The Terrible Hobby of Sir Joseph Londe - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Terrible Hobby of Sir Joseph Londe ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



Sir Joseph is a brilliant surgeon from Australia who went mad after operating on vast numbers of soldiers during World War 1. His terrible hobby is cutting people’s heads open to steal bits of their brains. His wife is a former nurse who went mad alongside him. They are pursued across England and the continent by Mr. Daniel Rocke, codebreaker of the Foreign service: Miss Ann Lancaster, daughter of one of Londe’s victims, and Sir Francis Worton, known as Q20, head of the secret service. Londe adopts many disguises, and plots brilliant escapes. This short story collection also containing: „The Scarlet Patch”, „The Terror of Elton Lodge”, „The House on Salisbury Plain”, The Shaftesbury Avenue Murder” and others.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)

Liczba stron: 277

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














At half-past twelve on a blustery morning in March, a middle-aged, neatly dressed man of powerful appearance, who had settled down in the neighbourhood under the name of Mr. Joseph Britton, turned into the main street of the small town of Dredley, in Surrey, pushed open the swing door of the offices of Messrs. Harrison & Co., land and house agents, and tapped on the mahogany counter with the crook of his stick. Mr. Harrison at once emerged from his private office. The two men exchanged greetings.

“I want to sell my house,” Mr. Britton announced.

The house agent looked at his visitor over the top of his spectacles with some surprise.

“Why, Mr. Britton, I thought you’d settled down for life amongst us,” he said, slowly drawing his ledger towards him. “You’re not leaving the neighbourhood, I hope?”

“I’m having some trouble with my wife,” the other explained; “she has worked herself up into a nervous state about these two extraordinary disappearances.”

Mr. Harrison’s expression was one of somewhat irritated concern.

“Come, that’s too bad,” he remonstrated. “If every one were to adopt that attitude, what would become of the price of property in the neighbourhood? Why, you’d ruin us all.”

“I can’t help the price of property,” Mr. Britton replied coldly. “We’ve no children, and my wife’s the only person I have to consider in the world. It’s seeing the policemen about the lane, I expect, that has upset her.”

“Take her away for a change, Mr. Britton,” the house agent advised. “Don’t you go throwing away a nice little property that you’ve just bought, because of a lady’s spell of nervousness. Give her a month at Brighton, and she’ll come back a different woman.”

“I am afraid the matter is too serious for that,” the other sighed. “I have no desire to part with the house, just having settled down; but I have given my word, and there we are. Take down the particulars.”

“I don’t need any,” was the reluctant reply. “It isn’t a couple of years since I sold you the place. What do you want for it?”

“I gave four thousand pounds for it,” Mr. Britton reflected, “and they say property has increased in value. I’ll consider any offer.”

“Why, you must have spent hundreds upon the garden alone,” Mr. Harrison remonstrated.

“A thousand pounds wouldn’t cover what I’ve spent on the place, one way and another. All the same, I’ve given my word of honour that down it goes into your books. If you don’t sell it, I can’t help it.”

“Well, I’m glad the other residents aren’t adopting your attitude,” Mr. Harrison grumbled. “After all, these two disappearances might be cleared up at any moment. They may be entirely voluntary.”

“That is precisely what I have pointed out to my wife,” Mr. Britton acquiesced. “In my opinion the police are only advertising their incompetence by hanging about the place and making senseless enquiries. People don’t disappear nowadays except of their own choice.”

“I quite agree with you,” the house agent concurred. “Lot of fuss about nothing, I call it…Will you take a glass of sherry with me, Mr. Britton, before you go?”

“With pleasure!” was the courteous response.

The two men left the place together and entered the adjoining hotel. Dredley was one of those half urban, half suburban town-villages which mock the wayfarer from London who thinks that thirty miles from the metropolis should bring him to the country. The shops were mostly branches of larger establishments, and the hotel retained its kinship to a public house. The house agent and his client established themselves in hard, horsehair easy-chairs in an inner smoking room. The floor was covered with oilcloth, the walls hung with chromo advertisements. The young lady who waited upon them was affable but towny. With the second order for refreshments, she brought out a local newspaper.

“After all this fuss,” she exclaimed, “Bert En-dell’s people have heard from him at Newcastle, where he’s got a job, and Mr. Lancaster’s written to his family from somewhere in London.”

Mr. Harrison pounced upon the paper.

“That’s right!” he exclaimed. “Well, I never! What about it now, Mr. Britton?”

“I should think that might possibly modify my wife’s prejudice against the place,” was the somewhat doubtful reply. “Keep the house on the books and I’ll let you know.”

The two men separated soon afterwards, and Mr. Joseph Britton walked homewards. He was a man apparently of early middle age, of medium height, powerful build, and inconspicuous appearance. He was clean-shaven, with black hair unstreaked with grey, massive jaw, firm mouth, but curiously restless eyes. Of his antecedents nobody knew anything, but his banker’s reference had been unexceptionable, and his manners and speech were the attributes of a man of culture. The very pleasant residence which he had purchased some two years ago was situated on the side of the heath, about a mile and a half from the town. It was built of white stone, half-covered with creepers, and there was about an acre of garden, bounded on one side by a long and narrow footpath which crossed the heath and led into the town. Mr. Britton looked meditatively across at the rock garden, which was in the course of construction, as he rang his front doorbell. The idea was, without doubt, a good one. The proposed addition backed up against the thin hedge which separated the footpath from his garden. It would, in time, shield the house from passers-by.

The door was opened by a manservant, sombrely dressed, and of uncouth and aggressive appearance. He took his master’s hat and coat and glanced at the clock with an air of disapproval.

“Luncheon is on the table, sir,” he announced gruffly.

Mr. Britton nodded and opened the door of the dining room. A woman who was already seated at the small round table looked up at his coming.

“Have you sold the house?” she asked eagerly.

“I have placed it in the agent’s hands,” he replied.

She continued her luncheon in silence–a striking-looking woman, if not beautiful, with pale cheeks, strange haunting eyes, and masses of beautiful brown hair. She was gazing steadfastly out of the window which looked on to the heath.

“It appears,” he went on, “that both the disappearances which have been troubling the people of the neighbourhood are accounted for. The relatives of Mr. Lancaster have heard from him, and young Endell has written his mother from Newcastle.”

His wife looked at him–a long and steady gaze from her wonderful eyes. She said nothing at all.

“It was in the local paper,” he continued. “It will be in the London papers to-morrow.”

The meal, served by the gloomy and taciturn manservant, was finished in silence. At its conclusion they made their way into a small library and seated themselves in easy-chairs before a huge log fire. Mr. Britton at once took up a book and became engrossed in its contents. The woman neither read nor attempted any sort of needlework. There was no window open in the room, yet occasionally she shivered. She sat with her hands folded in front of her, her eyes sometimes fixed upon the fire, sometimes engaged in a steady contemplation of her husband’s face. The latter remained completely absorbed. There was no attempt at conversation.

The day was cloudy and twilight came early. At five o’clock, the butler served tea, which was partaken of by the woman only. She drank three cups greedily. Then she left the room again. When she reappeared, she was wearing a handsome fur coat and a small, becoming hat with a veil, behind which her eyes seemed stranger and more beautiful than ever. Her husband gripped the sides of his chair and looked at her.

“You are going out?” he enquired.

“I am going to take a walk across the heath,” she replied.

He rose slowly to his feet. For some reason or other, the statement seemed to affect him. He walked to the window and looked out. A belt of pine trees loomed like a black smudge at the end of the garden. The single trees and shrubs bordering the footpath had assumed chaotic shapes, more fanciful than ever by reason of the fantasies of a high wind. The footpath across the heath was dimly visible. A solitary tradesman’s boy on a bicycle was making his way towards one of the large houses on the other side.

“It’s a wild evening,” he muttered.

The woman laughed, strangely but not unpleasantly.

“I love wind,” she said, “wind and the falling darkness.”

She left the room. The man remained at the window. He watched her cross the lawn, step over the strands of wire at the further end of the garden and pass along the footpath. He watched her slim form as she came into sight on the other side of the trees, moving with swift and effortless grace into the bosom of the darkness and the booming wind. Then he turned away, left the room, and, walking all the time with a curious mechanical effect, almost as though in a state of coma, he unlocked with a key from his chain the door of a small room behind the stairs. For a moment he paused to listen. Then he entered the room, closing the door behind him.

Daniel Rocke looked up from the desk in his newly acquired office, and gazed with some curiosity at his unexpected visitor. Miss Ann Lancaster subsided into the chair to which he had instinctively pointed, and laid her muff on the floor by her side.

“You remember me, Mr. Rocke?” she began.

“Quite well,” he answered. “You were one of our cipher typists at the Foreign Office.”

She nodded.

“I am still engaged there,” she said.

There was a brief pause. Miss Lancaster seemed in no hurry to declare her mission, and Daniel Rocke, without displaying undue curiosity, was interested in renewing his impressions of her. At the Foreign Office she had just been one in a dozen, a little distinguished from the others, perhaps, only on account of her superior intelligence. He had certainly never appreciated before the small, excellently shaped head, the glints of a richer colour in her deep brown hair, her clear hazel eyes and delicate eyebrows, her pale complexion, creamy rather than pallid. She was of medium height and slim figure, distinctly feminine, but with the subtle possession of poise. In the long, bare room at the Foreign Office, Rocke would never have glanced at her twice. Here, in his rather shabby little apartment at the top of a block of buildings in Shaftesbury Avenue, she was a different person.

She, too, from her point of view, found some interest in studying more closely this person whom she had come to visit. She remembered him merely as a man of about thirty-five years of age, of medium height, pallid-faced, with somewhat cynical mouth, and the fretful ways of a hypochondriac. He had the reputation of extreme cleverness, and he had more than once charmed the whole room by a rare but very delightful smile. His gracious moments, however, were very occasional, and the chief impression she had formed of him during their period of more or less close association, was of a man swift in intuition, capable, but short-tempered, a man with an indomitable capacity for mastering any obstacle which came in his way, but impatient of all delay or interruption.

“May I ask why you left the Foreign Office?” she enquired at last.

He raised his eyebrows very slightly. The question, coming in that form, surprised him.

“You may ask,” he replied.

She was unperturbed.

“Impertinent of me, of course,” she remarked, “but I am on serious business and my mind is filled with serious things. The report there was that, since the war, you had only been sent abroad four times, and that you were tired of doing nothing but decoding ciphers.”

“The report, for once, was absolutely accurate,” Rocke admitted.

“It was further reported,” the girl continued, “that you were thinking of seeking a post in the Foreign Intelligence Department of Scotland Yard.”

“That is where rumour failed,” he replied. “If I am to take you into my confidence at all, I will tell you that I am weary of of officialdom. And now, suppose you tell me what you have come to see me about?”

“Doesn’t my name suggest my mission,” she enquired. “Ann Lancaster?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“You have read of the Dredley disappearances?”

“Yes,” he acknowledged.

“My father was James Lancaster, the first one to go,” she confided. “He went out for half-an-hour’s walk on the heath whilst they were getting his supper ready, and never returned.”

“But I thought that was all explained,” he observed. “I thought that a letter had been received from your father, and also from the other young man who disappeared.”

“That is where these ‘mysterious disappearances,’ as the Press used to call them, really do begin to be mysterious,” the girl replied. “I have seen both letters. I know nothing about the young man who wrote from Newcastle, but I am perfectly convinced that the communication which came to us with the postmark ‘Bethnal Green’ was neither typed nor dictated by my father.”

“Have you the letter with you?” he asked.

She produced it–a half-sheet of common notepaper, on which the few sentences were roughly typed:

My dear wife and daughters, I am in trouble and obliged to lie low for a few months. Do as well as you can without me. I have found some work in a quiet spot. I shall return before long. Affectionately, James Lancaster.

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.