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Knight Without Armour by James Hilton

Knight Without Armour


subjects: Historical Fiction

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This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70 or less.


Set in Russia, it is the story of Ainsely Fothergill, an Englishman who served as a British spy and was exiled to Siberia for eight years. The book reminds us that James Hilton was one of the best storytellers of our era, and that a good story never loses its appeal.

373 pages with a reading time of ~5.75 hours (93325 words), and first published in 1933. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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“There died on the 13th inst. at Roone’s Hotel, Carrigole, Co. Cork, where he had been staying for some time, Mr. Ainsley Jergwin Fothergill, in his forty-ninth year. Mr. Fothergill was the youngest son of the Reverend Wilson Fothergill, of Timperleigh, Leicestershire. Educated at Barrowhurst and at St. John’s College, Cambridge, he was for a time a journalist in London before seeking his fortune abroad. Since 1920 he had been closely associated with the plantation rubber industry, and was the author of a standard work upon that subject.”

So proclaimed the obituary column of The Times on the morning of October 19th, 1929. But The Times gets to Roone’s a day and a half late, and Fothergill was already beneath the soil of Carrigole churchyard by then. There had been some slight commotion over the burial; an English priest had wired at the last moment that the man was a Catholic. This seemed strange, for he had never been noticed to go to Mass; but still, there was the telegram, and since most Carrigole folk were buried as Catholics anyway, the matter was not difficult to arrange.

There was also an inquest. Fothergill had apparently died in his sleep; one of the maids took up his cup of tea in the morning and actually left it on his bedside table without knowing he was dead. She told the district coroner she had said–“Here’s your tea, sir,” and that she thought he had smiled in answer. Nobody found out the truth till nearly noon. Then a doctor who happened to be staying at the hotel saw the body and said it must have been lifeless for at least ten hours.

Just in time for the inquest a London doctor arrived to testify that Fothergill had consulted him some weeks before about a heart complaint. It was the sort of thing that might finish off anyone quite suddenly, so of course all was clear, on the evidence, and the verdict ‘Death from natural causes’ came in with record speed.

The whole affair provided an acute though temporary sensation at Roone’s Hotel, which, though the season was almost over, chanced to be fairly full at the time owing to a cruiser in harbour. Roone himself was rather peeved; he was just beginning to work up his place after the many years of ‘trouble,’ and it certainly did him no good to have guests dying on him in such a way. He was especially annoyed because it had all got into the Dublin and London papers–that, of course, being due to Halloran, Carrigole’s too ambitious journalist, who would (Roone said) sell his best friend’s reputation for half a guinea.

As for the dead man, Roone could only shrug his shoulders. Rather crossly he told the occupants of his crowded private bar how little he knew about the fellow. Never set eyes on him till the September, when he had arrived from Killarney one evening with a small suitcase. Evidently hadn’t meant to stop long, and at the end of a week had sent to London for more luggage. Very quiet sort, civil and all that, but somehow not the kind of chap a fellow would naturally take to…Yes, practically teetotal, too–nearly as bad for business as the Cook’s people who came loaded with coupons for all they took and drank nothing but water. “Although, by the way,” Roone added, “he did come in here for a nightcap the evening before–I remember serving him.”

“Yes, I remember too,” put in a plus-foured youth. “I made some casual remark to him about something or other just to be polite, that was all–but he hardly answered me. Rather surly, I thought at the time.”

At which Mrs. Roone intervened, tartly: “Of course it was easy to see what he was stopping on here for, and more shame to him, I say.”

Everyone in the bar nodded, for everyone had been waiting for that matter to be mentioned. There had been an American girl staying at the hotel with her mother; the two had been the only guests with whom the dead man had struck up any sort of acquaintance. He had gone for drives and picnics with them; he had taken his meals at their table; he had sometimes danced with the girl in the evenings. He was after her, Mrs. Roone said, bluntly, and as he had plenty of money the artful old mother was trying to hook him.

“Oh, so he had money, then?” enquired the youth in plus-fours.

“Money? Why do you suppose that London doctor came all the way here to give evidence at the inquest if it wasn’t for, a fine fat fee? As a matter of fact, there were some people here a few weeks ago who said for sober truth they knew he was worth half a million–all made out of rubber, so they said.” Mrs. Roone’s voice rose to a shriek as she added: “Half a million indeed, and old enough to be the girl’s father, as well as liable to drop dead at any minute! Disgraceful, I say!”

“D’you think the girl was after him too?”

“Maybe she was. Girls will do anything for money these days.”