The Red Serpent by Seabury Quinn
Amateur Sleuth

The Red Serpent

A Novelette of Astonishment

by Seabury Quinn

Real Detective Tales | June/July 1927 | Vol. 11, No. 2 THE RED FILE | May 7, 2017 | Vol. 3 No. 10 Casefile No: 55ccf75fb3901011515aefef

Professor Forrester, detective extraordinary, is all but baffled by the mysterious death of his friend and colleague, Professor Jonas Podkin. Rosalie, however, aids him no little in untangling the skein of the riddle. The girl is become almost as clever as her sagacious Uncle Harvey.

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Table of Contents
  1. Podkin — Dead
  2. The Insurance Policy
  3. Doctor Delaval
  4. Confound the Wicked One
  5. Professor Podkin's Death Certificate
  6. The Token of Her Master's Favor

Quinn cuts loose with both barrels in this story. Strange events, eerie happenings, a sinister plot, an atmosphere of weird mystery — you will find them all here. And they make your scalp bristle. … By and large, here’s a neat bit of work and a good story — as thrilling a thing as we’ve read this year. — E. B.

Chapter 1

Podkin — Dead

Professor Harvey Forrester drew a white silk handkerchief from the breast pocket of his primly untidy jacket and industriously polished the lenses of his neat, rimless pince-nez. Then he replaced the glasses on his thin, aquiline nose and stared disgustedly at the pile of examination papers before him.

“Idiots!” he muttered. “Numbskulls! Imbeciles! I took particular pains to impress the fact that the remains of the Proto-Egyptians are preserved because they were buried in the hot, dry sand, and that embalming wasn’t practiced to any extent in prehistoric times, yet every paper here says — ”

Br-r-r-ring — r-r-r-ring! The shrill, sharp chime of his telephone bell cut short his oration.

“Hello!” he barked, snatching the receiver from its hook.

The soft, low rasp of somebody breathing laboriously came distinctly over the wire, then: “Rosalie speaking, Uncle Harvey,” a soft, rather high-pitched voice announced.

“Yes?” Though Professor Forrester was not aware of it, the strident note of ill temper had faded from his tones, and his thin, stern features had softened perceptibly at the sound of the girl’s voice. “Yes?” he repeated. “What is it?”

“Uncle Harvey — ” again the soft, gasping interruption to the words — “can you come over here right away, please? I’m at Professor Podkin’s. Professor — Podkin — is — dead!”

“Eh?” Forrester returned sharply. “Podkin — dead? Good heavens! Yes, of course; I’ll be right over.”

Pausing only to snatch gloves, stick and hat from the hall-rack as he hurried to the door, the Professor swung across the campus toward the adjacent village where his friend and colleague, Jonas Podkin, lay dead.

“Poor Podkin; poor chap!” he kept repeating as the ferrule of his cane beat time with his sharp heel-clicks on the frosty ground. “Poor fellow, poor old Pod!”

I always told him that ‘appetite of his would be his death some day!”

“The pretty little cottage where fat little Professor Podkin had lived and worked among his beloved books on Zend and Sanscrit, and had finally yielded up his life, presented the conventional scene when Forrester, almost breathless from his hurried tramp, mounted the front steps. Several kindly, helpful neighbors whispered together in the hall, somewhere upstairs a woman wept softly; the family physician, with the professionally sympathetic look reserved for such occasions, ruffled a sheaf of papers at the library desk, his fountain pen rapidly filling in the spaces reserved for statistical information in the death certificate.

“Yes,” he informed Professor Forrester as they shook hands, “it was sudden. Acute indigestion, you know. These heavy-set fellows, with a fondness for indigestible foods, usually go that way, sooner or later. Too bad; very sad case; so unnecessary, too.”

He scratched the figures “56” in the blank marked “age” as Forrester, treading softly, turned and mounted the stairs.

“Mrs. Podkin — ” Forrester took the widow’s trembling white hand in both his, then paused, his earnest look and tear-filled eyes continuing his message of condolence and promise of help more effectually than any spoken words.

“Th — thank you. Professor Forrester,” she faltered. “I can hardly realize it. Jonas seemed so well at luncheon. You know — ’’ she wiped her eyes furtively and bit her lips in a vain effort at self-control — “you know, he’d been feeling unwell for several days, and today was the first time he seemed to care about eating anything. We had just the sort of luncheon he liked, too calf’s liver and bacon — and he ate with such an appetite. Then he went into the study to lie down for a while before going on with his work, and when I went in to waken him at four o’clock — he — he was in convulsions!” Her restraint gave way utterly and she bowed her head on her hands while her shoulders shook with sobs.

Forrester patted her arm with awkward kindness. “Yes?” he prompted gently, feeling instinctively she would find relief in discussing the tragedy.

“I ran in to him,” she went on, drying her eyes, “and called, ‘Jonas!’ and he seemed to grow worse at the sound of my voice. Just as I turned to run from the room I heard Doctor Delaval coming up the front walk, and rushed out to him. He came right in and did what he could for Jonas; but it was too late. My poor darling died while we were trying to get Doctor Hondell on the ’phone.”

“U’m?” Forrester wrinkled his brow. “Who is Doctor Delaval? I’ve heard Jonas speak of him, but I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”

“He’s an Orientalist,” she responded, “very much interested in Yoga. He and Jonas were working on some sort of codification of the system. I didn’t understand it very well, but they were together a great deal, and Jonas was giving more and more time to it. Indeed, it seemed to me, sometimes, he neglected his university work for Doctor Delaval’s.”

“U’m?” Forrester repeated. “Did I understand you to say he tried to help Jonas?”

“Yes — oh, yes! He’s a physician as well as a scholar, you know, and happened to have a case of medicines with him today. He gave Jonas an injection of strychnine, and it seemed to revive him for a moment, but — but the dear boy was too far gone for anything to help, and — ” again the hot tears drowned her words, and Forrester gave her shoulder another reassuring pat as he turned from the room and sought his ward.

“All right. Uncle Harvey,” the girl whispered as he beckoned her. She threw her arms about Emma Podkin and gave her a parting kiss of sympathy as she followed the Professor out into the chilly April twilight.

~ End of Sample ~

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