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The Fire Within
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MR. MOTTISFONT'S OPINION OF HIS NEPHEW
As I was going adown the dale
Sing derry down dale, and derry down dale,
As I was going adown the dale,
Adown the dale of a Monday,
With never a thought of the Devil his tricks,
Why who should I meet with his bundle of sticks,
But the very old man of the Nursery tale,
Sing derry down dale, and derry down dale,
The wicked old man of the Nursery tale
Who gathered his sticks of a Sunday.
Sing derry down, derry down dale.
OLD Mr. Edward Mottisfont looked over the edge of the sheet at David Blake.
"My nephew Edward is most undoubtedly and indisputably a prig—a damned prig," he added thoughtfully after a moment's pause for reflection. As he reflected his black eyes danced from David's face to a crayon drawing which hung on the paneled wall above the mantelpiece.
"His mother's fault," he observed, "it's not so bad in a woman, and she was pretty, which Edward ain't. Pretty and a prig my sister Sarah—"
There was a faint emphasis on the word sister, and David remembered having heard his mother say that both Edward and William Mottisfont had been in love with the girl whom William married. "And a plain prig my nephew Edward," continued the old gentleman. "Damn it all, David, why can't I leave my money to you instead?"
"Because I shouldn't take it, sir," he said.
He was sitting, most unprofessionally, on the edge of his patient's large four-post bed. Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont looked at him quizzically.
"How much would you take—eh, David? Come now—say—how much?"
David laughed again. His grey eyes twinkled. "Nary penny, sir," he said, swinging his arm over the great carved post beside him. There were cherubs' heads upon it, a fact that had always amused its owner considerably.
"Nonsense," said old Mr. Mottisfont, and for the first time his thin voice was tinged with earnestness. "Nonsense, David. Why! I've left you five thousand pounds."
David started. His eyes changed. They were very deep-set eyes. It was only when he laughed that they appeared grey. When he was serious they were so dark as to look black. Apparently he was moved and concerned. His voice took a boyish tone. "Oh, I say, sir—but you mustn't—I can't take it, you know."
"And why not, pray?" This was Mr. Mottisfont at his most sarcastic.
David got the better of his momentary embarrassment.
"I shan't forget that you've thought of it, sir," he said. "But I can't benefit under a patient's will. I haven't got many principles, but that's one of them. My father drummed it into me from the time I was about seven."
Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont lifted the thin eyebrows that had contrived to remain coal-black, although his hair was white. They gave him a Mephistophelean appearance of which he was rather proud.
"Very fine and highfalutin," he observed. "You're an exceedingly upright young man, David."
After a moment the old gentleman's lips gave way at the corners, and he laughed too.
"Oh, Lord, David, who'd ha' thought it of you!" he said. "You won't take a thousand?"
David shook his head.
"Not five hundred?"
"Not five pence," he said.
Old Mr. Mottisfont glared at him for a moment. "Prig," he observed with great conciseness. Then he pursed up his lips, felt under his pillow, and pulled out a long folded paper.
"All the more for Edward," he said maliciously. "All the more for Edward, and all the more reason for Edward to wish me dead. I wonder he don't poison me. Perhaps he will. Oh, Lord, I'd give something to see Edward tried for murder! Think of it, David—only think of it—Twelve British Citizens in one box—Edward in another—all the British Citizens looking at Edward, and Edward looking as if he was in church, and wondering if the moth was getting into his collections, and if any one would care for 'em when he was dead and gone. Eh, David? Eh, David? And Mary—like Niobe, all tears—"
David had been chuckling to himself, but at the mention of Edward's wife his face changed a little. He continued to laugh, but his eyes hardened, and he interrupted his patient: "Come, sir, you mustn't tire yourself."
"Like Niobe, all tears," repeated Mr. Mottisfont, obstinately. "Sweetly pretty she'd look too—eh, David? Edward's a lucky dog, ain't he?"
David's eyes flashed once and then hardened still more. His chin was very square.
"Come, sir," he repeated, and looked steadily at the old man.
"Beast—ain't I?" said old Mr. Mottisfont with the utmost cheerfulness. He occupied himself with arranging the bedclothes in an accurate line across his chest. As he did so, his hand touched the long folded paper, and he gave it an impatient push.
"You're a damn nuisance, David," he said. "I've made my will once, and now I've to make it all over again just to please you. All the whole blessed thing over again, from 'I, Edward Morell Mottisfont,' down to 'I deliver this my act and deed.' Oh, Lord, what a bore."
"Mr. Fenwick," suggested David, and old Mr. Edward Mottisfont flared into sudden wrath.
"Don't talk to me of lawyers," he said violently. "I know enough law to make a will they can't upset. Don't talk of 'em. Sharks and robbers. Worse than the doctors. Besides young Fenwick talks—tells his wife things—and she tells her sister. And what Mary Bowden knows, the town knows. Did I ever tell you how I found out? I suspected, but I wanted to be sure. So I sent for young Fenwick, and told him I wanted to make my will. So far, so good. I made it—or he did. And I left a couple of thousand pounds to Bessie Fenwick and a couple more to her sister Mary in memory of my old friendship with their father. And as soon as Master Fenwick had gone I put his morning's work in the fire. Now how do I know he talked? This way. A week later I met Mary Bowden in the High Street, and I had the fright of my life. I declare I thought she'd ha' kissed me. It was 'I hope you are prudent to be out in this east wind, dear Mr. Mottisfont,' and I must come and see them soon—and oh, Lord, what fools women are! Mary Bowden never could abide me till she thought I'd left her two thousand pounds."
"Fenwicks aren't the only lawyers in the world," suggested David.
"Much obliged, I'm sure. I did go to one once to make a will—they say it's sweet to play the fool sometimes—eh, David? Fool I was sure enough. I found a little mottled man, that sat blinking at me, and repeating my words, till I could have murdered him with his own office pen-knife. He called me Moral too, in stead of Morell. 'Edward Moral Mottisfont,' and I took occasion to inform him that I wasn't moral, never had been moral, and never intended to be moral. I said he must be thinking of my nephew Edward, who was damn moral. Oh, Lord, here is Edward. I could ha' done without him."
The door opened as he was speaking, and young Edward Mottisfont came in. He was a slight, fair man with a well-shaped head, a straight nose, and as much chin as a great many other people. He wore pince-nez because he was short-sighted, and high collars because he had a long neck. Both the pincenez and the collar had an intensely irritating effect upon old Mr. Edward Mottisfont.
"If he hadn't been for ever blinking at some bug that was just out of his sight, his eyes would have been as good as mine, and he might just as well keep his head in a butterfly net or a collecting box as where he does keep it. Not that I should have said that Edward did keep his head."
"I think you flurry him, sir," said David, "and—"
"I know I do," grinned Mr. Mottisfont.
Young Edward Mottisfont came into the room and shut the door.
Old Mr. Mottisfont watched him with black, malicious eyes.
For as many years as Edward could remember anything, he could remember just that look upon his uncle's face. It made him uneasy now, as it had made him uneasy when he was only five years old.
Once when he was fifteen he said to David Blake: "You cheek him, David, and he likes you for it. How on earth do you manage it? Doesn't he make you feel beastly?"
And David stared and said: "Beastly? Rats! Why should I feel beastly? He's jolly amusing. He makes me laugh."
At thirty, Edward no longer employed quite the same ingenuous slang, but there was no doubt that he still experienced the same sensations, which fifteen years earlier he had characterized as beastly.
Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont lay in bed with his hands folded on his chest. He watched his nephew with considerable amusement, and waited for him to speak.
Edward took a chair beside the bed. Then he said that it was a fine day, and old Mr. Mottisfont nodded twice with much solemnity.
"Yes, Edward," he said.
There was a pause.
"I hope you are feeling pretty well," was the unfortunate Edward's next attempt at conversation.
Old Mr. Edward Mottisfont looked across at David Blake. "Am I feeling pretty well—eh, David?"
David laughed. He had moved when Edward came into the room, and was standing by the window looking out. A little square pane was open. Through it came the drowsy murmur of a drowsy, old-fashioned town. Mr. Mottisfont's house stood a few yards back from the road, just at the head of the High Street. Market Harford was a very old town, and the house was a very old house. There was a staircase which was admired by American visitors, and a front door for which they occasionally made bids. From where Mr. Mottisfont lay in bed he could see a narrow lane hedged in by high old houses with red tiles. Beyond, the ground fell sharply away, and there was a prospect of many red roofs. Farther still, beyond the river, he could see the great black chimneys of his foundry, and the smoke that came from them. It was the sight that he loved best in the world. David looked down into the High Street and watched one lamp after another spring into brightness. He could see a long ribbon of light go down to the river and then rise again. He turned back into the room when he was appealed to, and said:
"Why, you know best how you feel, sir."
"Oh, no," said old Mr. Mottisfont in a smooth, resigned voice. "Oh, no, David. In a private and unofficial sort of way, yes; but in a public and official sense, oh, dear, no. Edward wants to know when to order his mourning, and how to arrange his holiday so as not to clash with my funeral, so it is for my medical adviser to reply, ain't it, Edward?"
The colour ran to the roots of Edward Mottisfont's fair hair. He cast an appealing glance in David's direction, and did not speak.
"I don't think any of us will order our mourning till you're dead, sir," said David with a chuckle. He commiserated Edward, but, after all, Edward was a lucky dog—and to see one's successful rival at a disadvantage is not an altogether unpleasant experience. "You'll outlive some of us young ones yet," he added, but old Mr. Mottisfont was frowning.
"Seen any more of young Stevenson, Edward?" he said, with an abrupt change of manner.
Edward shook his head rather ruefully.
"No, sir, I haven't."
"No, and you ain't likely to," said old Mr. Mottisfont. "There, you'd best be gone. I've talked enough."
"Then good-night, sir," said Edward Mottisfont, getting up with some show of cheerfulness.
The tone of Mr. Mottisfont's good-night was not nearly such a pleasant one, and as soon as the door had closed upon Edward he flung round towards David Blake with an angry "What's the good of him? What's the good of the fellow? He's not a business man. He's not a man at all; he's an entomologiac—a lepidoptofool—a damn lepidoptofool."
These remarkable epithets followed one another with an extraordinary rapidity.
When the old gentleman paused for breath David inquired, "What's the trouble, sir?"
"Oh, he's muddled the new contract with Stevenson. Thinking of butterflies, I expect. Pretty things, butterflies—but there—I don't see that I need distress myself. It ain't me it's going to touch. It's Edward's own lookout. My income ain't going to concern me for very much longer."
He was silent for a moment. Then he made a restless movement with his hand.
"It won't, will it—eh, David? You didn't mean what you said just now? It was just a flam? I ain't going to live, am I?"
David hesitated and the old man broke in with an extraordinary energy.
"Oh, for the Lord's sake, David, I'm not a girl—out with it! How long d' ye give me?"
David sat down on the bed again. His movements had a surprising gentleness for so large a man. His odd, humorous face was quite serious.
"Really, sir, I don't know," he said, "I really don't. There's no more to be done if you won't let me operate. No, we won't go over all that again. I know you've made up your mind. And no one can possibly say how long it may be. You might have died this week, or you may die in a month, or it may go on for a year—or two—or three. You've the sort of constitution they don't make nowadays."
"Three years," said old Mr. Edward Mottisfont—"three years, David—and this damn pain all along—all the time—getting worse—"
"Oh, I think we can relieve the pain, sir," said David cheerfully.
"Much obliged, David. Some beastly drug that'll turn me into an idiot. No, thank ye, I'll keep my wits if it's all the same to you. Well, well, it's all in the day's work, and I'm not complaining, but Edward'll get mortal tired of waiting for my shoes if I last three years. I doubt his patience holding out. He'll be bound to hasten matters on. Think of the bad example I shall be for the baby—when it comes. Lord, David, what d' ye want to look like that for? I suppose they'll have babies like other folk, and I'll be a bad example for 'em. Edward'll think of that. When he's thought of it enough, and I've got on his nerves a bit more than usual, he'll put strychnine or arsenic into my soup. Oh, Edward'll poison me yet. You'll see."
"Poor old Edward, it's not much in his line," said David with half a laugh.
"Eh? What about Pellico's dog then?"
"Pellico's dog, sir?"
"What an innocent young man you are, David—never heard of Pellico's dog before, did you? Pellico's dog that got on Edward's nerves same as I get on his nerves, and you never knew that Edward dosed the poor brute with some of his bug-curing stuff, eh? To be sure you didn't think I knew, nor did Edward. I don't tell everything I know, and how I know it is my affair and none of yours, Master David Blake, but you see Edward's not so unhandy with a little job in the poisoning line."
David's face darkened. The incident of Pellico's dog had occurred when he and Edward were schoolboys of fifteen. He remembered it very well, but he did not very much care being reminded of it. Every day of his life he passed the narrow turning, down which, in defiance of parental prohibitions, he and Edward used to race each other to school. Old Pellico's dirty, evil-smelling shop still jutted out of the farther end, and the grimy door-step upon which his dog used to lie in wait for their ankles was still as grimy as ever. Sometimes it was a trouser-leg that suffered. Sometimes an ankle was nipped, and if Pellico's dog occasionally got a kick in return, it was not more than his due. David remembered his own surprise when it first dawned upon him that Edward minded—yes, actually minded these encounters. He recalled the occasion when Edward, his face of a suspicious pallor, had denied angrily that he was afraid of any beastly dog, and then his sudden wincing confession that he did mind—that he minded horribly—not because he was afraid of being bitten—Edward explained this point very carefully—but because the dog made such a beastly row, and because Edward dreamed of him at night, only in his dreams, Pellico's dog was rather larger than Pellico himself, and the lane was a cul-de-sac with a wall at the end of it, against which he crouched in his dream whilst the dog came nearer and nearer.
"What rot," was David's comment, "but if I felt like that, I jolly well know I'd knock the brute on the head."
"Would you?" said Edward, and that was all that had passed. Only, when a week later Pellico's dog was poisoned, David was filled with righteous indignation. He stormed at Edward.
"You did it—you know you did it. You did it with some of that beastly bug-killing stuff that you keep knocking about."
Edward was pale, but there was an odd gleam of triumph in the eyes that met David's.
"Well, you said you'd do for him—you said it yourself. So then I just did it."
David stared at him with all a schoolboy's crude condemnation of something that was "not the game."
"I'd have knocked him on the head under old Pellico's nose—but poison—poison's beastly."
He did not reason about it. It was just instinct. You knocked on the head a brute that annoyed you, but you didn't use poison. And Edward had used poison. That was the beginning of David's great intimacy with Elizabeth Chantrey. He did not quarrel with Edward, but they drifted out of an inseparable friendship into a relationship of the cool, go-as-you-please order. The thing rankled a little after all these years. David sat there frowning and remembering. Old Mr. Mottisfont laughed.
Excerpted from The Fire Within by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI. MR. MOTTISFONT'S OPINION OF HIS NEPHEW,
II. DAVID BLAKE,
III. DEAD MEN'S SHOES,
IV. A MAN'S HONOUR,
V. TOWN TALK,
VI. THE LETTER,
VII. ELIZABETH CHANTREY,
VIII. EDWARD SINGS,
IX. MARY IS SHOCKED,
X. EDWARD IS PUT OUT,
XI. FORGOTTEN WAYS,
XII. THE GREY WOLF,
XIII. MARCH GOES OUT,
XIV. THE GOLDEN WIND,
XV. LOVE MUST TO SCHOOL,
XVII. THE DREAM,
XVIII. THE FACE OF LOVE,
XIX. THE FULL MOON,
XX. THE WOMAN OF THE DREAM,
XXI. ELIZABETH BLAKE,
XXII. AFTER THE DREAM,
XXIII. ELIZABETH WAITS,
XXIV. THE LOST NAME,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I think fo mystery buffs who like a sequestered plot like Daphne Maurier's Rebecca this is an excellent read.The author is English. She has written probably 100 books or more. I think Fire Within was an intellectual portrayal of the human psychic and temperament. I highly recommend it.
i had never heard of this author before and was pleasantly surprised by the plot line and story. give her a try!
So badly edited it is unreadable. I gave up.
It has missing words and extra letters in the words that it does have.