Beaumaroy Home from the Warsскачать книгу бесплатно
Yet, after all this description Ц in particularity, if not otherwise, worthy of a classic novelist Ц the thing still remains that most struck observers. Mr. Hector Beaumaroy had an adorable candour of manner. He answered questions with innocent readiness and pellucid sincerity. It would be impossible to think him guilty of a lie; ungenerous to suspect so much as a suppression of the truth. Even Mr. Naylor, hardened by five-and-thirty years' experience of what sailors will blandly swear to in collision cases, was struck with the open candour of his bearing.
"Yes," he said. "Yes, Miss Wall, that's right, we go to town every Wednesday. No particular reason why it should be Wednesday, but old gentlemen somehow do better Ц don't you think so?†Ц with method and regular habits."
"I'm sure you know what's best for Mr. Saffron," said Delia. "You've known him a long time, haven't you?"
Mr. Naylor drew a little nearer and listened. The General had put himself into the corner Ц a remote corner of the room Ц and sat there with an uneasy and rather glowering aspect.
"Oh, no, no!" answered Beaumaroy. "A matter of weeks only. But the dear old fellow seemed to take to me Ц a friend put us in touch originally. I seem to be able to do just what he wants."
"I hope your friend is not really ill Ц not seriously?" This time the question was Mrs. Naylor's, not Miss Delia's.
"His health is really not so bad, but" Ц he gave a glance round the company, as though inviting their understanding Ц "he insists that he's not the man he was."
"Absurd!" smiled Naylor. "Not much older than I am, is he?"
"Only just turned seventy, I believe. But the idea's very persistent."
"Hypochondria!" snapped Miss Delia.
"Not altogether. I'm afraid there is a little real heart trouble. Dr. Irechester Ц "
"Oh, with Dr. Irechester, dear Mr. Beaumaroy, you're all right!"
Again Beaumaroy's glance Ц that glance of innocent appeal Ц ranged over the company (except the General, out of its reach). He seemed troubled and embarrassed.
"A most accomplished man, evidently, and a friend of yours, of course. But Ц well, there it is Ц a mere fancy, of course, but unhappily my old friend doesn't take to him. He Ц he thinks that he's rather inquisitorial. A doctor's duty, I suppose Ц "
"Irechester's a sound man, a very sound man," said Mr. Naylor. "And, after all, one can ask almost any question if one does it tactfully Ц can't one, Miss Wall?"
"As a matter of fact, he's only seen Mr. Saffron twice Ц he had a little chill. But his manner, unfortunately, rather Ц er Ц alarmed Ц "
Gertie Naylor, with the directness of youth, propounded a solution of the difficulty. "If you don't like Dr. Irechester Ц "
"Oh, it's not I who Ц "
"Why not have Mary?" Gertie made her suggestion eagerly. She was very fond of Mary, who, from the height of age, wisdom, and professional dignity, had stooped to offer her an equal friendship.
"She means Dr.
Mary Arkroyd," Mrs. Naylor explained.
"Yes, I know, Mrs. Naylor Ц I know about Dr. Arkroyd. In fact, I know her by sight. But Ц "
"Perhaps you don't believe in women doctors?" Alec suggested.
"It's not that. I've no prejudices. But the responsibility is on me, and I know very little of her; and Ц well, to change one's doctor Ц it's rather invidious Ц "
"Oh, as to that, Irechester's a sensible man; he's got as much work as he wants, and as much money too. He won't resent an old man's fancy."
"Well, I'd never thought of a change, but if you all suggest it Ц " Somehow it did seem as if they all Ц and not merely youthful Gertie Ц had suggested it. "But I should rather like to know Dr. Arkroyd first."
"Come and meet her here; that's very simple. She often comes to tennis and tea. We'll let you know the first time she's coming."
Beaumaroy most cordially accepted the idea Ц and the invitation. "Any afternoon I shall be delighted Ц except Wednesdays. Wednesdays are sacred Ц aren't they, Miss Wall? London on Wednesdays for Mr. Saffron and me Ц and the old brown bag!" He laughed in a quiet merriment. "That old bag's been in a lot of places with me and has carried some queer cargoes. Now it just goes to and fro, between here and town, with Mudie books. Must have books, living so much alone as we do!" He had risen as he spoke, and approached Mrs. Naylor to take leave.
She gave him her hand very cordially. "I don't suppose Mr. Saffron cares to meet people; but any spare time you have, Mr. Beaumaroy, we shall be delighted to see you."
Beaumaroy bowed as he thanked her, adding, "And I'm promised a chance of meeting Dr. Arkroyd before long?"
The promise was renewed, and the visitor took his leave, declining Alec's offer to "run him home" in the car. "The car might startle my old friend," he pleaded. Alec saw him off, and returned to find the General, who had contrived to avoid more than a distant bow of farewell to Beaumaroy, standing on the hearthrug, apparently in a state of some agitation.
The envious years had refused to Major-General Punnit, C.B. Ц he was a distant cousin of Mrs. Naylor's Ц the privilege of serving his country in the Great War. His career had lain mainly in India and was mostly behind him even at the date of the South African War, in which, however, he had done valuable work in one of the supply services. He was short, stout, honest, brave, shrewd, obstinate, and as full of prejudices, religious, political, and personal, as an egg is of meat. And all this time he had been slowly and painfully recalling what his young friend Colonel Merman (the Colonel was young only relatively to the General) had told him about Hector Beaumaroy. The name had struck on his memory the moment the Rector pronounced it, but it had taken him a long while to "place it" accurately. However, now he had it pat; the conversation in the club came back. He retailed it now to the company at Old Place.
A pleasant fellow, Beaumaroy, socially a very agreeable fellow. And as for courage, as brave as you like. Indeed he might have had letters after his name save for the fact that he Ц the Colonel Ц would never recommend a man unless his discipline was as good as his leading, and his conduct at the base as praiseworthy as at the front. (Alec Naylor nodded his handsome head in grave approval; his father looked a little discontented, as though he were swallowing unpalatable, though wholesome, food.) His whole idea Ц Beaumaroy's, that is Ц was to shield offenders, to prevent the punishment fitting the crime, even to console and countenance the wrongdoer. No sense of discipline, no moral sense Ц the Colonel had gone as far as that. Impossible to promote or to recommend for reward Ц almost impossible to keep. Of course, if he had been caught young and put through the mill, it might have been different Ц "it might" Ц the Colonel heavily underlined the possibility Ц but he came from Heaven knew where, after a life spent Heaven knew how. "And he seemed to know it himself," the Colonel had said, thoughtfully rolling his port round in the glass. "Whenever I wigged him, he offered to go Ц said he'd chuck his commission and enlist Ц said he'd be happier in the ranks. But I was weak, I couldn't bear to do it." After thus quoting his friend, the General added: "He was weak Ц damned weak Ц and I told him so."
"Of course he ought to have got rid of him," said Alec. "Still, sir, there's nothing Ц er Ц disgraceful."
"It seems hardly to have come to that," the General admitted reluctantly.
"It all rather makes me like him," Gertie affirmed courageously.
"I think that, on the whole, we may venture to know him in times of peace," Mr. Naylor summed up.
"That's your look out," remarked the General. "I've warned you. You can do as you like."
Delia Wall had sat silent through the story. Now she spoke up and got back to the real point:
"There's nothing in all that to show how he comes to be at Mr. Saffron's."
The General shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, Saffron be hanged! He's not the British Army," he said.
MR. SAFFRON AT HOME
To put it plainly, Sergeant Hooper Ц he had been a sergeant for a brief and precarious three weeks, but he used the title in civil life whenever he safely could Ц and he could at Inkston Ц Sergeant Hooper was a villainous-looking dog. Beaumaroy, fresh from the comely presences of Old Place, unconscious of how the General had ripped up his character and record, pleasantly nursing a little project concerning Dr. Mary Arkroyd, had never been more forcibly struck with his prot?g?'s ill-favouredness than when he arrived home on this same evening, and the Sergeant met him at the door.
"By Gad, Sergeant," he observed pleasantly, "I don't think anybody could be such a rascal as you look. It's that faith that carries me through."
The Sergeant helped him off with his coat. "It's some people's stock-in-trade," he remarked, "not to look a rascal like they really are, sir." The "sir" stuck Ц out of pure habit; it carried no real implication of respect.
"Meaning me!" laughed Beaumaroy. "How is the old man to-night?"
"Quiet enough. He's in the Tower there Ц been there an hour or more."
The cottage door opened on to a narrow passage, with a staircase on one side, and on the other a door leading to a small square parlour, cheerfully if cheaply furnished, and well lit by an oil lamp. A fire blazed on the hearth, and Beaumaroy sank into a "saddle-bag" arm-chair beside it, with a sigh of comfort. The Sergeant had jerked his head towards another door, on the right of the fireplace; it led to the Tower. Beaumaroy's eyes settled on it.
"An hour or more, has he? Have you heard anything?"
"He was making a speech a little while back, that's all."
"No more complaints of palpitations, or anything of that sort?"
"Not as I've heard. But he never says much to me. Mrs. Wiles gets the benefit of his symptoms mostly."
"You're not sympathetic, perhaps."
During the talk Hooper had been to a cupboard and mixed a glass of whisky and soda. He brought it to Beaumaroy and put it on a small table by him. Beaumaroy regarded his squat paunchy figure, red face, small eyes (a squint in one of them), and bulbous nose with a patient and benign toleration.
"Since you can't expect, Sergeant, to prepossess the Judge and Jury in your favour, the instant you make your appearance in the box Ц "
"Here, what are you on to, sir?"
"It's the more important for you to have it clearly in your mind that we are labouring in the cause of humanity, freedom, and justice. Exactly like the Allies in the late war, you know, Sergeant. Keep that in your mind Ц clinch it! He hasn't wanted you to do anything particular to-night Ц or asked for me?"
"No, sir. He's happy with Ц with what you call his playthings."
"What are they but playthings?" asked Beaumaroy, tilting his glass to his lips with a smile perhaps a little wry.
"Only I wish as you wouldn't talk about judges and juries," the Sergeant complained.
"I really don't know whether it's a civil or a criminal matter, or both, or neither," Beaumaroy admitted candidly. "But what we do know, Sergeant, is that it provides us with excellent billets and rations. Moreover Ц a thing that you certainly will not appreciate Ц it gratifies my taste for the mysterious."
"I hope there's a bit more coming from it than that," said the Sergeant. "That is, if we stick together faithful, sir."
"Oh, we shall! One thing puzzles me about you, Sergeant. I don't think I've mentioned it before. Sometimes you speak almost like an educated man; at others your speech is Ц well, illiterate."
"Well, sir, it's a sort of mixture of my mother Ц she was class Ц the blighter who come after my father, and the board school Ц "
"Of course! What they call the educational ladder! That explains it. By the way, I'm thinking of changing our doctor."
"Good job too. I 'ate that Irechester. Stares at you, that chap does."
"Does he stare at your eyes?" asked Beaumaroy thoughtfully.
"I don't know that he does at my eyes particularly. Nothing wrong with 'em, is there?" The Sergeant sounded rather truculent.
"Never mind that; but I fancied he stared at Mr. Saffron's. And I've read somewhere, in some book or other, that doctors can tell, or guess, by the eyes Ц Well, that's only an idea. How does a lady doctor appeal to you, Sergeant?"
"I should be shy," said the Sergeant, grinning.
"Vulgar! Vulgar!" Beaumaroy murmured.
"That Dr. Mary Arkroyd?"
"I had thought of her."
"She ought to be fair easy to kid. You 'ave notions sometimes, sir."
Beaumaroy stretched out his legs Ц debonnair, well-rounded legs Ц to the seducing blaze of oak logs.
"I haven't really a care in the world," he said.
The Sergeant's reply Ц or comment Ц had a disconcerting ring. "And you're sure of 'eaven? That's what the bloke always says to the 'angman."
"I've no intention of being a murderer, Sergeant." Beaumaroy's eyebrows were raised in gentle protest.
"Once you're in with a job, you never know," his retainer observed darkly.
Beaumaroy laughed. "Oh, go to the devil!†Ц and mix me another whisky." Yet a vague uneasiness showed itself on his face; he looked across the room at the evil-shaped man handling the bottles in the cupboard. He made one queer restless movement of his arms Ц as though to free himself. Then, in a moment, he sprang from his chair, a glad kindly smile illuminating his face; he bowed in a very courtly fashion, exclaiming, "Ah, here you are, sir? And all well, I hope?"
Mr. Saffron had entered from the door leading to the Tower, carefully closing it after him. Hooper's hand went up to his forehead in the ghost of a military salute, but a sneering smile persisted on his lips. The only notice Mr. Saffron took of him was a jerk of the head towards the passage, an abrupt and ungracious dismissal, which, however, the Sergeant silently accepted and stumped out. The greeting reserved for Beaumaroy was vastly different. Beaumaroy's own cordiality was more than reciprocated. It seemed impossible to doubt that a genuine affection existed between the elder and the younger man, though the latter had not thought fit to mention the fact to Sergeant Hooper.
"A tiring day, my dear Hector, very tiring. I've transacted a lot of business. But never mind that, it will keep. What of your doings?"
Having sat the old man in the big chair by the fire, Beaumaroy sauntered across to the door of the Tower, locked it, and put the key in his pocket. Then he returned to the fire, and, standing in front of it, gave a lively and detailed account of his visit to Old Place.
"They appear to be pleasant people, very pleasant. I should like to know them, if it was not desirable for me to live an entirely secluded life." Mr. Saffron's speech was very distinct and clean-cut, rather rapid, high in tone, but not disagreeable. "You make pure fun of this Miss Wall, as you do of so many things, Hector, but Ц " he smiled up at Beaumaroy Ц "inquisitiveness is not our favourite sin just now!"
"She's so indiscriminately inquisitive that it's a thousand to one against her really finding out anything of importance, sir." Beaumaroy sometimes addressed his employer as "Mr. Saffron," but much more commonly he used the respectful "sir." "I think I'm equal to putting Miss Delia Wall off."
"Still she noticed our weekly journeys!"
"Half Inkston goes to town every day, sir Ц and the rest three times, twice, or once a week. I called her particular attention to the bag, and told her it was for books from Mudie's!"
"Positive statements like that are a mistake." Mr. Saffron spoke with a sudden sharpness, in pointed rebuke. "If I form a right idea of that woman, she's quite capable of going to Mudie's to ask about us."
"By Jove, you're right, sir, and I was wrong. We'd better go and take out a subscription to-morrow; she'll hardly go so far as to ask the date we started it."
"Yes, let that be done. And Ц remember Ц no unnecessary talk." His tone grew milder, as though he were mollified by Beaumaroy's ready submission to his reproof. "We have some places to call at to-morrow, have we?"
"They said they'd have some useful addresses ready for us, sir. I'm afraid, though, that we're exhausting the most obvious sources."
"Still, I hope for a few more good consignments. I suppose you remain confident that the Sergeant has no suspicions as regards that particular aspect of the matter?"
"I'm sure of it Ц up to the present. Of course there might be an accident, but with him and Mrs. Wiles both off the premises at night, it's hardly likely; and I never let the bag out of my sight while it's in the room with them Ц hardly out of my hand."
"I should like to trust him, but it's hardly fair to put such a strain on his loyalty."
"Much safer not, sir, as long as we're not driven to it. After all, though I believe the fellow is out to redeem his character, his isn't an unblemished record."
"But the work Ц the physical labour Ц entailed on you, Hector!"
"Make yourself easy about that, sir. I'm as strong as a horse. The work's good for me. Remember I've had four years' service."
Mr. Saffron smiled pensively. "It would have been funny if we'd met Ц over there, you and I!"
"It would, sir," laughed Beaumaroy. "But that could hardly have happened without some very curious accident."
The old man harked back. "Yes, a few more good consignments, and we can think in earnest of your start." He was warming his hands Ц thin yellowish hands Ц at the fire now, and his gaze was directed into it. Looking down on him, Beaumaroy allowed a smile to appear on his lips Ц a queer smile, which seemed to be compounded of affection, pity, and amusement.
"The difficulties there remain considerable for the present," he remarked.
"They must be overcome." Once again the old man's voice became sharp and even dictatorial.
"They shall be, sir Ц depend on it." Beaumaroy's air was suddenly confident, almost braggart. Mr. Saffron nodded approvingly. "But, anyhow, I can't very well start till favourable news comes from Ц "
"Hush!" There was a knock on the door.
"Mrs. Wiles Ц to lay the table, I suppose."
"Yes! Come in!" He added hastily to Beaumaroy, in an undertone, "Yes, we must wait for that."
Mrs. Wiles entered as he spoke. She was a colourless, negative kind of a woman, fair, fat, flabby, and forty or thereabouts. She had been the ill-used slave of a local carpenter, now deceased by reason of over-drinking; her nature was to be the slave of the nearest male creature, not from affection (her affections were an?mic), but rather, as it seemed, from an instinctive desire to shuffle off from herself any responsibility. But at all events she was entirely free from Miss Delia Wall's proclivity.
Mr. Saffron rose. "I'll go and wash my hands. We'll dine just as we are, Hector." Beaumaroy opened the door for him; he acknowledged the attention with a little nod, and passed out to the staircase in the narrow passage. Beaumaroy appeared to consider himself absolved from any preparations, for he returned to the big chair and, sinking into it, lit another cigarette. Meanwhile Mrs. Wiles laid the table, and presently Sergeant Hooper appeared with a bottle of golden-tinted wine.
"That, at least, is the real stuff," thought Beaumaroy, as he eyed it in pleasurable anticipation. "Where the dear old man got it, I don't know; but in itself it's almost worth all the racket."
And really, in its present stages, so far as its present developments went, the "racket" pleased him. It amused his active brain, besides (as he had said to Mr. Saffron) exercising his active body, though certainly in a rather grotesque and bizarre fashion. The attraction of it went deeper than that. It appealed to some of those tendencies and impulses of his character which had earned such heavy censure from Major-General Punnit and had produced so grave an expression on Captain Alec's handsome face Ц without, however, being, even in that officer's exacting judgment, disgraceful. And, finally, there was the lure of unexplored possibilities Ц not only material and external, but psychological; not only touching what others might do or what might happen to them, but raising also speculation as to what he might do, or what might happen to him at his own hands; for example, how far he would flout authority, defy the usual, and deny the accepted. The love of rebellion, of making foolish the wisdom of the wise, of hampering the orderly and inexorable treatment of people just as, according to the best modern lights, they ought to be treated Ц this lawless love was strong in Beaumaroy. Not as a principle; it was the stronger for being an instinct, a wayward instinct that might carry him Ц he scarce knew where.
Mr. Saffron came back, greeted again by Beaumaroy's courtly bow and Hooper's vaguely reminiscent but slovenly military salute. The pair sat down to a homely beefsteak; but the golden-tinted wine gurgled into their glasses. But, before they fell to, there was a little incident. A sudden, but fierce, anger seized old Mr. Saffron. In his harshest tones he rapped out at the Sergeant, "My knife! You careless scoundrel, you haven't given me my knife!"скачать книгу бесплатно
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