Anthony Hope.

Beaumaroy Home from the Wars



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CHAPTER XIII
RIGHT OF CONQUEST

What has been related of Mr. Saffron's life before he ascended the throne on which he still sat in the Tower represented all that Beaumaroy knew of his old friend before they met Ц indeed he knew scarcely as much. He told the brief story to Doctor Mary in the parlour. She heard him listlessly; all that was not much to the point on which her thoughts were set, and did not answer the riddle which the scene in the Tower put to her. She was calm now Ц and ashamed that she had ever lost her calmness.

"Well, there was the situation as I understood it when I took on the job Ц or quite soon afterwards. He thought that he was being pursued; in a sense he was. If these Radbolts found out the truth, they certainly would pursue him, try to shut him up, and prevent him from making away with his money or leaving it to anybody else. I didn't at all know at first what a tidy lot he had. He hated the Radbolts; even after he ceased to know them as cousins, he remained very conscious of them always; they were enemies, spies, secret service people on his track Ц poor old boy! Well, why should they have him and his money? I didn't see it. I don't see it to this day."

Mary was in Mr. Saffron's arm-chair. Beaumaroy stood before the fire. She looked up at him.

"They seem to have more right than anybody else. And you know Ц you knew Ц that he was mad."

"His being mad gives them no right! Oh, well, it's no use arguing. In the end I suppose they had rights Ц of a kind Ц a right by law, I suppose Ц though I never knew the law and don't want to Ц to shut the old man up, and make him damned miserable, and get the money for themselves. That sounds just the sort of right the law does give people over other people Ц because Aunt Betsy married Uncle John fifty years ago, and was probably infernally sorry for it!"

Mary smiled. "A matter of principle with you, was it, Mr. Beaumaroy?

"No Ц instinct, I think. It's my instinct to be against the proper thing, the regular thing, the thing that deals hardly with an individual in the name of some highly nebulous general principle."

"Like discipline?" she put in, with a reminiscence of Major-General Punnit.

He nodded. "Yes, that's one case of it. And, then, the situation amused me. I think that had more to do with it than anything else at first. It amused me to play up to his delusions. I suggested the shawl as useful on our walks Ц and thereby got him to take wholesome exercise; that ought to appeal to you, Doctor! I got him the combination knife-and-fork; that made him enjoy his meals Ц also good for him, Doctor! But I didn't do these things because they were good for him, but because they amused me. They never amused Hooper, he's a dull, surly, and Ц I'm inclined to believe Ц treacherous dog."

"Who is he?"

"Sacked from the army Ц sent to quod. Just a gaol-bird whom I've kept loose. But the things did amuse me, and it was that at first.

But then Ц " he paused.

Looking at him again, Mary saw a whimsical tenderness expressed in his eyes and smile. "The poor old chap was so overwhelmingly grateful. He thought me the one indubitably faithful adherent that he had. And so I was too Ц though not in the way he thought. And he trusted me absolutely. Well, was I to give him up Ц to the law, and the Radbolts, and the gaolers of an asylum Ц a man who trusted me like that?"

"But he was mad," objected Doctor Mary obstinately.

"A man has his feelings Ц or may have Ц even when he's mad. He trusted me and he loved me, Doctor Mary. Won't you allow that I've my case Ц so far?" She made no sign of assent. "Well then, I loved him Ц does that go any better with you? If it doesn't, I'm in a bad way; because what I'm giving you now is the strong part of my case."

"I don't see why you should put what you call your case to me at all, Mr. Beaumaroy."

He looked at her in a reproachful astonishment. "But you seemed touched by Ц by what we saw in the Tower. I thought the old man's death Ц and fate Ц had appealed to you. It seems to me that people can't go through a thing like that together without feeling Ц well, some sort of comradeship. But if you've no sort of feeling of that kind Ц well, I don't want to put my case."

"Go on with your case," said Doctor Mary, after a moment's silence.

"Though it isn't really that I want to put a case for myself at all. But I don't mind owning that I'd like you to understand about it Ц before I clear out."

She looked at him questioningly, but put no spoken question. Beaumaroy sat down on the stool opposite to her, and poked the fire.

"I can't get away from it, can I? There was something else you saw in the Tower, wasn't there, and I dare say that you connect it with a conversation that we had together a little while ago? Well, I'll tell you about that. Oh, well, of course I must, mustn't I?"

"I should like to hear." Her bitterness was gone; he had come now to the riddle.

"He was a king to himself," Beaumaroy resumed thoughtfully, "but in fact I was king over him. I could do anything I liked with him. I had him. I possessed him Ц by right of conquest. The right of conquest seemed a big thing to me; it was about the only sort of right that I'd seen anything of for three years and more. Yes, it was Ц and is Ц a big thing, a real thing Ц the one right in the whole world that there's no doubt about. Other rights are theories, views, preachments! Right of conquest is a fact. I had it. I could make him do what I liked, sign what I liked. Do you begin to see where I found myself? I say found myself, because really it was a surprise to me. At first I thought he was in a pretty small way Ц he only gave me a hundred a year besides my keep. True, he always talked of his money, but I set that down mainly to his delusion. But it was true that he had a lot Ц really a lot. A good bit besides what you saw in there; he must have speculated cleverly, I think, he can't have made it all in his business. Doctor Mary, how much gold do you think there is in the grave in there?

"I haven't the least idea. Thousands? Where did you get it?"

"Oh yes, thousands Ц and thousands. We got it mostly from the aliens in the East End; they'd hoarded it, you know; but they were willing to sell at a premium. The premium rose up to last month; then it dropped a little Ц not much, though, because we'd exhausted some of the most obvious sources. I carried every sovereign of that money in the grave down from London in my brown bag." He smiled reflectively. "Do you know how much a thousand sovereigns weigh, Doctor Mary?"

"I haven't the least idea," said Mary again. She was leaning forward now, listening intently, and watching Beaumaroy's face with absorbed interest.

"Seventeen and three-quarter pounds avoirdupois Ц that's the correct weight. The first time or two we didn't get much Ц they were still shy of us. But after that we made some heavy hauls. Twice we brought down close on two thousand. Once there was three thousand, almost to a sovereign. Even men trained to the work Ц bullion porters, as they call them at the Bank of England Ц reckon five bags of a thousand Ц canvas bags not much short of a foot long and six inches across, you know Ц they reckon five of them a full load Ц and wouldn't care to go far with them either. The equivalent of three of them was quite enough for me to carry from Inkston station up to the cottage Ц trying to look as if I were carrying nothing of any account! One hasn't got to pretend to be carrying nothing in full marching kit Ц nor to carry it all in one hand. And he'd never trust himself in a cab Ц might be kidnapped, you see! I don't know exactly, but from what he said I reckon we've brought down, on our Wednesday trips, about two-thirds of all he had. Now you've probably gathered what his idea was. He knew he was disguised as Saffron Ц and very proud of the way he lived up to the character. As Saffron, he realized the money by driblets Ц turned his securities into notes, his notes into gold. But he'd lost all knowledge that the money was his own Ц made by himself Ц himself Saffron. He thought it was saved out of the wreck of his Imperial fortune. It was to be dedicated to restoring the Imperial cause. He himself could not attempt, at present, to get out of England, least of all carrying pots of gold coin. But he believed that I could. I was to go to Morocco and so on, and raise the country for him, taking as much as I could Ц and coming back for more! He had no doubt at all of my coming back! In fact it wouldn't have been much easier for me to get out of the country with the money than it would have been for the authentic Kaiser himself. But, Doctor Mary, what would have been possible was for me to go somewhere else Ц or even back to the places we knew of Ц for no questions were asked there Ц put that money back into notes, or securities in my own name, and tell him I had carried out the Morocco programme. He had no sense of time, he would have suspected nothing."

"That would have been mere and sheer robbery," said Mary.

"Oh yes, it would," Beaumaroy agreed. "And, if I'd done it, and deserted him, I should have deserved to be hanged. That was hardly my question. As long as he lived, I meant to stick by him; but he was turned seventy, frail, with heart disease, and, as I understand, quite likely to sink into general paralysis. Well, if I was to exercise my right of conquest and get the fruits of conquest, two ways seemed open. There could be a will; you'll remember my consulting you on that point and your reply?"

"Did he make a will?" asked Mary quickly.

"No. A will was open to serious objections. Even supposing your evidence Ц which, of course, I wanted in case of need Ц had been satisfactory, a fight with the Radbolts would have been unpleasant. Worse than that Ц as long as I lived I should have been blackmailed by Sergeant Hooper, who knew Mr. Saffron's condition, though he didn't know about the money here. Even before you found out about my poor old friend, I had decided against a will Ц though, perhaps, I might have squared the Radbolts by just taking this little place Ц and its contents Ц and letting them take the rest. That too became impossible after your discovery. There remained, then, the money in the Tower. I could make quite sure of that, wait for his death, and then enjoy it. And, upon my word, why shouldn't I? He'd have been much gratified by my going to Morocco; and he'd certainly much sooner that I had the money Ц if it couldn't go to Morocco Ц than that the Radbolts should get it. That was the way the question presented itself to me; and I'm a poor man, with no obvious career before me. The right of conquest appealed to me strongly, Doctor Mary."

"I can see that you may have been greatly tempted," said Mary in a grave and troubled voice. "And the circumstances did enable you to make excuses for what you thought of doing."

"Excuses? You won't even go so far as to call it a doubtful case? One that a casuist could argue either way?" Beaumaroy was smiling again now.

"Even if I did, men of Ц "

"Yes, Doctor Mary Ц of sensitive honour!"

"Decide doubtful cases against themselves in money matters."

"Oh, I say, is that doctrine current in business circles? I've been in business myself, and I doubt it."

"They do Ц men of real honour," Mary persisted.

"So that's how great fortunes are made? That's how individuals Ц to say nothing of nations Ц rise to wealth and power! And I never knew it," Beaumaroy reflected in a gentle voice. His eye caught Mary's, and she gave a little laugh. "By deciding doubtful cases against themselves! Dear me, yes!"

"I didn't say they rose to greatness and power."

"Then the people who do rise to greatness and power Ц and the nations Ц don't they go by right of conquest, Doctor Mary? Don't they decide cases in their own favour?"

"Did you really mean to Ц to take the money?"

"I'll tell you as near as I can. I meant to do my best for my old man. I meant him to live as long as he could Ц and to live free, unpersecuted, as happy as he could be made. I meant that, because I loved him Ц and he loved me. Well, I've lost him; I'm alone in the world." The last words were no appeal to Mary; for the moment he seemed to have forgotten her; he was speaking out of his own heart to himself. Yet the words thereby touched her to a livelier pity; you are very lonely when there is nobody to whom you have affection's right to complain of loneliness.

"But after that Ц if I saw him to his end in peace Ц if I brought that off, well, then I rather think that I should have stuck to the money. Yes, I rather think so."

"You've managed to mix things up so!" Mary complained. "Your devotion to Mr. Saffron Ц for that I could forgive you keeping his secret, and fooling me, and all of us. But then you mix that up with the money!"

"It was mixed up with it. I didn't do the mixing."

"What are you going to do now?" she asked with a sudden curiosity.

"Oh, now? Now the thing's all different. You've seen, you know Ц and even I can't offer you a partnership in the cash, can I? If I weren't an infernally poor conspirator, I should have covered up the Captain's grave, and made everything neat and tidy before I came to fetch you Ц because I knew he might go back to the Tower. On his bad nights he always made me open the grave, and spread out the money Ц make a show of it, you know. Then it had to be put back in bags Ц the money-bags lived in the brown leather bag Ц and the grave had to be fastened down. Altogether it was a good bit of work. I'd just got it open, and the money spread out, when he turned bad Ц a sort of collapse like the one you saw Ц and I was so busy getting him to bed that I forgot the cursed grave and the money Ц just as I forgot to put away the knife-and-fork before you called the first time Ц and you saw through me!"

"If you're not a good conspirator, it's another reason for not conspiring, Mr. Beaumaroy. I know you conspired for him first of all, but Ц "

"Well, he's safe, he's at peace. It can all come out now Ц and it must. You know Ц and you must tell the truth. I don't know whether they can put me in prison; I should hardly think they'd bother, if they get the money all right. In any case I don't care much. Lord, what a lot of people'll say, 'I told you so Ц bad egg, that Beaumaroy!' No, I don't care. My old man's safe; I've won my big game after all, Doctor Mary!"

"I don't believe you cared about the money really!" she cried. "That really was a game to you, I think Ц a trick you liked to play on us respectables!"

He smiled at her confidentially. "I do like beating the respectables," he admitted. Then he looked at his watch. "I must do what has to be done for the old man. But it's late Ц hard on one o'clock. You must be tired Ц and it's a sad job."

"No, I'll help you. I Ц I've been in hospitals, you know. Only do go first, and cover up that horrible place, and hide that wretched money before I go in the Tower. Will you?" She gave a shiver, as her imagination renewed the scene which the Tower held.

"You needn't come into the Tower at all. He's as light as a feather. I've lifted him into bed often. I can lift him now. If you really wish to help, will you go up to his room and Ц and get things ready?" As he spoke, he crossed to the sideboard, took up a bedroom candlestick, and lit it from one that stood on the table. "And you'll see about the body being taken to the mortuary, won't you? I shall communicate with the Radbolts Ц fully; they'll take charge of the funeral, I suppose. Well, he won't know anything about that now, thank God!" There was the slightest tremor in his voice as he spoke.

Mary did not take the candle. "I've said some hard things to you, Mr. Beaumaroy. I dare say I've sounded very self-righteous." He raised his hand in protest, but she went on: "So I should like to say one different thing to you Ц since we're to part after to-night. You've shown yourself a good friend Ц good and true as a man could have."

"I loved my old man," said Beaumaroy.

It was his only plea. To Mary it seemed a good one. He had loved his poor old madman; and he had served him faithfully. "Yes, the old man found a good friend in you; I hope you will find good friends too. Oh, I do hope it! Because that's what you want."

"I should be very glad if I could think that, in spite of everything, I had found one here in this place Ц even although she can be a friend only in memory."

Mary paused for a moment, then gave him her hand. "I know you much better after to-night. My memory of you will be a kind one. Now to our work!"

"Yes Ц and thank you. I thank you more deeply than you imagine."

He gave her the candle and followed her to the passage.

"You know where the room is. I shall put the Ц the place Ц straight, and then bring him up. I shan't be many minutes Ц ten, perhaps. The cover's rather hard to fit."

Mary nodded from the top of the stairs. Strained by the events of the night, and by the talk to Beaumaroy, she was again near tears; her eyes were bright in the light of the candle, and told of nervous excitement. Beaumaroy went back into the parlour, on his way to the Tower. Suddenly he stopped and stood dead still, listening intently.

Mary busied herself upstairs, making her preparations with practised skill and readiness. Her agitation did not interfere with her work Ц there her training told Ц but of her inner mind it had full possession. She was afraid to be alone Ц there in that cottage. She longed for another clasp of that friendly hand. Well, he would come soon; but he must bring his burden with him. When she had finished what she had to do, she sat down and waited.

Beaumaroy waited too, outside the door leading to the Tower.

CHAPTER XIV
THE SCEPTRE IN THE GRAVE

Sergeant Hooper took up his appointed position on the flagged path that led up to the cottage door. His primary task was to give warning if anybody should come out of the door; a secondary one was to give the alarm in case of interruption by passers-by on the road Ц an unlikely peril this latter, in view of the hour, the darkness of the night, and the practised noiselessness with which Mike might be relied upon to do his work. Here then the Sergeant was left, after being accorded another nip from the flask Ц which, however, Neddy kept in his own hands this time Ц and a whispered but vigorously worded exhortation to keep up his courage.

Neddy the Shover and gentlemanly Mike tiptoed off to the window, on the right-hand side of the door as one approached the house from the road. The bottom of the window was about seven feet from the ground. Neddy bent down and offered his broad back as a platform to his companion. Mike mounted thereon and began his work. That, in itself, was child's play to him; the match-boarding was but lightly nailed on; the fastenings came away in a moment under the skilful application of his instrument; the window sash behind was not even bolted, for the bolt had perished with time and had not been replaced. So far, very good! But at this early point Mike received his first surprise. He could not see much of the interior; a tall curtain stretched across the entire breadth of the window, distant about two feet from it; but he could see that the room was lighted up.

Very cautiously he completed his work on the match-boarding, handing down each plank to Neddy when he had detached it. Then he cut out a pane of glass Ц it was all A B C to him Ц put his hand in and raised the sash a little; then it was simple to push it up from below. But the sash had not been raised for years; it stuck; when it yielded to his efforts, it gave a loud creak. He flung one leg over the window-sill and sat poised there, listening. The room was lighted up; but if there were anyone in it, he must be asleep or very hard of hearing, or that creak would have aroused his attention.

Released from his office as a support, Neddy rose, and hauled himself up by his arms till he could see in the window. "Lights!" he whispered. Mike nodded and got in Ц on the dais, behind the curtain. Neddy scrambled up after him, finding some help from a stunted but sturdy old apple tree that grew against the wall. Now they were both inside, behind the tall curtain.

"Come on," Mike whispered. "We must see if there's anybody here, and, if there isn't, put out the light." For on either side of the curtain there was room for a streak of light which might by chance be seen from the road.

Mike advanced round the left-side edge of the curtain; he had perceived by now that it formed the back of some structure, though he could not yet see of what nature the structure was; nor was he now examining it. For as he stepped out on the dais at the side of the canopy, his eyes were engrossed by another feature of this strange apartment. He stretched back his hand and caught hold of Neddy's brawny arm, pulling him forward. "See that Ц that hole, Neddy?"

For the moment they forgot the lights; they forgot the possibility of an occupant of the room Ц which indeed was, save for their own whispers, absolutely still; they stood looking at the strange hole, and then into one another's faces, for a few seconds. Then they stole softly nearer to it. "That's a blasted funny 'ole!" breathed Neddy. "Looks like a bloke's Ц !"



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