Beaumaroy Home from the Wars
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She met him one day at Old Place about a week after Christmas. The Captain was not there; he was at her own house, with Cynthia. With the rest of the family Beaumaroy was at his best; gaily respectful to Mrs. Naylor, merry with Gertie, exchanging cut and thrust with old Mr. Naylor, easy and cordial towards herself. Certainly an attractive human being and a charming companion, pre-eminently natural. "One talks of taking people as one finds them," old Naylor said to her, when they found themselves alone for a few minutes together by the fire, while the others chatted by the window. "That fellow takes himself as he finds himself! Not as a pattern, a failure, or a problem, but just as a fact – a psychological fact."
"That rather shuts out effort, doesn't it? Well, I mean – "
"Strivings?" Mr. Naylor smiled. "Yes, it does. On the other hand, it gives such free play. That's what makes him interesting, makes you think about him." He laughed. "Oh, I daresay the surroundings help too – we're all rather children! – old Saffron, and the Devil, and Captain Duggle, and the rest of it! The brain isn't over-worked down here; we like to find an outlet."
"That means you think there's nothing in it really?"
"In what?" retorted old Naylor briskly.
But Mary was equal to him. "My lips are sealed professionally," she smiled. "But hasn't your son said anything?"
"Admirable woman! Yes, Alec has said a few things; and the young lady gives it us too. For my part, I think Beaumaroy's just drifting. He'll take the gifts of fortune if they come, but I don't think there's much deliberate design about it. Ah, now you're smiling in a superior way, Doctor Mary! I charge you with secret knowledge. Or are you puffed up by having superseded Irechester?"
"I was never so distressed and – well, embarrassed – at anything in my life."
"Well, that, if you ask me, does look a bit queer. Sort of fits in with Alec's theory."
Mary's discretion gave way a little. "Or with Mr. Beaumaroy's? Which is that I'm a fool, I think."
"And that Irechester isn't?" His eyes twinkled in good-humoured malice. "Talking of what this and that person thinks – of himself and of others – Irechester thinks himself something of an alienist."
Her eyes grew suddenly alert. "He's never talked to me on that subject."
"Perhaps he doesn't think it's one of yours. Perhaps your studies haven't lain that way? After all, no medical man can study everything!"
"Don't be naughty, Mr. Naylor!" said Doctor Mary.
"He tells me that, in cases where the condition – the condition I think he called it – is in doubt, he fixes his attention on the eyes and the voice. He couldn't give me any very clear description of what he found in the eyes. I couldn't quite make out, anyhow, what he meant, unless it was a sort of meaninglessness – a want of what you might call intellectual focus. Do you follow me?"
"Yes, I think I know what you mean."
"But with regard to the voice, I distinctly remember that he used the word 'metallic.'"
"Why, that's the word Cynthia used – !"
"I daresay it is.It's the word Alec used in describing the voice in which old Mr. Saffron recited his poem – or whatever it was – in bed."
"But I've talked to Mr. Saffron; his voice isn't like that; it's a little high, but full and rather melodious."
"Oh, well then – !" He spread out his hands, as though acknowledging a check. "Still, the voice described as metallic seems to have been Mr. Saffron's – at a certain moment at least. As a merely medical question of some interest, I wonder if such a symptom or sign of – er – irritability could be intermittent, coming and going with the – er – fits! Irechester didn't say anything on that point. Have you any opinion?"
"None. I don't know. I should like to ask Dr. Irechester." Then, with a sudden smile, she amended, "No, I shouldn't!"
"And why not, pray? Professional etiquette?"
"No – pride. Dr. Irechester laughed at me. I think I see why now; and perhaps why Mr. Beaumaroy – " She broke off abruptly, the slightest gesture of her hand warning Naylor also to be silent.
Having said good-bye to his friends by the window, Beaumaroy was sauntering across the room to pay the like courtesy to herself and Naylor. Mary rose to her feet; there was an air of decision about her, and she addressed Beaumaroy almost before he was within speaking distance as it is generally reckoned in society.
"If you're going home, Mr. Beaumaroy, shall we walk together? It's time I was off too."
Beaumaroy looked a little surprised, but undoubtedly pleased. "Well, now, what a delightful way of prolonging a delightful visit! I'm truly grateful, Dr. Arkroyd."
"Oh, you needn't be!" said Mary, with a little toss of her head.
Naylor watched them with amusement. "He'll catch it on that walk!" he was thinking. "She's going to let him have it! I wish I could be there to hear." He spoke to them openly: "I'm sorry you must both go; but, since you must, go together. Your walk will be much pleasanter."
Mary understood him well enough, and gave him a flash from her eyes. But Beaumaroy's face betrayed nothing, as he murmured politely: "To me, at all events, Mr. Naylor."
Naylor was not wrong as to Mary's mood and purpose. But she did not find it easy to begin. Pretty quick at a retort herself, she could often foresee the retorts open to her interlocutor. Beaumaroy had provided himself with plenty: the old man's whim; the access to the old man so willingly allowed, not only to her but to Captain Alec; his own candour carried to the verge of self-betrayal. Oh, he would be full of retorts, supple and dexterous ones! As this hostile accusation passed through her mind, she awoke to the fact that she was, at the same moment, regarding his profile (he too was silent, no doubt lying in wait to trip up her opening!) with interest, even with some approval. He seemed to feel her glance, for he turned towards her quickly – so quickly that she had no time to turn her eyes away.
"Doctor Mary" – the familiar mode of address habitually used at the house which they had just left seemed to slip out without his consciousness of it – "you've got something against me; I know you have! I'm sensitive that way, though not, perhaps, in another. Now, out with it!"
"You'd silence me with a clever answer. I think that you sometimes make the mistake of supposing that to be silenced is the same thing as being convinced. You silenced Captain Naylor – Oh, I don't mean you've prevented him from talking! – I mean you confuted him, you put him in the wrong; but you certainly didn't convince him."
"Of what?" he asked in a tone of surprise.
"You know that. Let us suppose his idea was all nonsense; yet your immediate object was to put it out of his head." She suddenly added, "I think your last question was a diplomatic blunder, Mr. Beaumaroy. You must have known what I meant. What was the good of pretending not to?"
Beaumaroy stopped still in the road for a moment, looking at her with a rueful amusement. "You're not so easily silenced, after all!" he said, starting to walk on again.
"You encourage me." To tell the truth, Mary was not only encouraged, she was pleased by the hit she had scored, and flattered by his acknowledgment of it. "Well, then, I'll put another point. You needn't answer if you don't like."
"I shall answer if I can, depend on it!" He laughed, and Mary, for a brief instant, joined in his laugh. His sudden lapses into candour seemed somehow to put the serious hostile questioner ridiculously in the wrong. Could a man like that really have anything to conceal?
But she held to her purpose. "You're a friendly sort of man, you offer and accept attentions and kindnesses, you're not stand-offish, or haughty, or sulky; you make friends easily, especially perhaps with women; they like you, and like to be pleasant and kind to you. There are men – patients, I mean – very hard to deal with – men who resent being ill, resent having to have things done to them and for them, who especially resent the services of women, even of nurses – I mean in quite indifferent things, not merely in things where a man may naturally shrink from their help. Well, you don't seem that sort of man in the least." She looked at him, as she ended this appreciation of him, as though she expected an answer or a comment. Beaumaroy made neither; he walked on, not even looking at her.
"And you can't have been troubled long with that wound. It evidently healed up quickly and sweetly."
Beaumaroy looked for an instant at his maimed hand with a critical air; but he was still silent.
"So that I wonder you didn't do as most patients do – let the nurse, or, if you were still disabled after you came out, a friend or somebody, cut up your food for you without providing yourself with that implement." He turned his head quickly towards her. "And if you ask me what implement I mean, I shall answer – the one you tried to snatch from the sideboard at Tower Cottage before I could see it."
It was a direct challenge; she charged him with a lie. Beaumaroy's face assumed a really troubled expression, a thing rare for it to do. Yet it was not an ashamed or abashed expression; it just seemed to recognize that a troublesome difficulty had arisen. He set a slower pace and prodded the road with his stick. Mary pushed her advantage. "Your – your improvisation didn't satisfy me at the time, and the more I've thought over it, the less have I found it convincing."
He stopped again, turning round to her. He slapped his left hand against the side of his leg. "Well, there it is, Doctor Mary! You must make what you can of it."
It was complete surrender as to the combination knife-and-fork. He was beaten – on that point at least – and owned it. His lie was found out. "It's dashed difficult always to remember that you're a doctor," he broke out the next minute.
Mary could not help laughing; but her eyes were still keen and challenging as she said, "Perhaps you'd better change your doctor again, Mr. Beaumaroy. You haven't found one stupid enough!"
Again Beaumaroy had no defence; his nonplussed air confessed that manoeuvre too. Mary dropped her rallying tone and went on gravely, "Unless I'm treated with confidence and sincerity, I can't continue to attend Mr. Saffron."
"That's your ultimatum, is it, Doctor Mary?"
She nodded sharply and decisively. Beaumaroy meditated for a few seconds. Then he shook his head regretfully. "It's no use. I daren't trust you," he said.
Mary laughed again – this time in amazed resentment of his impudence. "You can't trust me! I think it's the other way round. It seems to me that the boot's on the other leg."
"Not as I see it." Then he smiled slowly, as it were tentatively. "Or would you – I wonder if you could – possibly – well, stand in with me?"
"Are you offering me a – a partnership?" she asked indignantly.
He raised his hand in a seeming protest, and spoke now hastily and in some confusion. "Not as you understand it. I mean – as you probably understand it – from what I said to you that night at the Cottage. There are features in the – well, there are things that I admit have – have passed through my mind, without being what you'd call settled. Oh, yes, without being in the least settled. Well, for the sake of your help and – er – co-operation, those – those features could be dropped. And then perhaps – if only your – your rules and etiquette – "
Mary scornfully cut short his embarrassed pleadings. "There's a good deal more than rules and etiquette involved. It seems to me that it's a matter of common honesty rather than of rules and etiquette – "
"Yes, but you don't understand – "
She cut him short again. "Mr. Beaumaroy, after this – after your suggestion and all the rest of it – there must be an end of all relations between us – professionally and, so far as possible, socially too, please. I don't want to be self-righteous, but I feel bound to say that you have misunderstood my character."
Her voice quivered at the end, and almost broke. She was full of a grieved indignation.
They had come opposite the cottage now. Beaumaroy stopped, and stood facing her. Though dusk had fallen, it was a clear evening; she could see his face plainly; obviously he was in deep distress. "I wouldn't have offended you for the world. I – I like you far too much, Doctor Mary."
"You imputed your own standards to me. That's all there is about it, I suppose," she said in a scornful sadness. He looked very miserable. Compassion, and the old odd attraction which he had for her, stirred in her mind. Her voice grew soft, and she held out her hand. "I'm sorry too, very sorry, that it should have to be good-bye between us."
Beaumaroy did not take her proffered hand, or even seem to notice it. He stood quite still.
"I'm damned if I know what I'm to do now!"
Close on the heels of his despairing confession of helplessness – for such it undoubtedly seemed to be – came the noise of an opening door, a light from the inside of the cottage, a patter of quick-moving feet on the flagged path that led to the garden gate. The next moment Mary saw the figure of Mr. Saffron, in his old grey shawl, standing at the gate. He was waving his right arm in an excited way, and his hand held a large sheet of paper.
"Hector! Hector, my dear, dear boy! The news has come at last! You can be off to-morrow!"
Beaumaroy started violently, glanced at his old friend's strange figure, glanced once too at Mary; the expression of utter despair which his face had worn seemed modified into one of humorous bewilderment.
"Yes, yes, you can start to-morrow for Morocco, my dear boy!" cried old Mr. Saffron.
Beaumaroy lifted his hat to her, cried, "I'm coming, sir," turned on his heel, and strode quickly up to Mr. Saffron. She watched him open the gate and take the old gentleman by the arm; she heard the murmur of his voice, speaking in soft accents as the pair walked up the path together. They passed into the house, and the door was shut.
Mary stood where she was for a moment, then moved slowly, hesitatingly, yet as though under a lure which she could not resist. Just outside the gate lay something that gleamed white through the darkness. It was the sheet of paper. Mr. Saffron had dropped it in his excitement, and Beaumaroy had not noticed.
Mary stole forward and picked it up stealthily; she was incapable of resisting her curiosity or even of stopping to think about her action. She held it up to what light there was, and strained her eyes to examine it. So far as she could see, it was covered with dots, dashes, lines, queerly drawn geometrical figures – a mass of meaningless hieroglyphics. She dropped it again where she had found it, and made off home with guilty swiftness.
Yes, there had been, this time, a distinctly metallic ring in old Mr. Saffron's voice.