"Oh, but I'm curious! I shall ask Mr. Beaumaroy," cried Cynthia.
The ironical character of Irechester's smile grew more pronounced, and his voice was at its driest: "Certainly you can ask Beaumaroy, Miss Walford. As far as asking goes, there's no difficulty."
A pause followed this pointed remark, on which nobody seemed disposed to comment. Mrs. Naylor ended the session by rising from her chair.
But Mary Arkroyd was disquieted, worried as to how she stood with Irechester, vaguely but insistently worried over the whole Tower Cottage business. Well, the first point she could soon settle, or try to settle, anyhow.
With the directness which marked her action when once her mind was made up, she waylaid Irechester as he came into the drawing-room; her resolute approach sufficed to detach Naylor from him; he found himself for the moment isolated from everybody except Mary.
"You got my letter, Dr. Irechester? I—I rather expected an answer."
"Your conduct was so obviously and punctiliously correct," he replied suavely, "that I thought my answer could wait till I met you here to-day, as I knew that I was to have the pleasure of doing." He looked her full in the eyes. "You were placed, my dear colleague, in a position in which you had no alternative."
"I thought so, Dr. Irechester, but—"
"Oh yes, clearly! I'm far from making any complaint." He gave her a courteous little bow, but it was one which plainly closed the subject. Indeed he passed by her and joined a group that had gathered on the hearthrug, leaving her alone.
So she stood for a minute, oppressed by a growing uneasiness. Irechester said nothing, but surely meant something of import? He mocked her, but not idly or out of wantonness. He seemed almost to warn her. What could there be to warn her about? He had laid an odd emphasis on the word "placed"; he had repeated it. Who had "placed" her there? Mr. Saffron? Or—
Alec Naylor broke in on her uneasy meditation. "It's a clinking night, Doctor Mary," he observed. "Do you mind if I walk Miss Walford home, instead of her going with you in your car, you know? It's only a couple of miles and—"
"Do you think your leg can stand it?"
He laughed. "I'll cut the thing off, if it dares to make any objection!"
A GENTLEMANLY STRANGER
On this same Christmas Day Sergeant Hooper was feeling morose and discontented; not because he was alone in the world (a situation comprising many advantages), nor on the score of his wages, which were extremely liberal; nor on account of the "old blighter's"—that is, Mr. Saffron's—occasional outbursts of temper, these being in the nature of the case and within the terms of the contract; nor, finally, by reason of Beaumaroy's airy insolence, since from his youth up the Sergeant was hardened to unfavorable comments on his personal appearance, trifling vulgarities which a man of sense could afford to ignore.
No; the winter of his discontent—a bitter winter—was due to the conviction, which had been growing in his mind for some time, that he was only in half the secret, and that not the more profitable half. He knew that the old blighter had to be humored in certain small ways, as, for example, in regard to the combination knife-and-fork—and the reason for it. But, first, he did not know what happened inside the Tower; he had never seen the inside of it; the door was always locked; he was never invited to accompany his masters when they repaired thither by day, and he was not on the premises by night. And, secondly, he did not understand the Wednesday journeys to London, and he had never seen the inside of Beaumaroy's brown bag—that, like the Tower door, was always locked. He had handled it once, just before the pair set out for London one Wednesday. Beaumaroy, a careless man sometimes, in spite of the cunning which Dr. Irechester attributed to him, had left it on the parlor table while he helped Mr. Saffron on with his coat in the passage, and the Sergeant had swiftly and surreptitiously lifted it up. It was very light, obviously empty, or, at all events, holding only featherweight contents. He had never got near it when it came back from town; then it always went straight into the Tower and had the key turned on it forthwith.
But the Sergeant, although slow-witted as well as ugly, had had his experiences; he had carried weights both in the army and in other institutions which are officially described as His Majesty's, and had seen other men carry them too. From the set of Beaumaroy's figure as he arrived home on at least two occasions with the brown bag, and from the way in which he handled it, the Sergeant confidently drew the conclusion that it was of a considerable, almost a grievous, weight. What was the heavy thing in it? What became of that thing after it was taken into the Tower? To whose use or profit did it, or was it, to inure? Certainly it was plain, even to the meanest capacity, that the contents of the bag had a value in the eyes of the two men who went to London for them and who shepherded them from London to the custody of the Tower.
These thoughts filled and racked his brain as he sat drinking rum and water in the bar of the Green Man on Christmas evening; a solitary man, mixing little with the people of the village, he sat apart at a small table in the corner, musing within himself, yet idly watching the company—villagers, a few friends from London and elsewhere, some soldiers and their ladies. Besides these, a tall slim man stood leaning against the bar, at the far end of it, talking to Bill Smithers, the landlord, and sipping whisky-and-soda between pulls at his cigar. He wore a neat dark overcoat, brown shoes, and a bowler hat rather on one side; his appearance was, in fact, genteel, though his air was a trifle raffish. In age he seemed about forty. The Sergeant had never seen him before, and therefore favored him with a glance of special attention.
Oddly enough, the gentlemanly stranger seemed to reciprocate the Sergeant's interest; he gave him quite a long glance. Then he finished his whisky-and-soda, spoke a word to Bill Smithers, and lounged across the room to where the Sergeant sat.
"It's poor work drinking alone on Christmas night," he observed. "May I join you? I've ordered a little something, and, well, we needn't bother about offering a gentleman a glass tonight."
The Sergeant eyed him with apparent disfavor—as, indeed, he did everybody who approached him—but a nod of his head accorded the desired permission. Smithers came across with a bottle of brandy and glasses. "Good stuff!" said the stranger, as he sat down, filled the glasses, and drank his off. "The best thing to top up with, believe me!"
The Sergeant, in turn, drained his glass, maintaining, however, his aloofness of demeanor. "What's up?" he growled.
"What's in the brown bag?" asked the stranger lightly and urbanely.
The Sergeant did not start; he was too old a hand for that; but his small gimlet eyes searched his new acquaintance's face very keenly. "You know a lot!"
"More than you do in some directions, less in others, perhaps. Shall I begin? Because we've got to confide in one another, Sergeant. A little story of what two gentlemen do in London on Wednesdays, and of what they carry home in a brown leather bag? Would that interest you? Oh, that stuff in the brown leather bag! Hard to come by now, isn't it? But they know where there's still some, and so do I, to remark it incidentally. There were actually some people, Sergeant Hooper, who distrusted the righteousness of the British Cause, which is to say (the stranger smiled cynically) the certainty of our licking the Germans, and they hoarded it, the villains!"
Sergeant Hooper stretched out his hand towards the bottle. "Allow me!" said the stranger politely. "I observe that your hand trembles a little."
It did. The Sergeant was excited. The stranger seemed to be touching on a subject which always excited the Sergeant—to the point of hands trembling, twitching, and itching.
"Have to pay for it, too! Thirty bob in curl-twisters for every ruddy disc; that's the figure now, or thereabouts. What do they want to do it for? What's your governor's game? Who, in short, is going to get off with it?"
"What is it they does, the old blighter and Boomery (thus he pronounced the name Beaumaroy), in London?"
"First to the stockbroker's, then to a bank or two, I've known it three even; then a taxi down East, and a call at certain addresses. The bag's with 'em, Sergeant, and at each call it gets heavier. I've seen it swell, so to speak."
"Who in hell are you?" the Sergeant grunted huskily.
"Names later—after the usual guarantees of good faith."
The whole conversation, carried on in low tones, had passed under cover of noisy mirth, snatches of song, banter, and gigglings; nobody paid heed to the two men talking in a corner. Yet the stranger lowered his voice to a whisper, as he added:
"From me to you fifty quid on account; from you to me just a sight of the place where they put it."
Sergeant Hooper drank, smoked, and pondered. The stranger showed the edge of a roll of notes, protruding it from his breast-pocket. The Sergeant nodded, he understood that part. But there was much that he did not understand. "It fair beats me what the blazes they're doing it for," he broke out.
"Whose money would it be?"
"The old blighter's, o' course. Boomery's stony, except for his screw." He looked hard at the gentlemanly stranger, and a slow smile came on his lips, "That's your idea, is it, mister?"
"Gentleman's old, looks frail, might go off suddenly. What then? Friends turn up, always do when you're dead, you know. Well, what of it? Less money in the funds than was reckoned; dear old gentleman doesn't cut up as well as they hoped! And meanwhile our friend B——! Does it dawn on you at all, from our friend B——'s point of view, Sergeant? I may be wrong, but that's my provisional conjecture. The question remains how he's got the old gent into the game, doesn't it?"
Precisely the point to which the Sergeant's mind also had turned! The knowledge which he possessed—that half of the secret—and which his companion did not, might be very material to a solution of the problem; the Sergeant did not mean to share it prematurely, without necessity, or for nothing. But surely it had a bearing on the case? Dull-witted as he was, the Sergeant seemed to catch a glimmer of light, and mentally groped towards it.
"Well, we can't sit here all night," said the stranger in good-humored impatience. "I've a train to catch."
"There's no train up from here to-night."
"There is from Sprotsfield. I shall walk over."
The Sergeant smiled. "Oh, if you're walking to Sprotsfield, I'll put you on your way. If anybody was to see us, Boomery, for instance, he couldn't complain of my seeing an old pal on his way on Christmas night. No 'arm in that; no look of prowling, or spying, or such like! And you are an old pal, ain't you?"
"Certainly; your old pal—let me see—your old pal Percy Bennett."
"As it might he, or as it might not. What about the—" He pointed to Percy Bennett's breast-pocket.
"I'll give it you outside. You don't want me to be seen handing it over in here, do you?"
The Sergeant had one more question to ask. "About 'ow much d'ye reckon there might be by now?"
"How often have they been to London? Because they don't come to see my friends every time, I fancy."
"Must 'ave been six or seven times by now. The game began soon after Boomery and I came 'ere."
"Then, quite roughly, quite a shot, from what I know of the deals we—my friends, I mean—did with them, and reasoning from that, there might be a matter of seven or eight thousand pounds."
The Sergeant whistled softly, rose, and led the way to the door. The gentlemanly stranger paused at the bar to pay for the brandy, and after bidding the landlord a civil good-evening, with the compliments of the season, followed the Sergeant into the village street.
Fifteen minutes' brisk walk brought them to Hinton Avenue. At the end of it they passed Doctor Mary's house; the drawing-room curtains were not drawn; on the blind they saw reflected the shadows of a man and a girl, standing side by side. "Mistletoe, eh?" remarked the stranger. The Sergeant spat on the road; they resumed their way, pursuing the road across the heath.
It was fine, but overclouded and decidedly dark. Every now and then Bennett, to call the stranger by what was almost confessedly a nom-de-guerre, flashed a powerful electric torch on the roadway. "Don't want to walk into a gorse-bush," he explained with a laugh.
"Put it away, you darned fool! We're nearly there."
The stranger obeyed. In another seven or eight minutes there loomed up, on the left hand, the dim outline of Mr. Saffron's abode—the square cottage with the odd round tower annexed.
"There you are!" The Sergeant's voice instinctively kept to a whisper. "That's what you want to see."
"But I can't see it—not so as to get any clear idea."
No lights showed from the cottage, nor, of course, from the Tower; its only window had been, as Mr. Penrose said, boarded up. The wind—there was generally a wind on the heath—stirred the fir-trees and the bushes into a soft movement and a faint murmur of sound. A very acute and alert ear might perhaps have caught another sound—footfalls on the road, a good long way behind them. The two spies, or scouts, did not hear them; their attention was elsewhere.
"Probably they're both in bed; it's quite safe to make our examination," said the stranger.
"Yes, I s'pose it is. But look to be ready to douse your glim. Boomery's a nailer at turning up unexpected." The Sergeant seemed rather nervous.
Mr. Bennett was not. He took out his torch, and guided by its light (which, however, he took care not to throw towards the cottage windows) he advanced to the garden gate, the Sergeant following, and took a survey of the premises. It was remarkable that, as the light of the torch beamed out, the faint sound of footfalls on the road behind died away.
"Keep an eye on the windows, and touch my elbow if any light shows. Don't speak." The stranger was at business—his business—now, and his voice became correspondingly businesslike. "We won't risk going inside the gate. I can see from here." Indeed he very well could; Tower Cottage stood back no more than twelve or fifteen feet from the road, and the torch was powerful.
For four or five minutes the stranger made his examination. Then he turned off his torch. "Looks easy," he remarked, "but of course there's the garrison." Once more he turned on his light, to look at his watch. "Can't stop now, or I shall miss the train, and I don't want to have to get a bed at Sprotsfield. A strayed reveler on Christmas night might be too well remembered. Got an address?"
"Care of Mrs. Willnough, Laundress, Inkston."
"Right. Good-night." With a quick turn he was off along the road to Sprotsfield. The Sergeant saw the gleam of his torch once or twice, receding at quite a surprising pace into the distance. Feeling the wad of notes in his pocket—perhaps to make sure that the whole episode had not been a dream—the Sergeant turned back towards Inkston.
After a couple of minutes, a tall figure emerged from the shelter of a high and thick gorse bush just opposite Tower Cottage, on the other side of the road. Captain Alec Naylor had seen the light of the stranger's torch, and, after four years in France, he was well skilled in the art of noiseless approach. But he felt that, for the moment at least, his brain was less agile than his feet. He had been suddenly wrenched out of one set of thoughts into another profoundly different. It was his shadow, together with Cynthia Walford's, that the Sergeant and the stranger had seen on Doctor Mary's blind. After "walking her home," he had—well, just not proposed to Cynthia, restrained more by those scruples of his than by any ungraciousness on the part of the lady. Even his modesty could not blind him to this fact. He was full of pity, of love, of a man's joyous sense of triumph, half wishing that he had made his proposal, half glad that he had not, just because it, and its radiant promise, could still be dangled in the bright vision of the future. He was in the seventh heaven of romance, and his heaven was higher than that which most men reach; it was built on loftier foundations.
Then came the flash of the torch; the high spirits born of one experience sought an outlet in another. "By Jove, I'll track 'em—like old times!" he murmured, with a low light laugh. And, just for fun, he did it, taking to the heath beside the road, twisting his long body in and out amongst gorse, heather, and bracken, very noiselessly, with wonderful dexterity. The light of the lamp was continuous now; the stranger was making his examination. By it Captain Alec guided his steps; and he arrived behind the tall gorse bush opposite Tower Cottage just in time to hear the Sergeant say "Mrs. Willnough, Laundress, Inkston," and to witness the parting of the two companions.
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—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—I—well, it's rather late—"
Alec Naylor was suddenly struck with the element of humor 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 parlor, 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—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 sha'n'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—" he smiled—"yielded to the impulse to ask you to come in, Naylor. However, let's have the story by all means."
The surprise—it might almost have been taken for alarm—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—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 neighborhood. There are stories about this old den, you know—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—"
"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, 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, er, don't raise your voice." He pointed to the ceiling, smiling, and went on without further comment on Cynthia's ill-usage. "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, and constantly renewed it; and when the armistice came they gave me my discharge. They put it down to my wound, of course, but—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, even military imperfection, 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; I was there six or seven years, just as Captain—Captain—? Oh, Cranster, yes!—was in Bogota—when I joined up, and had no particular reason for going back there—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—he had a room in London for the night—and, to cut a long story short, 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, please, don't raise your voice."
Alec lowered his voice, for a moment anyhow, 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, not a shadow of it!"
"But you said that day at your place that the war had made you tender-hearted."
"Yes, I did, 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—"
"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!"
"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, 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, sharp grating noise, 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, or, if 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 parlor spoke, there ensued a minute of what seemed intense silence; it was such a change.
Then came a still small sound, a creaking of wood from overhead.
"I think you'd better go, Naylor, if you don't mind. After a performance of that kind he generally comes and tells me about it. And he may be, I don't know at all for certain, 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, 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—"
"My dear fellow, I know your point of view perfectly. It is that you are personally responsible for the universe, 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 gray 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 in the road after you went to bed, and there I found my friend here on his way home; and since it was Christmas—"
Mr. Saffron bowed his head in acquiescence; he showed no sign of anger. "Present your friend to me, Hector," he requested, or ordered, 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—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—field-gray, 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—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 sha'n'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 poetry in bed does."
"Do you mean to tell me that he was reciting poetry when—"
"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—Captain Alec, Irechester, even, on one little point, Doctor Mary! And possibly those two fellows outside—one of them short and stumpy—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—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—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. In fact, Beaumaroy had been too many for him, the subtle rogue!
This conception of the case colored 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—at Old Place, at the Irechesters', at Doctor Mary's, through all the little circle in which she was now a constant and a favorite 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 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 worshiper. His worshipers can sometimes make a divinity look foolish.
Her own interview with Beaumaroy at the Cottage had left her puzzled, distrustful—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 honor; his had been rather that of safety 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—it seemed likely—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.
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 were left alone together for a few minutes 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 dare say 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 overworked 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-humored 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 dare say 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 candor 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 candor 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 improvization 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 defense; his nonplussed air confessed that maneuver, 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 me—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 gray 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 tomorrow!"
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 tomorrow 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 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.
THE MAGICAL WORD MOROCCO!
When Mary arrived home, she found Cynthia and Captain Alec still in possession of the drawing-room; their manner accused her legitimate entry into the room of being an outrageous intrusion. She took no heed of that, and indeed little heed of them. To tell the truth, she was ashamed to confess, but it was the truth, she felt rather tired of them that evening. Their affair deserved every laudatory epithet, except that of interesting; so she declared peevishly within herself as she tried to join in conversation with them. It was no use. They talked on, and in justice to them it may be urged that they were fully as bored with Mary as she was with them; so naturally their talents did not shine their brightest. But they had plenty to say to one another, and dutifully threw in a question or a reference to Mary every now and then. Sitting apart at the other end of the long low room—it ran through the whole depth of her old-fashioned dwelling—she barely heeded and barely answered. They smiled at one another and were glad.
She was very tired; her feelings were wounded, her nerves on edge; she could not even attempt any cool train of reasoning. The outcome of her talk with Beaumaroy filled her mind rather than the matter of it; and, more even than that, the figure of the man seemed to be with her, almost to stand before her, with his queer alternations of despair and mirth, of defiance and pleading, of derision and alarm. One moment she was intensely irritated with him; in the next she half forgave the plaintive image which the fancy of her mind conjured up before her eyes.
Her eyes closed—she was so very tired, the fight had taken it out of her! To have to do things like that was an odious necessity, which had never befallen her before. That man had done—well, Captain Alec was quite right about him! Yet still the shadowy image, though thus reproached, did not depart; it was smiling at her now with its old mockery—the kindly mockery which his face wore before they quarrelled, and before its light was quenched in that forlorn bewilderment. And it seemed as though the image began to say some words to her, disconnected words, not making a sentence, but yet having for the image a pregnant meaning, and seeming to her—though vaguely and very dimly—to be the key to what she had to understand. She was stupid not to understand words so full of meaning—just as stupid as Beaumaroy had thought.
Then Doctor Mary fell asleep, sound asleep; she had been very near it for the last ten minutes.
Captain Alec and Cynthia were in two chairs, close side by side, in front of the fire. Once Cynthia glanced over her shoulder; the Captain had glanced over his in the same direction already. One of his hands held one of Cynthia's. It was well to be sure that Mary was asleep, really asleep.
She had gone to sleep on the name of Beaumaroy; on it she awoke. It came from Captain Alec's lips. He was standing on the hearthrug with his arm round Cynthia's waist, and his other hand raising one of hers to his lips. He looked admirably handsome—strong, protecting, devoted. And Cynthia, in her fragile appealing prettiness, was a delicious foil, a perfect complement to the picture. But now, under stress of emotion—small blame to a man who was making a vow of eternal fidelity!—under stress of emotion, as, on a previous occasion, under that of indignation, the Captain had raised his voice!
"Yes, against all the scoundrels in the world, whether they're called Cranster or Beaumaroy!" he said.
Mary's eyes opened. She sat up. "Cranster and Beaumaroy?" They were the words which her ears had caught. "What in the world has Mr. Beaumaroy to do with—" But she broke off, as she saw the couple by the fire. "But what are you two doing?"
Cynthia broke away from her lover, and ran to her friend with joyous avowals.
"I must have been sound asleep," cried Mary, kissing her. Alec had followed across the room and now stood close by her. She looked up at him. "Oh, I see! She's to be safe now from such people?" On this particular occasion Mary's look at the Captain was not admiring; it was a little scornful.
"That's the idea," agreed the happy Alec. "Another idea is that I trot you both over in the car to Old Place—to break the news and have dinner."
"Splendid!" cried Cynthia. "Do come, Mary!"
Mary shook her head. "No; you go, you two," she said. "I'm tired, and I want to think." She passed her hand across her eyes. She seemed to wipe away the mists of sleep. Her face suddenly grew animated and exultant. "No, I don't want to think! I know!" she exclaimed emphatically.
"Mary dear, are you still asleep? Are you talking in your sleep?"
"The keyword! It came to me, somehow, in my sleep. The keyword—Morocco!"
"What the deuce has Morocco—" Captain Alec began, with justifiable impatience.
"Ah, you never heard that, and, dear Captain Alec, you wouldn't have understood it if you had. You thought he was reciting poems. What he was really doing—"
"Look here, Doctor Mary, I've just been accepted by Cynthia, and I'm going to take her to my mother and father. Can you get your mind on to that?" He looked at her curiously, not at all understanding her excitement, perhaps resenting the obvious fact that his Cynthia's happiness was not foremost in her friend's mind.
With a great effort Mary brought herself down to the earth—to the earth of romantic love from the heaven of professional triumph. True, the latter was hers, the former somebody else's. "I do beg your pardon. I do indeed. And do let me kiss you again, Cynthia darling—and you, dear Captain Alec, just once! And then you shall go off to dinner." She laughed excitedly. "Yes, I'm going to push you out."
"Let's go, Alec," said Cynthia, not unkindly, yet just a little pettishly. The great moment of her life—surely as great a moment as there had ever been in anybody's life—had hardly earned adequate recognition from Mary. As usual, her feelings and Alec's were at one. Before they passed to other and more important matters, when they drove off in the car she said to Alec, "It seems to me that Mary's strangely interested in that Mr. Beaumaroy. Had she been dreaming of him, Alec?"
"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 gray 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 tomorrow 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, Bagdad! 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 honor!
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 tonight."
"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 tonight."
"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 of 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 fully half the way. Then Beaumaroy spoke. "He was extremely excited—at his worst—when he and I went into the cottage. I had to humor 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.
THE CAR BEHIND THE TREES
Mr. Percy Bennett, that gentlemanly stranger, was an enemy to delay; both constitutionally and owing to experience, averse from dallying with fortune; to him a bird in his hand was worth a whole aviary on his neighbor's unrifled premises. He thought that Beaumaroy might levant with the treasure; at any moment that unwelcome, though not unfamiliar, tap on the shoulder, with the words (gratifying under quite other circumstances and from quite different lips) "I want you," might incapacitate him from prosecuting his enterprise (he expressed this idea in more homely idiom—less Latinized was his language, metaphorical indeed, yet terse); finally he had that healthy distrust of his accomplices which is essential to success in a career of crime; he thought that Sergeant Hooper might not deliver the goods!
Sergeant Hooper demurred; he deprecated inconsiderate haste? let the opportunity be chosen. He had served under Mr. Beaumaroy in France, and (whatever faults Major-General Punnit might find with that officer) preferred that he should be off the premises at the moment when Mr. Bennett and he himself made unauthorized entry thereon. "He's a hot 'un in a scrap," said the Sergeant, sitting in a public house at Sprotsfield on Boxing Day evening, Mr. Bennett and sundry other excursionists from London being present.
"My chauffeur will settle him," said Mr. Bennett. It may seem odd that Mr. Bennett should have a chauffeur; but he had—or proposed to have—pro hac vice—or ad hoc; for this particular job, in fact. Without a car that stuff at Tower Cottage—somewhere at Tower Cottage—would be difficult to shift.
The Sergeant demurred still, by no means for the sake of saving Beaumaroy's skin, but still purely for the reason already given; yet he admitted that he could not name any date on which he could guarantee Beaumaroy's absence from Tower Cottage. "He never leaves the old blighter alone later than eleven o'clock or so, and rarely as late as that."
"Then any night's about the same," said gentleman Bennett; "and now for the scheme, dear N.C.O.!"
Sergeant Hooper despaired of the doors. The house-door might possibly be negotiated, though at the probable cost of arousing the notice of Beaumaroy—and of the old blighter himself. But the door from the parlor into the Tower offered insuperable difficulties. It was always locked; the lock was intricate; he had never so much as seen the key at close quarters and, even had opportunity offered, was quite unpractised in the art of taking impressions of locks—a thing not done with accuracy quite so easily as seems sometimes to be assumed.
"For my own part," said Mr. Bennett with a nod, "I've always inclined to the window. We can negotiate that without any noise to speak of, and it oughtn't to take us more than a few minutes. Just deal boards, I expect! Perhaps the old gentleman and your pal Beaumaroy—the Sergeant spat—will sleep right through it!"
"If they ain't in the Tower itself," suggested the Sergeant gloomily.
"Wherever they may be," said gentleman Bennett, with a touch of irritability—he was himself a sanguine man and disliked a mind fertile in objections—"I suppose the stuff's in the Tower, isn't it?"
"It goes in there, and I've never seen it come out, Mr. Bennett." Here at least a tone of confidence rang in the Sergeant's voice.
"But where in the Tower, Sergeant?"
"'Ow should I know? I've never been in the blooming place."
"It's really rather a queer business," observed Mr. Bennett, allowing himself for a moment, an outside and critical consideration of the matter.
"Damned," said the Sergeant briefly.
"But, once inside, we're bound to find it! Then—with the car—it's in London in forty minutes, and in ten more it's—where it's going to be; where that is needn't worry you, my dear Sergeant."
"What if we're seen from the road?" urged the pessimistic Sergeant.
"There's never a job about which you can't put those questions. What if Ludendorff had known just what Foch was going to do, Sergeant? At any rate anybody who sees us is two miles either way from a police station—and may be a lot farther if he tries to interfere with us! It's a hundred to one against anybody being on the road at that time of night; we'll pray for a dark night and dirty weather—which, so far as I've observed, you generally get in this beastly neighborhood." He leant forward and tapped the Sergeant on the shoulder. "Barring accidents, let's say this day week; meanwhile, Neddy"—he smiled as he interjected. "Neddy is our chauffeur—Neddy and I will make our little plan of attack."
"Don't be too generous! Don't leave all the V.C. chances to me," the Sergeant implored.
"Neddy's fair glutton for 'em! Difficulty is to keep him from murder! And he stands six foot four, and weighs seventeen stone."
"Ill back him up—from be'ind—company in support," grinned the Sergeant, considerably comforted by this description of his coadjutor.
"You'll occupy the station assigned to you, my man," said Mr. Bennett, with an admirable burlesque of the military manner. "The front is wherever a soldier is ordered to be—a fine saying of Lord Kitchener's! Remember it, Sergeant!"
"Yes, sir," said the Sergeant, grinning still.
He found Mr. Bennett on the whole amusing company, though occasionally rather alarming; for instance, there seemed to him to be no particular reason for dragging in Neddy's predilection for murder; though, of course, a man of his inches and weight might commit murder through some trifling and pardonable miscalculation of force. "Same as if that Captain Naylor hit you!" the Sergeant reflected, as he finished the ample portion of rum with which the conversation had been lightened. He felt pleasantly muzzy, and saw Mr. Bennett's cleancut features rather blurred in outline. However, the sandy wig and red mustache which that gentleman wore—in his character as a Boxing Day excursionist—were still salient features even to his eyes. Anybody in the room would have been able to swear to them.
Thus the date of the attack was settled and, if only it had been adhered to, things might have fallen out differently between Doctor Mary and Mr. Beaumaroy. Events would probably have relieved Mary from the necessity of presenting her ultimatum, and she might never have heard that illuminating word "Morocco." But big Neddy the Shover—as his intimate friends were wont to call him—was a man of pleasure as well as of business; he was not a bloke in an office; he liked an ample Christmas vacation and was now taking one with a party of friends at Brighton—all tip-toppers who did the thing in style and spent their money (which was not their money) lavishly. From the attraction of this company—not composed of gentlemen only—Neddy refused to be separated. Mr. Bennett, who was on thorns at the delay, could take it or leave it at that; in any case the job was, in Neddy's opinion (which he expressed with that massive but good-humored scorn which is an appanage of very large men), a leap in the dark, a pig in a poke, blind hookey; for who really knew how much of the stuff the old blighter and his pal had contrived to shift down to the Cottage in the old brown bag. Sometimes it looked light, sometimes it looked heavy; sometimes perhaps it was full of bricks!
In this mood Neddy had to be humored, even though gentlemanly Mr. Bennett sat on thorns. The Sergeant repined less at the delay; he liked the pickings which the job brought him much better than the job itself, standing in wholesome dread of Beaumaroy. It was rather with resignation than with joy that he received from Mr. Bennett the news that Neddy had at last named the day that would suit his High Mightiness—Tuesday the 7th of January it was, and, as it chanced, the very day before Beaumaroy was to start for Morocco! More accurately, the attack would be delivered on the actual day of his departure—if he went. For it was timed for one o'clock in the morning, an hour at which the road across the heath might reasonably be expected to be clear of traffic. This was an especially important point, in view of the fact that the window of the Tower faced towards the road and was but four or five yards distant from it.
After a jovial dinner—rather too jovial in Mr. Bennett's opinion, but that was Neddy's only fault, he would mix pleasure with business—the two set out in an Overland car. Mr. Bennett—whom, by the way, his big friend Neddy called "Mike," and not "Percy," as might have been expected—assumed his sandy wig and red mustache as soon as they were well started; Neddy scorned disguise for the moment, but he had a mask in his pocket. He also had a very nasty little club in the same pocket, whereas Mr. Bennett carried no weapon of offense—merely the tools of his trade, at which he was singularly expert. The friends had worked together before; though Neddy reviled Mike for a coward, and Mike averred with curses, that Neddy would bring them both to the gallows some day, yet they worked well together and had a respect for one another, each allowing for the other's idiosyncrasies. The true spirit of partnership! On it alone can lasting and honorable success be built.
"Just match-boarding, the Sergeant says it is, does he?" asked Neddy, breaking a long silence, which indeed had lasted until they were across Putney Bridge and climbing the Hill.
"Yes, and rotten at that. It oughtn't to take two minutes; then there'll be only the window. Of course we must have a look round first. Then, if the coast's clear, I'll nip in and shove something up against the door of the place while you're following. The Sergeant's to stay on guard at the door of the house, so that we can't be taken in the rear. See?"
"Then—well, we've got to find the stuff, and when we've found it, you've got to carry it, Neddy. Don't mind if it's a bit heavy, do you?"
"I don't want to overstrain myself," said Neddy jocularly, "but I'll do my best with it, only hope it's there!"
"It must be there. Hasn't got wings, has it? At any rate not till you put it in your pocket, and go out for an evening with the ladies!"
Neddy paid this pleasantry the tribute of a laugh, but he had one more business question to ask:
"Where are we to stow the car? How far off?"
"The Sergeant has picked out a big clump of trees, a hundred yards from the cottage on the Sprotsfield side, and about thirty yards from the road. Pretty clear going to it, bar the bracken—she'll do it easily. There she'll lie, snug as you like. As we go by Sprotsfield, the car won't have to pass the Cottage at all—that's an advantage—and yet it's not over far to carry the stuff."
"Sounds all right," said Neddy placidly, and with a yawn. "Have a drop?"
"No, I won't—and I wish you wouldn't, Neddy. It makes you bad-tempered, and a man doesn't want to be bad-tempered on these jobs."
"Take the wheel a second while I have a drop," said Neddy, just for all the world as if his friend had not spoken. He unscrewed the top of a large flask and took a very considerable "drop." It was only after he had done this with great deliberation that he observed good-naturedly, "And you go to hell, Mike! It's dark, ain't it? That's a bit of all right."
He did not speak again till they were near Sprotsfield. "This Beaumaroy—queer name, ain't it?—he's a big chap, ain't he, Mike?"
"Pretty fair, but, Lord love you, a baby beside yourself."
"Well, now, you told me something the Sergeant said about a man as was (Neddy, unlike his friend, occasionally tripped in his English) really big."
"Oh, that's Naylor—Captain Naylor. But he's not at the cottage; we're not likely to meet him, praise be!"
"Rather wish we were! I want a little bit of exercise," said Neddy.
"Well, I don't know but what Beaumaroy might give you that. The Sergeant's got tales about him at the war."
"Oh, blast these soldiers—they ain't no good." In what he himself regarded as his spare hours, that is to say, the daytime hours wherein the ordinary man labors, Neddy was a highly skilled craftsman, whose only failing was a tendency to be late in the morning and to fall ill about the festive seasons of the year. He made lenses, and, in spite of the failing, his work had been deemed to be of national importance, as indeed it was. But that did not excuse his prejudice against soldiers.
They passed through the outskirts of Sprotsfield; Mike—to use his more familiar name—had made a thorough exploration of the place, and his directions enabled his chauffeur to avoid the central and populous parts of the town. Then they came out on to the open heath, passed Old Place, and presently—about half a mile from Tower Cottage—found Sergeant Hooper waiting for them by the roadside. It was then hard on midnight—a dark cloudy night, very apt for their purpose. With a nod, but without a word, the Sergeant got into the car, and in cautious whispers directed its course to the shelter of the clump of trees; they reached it after a few hundred yards of smooth road and some thirty of bumping over the heath. It afforded a perfect screen from the road, and on the other side there was only untrodden heath, no path or track being visible near it.
Neddy got out of the car, but he did not forget his faithful flask. He offered it to the Sergeant in token of approval. "Good place, Sergeant," he said; "does credit to you, as a beginner. Here, mate, hold on, though. It's evident you ain't accustomed to liquor glasses!"
"When I sits up so late, I gets a kind of a sinking," the Sergeant explained apologetically.
Mike flashed a torch on him for a minute; there was a very uncomfortable look in his little squinty eyes. "Sergeant," he said suavely but gravely, "my friend here relies on you. He's not a safe man to disappoint." He shifted the light suddenly on to Neddy, whose proportions seemed to loom out prodigious from the surrounding darkness. "Are you, Neddy?"
"No, I'm a sensitive chap, I am," said Neddy, smiling. "Don't you go and hurt my pride in you by any sign of weakness, Sergeant."
The Sergeant shivered a little. "I'm game. I'll stick it," he protested valorously.
"You'd better!" Neddy advised.
"All quiet at the Cottage as you came by?" asked Mike.
"Quiet as the grave, for what I see," the Sergeant answered.
"All right. Mike, where are them sandwiches? I feel like a bite. One for the Sergeant too! But no more flask—no, you don't Sergeant! When'll we start, Mike!"
"In about half-an-hour."
"Just nice time for a snack—oysters and stout for you, my darling?" said jovial Neddy. Then—with a change of voice—"Just as well that didn't pass us!"
For the sound of a car came from the road they had just left. It was going in the direction of the Cottage and of Inkston. Captain Alec was taking his betrothed home after a joyful evening of congratulation and welcome.
THE SECRET OF THE TOWER
The scene presented by the interior of the Tower, when Beaumaroy softly opened the door and signed to Doctor Mary to step forward and look, was indeed a strange one, a ridiculous yet pathetic mockery of grandeur.
The building was a circular one, rising to a height of some thirty-five feet and having a diameter of about ten. Up to about twelve feet from the floor its walls were draped with red and purple stuffs of coarse material; above them the bare bricks and the rafters of the roof showed naked. In the middle of the floor, with their backs to the door at which Mary and her companion stood, were set two small armchairs of plain and cheap make. Facing them, on a rough dais about three feet high and with two steps leading up to it, stood a large and deep carved oaken armchair. It too was upholstered in purple, and above and around it were a canopy and curtains of the same color. This strange erection was set with its back to the one window—that which Mr. Saffron had caused to be boarded up soon after he entered into occupation. The place was lighted by candles—two tall standards of an ecclesiastical pattern, one on either side of the great chair or throne, and each holding six large candles, all of which were now alight and about half-consumed. On the throne, his spare wasted figure set far back in the recesses of its deep cushioned seat and his feet resting on a high hassock, sat old Mr. Saffron; in his right hand he grasped a scepter, obviously a theatrical "property," but a handsome one, of black wood with gilt ornamentation; his left arm he held close against his side. His eyes were turned up towards the room; his lips were moving as though he were talking, but no sound came.
Such was Doctor Mary's first impression of the scene; but the next moment she took in another feature of it, not less remarkable. To the left of the throne, to her right as she stood in the doorway facing it, there was a fireplace; an empty grate, though the night was cold. Immediately in front of it was, unmistakably, the excavation in the floor which Mr. Penrose had described at the Christmas dinner-party at Old Place—six feet in length by three in breadth, and about four feet deep. Against the wall, close by, stood a sheet of cast iron, which evidently served to cover and conceal the aperture; by it was thrown down, in careless disorder, a strip of the same dull red baize as covered the rest of the floor of the Tower. By the side of the sheet and the piece of carpet there was an old brown leather bag.
Tradition, and Mr. Penrose, had told the truth. Here without doubt was Captain Duggle's grave, the grave he had caused to be dug for himself, but which—be the reason what it might—-his body had never occupied. Yet the tomb was not entirely empty. The floor of it was strewn with gold, to what depth Mary could not tell, but it was covered with golden sovereigns; there must be thousands of them. They gleamed under the light of the candles.
Mary turned, startled, inquiring, apprehensive eyes on Beaumaroy. He pressed her arm gently, and whispered:
"I'll tell you presently. Come in. He'll notice us, I expect, in a minute. Mind you curtsey when he sees you!" He led her in, pulling the door to after him, and placed her and himself in front of the two small armchairs opposite Mr. Saffron's throne.
Beaumaroy removed his hand from her arm, but she caught his wrist in one of hers and stood there, holding on to him, breathing quickly, her eyes now set on the figure on the throne.
The old man's lips had ceased to move; his eyes had closed; he lay back in the deep seat, inert, looking half-dead, very pale and waxen in the face. For what seemed a long time he sat thus, motionless and almost without signs of life, while the two stood side by side before him. Mary glanced once at Beaumaroy; his lips were apart in that half humorous, half compassionate smile; there was no hint of impatience in his bearing.
At last Mr. Saffron opened his eyes, and saw them; there was intelligence in his look, though his body did not move. Mary was conscious of a low bow from Beaumaroy; she remembered the caution he had given her, and herself made a deep curtsey; the old man made a slight inclination of his handsome white head. Then, after another long pause, a movement passed over his body—excepting his left arm. She saw that he was trying to rise from his seat, but that he had barely the strength to achieve his purpose. But he persisted in his effort, and in the end rose slowly and tremulously to his feet.
Then, utterly without warning, in a sudden and shocking burst of that high, voluble, metallic speech which Captain Alec had heard through the ceiling of the parlor, he began to address them, if indeed it were they whom he addressed, and not some phantom audience of Princes, Marshals, Admirals, or trembling sheep-like re emits. It was difficult to hear the words, hopeless to make out the sense. It was a farrago of nonsense, part of his own inventing, part (as it seemed) wild and confused reminiscences of the published speeches of the man he aped, all strung together on some invisible thread of insane reasoning, delivered with a mad vehemence and intensity that shook and seemed to rend his feeble frame.
"We must stop him, we must stop him," Mary suddenly whispered. "He'll kill himself if he goes on like this!"
"I've never been able to stop him," Beaumaroy whispered back. "Hush! If he hears us speaking he'll be furious, and carry on worse."
The old man's blue eyes fixed themselves on Beaumaroy—of Mary he took no heed. He pointed at Beaumaroy with his scepter, and from him to the gleaming gold in Captain Duggle's grave. A streak of coherency, a strand of mad logic, now ran through his hurtling words; the money was there, Beaumaroy was to take it—to-day, to-day!—to take it to Morocco, to raise the tribes, to set Africa aflame. He was to scatter it—broadcast, broadcast! There was no end to it—don't spare it! "There's millions, millions of it!" he shouted, and achieved a weird wild majesty in a final cry, "God with us!"
Then he fell—tumbled back in utter collapse into the recesses of the great chair. His scepter fell from his nerveless hand and rolled down the steps of the dais; the impetus it gathered carried it, rolling still, across the floor to the edge of the open pit; for an instant it lay poised on the edge, and then fell with a jangle of sound on the carpet of golden coins that lined Captain Duggle's grave.
"Quick! Get my bag—I left it in the passage," whispered Mary, as she started forward, up the dais, to the old man's side. "And brandy, if you've got it," she called after Beaumaroy, as he turned to the door to do her bidding.
Beaumaroy was gone no more than a minute. When he came back, with the bag hitched under his arm, a decanter of brandy in one band and a glass in the other, Mary was leaning over the throne, with her arm round the old man. His eyes were open, but he was inert and motionless. Beaumaroy poured out some brandy, and gave it into Mary's free hand. But when Mr. Saffron saw Beaumaroy by his side, he gave a sudden twist of his body, wrenched himself away from Mary's arm, and flung himself on his trusted friend. "Hector, I'm in danger! They're after me! They'll shut me up!"
Beaumaroy put his strong arms about the frail old body. "Oh no, sir, oh, no!" he said in low, comforting, half-bantering tones. "That's the old foolishness, sir, if I may so say. You're perfectly safe with me. You ought to trust me by now, sir, really you ought."