Beaumaroy Home from the Warsскачать книгу бесплатно
Beaumaroy sprang to his feet with a muttered exclamation: "It's all my fault, sir. I forgot to give it to Hooper. I always lock it up when I go out." He went to a little oak sideboard and unlocked a drawer, then came back to Mr. Saffron's side. "Here it is, and I humbly apologize."
"Very good! Very good!" said the old man testily, as he took the implement.
"Ain't anybody going to apologize to me?" asked Hooper, scowling.
"Oh, get out, Sergeant!" said Beaumaroy good-naturedly. "We can't bother about your finer feelings." He glanced anxiously at Mr. Saffron. "All right now, aren't you, sir?" he inquired.
Mr. Saffron drank his glass of wine. "I am perhaps too sensitive to any kind of inattention; but it's not wholly unnatural in my position, Hector."
"We both desire to be attentive and respectful, sir. Don't we, Hooper?"
"Oh my, yes!" grinned the Sergeant, showing his very ugly teeth. "It's only owing that we 'aven't quite been brought up in royal pallises."
Dr. Irechester was a man of considerable attainments and an active, though not very persevering, intellect. He was widely read both in professional and general literature, but had shrunk from the arduous path of specialism. And he shrank even more from the drudgery of his calling. He had private means, inherited in middle life; his wife had a respectable portion; there was, then, nothing in his circumstances to thwart his tastes and tendencies. He had soon come to see in the late Dr. Evans a means of relief rather than a threat of rivalry; even more easily he slipped into the same way of regarding Mary Arkroyd, helped thereto by a lingering feeling that, after all and in spite of all, when it came to really serious cases, a woman could not, at best, play more than second fiddle. So, as has been seen, he patronized and encouraged Mary; he told himself that, when she had thoroughly proved her capacity – within the limits which he ascribed to it – to take her into partnership would not be a bad arrangement. True, he could pretty well choose his patients now; but as senior partner he would be able to do it completely. It was wellnigh inconceivable that, for example, the Naylors – great friends – should ever leave him; but he would like to be quite secure of the pick of new patients, some of whom might, through ignorance or whim, call in Mary. There was old Saffron, for instance. He was, in Irechester's private opinion – or, perhaps it should be said, in his private suspicions – an interesting case; yet, just for that reason, unreliable, and evidently ready to take offence. It was because of cases of that kind that he contemplated offering partnership to Mary; he would both be sure of keeping them and able to devote himself to them.
But his wife laughed at Mary – or at that development of the feminist movement which had produced her and so many other more startling phenomena. The doctor was fond of his wife – a sprightly, would-be fashionable, still very pretty woman.
But her laughter, and the opinion it represented, were to him the merest crackling of thorns under a pot.
The fine afternoon had come – a few days before Christmas – and he sat, side by side with Mr. Naylor, both warmly wrapped in coats and rugs, watching the lawn tennis at Old Place. Doctor Mary and Beaumaroy were playing together, the latter accustoming himself to a finger short in gripping his racquet, against Cynthia and Captain Alec. The Captain could not cover the court yet in his old fashion, but his height and reach made him formidable at the net, and Cynthia was very active. Ten days of Inkston air had made a vast difference to Cynthia. And something else was helping. It required no common loyalty to lost causes and ruined ideals – it is surely not harsh to indicate Captain Cranster by these terms? – to resist Alec Naylor. In fact he had almost taken Cynthia's breath away at their first meeting; she thought that she had never seen anything quite so magnificent, or all round and from all points of view – so romantic; his stature, handsomeness, limp, renown. Who can be surprised at it? Moreover, he was modest and simple, and no fool within the bounds of his experience.
"She seems a nice little girl, that, and uncommonly pretty," Naylor remarked.
"Yes, but he's a queer fish, I fancy," the Doctor answered, also rather absently. Their minds were not running on parallel lines.
"My boy a queer fish?" Naylor expostulated humorously.
Irechester smiled; his lips shut close and tight, his smile was quick but narrow. "You're match-making. I was diagnosing," he said.
Naylor apologized. "I've a desperate instinct to fit all these young fellows up with mates as soon as possible. Isn't it only fair?"
"And also extremely expedient. But it's the sort of thing you can leave to them, can't you?"
"As to Beaumaroy – I suppose you meant him, not Alec – I think you must have been talking to old Tom Punnit – or, rather, hearing him talk."
"Punnit's general view is sound enough, I think, as to the man's characteristics; but he doesn't appreciate his cunning."
"Cunning?" Naylor was openly astonished. "He doesn't strike me as a cunning man, not in the least."
"Possibly – possibly, I say – not in his ends, but in his means and expedients. That's my view. I just put it on record, Naylor. I never like talking too much about my cases."
"Beaumaroy's not your patient, is he?"
"His employer – I suppose he's his employer – Saffron is. Well, I thought it advisable to see Saffron alone. I tried to. Saffron was reluctant, this man here openly against it. Next time I shall insist. Because I think – mind you, at present I no more than think – that there's more in Saffron's case than meets the eye."
Naylor glanced at him, smiling. "You fellows are always starting hares," he said.
"Game and set!" cried Captain Alec, and – to his partner – "Thank you very much for carrying a cripple."
But Irechester's attention remained fixed on Beaumaroy – and consequently on Doctor Mary; for the partners did not separate at the end of their game, but, after putting on their coats, began to walk up and down together on the other side of the court, in animated conversation, though Beaumaroy did most of the talking, Mary listening in her usual grave and composed manner. Now and then a word or two reached Irechester's ears – old Naylor seemed to have fallen into a reverie over his cigar – and it must be confessed that he took no pains not to overhear. Once at least he plainly heard "Saffron" from Beaumaroy; he thought that the same lips spoke his own name, and he was sure that Doctor Mary's did. Beaumaroy was speaking rather urgently, and making gestures with his hands; it seemed as though he were appealing to his companion in some difficulty or perplexity. Irechester's mouth was severely compressed and his glance suspicious as he watched.
The scene was ended by Gertie Naylor calling these laggards in to tea, to which meal the rest of the company had already betaken itself.
At the tea-table they found General Punnit discoursing on war, and giving "idealists" what idealists usually get. The General believed in war; he pressed the biological argument, did not flinch when Mr. Naylor dubbed him the "British Bernhardi," and invoked the support of "these medical gentlemen" (this with a smile at Doctor Mary's expense) for his point of view. War tested, proved, braced, hardened; it was nature's crucible; it was the antidote to softness and sentimentality; it was the vindication of the strong, the elimination of the weak.
"I suppose there's a lot in all that, sir," said Alec Naylor, "but I don't think the effect on one's character is always what you say. I think I've come out of this awful business a good deal softer than I went in." He laughed in an apologetic way. "More – more sentimental, if you like – with more feeling, don't you know, for human life, and suffering, and so on. I've seen a great many men killed, but the sight hasn't made me any more ready to kill men. In fact, quite the reverse." He smiled again. "Really sometimes, for a row of pins, I'd have turned conscientious objector."
Mrs. Naylor looked apprehensively at the General: would he explode? No, he took it quite quietly. "You're a man who can afford to say it, Alec," he remarked, with a nod that was almost approving.
Naylor looked affectionately at his son and turned to Beaumaroy. "And what's the war done to you?" he asked. And this question did draw from the General, if not an explosion, at least a rather contemptuous smile: Beaumaroy had earned no right to express opinions!
But express one he did, and with his habitual air of candour. "I believe it's destroyed every scruple I ever had!
"Mr. Beaumaroy!" exclaimed his hostess, scandalized; while the two girls, Cynthia and Gertie, laughed.
"I mean it. Can you see human life treated as dirt – absolutely as cheap as dirt – for three years, and come out thinking it worth anything? Can you fight for your own hand, right or wrong? Oh, yes, right or wrong, in the end, and it's no good blinking it. Can you do that for three years in war, and then hesitate to fight for your own hand, right or wrong, in peace? Who really cares for right or wrong, anyhow?"
A pause ensued – rather an uncomfortable pause. There was a raw sincerity in Beaumaroy's utterance that made it a challenge.
"I honestly think we did care about the rights and wrongs – we in England," said Naylor.
"That was certainly so at the beginning," Irechester agreed.
Beaumaroy took him up smartly. "Aye, at the beginning. But what about when our blood got up? What then? Would we, in our hearts, rather have been right and got a licking, or wrong and given one?"
"A searching question!" mused old Naylor. "What say you, Tom Punnit?"
"It never occurred to me to put the question," the General answered brusquely.
"May I ask why not, sir?" said Beaumaroy respectfully.
"Because I believed in God. I knew that we were right, and I knew that we should win."
"Are we in theology now, or still in biology?" asked Irechester, rather acidly.
"You're getting out of my depth anyhow," smiled Mrs. Naylor. "And I'm sure the girls must be bewildered."
"Mamma, I've done biology!"
"And many people think they've done theology!" chuckled Naylor. "Done it completely!"
"I've raised a pretty argument!" said Beaumaroy, smiling. "I'm sorry! I only meant to answer your question about the effect the whole thing has had on myself."
"Even your answer to that was pretty startling, Mr. Beaumaroy," said Doctor Mary, smiling too. "You gave us to understand that it had obliterated for you all distinctions of right and wrong, didn't you?"
"Did I go as far as that?" he laughed. "Then I'm open to the remark that they can't have been very strong at first."
"Now don't destroy the general interest of your thesis," Naylor implored. "It's quite likely that yours is a case as common as Alec's, or even commoner. 'A brutal and licentious soldiery' – isn't that a classic phrase in our histories? All the same, I fancy Mr. Beaumaroy does himself less than justice." He laughed. "We shall be able to judge of that when we know him better."
"At all events, Miss Gertie, look out that I don't fake the score at tennis!" said Beaumaroy.
"A man might be capable of murder, but not capable of that," said Alec.
"A truly British sentiment!" cried his father. "Tom, we have got back to the national ideals."
The discussion ended in laughter, and the talk turned to lighter matters, but, as Mary Arkroyd drove Cynthia home across the heath, her thoughts returned to it. The two men – the two soldiers – seemed to have given an authentic account of what their experience had done to them. Both, as she saw the case, had been moved to pity, horror, and indignation that such things should be done, or should have to be done, in the world. After that point came the divergence. The higher nature had been raised, the lower debased; Alec Naylor's sympathies had been sharpened and sensitized; Beaumaroy's blunted. Where the one had found ideals and incentives, the other found despair – a despair that issued in excuses and denied high standards. And the finer mind belonged to the finer soldier; that she knew, for Gertie had told her General Punnit's story, and, however much she might discount it as the tale of an elderly martinet, yet it stood for something – for something that could never be attributed to Alec Naylor.
And yet – for her mind travelled back to her earlier talk by the tennis-court – Beaumaroy had a conscience, had feelings. He was fond of old Mr. Saffron; he felt a responsibility for him – felt it, indeed, keenly. Or was he, under all that seeming openness, a consummate hypocrite? Did he value Mr. Saffron only as a milch cow – the doting giver of a large salary? Was his only desire to humour him, keep him in good health and temper, and use him to his own profit? A puzzling man – but, at all events, cutting a poor figure beside Alec Naylor, about whom there could circle no clouds of doubt. Doctor Mary's learning and gravity did not prevent her from drawing a very heroic and rather romantic figure of Captain Alec – notwithstanding the fact that she sometimes found him rather hard to talk to.
She felt Cynthia's arm steal round her waist, and Cynthia said softly, "I did enjoy my afternoon. Can we go again soon, Mary?"
Mary glanced round at her. Cynthia laughed and blushed. "Isn't he splendid?" Cynthia murmured. "But I don't like Mr. Beaumaroy at all, do you?"
"I say yes to the first question, but I'm not quite ready to answer the second," said Mary with a laugh.
Three days later, on Christmas Eve, one whom Jeanne, who caught sight of him in the hall, described as being all there was possible of ugliness, delivered (with a request for an immediate answer) the following note for Mary Arkroyd:
"Dear Dr. Arkroyd,
Mr. Saffron is unwell, and I have insisted with him that he must see a doctor. So much he has yielded – after a fight! But nothing will induce him to see Dr. Irechester again. On this point I tried to reason with him, but in vain. He is obstinate and resolved. I am afraid that I am putting you in a difficult and disagreeable position, but it seems to me that I have no alternative but to ask you to call on him professionally. I hope that Dr. Irechester will not be hurt by a whim which is, no doubt, itself merely a symptom of disordered nerves, for Dr. Irechester has been most attentive, and very successful hitherto in dealing with the dear old gentleman. But my first duty is to Mr. Saffron. If it will ease matters at all, pray hold yourself at liberty to show this note to Dr. Irechester. May I beg you to be kind enough to call at your earliest convenience, though it is, alas, a rough evening to ask you to come out?
Yours very faithfully,
"How very awkward!" exclaimed Mary. She had prided herself on a rigorous abstention from "poaching"; she fancied that men were very ready to accuse women of not "playing the game" and had been resolved to give no colour to such an accusation. "Mr. Saffron has sent for me – professionally. He's ill, it seems," she said to Cynthia.
"Why shouldn't he?"
"He's a patient of Dr. Irechester's."
"But people often change their doctors, don't they? He thinks you're cleverer, I suppose, and I expect you are, really."
There was no use in expounding professional etiquette to Cynthia. Mary had to decide the point for herself – and quickly; the old man might be seriously ill. Beaumaroy had said, at the Naylors', that his attacks were sometimes alarming.
Suddenly she recollected that he had also seemed to hint that they were more alarming than Irechester appeared to appreciate; she had not taken much notice of that hint at the time, but now it recurred to her very distinctly. There was no suggestion of the sort in Beaumaroy's letter. Beaumaroy had written a letter that could be shown to Irechester! Was that dishonesty, or only a pardonable diplomacy?
"I suppose I must go – and explain to Dr. Irechester afterwards." She rang the bell to recall the maid, and gave her answer. "Say I will be round as soon as possible. Is the messenger walking?"
"He's got a bicycle, Miss."
"All right. I shall be there almost as soon as he is."
She seemed to have no alternative, just as Beaumaroy had none. Yet while she put on her mackintosh – it was very wet and misty – got out her car, and lit her lamps, her face was still fretful and her mind disturbed. For now – as she looked back on it – Beaumaroy's conversation with her at Old Place seemed just a prelude to this summons, and meant to prepare her for it. Perhaps that too was pardonable diplomacy, and no reference to it could be expected in a letter which she was at liberty to show to Dr. Irechester. She wondered, uncomfortably, how Irechester would take it.
A FAMILIAR IMPLEMENT
As Mary brought her car to a stand at the gate of the little front garden of Tower Cottage, she saw, through the mist, Beaumaroy's corrugated face; he was standing in the doorway, and the light in the passage revealed it. It seemed to her to wear a triumphant impish look, but this vanished as he advanced to meet her, relieved her of the neat black handbag which she always carried with her on her visits, and suggested gravely that she should at once go upstairs and see her patient.
"He's quieter now," he said. "The mere news that you were coming had a soothing effect. Let me show you the way." He led her upstairs and into a small room on the first floor, nakedly furnished with necessities, but with a cheery fire blazing in the grate.
Old Mr. Saffron lay in bed, propped up by pillows. His silver hair strayed from under a nightcap; he wore a light blue bedroom jacket; its colour matched that of his restless eyes; his arms were under the clothes from the elbows down. He was rather flushed, but did not look seriously ill, and greeted Doctor Mary with dignified composure.
"I'll see Dr. Arkroyd alone, Hector." Beaumaroy gave the slightest little jerk of his head, and the old man added quickly, "I am sure of myself, quite sure."
The phrase sounded rather an odd one to Mary, but Beaumaroy accepted the assurance with a nod. "All right, I'll wait downstairs, sir. I hope you'll bring me a good account of him, Doctor." So he left Mary to make her examination; going downstairs, he shook his head once, pursed up his lips, and then smiled doubtfully, as a man may do when he has made up his mind to take a chance.
When Mary rejoined him, she asked for pen and paper, wrote a prescription, and requested that Beaumaroy's man should take it to the chemist's. He went out to give it to the Sergeant, and, when he came back, found her seated in the big chair by the fire.
"The present little attack is nothing, Mr. Beaumaroy," she said. "Stomachic – with a little fever; if he takes what I've prescribed, he ought to be all right in the morning. But I suppose you know that there is valvular disease – quite definite? Didn't Dr. Irechester tell you?"
"Yes; but he said there was no particular – no immediate danger."
"If he's kept quiet and free from worry. Didn't he advise that?"
"Yes," Beaumaroy admitted, "he did. That's the only thing you find wrong with him, Doctor?"
Beaumaroy was standing on the far side of the table, his finger-tips resting lightly on it. He looked across at Mary with eyes candidly inquiring.
"I've found nothing else so far. I suppose he's got nothing to worry him?"
"Not really, I think. He fusses a bit about his affairs." He smiled. "We go to London every week to fuss about his affairs; he's always changing his investments, taking his money out of one thing and putting it in another, you know. Old people get like that sometimes, don't they? I'm a novice at that kind of thing, never having had any money to play with; but I'm bound to say that he seems to know very well what he's about."
"Do you know anything of his history or his people? Has he any relations?"
"I know very little. I don't think he has any – any real relations, so to speak. There are, I believe, some cousins, distant cousins, whom he hates. In fact, a lonely old bachelor, Dr. Arkroyd."
Mary gave a little laugh and became less professional. "He's rather an old dear! He uses funny stately phrases. He said I might speak quite openly to you, as you were closely attached to his person!"
"Sounds rather like a newspaper, doesn't it? He does talk like that sometimes." Beaumaroy moved round the table, came close to the fire, and stood there, smiling down at Mary.
"He's very fond of you, I think," she went on.
"He reposes entire confidence in me," said Beaumaroy, with a touch of assumed pompousness.
"Those were his very words!" cried Mary, laughing again. "And he said it just in that way! How clever of you to guess!"
"Not so very. He says it to me six times a week."
Mary had risen, about to take her leave, but to her surprise Beaumaroy went on quickly, with one of his confidential smiles, "And now I'm going to show you that I have the utmost confidence in you. Please sit down again, Dr. Arkroyd. The matter concerns your patient just as much as myself, or I wouldn't trouble you with it – at any rate, I shouldn't venture to, so early in our acquaintance. I want you to consider yourself as Mr. Saffron's medical adviser, and – also – to try to imagine yourself my friend."скачать книгу бесплатно
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