Authors: Anthony Berkeley
NOT TO BE TAKEN
Born in 1893, Anthony Berkeley (Anthony Berkeley Cox) was a British crime writer and a leading member of the genre’s Golden Age. Educated at Sherborne School and University College London, Berkeley served in the British army during WWI before becoming a journalist. His first novel,
The Layton Court Murders
, was published anonymously in 1925. It introduced Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective who features in many of the author’s novels including the classic
Poisoned Chocolates Case
. In 1930, Berkeley founded the legendary Detection Club in London along with Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and other established mystery writers. It was in 1938, under the pseudonym Francis Iles (which Berkeley also used for novels) that he took up work as a book reviewer for
John O’London’s Weekly
The Daily Telegraph
. He later wrote for
The Sunday Times
in the mid 1940s, and then for
from the mid 1950s until 1970. A key figure in the development of crime fiction, he died in 1971.
NOT TO BE TAKEN
THE LANGTAIL PRESS
This edition published 2011 by
The Langtail Press
Not to be Taken © 1938 Anthony Berkeley
Shocks for the Coroner
Is it my imagination, or have other people noticed too that there is something slightly sinister about the third of September?
It is a date I shall never be able to overlook; and now when it comes round I observe that it is one of those decadent days, half dying summer and half autumnal, with the worst features of both – sudden sharp and inexplicable gusts of wind that yet do not seem to relieve the oppressiveness of thunder lurking somewhere just round the horizon, sunlight slanting under heavy dull clouds, a drip-drip unseen but persistent from the last night’s rain, battered flowers, prematurely yellowing leaves and a general sense of foreboding and decay.
I suppose it is my imagination, but I know that particular third of September was just such a day. I can remember every detail of it. I can even remember that we had filleted herrings for lunch, and that the mustard sauce was a shade on the strong side. I can remember that the tea tray had a smear of jam on the underside, which got onto the table and thence onto a rather austere patchwork of quilt that Frances was making with a black-and-white design, and how cross she was, and how inexplicable the smear was at all, because there was no jam at our tea and no jam, apparently, anywhere except on the underside of the tray. I can remember, too, that the maid was wiping the table with a damp cloth when the front-door bell rang, and she had to leave the table to answer it.
She came back and told me that Miss Bergmann wanted to speak to me, and I told her to bring Miss Bergmann in. Fräulein Bergmann acted as a sort of companion-secretary to Angela Waterhouse.
‘She’s brought those records Angela promised me,’ said Frances.
But the girl had brought no records. She hurried into the room looking so distraught and wild that Frances exclaimed aloud:
‘Mitzi! What on earth is the matter?’
‘Oh, Mr Sewell! Mrs Waterhouse says will you please come at once. Mr Waterhouse is so ill, and we can’t get Doctor Brougham on the telephone.’
I jumped up.
‘You mean he’s had an accident?’ So much the embodiment of robust health had John Waterhouse always seemed to me that for the moment I just could not connect him with plain illness.
‘No, no. He is being sick. It is terrible. Please come.’
‘Of course I’ll come. Frances…?’
‘Yes, of course, if there’s anything I can do. You run on with Mitzi. I’ll just tell them in the kitchen that we may be late for dinner.’
Mitzi had already gone. Frances and I looked at each other significantly.
‘So it was a gastric ulcer after all,’ she said.
No, I am not likely to forget the third of September. To see a man dying in agony is a thing one does not forget.
I must explain the Waterhouses.
They had settled in Anneypenny seven years ago, on their return from Brazil, and had taken the big house at the end of the little lane in which we lived – the first lane you came to on the left after Anneypenny village, on the west. Oswald’s Gable was the name of the house, and it was reputed to be built upon an extremely ancient site, though the existing building dated only from the period of the first George. The Waterhouses were thus our nearest neighbours, for there were no other houses in our lane.
Anneypenny lies in Dorset, not far from the Somerset border, and its choice had been that of Mrs Waterhouse. Angela Waterhouse was something of an invalid, though I don’t think anyone knew exactly what was the matter with her except perhaps her doctor. Speaking as a fruit farmer, I am afraid I should diagnose her case as hereditary; for you cannot expect a vigorous bud if you graft it on worn-out stock, and Angela’s stock though prolific had already shown signs of being worn out over which it would be kinder to pass in silence. The appearance in the dock of men with ancient and once honourable names may gratify a base element in a certain type but makes any decent person feel uncomfortable.
However that may be, all along that particular part of the border between these two counties were to be found first, second, third and even fourth cousins of that excellent but now somewhat decayed family from which Angela Waterhouse came. After the uncivilised wilds, as represented by a small coastal town in Brazil, which had struck her with helpless bewilderment the first moment she saw it and had kept her in that state for two whole years, Angela must have felt she had come home at last.
Waterhouse himself had been well enough content.
An electrical engineer by profession, he was one of those Englishmen who in a perfectly unobtrusive way are doing more for their country than all the statesmen and professional patriots combined. It is an industrial age, and pioneers of industry now fill the niche once occupied by the Raleighs, the Clives and the Captain Cooks. The fame is less, but the work is even more useful.
It was not long before we gathered something of Waterhouse’s history and began to realise that we had in our small community a man of some distinction.
The history was an interesting one. A first-rate man at his job (that was obvious), possessed too with the faculty of handling men and full of the urge for adventure, Waterhouse had first served his term with a firm of repute and learned everything they had to teach him. Then, with their recommendations and backing behind him, he had set out as a kind of roving contractor, with a preference for queer jobs in the more inaccessible parts of the world. He became known, particularly in the East, as the man to send for when any native ruler with plenty of money and a yearning for the bright lights was contemplating an electrical installation in his jungle capital.
Goodness knows what queer jobs Waterhouse carried out during those early years, or what imbroglios he got himself into. He was no man to talk about himself, and there was little but an occasional stray hint to go upon; but I do know that before he was forty he had installed electric light in a world-famous temple in India, done work in Indo-China, Baghdad and Tibet, been captured by bandits while on a job in China and escaped; and to crown his career he had landed a million-pound contract for the building and equipment of a series of power stations up the Amazon extending more than a thousand miles into the interior. It was this task which had procured for Angela her two years’ purgatory in Brazil; but it had, too, by yielding a profit handsome even beyond the contractor’s expectations, made possible the retirement to Anneypenny and something like luxury. As Waterhouse could not but agree with his wife, an income of nearly five thousand a year and no children was enough for any man to retire on.
Angela Waterhouse took up life in the English country again with a sigh of relief; she knew it, she liked it, and it seemed to suit her. For the first eighteen months or so her health appeared to improve beyond all hopes.
Waterhouse, on the other hand, was bored. Country life and country pursuits, to none of which he had been brought up, struck him as excessively dull. The house that his wife had persuaded him to buy, though not enormous, was too big for his simple tastes, more used to a tent and a camp bed. He tried a little half-hearted farming on the hundred-odd acres that went with the house, but the land was too poor and too hilly. Frances and I had got to know the pair fairly well by that time, and to like them, and I tried to interest Waterhouse in my own line, fruit farming; but somehow it did not appeal to him.
Then at last he found his hobby: building. It was an ideal hobby for a man with his urge for construction.
His fields bore a richer yield of stone than they ever had of crops. It was good building stone, too, with square corners and always one straight face. Waterhouse had some of it collected and built a little stone summerhouse in a sunny corner of the lawn, where Angela could recline in her long chair on warm afternoons. He built the whole thing with his own hands, and told me afterwards that he had enjoyed it more than anything since he came back to England. It turned out a good job, too, a workmanlike job that gave Waterhouse more pleasure to contemplate than his whole chain of powerhouses on the
From that point he had gone on. Luckily the house was a stout concern and was able to withstand the onslaughts made on it. For Waterhouse gave it no peace. Having tasted mortar, he let himself go. He excavated cellars, underpinned the old walls, pierced them, propped them and grouted them. Half the outbuildings he had down completely and rebuilt. He dotted the garden with small erections and the fields with sheds for the cattle he had long since sold. Each little erection and each shed embodied some new experiment in spanning, some new mix for concrete or some new method of reinforcement. You could not visit him without coming across his burly form bending over some doubtful foundation, or seeing his big, red face, rising triumphant like the morning sun above a heap of wet concrete; and when he was not building the last, he was intently drawing his plans for the next.
This hobby was referred to by his wife and his friends as the Works, and it came in for a good deal of chaff. But it kept Waterhouse happy, gave a fair amount of local employment (he no longer mixed his own concrete and carried his own stones, though he continued to wield a mason’s trowel), and consequently made him very popular in the village.
For that matter John Waterhouse was popular throughout the whole neighbourhood; for there was a great deal to like in the man and, so far as any of us could discern, nothing at all to dislike. He was free with his money, too, pressing unsolicited sums from time to time on the vicar, for any purpose the latter might see fit; any case of hardship in the village had only to come to him to get relief, and in service as well as cash, which is much rarer; and Frances and I had some reason to believe that he was even ready to oblige his wife’s cousins with a small loan from time to time, down to the fourth generation.
Waterhouse was indeed (again so far as any of us knew) a simple and kindly man, of a type that is becoming old-fashioned: a good fellow of the old school, though not necessarily of the old school tie; and it was a shame that he should have had to die as he did.
I think really that Angela only sent for me to console herself rather than minister to John, for when Frances and I arrived there, we were not at all sure at first who was the actual patient. It was John himself who met us in the hall, and Angela who was lying prostrate on her bed upstairs. By a tacit understanding Frances and I divided our attentions. She went up, with Mitzi Bergmann, to look after Angela; I stayed downstairs in the library with John.
John certainly looked bad, his usually red, full face positively pale and with a sunken appearance about it, and I noticed that, conceal it as he tried, his hands were inclined to tremble. He was obviously feeling weak, too, and I made him sit down at once. Of course he pooh-poohed my concern and apologised for the message which had brought us over.
‘I’d have stopped it if I’d known,’ he smiled, ‘but Angela gets so fussed.’
the matter with you in any case, John?’
‘Eaten something that’s disagreed with me. Nothing more or less than that. Biliousness, my boy. Haven’t had a touch of it since I was a child, but here it is, curse it.’
‘You have been having a bit of trouble with your digestion lately,’ I suggested tentatively.
‘Oh, a twinge or two. Nothing. I must expect that sort of thing at my age. Only wonder is that it hasn’t set in before.’ John, like all hale men in late middle age, was a trifle touchy about his health and could never be induced to admit that anything might possibly be the matter with him.
‘Well, what are the symptoms of the present trouble?’
John grinned, though a little wanly. ‘What are the usual symptoms of biliousness? Though they do seem to get a bit more severe as one gets older. I feel as if I’d eaten a couple of hundredweight of your green apples.’
‘A lot of pain?’ I asked with the awkwardness that seems inseparable from this kind of conversation between males. Women treat pain more straightforwardly; they see no reason why they should feel ashamed of it.
‘Oh, a bit. Seems to come on in spasms. I –’ He broke off and got hurriedly to his feet. ‘Sorry, I must leave you for a minute. Another symptom, that won’t take no for an answer.’
After he had gone I took up the current copy of
Night and Day
from the library table. To tell the truth I did not take John’s trouble very seriously. As Glen Brougham, our local doctor had told him only a week or so ago in my presence, John had played the devil with his digestion for years, and must expect it to come back on him. In fact Brougham had suspected something in the nature of a gastric ulcer; though if that was the case, I thought John certainly ought to be in bed.
I did not disturb myself for some time. There was a fire in the library, and the big leather armchair was very comfortable. Only when at last I looked at my watch did I realise that John had been gone for nearly twenty minutes. I felt I had better see that all was well.
When he did not answer my knock I did begin to feel some alarm. I listened and could hear him groaning. For John to groan meant that things were pretty serious.
I wasted no time then. Within ten minutes I had got him upstairs and into bed. He scarcely protested. He was indeed too weak to protest.
Sending a discreet message for Frances, I told her to go downstairs and telephone quietly for Brougham again.
‘Is he bad?’ she asked anxiously.