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December 02 , 2010

A Silent Witness


The history upon which I am now embarking abounds in incidents so amazing

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The First R. Austin Freeman MEGAPACK ®

"The First R. Austin Freeman Megapack" collects 27 mystery tales featuring the forensic sleuth Dr. Thorndyke (and others). Included in this volume are: THE RED THUMB MARK (1907) THE MAN WITH THE NAILED SHOES (1909) THE STRANGER'S LATCHKEY (1909) THE ANTHROPOLOGIST AT LARGE (1909) THE BLUE SEQUIN (1909) THE MOABITE CIPHER…

that, as I look back on them, a something approaching to scepticism

contends with my vivid recollections and makes me feel almost apologetic

in laying them before the reader. Some of them indeed are so out of

character with the workaday life in which they happened that they will

appear almost incredible; but none is more fraught with mystery than the

experience that befell me on a certain September night in the last year

of my studentship and ushered in the rest of the astounding sequence.


It was past eleven o'clock when I let myself out of my lodgings at Gospel

Oak; a dark night, cloudy and warm and rather inclined to rain. But,

despite the rather unfavourable aspect of the weather, I turned my steps

away from the town, and walking briskly up the Highgate Road, presently

turned into Millfield Lane. This was my favourite walk and the pretty

winding lane, meandering so pleasantly from Lower Highgate to the heights

of Hampstead, was familiar to me under all its aspects.


On sweet summer mornings when the cuckoos called from the depths of Ken

Wood, when the path was spangled with golden sunlight, and saucy

squirrels played hide and seek in the shadows under the elms (though the

place was within earshot of Westminster and within sight of the dome of

St. Paul's); on winter days when the Heath wore its mantle of white and

the ring of gliding steel came up from the skaters on the pond below; on

August evenings, when I would come suddenly on sequestered lovers (to our

mutual embarrassment) and hurry by with ill-feigned unconsciousness. I

knew all its phases and loved them all. Even its name was delightful,

carrying the mind back to those more rustic days when the wits

foregathered at the Old Flask Tavern and John Constable tramped through

this very lane with his colour-box slung over his shoulder.


It was very dark after I had passed the lamp at the entrance to the lane.

Very silent and solitary too. Not a soul was stirring at this hour, for

the last of the lovers had long since gone home and the place was little

frequented even in the daytime. The elms brooded over the road, shrouding

it in shadows of palpable black, and their leaves whispered secretly in

the soft night breeze. But the darkness, the quiet and the solitude were

restful after the long hours of study and the glare of the printed page,

and I strolled on past the ghostly pond and the little thatched cottage,

now wrapped in silence and darkness, with a certain wistful regret that I

must soon look my last on them. For I had now passed all my examinations

but the final "Fellowship," and must soon be starting my professional

career in earnest.


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