Beaumaroy Home from the Wars
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"Looks like it! And why the devil Morocco?" His intellect baffled, Captain Alec took refuge in his affections.
Left alone – and so thankful for it! – Doctor Mary did not attempt to sit still. She walked up and down, she roved here and there, smoking any quantity of cigarettes; she would certainly have forbidden such excess to a patient. The keyword – its significance had seemed to come to her in her sleep. Something in that subconsciousness theory? The word explained, linked up, gave significance – that magical word Morocco!
Yes, they fell into place now, the things that had been so puzzling, and that looked now so obviously suggestive. Even one thing which she had thought nothing about, which had not struck her as having any significance, now took on its meaning – the grey shawl which the old gentleman so constantly wore swathed round his body, enveloping the whole of it except his right arm. Did he wear the shawl while he took his meals? Doctor Mary could not tell as to that. Perhaps he did not; at his meals only Beaumaroy, and perhaps their servant, would be present. But he seemed to wear it whenever he went abroad, whenever he was exposed to the scrutiny of strangers. That indicated secretiveness – perhaps fear – the apprehension of something. The caution bred by that might give way under the influence of great cerebral excitement. Unquestionably Mr. Saffron had been very excited when he waved the sheet of hieroglyphics and shouted to Beaumaroy about Morocco. But whether he wore the shawl or not in the safe privacy of Tower Cottage, whatever might be the truth about that – perhaps he varied his practice according to his condition – on one thing Doctor Mary would stake her life – he used the combination knife-and-fork!
For it was over that implement that Beaumaroy had tripped up. It ought to have been hidden before she was admitted to the cottage. Somebody had been careless, somebody had blundered – whether Beaumaroy himself or his servant was immaterial. Beaumaroy had lied, readily and ingeniously, but not quite readily enough. The dart of his hand had betrayed him; that, and a look in his eyes, a tell-tale mirth which had seemed to mock both her and himself, and had made his ingenious lie even at the moment unconvincing. Yes, whether Mr. Saffron wore the shawl or not, he certainly used the combination table implement!
And the "poems"? The poems which Mr. Saffron recited to himself in bed, and which he had said, in Captain Alec's hearing, were good and "went well." It was Beaumaroy, of course, who had called them poems; the Captain had merely repeated the description. But with her newly found insight Doctor Mary knew better. What Mr. Saffron declaimed, in that vibrating metallic voice, were not poems, but – speeches!
And "Morocco" itself! To anybody who remembered history for a few years back, even with the general memory of the man in the street, to anybody who had read the controversies about the war, Morocco brought not puzzle, but enlightenment.For had not Morocco been really the starting-point of the years of crisis – those years intermittent in excitement but constant in anxiety? Beaumaroy was to start to-morrow for Morocco – on the strength of the hieroglyphics! Perhaps he was to go on from Morocco to Libya; perhaps he was to raise the Senussi (Mary had followed the history of the war), to make his appearance at Cairo, Jerusalem, Baghdad! He was to be a forerunner, was Mr. Beaumaroy. Mr. Saffron, his august master, would follow in due course! With a sardonic smile she wondered how the ingenious man would get out of starting for Morocco; perhaps he would not succeed in obtaining a passport, or, that excuse failing, in eluding the vigilance of the British authorities. Or some more hieroglyphics might come, carrying another message, postponing his start, saying that the propitious moment had not yet arrived after all. There were several devices open to ingenuity; many ways in which Beaumaroy might protract a situation not so bad for him even as it stood, and quite rich in possibilities. Her acid smile was turned against herself when she remembered that she had been fool enough to talk to Beaumaroy about sensitive honour!
Well, never mind Mr. Beaumaroy! The case as to Mr. Saffron stood pretty plain. It was queer and pitiful, but by no means unprecedented. She might be not much of an alienist, as Dr. Irechester had been kind enough to suggest to Mr. Naylor, but she had seen such cases herself – even stranger ones, where even higher Powers suffered impersonation, with effects still more tragically absurd to onlookers. And she remembered reading somewhere – was it in Maudslay? – that in the days of Napoleon, when princes and kings were as ninepins to be set up and knocked down at the tyrant's pleasure, the asylums of France were full of such great folk. Potentates there galore! If she had Mr. Saffron's "record" before her, she would expect to read of a vain ostentatious man, ambitious in his own small way; the little plant of these qualities would, given a morbid physical condition, develop into the fantastic growth of delusion which she had now diagnosed in the case of Mr. Saffron – diagnosed with the assistance of some lucky accidents!
But what was her duty now – the duty of Dr. Mary Arkroyd, a duly qualified, accredited, responsible medical practitioner? With a slight shock to her self-esteem she was obliged to confess that she had only the haziest idea. Had not people who kept a lunatic to be licensed or something? Or did that apply only to lunatics in the plural? And did Beaumaroy keep Mr. Saffron within the meaning of whatever the law might be? But at any rate she must do something; the state of things at Tower Cottage could not go on as it was. The law of the land – whatever it was – must be observed, Beaumaroy must be foiled, and poor old Mr. Saffron taken proper care of. The course of her meditations was hardly interrupted by the episode of her light evening meal; she was back in her drawing-room by half-past eight, her mind engrossed with the matter still.
It was a little after nine when there was a ring at the hall door. Not the lovers back so early? She heard a man's voice in the hall. The next moment Beaumaroy was shown in, and the door shut behind him. He stood still by it, making no motion to advance towards her. He was breathing quickly, and she noticed beads of perspiration on his forehead. She had sprung to her feet at the sight of him, and faced him with indignation.
"You have no right to come here, Mr. Beaumaroy, after what passed between us this afternoon."
"Besides being, as you saw yourself, very excited, my poor old friend isn't at all well to-night."
"I'm very sorry; but I'm no longer Mr. Saffron's medical attendant. If I declined to be this afternoon, I decline ten times more to-night."
"For all I know, he's very ill indeed, Dr. Arkroyd." Beaumaroy's manner was very quiet, restrained, and formal.
"I have come to a clear conclusion about Mr. Saffron's case since I left you."
"I thought you might. I suppose 'Morocco' put you on the scent? And I suppose, too, that you looked at that wretched bit of paper?"
"I – I thought it – " Here Mary was slightly embarrassed.
"You'd have been more than human if you hadn't. I was out again after it in five minutes – as soon as I missed it; you'd gone, but I concluded you'd seen it. He scribbles dozens like that."
"You seem to admit my conclusion about his mental condition," she observed stiffly.
"I always admit when I cease to be able to deny. But don't let's stand here talking. Really, for all I know, he may be dying. His heart seems to me very bad."
"Go and ask Dr. Irechester."
"He dreads Irechester. I believe the sight of Irechester might finish him. You must come."
"I can't – for the reasons I've told you."
"Why? My misdeeds? Or your rules and regulations? My God, how I hate rules and regulations! Which of them is it that is perhaps to cost the old man his life?"
Mary could not resist the appeal; that could hardly be her duty, and certainly was not her inclination. Her grievance was not against poor old Mr. Saffron, with his pitiful delusion of greatness, of a greatness too which now had suffered an eclipse almost as tragical as that which had befallen his own reason. What an irony in his mad aping of it now!
"I will come, Mr. Beaumaroy, on condition that you give me candidly and truthfully all the information which, as Mr. Saffron's medical attendant, I am entitled to ask."
"I'll tell you all I know about him – and about myself too."
"Your affairs and – er – position matter to me only so far as they bear on Mr. Saffron."
"So be it. Only come quickly; and bring some of your things that may help a man with a bad heart."
Mary left him, went to her surgery, and was quickly back with her bag. "I'll get out the car."
"It'll take a little longer, I know, but do you mind if we walk? Cars always alarm him. He thinks that they come to take him away. Every car that passes vexes him; he looks to see if it will stop. And when yours does – " He ended with a shrug.
For the first time Mary's feelings took on a keen edge of pity. Poor old gentleman! Fancy his living like that! And cars – military cars too – had been so common on the road across the heath.
"I understand. Let us go at once. You walked yourself, I suppose?"
"Ran," said Beaumaroy, and, with the first sign of a smile, wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
"I'm ready, Mr. Beaumaroy," said Doctor Mary.
They walked along together in silence for full half the way. Then Beaumaroy spoke. "He was extremely excited – at his worst – when he and I went into the cottage. I had to humour him in every way; it was the only thing to do. That was followed by great fatigue – a sort of collapse. I persuaded him to go to bed. I hope we shall find him there, but I don't know. He would let me go only on condition that I left the door of the Tower unlocked, so that he could go in there if he wanted to. If he has, I'm afraid that you may see something – well, something rather bizarre, Dr. Arkroyd."
"That's all in the course of my profession."
Silence fell on them again, till the outline of cottage and tower came into view through the darkness. Beaumaroy spoke only once again before they reached the garden gate.
"If he should happen to be calmer now, I hope you will not consider it necessary to tell him that you suspect anything unusual."
"He is secretive?"
"He lives in terror."
"Of being shut up. May I lead the way in, Dr. Arkroyd?"
They entered the cottage, and Beaumaroy shut the door. A lamp was burning dimly in the passage. He turned it up. "Would you kindly wait here one minute?" Receiving her nod of acquiescence, he stepped softly up the stairs, and she heard him open a door above; she knew it was that of Mr. Saffron's bedroom, where she had visited the old man. She waited – now with a sudden sense of suspense. It was very quiet in the cottage.
Beaumaroy was down again in a minute.
"It is as I feared," he said quietly. "He has got up again, and gone into the Tower. Shall I try and get him out, or will you – ?"
"I will go in with you, of course, Mr. Beaumaroy."
His old mirthful, yet rueful, smile came on his lips – just for a moment. Then he was grave and formal again. "This way, then, if you please, Dr. Arkroyd," he said deferentially.