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The Seven Secrets
By William Le Queux
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
INTRODUCES AMBLER JEVONS.
"AH! YOU DON'T TAKE the matter at all seriously!" I observed, a trifle annoyed.
"Why should I?" asked my friend, Ambler Jevons, with a deep pull at his well-coloured briar. "What you've told me shows quite plainly that you have in the first place viewed one little circumstance with suspicion, then brooded over it until it has become magnified and now occupies your whole mind. Take my advice, old chap, and think nothing more about it. Why should you make yourself miserable for no earthly reason? You're a rising man — hard up like most of us — but under old Eyton's wing you've got a brilliant future before you. Unlike myself, a mere nobody, struggling against the tide of adversity, you're already a long way up the medical ladder. If you climb straight you'll end with an appointment of Physician-in-Ordinary and a knighthood thrown in as makeweight. Old Macalister used to prophesy it, you remember, when we were up at Edinburgh. Therefore, I can't, for the life of me, discover any cause why you should allow yourself to have these touches of the blues — unless it's liver, or some other internal organ about which you know a lot more than I do. Why, man, you've got the whole world before you, and as for Ethelwynn —"
"Ethelwynn!" I ejaculated, starting up from my chair. "Leave her out of the question! We need not discuss her," and I walked to the mantelshelf to light a fresh cigarette.
"As you wish, my dear fellow," said my merry, easy-going friend. "I merely wish to point out the utter folly of all this suspicion."
"I don't suspect her," I snapped.
"I didn't suggest that." Then, after a pause during which he smoked on vigorously, he suddenly asked, "Well now, be frank, Ralph, whom do you really suspect?"
I was silent. Truth to tell, his question entirely nonplussed me. I had suspicions — distinct suspicions — that certain persons surrounding me were acting in accord towards some sinister end, but which of those persons were culpable I certainly could not determine. It was that very circumstance which was puzzling me to the point of distraction.
"Ah!" I replied. "That's the worst of it. I know that the whole affair seems quite absurd, but I must admit that I can't fix suspicion upon anyone in particular."
Jevons laughed outright.
"In that case, my dear Boyd, you ought really to see the folly of the thing."
"Perhaps I ought, but I don't," I answered, facing him with my back to the fire. "To you, my most intimate friend, I've explained, in strictest confidence, the matter which is puzzling me. I live in hourly dread of some catastrophe the nature of which I'm utterly at a loss to determine. Can you define intuition?"
My question held him in pensive silence. His manner changed as he looked me straight in the face. Unlike his usual careless self — for his was a curious character of the semi-Bohemian order and Savage Club type — he grew serious and thoughtful, regarding me with critical gaze after removing his pipe from his lips.
"Well," he exclaimed at last. "I'll tell you what it is, Boyd. This intuition, or whatever you may call it, is an infernally bad thing for you. I'm your friend — one of your best and most devoted friends, old chap — and if there's anything in it, I'll render you whatever help I can."
"Thank you, Ambler," I said gratefully, taking his hand. "I have told you all this to-night in order to enlist your sympathy, although I scarcely liked to ask your aid. Your life is a busy one — busier even than my own, perhaps — and you have no desire to be bothered with my personal affairs."
"On the contrary, old fellow," he said. "Remember that in mystery I'm in my element."
"I know," I replied. "But at present there is no mystery — only suspicion."
What Ambler Jevons had asserted was a fact. He was an investigator of mysteries, making it his hobby just as other men take to collecting curios or pictures. About his personal appearance there was nothing very remarkable. When pre-occupied he had an abrupt, rather brusque manner, but at all other times he was a very easy-going man of the world, possessor of an ample income left him by his aunt, and this he augmented by carrying on, in partnership with an elder man, a profitable tea-blending business in Mark Lane.
He had entered the tea trade not because of necessity, but because he considered it a bad thing for a man to lead an idle life. Nevertheless, the chief object of his existence had always seemed to be the unravelling of mysteries of police and crime. Surely few men, even those professional investigators at Scotland Yard, held such a record of successes. He was a born detective, with a keen scent for clues, an ingenuity that was marvellous, and a patience and endurance that were inexhaustible. At Scotland Yard the name of Ambler Jevons had for several years been synonymous with all that is clever and astute in the art of detecting crime.
To be a good criminal investigator a man must be born such. He must be physically strong; he must be untiring in his search after truth; he must be able to scent a mystery as a hound does a fox, to follow up the trail with energy unflagging, and seize opportunities without hesitation; he must possess a cool presence of mind, and above all be able to calmly distinguish the facts which are of importance in the strengthening of the clue from those that are merely superfluous. All these, besides other qualities, are necessary for the successful penetration of criminal mysteries; hence it is that the average amateur, who takes up the hobby without any natural instinct, is invariably a blunderer.
Ambler Jevons, blender of teas and investigator of mysteries, was lolling back in my armchair, his dreamy eyes half-closed, smoking on in silence.
Myself, I was thirty-three, and I fear not much of an ornament to the medical profession. True, at Edinburgh I had taken my M.B. and C.M. with highest honours, and three years later had graduated M.D., but my friends thought a good deal more of my success than I did, for they overlooked my shortcomings and magnified my talents.
I suppose it was because my father had represented a county constituency in the House of Commons, and therefore I possessed that very useful advantage which is vaguely termed family influence, that I had been appointed assistant physician at Guy's. My own practice was very small, therefore I devilled, as the lawyers would term it, for my chief, Sir Bernard Eyton, knight, the consulting physician to my hospital.
Sir Bernard, whom all the smart world of London knew as the first specialist in nervous disorders, had his professional headquarters in Harley Street, but lived down at Hove, in order to avoid night work or the calls which Society made upon him. I lived a stone's-throw away from his house in Harley Street, just round the corner in Harley Place, and it was my duty to take charge of his extensive practice during his absence at night or while on holidays.
I must here declare that my own position was not at all disagreeable. True, I sometimes had night work, which is never very pleasant, but being one of the evils of the life of every medical man he accepts it as such. I had very comfortable bachelor quarters in an ancient and rather grimy house, with an old fashioned dark-panelled sitting-room, a dining-room, bedroom and dressing-room, and, save for the fact that I was compelled to be on duty after four o'clock, when Sir Bernard drove to Victoria Station, my time in the evening was very much my own.
Many a man would, I suppose, have envied me. It is not every day that a first-class physician requires an assistant, and certainly no man could have been more generous and kindly disposed than Sir Bernard himself, even though his character was something of the miser. Yet all of us find some petty shortcomings in the good things of this world, and I was no exception. Sometimes I grumbled, but generally, be it said, without much cause.
Truth to tell, a mysterious feeling of insecurity had been gradually creeping upon me through several months; indeed ever since I had returned from a holiday in Scotland in the spring. I could not define it, not really knowing what had excited the curious apprehensions within me. Nevertheless, I had that night told my secret to Ambler Jevons, who was often my visitor of an evening, and over our whiskies had asked his advice, with the unsatisfactory result which I have already written down.CHAPTER 2
"A VERY UGLY SECRET."
THE CONSULTING-ROOM IN HARLEY Street, where Sir Bernard Eyton saw his patients and gathered in his guineas for his ill-scribbled prescriptions, differed little from a hundred others in the same severe and depressing thoroughfare.
It was a very sombre apartment. The walls were painted dark green and hung with two or three old portraits in oils; the furniture was of a style long past, heavy and covered in brown morocco, and the big writing-table, behind which the great doctor would sit blinking at his patient through the circular gold-rimmed glasses, that gave him a somewhat Teutonic appearance, was noted for its prim neatness and orderly array. On the one side was an adjustable couch; on the other a bookcase with glass doors containing a number of instruments which were, however, not visible because of curtains of green silk behind the glass.
Into that room, on three days a week, Ford, the severely respectable footman, ushered in patients one after the other, many of them Society women suffering from what is known in these degenerate days as "nerves." Indeed, Eyton was par excellencea ladies' doctor, for so many of the gentler sex get burnt up in the mad rush of a London season.
I had made up my mind to consult my chief, and with that object entered his room on the following afternoon at a quarter before four.
"Well, Boyd, anything fresh?" he asked, putting off his severely professional air and lolling back in his padded writing-chair as I entered.
"No, nothing," I responded, throwing myself in the patient's chair opposite him and tossing my gloves on the table. "A hard day down at the hospital, that's all. You've been busy as usual, I suppose."
"Busy!" the old man echoed, "why, these confounded women never let me alone for a single instant! Always the same story — excitement, late hours, little worries over erring husbands, and all that sort of thing. I always know what's coming as soon as they get seated and settled. I really don't know what Society's coming to, Boyd," and he blinked over at me through his heavy-framed spectacles.
About sixty, of middle height, he was slightly inclined to rotundity, with hair almost white, a stubbly grey beard, and a pair of keen eyes rather prominently set in a bony but not unpleasant countenance. He had a peculiar habit of stroking his left ear when puzzled, and was not without those little eccentricities which run hand in hand with genius. One of them was his fondness for amateur theatricals, for he was a leading member of the Dramatic Club at Hove and nearly always took part in the performances. But he was a pronounced miser. Each day when he arrived at Victoria Station from Hove, he purchased three ham sandwiches at the refreshment bar and carried them in his black bag to Harley Street. He there concealed them in a drawer in the writing-table and stealthily ate them instead of taking half-an-hour for luncheon. Sometimes he sent Ford out to the nearest greengrocer's in the Marylebone Road for a penny apple, which he surreptitiously ate as dessert.
Indeed, he was finishing his last sandwich when I entered, and his mouth was full.
It may have been that small fact which caused me to hesitate. At any rate, sitting there with those big round eyes peering forth upon me, I felt the absurdity of the situation.
Presently, when he had finished his sandwich, carefully brushed the crumbs from his blotting-pad and cast the bag into the waste-paper basket, he raised his head and with his big eyes again blinking through his spectacles, said:
"You've had no call to poor old Courtenay, I suppose?"
"No," I responded. "Why?"
"Because he's in a bad way."
"Yes," he replied. "I'm rather anxious about him. He'll have to keep to his bed, I fear."
I did not in the least doubt this. Old Mr. Henry Courtenay, one of the Devonshire Courtenays, a very wealthy if somewhat eccentric old gentleman, lived in one of those prim, pleasant, detached houses in Richmond Road, facing Kew Gardens, and was one of Sir Bernard's best patients. He had been under him for a number of years until they had become personal friends. One of his eccentricities was to insist on paying heavy fees to his medical adviser, believing, perhaps, that by so doing he would secure greater and more careful attention.
But, strangely enough, mention of the name suddenly gave me the clue so long wanting. It aroused within me a sense of impending evil regarding the very man of whom we were speaking. The sound of the name seemed to strike the sympathetic chord within my brain, and I at once became cognisant that the unaccountable presage of impending misfortune was connected with that rather incongruous household down at Kew.
Therefore, when Sir Bernard imparted to me his misgivings, I was quickly on the alert, and questioned him regarding the progress of old Mr. Courtenay's disease.
"The poor fellow is sinking, I'm afraid, Boyd," exclaimed my chief, confidentially. "He doesn't believe himself half so ill as he is. When did you see him last?"
"Only a few days ago. I thought he seemed much improved," I said.
"Ah! of course," the old doctor snapped; his manner towards me in an instant changed. "You're a frequent visitor there, I forgot. Feminine attraction and all that sort of thing. Dangerous, Boyd! Dangerous to run after a woman of her sort. I'm an older man than you. Why haven't you taken the hint I gave you long ago?"
"Because I could see no reason why I should not continue my friendship with Ethelwynn Mivart."
"My dear Boyd," he responded, in a sympathetic fatherly manner, which he sometimes assumed, "I'm an old bachelor, and I see quite sufficient of women in this room — too much of them, in fact. The majority are utterly worthless. Recollect that I have never taken away a woman's character yet, and I refuse to do so now — especially to her lover. I merely warn you, Boyd, to drop her. That's all. If you don't, depend upon it you'll regret it."
"Then there's some secret or other of her past which she conceals, I suppose?" I said hoarsely, feeling confident that being so intimate with his patient, old Mr. Courtenay, he had discovered it.
"Yes," he replied, blinking again at me through his glasses. "There is — a very ugly secret."CHAPTER 3
I DETERMINED TO SPEND that evening at Richmond Road with open eyes.
The house was a large red-brick one, modern, gabled, and typically suburban. Mr. Courtenay, although a wealthy man with a large estate in Devonshire and extensive properties in Canada, where as a young man he had amassed a large fortune, lived in that London suburb in order to be near his old friends. Besides, his wife was young and objected to being buried in the country. With her husband an invalid she was unable to entertain, therefore she had found the country dull very soon after her marriage and gladly welcomed removal to London, even though they sank their individuality in becoming suburban residents.
Short, the prim manservant, who admitted me, showed me at once up to his master's room, and I stayed for half-an-hour with him. He was sitting before the fire in a padded dressing gown, a rather thick-set figure with grey hair, wan cheeks, and bright eyes. The hand he gave me was chill and bony, yet I saw plainly that he was much better than when I had last seen him. He was up, and that was a distinctly good sign. I examined him, questioned him, and as far as I could make out he was, contrary to my chief's opinion, very much improved.
Indeed, he spoke quite gaily, offered me a whisky and soda, and made me tell him the stories I had heard an hour earlier at the Savage. The poor old fellow was suffering from that most malignant disease, cancer of the tongue, which had caused him to develop peripheral neuritis. His doctors had recommended an operation, but knowing it to be a very serious one he had declined it, and as he had suffered great pain and inconvenience he had taken to drink heavily. He was a lonely man, and I often pitied him. A doctor can very quickly tell whether domestic felicity reigns in a household, and I had long ago seen that with the difference of age between Mrs. Courtenay and her husband — he sixty-two and she only twenty-nine — they had but few ideas in common.
Excerpted from The Seven Secrets by William Le Queux. Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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