Read From Afar Online

Authors: John Russell Fearn

Tags: #murder, #mystery, #science fiction, #crime, #detective

From Afar

BOOK: From Afar
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COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Copyright © 1946 by John Russell Fearn

Copyright © 1982, 2011 by Philip Harbottle

Published by Wildside Press LLC

www.wildsidebooks.com

DEDICATION

For Morgan Wallace

CHAPTER ONE

It is a remarkable story that I have to tell, but since I have the permission of the law, and of my wife to do so, I think that I ought to set the whole astounding experience on record since it is still occupying the energies of the world's greatest psychiatrists. Surely no married couple was ever so damned as Beryl and I from the start of our life together....

We were married on a glorious June day. Our engagement had not been a long one. In fact I had reached the age of thirty-seven, and had come to consider myself as almost a confirmed bachelor when a visit to a Birmingham stockbroker's firm brought me into contact with Beryl Wilson. At that time she was a very efficient secretary to a wealthy broker.

My own business being in stocks and shares, I conceived all sorts of reasons for going to Birmingham, and finally—well, you know how such things are—Beryl Wilson became Mrs. Richard Shaw. I had become utterly entranced with this blonde-haired girl with the merry blue eyes. She was eight years my junior; filled with a terrible zest for living. I never knew a girl to love speed so much.

Taking it all round our marriage was a pretty quiet affair. When we left the church we had already decided that our honeymoon would be spent at a quiet little hotel in Cornwall, to which I was going to drive us in my car. So, loaded up with luggage and with old shoes tied on the car's rear bumper we started off on that brilliantly sunny morning.

“Everything fixed?” Beryl asked me, when we were speeding down the country lanes.

“Everything,” I acknowledged smiling. “I've arranged that we stop at the Ashdown Hotel for lunch, when we can also get rid of these fancy-dress clothes, then on again to Cornwall. We'll be there by teatime.”

“I suppose,” she mused, “we are indeed absolutely alone—just together in the world if I can put it that way. You have only a housekeeper and a handyman; I have—or had—only a landlady. No parents—”

“And all the future before us,” I murmured. “I'm fairly well off for money, with a good business. We don't need anybody to help us....”

Beryl nodded dreamily; then, as she watched the road ahead she sat up suddenly. Bright-eyed, she turned to me.

“Let me drive for a while, Dick, will you? You don't go half fast enough for my liking. You know how I like to get along—especially in a lovely roadster like this. Go on! Please!”

Well, it isn't easy to refuse your bride when she puts it like that; so I stopped the car and we changed places. I watched her slender, capable hands grip the steering wheel. She let in the clutch and depressed the accelerator gently—at first. For about a couple of miles she drove as sedately as if following a hearse, presumably to get the feel of the car, then her merry blue eyes glanced at me.

“Feel in the mood for a nice, swift run?” she asked me, impishly.

“Within limits,” I responded, a trifle uneasy as I remembered her weakness.

My assent settled it for her. Gradually her foot pressed lower on the accelerator, and I watched the speed indicator creep up from forty to fifty, then gradually, to sixty. We were in an unrestricted area, of course, with a straight sunlit lane devoid of traffic ahead of us, but even so it seemed a pretty alarming rate to me.

But Beryl was not nearly satisfied yet. She was enjoying every moment of this, the wind blowing the blonde hair back from her lovely face, her eyes fixed keenly straight ahead. Sixty—sixty-six—seventy—seventy-five—!

“Berry!” I cried at last. “Berry, for heaven's sake ease up a bit!”

“Why? We're only just getting a real move on—!” And she added five miles an hour to the speed in mischievous retaliation. Then, suddenly, it happened! I could not be quite sure what occurred but I noticed a queer expression settle on Beryl's face. It was not the look of sudden illness but more of fear and intense perplexity.

This seemed odd to me for I had never seen her afraid in all the time I had known her, and certainly never perplexed. Perhaps it lasted fifteen seconds, then, quite abruptly, her features went blank and her hands dropped from the wheel into her lap.

“Beryl—!” I screamed, but it was too late then.

Going at its present speed and uncontrolled, the car lost the crown of the road and hurtled straight for the bank. For a numbing split second I saw a telegraph pole hurtling towards me.

The rest was an exploding, tearing hell of steel, glass and leather. Then—

Darkness.

* * * * * * *

My mind is in complete confusion concerning the events that followed the smash. I have a dim remembrance of chaotic dreams, of visions of nurses going to and fro, and once the outlines of an operating theater pervaded my consciousness.... Until at last I became rational enough to be able to understand where I was, and ask questions.

Sealed in a plaster cast from waist to shoulders I learned that I had sustained several broken ribs, a fractured arm, and multiple cuts and abrasions. But now it was only a matter of convalescence.

“And my wife?” I asked the doctor in charge of my case. He did not answer immediately.

“I want the truth,” I went on quickly. “Why don't you answer my question?”

He looked at me steadily and I felt the grip of horror.

“Doc, you don't mean that she's—she's dead?”

“No, not dead,” he reassured me. “She sustained multiple injuries from the crash just as you did, but we've fixed her up all right. As far as we can tell medically she is a normal woman again, except for one thing—the way she looks at you.”

“The—the way she
looks
at you?” I repeated in astonishment.

“I don't think I have ever seen such a strange light in the eyes of a woman before! It's mysterious—eerie, yet somehow contemptuous. Her face though remains expressionless. All the pain she has endured has not even made her wince! Yet her nervous system is not in any way injured. I'm afraid I can't explain it to you very well. You will have to see her for yourself—when you're better—”

With this he left me, and of course, from then onwards my one anxiety was to get well again and find out what had happened to my beloved Beryl. Even so it was another six weeks before my wish was gratified and by this time she too was ready for discharge. So, for the first time since the accident we met each other in Dr. Mason's office.

Now I realized what Mason had meant. To all outward appearances my wife was as young and good to look at as ever, trimly smart in the costume that had been provided for her, but there
was
a difference, an intense paleness of face, explainable perhaps by the ordeal she had been through; and those eyes! How changed they were indeed—
how
changed!

Certainly she looked at me in full recognition, but with such indefinable insolence that my intended greeting died without being uttered. Instead I felt an uncommonly strong desire to hit her. I cannot describe what else I saw in her eyes; they were depthless, mysterious, had the peculiar quality of looking at me and yet at the same time beyond me to...somewhere.

“You are Richard Shaw, my husband, aren't you?” she asked me in level tones.

I stared at her. “Well of course I am!” I answered in amazement. “Of all the extraordinary questions!”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Since we have been parted from each other so long I thought it as well to make sure.”

Just for a moment I wondered if this was one of her mischievous tricks, then her utterly impassive expression convinced me otherwise. She had meant every word in all seriousness.

“I believe,” Dr. Mason said, glancing at her, then at me, “that Mrs. Shaw is still suffering from the effects of the accident—”

“Nothing of the kind!” Beryl interrupted. “You made a thorough examination of me this morning and pronounced me quite fit to be discharged. You must remember it.”

“Yes,” Mason admitted. “That is true.”

He looked at her for a moment as though trying to make up his mind about something, then he turned back to me again. “In accordance with your wishes, Mr. Shaw, I have had all the necessary arrangements made. Your car—repaired now I understand—is in the Crossways Garage. I had your home contacted and your housekeeper is expecting you and Mrs. Shaw today. A taxi will be here shortly at three o'clock. In fact,” Mason added, glancing through the window, “I believe it is here now.”

He got to his feet and pressed a button. A porter came and took away the bags, retrieved from the car, then Beryl looked at me expectantly and rose from her chair. Without so much as a word of farewell or thanks to Mason she followed the porter from the room. It was so unlike her usual graciousness I just couldn't understand it.

“I must apologize for her, Doctor,” I said worriedly. “I've no idea why she is behaving like this. She seems to have forgotten everyday manners.”

“And yet she reacted perfectly to every psychological test we gave her. So it isn't a peculiar form of amnesia....” Mason's craggy face became thoughtful for a moment; then finally he shrugged. “She's the queerest patient I have ever known.”

I shook the big hand he held out to me and he saw me to the door. Beryl was seated in the back of the taxi, waiting for me.

“He wants to know where we're going,” she said, nodding to the driver. “Since I don't know you'd better tell him.”

“But, Berry, you know where my home is: you've been to it many a time. Whatever's the matter with your memory?”

“Suppose you tell him where to go and stop bothering about my memory?”

I hesitated for a moment, then turned to the driver:

“Keep on going until you get to the village, then I'll direct you from there.”

He nodded and closed the door upon us when I had settled beside Beryl. Soon we were speeding down the Sanatorium driveway and so out into the main road.

We had covered five miles and gone right past that fateful spot where we had had the collision before Beryl seemed to think it necessary to speak again, and then her words only served to deepen the confusion in my mind.

“What are we going to do with our lives from now on, Richard Shaw?”

“Did—did you call me—Richard Shaw?” I whispered.

“Yes, of course. That's your name, isn't it?”

I caught at her hand and held it tightly.

“Listen, Berry, if this is some kind of a joke you are trying to keep up for God's sake bring it to an end right now. I've had every bit as much as I can stand! Richard Shaw indeed! I'm Dick to you, and always have been, just as you are Berry to me.”

The absurdity of having to explain such a thing to her did not occur to me at the moment. Actually I think I believed at that time that she definitely was a victim of some kind of brain trouble. And yet she did not look vague—anything but it. Her blue eyes were fixed on me, gazing, not exactly at me, but through me, to something beyond....

“All right,” she said presently, “It's Dick from now on. But I still want to know what we are going to do with our lives. What does one usually do?”

This was about the limit! I was beginning to think of myself as a teacher forced to instruct a grown woman with the brain of a child. What a task for a newly-married husband who had been looking forward to wedded bliss!

“You really mean you don't know—or at any rate can't remember—how we are to live?” I asked incredulously.

“I mean just that, yes. Why do you take so long to answer?”

“Because it's such a damned impossible thing to realize!” I retorted. “Anyway we are going to live together ‘until death us do part,' else we run into such intolerable circumstances that we decide to part legally from each other.”

“I understand we are going to live in your house?” she asked after a while.

“Right,” I assented. “You'll soon get your health back there. There will be plenty of people about to keep you from getting depressed—”

“I don't like people,” she interrupted. “In fact I don't think your home is going to suit me for a moment. I want somewhere quiet and undisturbed, where the only interruptions are those we make ourselves.”

“You want quiet!” I exclaimed. “Berry, to me you just aren't the same girl. Why, until the accident your one joy in life was the company of other people. You just lived on thrills, went the round of the shows. This new attitude is beyond my understanding.”

“Don't forget that I've been ill,” she said—but I felt somehow that she was only using this for an excuse. “It's only natural that I should want rest and quiet—”

She broke off and pointed suddenly through the window.

“There! That's the kind of place I mean!”

I looked quickly as the taxi went speeding along the main road, and for a moment I had a glimpse of a massive, detached house, extremely old-fashioned in the Georgian style, lying well back in its own grounds. Slanting lopsidedly over the untidy hedge was a notice board “FOR SALE,” but we were going too fast for me to get the name of the agent.

“That would be marvelous!” Beryl breathed, looking back through the rear window. “So quiet...so restful!”

She swung round to me with the first show of emotion she had revealed so far.

“Dick, I want that place!” she said abruptly.

“We'll talk about it later,” I promised, but all the same I made up my mind that I wouldn't even refer to it again unless she did. Its very appearance had given me the creeps....

She became silent again, but I noticed that she paid particular attention to the name of the village as we passed an Automobile Club sign—Bilton-on-Maybury. Evidently she had conceived a liking for the place even if I hadn't.

Very little further conversation passed between us until twenty minutes later the taxi drew up outside my home. I helped Beryl to alight while the driver went ahead with our bags.

Beryl stood surveying the house for a time, then she looked at the busy main road, and sighed.

BOOK: From Afar
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