Anthony Hope.

Beaumaroy Home from the Wars



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"I've every inclination to be your friend, but I hardly know you, Mr. Beaumaroy."

"And feel a few doubts about me? From what you've heard from myself Ц and perhaps from others?"

The wind swished outside; save for that, the little room seemed very still. The professional character of the interview did not save it, for Mary Arkroyd, from a sudden and rather unwelcome sense of intimacy Ц of an intimacy thrust upon her, though not so much by her companion as by circumstances. She answered rather stiffly, "Perhaps I have some doubts."

"You detect Ц very acutely Ц that I have a great influence over Mr. Saffron. You ask Ц very properly Ц whether he has relations. I think you threw out a feeler about his money affairs Ц whether he had anything to worry about was your phrase, wasn't it? Am I misinterpreting what was in your mind?"

As he spoke, he offered her a cigarette from a box on the mantelpiece. She took one and lit it at the top of the lamp-chimney; then she sat down again in the big chair; she had not accepted his earlier invitation to resume her seat.

"It was proper for me to put those questions, Mr. Beaumaroy. Mr. Saffron is not a sound man, and he's old. In normal conditions his relations should at least be warned of the position."

"Exactly," Beaumaroy assented, with an appearance of eagerness. "But he hates them. Any suggestion that they have any sort of claim on him raises strong resentment in him. I've known old men Ц old monied men Ц like that before, and no doubt you have. Well now, you'll begin to see the difficulty of my position. I'll put the case to you quite bluntly. Suppose Mr. Saffron, having this liking for me, this confidence in me, living here with me alone Ц except for servants; being, as one might say, exposed to my influence; suppose he took it into his head to make a will in my favour, to leave me all his money. It's quite a considerable sum, so far as our Wednesday doings enable me to judge. Suppose that happened, how should I stand in your opinion, Dr. Arkroyd? But wait a moment still. Suppose that my career has not been very Ц well, resplendent; that my army record is only so-so; that I've devoted myself to him with remarkable assiduity, as in fact I have; that I might be called, quite plausibly, an adventurer. Well, propounding that will, how should I stand before the world and, if necessary" (he shrugged his shoulders), "the Court?"

Mary sat silent for a moment or two. Beaumaroy knelt down by the fire, rearranged the logs of wood which were smouldering there, and put on a couple more. From that position, looking into the grate, he added, "And the change of doctors? It was he, of course, who insisted on it, but I can see a clever lawyer using that against me too. Can't you, Dr. Arkroyd?"

"I'm sure I wish you hadn't had to make the change!" exclaimed Mary.

"So do I; though, mind you, I'm not pretending that Irechester is a favourite of mine, any more than he is of my old friend's.

Still Ц there it is. I've no right, perhaps, to press my question, but your opinion would be of real value to me."

"I see no reason to think that he's not quite competent to make a will," said Doctor Mary. "And no real reason why he shouldn't prefer you to distant relations whom he dislikes."

"Ah, no real reason; that's what you say! You mean that people would impute Ц ?"

Mary Arkroyd had her limitations Ц of experience, of knowledge, of intuition. But she did not lack courage.

"I have given you my professional opinion. It is that, so far as I see, Mr. Saffron is of perfectly sound understanding, and capable of making a valid will. You did me the honour Ц "

"No, no!" he interrupted in a low but rather strangely vehement protest. "I begged the favour Ц "

"As you like! The favour, then, of my opinion as your friend, as well as my view as Mr. Saffron's doctor."

Beaumaroy did not rise from his knees, but turned his face towards her; the logs had blazed up, and his eyes looked curiously bright in the glare Ц themselves, as it were, afire.

"In my opinion a man of sensitive honour would prefer that that will should not be made, Mr. Beaumaroy," said Mary steadily.

Beaumaroy appeared to consider. "I'm a bit posed by that point of view, Dr. Arkroyd," he said at last. "Either the old man's sane Чcompos mentis, don't you call it?†Ц or he isn't. If he is Ц "

"I know. But I feel that way about it."

"You'd have to give evidence for me!" He raised his brows and smiled at her.

"There can be undue influence without actual want of mental competence, I think."

"I don't know whether my influence is undue. I believe I'm the only creature alive who cares twopence for the poor old gentleman."

"I know! I know! Mr. Beaumaroy, your position is very difficult. I see that. It really is. But Ц would you take the money for yourself? Aren't you Ц well, rather in the position of a trustee?"

"Who for? The hated cousins? What's the reason in that?"

"They may be very good people really. Old men take fancies, as you said yourself. And they may have built on Ц "

"Stepping into a dead man's shoes? I dare say. Why mayn't I build on it too? Why not my hand against the other fellow's?"

"That's what you learnt from the war! You said so Ц at Old Place. Captain Naylor said something different."

"Suppose Alec Naylor and I Ц a hero and a damaged article Ц " he smiled at Mary, and she smiled back with a sudden enjoyment of the humorous yet bitter tang in his voice Ц "loved the same woman Ц and I had a chance of her. Am I to give it up?"

"Really we're getting a long way from medicine, Mr. Beaumaroy!"

"Oh, you're a general practitioner! Wise on all subjects under heaven! Conceive yourself hesitating between him and me Ц "

Mary laughed frankly. "How absurd you are! If you must go on talking, talk seriously."

"But why am I absurd?"

"Because, if I were a marrying woman Ц which I'm not Ц I shouldn't hesitate between you and Captain Naylor, not for a minute."

"You'd jump at me?"

Laughing again Ц his eyes had now a schoolboy merriment in them Ц Mary rose from the big chair. "At him, if I'm not being impolite, Mr. Beaumaroy."

They stood face to face. For the first time for several years Ц Mary's girlhood had not been altogether empty of sentimental episodes Ц she blushed under a man's glance Ц because it was a man's. At this event, of which she was acutely conscious and at which she was intensely irritated, she drew herself up, with an attempt to return to her strictly professional manner.

"I don't find you the least impolite, Dr. Arkroyd," said Beaumaroy.

It was impudent, yet gay, dexterous, and elusive enough to avoid reproof. With no more than a little shake of her head and a light, yet embarrassed laugh, Mary moved towards the door, her way lying between the table and an old oak sideboard, which stood against the wall. Some plates, knives, and other articles of the table lay strewn, none too tidily, about it. Beaumaroy followed her, smiling complacently, his hands in his pockets.

Suddenly Mary came to a stop and pointed with her finger at the sideboard, turning her face towards her companion. At the same instant Beaumaroy's right hand shot out from his pocket towards the sideboard, as though to snatch up something from it. Then he drew the hand as swiftly back again; but his eyes watched Mary's with an alert and suspicious gaze. That was for a second only; then his face resumed its amused and nonchalant expression. But the movement of the hand and the look of the eyes had not escaped Mary's attention; her voice betrayed some surprise as she said:

"It's only that I just happened to notice that combination knife-and-fork lying there, and I wondered who Ц "

The article in question lay among some half-dozen ordinary knives and forks. It was of a kind quite familiar to Doctor Mary from her hospital experience Ц a fork on one side, a knife-blade on the other Ц an implement made for people who could command the use of only one hand.

"Surely you've noticed my hand?" He drew his right hand again from the pocket to which he had so quickly returned it. "I used to use that in hospital, when I was bandaged up. But that's a long while ago now, and I can't think why Hooper's left it lying there."

The account was plausible, and entirely the same might now be said of his face and manner. But Mary had seen the dart of his hand and the sudden alertness in his eyes. Her own rested on him for a moment with inquiry Ц for the first time with a hint of distrust. "I see!" she murmured vaguely, and, turning away from him, pursued her way to the door. Beaumaroy followed her with a queer smile on his lips; he shrugged his shoulders once, very slightly.

A constraint had fallen on Mary. She allowed herself to be escorted to the car and helped into it in silence. Beaumaroy made no effort to force the talk, possibly by reason of the presence of Sergeant Hooper, who had arrived back from the chemist's with the medicine for Mr. Saffron just as Mary and Beaumaroy came out of the hall door. He stood by his bicycle, drawing just a little aside to let them pass, but not far enough to prevent the light from the passage showing up his ill-favoured countenance.

"Well, good-bye, Dr. Arkroyd. I'll see how he is to-morrow, and ask you to be kind enough to call again, if it seems advisable. And a thousand thanks."

"Good night, Mr. Beaumaroy."

She started the car. Beaumaroy walked back to the hall door. Mary glanced behind her once, and saw him standing by it, again framed by the light behind him, as she had seen him on her arrival. But, this time, within the four corners of the same frame was included the forbidding visage of Sergeant Hooper.

Beaumaroy returned to the fire in the parlour; Hooper, leaving his bicycle in the passage, followed him into the room and put the medicine bottle on the table. Smiling at him, Beaumaroy pointed at the combination knife-and-fork.

"Is it your fault or mine that that damned thing's lying there?" he asked.

"Yours," answered the Sergeant, without hesitation and with his habitual surliness. "I cleaned it and put it out for you to lock away, as usual. Suppose you went and forgot it, sir!"

Beaumaroy shook his head in self-condemnation and a humorous dismay. "That's it! I went and forgot it, Sergeant. And I think Ц I rather think Ц that Doctor Mary smells a rat Ц though she is, at present, far from guessing the colour of the animal!"

The words sounded scornful; they were spoken for the Sergeant as well as for himself. He was looking amused and kindly, even rather tenderly amused; as though liking and pity were the emotions which most actively survived his first private conversation with Doctor Mary Ц in spite of that mishap of the combination knife-and-fork.

CHAPTER VI
ODD STORY OF CAPTAIN DUGGLE!

Christmas Day, 1918, was a merry feast, and nowhere merrier than at Old Place. There was a house-party and, for dinner on the day itself, a local contingent as well: Miss Wall, the Irechesters, Mr. Penrose, and Doctor Mary. Mr. Beaumaroy also had been invited by Mrs. Naylor; she considered him an interesting man and felt pity for the obvious tedium of his situation; but he had not felt able to leave his old friend. Doctor Mary's Paying Guest was of the house-party, not merely a dinner guest. She was asked over to spend three days and went, accompanied by Jeanne, who by this time was crying much less; crying was no longer the cue; her mistress, and not merely stern Doctor Mary, had plainly shown her that. Gertie Naylor had invited Cynthia to help her in entertaining the subalterns, though Gertie was really quite equal to that task herself; there were only three of them, and if a pretty girl is not equal to three subalterns Ц well, what are we coming to in England? And, as it turned out, Miss Gertie had to deal with them all Ц sometimes collectively, sometimes one by one Ц practically unassisted. Cynthia was otherwise engaged. Gertie complained neither of the cause nor of its consequence.

The drink Ц or drugs Ц hypothesis was exploded, and Miss Wall's speculations set at rest, with a quite comforting solatium of romantic and unhappy interest Ц "a nice titbit for the old cat," as Mr. Naylor unkindly put it. Cynthia had told her story; she wanted a richer sympathy than Doctor Mary's common sense afforded; out of this need the revelation came to Gertie in innocent confidence, and, with the narrator's tacit approval, ran through the family and its intimate friends. If Cynthia had been as calculating as she was guileless, she could not have done better for herself. Mrs. Naylor's motherliness, old Naylor's courtliness, Gertie's breathless concern and avid appetite for the fullest detail, everybody's desire to console and cheer Ц all these were at her service, all enlisted in the effort to make her forget, and live and laugh again. Her heart responded; she found herself becoming happy at a rate which made her positively ashamed. No wonder tactful Jeanne discovered that the cue was changed!

Fastidious old Naylor regarded his wife with the affection of habit and with a little disdain for the ordinariness of her virtues Ц not to say of the mind which they adorned. His daughter was to him a precious toy, on which he tried jokes, played tricks, and lavished gifts, for the joy of seeing the prettiness of her reactions to his treatment. It never occurred to him to think that his toy might be broken; fond as he was, his feeling for her lacked the apprehensiveness of the deepest love. But he idolized his son, and in this case neither without fear nor without understanding. For four years now he had feared for him bitterly: for his body, for his life. At every waking hour his inner cry had been even as David's, "Would God I had died for thee, my son, my son!" For at every moment of those four years it might be that his son was even then dead. That terror, endured under a cool and almost off-hand demeanour, was past; but he feared for his son still. Of all who went to the war as Crusaders, none had the temperament more ardently than Alec. As he went, so Ц obviously Ц he had come back, not disillusioned, nay, with all his illusions, or delusions, about this wicked world and its possibilities, about the people who dwell in it and their lamentable limitations, stronger in his mind than ever. How could he get through life without being too sore hurt and wounded, without being cut to the very quick by his inevitable discoveries? Old Naylor did not see how it was to be done, or even hoped for; but the right kind of wife was unquestionably the best chance.

He had cast a speculative eye on Cynthia Walford Ц Irechester had caught him at it Ц but, as he observed her more, she did not altogether satisfy him. Alec needed someone more stable, stronger, someone in a sense protective; somebody more like Mary Arkroyd; that idea passed through his thoughts; if only Mary would take the trouble to dress herself, remember that she was Ц or might be made Ц an attractive young woman; and Ц yes, throw her mortar and pestle out of the window Ц without, however, discarding with them the sturdy, sane, balanced qualities of mind which enabled her to handle them with such admirable competence. But he soon had to put this idea from him. His son's own impulse was to give, not to seek, protection and support.

Of Cynthia's woeful experience Alec had spoken to his father once only. "It makes me mad to think the fellow who did that wore a British uniform!"

How unreasonable! Since by all the laws of average, when millions of men are wearing a uniform, there must be some rogues in it. But it was Alec's way to hold himself responsible for the whole of His Majesty's Forces. Their honour was his; for their misdeeds he must in his own person make reparation. "That fellow Beaumaroy may have lost his conscience, but my boy seems to have acquired five million," the old man grumbled to himself Ц a grumble full of pride.

The father might analyse; with Alec it was all impulse Ц the impulse to soothe, to obliterate, to atone. The girl had been sore hurt; with the acuteness of sympathy he divined that she felt herself in a way soiled and stained by contact with unworthiness and by a too easy acceptance of it. All that must be swept out of her heart, out of her very memory, if it could be.

Doctor Mary saw what was happening, and with a little pang to which she would not have liked to own. She had set love affairs, and all the notions connected therewith, behind her; but she had idealized Alec Naylor a little; and she thought Cynthia, in homely phrase, "hardly good enough." Was it not rather perverse that the very fact of having been a little goose should help her to win so rare a swan?

"You're taking my patient out of my hands, Captain Alec!" she said to him jokingly. "And you're devoting great attention to the case."

He flushed. "She seems to like to talk to me," he answered simply. "She seems to me to have rather a remarkable mind, Doctor Mary." (She was "Doctor Mary" to all the Old Place party now Ц in affection, with a touch of chaff.)

O sancta simplicitas! Mary longed to say that Cynthia was a very ordinary child. Like to talk to him, indeed! Of course she did; and to use her girl's weapons on him; and to wonder, in an almost awestruck delight, at their effect on this dazzling hero. Well, the guilelessness of heroes!

So mused Mary, on the unprofessional side of her mind, as she watched, that Christmas-tide, Captain Alec's delicate, sensitively indirect and delayed approach towards the ripe fruit that hung so ready to his hand. "Part of his chivalry to assume she can't think of him yet!" Mary was half impatient, half reluctantly admiring; not an uncommon mixture of feeling for the extreme forms of virtue to produce. In the net result, however, her mental image of Alec lost something of its heroic proportions.

But professionally (the distinction must not be pushed too far, she was not built in water-tight compartments) Tower Cottage remained obstinately in the centre of her thoughts; and, connected with it, there arose a puzzle over Dr. Irechester's demeanour. She had taken advantage of Beaumaroy's permission Ц though rather doubtful whether she was doing right, for she was still inexperienced in niceties of etiquette Ц and sent on the letter, with a frank note explaining her own feelings and the reason which had caused her to pay her visit to Mr. Saffron. But though Irechester was quite friendly when they met at Old Place before dinner, and talked freely to her during a rather prolonged period of waiting (Captain Alec and Cynthia, Gertie and two subalterns were very late, having apparently forgotten dinner in more refined delights), he made no reference to the letters, nor to Tower Cottage or its inmates. Mary herself was too shy to break the ice, but wondered at his silence, and the more because the matter evidently had not gone out of his mind. For, after dinner, when the port had gone round once and the proper healths been honoured, he said across the table to Mr. Penrose:

"We were talking the other day of the Tower Ц on the heath, you know, by old Saffron's cottage Ц and none of us knew its history. You know all about Inkston from time out o' mind. Have you got any story about it?"

Mr. Penrose practised as a solicitor in London, but lived in a little old house near the Irechesters' in the village street, and devoted his leisure to the antiquities and topography of the neighbourhood; his lore was plentiful and curious, if not important. He was a small, neat old fellow, with white whiskers of the antique cut, a thin voice, and a dry cackling laugh.

"There was a story about it, and one quite fit for Christmas evening, if you're in the mood to hear it."

The thin voice was penetrating. At the promise of a story silence fell on the company, and Mr. Penrose told his tale, vouching as his authority an erstwhile "oldest inhabitant," now gathered to his fathers; for the tale dated back some eighty years, to the date of the ancient's early manhood.

A seafaring man had suddenly appeared, out of space, as it were, at Inkston, and taken the cottage. He carried with him a strong smell of rum and tobacco, and gave it to be understood that his name was Captain Duggle. He was no beauty, and his behaviour was worse than his looks. To that quiet village, in those quiet strait-laced times, he was a horror and a portent. He not only drank prodigiously Ц that, being in character and also a source of local profit, might have passed with mild censure Ц but he swore and blasphemed horribly, spurning the parson, mocking at Revelation, even at the Deity Himself. The Devil was his friend, he said. A most terrible fellow, this Captain Duggle. Inkston's hair stood on end, and no wonder!

"No doubt they shivered with delight over it all," commented Mr. Naylor.

Captain Duggle lived all by himself Ц well, what God-fearing Christian, male or female, would be found to live with him?†Ц came and went mysteriously and capriciously, always full of money, and at least equally full of drink. What he did with himself nobody knew, but evil legends gathered about him. Terrified wayfarers, passing the cottage by night, took oath that they had heard more than one voice!



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