparisons between it and New York, and vice versa. There are very good reasons for it.”
“Aye,” replied the other, “cousins are always curious concerning each other.”
“Exactly. We’re just enough alike to make us appreciate our differences.”
“And just close enough to fail to see each other in perspective.”
“To be sure,” agreed Creel. “We forget that we speak the same language, and remember that we have differing accents; we habitually underrate each other, and yet, when it comes to a pinch, blood usually tells. Still, the habit is irritating.”
“Good again. The Yankee calls the Englishman dull, and the Englishman calls the Yankee cheap.”
“But give them both the same environment, and you can’t tell them apart, perhaps, in a single generation.”
“To be sure; we have the same thieving ancestry,” said the stranger.
“Thieving?” echoed Creel.
“Well, why not call it that?” argued his companion. “What other is the ancestry of the Englishman and the American? Not that I mean that we are still thieves, but we gained our strength from a strong infusion of the bloods of predatory races. In the beginning the Celts were in Great Britain. They were harmless enough to the world; they injured no one but themselves. At the same time they accomplished no particular good; they added nothing to the civilization of the world. They’re a comparatively new race, and yet they left so few monuments and influences that they’re almost prehistoric. They didn’t try to take from others, but neither did they give to others. But then came the robber Saxons. They were an element of aggression and strength. They made a mark.
“Next came the robber Danes. Another element of strength. Finally came the robber Normans. Four elements of blood go to the making of the modern Englishman—and American—and three of those elements are from predatory races. They all had the acquisitive impulse, so that they stole at first, and when there was nothing else to steal they began to make for themselves.”
He broke off and chuckled to himself, then he added, nodding in self-agreement: “Yes, we call the Englishman’s instinct to conquer and rule to-day imperialistic instinct, but I wonder if it isn’t a lineal inheritance from the spirit of the Vikings.”
“Ah,” murmured Creel, “you believe that the thief and the creator are only short steps apart?”
The other started and turned more directly toward Creel. His eyes sharpened.
“In a manner of speaking,” he said, “that’s exactly what I do mean. Come, come! We begin to agree famously!”
“Well,” answered Creel, “it’s a new viewpoint, but I suppose a fairly sound one. The impulse of the thief is to have and to hold; so he takes what some one else has already made. But if there’s nothing to take he makes it for himself. He raises his own grain, perhaps.”
“Or irrigates the desert,” added the other.
“Or paints his own picture.”
“Quite right. One generation steals a country to which their only title deed is the stronger hand; the next generation celebrates the theft with an epic poem. Superior strength, superior subtlety makes the theft possible; and strength and cleverness are the materials which the poet wants for his singing, his idealization.”
“According to this,” said Creel, smiling, “the thief is a very important and necessary element in civilization.”
“And why not admit it?” answered the other with a touch of sharpness. “Strength is the important thing in men, and thieves are strong. They pit their single power against the banded might of the law. The primitive impulse which the average man reduces to spite, jealousy, backbiting, the thief admits to himself and follows. At least, he is not a hypocrite, and hypocrisy is the damning sin of every other class of society.”
“Now we have reduced it to this,” summed up Creel: “the thief is strong, clever—and honest.” He laughed softly.
“You laugh,” nodded the other, “but nevertheless you agree with me!”
And in spite of the growing dimness of the evening Creel saw that his eyes lighted with triumph. He added:
“Paris stole Helen: hence Odysseus and Agamemnon and Achilles; hence Homer. It all began with a theft; and after all, when does a good man make a satisfactory hero? He may be impressive, but he can never be real.
“The hero of Paradise Lost, every one admits, is Satan. Our sympathies lie with Abel; our interests lie with Cain. The destroyer holds the center of the stage. Caesar stole their rights from the populace; and the populace dropped upon their collective knees and thanked him for it. Yes,” he concluded, “for a life which gives a man excitement, pleasure, leisure, and a light conscience, give me the profession of the thief.”
As he ended, a searchlight from the bridge, whose shaft of light had been wandering wildly across the clouds, now dropped for an instant toward the prow of the ship and fell upon the figure of Creel’s companion. His hand flew up automatically, as if to ward a blow. In raising it the two middle fingers were closed, but the forefinger and the little finger remained extended stiffly. It was an odd gesture; even when the searchlight flashed away the oddity of it remained imprinted on the mind of Creel. For no real reason he wished suddenly to be alone; to think over and analyze at leisure the host of impressions which the stranger had given him.
“I have to get my things in shape for the landing,” he said, “so I’ll bid you a very good evening. And perhaps,” he added, “we can meet again in the morning? Perhaps we can find other points for agreement, eh?”
“By all means,” chuckled the other, “and suppose we make this the meeting place—any time after breakfast. I’m usually out here watching the gallop of the bow wave and catching the breath of the wind. The wind, my friend—there’s the predatory spirit for you!”
It was full night as Creel turned away and walked back up the deck. He remembered, after he had gone a little distance, that he had forgotten to ask the name of his new found friend, and he turned sharply about. He was loath, however, to return for such a purpose; it was too blunt, too crass a question; it showed too much curiosity, and if there was one thing on which Creel prided himself, it was his profound indifference.
As he stood, hesitating, he saw a broad-shouldered, stocky man walk down the deck toward the prow. The eye of Creel followed him, partly because of his powerful proportions, partly because his head was canted in an odd, thoughtful manner to one side, partly because he was walking straight toward the place where the stranger stood at the prow watching the rushing of the bow wave, faintly white, below. But the night was now so thick that the eye of Creel did not reach to the prow itself. Into that gloom the figure of the stocky man with the canted head disappeared. At that Creel turned and went slowly to his cabin.
THE NEXT morning breakfast was hardly done when Andrew Creel went straight to the bow. It was already crowded with passengers who kept their eyes fixed on the approaches to New York Harbor, and among them there was no sign of the interesting stranger of the night before. It irritated Creel but hardly surprised him, for the stranger was distinctly not the man on whom engagements lie heavily; he would follow his mood.
Creel waited patiently, and when his man did not appear he made a careful tour of the decks. He regretted doubly now that he had not learned the name of his singular acquaintance, but finally he resigned himself to his fate. They were already in the heart of the harbor—the jagged outline of the Battery was like a row of lances cutting into the sky.
It was not hard to dismiss the stranger, no matter how promising their talk had been, for it seemed to Andrew Creel that he had already caught at the secret. The feeling that he had slept all his life was stronger than ever in him; it made the consciousness of his present alertness all the more keen. He fell to watching the faces of men and women and children who passed him. To be sure, this had always been a favorite amusement of his, but there was now a difference.
Whereas he had formerly merely caught at the characteristics and type of a man, he now tried to go back into his past, and from that he tried to build the man’s future. It seemed to Creel in the delight of his new attitude that every line in a man’s face was as significant as a chapter in a biography. Aye, every man was an open book, though each was written in a differing language; but everything helped Creel—the shape and activity of hands, the set of a chin, the brightness of an eye, the carriage of head and shoulders.
Not men alone, but the very feel of sun and air was new to Creel, and the distant heights of the Battery were like a jumble of imperial towers over a fairy city; when he stepped ashore he would be in the land of adventure. It was strange that a glance at a man and five minutes conversation should have affected him so vitally, but perhaps Creel had merely reached the natural end of his period of inertness.
After all, most men reach some such awakening. To some it comes through the sudden love for a woman, disappointed or fulfilled. A lesser thing affected it with Creel; he was as changed from himself of yesterday as the adolescent is removed from the mature man. It was not strange, therefore, that he was whistling as he moved down the gangplank, and when at last he was free to pass on into the city he walked with a springing, eager step like an athlete from whose shoulders a weight had been removed.
It was as he passed in the steady stream of people out onto the street that a form of great height loomed suddenly at his elbow, and a voice boomed:
He whirled, shaken with surprise, and his hand automatically flew up as if in self-defense; but when it rose the middle fingers were clenched and the fore and little fingers stiffly extended in the manner of the stranger on the ship the night before. He dropped his hand at once and found himself looking up into the face of a burly monster a whole head taller than himself; a man with a comfortably rounded vest and a plump face, tinged with the pink of good living. His eyebrows were so highly arched and his eyes so wide and extraordinarily blue that his expression was one of the most extreme candor and naïveté.
Before the gesture of Creel he started, and the color in his face deepened; his eyes darted once to right and left, and brushing close to Creel he muttered:
“Good God, Ormonde, do you give that sign in public places?”