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The Red Thumb Mark
A Dr. Thorndyke Mystery
By R. Austin Freeman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MY LEARNED BROTHER
"Conflagratam An° 1677. Fabricatam An° 1698. Richardo Powell Armiger Thesaurar." The words, set in four panels, which formed a frieze beneath the pediment of a fine brick portico, summarised the history of one of the tall houses at the upper end of King's Bench Walk and as I, somewhat absently, read over the inscription, my attention was divided between admiration of the exquisitely finished carved brickwork and the quiet dignity of the building, and an effort to reconstitute the dead and gone Richard Powell, and the stirring times in which he played his part.
I was about to turn away when the empty frame of the portico became occupied by a figure, and one so appropriate, in its wig and obsolete habiliments, to the old-world surroundings that it seemed to complete the picture, and I lingered idly to look at it. The barrister had halted in the doorway to turn over a sheaf of papers that he held in his hand, and, as he replaced the red tape which bound them together, he looked up and our eyes met. For a moment we regarded one another with the incurious gaze that casual strangers bestow on one another; then there was a flash of mutual recognition; the impassive and rather severe face of the lawyer softened into a genial smile, and the figure, detaching itself from its frame, came down the steps with a hand extended in cordial greeting.
"My dear Jervis," he exclaimed, as we clasped hands warmly, "this is a great and delightful surprise. How often have I thought of my old comrade and wondered if I should ever see him again, and lo! here he is, thrown up on the sounding beach of the Inner Temple, like the proverbial bread cast upon the waters."
"Your surprise, Thorndyke, is nothing to mine," I replied, "for your bread has at least returned as bread; whereas I am in the position of a man who, having cast his bread upon the waters, sees it return in the form of a buttered muffin or a Bath bun. I left a respectable medical practitioner and I find him transformed into a bewigged and begowned limb of the law."
Thorndyke laughed at the comparison.
"Liken not your old friend unto a Bath bun," said he. "Say, rather, that you left him a chrysalis and come back to find him a butterfly. But the change is not so great as you think. Hippocrates is only hiding under the gown of Solon, as you will understand when I explain my metamorphosis; and that I will do this very evening, if you have no engagement."
"I am one of the unemployed at present," I said, "and quite at your service."
"Then come round to my chambers at seven," said Thorndyke, "and we will have a chop and a pint of claret together and exchange autobiographies. I am due in court in a few minutes."
"Do you reside within that noble old portico?" I asked.
"No," replied Thorndyke. "I often wish I did. It would add several inches to one's stature to feel that the mouth of one's burrow was graced with a Latin inscription for admiring strangers to ponder over. No; my chambers are some doors further down—number 6A" —and he turned to point out the house as we crossed towards Crown Office Row.
At the top of Middle Temple Lane we parted, Thorndyke taking his way with fluttering gown towards the Law Courts, while I directed my steps westward towards Adam Street, the chosen haunt of the medical agent.
The soft-voiced bell of the Temple clock was telling out the hour of seven in muffled accents (as though it apologised for breaking the studious silence) as I emerged from the archway of Mitre Court and turned into King's Bench Walk.
The paved footway was empty save for a single figure, pacing slowly before the doorway of number 6A, in which, though the wig had now given place to a felt hat and the gown to a jacket, I had no difficulty in recognising my friend.
"Punctual to the moment, as of old," said he, meeting me half-way. "What a blessed virtue is punctuality, even in small things. I have just been taking the air in Fountain Court, and will now introduce you to my chambers. Here is my humble retreat."
We passed in through the common entrance and ascended the stone stairs to the first floor, where we were confronted by a massive door, above which my friend's name was written in white letters.
"Rather a forbidding exterior," remarked Thorndyke, as he inserted the latchkey, "but it is homely enough inside."
The heavy door swung outwards and disclosed a baize-covered inner door, which Thorndyke pushed open and held for me to pass in.
"You will find my chambers an odd mixture," said Thorndyke, "for they combine the attractions of an office, a museum, a laboratory and a workshop."
"And a restaurant," added a small, elderly man, who was decanting a bottle of claret by means of a glass syphon: "you forgot that, sir."
"Yes, I forgot that, Polton," said Thorndyke, "but I see you have not." He glanced towards a small table that had been placed near the fire and set out with the requisites for our meal.
"Tell me," said Thorndyke, as we made the initial onslaught on the products of Polton's culinary experiments, "what has been happening to you since you left the hospital six years ago?"
"My story is soon told," I answered, somewhat bitterly. "It is not an uncommon one. My funds ran out, as you know, rather unexpectedly. When I had paid my examination and registration fees the coffer was absolutely empty, and though, no doubt, a medical diploma contains—to use Johnson's phrase—the potentiality of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, there is a vast difference in practice between the potential and the actual. I have, in fact, been earning a subsistence, sometimes as an assistant, sometimes as a locum tenens. Just now I've got no work to do, and so have entered my name on Turcival's list of eligibles."
Thorndyke pursed up his lips and frowned.
"It's a wicked shame, Jervis," said he presently, "that a man of your abilities and scientific acquirements should be frittering away his time on odd jobs like some half-qualified wastrel."
"It is," I agreed. "My merits are grossly undervalued by a stiff- necked and obtuse generation. But what would you have, my learned brother? If poverty steps behind you and claps the occulting bushel over your thirty thousand candle-power luminary, your brilliancy is apt to be obscured."
"Yes, I suppose that is so," grunted Thorndyke, and he remained for a time in deep thought.
"And now," said I, "let us have your promised explanation. I am positively frizzling with curiosity to know what chain of circumstances has converted John Evelyn Thorndyke from a medical practitioner into a luminary of the law."
Thorndyke smiled indulgently.
"The fact is," said he, "that no such transformation has occurred. John Evelyn Thorndyke is still a medical practitioner."
"What, in a wig and gown!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, a mere sheep in wolf's clothing," he replied. "I will tell you how it has come about. After you left the hospital, six years ago, I stayed on, taking up any small appointments that were going—assistant demonstrator—or curatorships and such like—hung about the chemical and physical laboratories, the museum and post mortem room, and meanwhile took my M.D. and D.Sc. Then I got called to the bar in the hope of getting a coronership, but soon after this, old Stedman retired unexpectedly—you remember Stedman, the lecturer on medical jurisprudence—and I put in for the vacant post. Rather to my surprise, I was appointed lecturer, whereupon I dismissed the coronership from my mind, took my present chambers and sat down to wait for anything that might come."
"And what has come?" I asked.
"Why, a very curious assortment of miscellaneous practice," he replied. "At first I only got an occasional analysis in a doubtful poisoning case, but, by degrees, my sphere of influence has extended until it now includes all cases in which a special knowledge of medicine or physical science can be brought to bear upon law."
"But you plead in court, I observe," said I.
"Very seldom," he replied. "More usually I appear in the character of that bête noir of judges and counsel—the scientific witness. But in most instances I do not appear at all; I merely direct investigations, arrange and analyse the results, and prime the counsel with facts and suggestions for cross-examination."
"A good deal more interesting than acting as understudy for an absent g.p.," said I, a little enviously. "But you deserve to succeed, for you were always a deuce of a worker, to say nothing of your capabilities."
"Yes, I worked hard," replied Thorndyke, "and I work hard still; but I have my hours of labour and my hours of leisure, unlike you poor devils of general practitioners, who are liable to be dragged away from the dinner table or roused out of your first sleep by—confound it all! who can that be?"
For at this moment, as a sort of commentary on his self-congratulation, there came a smart rapping at the outer door.
"Must see who it is, I suppose," he continued, "though one expects people to accept the hint of a closed oak."
He strode across the room and flung open the door with an air of by no means gracious inquiry.
"It's rather late for a business call," said an apologetic voice outside, "but my client was anxious to see you without delay."
"Come in, Mr. Lawley," said Thorndyke, rather stiffly, and, as he held the door open, the two visitors entered. They were both men—one middle-aged, rather foxy in appearance and of a typically legal aspect, and the other a fine, handsome young fellow of very prepossessing exterior, though at present rather pale and wild-looking, and evidently in a state of profound agitation.
"I am afraid," said the latter, with a glance at me and the dinner table, "that our visit—for which I am alone responsible—is a most unseasonable one. If we are really inconveniencing you, Dr. Thorndyke, pray tell us, and my business must wait."
Thorndyke had cast a keen and curious glance at the young man, and he now replied in a much more genial tone—
"I take it that your business is of a kind that will not wait, and as to inconveniencing us, why, my friend and I are both doctors, and, as you are aware, no doctor expects to call any part of the twenty-four hours his own unreservedly."
I had risen on the entrance of the two strangers, and now proposed to take a walk on the Embankment and return later, but the young man interrupted me.
"Pray don't go away on my account," he said. "The facts that I am about to lay before Dr. Thorndyke will be known to all the world by this time to-morrow, so there is no occasion for any show of secrecy."
"In that case," said Thorndyke, "let us draw our chairs up to the fire and fall to business forthwith. We had just finished our dinner and were waiting for the coffee, which I hear my man bringing down at this moment."
We accordingly drew up our chairs, and when Polton had set the coffee on the table and retired, the lawyer plunged into the matter without preamble.CHAPTER 2
"I had better," said he, "give you a general outline of the case as it presents itself to the legal mind, and then my client, Mr. Reuben Hornby, can fill in the details if necessary, and answer any questions that you may wish to put to him.
"Mr. Reuben occupies a position of trust in the business of his uncle, John Hornby, who is a gold and silver refiner and dealer in precious metals generally. There is a certain amount of outside assay work carried on in the establishment, but the main business consists in the testing and refining of samples of gold sent from certain mines in South Africa.
"About five years ago Mr. Reuben and his cousin Walter—another nephew of John Hornby—left school, and both were articled to their uncle, with the view to their ultimately becoming partners in the house; and they have remained with him ever since, occupying, as I have said, positions of considerable responsibility.
"And now for a few words as to how business is conducted in Mr. Hornby's establishment. The samples of gold are handed over at the docks to some accredited representative of the firm—generally either Mr. Reuben or Mr. Walter—who has been despatched to meet the ship, and conveyed either to the bank or to the works according to circumstances. Of course every effort is made to have as little gold as possible on the premises, and the bars are always removed to the bank at the earliest opportunity; but it happens unavoidably that samples of considerable value have often to remain on the premises all night, and so the works are furnished with a large and powerful safe or strong room for their reception. This safe is situated in the private office under the eye of the principal, and, as an additional precaution, the caretaker, who acts as night-watchman, occupies a room directly over the office, and patrols the building periodically through the night.
"Now a very strange thing has occurred with regard to this safe. It happens that one of Mr. Hornby's customers in South Africa is interested in a diamond mine, and, although transactions in precious stones form no part of the business of the house, he has, from time to time, sent parcels of rough diamonds addressed to Mr. Hornby, to be either deposited in the bank or handed on to the diamond brokers.
"A fortnight ago Mr. Hornby was advised that a parcel of stones had been despatched by the Elmina Castle, and it appeared that the parcel was an unusually large one and contained stones of exceptional size and value. Under these circumstances Mr. Reuben was sent down to the docks at an early hour in the hope the ship might arrive in time for the stones to be lodged in the bank at once. Unfortunately, however, this was not the case, and the diamonds had to be taken to the works and locked up in the safe."
"Who placed them in the safe?" asked Thorndyke.
"Mr. Hornby himself, to whom Mr. Reuben delivered up the package on his return from the docks."
"Yes," said Thorndyke, "and what happened next?"
"Well, on the following morning, when the safe was opened, the diamonds had disappeared."
"Had the place been broken into?" asked Thorndyke.
"No. The place was all locked up as usual, and the caretaker, who had made his accustomed rounds, had heard nothing, and the safe was, outwardly, quite undisturbed. It had evidently been opened with keys and locked again after the stones were removed."
"And in whose custody were the keys of the safe?" inquired Thorndyke.
"Mr. Hornby usually kept the keys himself, but, on occasions, when he was absent from the office, he handed them over to one of his nephews—whichever happened to be in charge at the time. But on this occasion the keys did not go out of his custody from the time when he locked up the safe, after depositing the diamonds in it, to the time when it was opened by him on the following morning."
"And was there anything that tended to throw suspicion upon anyone?" asked Thorndyke.
"Why, yes," said Mr. Lawley, with an uncomfortable glance at his client, "unfortunately there was. It seemed that the person who abstracted the diamonds must have cut or scratched his thumb or finger in some way, for there were two drops of blood on the bottom of the safe and one or two bloody smears on a piece of paper, and, in addition, a remarkably clear imprint of a thumb."
"Also in blood?" asked Thorndyke.
"Yes. The thumb had apparently been put down on one of the drops and then, while still wet with blood, had been pressed on the paper in taking hold of it or otherwise."
"Well, and what next?"
"Well," said the lawyer, fidgeting in his chair, "to make a long story short, the thumb-print has been identified as that of Mr. Reuben Hornby."
"Ha!" exclaimed Thorndyke. "The plot thickens with a vengeance. I had better jot down a few notes before you proceed any further."
He took from a drawer a small paper-covered notebook, on the cover of which he wrote "Reuben Hornby," and then, laying the book open on a blotting-pad, which he rested on his knee, he made a few brief notes.
Excerpted from The Red Thumb Mark by R. Austin Freeman. Copyright © 2014 MysteriousPress.com/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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
|1||My Learned Brother||1|
|3||A Lady in the Case||19|
|6||Committed for Trial||56|
|7||Shoals and Quicksands||66|
|8||A Suspicious Accident||74|
|10||Polton is Mystified||90|
|12||It Might Have Been||117|
|13||Murder by Post||126|
|14||A Startling Discovery||140|
|15||The Fingerprint Experts||151|
|16||Thorndyke Plays His Card||181|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A great mystery novel. I love mystery novels, and think any fan of mystery would love it.
Originally written in 1907, The Red Thumb Mark opens the series by R. Austin Freeman featuring Dr. Thorndyke, who is a sort of Sherlock-Holmes type character without the neuroses. Thorndyke is both a doctor and a lawyer, as well as a scientist. He has a butler/assistant named Polton and a friend who also serves as an assistant and confidant, Jervis, who provides the brief bit of romance in the novel (not overdone...very prim and proper, always the proper gentleman). The Red Thumb Mark opens with a crime. A young man, nephew of a diamond broker, is accused of stealing a quantity of diamonds from his uncle's safe. According to all, this act is totally out of character for the man (Reuben Hornby), who also has an income of his own so is by no means a poor relation. Of course, Reuben declares his innocence; however, the evidence reveals Reuben's thumbprint very clearly on the safe perfectly encased in a drop of blood. If Reuben didn't do it, then why is his thumbprint there? How's he going to get out of this predicament??? Dr. Thorndyke to the rescue...as he attempts to clear Reuben's good name. But there are those who do not wish him to succeed....I'll stop there in case there is anyone else here that may be remotely interested in reading this book. I like these old mysteries, and I love the House of Stratus reprints editions. If you are into these classic-style mysteries, you may wish to give this one a try. If you want mainstream, you won't be happy. It's a thinking person's type of mystery.
Cannot find my review, and the book is off my nook.