Beaumaroy Home from the Warsскачать книгу бесплатно
There was very little to go upon there. Why should not one friend give another an address? But the examination? Beaumaroy should surely know of that? It might be nothing; but, on the other hand, it might have a meaning. But the men had gone, had obviously parted for the night. Beaumaroy could be told to-morrow; now he himself could go back to his visions Ц and so homeward, in happiness, to his bed.
Having reached this sensible conclusion, he was about to turn away from the garden gate which he now stood facing, when he heard the house door softly open and as softly shut. The practice of his profession had given him keen eyes in the dark; he discovered Beaumaroy's tall figure stealing very cautiously down the narrow, flagged path. The next instant the light of another torch flashed out, and this time not in the distance, but full in his own face.
"By God, you, Naylor!" Beaumaroy exclaimed in a voice which was low but full of surprise. "I Ц I Ц well, it's rather late Ц "
Alec Naylor was suddenly struck with the element of humour in the situation. He had been playing detective; apparently he was now the suspected!
"Give me time and I'll explain all," he said, smiling under the dazzling rays of the torch.
Beaumaroy glanced round at the house for a second, pursed up his lips into one of the odd little contortions which he sometimes allowed himself, and said, "Well, then, old chap, come in and have a drink, and do it. For I'm hanged if I see why you should stand staring into this garden in the middle of the night! With your opportunities I should be better employed on Christmas evening."
"You really want me to come in?" It was now Captain Alec's voice which expressed surprise.
"Why the devil not?" asked Beaumaroy in a tone of frank but friendly impatience.
He turned and led the way into Tower Cottage. Somehow this invitation to enter was the last thing that Captain Alec had expected.
CAPTAIN ALEC RAISES HIS VOICE
Beaumaroy led the way into the parlour, Captain Alec following. "Well, I thought your old friend didn't care to see strangers," he said, continuing the conversation.
"He was tired and fretful to-night, so I got him to bed, and gave him a soothing draught Ц one that our friend Dr. Arkroyd sent him. He went off like a lamb, poor old boy. If we don't talk too loud we shan't disturb him."
"I can tell you what I have to tell in a few minutes."
"Don't hurry." Beaumaroy was bringing the refreshment he had offered from the sideboard. "I'm feeling lonely to-night, so I" Ц he smiled Ц "yielded to the impulse to ask you to come in, Naylor. However, let's have the story by all means."
The surprise Ц it might almost have been taken for alarm Ц which he had shown at the first sight of Alec, seemed to have given place to a gentle and amiable weariness, which persisted through the recital of the Captain's experiences Ц how his errand of courtesy, or gallantry, had led to his being on the road across the heath so late at night, and of what he had seen there.
"You copped them properly!" Beaumaroy remarked at the end, with a lazy smile.
"One does learn a trick or two in France. You couldn't see their faces, I suppose?"
"No; too dark. I didn't dare show a light, though I had one. Besides, their backs were towards me. One looked tall and thin, the other short and stumpy. But I should never be able to swear to either."
"And they went off in different directions, you say?"
"Yes, the tall one towards Sprotsfield, the short one back towards Inkston."
"Oh, the short stumpy one it was who turned back to Inkston?" Beaumaroy had seated himself on a low three-legged stool, opposite to the big chair where Alec sat, and was smoking his pipe, his hands clasped round his knees. "It doesn't seem to me to come to much, though I'm much obliged to you all the same. The short one's probably a local, the other a stranger, and the local was probably seeing his friend part of the way home, and incidentally showing him one of the sights of the neighbourhood. There are stories about this old den, you know Ц ancient traditions. It's said to be haunted, and what not."
"Funnily enough, we had the story to-night at dinner, at our house."
"Had you now?" Beaumaroy looked up quickly. "What, all about Ц ?"
"Captain Duggle, and the Devil, and the grave, and all that."
"Who told you the story?"
"Old Mr. Penrose. Do you know him? Lives in High Street, near the Irechesters."
"I think I know him by sight. So he entertained you with that old yarn, did he? And that same old yarn probably accounts for the nocturnal examination which you saw going on. It was a little excitement for you, to reward you for your politeness to Miss Walford!"
Alec flushed, but answered frankly: "I needed no reward for that." His feelings got the better of him; he was very full of feelings that night, and wanted to be sympathized with. "Beaumaroy, do you know that girl's story?" Beaumaroy shook his head Ц and listened to it. Captain Alec ended on his old note: "To think of the scoundrel using the King's uniform like that!"
"Rotten! But Ц er Ц don't raise your voice." He pointed to the ceiling, smiling, and went on Ц without further comment on Cynthia's ill-usage Ц "I suppose you intend to stick to the army, Naylor?"
"Yes, certainly I do."
"I'm discharged. After I came out of hospital they gave me sick leave Ц and constantly renewed it; and when the armistice came they gave me my discharge. They put it down to my wound, of course, but Ц well, I gathered the impression that I was considered no great loss." He had finished his pipe, and was now smiling reflectively.
Captain Alec did not smile. Indeed he looked rather pained; he was remembering General Punnit's story: military inefficiency Ц even military imperfection Ц was for him no smiling matter. Beaumaroy did not appear to notice his disapproving gravity.
"So I was at a loose end. I had sold up my business in Spain Ц I was there six or seven years, just as Captain Ц Captain Ц ? Oh, Cranster, yes!†Ц was in Bogota Ц when I joined up, and had no particular reason for going back there Ц and, incidentally, no money to go back with. So I took on this job, which came to me quite accidentally. I went into a Piccadilly bar one evening, and found my old man there, rather excited and declaiming a good deal of rot; seemed to have the war a bit on his brain. They started in to guy him, and I think one or two meant to hustle him, and perhaps take his money off him. I took his part, and there was a bit of a shindy. In the end I saw him home to his lodgings Ц he had a room in London for the night Ц and Ц to cut a long story short Ц we palled up, and he asked me to come and live with him. So here I am, and with me my Sancho Panza, the worthy ex-Sergeant Hooper. Perhaps I may be forgiven for impliedly comparing myself to Don Quixote, since that gentleman, besides his other characteristics, is generally agreed to have been mad."
"Your Sancho Panza's no beauty," remarked the Captain drily.
"And no saint either. Kicked out of the Service, and done time. That between ourselves."
"Then why the devil do you have the fellow about?"
"Beggars mustn't be choosers. Besides, I've a penchant for failures."
That was what General Punnit had said! Alec Naylor grew impatient. "That's the very spirit we have to fight against!" he exclaimed, rather hotly.
"Forgive me, but Ц please Ц don't raise your voice."
Alec lowered his voice Ц for a moment anyhow Ц but the central article of his creed was assailed, and he grew vehement. "It's fatal; it's at the root of all our troubles. Allow for failures in individuals, and you produce failure all round. It's tenderness to defaulters that wrecks discipline. I would have strict justice, but no mercy Ц not a shadow of it!"
"But you said that day, at your place, that the war had made you tender-hearted."
"Yes, I did Ц and it's true. Is it hard-hearted to refuse to let a slacker cost good men their lives? Much better take his, if it's got to be one or the other."
"A cogent argument. But, my dear Naylor, I wish you wouldn't raise your voice."
"Damn my voice!" said Alec, most vexatiously interrupted just as he had got into his stride. "You say things that I can't and won't let pass, and Ц "
"I really wouldn't have asked you in, if I'd thought you'd raise your voice."
Alec recollected himself. "My dear fellow, a thousand pardons! I forgot! The old gentleman Ц ?"
"Exactly. But I'm afraid the mischief's done. Listen!" Again he pointed to the ceiling, but his eyes set on Captain Alec with a queer, rueful, humorous expression. "I was an ass to ask you in. But I'm no good at it Ц that's the fact. I'm always giving the show away!" he grumbled, half to himself, but not inaudibly.
Alec stared at him for a moment in puzzle, but the next instant his attention was diverted. Another voice besides his was raised; the sound of it came through the ceiling from the room above; the words were not audible; the volubility of the utterance in itself went far to prevent them from being distinguishable; but the high, vibrant, metallic tones rang through the house. It was a rush of noise Ц sharp grating noise Ц without a meaning. The effect was weird, very uncomfortable. Alec Naylor knit his brows, and once gave a little shiver, as he listened. Beaumaroy sat quite still, the expression in his eyes unaltered Ц or, if it altered at all, it grew softer, as though with pity or affection.
"Good God, Beaumaroy, are you keeping a lunatic in this house?" He might raise his voice as loud as he pleased now, it was drowned by that other.
"I'm not keeping him, he's keeping me. And, anyhow, his medical adviser tells me there is no reason to suppose that my old friend is not compos mentis."
"Irechester says that?"
"Mr. Saffron's medical attendant is Dr. Arkroyd."
As he spoke, the noise from above suddenly ceased. Since neither of the men in the parlour spoke, there ensued a minute of what seemed intense silence; it was such a change.
Then came a still small sound Ц a creaking of wood Ц from overhead.
"I think you'd better go, Naylor, if you don't mind. After a Ц a performance of that kind he generally comes and tells me about it. And he may be Ц I don't know at all for certain Ц annoyed to find you here."
Alec Naylor got up from the big chair, but it was not to take his departure.
"I want to see him, Beaumaroy," he said brusquely and rather authoritatively.
Beaumaroy raised his brows. "I won't take you to his room, or let you go there, if I can help it. But if he comes down Ц well, you can stay and see him. It may get me into a scrape, but that doesn't matter much."
"My point of view is Ц "
"My dear fellow, I know your point of view perfectly. It is that you are personally responsible for the universe Ц apparently just because you wear a uniform."
No other sound had come from above or from the stairs, but the door now opened suddenly, and Mr. Saffron stood on the threshold. He wore slippers, a pair of checked trousers, and his bedroom jacket of pale blue; in addition, the grey shawl, which he wore on his walks, was again swathed closely round him. Only his right arm was free from it; in his hand was a silver bedroom candlestick. From his pale face and under his snowy hair his blue eyes gleamed brightly. As Alec first caught sight of him, he was smiling happily, and he called out triumphantly: "That was a good one! That went well, Hector!"
Then he saw Alec's tall figure by the fire. He grew grave, closed the door carefully, and advanced to the table, on which he set down the candlestick. After a momentary look at Alec, he turned his gaze inquiringly towards Beaumaroy.
"I'm afraid we're keeping it up rather late, sir," said the latter in a tone of respectful yet easy apology, "but I took an airing on the road after you went to bed, and there I found my friend here on his way home; and since it was Christmas Ц "
Mr. Saffron bowed his head in acquiescence; he showed no sign of anger. "Present your friend to me, Hector," he requested Ц or ordered Ц gravely.
"Captain Naylor, sir. Distinguished Service Order; Duffshire Fusiliers."
The Captain was in uniform and, during his talk with Beaumaroy, had not thought of taking off his cap. Thus he came to the salute instinctively. The old man bowed with reserved dignity; in spite of his queer get-up he bore himself well; the tall handsome Captain did not seem to efface or outclass him.
"Captain Naylor has distinguished himself highly in the war, sir," Beaumaroy continued.
"I am very glad to make the acquaintance of any officer who has distinguished himself in the service of his country." Then his tone became easier and more familiar. "Don't let me disturb you, gentlemen. My business with you, Hector, will wait. I have finished my work, and can rest with a clear conscience."
"Couldn't we persuade you to stay a few minutes with us, and join us in a whisky-and-soda?"
"Yes, by all means, Hector. But no whisky. Give me a glass of my own wine; I see a bottle on the sideboard."
He came round the table and sat down in the big chair. "Pray seat yourself, Captain," he said, waving his hand towards the stool which Beaumaroy had lately occupied.
The Captain obeyed the gesture, but his huge frame looked awkward on the low seat; he felt aware of it, then aware of the cap on his head; he snatched it off hastily and twiddled it between his fingers. Mr. Saffron, high up in the great chair, sitting erect, seemed now actually to dominate the scene Ц Beaumaroy standing by, with an arm on the back of the chair, holding a tall glass, full of the golden wine, ready to Mr. Saffron's command; the old man reached up his thin right hand, took it, and sipped with evident pleasure.
Alec Naylor was embarrassed; he sat in silence. But Beaumaroy seemed quite at his ease. He began with a statement which was, in its literal form, no falsehood; but that was about all that could be said for it on the score of veracity. "Before you came in, sir, we were just speaking of uniforms. Do you remember seeing our blue Air Force uniform when we were in town last week? I remember that you expressed approval of it."
In any case the topic was very successful. Mr. Saffron embraced it with eagerness; with much animation he discussed the merits, whether practical or decorative, of various uniforms Ц field-grey, khaki, horizon-blue, Air Force blue, and a dozen others worn by various armies, corps, and services. Alec was something of an enthusiast in this line too; he soon forgot his embarrassment, and joined in the conversation freely, though with a due respect to the obvious thoroughness of Mr. Saffron's information. Watching the pair with an amused smile, Beaumaroy contented himself with putting in, here and there, what may be called a conjunctive observation Ц just enough to give the topic a new start.
After a quarter of an hour of this pleasant conversation, for such all three seemed to find it, Mr. Saffron finished his wine, handed the glass to Beaumaroy, and took a cordial leave of Alec Naylor. "It's time for me to be in bed, but don't hurry away, Captain. You won't disturb me, I'm a good sleeper. Good-bye. I shan't want you any more to-night, Hector."
Beaumaroy handed him his candle again, and held the door open for him as he went out.
Alec Naylor clapped his cap back on his head. "I'm off too," he said abruptly.
"Well, you insisted on seeing him, and you've seen him. What about it now?" asked Beaumaroy.
Alec eyed him with a puzzled, baffled suspicion. "You switched him on to that subject on purpose, and by means of something uncommon like a lie."
"A little artifice! I knew it would interest you, and it's quite one of his hobbies. I don't know much about his past life, but I think he must have had something to do with military tailoring. A designer at the War Office, perhaps." Beaumaroy gave a low laugh, rather mocking and malicious. "Still, that doesn't prove a man mad, does it? Perhaps it ought to, but in general opinion it doesn't, any more than reciting poems in bed does."
"Do you mean to tell me that he was reciting poetry when Ц ?"
"Well, it couldn't have sounded worse if he had been, could it?"
Now he was openly laughing at the Captain's angry bewilderment. He knew that Alec Naylor did not believe a word of what he was saying, or suggesting; but yet Alec could not pass his guard, nor wing a shaft between the joints of his harness. If he got into difficulties through heedlessness, at least he made a good shot at getting out of them again by his dexterity. Only, of course, suspicion remains suspicion, even though it be, for the moment, baffled. And it could not be denied that suspicions were piling up Ц Captain Alec; Irechester; even, on one little point, Doctor Mary! And possibly those two fellows outside Ц one of them short and stumpy Ц had their suspicions too, though these might be directed to another point. He gave one of his little shrugs as he followed the silent Captain to the garden gate.
"Good night. Thanks again. And I hope we shall meet soon," he said cheerily.
Alec gave him a brief "Good night" and a particularly formal military salute.
DOCTOR MARY'S ULTIMATUM
Even Captain Alec was not superior to the foibles which beset humanity. If it had been his conception of duty which impelled him to take a high line with Beaumaroy, there was now in his feelings, although he did not realize the fact, an alloy of less precious metal. He had demanded an ordeal, a test Ц that he should see Mr. Saffron and judge for himself. The test had been accepted; he had been worsted in it. His suspicions were not laid to rest Ц far from it; but they were left unjustified and unconfirmed. He had nothing to go upon, nothing to show. He had been baffled, and, moreover, bantered and almost openly ridiculed. Beaumaroy had been too many for him, in fact, the subtle rogue!
This conception of the case coloured his looks and pointed his words when Tower Cottage and its occupants were referred to, and most markedly when he spoke of them to Cynthia Walford; for in talking to her he naturally allowed himself greater freedom than he did with others; talking to her had become like talking to himself, so completely did she give him back what he bestowed on her, and re-echo to his mind its own voice. Such perfect sympathy induces a free outpouring of inner thoughts, and reinforces the opinions of which it so unreservedly approves.
Cynthia did more than elicit and reinforce Captain Alec's opinion; she also disseminated it Ц at Old Place, at the Irechesters', at Doctor Mary's; through all the little circle in which she was now a constant and a favourite figure. In the light of her experience of men, so limited and so sharply contrasted, she made a simple classification of them; they were Cransters or Alecs; and each class acted after its kind. Plainly Beaumaroy was not an Alec; therefore he was a Cranster; and Cranster-like actions were to be expected from him, of such special description as his circumstances and temptations might dictate.
She poured this simple philosophy into Doctor Mary's ears, vouching Alec's authority for its application to Beaumaroy. The theory was too simple for Mary, whose profession had shown her at all events something of the complexity of human nature; and she was no infallibilist; she would bow unquestioningly to no man's authority, not even to Alec's, much as she liked and admired him. There was even a streak of contrariness in her; what she might have said to herself she was prone to criticize or contradict, if it were too confidently or urgently pressed on her by another; perhaps, too, Cynthia's claim to be the Captain's mouthpiece stirred up in her a latent resentment; it was not to be called a jealousy, it was rather an amused irritation at both the divinity and his worshipper. His worshippers can sometimes make a divinity look foolish.
Her own interview with Beaumaroy at the Cottage had left her puzzled, distrustful Ц and attracted. She suspected him vaguely of wanting to use her for some purpose of his own; in spite of the swift plausibility of his explanation, she was nearly certain that he had lied to her about the combination knife-and-fork. Yet his account of his own position in regard to Mr. Saffron had sounded remarkably candid, and the more so because he made no pretensions to an exalted attitude. It had been left to her to define the standard of sensitive honour; his had been rather that of safety Ц or, at the best, that of what the world would think, or even of what the hated cousins might attempt to prove. But there again she was distrustful, both of him and of her own judgment. He might be Ц it seemed likely Ц one of those men who conceal the good as well as the bad in themselves, one of the morally shy men. Or again, perhaps, one of the morally diffident, who shrink from arrogating to themselves high standards because they fear for their own virtue if it be put to the test, and cling to the power of saying, later on, "Well, I told you not to expect too much from me!" Such various types of men exist, and they do not fall readily into either of Cynthia's two classes; they are neither Cransters nor Alecs; certainly not in thought, probably not in conduct. He had said at Old Place, the first time that she met him, that the war had destroyed all his scruples. That might be true; but it was hardly the remark of a man naturally unscrupulous.скачать книгу бесплатно
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