The Devil's Paw HTML version

Chapter 1
The two men, sole occupants of the somewhat shabby cottage parlour, lingered over their
port, not so much with the air of wine lovers, but rather as human beings and intimates,
perfectly content with their surroundings and company. Outside, the wind was howling
over the marshes, and occasional bursts of rain came streaming against the window
panes. Inside at any rate was comfort, triumphing over varying conditions. The cloth
upon the plain deal table was of fine linen, the decanter and glasses were beautifully cut;
there were walnuts and, in a far Corner, cigars of a well-known brand and cigarettes from
a famous tobacconist. Beyond that little oasis, however, were all the evidences of a hired
abode. A hole in the closely drawn curtains was fastened together by a safety pin. The
horsehair easy-chairs bore disfiguring antimacassars, the photographs which adorned the
walls were grotesque but typical of village ideals, the carpet was threadbare, the closed
door secured by a latch instead of the usual knob. One side of the room was littered with
golf clubs, a huge game bag and several boxes of cartridges. Two shotguns lay upon the
remains of a sofa. It scarcely needed the costume of Miles Furley, the host, to
demonstrate the fact that this was the temporary abode of a visitor to the Blakeney
marshes in search of sport.
Furley, broad-shouldered, florid, with tanned skin and grizzled hair, was still wearing the
high sea boots and jersey of the duck shooter. His companion, on the other hand, a tall,
slim man, with high forehead, clear eyes, stubborn jaw, and straight yet sensitive mouth,
wore the ordinary dinner clothes of civilisation. The contrast between the two men might
indeed have afforded some ground for speculation as to the nature of their intimacy.
Furley, a son of the people, had the air of cultivating, even clinging to a certain plebeian
strain, never so apparent as when he spoke, or in his gestures. He was a Member of
Parliament for a Labour constituency, a shrewd and valuable exponent of the gospel of
the working man. What he lacked in the higher qualities of oratory he made up in sturdy
common sense. The will-o'-the-wisp Socialism of the moment, with its many attendant
"isms" and theories, received scant favour at his hands. He represented the solid element
in British Labour politics, and it was well known that he had refused a seat in the Cabinet
in order to preserve an absolute independence. He had a remarkable gift of taciturnity,
which in a man of his class made for strength, and it was concerning him that the Prime
Minister had made his famous epigram, that Furley was the Labour man whom he feared
the most and dreaded the least.
Julian Orden, with an exterior more promising in many respects than that of his friend,
could boast of no similar distinctions. He was the youngest son of a particularly fatuous
peer resident in the neighbourhood, had started life as a barrister, in which profession he
had attained a moderate success, had enjoyed a brief but not inglorious spell of
soldiering, from which he had retired slightly lamed for life, and had filled up the
intervening period in the harmless occupation of censoring. His friendship with Furley
appeared on the surface too singular to be anything else but accidental. Probably no one
save the two men themselves understood it, and they both possessed the gift of silence.