Anthony Hope.

Beaumaroy Home from the Wars



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CHAPTER I
DOCTOR MARY'S PAYING GUEST

"Just in time, wasn't it?" asked Mary Arkroyd.

"Two days before the Ц the ceremony! Mercifully it had all been kept very quiet, because it was only three months since poor Gilly was killed. I forget whether you ever met Gilly? My half-brother, you know?"

"Only once Ц in Collingham Gardens. He had an exeat, and dashed in one Saturday morning when we were just finishing our work. Don't you remember?"

"Yes, I think I do. But since my engagement I'd gone into colours Ц oh, of course, I've gone back into mourning now!†Ц and everything was ready Ц settlements and so on, you know. And rooms taken at Bournemouth. And then it all came out!"

"How?"

"Well, Eustace Ц Captain Cranster, I mean Ц Oh, I think he really must have had shell-shock, as he said, even though the doctor seemed to doubt it! He gave the Colonel as a reference in some shop, and Ц and the bank wouldn't pay the cheque. Other cheques turned up too; and in the end the police went through his papers, and found letters from Ц well, from her, you know. From Bogota. South America, isn't it? He'd lived there ten years, you know, growing something Ц beans, or coffee, or coffee-beans, or something Ц I don't know what. He tried to say the marriage wasn't binding, but the Colonel Ц wasn't it providential that the Colonel was home on leave? Mamma could never have grappled with it! The Colonel was sure it was, and so were the lawyers."

"What happened then?"

"The great thing was to keep it quiet. Now wasn't it? And there was the shell-shock Ц or so Eustace Ц Captain Cranster, I mean Ц said, anyhow. So, on the Colonel's advice, Mamma squared the cheque business and Ц and they gave him twenty-four hours to clear out. Papa Ц I call the Colonel papa, you know, though he's really my stepfather Ц used a little influence, I think. Anyhow it was managed. I never saw him again, Mary."

"Poor dear! Was it very bad?"

"Yes! But Ц suppose we had been married! Mary, where should I have been?"

Mary Arkroyd left that problem alone. "Were you very fond of him?" she asked.

"Awfully!" Cynthia turned up to her friend pretty blue eyes suffused in tears. "It was the end of the world to me. That there could be such men! I went to bed. Mamma could do nothing with me. Oh, well, she wrote to you about all that."

"She told me you were in a pretty bad way."

"I was just desperate! Then one day Ц in bed Ц the thought of you came. It seemed an absolute inspiration. I remembered the card you sent on my last birthday Ц you've never forgotten my birthdays, though it's years since we met Ц with your new address here Ц and your 'Doctor,' and all the letters after your name! I thought it rather funny." A faint smile, the first since Miss Walford's arrival at Inkston, probably the first since Captain Eustace Cranster's shell-shock had wrought catastrophe Ц appeared on her lips.

"How I waited for your answer! You don't mind having me, do you, dear? Mamma insisted on suggesting the P.G. arrangement. I was afraid you'd shy at it."

"Not a bit! I should have liked to have you anyhow, but I can make you much more comfortable with the P.G. money. And your maid too Ц she looks as if she was accustomed to the best! By the way, need she be quite so tearful? She's more tearful than you are yourself."

"Jeanne's very, very fond of me," Cynthia murmured reproachfully.

"Oh, we'll get her out of that," said Mary briskly. "The tears, I mean, not the fondness. I'm very fond of you myself. Six years ago you were a charming kitten, and I used to enjoy being your 'visiting governess' Ц to say nothing of finding the guineas very handy while I was waiting to qualify. You're rather like a kitten still, one of those blue-eyed ones Ц Siamese, aren't they?†Ц with close fur and a wondering look. But you mustn't mew down here, and you must have lots of milk and cream. Even if rations go on, I can certify all the extras for you. That's the good of being a doctor!" She laughed cheerfully as she took a cigarette from the mantelpiece and lit it.

Cynthia, on the other hand, began to sob, prettily and not in a noisy fashion, yet evidently heading towards a bout of grief. Moreover, no sooner had the first sound of lamentation escaped from her lips, than the door was opened smartly and a buxom girl, in lady's-maid uniform, rushed in, darted across the room, and knelt by Cynthia, sobbing also and exclaiming, "Oh, my poor Mees Cynthia!"

Mary smiled in a humorous contempt. "Stop this!" she commanded rather brusquely. "You've not been deceived too, have you, Jeanne?"

"Me, madame? No. But my poor Mees Ц "

"Leave your poor Mees to me." She took a paper bag from the mantelpiece. "Go and eat chocolates."

Fixed with a firm and decidedly professional glance, Jeanne stopped sobbing and rose slowly to her feet.

"Don't listen outside the door. You must have been listening. Wait till you're rung for. Miss Cynthia will be all right with me. We're going for a walk. Take her upstairs and put on her hat for her, and a thick coat; it's cold and going to rain, I think."

"A walk, Mary?" Cynthia's sobs stopped to make way for this protest. The description of the weather did not sound attractive.

"Yes, yes. Now off with both of you! Here, take the chocolates, Jeanne, and try to remember that it might have been worse."

Jeanne's brown eyes were eloquent of reproach.

"Captain Cranster might have been found out too late Ц after the wedding," Mary explained with a smile. "Try to look at it like that. Five minutes to get ready, Cynthia!" She was ready for the weather herself, in the stout coat and skirt and weather-proof hat in which she had driven the two-seater on her round that morning.

The disconsolate pair drifted ruefully from the room, though Jeanne did recollect to take the chocolates. Doctor Mary stood looking down at the fire, her lips still shaped in that firm, wise, and philosophical smile with which doctors and nurses Ц and indeed, sometimes, anybody who happens to be feeling pretty well himself Ц console or exasperate suffering humanity. "A very good thing the poor silly child did come to me!" That was the form her thoughts took. For although Dr. Mary Arkroyd was, and knew herself to be, no dazzling genius at her profession Ц in moments of candour she would speak of having "scraped through" her qualifying examinations Ц she had a high opinion of her own common sense and her power of guiding weaker mortals.

For all that Jeanne's cheek bulged with a chocolate, there was open resentment on her full pouting lips, and a hint of the same feeling in Cynthia's still liquid eyes, when mistress and maid came downstairs again. Without heeding these signs, Mary drew on her gauntlets, took her walking-stick, and flung the hall door open. A rush of cold wind filled the little hall. Jeanne shivered ostentatiously; Cynthia sighed and muffled herself deeper in her fur collar. "A good walking day!" said Mary decisively.

Up to now, Inkston had not impressed Cynthia Walford very favourably. It was indeed a mixed kind of a place. Like many villages which lie near to London and have been made, by modern developments, more accessible than once they were, it showed chronological strata in its buildings. Down by the station all was new, red, suburban. Mounting the tarred road, the wayfarer bore slightly to the right along the original village street; bating the aggressive "fronts" of one or two commercial innovators, this was old, calm, serene, grey in tone and restful, ornamented by three or four good-class Georgian houses, one quite fine, with well-wrought iron gates (this was Dr. Irechester's); turning to the right again, but more sharply, the wayfarer found himself once more in villadom, but a villadom more ornate, more costly, with gardens to be measured in acres Ц or nearly. This was Hinton Avenue (Hinton because it was the builder's wife's maiden name, Avenue because avenue is genteel). Here Mary dwelt, but by good luck her predecessor, Dr. Christian Evans, had seized upon a surviving old cottage at the end of the avenue, and, indeed, of Inkston village itself. Beyond it stretched meadows, while the road, turning again, ran across an open heath, and pursued its way to Sprotsfield, four miles distant, a place of greater size where all amenities could be found.

It was along this road that the friends now walked, Mary setting a brisk pace. "When once you've turned your back on the Avenue, it's heaps better," she said. "Might be real country, looking this way, mightn't it? Except the Naylors' place Ц oh, and Tower Cottage Ц there are no houses between this and Sprotsfield."

The wind blew shrewdly, with an occasional spatter of rain; the withered bracken lay like a vast carpet of dull copper colour under the cloudy sky; scattered fir trees made fantastic shapes in the early gloom of a December day. A sombre scene, yet wanting only sunshine to make it flash in a richness of colour; even to-day its quiet and spaciousness, its melancholy and monotony, seemed to bid a sympathetic and soothing welcome to aching and fretted hearts.

"It really is rather nice out here," Cynthia admitted.

"I come almost every afternoon. Oh, I've plenty of time! My round in the morning generally sees me through Ц except for emergencies Ц births and deaths, and so on. You see, my predecessor, poor Christian Evans, never had more than the leavings, and that's all I've got. I believe the real doctor Ц the old-established one Ц Dr. Irechester, was angry at first with Dr. Evans for coming; he didn't want a rival. But Christian was such a meek, mild, simple little Welshman, not the least pushing or ambitious; and very soon Dr. Irechester, who's quite well off, was glad to leave him the dirty work Ц I mean," she explained, smiling, "the cottages and the panel work Ц National Insurance, you know Ц and so on. Well, as you know, I came down as locum for Christian Ц he was a fellow-student of mine Ц and when the dear little man was killed in France, Dr. Irechester himself suggested that I should stay on. He was rather nice. He said, 'We all started to laugh at you, at first, but we don't laugh now Ц anyhow, only my wife does! So, if you stay on, I don't doubt we shall work very well together, my dear colleague.' Wasn't that rather nice of him, Cynthia?"

"Yes, dear," said Cynthia, in a voice that sounded a good many miles away.

Mary laughed. "I'm bound to be interested in you, but I suppose you're not bound to be interested in me," she observed resignedly. "All the same, I made a sensation at Inkston just at first. And they were even more astonished when it turned out that I could dance and play lawn tennis."

"That's a funny little place," said Cynthia, pointing to the left side of the road.

"Tower Cottage, that's called."

"But what a funny place!" Cynthia insisted. "A round tower, like a Martello tower, only smaller, of course; and what looks just like an ordinary cottage Ц or small farmhouse Ц joined on to it. What could the tower have been for?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Origin lost in the mists of antiquity! An old gentleman named Saffron lives there now."

"A patient of yours, Mary?"

"Oh no! He's well off Ц rich, I believe. So he belongs to Dr. Irechester. But I often meet him along the road. Lately there's always been a younger man with him Ц a companion, or secretary, or something of that sort, I hear he is."

"There are two men coming along the road now."

"Yes, that's them Ц the old man and his friend. He's rather striking to look at."

"Which of them?"

"The old man, of course. I haven't looked at the secretary. Cynthia, I believe you're beginning to feel a little better!"

"Oh no, I'm not! I'm afraid I'm not, really!" But there had been a cheerfully roguish little smile on her face. It vanished very promptly when observed.

The two men approached them, on their way, no doubt, to Tower Cottage. The old man was not above middle height, indeed scarcely reached it; but he made the most of his inches, carrying himself very upright, with an air of high dignity. Close-cut white hair showed under an old-fashioned peaked cap; he wore a plaid shawl swathed round him, his left arm being enveloped in its folds; his right rested in the arm of his companion, who was taller than he, lean and loose-built, clad in an almost white (and very unseasonable-looking) suit of some homespun material. He wore no covering on his head, a thick crop of curly hair (of a colour indistinguishable in the dim light) presumably affording such protection as he needed. His face was turned down towards the old man, who was looking up at him and apparently talking to him, though in so low a tone that no sound reached Mary and Cynthia as they passed by. Neither man gave any sign of noticing their presence.

"Mr. Saffron, you said? Rather a queer name, but he looks a nice old man; patriarchal, you know. What's the name of the other one?"

"I did hear; somebody mentioned him at the Naylors' Ц somebody who had heard something about him in France. What was the name? It was something queer too, I think."

"They've got queer names and they live in a queer house!" Cynthia actually gave a little laugh. "But are you going to walk all night, Mary dear?"

"Oh, poor thing! I forgot you! You're tired? We'll turn back."

They retraced their steps, again passing Tower Cottage, into which its occupants must have gone, for they were no longer to be seen.

"That name's on the tip of my tongue," said Mary in amused vexation. "I shall get it in a moment!"

Cynthia had relapsed into gloom. "It doesn't matter in the least," she murmured.

"It's Beaumaroy!" said Mary in triumph.

"I don't wonder you couldn't remember that!"

CHAPTER II
THE GENERAL REMEMBERS

Amongst many various, and no doubt useful, functions, Miss Delia Wall performed that of gossip and newsagent-general to the village of Inkston. A hard-featured, swarthy spinster of forty, with a roving, inquisitive, yet not unkindly eye, she perambulated Ц or rather percycled Ц the district, taking stock of every incident. Not a cat could kitten or a dog have the mange without her privity; critics of her mental activity went near to insinuating connivance. Naturally, therefore, she was well acquainted with the new development at Tower Cottage, although the isolated position of that dwelling made thorough observation piquantly difficult. She laid her information before an attentive, if not very respectful, audience gathered round the tea-table at Old Place, the Naylors' handsome house on the outskirts of Sprotsfield and on the far side of the heath from Inkston. She was enjoying herself, although she was, as usual, a trifle distrustful of the quality of Mr. Naylor's smile; it smacked of the satiric. "He looks at you as if you were a specimen," she had once been heard to complain; and, when she said "specimen," it was obviously beetles that she had in mind.

"Everybody knows old Mr. Saffron Ц by sight, I mean Ц and the woman who does for him," she said. "There's never been anything remarkable about them. He took his walk as regular as clock-work every afternoon, and she bought just the same things every week; her books must have tallied almost to a penny every month, Mrs. Naylor! I know it! And it was a very rare thing indeed for Mr. Saffron to go to London, though I have known him to be away once or twice; but very, very rarely!" She paused and added dramatically, "Until the armistice!"

"Full of ramifications, that event, Miss Wall. It affects even my business." Mr. Naylor, though now withdrawn from an active share in its conduct, was still interested in the large shipping firm from which he had drawn his comfortable fortune.

She looked at him suspiciously, as he put the ends of the slender white fingers of his two hands together, and leant forward to listen Ц with that smile of his and eyes faintly twinkling. But the problem was seething in her brain; she had to go on.

"A week after the armistice Mr. Saffron went to London by the 9.50. He travelled first, Anna."

"Did he, dear?" Mrs. Naylor, a stout and placid dame, was not yet stirred to excitement.

"He came down by the 4.11, and those two men with him. And they've been there ever since!"

"Two men, Delia! I've only seen one."

"Oh yes, there's another! Sergeant Hooper they call him; a short thickset man with a black moustache. He buys two bottles of rum every week at the 'Green Man.' And Ц one minute, please, Mr. Naylor Ц "

"I was only going to say that it looks to me as if this man Hooper were, or had been, a soldier. What do you think?"

"Never mind papa! Go on, Miss Wall. I'm interested." This encouragement came from Gertie Naylor, a pretty girl of seventeen who was consuming much tea, bread, and honey.

"And since then the old gentleman and this Mr. Beaumaroy go to town regularly every week on Wednesdays! Now who are they, how did Mr. Saffron get hold of them, and what are they doing here? I'm at a loss, Anna."

Apparently an impasse! And Mr. Naylor did not seem to assist matters by asking whether Miss Wall had kept a constant eye on the Agony Column. Mrs. Naylor took up her knitting and switched off to another topic.

"Dr. Arkroyd's friend, Delia dear! What a charming girl she looks!"

"Friend, Anna? I didn't know that! A patient, I understand, anyhow. She's taking Valentine's beef juice. Of course they do give that in drink cases, but I should be sorry to think Ц "

"Drugs, more likely," Mr. Naylor suavely interposed. Then he rose from his chair and began to pace slowly up and down the long room, looking at his beautiful pictures, his beautiful china, his beautiful chairs, all the beautiful things that were his. His family took no notice of this roving up and down; it was a habit, and was tacitly accepted as meaning that he had Ц for the moment Ц had enough of the company, and even of his own sallies at its expense.

"I've asked Dr. Arkroyd to bring her over Ц Miss Walford, I mean Ц the first day it's fine enough for tennis," Mrs. Naylor pursued. There was a hard court at Old Place, so that winter did not stop the game entirely.

"What a name, too!"

"Walford? It's quite a good name, Delia."

"No, no, Anna! Beaumaroy, of course." Miss Wall was back at the larger problem.

"There's Alec's voice Ц he and the General are back from their golf. Ring for another teapot, Gertie dear."

The door opened; not Alec but the General came in, and closed the door carefully behind him; it was obviously an act of precaution and not merely a normal exercise of good manners. Then he walked up to his hostess and said, "It's not my fault, Anna. Alec would do it, though I shook my head at him, behind the fellow's back."

"What do you mean, General?" cried the hostess. Mr. Naylor, for his part, stopped roving.

The door again! "Come in, Mr. Beaumaroy Ц here's tea."

Mr. Beaumaroy obediently entered, in the wake of Captain Alec Naylor, who duly presented him to Mrs. Naylor, adding that Beaumaroy had been kind enough to make the fourth in a game with the General, the Rector of Sprotsfield, and himself. "And he and the parson were too tough a nut for us, weren't they, sir?" he added to the General.

Besides being an excellent officer and a capital fellow, Alec Naylor was also reputed to be one of the handsomest men in the Service; six feet three, very straight, very fair, with features as regular as any romantic hero of them all, and eyes as blue. The honourable limp that at present marked his movements would, it was hoped, pass away. Even his own family were often surprised into a new admiration of his physical perfections, remarking, one to the other, how Alec took the shine out of every other man in the room.

There was no shine Ц no external obvious shine Ц to take out of Mr. Beaumaroy Ц Miss Wall's puzzling, unaccounted-for Mr. Beaumaroy. The light showed him now more clearly than when Mary Arkroyd met him on the heath road, but perhaps thereby did him no service. His features, though irregular, were not ugly or insignificant, but he wore a rather battered aspect; there were deep lines running from the corners of his mouth, and crowsfeet had started under the grey eyes which, in their turn, looked more sceptical than ardent, rather mocking than eager. Yet when he smiled, his face became not merely pleasant, but confidentially pleasant; he seemed to smile especially to and for the person to whom he was talking; and his voice was notably agreeable, soft and clear Ц the voice of a high-bred man, but not exactly of a high-bred Englishman. There was no accent definite enough to be called foreign, certainly not to be assigned to any particular race; but there was an exotic touch about his manner of speech suggesting that, even if not that of a foreigner, it was shaped and coloured by the inflexions of foreign tongues. The hue of his plentiful and curly hair, indistinguishable to Mary and Cynthia, now stood revealed as neither black, nor red, nor auburn, nor brown, nor golden, but just Ц and rather surprisingly Ц a plain yellow, the colour of a cowslip or thereabouts. Altogether rather a rum-looking fellow! This had been Alec Naylor's first remark when the Rector of Sprotsfield pointed him out, as a possible fourth, at the golf club, and the rough justice of the description could not be denied. He, like Alec, bore his scars; the little finger of his right hand was amputated down to the knuckle.



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