book cover of The Case of the White Footprints

The Case of the White Footprints

A Novella by

“WELL,” said my friend Foxton, pursuing a familiar and apparently inexhaustible topic, “I’d sooner have your job than my own.” “I’ve no doubt you would,” was my unsympathetic reply. “I never met a man who wouldn’t. We all tend to consider other men’s jobs in terms of their advantages and our own in terms of their drawbacks. It is human nature.” “Oh, it’s all very well for you to be so beastly philosophical,” retorted Foxton. “You wouldn’t be if you were in my place. Here, in Margate, it’s measles, chicken-pox and scarlatina all the summer, and bronchitis, colds and rheumatism an the winter. A deadly monotony. Whereas you and Thorndyke sit there in your chambers and let your clients feed you up with the raw material of romance. Why, your life is a sort of everlasting Adelphi drama.” “You exaggerate, Foxton,” said I. “We, like you, have our routine work, only it is never heard of outside the Law Courts; and you, like every other doctor, must run up against mystery and romance from time to time.” Foxton shook his head as he held out his hand for my cup. “I don’t,” said be. “My practice yields nothing but an endless round of dull routine.” And then, as if in commentary on this last statement, the housemaid burst into the room and, with hardly dissembled agitation, exclaimed: “If you please, sir, the page from Beddingfield’s Boarding-house says that a lady has been found dead in her bed and would you go round there immediately.” “Very well, Jane,” said Foxton, and as the maid retired, he deliberately helped himself to another fried egg and, looking across the table at me, exclaimed: “Isn’t that always the way? Come immediately—now—this very instant, although the patient may have been considering for a day or two whether he’ll send for you or not. But directly he decides you must spring out of bed, or jump up from your breakfast, and run.” “That’s quite true,” I agreed; “but this really does seem to be an urgent case.” “What’s the urgency?” demanded Foxton. “The woman is already dead. Anyone would think she was in imminent danger of coming to life again and that my instant arrival the only thing that could prevent such a catastrophe.” “You’ve only a third-hand statement that she is dead,” said I. “It is just possible that she isn’t; and even if she is, as you will have to give evidence at the inquest, you do want the police to get there first and turn out the room before you’ve made your inspection.” “Gad!” exclaimed Foxton. “I hadn’t thought of that. Yes. You’re right. I’ll hop round at once.” He swallowed the remainder of the egg at a single gulp rose from the table. Then he paused and stood for a few moments looking down at me irresolutely. “I wonder, Jervis,” he said, “if you would mind coming round with me. You know all the medico-legal ropes, and I don’t. What do you say?” I agreed instantly, having, in fact, been restrained only by delicacy from making the suggestion myself; and when I had fetched from my room my pocket camera and telescopic tripod, we set forth together without further delay. Beddingfield’s Boarding-house was but a few minutes walk from Foxton’s residence being situated near the middle of Ethelred Road, Cliftonville, a quiet, suburban street which abounded in similar establishments, many of which, I noticed, were undergoing a spring-cleaning and renovation to prepare them for the approaching season. “That’s the house,” said Foxton, “where that woman is standing at the front door. Look at the boarders, collected at the dining-room window. There’s a rare commotion in that house, I’ll warrant.”

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