AMONG the few personal friendships that Martin Hewitt has allowed
himself to make there is one for an eccentric but very excellent old
lady named Mrs. Mallett. She must be more than seventy now, but she is
of robust and active, not to say...
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Detective Stories

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AMONG the few personal friendships that Martin Hewitt has allowed
himself to make there is one for an eccentric but very excellent old
lady named Mrs. Mallett. She must be more than seventy now, but she is
of robust and active, not to say masculine, habits, and her relations
with Hewitt are irregular and curious. He may not see her for many
weeks, perhaps for months, until one day she will appear in the office,
push Kerrett (who knows better than to attempt to stop her) into the
inner room, and salute Hewitt with a shake of the hand and a savage
glare of the eye which would appal a stranger, but which is quite
amiably meant. As for myself, it was long ere I could find any resource
but instant retreat before her gaze, though we are on terms of moderate
toleration now.

After her first glare she sits in the chair by the window and directs
her glance at Hewitt's small gas grill and kettle in the fireplace--a
glance which Hewitt, with all expedition, translates into tea. Slightly
mollified by the tea, Mrs. Mallett condescends to remark in tones of
tragic truculence, on passing matters of conventional interest--the
weather, the influenza, her own health, Hewitt's health, and so forth,
any reply of Hewitt's being commonly received with either disregard or
contempt. In half an hour's time or so she leaves the office with a
stern command to Hewitt to attend at her house and drink tea on a day
and at a time named--a command which Hewitt obediently fulfils, when he
passes through a similarly exhilarating experience in Mrs. Mallett's
back drawing-room at her little freehold house in Fulham. Altogether
Mrs. Mallett, to a stranger, is a singularly uninviting personality, and
indeed, except Hewitt, who has learnt to appreciate her hidden good
qualities, I doubt if she has a friend in the world. Her studiously
concealed charities are a matter of as much amusement as gratification
to Hewitt, who naturally, in the course of his peculiar profession,
comes across many sad examples of poverty and suffering, commonly among
the decent sort, who hide their troubles from strangers' eyes and suffer
in secret. When such a case is in his mind it is Hewitt's practice to
inform Mrs. Mallett of it at one of the tea ceremonies. Mrs. Mallett
receives the story with snorts of incredulity and scorn but takes care,
while expressing the most callous disregard and contempt of the troubles
of the sufferers, to ascertain casually their names and addresses;
twenty-four hours after which Hewitt need only make a visit to find
their difficulties in some mysterious way alleviated.

Mrs. Mallett never had any children, and was early left a widow. Her
appearance, for some reason or another, commonly leads strangers to
believe her an old maid. She lives in her little detached house with its
square piece of ground, attended by a house-keeper older than herself
and one maid-servant. She lost her only sister by death soon after the
events I am about to set down, and now has, I believe, no relations in
the world. It was also soon after these events that her present
housekeeper first came to her in place of an older and very deaf woman,
quite useless, who had been with her before. I believe she is moderately
rich, and that one or two charities will benefit considerably at her
death; also I should be far from astonished to find Hewitt's own name in
her will, though this is no more than idle conjecture. The one
possession to which she clings with all her soul--her one pride and
treasure--is her great-uncle Joseph's snuff-box, the lid of which she
steadfastly believes to be made of a piece of Noah's original ark
discovered on the top of Mount Ararat by some intrepid explorer of vague
identity about a hundred years ago. This is her one weakness, and woe to
the unhappy creature who dares hint a suggestion that possibly the wood
of the ark rotted away to nothing a few thousand years before her
great-uncle Joseph ever took snuff. I believe he would be bodily
assaulted. The box is brought for Hewitt's admiration at every tea
ceremony at Fulham, when Hewitt handles it reverently and expresses as
much astonishment and interest as if he had never seen or heard of it
before. It is on these occasions only that Mrs. Mallett's customary
stiffness relaxes. The sides of the box are of cedar of Lebanon, she
explains (which very possibly they are), and the gold mountings were
worked up from spade guineas (which one can believe without undue strain
on the reason).
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940013740921
  • Publisher: WDS Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/10/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 154 KB

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