"I really think, my dear, that you'll feel easier if I stay myself, won't you? You can send me what I want to-morrow, and rejoin me when we arrange—because we shall have to settle what's to be done with the place."
"As you please, Mr. Radbolt." Beaumaroy's tone was, for the first time, a little curt. It hinted some slight offense—as though he felt himself charged with carelessness, and considered Mrs. Radbolt's obsession mere fussiness. "No doubt, if you stay, Mrs. Wiles will agree to stay too, and do her best to make you comfortable."
"I shall feel easier that way, Radbolt," Mrs. Radbolt admitted, with another rumble of apologetic mirth.
Beaumaroy motioned his guests back to the parlor. His manner retained its shade of distance and offense. "Then it really only remains for me to wish you good-bye—and all happiness in your new property. Any information in my possession as to Mr. Saffron's affairs I shall, of course, be happy to give you. Is the car coming for you, Mr. Naylor?"
"I thought it would be pleasant to walk back; and I hope Doctor Mary will come with us and have some tea. I'll send you home afterwards, Doctor Mary."
Farewells were exchanged, but now without even a show of cordiality. Naylor and Doctor Mary felt too much distaste for the chief mourners to attain more than a cold civility. Beaumaroy did not relax into his earlier friendliness. His apparent dislike to her husband's plan of staying at the Cottage roused Mrs. Radbolt's suspicions again; was he a rogue after all, but a very plausible, a very deep one? Only Mr. Radbolt's unctuousness—surely it would have smoothed the stormiest waves—saved the social situation.
"Intelligent people, I thought," Beaumaroy observed, as the three friends pursued their way across the heath towards Old Place. "Didn't you, Mr. Naylor?"
Old Naylor grunted. With a twinkle in his eyes, Beaumaroy tried Doctor Mary. "What was your impression of them?"
"Oh!" moaned Mary, with a deep and expressive note. "But how did you know they'd be like that?"
"Letters, and the old man's description, he had a considerable command of language, and very violent likes and dislikes. I made a picture of them—and it's turned out pretty accurate."
"And those were the nearest kith and kin your poor old man had?" Naylor shook his head sadly. "The woman obviously cared not a straw about anything but handling his money—and couldn't even hide it! A gross and horrible female, Beaumaroy!"
"Were you really hurt about their insisting on staying?" asked Mary.
"Oh, come, you're sharper than that, Doctor Mary! Still, I think I did it pretty well. I set the old girl thinking again, didn't I?" He broke into laughter, and Mary joined in heartily. Old Naylor glanced from one to the other with an air of curiosity.
"You two people look to me—somehow—as if you'd got a secret between you."
"Perhaps we have! Mr. Naylor's a man of honor, Doctor Mary; a man who appreciates a situation, a man you can trust." Beaumaroy seemed very gay and happy now, disembarrassed of a load, and buoyant alike in walk and in spirit. "What do you say to letting Mr. Naylor—just him—nobody else—into our secret?"
Mary put her arms through old Mr. Naylor's. "I don't mind, if you don't. But nobody else!"
"Then you shall tell him—the entire story—at your leisure. Meanwhile I'll begin at the wrong end. I told you I'd made a picture of the hated cousins, of the heirs-at-law, those sorrowing chief mourners. Well, having made a picture of them that's proved true, I'll make a prophecy about them, and I'll bet you it proves just as true."
"Go on," said Mary. "Listen, Mr. Naylor," she added with a squeeze of the old man's arm.
"You're like a couple of naughty children!" he said, with an affectionate look and laugh.
"Well, my prophecy is that they'll swear the poor dear old man's estate at under five thousand."
"Well, why shouldn't—" old Naylor began; but he stopped as he saw Mary's eyes meet Beaumaroy's in a rapture of quick and delighted understanding.
"And then perhaps you'll own to being sorry, Doctor Mary!"
"So that's what you were up to, was it?" said Mary.
THE GOLD AND THE TREASURE
Old Mr. Naylor called on Mary two or three days later—at an hour when, as he well knew, Cynthia was at his own house—in order to hear the story. There were parts of it which she could not describe fully for lack of knowledge—the enterprise of Mike and Big Neddy, for example; but all that she knew she told frankly, and did not scruple to invoke her imagination to paint Beaumaroy's position, with its difficulties, demands, obligations—and temptations. He heard her with close attention, evidently amused, and watching her animated face with a keen and watchful pleasure.
"Surprising!" he said at the end, rubbing his hands together. "That's to say, not in itself particularly surprising. Just a queer little happening; one would think nothing of it if one read it in the newspaper! Things are always so much more surprising when they happen down one's own street, or within a few minutes' walk of one's garden wall—and when one actually knows the people involved in them. Still I was always inclined to agree with Dr. Irechester that there was something out of the common about old Saffron and our friend Beaumaroy."
"Dr. Irechester never found out what it was, though!" exclaimed Mary triumphantly.
"No, he didn't; for reasons pretty clearly indicated in your narrative." He sat back in his chair, his elbows on the arms and his hands clasped before him. "If I may say so, the really curious thing is to find you in the thick of it, Doctor Mary."
"That wasn't my fault. I couldn't refuse to attend Mr. Saffron. Dr. Irechester himself said so."
He paid no heed to her protest. "In the thick of it—and enjoying it so tremendously!"
Mary looked thoughtful. "I didn't at first. I was angry, indignant, suspicious. I thought I was being made a fool of."
"So you were—a fool and a tool, my dear!"
"But that night—because it all really happened in just one night—the chief mourners, as Mr. Beaumaroy always calls them, were more than—"
"Just a rather amusing epilogue—yes, that's all."
"That night, it did get hold of me." She laughed a little nervously, a little uneasily.
"And now you tell it to me—I must say that your telling made it twice the story that it really is—now you tell it as if it were the greatest thing that ever happened to you!"
For a moment Mary fenced. "Well, nothing interesting ever has happened in my humdrum life before." But old Naylor pursed up his lips in contempt of her fencing. "It did seem to me a great—a great experience. Not the burglars and all that—though some of the things, like the water-butt, did amuse me very much—but our being apart from all the world, there by ourselves, against the whole world in a way, Mr. Naylor."
"The law on one side, the robbers on the other, and you two alone together!"
"Yes, you understand. That was the way I felt it. But we weren't together, not in every way. I mean, we were fighting between ourselves too, right up to the very end." She gave another low laugh. "I suppose we're fighting still; he means to face me with some Radbolt villainy, and make me sorry for what he calls my legalism—with an epithet!"
"That's his idea, and my own too, I confess. Those chief mourners will find the money—and some other things that'll make 'em stare. But they'll lie low; they'll sit on the cash till the time comes when it's safe to dispose of it; and they'll bilk the Inland Revenue out of the duties. The remarkable thing is that Beaumaroy seems to want them to do it."
"That's to make me sorry; that's to prove me wrong, Mr. Naylor."
"It may make you sorry, it makes me sorry, for that matter; but it doesn't prove you wrong. You were right. My boy Alec would have taken the same line as you did. Now you needn't laugh at me, Mary. I own up at once; that's my highest praise."
"I know it is; and it implies a contrast?"
Old Naylor unclasped his hands and spread them in a deprecatory gesture. "It must do that," he acknowledged.
Mary gave a rebellious little toss of her head. "I don't care if it does, Mr. Naylor! Mr. Beaumaroy is my friend now."
"And mine. Moreover I have such confidence in his honor and fidelity that I have offered him a rather important and confidential position in my business—to represent us at one of the foreign ports where we have considerable interests." He smiled. "It's the sort of place where he will perhaps find himself less trammelled by—er—legalism, and with more opportunities for his undoubted gift of initiative."
"Will he accept your offer? Will he go?" she asked rather excitedly.
"Without doubt, I think. It's really quite a good offer. And what prospects has he now, or here?"
Mary stretched her hands towards the fire and gazed into it in silence.
"I think you'll have an offer soon too, and a good one, Doctor Mary. Irechester was over at our place yesterday. He's still of opinion that there was something queer at Tower Cottage. Indeed he thinks that Mr. Saffron was queer himself, in his head, and that a clever doctor would have found it out."
"That he himself would, if he'd gone on attending—"
"Precisely. But he's not surprised that you didn't; you lacked the experience. Still he thinks none the worse of you for that, and he told me that he has made up his mind to offer you partnership. Irechester's a bit stiff, but a very straight fellow. You could rely on being fairly treated, and it's a good practice. Besides he's well off, and quite likely to retire as soon as he sees you fairly in the saddle."
"It's a great compliment." Here Mary's voice sounded quite straightforward and sincere. An odd little note of contempt crept into it as she added, "And it sounds—ideal!"
"Yes, it does," old Naylor agreed, with a private smile all to himself, whilst Mary still gazed into the fire. "Quite ideal. You're a lucky young woman, Mary." He rose to take his leave. "So, with our young folk happily married, and you installed, and friend Beaumaroy suited to his liking—why, upon my word, we may ring the curtain down on a happy ending—of Act I, at all events!"
She seemed to pay no heed to his words. He stood for a moment, admiring her; not as a beauty, but a healthy comely young woman, stout-hearted, and with humanity and a sense of fun in her. And, as he looked, his true feeling about the situation suddenly burst through all restraint and leapt from his lips. "Though, for my part, under the circumstances, if I were you, I'd see old Irechester damned before I accepted the partnership!"
She turned to him—startled, yet suddenly smiling. He took her hand and raised it to his lips.
"Hush! Not another word! Good-bye, my dear Mary!"
The next day, as Mary, her morning round finished, sat at lunch with Cynthia, listening, or not listening, to her friend's excusably, eager chatter about her approaching wedding, a note was delivered into her hands:
The C.M.'s are in a hurry! She's back! The window is boarded up again! Come and see! About 4 o'clock this afternoon. B.
Mary kept the appointment. She found Beaumaroy strolling up and down on the road in front of the cottage. The Tower window was boarded up again, but with new strong planks, in a much more solid and workmanlike fashion. If he were to try again, Mike would not find it so easy to negotiate, without making a dangerous noise over the job.
"Such impatience—such undisguised rapacity—is indecent and revolting," Beaumaroy remarked. He seemed to be in the highest spirits. "I wonder if they've opened it yet!"
"They'll see you prowling about outside, won't they?"
"I hope so. Indeed I've no doubt of it. Mrs. Greeneyes is probably peering through the parlor window at this minute, and cursing me. I like it! To those people I represent law and order. If they can rise to the conception of such a thing at all, I probably embody conscience. When you come to think of it, it's a pleasant turn of events that I should come to represent law and order and conscience to anybody, even to the Radbolts."
"It is rather a change," she agreed. "But let's walk on. I don't really much want to think of them."
"That's because you feel that you're losing the bet. I can't stop them getting the money in the end, that's your doing! I can't stop them cheating the Revenue, which is what they certainly mean to do, without exposing myself to more inconvenience than I am disposed to undergo in the cause of the Revenue. Whereas if I had left the bag in the water-butt—all your doing! Aren't you a little sorry?"
"Of course there is an aspect of the case—" she admitted smiling.
"That's enough for me! You've lost the bet. Let's see—what were the stakes, Mary?"
"Come, let's walk on." She put her arm through his. "What about this berth that Mr. Naylor's offering you? At Bogota, isn't it?"
He looked puzzled for a moment; then his mind worked quickly back to Cynthia's almost forgotten tragedy. He laughed in enjoyment of her thrust. "My place isn't Bogota—though I fancy that it's rather in the same moral latitude. You're confusing me with Captain Cranster!"
"So I was—for a moment," said Doctor Mary demurely. "But what about the appointment, anyhow?"
"What about your partnership with Dr. Irechester, if you come to that?"
Mary pressed his arm gently, and they walked on in silence for a little while. They were clear of the neighborhood of Tower Cottage now, but still a considerable distance from Old Place; very much alone together on the heath, as they had seemed to be that night—that night of nights—at the cottage.
"I haven't so much as received the offer yet; only Mr. Naylor has mentioned it to me."
"Still, you'd like to be ready with your answer when the offer is made, wouldn't you?" He drew suddenly away from her, and stood still on the road, opposite to her. His face lost its playfulness; as it set into gravity, the lines upon it deepened, and his eyes looked rather sad. "This is wrong of me, perhaps, but I can't help it. I'm not going to talk to you about myself. Confessions and apologies and excuses, and so on, aren't in my line. I should probably tell lies if I attempted anything of the sort. You must take me or leave me on your own judgment, on your own feelings about me, as you've seen and known me—not long, but pretty intimately, Mary." He suddenly reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out the combination knife-and-fork. "That's all I've brought away of his from Tower Cottage. And I brought it away as much for your sake as for his. It was during our encounter over this instrument that I first thought of you as a woman, Mary. And, by Jove, I believe you knew it!"
"Yes, I believe I did," she answered, her eyes set very steadily on his.
He slipped the thing back into his pocket. "And now I love you, and I want you, Mary."
She fell into a sudden agitation. "Oh, but this doesn't seem for me! I'd put all that behind me! I—" She could scarcely find words. "I, I'm just Doctor Mary!"
"Lots of people to practice on—bodies and souls too, in the moral latitude I'm going to!"
Her body seemed to shiver a little, as though before a plunge into deep water. "I'm very safe here," she whispered.
"Yes, you're safe here," he acknowledged gravely, and stood silent, waiting for her choice.
"What a decision to have to make!" she cried suddenly. "It's all my life in a moment! Because I don't want you to go away from me!" She drew near to him, and put her hands on his shoulders. "I'm not a child, like Cynthia. I can't dream dreams and make idols any more. I think I see you as you are, and I don't know whether your love is a good thing." She paused, searching his eyes with hers very earnestly. Then she went on, "But if it isn't, I think there's no good thing left for me at all."
"Mary, isn't that your answer to me?" "Yes." Her arms fell from his shoulders, and she stood opposite to him, in silence again for a moment. Then her troubled face cleared to a calm serenity. "And now I set doubts and fears behind me. I come to you in faith, and loyalty, and love. I'm not a missionary to you, or a reformer, God forbid! I'm just the woman who loves you, Hector."
"I should have mocked at the missionary, and tricked the reformer." He bared his head before her. "But by the woman who loves me and whom I love, I will deal faithfully." He bent and kissed her forehead.
"And now, let's walk on. No, not to old Place—back home, past Tower Cottage."
She put her arm through his again, and they set out through the soft dusk that had begun to hover about them. So they came to the cottage, and here, for a while, instinctively stayed their steps. A light shone in the parlor window; the Tower was dark and still. Mary turned her face to Beaumaroy's with a sudden smile of scornful gladness.
"Aye, aye, you're right!" His smile answered hers. "Poor devils! I'm sorry; for them, upon my soul I am!"
"That really is just like you!" she exclaimed in mirthful exasperation. "Sorry for the Radbolts now, are you?"
"Well, after all, they've only got the gold. We've got the treasure, Mary!"