Authors: John Creasey
First published in 1971
Copyright: John Creasey Literary Management Ltd.; House of Stratus 1971-2010
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of John Creaseyto be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2010 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
|EAN||Â ||Â ||ISBN||Â ||Â ||Edition|
|0755123921||Â ||Â ||9780755123926||Â ||Â ||Print|
|0755134095||Â ||Â ||9780755134090||Â ||Â ||Mobi|
|0755134516||Â ||Â ||9780755134519||Â ||Â ||Epub|
This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author's imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
John Creasey â Master Storyteller - was born in Surrey, England in 1908 into a poor family in which there were nine children, John Creasey grew up to be a true master story teller and international sensation. His more than 600 crime, mystery and thriller titles have now sold 80 million copies in 25 languages. These include many popular series such as
Gideon of Scotland Yard, The Toff, Dr Palfrey and The Baron
Creasy wrote under many pseudonyms, explaining that booksellers had complained he totally dominated the 'C' section in stores. They included:
Gordon Ashe, M E Cooke, Norman Deane, Robert Caine Frazer, Patrick Gill, Michael Halliday, Charles Hogarth, Brian Hope, Colin Hughes, Kyle Hunt, Abel Mann, Peter Manton, J J Marric, Richard Martin, Rodney Mattheson, Anthony Morton and Jeremy York.
Never one to sit still, Creasey had a strong social conscience, and stood for Parliament several times, along with founding the
One Party Alliance
which promoted the idea of government by a coalition of the best minds from across the political spectrum.
He also founded the
British Crime Writers' Association
, which to this day celebrates outstanding crime writing.
The Mystery Writers of America
bestowed upon him the
for best novel and then in 1969 the ultimate
Grand Master Award
. John Creasey's stories are as compelling today as ever.
The mother lay exhausted on the big bed; the newborn babe, in the midwife's steady hands, lay on a white-draped table, crying weakly. Outside, the father, tall and young and emotion-torn, sat back in an old armchair, which had been in this cottage for generations. He looked almost as exhausted as his wife, his face porcelain white against the dense black of his hair.
The doctor, Reginald Maddern, M.D., who had served the village and dozens around for over twenty years yet was still in his middle-forties, moved across the bedroom as the midwife turned the infant over on its side, impersonal as if she were dealing with clay. Maddern was an ordinary-looking man with thinning, greying hair, tired eyes, a snub nose and a weak chin, if one judged it weak if a chin fell away into the neck.
âWell, Mrs. Cray,' he said in a strange, sad voice, âthat's the last.'
The midwife, taller than Maddern and with iron-grey, wiry hair and a strong, hatchet-like face looked at him with eyes as sharp as gimlets; there was hostility in her voice.
âI don't care what you say,' she stated. âIt's those pills.'
âI simply don't understand it,' Maddern said.
âI tell you, doctor, it's those pills.'
She was much older than he, and in many ways old-fashioned, although her methods and her habits at a delivery were immaculate in their hygiene. A first-class midwife, she had often attended confinements on her own. The doctor admired her professional skill and her unremitting loyalty to her patients, but she had fought âthe pill' since it had first been introduced to this backwater of England's West Country, and now she blamed it for the strangest fact in all Middlecombe's history.
There was no other baby on the way; no patient at the mobile clinic which called weekly on each village in the sprawling rural district to which Middlecombe gave its name. No woman here was pregnant in this period in the late twentieth century; none of the doctors in the three partnerships had a patient in need of pre-natal care. A few who had come into the district from outside, had been sent to Bristol, the nearest big city.
Nurse Cray blamed the pill.
It was useless to argue with her; she had already declared her belief that the pill was the sperm of the Devil, in whom she believed as entirely as she believed in the Holy Trinity. It was a waste of time pointing out to her that the pill brought freedom from anxiety and a pleasure commensurate with that of the husband in the solace of sex to many an over-burdened wife. Nurse Cray would talk darkly of
She would tell Maddern in all but name of the women whom she knew betrayed their husbands with impunity. She would talk of the young girls, seduced by young and not-so-young men, until she declared, sex became a habit as free from responsibility as a kiss.
She was, then, inexorably anti-pill.
âDoctor,' she said, her expression and her voice softening, âit's time you went home and had a good sleep. I can do everything that's needed, here.'
And she could, much of it better than he.
âMaggie,' he said, frowning as if in pain, âisn't there just
âThere isn't a woman in the whole of Middlecombe in the family way,' she stated flatly. âI'd know it, if there were. You may believe it or not, but it's that pill.'
It couldn't be, although there must surely be some common cause. But not a doctor he knew had the faintest idea of that cause; they were baffled.
âI wish I knew,' he said. âDo the other doctors talk about it much?'
âThey remark on it,' she told him, âand I tell them exactly what I tell you, Dr. Maddern. I don't blame any of you, mind, you didn't begin the accursed thing, but when man begins to interfere with nature, then he's inviting disaster. I tell you as I stand here, Dr. Maddern, the wrath of God has struck this sin-ridden part of the world and only the forgiveness of God can ever bring life back to normal.'
The baby's crying took on a new note, and she bent watchfully over it. The mother lay sleeping, wan, yet so obviously happy. Dr. Maddern rested a hand on the midwife's shoulder for a moment as he looked down at the child, clean and swaddled now, eyes hardly open, redness at the puckered lips. Then he went out abruptly, startling the father who was dozing in the next room.
âIt's all right, Mr. Gunnison, they're both fine.'
âThank God for that,' choked Michael Gunnison. âI can't thank you enough, doctor.'
âYou owe a lot more to Nurse Cray than you'll ever do to me.' Maddern stood, a little at a loss, wondering if this young man had any idea how unique he was. He did not know Michael Gunnison well, and had no basis on which to like or dislike him, although it was usually a good pointer to a man's nature if his wife had that constant and deep feeling for him which Jane Gunnison so obviously had for this man. If that had not been so, then there would have been some indication during the pregnancy, not necessarily in the form of direct complaint or outburst of confidence. There had not been the slightest indication, and this was their third child. He was a farm hand, the cottage was the farm's cottage, he earned only just enough to keep the family going. Yet Jane was happy.
âCan I get you something? Tea? Or coffee? Or
?' The last seemed to be an inspiration. âYes, we've some cider!'
âNothing, Mr. Gunnison, thank you,' Maddern declined. I'll look in some time tomorrow.'
Gunnison saw him to the door and waited with the electric light falling like a cloak on to his head and shoulders as Maddern walked the gravelled path to the gate and his car: a Morris 1800, shining black. Once at the wheel, Maddern looked back. Gunnison was a ghost-like figure, lean and spindly, the last man one would expect to work on a farm, as his family had done for three generations.
âGood night, doctor!'
Maddern drove off, feeling very strange, now that it was over. The situation had been peculiar ever since he had first realised that there were no other babies on the way, but nothing like as disconcerting as this. Until tonight there had been the unborn child, the cycle of birth, growing up, marriage and childbirth had continued: but now, over a surprisingly wide area, it had ceased.
Maddern actually shivered.
caused this awful barrenness?
He began to think of other patients, women with three, four or five children and every intention of having more, suddenly becoming barren. There was a small Roman Catholic community in Middlecombe itself, a very orthodox and faithful group with a priest who was as adamant against the pill as Nurse Cray. There had been no case of conception among the married couples in the parish for over eight months; no, over nine.
Good God! Why didn't he wake up to the way in which time was passing. And why hadn't a public enquiry been held? A large area of this part of England, with a population of over ten thousand people, was barren; like a desert, where human life was concerned. The situation had developed slowly, only in the past four or five months had the authorities woken up to the strangeness of the situation. Reports had been sent in to the Ministry of Health but red tape used up so much time. Doctors and local authorities now knew that there was no clear line of demarcation; several rural areas were concerned, but only Middlecombe had been struck so devastatingly as this.
Maddern gave a little shudder as he turned off the farm lane and headed for the town. Way up on the left was Torrent Farm, the big house itself still occupied by the Torrent family, as it had been for three hundred years. Heredity was important in this part of the world. Houses, land, skills and handicrafts were passed on from generation to generation.
But not any more.
Maddern reached the top of the hill which ran down into Middlecombe itself. He could see the lights in the High Street spreading out like an illuminated spider's web, some of the delicate strands broken, as in a storm. His house, on the far side of town, was one of the few with its porch light shining. His housekeeper refused to switch it off when he was out, no matter what time it was.
It was half past three, and the countryside lay quiet and dark. He had come to know it so well since Lilian and he had first set up house here, eager and excited, in his first practice. He had been the third, very junior partner, then.
Why was he so sensitive to pain tonight?
Lilian had been dead ten years. Their only child had died at the age of three, from leukaemia; the same dread weakening of the blood had lurked in the mother, too. One would think that he would get used to being without his wife, but at heart he knew that he would never become accustomed to the loneliness.
Hallo! The Comptons were still up. At
hour. He could see their bungalow at the end of a road leading off the High Street, the last one in Middlecombe proper. It was newly built, bright with freshly applied paint, for young Guy Compton had made startling progress as the representative of a big insurance company, specialising in farming and general agricultural cover. They had been married three years: Guy, and Belinda, handsomeness married to loveliness, a delightful young couple,
Nearly six months ago, Belinda had come to see him, distressed and in tears.
âOf course I love him, doctor, he's absolutely wonderful, but I
want children. I
it's not my fault, it must be something the matter with Guy.'
The series of tests and examinations had followed, and first Belinda and later Guy had gone to Bristol, and the best gynaecologists in the West Country had said they could see no reason why they should not have children; no reason at all.
But none had come to them, and now at half past three they were awake, with lights blazing all over the house. Were they all right? Maddern wondered. He was tempted to drive along and see, but that could be anticipating trouble, and if they had need of him they would telephone. Had they telephoned already, Bertha, his housekeeper, would have called the Gunnisons. That was one thing the Torrents allowed them in the isolated cottage; a telephone â oh, and electricity.
There were no messages when he reached his home, which was called Hallows End. He warmed some milk, ate sandwiches which Bertha had left out for him, and went to bed. But it was a long time before he dropped off to sleep. When he wasn't seeing that newborn babe and its father in his mind's eye, he was thinking about the Comptons.
âIt must be your fault!' cried Belinda Compton. âI'm as normal as any woman. I don't care what any doctor says, it's
She was standing by a window, the curtains drawn, in the bungalow which was so pleasant and new. This room was long and rather narrow, with its double bed and the wardrobe against one end wall, the dressing-table at the other. The colouring was pink and grey with white background, and a motif of roses was in the carpet, the wallpaper, the bedspread and the curtains; a little fussy, perhaps, and yet undeniably attractive. She wore a flimsy dressing-gown loose at the waist, a tight-fitting, pink nightdress, low at the front. She had the kind of a figure which could drive a man almost crazy with desire, and even as she stood there crying Guy was aware of it and of desire for her. He sat up against the pillow on the left side of the bed, hair as immaculate as it was during the day, troubled, yet by now so used to his wife's accusation, that it no longer came as a shock, no longer hurt and angered him.
âBel, darling, they
say the same, andâ'
âI don't care what they say! It must be you!'
âBel, sweetheart, there isn't any way of being sure,' he protested very gently. âWe've done everything we can. And Dr. Maddern told us that this is quite common among young couples.'
âIt must be you I tell you!' she screamed. The way she drew her lips back, the way she clenched and raised her fists, detracted from her beauty. He had never seen her like this, and for a moment he was silenced. âAll my family have a lot of children, they're all wondering why I'm so long starting a family.'
âDarling, your family doesn't come into this,' Guy interjected.
âOh yes it does! The Blandings of Middlecombe have lived here for centuries.
And all the daughters have lots of babies.
family matters to me even if it doesn't to you.'
âBut I didn't sayâ'
âYou said my family doesn't come into this, but it does!' she screamed. âI've got four sisters and they all had their firstborn within a year. Why, Doris was married nearly two years after me and she's had a son for
It's your fault, it must be your fault.'
Heavily, miserably, Guy Compton said, âWell, there's nothing we can do about it even if it
âOh, isn't there,' she cried. âIsn't there! You can have as much sex as you want, you don't care whether I get what I want. And I want a baby. If you can't give me one then I'll find a man who can.'
Guy caught his breath. âYou wouldn'tâ'
âOh, yes, I would! I could divorce you, it's easy these days. And I wouldn't even have to wait for a divorce. If you can't give me a child I'll find a man who can, and youâ'
He moved swiftly across to her, and slapped her across the face so hard that she gasped, then backed away, what little colour she had ebbing from her cheeks. He went closer and snatched at her hands, first one and then the other, manoeuvred until he held both slim wrists in his left hand, and with his free hand, slapped her a second time.
âDon't you ever say that to me again!' he rasped. âDon't ever say that again!'
Half crying, she said, âI've got every right to say what I like.'