Anthony Hope.

Beaumaroy Home from the Wars



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In thus congratulating himself, he was premature. His action had been based on a miscalculation. He had heard only Neddy's last exclamation, not the cautious whispers previously exchanged between him and Mike; he thought that the man astride the window-sill himself had kicked something and instinctively exclaimed "What the devil's that?" He thought that the sack was lowered from the window in order to be committed to the temporary guardianship of the Sergeant, who was doubtless looking out for it and, if he had his ears open, would hear its gentle thud. Perhaps the man in the Tower was collecting a second instalment of booty; heavy as the sack was, it did not contain all that he knew to be in Captain Duggle's grave. Be that as it might, the man would climb out of the window soon; and he would fail to find his sack.

What would he do then? He would signal or call to the Sergeant; or, if they had a preconcerted rendezvous, he would betake himself there, expecting to find his accomplice. He would neither get an answer from him nor find him, of course. Equally of course he would look for him. But the last place where he would expect to find him Ц the last place he would search Ц would be where the Sergeant in fact was, the house itself. If in his search for Hooper, he found Beaumaroy, it would be man to man, and, now again, Beaumaroy had no objection.

But, in fact, there were two men in the Tower Ц one of them big Neddy; and the function, which Beaumaroy supposed to have been entrusted to the Sergeant, had never been assigned to him at all; to guard the door and the road had been his only tasks. When they found the bag gone, and the Sergeant too, they might well think that the Sergeant had betrayed them; that he had gone off on his own account, or that he had, at the last moment, under an impulse of fear or a calculation of interest, changed sides and joined the garrison in the house. If he had gone off with the sack, he could not have gone fast or far with it. Failing to overtake him, they would turn back to the cottage; for they knew themselves to be in superior force. Beaumaroy was in greater danger than he knew Ц and so was Doctor Mary in the house.

Big Neddy let himself down from the window, and put down his hand to lift up the sack; he groped about for it for some seconds, during which time Mike also climbed over the window-sill and dropped on to the ground below. Neddy emitted a low but strenuous oath.

"The sack's gone, Mike!" he added in a whisper.

"Gone? Rot! Can't be! What do you mean, Neddy?"

"I dropped it straight 'ere. It's gone," Neddy persisted. "The Sergeant must 'ave took it."

"No business of his! Where is the fool?" Mike's voice was already uneasy; thieves themselves seldom believe in there being honour among them. "You stay here. I'll go to the door and see if he's there."

He was just about to put this purpose into execution Ц in which event it was quite likely that Beaumaroy, hearing his approach or his call to the Sergeant, would have sprung out upon him, only to find himself assailed the next instant by another and far more formidable antagonist in the person of big Neddy, and thus in sore peril of his life Ц when the hum of Captain Alec's engine became audible in the distance.

The next moment, the lights of his car became visible to all the men in the little front garden of the cottage.

"Hist! Wait till that's gone by!" whispered Neddy.

"Yes, and get round to the back. Get out of sight round here." He drew Neddy round the curve of the Tower wall till his big frame was hidden by it; then he himself crouched down under the wall, with his head cautiously protruded. The night had grown clearer; it was possible to see figures at a distance of some yards now.

Beaumaroy also watched the car. Whose it was, and the explanation of its appearance, even occurred to his mind. But he kept still. He did not want visitors; he conceived his hand to be a better one than it really was, and preferred to play it by himself. If the car passed by, well and good. Only if it stopped at the gate would he have to take action.

It did stop at the gate. Mike saw it stop. Then its engine was shut off, and a man got out of it, and came up to the garden gate. Though the watching Mike had never seen him before, he had little difficulty in guessing who he was; and he remembered something that the Sergeant had said about him. Of a certainty it was the redoubtable Captain Naylor. Through the darkness he loomed enormous, as tall as big Neddy himself and no whit less broad. A powerful reinforcement for the garrison!

And what would the Sergeant do, if he were still at his post by the door Ц with or without that missing, that all-important, sack?

Another tall figure came into Mike's view Ц from where he could not distinctly see; it hardly seemed to be from the door of the cottage, for no light showed, and there was no sound of an opening door. But it appeared from somewhere near there; it was on the path, and it moved along to the gate in a leisurely unhurried approach. A man with his hands in his pockets Ц that was what it looked like. This must be the garrison; this must be the Sergeant's friend, master, protector, and b?te noire, his "Boomery."

But the Sergeant himself? Where was he? He could hardly be at his post; or Beaumaroy and he must have seen one another, must have taken some heed of one another; something must have passed between them, either friendly or hostile. Mike turned round and whispered hastily, close into Neddy's ear. Neddy crawled a little forward, and put his own bullet head far enough round the curve of the wall to see the meeting between the garrison and its unexpected reinforcement.

Beaumaroy, hands in pockets, lounged nonchalantly down to the gate. He opened it; the Captain entered. The two shook hands and stood there, apparently in conversation. The words did not reach the ears of the listeners, but the sound of voices did Ц voices hushed in tone. Once Beaumaroy pointed to the house; both Mike and Neddy marked the outstretched hand. Was Beaumaroy telling his companion about something that had been happening at the house? Were they concocting a plan of defence Ц or of attack? With the disappearance Ц perhaps the treachery Ц of the Sergeant, and the appearance of this new ally for the garrison, the prospects of a fight took on a very different look. Neddy might tackle the big stranger with an equal chance. How would Mike fare in an encounter with Beaumaroy? He did not relish the idea of it.

And, while they fought, the traitor Sergeant might be on their backs! Or Ц on the other hypothesis Ц he might be getting off with the swag! Neither alternative was satisfactory.

"P'r'aps he's gone off to the car with the sack Ц in a fright like, thinking we'll guess that!" whispered Neddy.

Mike did not much think so, though he would much have liked to. But he received the suggestion kindly. "We might as well have a look; we can come back afterwards if Ц if we like. Perhaps that big brute'll have gone."

"The thing as I want to do most is to wring that Sergeant's neck!"

Their whispers were checked by a new development. The cottage door opened for a moment and then closed again; they could tell that, both by the sound and by the momentary ray of light. Yet a light persisted after the door was shut. It came from a candle, which burnt steadily in the stillness of the night. It was carried by a woman, who came down the path towards where Beaumaroy and the Captain stood in conversation. Both turned towards her with eager attention.

"Now's our time, then! They aren't looking our way now. We can get across the heath to where the car is."

They moved on very softly, keeping the Tower between them and the group on the path. They gained the back of the house, and so the open heath, and made off to their destination. They moved so softly that they escaped unheard Ц unless Beaumaroy were right in the notion that his ear caught a little rustle of the bracken. He took no heed of it, unless a passing smile might be reckoned as such.

Doctor Mary joined him and the Captain on the path. Beaumaroy's smile gave way to a look of expectant interest. He wondered what she was going to say to Captain Alec. There was so much that she might say, or Ц just conceivably Ц leave unsaid.

She spoke calmly and quietly. "It's you, Captain Alec! I thought so! Cynthia got anxious? I'm all right. I suppose Mr. Beaumaroy has told you? Poor Mr. Saffron is dead."

"I've told him," said Beaumaroy.

"Of heart disease," Mary added. "Quite painlessly, I think Ц and quite a normal case, though, of course, it's distressing."

"I Ц I'm sorry," stammered Captain Alec.

Beaumaroy's eyes met Mary's in the candle's light with a swift glance of surprise and inquiry.

CHAPTER XVI
DEAD MAJESTY

Mary did not appear to answer Beaumaroy's glance; she continued to look at, and to address herself to, Captain Alec. "I am tired, and I should love a ride home. But I've still a little to do, and Ц I know it's awfully late, but would you mind waiting just a little while? I'm afraid I might be as much as half an hour."

"Right you are, Doctor Mary Ц as long as you like. I'll walk up and down, and smoke a cigar; I want one badly." Mary made an extremely faint motion of her hand towards the house. "Oh, thanks, but really I Ц well, I shall feel more comfortable here, I think."

Mary smiled; it was always safe to rely on Captain Alec's fine feelings; under the circumstances he would Ц she had felt pretty sure Ц prefer to smoke his cigar outside the house. "I'll be as quick as I can. Come, Mr. Beaumaroy!"

Beaumaroy followed her up the path and into the house. The Sergeant was still on the floor of the passage; he rolled apprehensive resentful eyes at them; Mary took no heed of him, but preceded Beaumaroy into the parlour and shut the door.

"I don't know what your game is," remarked Beaumaroy in a low voice, "but you couldn't have played mine better. I don't want him inside the house; but I'm mighty glad to have him extremely visible outside it."

"It was very quiet inside there" Ц she pointed to the door of the Tower Ц "just before I came out. Before that, I'd heard odd sounds. Was there somebody there Ц and the Sergeant in league with him?"

"Exactly," smiled Beaumaroy. "It is all quiet; I think I'll have a look."

The candle on the table had burnt out. He took another from the sideboard and lit it from the one which Mary still held.

"Like the poker?" she asked, with a flicker of a smile on her face.

"No, you come and help, if I cry out!" He could not repress a chuckle; Doctor Mary was interesting him extremely.

Lighted by his candle, he went into the Tower. She heard him moving about there, as she stood thoughtfully by the extinct fire, still with her candle in her hand.

Beaumaroy returned. "He's gone Ц or they've gone." He exhibited to her gaze two objects Ц a checked pocket-handkerchief and a tobacco pouch. "Number one found on the edge of the grave. Number two on the floor of the dais, just behind the canopy. If the same man had drawn them both out of the same pocket at the same time Ц wanting to blow the same nose, Doctor Mary Ц they'd have fallen at the same place, wouldn't they?"

"Wonderful, Holmes!" said Mary. "And now Ц shall we attend to Mr. Saffron?"

They carried out that office, the course of which they had originally prepared. Beaumaroy passed with his burden hard by the Sergeant, and Mary followed. In a quarter of an hour they came downstairs again, and Mary again led the way into the parlour. She went to the window, and drew the curtains aside a little way. The lights of the car were burning; the Captain's tall figure fell within their rays and was plainly visible, strolling up and down; the ambit of the rays did not, however, embrace the Tower window. The Captain paced and smoked, patient, content, gone back to his own happy memories and anticipations. Mary returned to the table and set her candle down on it.

"All right. I think we can keep him a little longer."

"I vote we do," said Beaumaroy. "I reckon he's scared the fellows away, and they won't come back so long as they see his lights."

Rash at conclusions sometimes Ц as has been seen Ц Beaumaroy was right in his opinion of the Captain's value as a sentry, or a scarecrow to keep away hungry birds. The confederates had stolen back to their base of operations Ц to where their car lay behind the trees. There, too, no Sergeant and no sack! Neddy reached for his roomy flask, drank of it, and with hoarse curses consigned the entire course of events, his accomplices, even himself, to nethermost perdition. "That place ain't Ц natural!" he ended in a gloomy conviction. "'Oo pinched that sack? The Sergeant? Well Ц maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't." He finished the flask, to cure a recurrence of the shudders.

Mike prevailed with him so far that he consented Ц reluctantly Ц to be left alone on the blasted heath, while his friend went back to reconnoitre. Mike went, and presently returned; the car was still there, the tall figure was still pacing up and down.

"And perhaps the other one's gone for the police!" Mike suggested uneasily. "Guess we've lost the hand, Neddy! Best be moving, eh? It's no go for to-night."

"Catch me trying the bloomin' place any other night!" grumbled Neddy. "It's given me the 'orrors, and no mistake."

Mike Ц Mr. Percy Bennett, that erstwhile gentlemanly stranger Ц recognized one of his failures. Such things are incidental to all professions. "Our best game is to go back; if the Sergeant's on the square, we'll hear from him." But he spoke without much hope; rationalist as he professed himself, still he was affected by the atmosphere of the Tower. With what difficulty do we entirely throw off atavistic notions! They both of them had, at the bottom of their minds, the idea that the dead man on the high seat had defeated them, and that no luck lay in meddling with his treasure.

"I 'ave my doubts whether that ugly Sergeant's 'uman himself," growled Neddy, as he hoisted his bulk into the car.

So they went back to whence they came; and the impression that the night's adventure left upon them was heightened as the days went by. For, strange to say, though they watched all the usual channels of information, as Ministers say in Parliament, and also tried to open up some unusual ones, they never heard anything again of the Sergeant, of the sack of gold, of the yawning tomb with its golden lining, of its silent waxen-faced enthroned guardian who had defeated them. It all Ц the whole bizarre scene Ц vanished from their ken, as though it had been one of those alluring thwarting dreams which afflict men in sleep. It was an experience to which they were shy of alluding among their confidential friends, even of talking about between themselves. In a word Ц uncomfortable!

Meanwhile the Sergeant's association with Tower Cottage had also drawn to its close. After his search and his discovery in the Tower, Beaumaroy came out into the passage where the prisoner lay, and proceeded to unfasten his bonds.

"Stand up and listen to me, Sergeant," he said. "Your pals have run away; they can't help you, and they wouldn't if they could, because, owing to you, they haven't got away with any plunder, and so they'll be in a very bad temper with you. In the road, in front of the house, is Captain Naylor Ц you know that officer and his dimensions? He's in a very bad temper with you too." (Here Beaumaroy was embroidering the situation; the Sergeant was not really in Captain Alec's thoughts.) "Finally, I'm in a very bad temper with you myself. If I see your ugly phiz much longer, I may break out. Don't you think you'd better depart Ц by the back door, and go home? And if you're not out of Inkston for good and all by ten o'clock in the morning, and if you ever show yourself there again, look out for squalls. What you've got out of this business I don't know. You can keep it Ц and I'll give you a parting present myself as well."

"I knows a thing or two Ц " the Sergeant began, but he saw a look that he had seen only once or twice before on Beaumaroy's face; on each occasion it had been followed by the death of the enemy whose act had elicited it.

"Oh, try that game, just try it!" Beaumaroy muttered. "Just give me that excuse!" He advanced to the Sergeant, who fell suddenly on his knees. "Don't make a noise, you hound, or I'll silence you for good and all Ц I'd do it for twopence!" He took hold of the Sergeant's coat-collar, jerked him on to his legs, and propelled him to the kitchen and through it to the back door. Opening it, he despatched the Sergeant through the doorway with an accurate and vigorous kick. He fell, and lay sprawling on the ground for a second, then gathered himself up and ran hastily over the heath, soon disappearing in the darkness. The memory of Beaumaroy's look was even keener than the sensation caused by Beaumaroy's boot. It sent him in flight back to Inkston, thence to London, thence into the unknown, to some spot chosen for its remoteness from Beaumaroy, from Captain Naylor, from Mike and from Neddy. He recognized his unpopularity, thereby achieving a triumph in a difficult little branch of wisdom.

Beaumaroy returned to the parlour hastily; not so much to avoid keeping Captain Alec waiting Ц it was quite a useful precaution to have that sentry on duty a little longer Ц as because his curiosity and interest had been excited by the description which Doctor Mary had given of Mr. Saffron's death. It was true, probably the precise truth, but it seemed to have been volunteered in a rather remarkable way and worded with careful purpose. Also it was the bare truth, the truth denuded of all its attendant circumstances Ц which had not been normal.

When he rejoined her, Mary was sitting in the arm-chair by the fire; she heard his account of the state of affairs up-to-date with a thoughtful smile, smoking a cigarette; her smile broadened over the tale of the water-butt. She had put on the fur cloak in which she had walked to the cottage Ц the fire was out and the room cold; framed in the furs, the outline of her face looked softer.

"So we stand more or less as we did before the burglars appeared on the scene," she commented.

"Except that our personal exertions have saved that money."

"I suppose you would prefer that all the circumstances shouldn't come out? There have been irregularities."

"I should prefer that, not so much on my own account Ц I don't know and don't care what they could do to me Ц as for the old man's sake."

"If I know you, I think you would rather enjoy being able to keep your secret. You like having the laugh of people. I know that myself, Mr. Beaumaroy." She exchanged a smile with him. "You want a death certificate from me," she added.

"I suppose I do," Beaumaroy agreed.

"In the sort of terms in which I described Mr. Saffron's death to Captain Alec? If I gave such a certificate, there would remain nothing Ц well, nothing peculiar Ц except the Ц the appearance of things in the Tower."

Her eyes were now fixed on his face; he nodded his head with a smile of understanding. There was something new in the tone of Doctor Mary's voice; not only friendliness, though that was there, but a note of excitement, of enjoyment, as though she also were not superior to the pleasure of having the laugh of people. "But it's rather straining a point to say that Ц and nothing more. I could do it only if you made me feel that I could trust you absolutely."

Beaumaroy made a little grimace, and waited for her to develop her subject.

"Your morality is different from most people's, and from mine. Mine is conventional."

"Conventual!" Beaumaroy murmured.

"Yours isn't. It's all personal with you. You recognize no rights in people whom you don't like, or who you think aren't deserving, or haven't earned rights. And you don't judge your own rights by what the law gives you, either. The right of conquest you called it; you hold yourself free to exercise that against everybody, except your friends, and against everybody in the interest of your friends Ц like poor Mr. Saffron. I believe you'd do the same for me if I asked you to."

"I'm glad you believe that, Doctor Mary."

"But I can't deal with you on that basis. It's even difficult to be friends on that basis Ц and certainly impossible to be partners."

"I never suggested that we should be partners over the money," Beaumaroy put in quickly.

"No. But I'm suggesting now Ц as you did before Ц that we should be partners Ц in a secret Ц in Mr. Saffron's secret." She smiled again as she added, "You can manage it all, I know, if you like. I've unlimited confidence in your ingenuity Ц quite unlimited."

"But none at all in my honesty?"

"You've got an honesty; but I don't call it a really honest honesty."

"All this leads up to Ц the Radbolts!" declared Beaumaroy, with a gesture of disgust.

"It does. I want your word of honour Ц given to a friend Ц that all that money Ц all of it Ц goes to the Radbolts, if it legally belongs to them. I want that in exchange for the certificate."



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