Every man has a right to be conceited until he is famous—so it is said; and perhaps unconsciously, Mark Brendon shared that opinion.
His self-esteem was not, however, conspicuous, although he held that only a second-rate man is diffident. At thirty-five years of age he already stood high in the criminal investigation department of the police. He was indeed about to receive an inspectorship, well earned by those qualities of imagination and intuition which, added to the necessary endowment of courage, resource, and industry, had created his present solid success.
A substantial record already stood behind him, and during the war certain international achievements were added to his credit. He felt complete assurance that in ten years he would retire from government employ and open that private and personal practice which it was his ambition to establish.
And now Mark was taking holiday on Dartmoor, devoting himself to his hobby of trout fishing and accepting the opportunity to survey his own life from a bird’s-eye point of view, measure his achievement, and consider impartially his future, not only as a detective but as a man.
Mark had reached a turning point, or rather a point from which new interests and new personal plans were likely to present themselves upon the theatre of a life hitherto devoted to one drama alone. Until now he had existed for his work only. Since the war he had been again occupied with routine labour on cases of darkness, doubt, and crime, once more living only that he might resolve these mysteries, with no personal interest at all outside his grim occupation. He had been a machine as innocent of any inner life, any spiritual ambition or selfish aim, as a pair of handcuffs.
This assiduity and single-hearted devotion had brought their temporal reward. He was now at last in position to enlarge his outlook, consider higher aspects of life, and determine to be a man as well as a machine.
He found himself with five thousand pounds saved as a result of some special grants during the war and a large honorarium from the French Government. He was also in possession of a handsome salary and the prospect of promotion, when a senior man retired at no distant date. Too intelligent to find all that life had to offer in his work alone, he now began to think of culture, of human pleasures, and those added interests and responsibilities that a wife and family would offer.
He knew very few women—none who awakened any emotion of affection. Indeed at five-and-twenty he had told himself that marriage must be ruled out of his calculations, since his business made life precarious and was also of a nature to be unduly complicated if a woman shared it with him. Love, he had reasoned, might lessen his powers of concentration, blunt his extraordinary special faculties, perhaps even introduce an element of calculation and actual cowardice before great alternatives, and so shadow his powers and modify his future success. But now, ten years later, he thought otherwise, found himself willing to receive impressions, ready even to woo and wed if the right girl should present herself. He dreamed of some well-educated woman who would lighten his own ignorance of many branches of knowledge.