MoboReader> Horror > The Brother of Daphne

   Chapter 3 WHEN IT WAS DARK

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 21427

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Daphne pointed suddenly to the stile. "This is it," she said. "We get over here and go across the meadow, and there's the wood beyond the gate that we've got to-to-what's the word?"

"Encompass?" I hazarded.

"Skirt?" said Jonah.

"Skirt-thank you-till we come upon the carttrack."

"And then?" said I.

"Then we're all right," she said defiantly.

"Which means, that about two hours from now we shall, with a fine disregard for the highest traditions of British pugilism, strike the high road below the belt of firs, a good six miles from the roof-tree we should never have left. God forgive you."

"Am I," said Berry, "am I to understand in cold blood that, reckoning three miles to the league, some four leagues lie directly between me and the muffins?"

"You are," said I.

"To think that my wife is a bag," he said wearily.

It was an autumn afternoon in the county of Devon. There were we staying at a retired farmhouse, fleeting the time carelessly, simply, healthily. Sickened by forty-eight hours of continuous rain, we had fastened greedily upon the chance which a glorious October day at length offered, and had set out, complete with sandwiches, for one of the longer walks. Daphne constituted herself guide. We never asked her to. But as such we just accepted her. We were quite passive in the matter. Going, she had guided us with a careless confidence which shamed suspicion. But coming back, she had early displayed unmistakable signs of hesitation and anxiety. Thereafter she had plunged desperately, with the result that at three o'clock we found ourselves reduced to a swine-herd who had been drinking. The latter detailed to us four several routes, and assured us that it was utterly impossible to miss any one of them.

To put it quite shortly, he was mistaken.

Within half an hour we had missed them all. Lost on a heath (which I have every reason to suppose was blasted) in a strange county, and not a soul in sight. That was the position.

We plodded in silence across the meadow.

"Didn't say anything about a bog, did he? said Berry, drawing his left leg out of some mire with a noise that made me shudder. Jill slid a warm arm into mine, and broke into long laughter.

"Don't encourage the fool," said Daphne.

We skirted the wood successfully to find that there never could have been a cart-track.

Berry leaned against a wall of stones. "What a picture," he said ecstatically. "The setting sun, the little band, the matron and the maid, mist rising, shadows falling-subject for next year's Academy, 'The Walkers.'"

"Idiot!" said Daphne shortly.

"Do I hear aright?" said Berry.

"I said 'idiot.'"

Berry covered his face with his hat, and begged us to excuse his emotion. Daphne stamped her foot.

"I have an idea," said I.

"If it's one of your usual ones, we don't want it," said Daphne.

"Thank you, dear. We are undoubtedly lost. No, that is not my idea. But, as a would-have-been boy-scout, I recognize in this spot a natural camping-place. That water is close at hand, we know from Scout Berry. Jonah can take the first watch, Berry the second, Jonah the third, and-and so on. My own energy I shall reserve for the dog-watch."

"Oh, stop him, somebody," wailed Daphne.

"I said dog-watch, dear, not stop-watch. Before we bivouac I will scale yon beetling mount if peradventure I may perceive one that will point us homeward. Scout Berry!"

"Sir," said Berry.

"You know your duties!"

"I do that, sir."

"Tis well. If the worst comes to the worst, kill the women out of hand, or with your own hand-I don't care which. Age before honesty, you know."

With that I left them, and turned to climb the hill which rose sharply on our right, its side dotted with furze-bushes, and its crest hidden by a clump of trees.

Five minutes later I was back among them again.

"Well," said Daphne eagerly, "you haven't been right to the top, have you?"

"Oh, no. I only came back to say that when I said 'Age before honesty' just now, I really meant 'Death before dishonour,' you know," and I turned up the bank again.

I regret to say that Berry and Jonah thought it decent to attempt to stone my retreating figure. Ten minutes' walking brought me to a clearing on the top, which afforded a magnificent view. Hill and dale, woodland and pasture, stone wall and hedgerow, as far as I could see. The sinking sun was lighting gloriously the autumn livery of the woods, and, far in the distance, I could see the silver streak of the river flowing to the village on whose skirts stood the house that was our bourne. When I returned to the camp to find them gone I was rather bored.

The note that they had left made it worse:

"Regret compelled retire owing to serious outflanking movement on part of the Blues. Sorry, but that's the worst of being picket. The natural intuition which characterizes all BSS will enable you to discern our route. So long."

Although I tried four times-mainly because Jonah had my

matches-I was unable to discern their route. At last I came down to shouting, but only succeeded in arousing the curiosity of three cows and a well-nourished ram. The latter was so well nourished that when he had stamped for the second time, I thought it prudent to get over the wall. I did so with about four seconds to spare. Nothing daunted, the winning animal took a short run and butted the wall with surprising vigour. When three large stones had fallen for seven runs, I offered up a short prayer that Berry & Co. might return to look for me, and hastened to put two more walls between us. I suppose it was the river that I saw in the distance, from the summit of that fair hill...

Three and a half hours later I came upon the first signs of animal life as opposed to vegetable-since the ram. Up hill, down dale, along roads, along imitation roads, along future roads, along past roads, across moors I had tramped doggedly, blindly, and rather angrily. If I had had one match-only one match-it would have been different.

Yes, it was a dog-cart. And through the gloom I could distinctly see the shape of some one sitting in it, holding the reins.

I quickened my steps.

"I say, have you got a match?"

A girl's voice.

"That's about the worst thing you could have said." said I.

"Why?"

"Because a match is the one thing I've been wanting for the last four hours."

"Sorry. Swear for me, will you?"

"Certainly, madam. What sort of an oath would you like? We have a very large assortment in stock-fresh lot in only this afternoon. Let me see. Now, I've got a very nice thing in oaths-"

"I want a round one."

"Round? Certainly. And the usual black, I presume. We have been doing rather a lot in the way of blue oaths lately. No? Damn. How do you like that, madam?"

"That'll do."

"Much obliged to you, madam. Sign, please. Nothing else I can show you? Nothing in the curse line?"

"No, thanks. Good day."

There was a pause. Presently:

"I said 'good day,'" said the girl.

"Yes," said I; "but, then, we were only playing."

"Oh, were you?"

"Any way, you haven't paid yet," I said desperately.

"How much do you want? It was a very common oath."

"I've plenty more, if you like. For instance-"

"Hush! Not before the mare. What's your price?"

"The privilege of accompanying you on foot till we can get a light. You can't drive at more than a walking pace on this road without lamps. And it's not right for you to be alone."

"You are very good. But are you going my way?"

"I've not the faintest idea."

"Are you lost, then?"

"Hopelessly. Have been for hours."

"Where do you want to get to?"

"A farmhouse three miles out of Lorn."

"Which side of Lorn?"

"Well, if I'm the same side of Lorn as I was at one o'clock this afternoon, it's the other side."

"Well, but aren't you?"

"My dear girl, I don't know."

She laughed. "Well, I'm going to Lorn, any way," she said, "so come along."

"Heaven will reward you," said I, and climbed into the cart.

"You'd better drive."

I took the reins. We had to go very slowly, for it was one of the imitation roads, and when we were not scaling an ascent that positively beetled, we were going down a descent which I was glad it was too dark to see. After a minute or two, I took the near wheel eighteen inches up the bank.

"Sorry," said the girl, as she disengaged herself from my neck and arms and resumed her seat, "but it was your fault for taking it up the bank."

"I know. I hope you weren't frightened. I'm awfully sorry."

"You drive rather well, considering."

"Steady the Buffs. Considering what?"

"Considering it's your first shot."

In silence I gave her the reins.

"After that," I said icily, "after that there is no more to be said. Was it for this that, at the age of four, I was borne by two reluctant goats along the Hastings strand? Pardon me, those last six words comprise an iambic line-a fact which is itself the best evidence of my agitation. It is a little winning way I have. Most criminals when charged make no reply. When I am arrested, I shall protest in anapaests. As I was saying, was it for this-?"

"Stop, stop," she said, laughing; "you drive all right-beautifully."

I took the reins again.

It was getting very cold, and I put the rug carefully about her.

"You're very good," she said, "but wait."

I felt her hand on my knee.

"Oh, you haven't got any of it."

She would have untucked it again if I hadn't caught her wrist.

"That's all right," I said. "I'm not allowed rugs."

"Nonsense."

"My dear, doctor's orders. The last thing the great Harley Street specialist said to me, as I pushed the two pounds two shillings beneath the current number of The Lancet, was, 'Now, mind, no rugs. Eat and drink what you like. Smoke in moderation, and get up as late as you please. But no rugs.'"

As the wrist felt unconvinced, I slipped it through my arm, where it lay comfortably enough.

"Do you often do this sort of thing?" I said presently.

"Get late coming home and have no lights? Not often."

"I'm glad of that-I'm sure it's very dangerous. Good whips like myself aren't as common as blackberries. And so few tramps one meets nowadays can drive really well."

"I don't look as if I'd got any money, do I?"

"Well, you don't look anything just now, as it's too dark to see; but you sound like a wrist-watch and a chain-purse."

"How did you know?"

"Intuition," I said carelessly. "You see I'm a boy-scout."

"Feel."

She laid a slim, warm wrist against my cheek. I distinctly felt the cold round glass of a wrist-watch.

"And I've got a chain-purse in my bag." "Ah!"

"Go on

, boy-scout. Tell me what I look like in the daytime."

"You have ear-rings and your face is rather cold. About the kind of ear-rings I am not certain."

"How did you know that?"

"I found that out, when-er-when we went up the bank."

"Oh!"

"Yes," I went on hurriedly, "and-"

"Am I dark or fair?"

I looked hopelessly at where I knew my companion was sitting. Then:

"Dark," I said, after a minute. "Dark, with long eyelashes and two brown eyes."

"Two!"

"Yes, I think so. You sound extravagant."

"Dimples?"

"I think not."

"Nose?"

"Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, please, teacher."

"Nonsense. What did you mean by 'yes'?"

"Sorry. I thought you were asking me if you'd got a nose, and I think you have. That's all. Sorry if I'm wrong, but when you're in the dark-"

"Yes, but what sort of nose?"

Here I got the near wheel up the bank again with great effect. When we had sorted ourselves:

"If you do that again," she said severely, "I'll leave you in the road-"

"In the what?"

"In the road to find your own way home as best you can."

"You have a hard nose," I said doggedly. I was almost sure that the ear-rings were pearl ear-rings.

There was a pause. The cold was making us silent. My fingers were getting numbed, but I dared not chafe them. I was afraid of the rug.

"You're not doing much for your drive," she said presently. "Do say something."

"You want to converse?"

"Yes."

"Very well, then. I didn't see you at Blackpool this year."

"That's curious."

"Yes, isn't it? What's your recreation? Forgive my seeming inquisitiveness, but I've just joined the staff of Who's Who."

"What?"

"No, who?"

"Recreation?"

"Yes. Hobby, amusement. Don't you collect cats or keep stamps or motor-boat or mountebank, I mean mountaineer, or anything?"

"No."

"Never mind. I expect you know Oldham rather well, don't you?"

"Not at all."

"Oh, I'm sorry."

"Why?"

"Because I don't know it either, and I thought-"

"What?"

"Well, you know, we ought to know Oldham-one of us ought to. It was a Unionist gain last time."

"Are you a Unionist?"

"My dear, you see in me-at least you would see in me, if it were not so dark-a high Tory."

"I thought you were a boy-scout."

"The two are not incompatible. Did you see that thing in Ally Sloper last week?"

"No, I didn't. Here's a gate."

I got down and opened it, and she drove carefully through.

It was the first of seven gates. By the time we had done six, I was becoming good at getting up and down, but rather tired. As I resumed my seat for the sixth time, I sighed. For the sixth time she returned me the reins.

"You don't take much care of your clothes, boy-scout," she said. "Nearly all the men I know hitch up their trousers when they sit down."

"Perhaps they're sailors."

"No, they aren't."

"My dear girl, I don't know how you can see I don't, but I don't because I haven't got any on. I mean, I'm wearing breeches."

"Would you hitch them up if you had got on trousers?"

"Let's see, to-day's Thursday. Yes, I should."

"Why do men always bother so about their knees?"

"Take care of the bags, and the coats will take care of themselves," I observed sententiously.

"But why-?"

Here we came upon the seventh gate.

I groaned.

"Six gates shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do, but the seventh-"

"Out you get, boy-scout."

I laid a hand on my companion's shoulder. "Are you an enchantress?" I said. "At least, of course you are. But I mean, is this the way to your castle, Circe? And am I going to be turned into a herd of swine presently? They always have seven gates and a dense forest through which I cut a path with my sword, which, by the way, I have left in the tool-shed, unless perchance, maiden, thou hast filched it from my side this last half-hour. Note the blank verse again. I may say I am looking at you narrowly."

"Fret not for thy sword, Sir Scout." she replied, "neither flatter thyself that Circe wastes her spells on all who come her way. Those only will she lure who-"

"I simply love your voice," I said.

"Get down and open the gate."

I did so, and climbed slowly back.

"It's all right," she said, "We haven't got much further to go."

"I'm sorry for that."

"Sorry?"

"Certainly. I've enjoyed this awfully. It's rather funny, isn't it? Our meeting in the dark like this and driving all these miles together and not being able to see each other once."

"Unique, I should think."

"Yes, it's rather like being in a cell next to some one and talking by rapping against the wall."

"Is it?"

"Yes, it reminds me awfully of my young days at Brixton."

"Were you at school there?"

"Yes, for five years, before I went to Dartmoor."

"Oh, were you at Dartmoor? I had a cousin there a year or two ago. But he's out now. His name was Taber."

"What! Not Billy Taber?"

"That's right."

"This is very strange, Circe."

"Yes, boy-scout. Round to the left here. That's right. Only three more miles. This is Dilberry Farm."

"Dilberry! Why, that's-"

"Where you're staying?"

I gulped, and laid the whip over the mare's shoulders.

"No," I said doggedly, "it's not."

She laid two firm little hands on my left and pulled the mare up.

"Anything the matter?" said I.

"Say 'good-bye' like a good boy-scout and thank the kind lady for giving you a lift, and then run along home," she said sweetly.

"What are we stopping for?" I said. "You can't get a good view from here to-day. It's too hazy."

"Go on."

"But, Circe-"

"Be quick. I'm awfully cold."

"Won't you come in and get warm before you go on, or borrow another rug, or-"

"No, thanks awfully, I must get home."

"Mayn't I see you there? I can easily walk back."

"No, thanks awfully, boy-scout."

"You mean it?"

"I do."

"I gave her the reins and got heavily out of the dog-cart. She moved on to the seat I had vacated and I put the rug carefully round her feet. Suddenly I remembered.

"Stop," I said. "Let me get some matches. At least your lamps shall be lighted."

Not a bit of it. Said she didn't want them lighted. Simply wouldn't have it.

While I was speaking, my fingers had mechanically strayed to the ticket pocket of my coat, where I sometimes carry my matches loose.

"By George!" I said.

"What is it?"

"I've just found a bit of a match-with the head on."

"Oh, boy-scout, and you've had it all the time."

"Yes, but it wouldn't be enough to light the lamps with."

"Oh!"

"Not the lamps."

"What would it be enough for?"

"A face, Circe."

"Good-bye."

"Stop, Circe. Two faces."

"How?"

"Well, I'll strike it on the tire, and then hold it between us.

"All right."

"It'll only last a second-it's not a quarter of an inch long. You'll have to bend down."

"Go on."

"Nerve yourself for the shock, Circe. Think you can stand it?"

"I'll try. Keep your back to the mare."

"Thank you."

I heard her lean over and struck the match on the tire, I raised it cautiously, sheltering it with my hands. Just as I was about to raise my eyes:

"Thank you," she said, very softly, and blew it out.

I laid my hands on her shoulders.

"I won't say 'damn,'" I said. "I'll say 'good-bye' instead, like-like a good boy-scout."

"Say it then."

I said it.

"Oh, but that isn't-"

"Yes," I said. "It's a new rule."

When the clatter of the mare's hoofs had died away in the distance, I walked slowly up to the farm. I was quite sure about the ear-rings this time. At least, about the one in her left ear.

"Ah," said Daphne, as I entered the room, "where have you been all this time?"

All things considered, I thought that was rather good.

"I don't think I've been into Cornwall," I said, "but I've done Devon pretty thoroughly."

"We went back for you."

"Ah!"

"Why do you say 'Ah!'?"

"Oh, I don't know. Didn't see anything of a ram, did you?" I added carelessly.

There was a pause.

"Not until after he'd seen Berry," said Jonah.

"Ah, where is Berry?"

"Upstairs," said Daphne.

"He did-er-see Berry then?"

"Yes."

"Er-how did he see him? I mean-hang it, I didn't bring the beastly ram there."

"You left him there," said Daphne.

"I know: but you can't pick up every tame ram you meet. Besides-"

"Tame!" said Jonah. "Good Lord!"

"He saw Berry, you say? Did he see him well?"

"I think he'd have seen him home, if it hadn't been for the brook."

"Courteous beast. He saw him as far as that, did he?"

"He saw him half-way across."

I regret to say I laughed so immoderately that I never noticed that Berry had entered the room, until he clapped me on the shoulder.

"It was a neat revenge," said that gentleman; "very neat, my boy. But you deserve six months for it."

"Hang it," I said, "you seem to think I-"

"I should certainly have haunted you," said Berry.

Six weeks had sloped by.

The train ran slowly into the station. I got out. Then I remembered my umbrella and got back. Then I got out again. "Porter," I said.

The individual addressed turned round, and I saw it was the station-master. For a few moments he regarded me with indignation, obviously wondering whether he would be exceeding his duty if he ordered me to be flung to the engine. Two inspectors hovered longingly near him. Then he said "Chut!" and turned away.

I fought my way the length of the platform to the vicinity of the luggage van. Four porters were standing looking moodily at the luggage already upon the platform.

I touched one on the shoulder.

"Yes," I said, "it's a nice bit of luggage, isn't it?"

He said it was.

"Don't you think it's that dressing-case that does it? Lends an air of distinction to the rest. Bucks it all up, as it were, eh?"

Before he could reply:

"So you're down for the week-end too," said a voice I should have recognized amid the hubbub of the heavenly choir. "Staying at Watereaton?"

It was she.

Such a pretty girl. Very fair, very blue eyes, a beautiful skin, and-yes, a dimple. She was wearing a long, fur coat, while a little black felt hat with a ghost of a brim leaned exquisitely over one of the blue eyes. Her hands were plunged into deep pockets, but a pair of most admirable legs more than made good the deficit.

I sighed.

"Disappointed?" she said.

"Not in you-you're beautiful. But in myself. Yes, I shall resign."

"Resign?"

"My scout-hood."

"You were wrong about my hair, but-"

"But what?"

"You knew me again, at any rate."

"But of course. You've the same voice and the same dear laugh, and-yes, you've got-"

"What?"

"The same ear-rings," said I.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares