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J.J. CONNINGTON
(ALFRED WALTER STEWART)

BEFORE INSULIN

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First published in Fifty Masterpieces of Mystery, Odhams Press, London, 1937

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-26
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Fifty Masterpieces Of Mystery, Odhams Press, 1937, with "Before Insulin"



I'D more than the fishing in my mind when I asked you over for the weekend,' Wendover confessed. 'Fact is Clinton, something's turned up and I'd like your advice.' Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable of the county, glanced quizzically at his old friend.

'If you've murdered anyone, Squire, my advice is: keep it dark and leave the country. If it's merely breach of promise, or anything of that sort, I'm at your disposal.'

'It's not breach of promise,' Wendover assured him with the complacency of a hardened bachelor. 'It's a matter of an estate for which I happen to be sole trustee, worse luck. The other two have died since the will was made. I'll tell you about it.'

Wendover prided himself on his power of lucid exposition. He settled himself in his chair and began.

'You've heard me speak of old John Ashby, the ironmaster? He died fifteen years back, worth 53,000; and he made his son, his daughter-in-law, and myself executors of his will. The son, James Ashby, was to have the life-rent of the estate; and on his death the capital was to be handed over to his offspring when the youngest of them came of age. As it happened, there was only one child, young Robin Ashby. James Ashby and his wife were killed in a railway accident some years ago; so the whole 53,000, less two estate duties, was secured to young Robin if he lived to come of age.'

'And if he didn't?' queried Sir Clinton.

'Then the money went to a lot of charities,' Wendover explained. 'That's just the trouble, as you'll see. Three years ago, young Robin took diabetes, a bad case, poor fellow. We did what we could for him, naturally. All the specialists had a turn, without improvement. Then we sent him over to Neuenahr, to some institute run by a German who specialised in diabetes. No good. I went over to see the poor boy, and he was worn to a shadow, simply skin and bone and hardly able to walk with weakness. Obviously it was a mere matter of time.'

'Hard lines on the youngster,' Sir Clinton commented soberly.

'Very hard,' said Wendover with a gesture of pity. 'Now as it happened, at Neuenahr he scraped acquaintance with a French doctor. I saw him when I was there: about thirty, black torpedo beard, very brisk and well-got-up, with any amount of belief in himself. He spoke English fluently, which gave him a pull with Robin, out there among foreigners; and he persuaded the boy that he could cure him if he would put himself in his charge. Well, by that time, it seemed that any chance was worth taking, so I agreed. After all, the boy was dying by inches. So off he went to the south of France, where this man—Prevost, his name was—had a nursing home of his own. I saw the place: well-kept affair though small. And he had an English nurse, which was lucky for Robin. Pretty girl she was: chestnut hair, creamy skin, supple figure, neat hands and feet. A lady, too.'

'Oh, any pretty girl can get round you,' interjected Sir Clinton. 'Get on with the tale.'

'Well, it was all no good,' Wendover went on, hastily. 'The poor boy went downhill in spite of all the Frenchman's talk; and, to cut a long story short, he died a fortnight ago, on the very day when he came of age.'

'Oh, so he lived long enough to inherit?'

'By the skin of his teeth,' Wendover agreed. 'That's where the trouble begins. Before that day, of course, he could make no valid will. But now a claimant, a man Sydney Eastcote, turns up with the claim that Robin made a will the morning of the day he died and by this will this Eastcote fellow scoops the whole estate. All I know of it is from a letter this Eastcote man wrote to me giving the facts. I referred him to the lawyer for the estate and told the lawyer—Harringay's his name—to bring the claimant here this afternoon. They're due now. I'd like you to look him over, Clinton. I'm not quite satisfied about this will.'

The Chief Constable pondered for a moment or two.

'Very well,' he agreed. 'But you'd better not introduce me as Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable, etc. I'd better be Mr Clinton, I think. It sounds better for a private confabulation.'

'Very well,' Wendover conceded. 'There's a car on the drive. It must be they, I suppose.'

In a few moments the door opened and the visitors were ushered in. Surprised himself, the Chief Constable was still able to enjoy the astonishment of his friend; for instead of the expected man, a pretty chestnut-haired girl, dressed in mourning, was shown into the room along with the solicitor, and it was plain enough that Wendover recognised her.

'You seem surprised, Mr Wendover,' the girl began, evidently somewhat taken aback by Wendover's expression. Then she smiled as though an explanation occurred to her. 'Of course, it's my name again. People always forget that Sydney's a girl's name as well as a man's. But you remember me, don't you? I met you when you visited poor Robin.'

'Of course I remember you, Nurse,' Wendover declared, recovering from his surprise. 'But I never heard you called anything but "Nurse" and didn't even hear your surname; so naturally I didn't associate you with the letter I got about poor Robin's will.'

'Oh, I see,' answered the girl. 'That accounts for it.'

She looked inquiringly towards the Chief Constable, and Wendover recovered his presence of mind.

'This is a friend of mine, Mr Clinton,' he explained. 'Miss Eastcote. Mr Harringay. Won't you sit down? I must admit your letter took me completely by surprise, Miss Eastcote.'

Wendover was getting over his initial astonishment at the identity of the claimant, and when they had all seated themselves, he took the lead.

'I've seen a copy of Robin's death certificate,' he began slowly. 'He died in the afternoon of September twenty-first, the day he came of age, so he was quite competent to make a will. I suppose he was mentally fit to make one?'

'Dr Prevost will certify that if necessary,' the nurse affirmed quietly.

'I noticed that he didn't die in Dr Prevost's Institute,' Wendover continued. 'At some local hotel, wasn't it?'

'Yes,' Nurse Eastcote confirmed. 'A patient died in the Institute about that time and poor Robin hated the place on that account. It depressed him, and he insisted on moving to the hotel for a time.'

'He must have been at death's door then, poor fellow,' Wendover commented.

'Yes,' the nurse admitted, sadly. 'He was very far through. He had lapses of consciousness, the usual diabetic coma. But while he was awake he was perfectly sound mentally, if that's what you mean.'

Wendover nodded as though this satisfied him completely.

'Tell me about this will,' he asked. 'It's come as something of a surprise to me, not unnaturally.'

Nurse Eastcote hesitated for a moment. Her lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears as she drew from her bag an envelope of thin foreign paper. From this she extracted a sheet of foreign notepaper which she passed across to Wendover.

'I can't grumble if you're surprised at his leaving me this money,' she said, at last. 'I didn't expect anything of the kind myself. But the fact is... he fell in love with me, poor boy, while he was under my charge. You see, except for Dr Prevost, I was the only one who could speak English with him, and that meant much to him at that time when he was so lonely. Of course he was much younger than I am; I'm twenty-seven. I suppose I ought to have checked him when I saw how things were. But I hadn't the heart to do it. It was something that gave him just the necessary spur to keep him going, and of course I knew that marriage would never come into it. It did no harm to let him fall in love; and I really did my very best to make him happy, in these last weeks. I was so sorry for him, you know.'

This put the matter in a fresh light for Wendover, and he grew more sympathetic in his manner.

'I can understand,' he said gently. 'You didn't care for him, of course...'

'Not in that way. But I was very very sorry for him, and I'd have done anything to make him feel happier. It was so dreadful to see him going out into the dark before he'd really started in life.'

Wendover cleared his throat, evidently conscious that the talk was hardly on the businesslike lines which he had planned. He unfolded the thin sheet of notepaper and glanced over the writing.

'This seems explicit enough. "I leave all that I have to Nurse Sydney Eastcote, residing at Dr Prevost's medical Institute." I recognise the handwriting as Robin's, and the date is in the same writing. Who are the witnesses, by the way?'

'Two of the waiters at the hotel, I believe,' Nurse Eastcote explained.

Wendover turned to the flimsy foreign envelope and examined the address.

'Addressed by himself to you at the institute, I see. And the postmark is twenty-first September. That's quite good confirmatory evidence, if anything of the sort were needed.'

He passed the two papers to Sir Clinton. The Chief Constable seemed to find the light insufficient where he was sitting, for he rose and walked over to a window to examine the documents. This brought him slightly behind Nurse Eastcote. Wendover noted idly that Sir Clinton stood sideways to the light while he inspected the papers in his hand.

'Now just one point,' Wendover continued. 'I'd like to know something about Robin's mental condition towards the end. Did he read to pass the time, newspapers and things like that?'

Nurse Eastcote shook her head.

'No, he read nothing. He was too exhausted, poor boy. I used to sit by him and try to interest him in talk. But if you have any doubt about his mind at that time—I mean whether he was fit to make a will—I'm sure Dr Prevost will give a certificate that he was in full possession of his faculties and knew what he was doing.'

Sir Clinton came forward with the papers in his hand.

'These are very important documents,' he pointed out, addressing the nurse. 'It's not safe for you to be carrying them about in your bag as you've been doing. Leave them with us. Mr Wendover will give you a receipt and take good care of them. And to make sure there's no mistake, I think you'd better write your name in the corner of each of them so as to identify them. Mr Harringay will agree with me that we mustn't leave any loophole for doubt in a case like this.'

The lawyer nodded. He was a taciturn man by nature, and his pride had been slightly ruffled by the way in which he had been ignored in the conference. Nurse Eastcote, with Wendover's fountain pen, wrote her signature on a free space of each paper. Wendover offered his guests tea before they departed, but he turned the talk into general channels and avoided any further reference to business topics.

When the lawyer and the girl had left the house, Wendover turned to Sir Clinton.

'It seems straight enough to me,' he said, 'but I could see from the look you gave me behind her back when you were at the window that you aren't satisfied. What's wrong?'

'If you want my opinion,' the Chief Constable answered, 'it's a fake from start to finish. Certainly you can't risk handing over a penny on that evidence. If you want it proved up to the hilt, I can do it for you, but it'll cost something for inquiries and expert assistance. That ought to come out of the estate, and it'll be cheaper than an action at law. Besides,' he added with a smile, 'I don't suppose you want to put that girl in gaol. She's probably only a tool in the hands of a cleverer person.'

Wendover was staggered by the Chief Constable's tone of certainty. The girl, of course, had made no pretence that she was in love with Robin Ashby; but her story had been told as though she herself believed it.

'Make your inquiries, certainly,' he consented. 'Still, on the face of it the thing sounds likely enough.'

'I'll give you definite proof in a fortnight or so. Better make a further appointment with that girl in, say, three weeks. But don't drag the lawyer into it this time. It may savour too much of compounding a felony for his taste. I'll need these papers.'


'HERE'S the concrete evidence,' said the Chief Constable, three weeks later. 'I may as well show it to you before she arrives, and you can amuse yourself with turning it over in the meanwhile.'

He produced the will, the envelope, and two photographs from his pocket book as he spoke and laid them on the table, opening out the will as he put it down.

'Now first of all, notice that the will and envelope are of very thin paper, the foreign correspondence stuff. Second, observe that the envelope is of the exact size to hold that sheet of paper if it's folded in four—I mean folded in half and then doubled over. The sheet's about quarto size, ten inches by eight. Now look here. There's an extra fold in the paper. It's been folded in four and then it's been folded across once more. That struck me as soon as I had it in my hand. Why the extra fold, since it would fit into the envelope without that?'

Wendover inspected the sheet carefully and looked rather perplexed.

'You're quite right,' he said, 'but you can't upset a will on the strength of a fold in it. She may have doubled it up herself, after she got it.'

'Not when it was in the envelope that fitted it,' Sir Clinton pointed out. 'There's no corresponding doubling of the envelope. However, let's go on. Here's a photograph of the envelope, taken with the light falling sideways. You see the postal erasing stamp has made an impression?'

'Yes, I can read it, and the date's twenty-first September right enough.' He paused for a moment and then added in surprise, 'But where's the postage stamp? It hasn't come out in the photo.'

'No, because that's a photo of the impression on the back half of the envelope. The stamp came down hard and not only cancelled the stamp but impressed the second side of the envelope as well. The impression comes out quite clearly when it's illuminated from the side. That's worth thinking over. And, finally, here's another print. It was made, before the envelope was slit to get at the stamp impression. All we did was to put the envelope into a printing-frame with a bit of photographic printing paper behind it and expose it to light for a while. Now you'll notice that the gummed portions of the envelope show up in white, like a sort of St Andrew's Cross. But if you look carefully, you'll see a couple of darker patches on the part of the white strip which corresponds to the flap of the envelope that one sticks down. Just think out what they imply, Squire. There are the facts for you, and it's not too difficult to put an interpretation on them if you think for a minute or two. And I'll add just one further bit of information. The two waiters who acted as witnesses to that will were given tickets for South America, and a certain sum of money each to keep them from feeling homesick... But here's your visitor.'

Rather to Wendover's surprise, Sir Clinton took the lead in the conversation as soon as the girl arrived.

'Before we turn to business, Miss Eastcote,' he said, 'I'd like to tell you a little anecdote. It may be of use to you. May I?'

Nurse Eastcote nodded politely and Wendover, looking her over, noticed a ring on her engagement finger which he had not seen on her last visit.

'This is a case which came to my knowledge lately,' Sir Clinton went on, 'and it resembles your own so closely that I'm sure it will suggest something. A young man of twenty, in an almost dying state, was induced to enter a nursing home by the doctor in charge. If he lived to come of age, he could make a will and leave a very large fortune to anyone he chose; but it was the merest gamble whether he would live to come of age.'

Nurse Eastcote's figure stiffened and her eyes widened at this beginning, but she merely nodded as though asking Sir Clinton to continue.

'The boy fell in love with one of the nurses, who happened to be under the influence of the doctor,' Sir Clinton went on. 'If he lived to make a will, there was little doubt that he would leave the fortune to the nurse. A considerable temptation for any girl, I think you'll agree.

'The boy's birthday was very near, only a few days off; but it looked as though he would not live to see it. He was very far gone. He had no interest in the newspapers and he had long lapses of unconsciousness, so that he had no idea of what the actual date was. It was easy enough to tell him, on a given day, that he had come of age, though actually two days were still to run. Misled by the doctor, he imagined that he could make a valid will, being now twenty-one; and he wrote with his own hand a short document leaving everything to the nurse.'

Miss Eastcote cleared her throat with an effort.

'Yes?' she said.

'This fraudulent will,' Sir Clinton continued, 'was witnessed by two waiters of the hotel to which the boy had been removed; and soon after, these waiters were packed off abroad and provided with some cash in addition to their fares. Then it occurred to the doctor that an extra bit of confirmatory evidence might be supplied. The boy had put the will into an envelope which he had addressed to the nurse. While the gum was still wet, the doctor opened the flap and took out the "will," which he then folded smaller in order to get the paper into an ordinary business-size envelope. He then addressed this to the nurse and posted the will to her in it. The original large envelope, addressed by the boy, he retained. But in pulling it open, the doctor had slightly torn the inner side of the flap where the gum lies; and that little defect shows up when one exposes the envelope over a sheet of photographic paper. Here's an example of what I mean.'

He passed over to Nurse Eastcote the print which he had shown Wendover and drew her attention to the spots on the St Andrew's Cross.

'As it chanced, the boy died next morning, a day before he came of age. The doctor concealed the death for a day, which was easy enough in the circumstances. Then, on the afternoon of the crucial date—did I mention that it was September twenty-first?—he closed the empty envelope, stamped it, and put it into the post, thus securing a postmark of the proper date. Unfortunately for this plan, the defacement stamp of the Post Office came down hard enough to impress its image on both the sheets of the thin paper envelope, so that by opening up the envelope and photographing it by a sideways illumination the embossing of the stamp showed up—like this.'

He handed the girl the second photograph.

'Now if the "will" had been in that envelope, the "will" itself would have borne that stamp. But it did not; and that proves that the "will" was not in the envelope when it passed through the post. A clever woman like yourself, Miss Eastcote, will see the point at once.'

'And what happened after that?' asked the girl huskily.

'It's difficult to tell you,' Sir Clinton pursued. 'If it had come before me officially—I'm Chief Constable of the county, you know—I should probably have had to prosecute that unfortunate nurse for attempted fraud; and I've not the slightest doubt that we'd have proved the case up to the hilt. It would have meant a year or two in gaol, I expect.

'I forgot to mention that the nurse was secretly engaged to the doctor all this while. And, by the way, that's a very pretty ring you're wearing, Miss Eastcote. That, of course, accounted for the way in which the doctor managed to get her to play her part in the little scheme. I think if I were you, Miss Eastcote, I'd go back to France as soon as possible and tell Dr Prevost that... Well, it hasn't come off.'


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.