The Man without Nerves - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Man without Nerves ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



In this novel we have Oppenheim’s as it best, with the story of a man hunt set in an English village, and involving a well-known banker and the Lord of the Manor. The story is a thriller built on several interlaced mysteries which are suddenly thrust on the sleepy village of Sandywayes: three men committing shockingly unexpected suicides, three strangers with questionable backstories but no obvious connections simultaneously appearing in town, and large amounts of money quietly disappearing from the bank. This 1935 novel focuses on the conduct of bankers, their clients, and wealthy merchants in the English suburbs surrounding London in the interwar period. The comfortable society of tennis and golf, private cars in trains, and unspoken secrets of money and privilege are the keys to unlocking the mystery.

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Liczba stron: 336

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THREE men were already seated in the reserved first-class compartment attached each morning to the eight-twenty train from Sandywayes to Waterloo. The other two places were as yet unoccupied. Mr. James Huitt, the bank manager, who was responsible for this innovation of what with mild humor they called the “Club Car,” and felt himself in a kind of way the master of ceremonies with regard to it, drew out his watch and studied it with a frown. He himself never varied the time of his arrival at the station by a single minute and he hated unpunctuality.

In his person, his speech and his attire he was the very prototype of the man of precise habits. His gold-rimmed spectacles only partially concealed a pair of shrewd and calculating eyes. His correctly shaped features lacked all expression. He was forty-four years old and he might easily have been mistaken for thirty-four or fifty-four. He had been for years sub-manager and was now manager of the Aldwych Branch of the great banking firm of Barton’s. Nine people out of ten who were interested in their fellow creatures would have correctly diagnosed his profession. The watch at which he was gazing was regulated every Monday morning and if there was one person in the city of London who knew the correct hour it was Mr. James Huitt.

“This time,” he remarked portentously, “I fear that our friend Martin has run it a little too fine.”

A robust, cheerful looking little man whose name was Cresset–Andrew Cresset of the firm of Cresset & Hollis, corset manufacturers, with offices situated in London Wall–who had only recently been promoted to a seat in this local holy of holies, also drew out his watch.

“Seems like it,” he agreed. “We shall be off in half a minute.”

Mr. Timothy Sarson, a wealthy wine merchant, a man of fine physique and bearing, lowered his newspaper. He was dressed in the old-fashioned style of the prosperous city merchant. His hat was large and of unusual shape. He wore gray side whiskers which went well enough with his healthy, almost rubicund complexion. He carried a fob and his white spats were obviously renewed every day.

“It will be the first time,” he remarked in a rich and throaty voice, “that any one of us has actually missed the train.”

There was a shout and the loud honking of an automobile horn in the country lane which passed by the entrance to the station. The guard dropped the flag which he had half raised and removed the whistle from his lips. Thirty seconds later an elderly gentleman, in a state of profuse perspiration, was pushed into the compartment.

“Don’t do you no good, Mr. Martin, to have to run for it like that,” the guard warned his passenger pleasantly as he slammed the door and concluded his signal to the engine driver.

The train moved off. There was a little chorus of incipient chaff from the three already installed occupants of the compartment. Then–a sudden silence. The bank manager broke off in the midst of a gentle admonitory remark. Mr. Timothy Sarson paused in the act of lighting a cigar and let the match go out in his fingers. Mr. Cresset left off in the middle of a sentence and forgot to close his mouth. The three men were all gazing at the new arrival. Roland Martin was a middle-aged man in poorish condition owing to the manner of his life, but it certainly seemed as though it must have been more than a mere fifty-yard sprint which was responsible for his quickly drawn breathing, his unwholesome color and the sweat which was streaming from his forehead. Here, without a doubt, was the bearer of tragic news. As might have been expected, James Huitt was the first to ask a definite question.

“Has anything happened, Mr. Martin?” he inquired. “You have had trouble with your car, perhaps? I had an idea your engine was missing fire when you were kind enough to give me that lift yesterday.”

There was no coherent reply. Then the late arrival, whose voice was usually hoarse and who suffered from shortness of breath, gasped out portions of a mutilated sentence.

“No one knows, then–you have not heard?”

“Heard what?” Mr. Cresset demanded.

“About–Sam Jesson.”

“What about him?” they all demanded more or less at the same time.

Martin, notwithstanding a gurgling in his throat, got the words out somehow: “Dead! Shot! Found in–garage this morning–cold–with a bullet through his chest–and a letter addressed to his wife by his side.”

There followed a grim and horrified silence. The social circle of Sandywayes, which included the village on the north side of the railway, the group of houses called the Oasis and the wilderness on the south side, was a small one, and Sam Jesson was one of its prominent members. He was one of themselves– their partner at golf, at bridge –the companion of their mild festivities. The three men seemed afflicted with a sort of dumbness of thought as well as of speech. From the dead man’s very nearness to them it seemed impossible to believe in such an appalling catastrophe. The carriage in which they were seated seemed full of the echoes of his conversation. Only last night he had been issuing challenges for a fourball golf match. Timothy Sarson was the first to find words. He was dizzily incredulous.

“Why, Sam dined with us last night. We were not looking for him this morning because he said that he wanted a couple of hours’ exercise and wouldn’t come up to town till the afternoon train. Never saw him more cheerful in my life. Martin, for God’s sake, pull yourself together, man! There must be some mistake. Tell us the truth.”

Roland Martin wiped his forehead.

“It’s not the sort of story one invents,” he groaned.

“How did you find out about it?” James Huitt inquired.

“It was Edwards, my own chauffeur, who found him not half an hour ago. Went in to borrow something and there he was lying stiff.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Barely twenty minutes. I don’t suppose I ought to have come away, but the sergeant was there and the doctor and half the village was streaming down. I couldn’t do any good and I don’t mind admitting that it gave me such a turn that I had one look at him and ran away!”

There was a brief, awe-stricken pause.

“Sam Jesson,” the wine merchant muttered. “The last man in the world I should have thought capable of a thing like that.”

“As full of life and good spirits as anyone I ever knew,” Mr. Cresset sighed.

“But what on earth could make him commit such a ghastly offense?” Timothy Sarson demanded. “He was all right financially, wasn’t he, Huitt?”

The bank manager frowned slightly.

“Samuel Jesson,” he said, “is–or I suppose I must say was–a client of mine. Even if this terrible thing has really happened, I am not in a position to discuss his affairs.”

Sarson indulged in a brief but poignant gesture. He had been known to call Mr. Huitt an old maid.

“Well, I’ll tell you all this,” he declared stubbornly. “You can say what you like–no one is going to make me believe that Sam Jesson committed suicide. He was not the type. Besides, why should he? What motive could he have had? He enjoyed life as well as any of us, and financially–well, he was never a gas bag but I have heard him talk of some of his investments and I would have changed places with him any day!”

James Huitt leaned a little forward in his place. Of the four men he was perhaps the least disturbed, but even he had gone pale and there was a glimmer of that half-awed look which comes with the fear of incomprehensible things gleaming in the eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles.

“No explanation has as yet been offered, I suppose, Martin, by any member of the family?”

“There was only his wife at home,” Martin reminded them all. “The sergeant has the letter. I don’t know whether he has given it to her yet; he seemed too scared to know what to do.”

Andrew Cresset spoke up suddenly, like a man on the verge of hysterics.

“I hope to God it hadn’t anything to do with money,” he exclaimed fervently.

“Not likely,” Sarson scoffed. “Why, any one of us would have done our bit to help Sam Jesson round a stiff corner if he needed it.”

“I am afraid,” James Huitt pronounced, “that nowadays most of the troubles with which our friends are afflicted are concerned more or less with finance. However, the letter he left behind for his wife will probably tell us everything. Whatever his motive may have been, it’s a terrible affair.”

Silence fell upon the little company. Timothy Sarson leaned back in his place and groaned heavily.

“You have a chance to give it to us from the horse’s mouth, Huitt,” he pointed out. “No one’s going to be the worse off either. I always understood he kept a good balance?”

“If that,” Mr. Huitt interrupted deliberately, “is a prelude to questions dealing with the financial position of my client, I can only beg you to have the good taste not to pursue the subject. My lips are sealed.”

Just as a sudden wave of joy or good news brings men of kindred habits and manner of life together and opens their hearts, so tragedy with its icy grip upon the nerves sometimes produces the reverse effect. During the remainder of that journey to Waterloo the four men in the reserved carriage from Sandywayes scarcely opened their lips. No one even tried to read his newspaper. They were simply afflicted by an uneasy and embarrassing indisposition for speech. The bond between them was temporarily broken. It was as though each suspected the other of some horrible crime.

When they glided into the station, instead of the usual volley of farewells, admonitions towards good behavior during the long day, cheerful prognostications concerning the journey home, they went their several ways in silence.

Towards three o’clock in the afternoon of that same day Mr. James Huitt, who sat in solitary splendor in a stiffly upholstered but expensively furnished private room at the back of his bank in Aldwych, received a visitor. He looked at the plain visiting card brought in by one of his clerks with a faint sense of recognition.

“Mr. Tyssen,” he said reflectively. “I wonder if that is not the name of Mrs. Foulds’ new lodger. Not a client, is he, Merton?”

“Not that I know of, sir.”

“Did he give you any idea as to his business?”

“None at all, sir, except that he begged for a word or two alone with you on a private matter.”

The bank manager shrugged his shoulders resignedly. The fact remained, however, that after eight years’ experience one of the pleasures of his life was still receiving visitors. He was proud of his position of bank manager of an important branch of a world-famed bank. He liked impressing people and, although there were some who refused to be impressed, there were many who accepted him at his own valuation. He decided to see his caller.

“Show him in,” he directed.

A young man of wholesome but somewhat ordinary appearance and indifferently dressed was in due course shown in. His complexion was freckled and he was–in the language of schoolboys– pug-nosed. His ears were inclined to stand out and his hair, which was of no definite color, was ill brushed. He was over six feet in height but loosely built. There was nothing about him calculated to impress. Mr. Huitt, however, as was his custom with visitors, was stonily civil.

“Mr. Tyssen,” he said, repeating his name, “you have come to stay in the neighborhood of Sandywayes, I believe?”

“That’s right, sir,” the young man acknowledged eagerly. “I am a writer by profession and I have been looking for a quiet spot like Sandywayes for some time. I am at work on a novel.”


“Before I took to fiction,” Tyssen continued, “I was on the staff of the Daily Reporter. I still send them occasional contributions. In fact, it is on their business that I have come to see you this afternoon.”

The bank manager remained silent. He had no special affection for journalists.

“I took the liberty of sending in my personal card,” the young man proceeded, “because my connection with the paper is no longer official. I am much obliged to you for seeing me, sir.”

Mr. Huitt did not at once connect the drama of the morning with the nervous youth who sat on one of the hard leather chairs twirling his hat in his hand. He nodded in somewhat puzzled fashion.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“In the first place,” was the prompt reply, “I want you to be so good as to tell me, sir, whether this is the handwriting of a client of yours.”

Mr. Huitt adjusted his glasses, glanced at the envelope which the other had just passed across the table– casually enough at first and then more steadily. Something of the suaveness of his manner seemed to have passed. His small face had become set in more rigid lines. If one of his regular customers had been present at that moment he would not have ventured to allude to the matter of an overdraft.

“Yes,” the bank manager acknowledged. “I should say there is no doubt that this is the handwriting of Mr. Samuel Jesson. How did it come into your possession?”

The young man ignored the question.

“You have heard what has happened to him, I suppose?”

“I heard the news in the railway carriage coming up to town,” Huitt admitted. “He was found dead in a garage, I understand. Have you any particulars?”

“I can tell you all about it, sir,” Tyssen declared. “Mr. Jesson was found shot through the heart in the garage this morning when Mr. Martin’s chauffeur went in to borrow some gasoline. The police think that he must have been there the greater part of the night.”

“The local police?”

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