Malcolm Stevenson, a wealthy ex-naval officer haunted by his memories of the war, finds his lonely life turned upside down one night when he runs into trouble on a road near the coast. What at first appears to be an accident leads him to discover an international conspiracy against his country—and to fall in love with a dance hostess who seems to have something to do with it. Malcolm’s determination to expose the plot will put his life—and that of the only person who has brought him any happiness—in grave danger.
358 pages, with a reading time of ~5.5 hours (89,604 words), and first published in 1932. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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I think that as a man pursues his life he sometimes comes to a point, just once and again, when he must realise that for the last three weeks or six he has been living as a stranger to himself. That has happened to me on two or three occasions, generally in connection with some girl; I cherish these vignettes, only a few weeks each, in which I have been kind and true, thought clearly and acted generously. I cherish them as an old lady cherishes her love-letters—things unreal, almost unbelievable in their tenderness, and yet which actually happened. For this reason I want to write down something about the weeks I lived last summer, so that if I live to be old I may have this notebook with me to look over. It is the details, the silly little things that mean so much to me, that I want to remember; I should be very willing to forget the major incidents.
I crashed my car one night last spring, driving home along the shore road in the dark. That is what they told me in the nursing home, when I recovered consciousness on the evening of the following day. But I think I must begin my story before that, and try if I can put down all that I have ever been able to remember of the earlier portion of the night, before my accident.
What I have to write about that evening will appear confused. Bachelor evenings sometimes are like that, and I had much that day that I would willingly have drowned in gin. Looking back now upon that evening I think I must have had some measure of success, and that is what made the elucidation of my accident a little difficult when I came to my senses in the nursing home. But I had better start by putting down exactly what I can remember of that night.
I was in Plymouth. I don’t know exactly when it was that I left the club; it was after midnight. I must have been the last to leave, or one of the last. I remember we had dinner in the club and went on to the Empire; we had a box there. Then we went back to the club for a game of snooker. I won that, not because I can play snooker, but because I was practically stone sober. Nothing seemed to sink me that night, which was a pity.
I was the last to leave, or one of the last. Our three cars were drawn up together outside the club, and because I could see that the others might want help I waited till they got away. Kennet was the first to go; he got in to second all right, but third defeated him, and so he went home like that. It was Jim’s turn next, and I put him into his saloon and pressed the starter for him, and shut the door, and pushed him off back home. I was left by myself on the pavement, then, thirty miles from my own place. And I was alone, or I supposed I was. I don’t remember anyone else.
I stood there for a bit looking round, and the moon was very round and plain and the sky was deep blue, so that the moon hung in it like a great shilling. Behind me and to the left there were lights in the downstairs of the house; I stood there nursing my apples and wondering what they would do if they knew that I was there. By standing on my toes I could rest my arms on the top of the wall and see into the paddock. I had to rest my arm like that because the faggots hurt my bare feet, and the roughness of the bricks rasped my arms and chest through the woolly stuff of my pyjamas. And where I pressed my chest against the wall the apple crammed into the pocket of my jacket stuck into me and hurt, and I think perhaps I may have bruised it because there was a great scent of apples in the brilliant silence of the night.
I saw an owl fly out from somewhere into the trees on the other side of the paddock; I heard him hoot and I wondered if that meant that he had caught a mouse. I knew that was what he came out for, to catch mice. And I wondered, as I stood there shifting from foot to foot, how he could manage to see such a little thing as a mouse in the darkness or whether it was just a sort of story like they tell you when they think it’s something that you ought not to know.
I could hear the pony chumping away over on the other side of the field, but he was in the dark shadow of the trees and I couldn’t see where he was, but only hear him chumping. I wondered if I could catch him with an apple, because I could spare one of my apples to catch him and have a ride on his back. I could get another one as I went back through the garden to the house. I’d probably have to leave one apple behind anyway, because I didn’t see how I was going to climb up to my bedroom window carrying three of them, because you want two hands to carry three apples and I had to have one left to climb with.