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Call Mr. Fortune
By H. C. Bailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE ARCHDUKE'S TEA
MR. REGINALD FORTUNE, M. A., M. B., B. Ch., F. R. C. S., was having a lecture from his father.
"You only do just enough," Dr. Fortune complained. "Never brilliant. No zeal. Now, Reginald, it won't do. Just enough is always too little. Take my word for it. And do be attentive to the Archduke. God bless you!"
"Have a good time, sir," said Mr. Reginald Fortune, and watched his father settle down in the car (a long process) beside his mother and drive off. They were gone at last, which Reginald had begun to think impossible, and the opulent practice of Dr. Fortune lay for a month in the virgin hands of Reginald.
"Beautifully patient the mater is," Reginald communed with himself as he ate his third muffin. "Fretful game to spend your life waitin' for a man to get ready. Quaint old bird, the pater. Death-bed manner for a tummy-ache. Wonder the patients lap it up."
But old Dr. Fortune was good at diagnosis, and he had his reasons for saying that Reggie lacked zeal. At Oxford, at his hospital, Reggie did what was necessary to take respectable degrees, but no more than he could help. It was remarked by his dean that he did things too easily. He always had plenty of time, and spent it here, there, and everywhere, on musical comedy and prehistoric man, golf and the newer chemistry, bargees and psychical research. There was nothing which he knew profoundly, but hardly anything of which he did not know enough to find his way about in it. Nobody, except his mother, had ever liked him too much, for he was a self-sufficient creature, but everybody liked him enough; he got on comfortably with everybody from barmaids to dons.
He was of a round and cheerful countenance and a perpetual appetite. This gave him a solidity of aspect emphasized by his extreme neatness. Neither his hair nor anything else of his was ever ruffled. He was more at his ease with the world than a man has a right to be at thirty-five.
It is presumed that he had never wanted anything which he had not got. Old Dr. Fortune possessed a small fortune and a rich practice, and Reggie enjoyed the proceeds and proposed to inherit both. The practice lay in that pleasant outer suburb of London called Westhampton, a region of commons and a large park, sacred to the well-to-do, and still boasting one or two houses inhabited by what auctioneers call the nobility.
In Boldrewood, the best of these places, there lived at this moment in Reggie Fortune's existence, the Archduke Maurice, the heir-apparent to the Emperor of Bohemia. You may remember that the Archduke came to live in England shortly after his marriage. It is, however, not true, as scandal reported, that his uncle the Emperor sent him into exile. There is reason to believe that the Archduchess, a woman equally vehement and beautiful, was not liked in several European courts. On her return from the honeymoon she made a booby trap for that drill-sergeant of a king, Maximilian of Swabia, and for some weeks the Central Powers were threatening to mobilize. But she was a Serene Highness of the house of Erbach-Wittelsbach, which traces its descent to Odin, and had an independent realm of nearly two square miles, with parliament and army complete, and even the Emperor of Bohemia could not pretend that Maurice had married beneath him. History will affirm the simple truth that the Archduke and the Archduchess sought seclusion in England because they were bored to death by the Bohemian court, which was perpetually occupied in demonstrating that you can be very dull without being in the least respectable. The Archduke Maurice was a man of geniality and extraordinarily natural tastes. His garden—a long walk—a pint of beer in one of the old Westhampton inns made him a happy day. The Archduchess was not so simple, for she loved to drive her own car, a ferocious vehicle. But Archduchesses may not do that in Bohemia.
Reggie, having eaten all the muffins, lit his pipe and meditated on the cases left him by his father. Old Mrs. Smythe had her autumn influenza, and old Talbot Browne had his autumn gout, and the little Robinsons were putting in their whooping-cough. A kindly world! ... He was dozing in the dark when the telephone bell rang.
Was that Dr. Fortune? Would he come to Boldrewood at once—at once. The Archduke had been knocked down by a motor-car and picked up unconscious.
"Poor old pater!" Reggie grinned, as he put his tools together. The pater would never forgive himself for being out of this. He loved a lord, did the pater, and since he had been called in to remove a fish bone from the archducal throat he could not keep the Archduke out of his conversation. The royal geniality of the Archduke, the royal disdain of the Archduchess—Dr. Fortune had been much gratified thereby, and Reggie was prepared to loathe their Royal Highnesses. Thank Heaven, the pater was safe on his holiday! If his head swelled so over an archducal fish bone, he would have burst over an archduke knocked down.
Reggie was practical, if without sympathy; he made haste in his neat way, and the sedate chauffer of Dr. Fortune was horrified by instructions to let the car rip. The streets of Westhampton are not adapted to this. The district has tried hard to keep itself rural still, and its original narrow winding lanes remain ill-lighted and overhung by trees. Boldrewood stands high, and its grounds border upon Westhampton Heath, across which there is one lamp per furlong. Just as Reggie's car swung round to the heath it was stopped with a jerk.
"What's the trouble, Gorton?" Reggie said to the chauffeur.
Gorton was leaning sideways and peering into, the gloom of the gutter. A gleam from the sidelight winked at a body which lay still. "Give me a turn," Gorton muttered. His face showed white. Reggie jumped out, but Gorton was quicker. "Lumme, it's the Archduke!" he said, and his voice went up high.
"Don't be futile, Gorton." Reggie bent over the body. "Get the lamps on him."
Gorton backed the car and the body came into the light. Its face was crushed. Gorton gasped and swallowed. "But it's not him neither," he muttered.
After a minute Reggie stood up. "He was a fine chap about an hour ago," he said gently.
"All over, sir?" Reggie nodded. "Some hog done him in?"
"As you say, Gorton. Running-down case. Big car. Took him in the back. Went over his head. But I don't see how he got into the gutter." He walked round the body, moved it a little, and picked up two matches—unusual matches in England—very thin vestas with dark blue heads. "Why did you think he was the Archduke, Gorton?"
"Such a big chap, sir. Not many his measure. And there's something about the make of the poor chap that's very like. But thank God it's not the Archduke, anyway."
"Why?" said Reggie, who was without reverence for Archdukes. "Well, let's take him along."
They brought the dead man to the lodge at the main gates of Boldrewood, and there left him with a message to be telephoned to the police.
The hall at Boldrewood is in the Victorian baronial style, absurd but comfortable. Reggie was still blinking at the light when a woman ran at him. His first notion of the Archduchess Ianthe was vehemence. She came upon him, a great fur cloak falling away from her speed, panting, black eyes glowing, and then stopped short, and her pale face was distorted with passion. "Dr. Fortune! You are not Dr. Fortune!" she cried.
"Dr. Fortune, Junior, madame. My father is away, and I am in charge of his practice." She muttered something in a language he did not know, and looked as if she was going to kill him. His second notion of her was that she was wickedly beautiful. A Greek perfection in the pale face, but, Lord, what a temper! The daintiest grace of body, but it moved and quivered like a whip lash.
"My dear Ianthe!" A man came smiling from behind the screen by the fire. He was tall and slight and dandyish: a lot of colour in his clothes, an odd absence of colour in him. A bright blue tie with an emerald in it, a bright blue handkerchief hanging half out of the pocket of the silver-grey coat. But his face had a waxy pallor, his hair, his moustache, and little pointed beard were so fair that they looked like patches of paint on a mask. "We are much obliged by Dr. Fortune's coming so quickly."
The Archduchess whirled round. "He is too young," she said in German. "Look at him. He is a boy."
"I beg your pardon, madame," said Reggie in the same language. "May I see the patient?"
The man laughed. "I am sure we have every confidence in your skill, Dr. Fortune." All the laughter was smoothed out of his face. "And your discretion," he said in a lower voice. "I am the Archduke Leopold. You may be frank with me. And rely upon my help."
Reggie bowed. "How did the accident happen, sir?"
The Archduke turned to his sister-in-law. "You know that I do not know," she cried. "I was out in the car."
"As my sister says, Dr. Fortune, she was out in the car." The Archduke paused. "She drives herself. It is with her a little passion. My brother was out walking alone."
"Those long walks! How I hate them!" the Archduchess broke out.
"Again, it is with him a little passion. Well, he did not come back. I grew anxious. I am staying here, you understand. My sister was late too. I sent out servants. My brother was found lying in the road not far from the gate of the lodge. He remains unconscious. I fear—" He spread out his hands.
"You—you always fear!" the Archduchess cried. They exchanged glances like blows.
"May I go up, madame?" Reggie said solemnly. She whirled round and rushed away.
"The Archduchess is much agitated," said the Archduke.
"It is most natural," Reggie murmured.
"Most natural. Pray follow me, Dr. Fortune. I will take you to my brother."
The Archduke Maurice lay in a room of austere simplicity. A writing-table, a tiny dressing-table, three chairs, and a narrow iron bed were all its furniture. Only three small rugs lay on the floor. At the head of the bed a man stood watching. The Archduchess was on her knees, her face pressed to her husband's body, and she sobbed violently.
The Archduke Leopold looked at Reggie, made a gesture towards her, and said, "My dear Ianthe!"
She looked up flushed and tear-stained.
"I beg your pardon, madame. This is dangerous to the patient," Reggie said.
She gave a stifled cry and rushed out of the room.
The Archduke Leopold seemed to intend to stay, but in a moment the voice of the Archduchess was heard calling for him. "Better go to her, sir. Keep her out of here," Reggie said, and turned to his patient. It was obvious that the Archduke did not relish so brusque an order. But the passionate voice was not to be denied.
The man by the bed and Reggie took each other's measure. "English?" said Reggie.
"Yes, sir. Holt, I am. The Archduke's valet."
"You undressed him?"
"Yes, sir. Was that wrong?"
"Depends how you did it." Reggie began his examination.
The Archduke Maurice was a big man. That is a habit in his family. He had their fairness, but even in coma his checks showed more colour than his brother Leopold's, and his yellow hair and beard had a reddish glow. A bold, honest face with plenty of brow. Reggie went over his body with an anatomical enthusiasm for so splendid a specimen.
"Get me some warm water, will you?" Holt went out of the room. Reggie bent over the broad chest. From it, from just above the heart, he drew out a thin sliver of steel. He made a face at it and put it away. Holt came back, and there was sponging and bandaging.
"You washed him before, I see. Any one else touched him but you?"
"Only carrying him, sir. I've been with him the whole time. I found him."
"Oh. Lying on his face, I suppose?"
"No, sir. On his back. Just like he is now."
"Oh. Notice anything?" "No, sir, I wish I had. I'd like to have the handling of the bounder that did it."
"Well, well, we mustn't get excited. Preserve absolute calm, Holt. He's well liked, is he?"
"Why, sir, we'd do anything for him. He—oh, he's a gentleman."
"Quite so. You mustn't leave him a moment. No one—see, no one—is to come into the room. I'll be back soon."
"Very good, sir. Beg pardon, sir." The good Holt flushed. "What's the verdict?"
"It's not all over yet!" Reggie went downstairs.
And it appeared to him that he interrupted the Archduke and the Archduchess in a quarrel. But the Archduke was very pleased to see him, effusive in offering a chair, and so forth. Reggie was not gratified. "I must have nurses, sir," he announced. "I should like another opinion."
"You see!" the Archduchess cried. "It is as I told you. This boy!"
"The Archduchess is naturally anxious," the Archduke apologized. "By all means nurses. But another opinion—you must have confidence in yourself, my good friend."
"I have. But I want Sir Lawson Hunter to see the case."
The Archduke shrugged. "It is serious then, Dr. Fortune? We do not wish a great noise. Is it not so, Ianthe?"
"I would give my soul to be quiet," she cried.
"Quite," said Reggie.
"Very well. Discretion, then, you understand, my good friend."
"I'll telephone to Sir Lawson at once."
"Indeed? It is serious, then?"
"It's a bad concussion." Reggie bowed and made for the door.
"You—Dr. Fortune—" the Archduchess cried. "Will he—what will happen?"
"There's no reason we shouldn't hope, madame," Reggie said, and paused a moment watching them. Emotion plays queer tricks with faces. They were both in the grip of emotions.
Sir Lawson Hunter is rather fat and his legs are rather short. His complexion is greyish and his eyes look boiled. People call him dyspeptic, though his capacious stomach has never known an ache: or imagine that he drinks, though alcohol and physicians are his chief abominations. His European reputation as a surgeon has been won by knowing his own mind.
Reggie met him at the door and took him upstairs before that puzzling pair, the Archduke and the Archduchess, had a sight of him. "Glad you could come, sir. It's an odd case."
"Every case is odd," said Sir Lawson Hunter.
"He was knocked down by a car. The—"
"If he was, I can find it out for myself. Damme, Fortune, don't bias me. Most unprofessional. That's the worst of general practice. You fellows must always be saying something."
Reggie held his peace. He knew Sir Lawson's little ways, having been his house surgeon. The faithful Holt was turned out of the room. Sir Lawson Hunter went over the senseless body with his usual speed and washed his hands.
"Splendid animal," he remarked. "They run to that, these Pragas. I remember his uncle's abdominal muscles. Heroic. Well. He was walking. A big car driven fast hit him from behind on the right side, fractured two ribs, and knocked him down. Impact of his head on the road has caused a serious concussion. That car should have stopped."
Reggie smiled. "Oh, one of the odd things is that it didn't."
"There's a damned lot of road hogs about, my boy," said Sir Lawson heartily. He was himself fond of high speed. "Well. They sent out, I suppose. Found him lying on his face unconscious."
"What?" Sir Lawson jumped.
"He was lying on his back."
"Oh, that's absurd."
"Yes, sir. But I've seen his valet who found him."
"These fellows have no observation," Sir Lawson grunted, but there was some animation in his boiled eye. "Damme, Fortune, he ought to have been on his face."
"Miracles don't happen."
"Now these abrasions on the legs. As if the car had been driven at him again while he lay. A queer thing. Or have there been two cars at him?"
"And there is this too, sir." Reggie held out the sliver of steel.
"I saw the puncture. I was coming to that. Humph! Whoever put this in meant business."
"And didn't know his job. It slipped along the bone and missed everything."
Sir Lawson turned the thing over. "A woman's hatpin. About half a woman's hatpin."
"Fresh fracture. Broke as it was pushed in."
"They're a wild lot," said Sir Lawson, and smiled. "You have no nerves, Fortune?"
"I believe not, sir."
"This ought to be the making of you. You want shaking up. You must stay in the house. By the way, who's in the house?"
"The Archduchess, of course"
"Ianthe. Yes. Aunt's in a mad-house. Ianthe. Yes. Crazy on motoring. Drives her own car. And have you seen Ianthe—since?" Sir Lawson nodded at the body on the bed.
"She is very excited."
"Is she really?" Sir Lawson laughed. "Is she, though? How surprising!"
"She is surprising, sir."
Excerpted from Call Mr. Fortune by H. C. Bailey. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Call Mr. Fortune" is a collection of short stories which introduce Reginald Fortune. Reggie, like his father, is a physician. The son applies his diagnostic skills to crime-solving. As he is not a civil servant, he is free to represent the government, the accused, or the injured. Reggie is a wiseacre. He is cynical. I found Reggie Fortune's forays into early twentieth-century British slang distracting, partly because that "voice" comes and goes. Sometimes he is droppin' the letter G and and sometimes using standard English. As a reader, I felt cheated when Mr. Fortune left his servant in town overnight and we are not told why, or Fortune removed something from a dead body and we are not told what until much later. The stories are self-contained. The last is similar to a novella in length and complexity. Recommended for those who would enjoy detective fiction set in early twentieth-century England.