MoboReader> Horror > The Brother of Daphne

   Chapter 6 WHICH TO ADORE

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 25645

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"I suppose you think I'm going to swear," said Berry defiantly.

Jill and Daphne clasped one another and shrieked with laughter. Berry stopped addressing the ball and gazed at them.

"Go on!" he said, nodding sardonic approval. "Provoke me to violence. Goad me in the direction of insanity."

His caddie sniggered audibly. Berry turned to him.

"That's right, my boy. Make the most of your time. For you I have already devised a lingering death."

"Look here, old chap," said I, "there's some mistake. I said I'd give you a stroke a hole, not a divot a stroke."

Jonah strolled up. "Hullo!" he said, "making a new bunker, old man? Good idea. Only a cleek's no good. Send the boy for a turf-cutter. Quicker in the long run."

My brother-in-law regarded us scornfully. Then:

"What I want to know," he said, "is how the Punch office can spare you both at the same time."

Daphne, Berry and I were playing a three-ball match, while Jill and Jonah-who had sprained his wrist-were walking round with us. Berry is rather good really, but just now he was wearing a patch over one eye, which made him hopeless.

It was glorious spring weather on the coast of Devon. A little village is Feth. Over and round about it the wind blows always, but the cluster of white cottages and the old brown inn themselves lie close in a hollow of the moorland, flanked by the great cliffs. Only the grey church, set up on the heights, half a mile distant, endures the tempests. The wind passes over Feth and is gone. A busy fellow, the wind. He has no time to stop. Not so the sunshine. That lingers with Feth all day, decking: the place gloriously. It is good to be a pet of the sun. So are the gardens of Feth bright with flowers, the white walls dazzling, the stream, that scrambles over brown pebbles to the little bay, merry water.

Except for the natives, we had the place to ourselves. But then Feth sees few visitors at any season. Sixteen miles from a station is its salvation. True, there is Mote Abbey hard by-a fine old place with an ancient deer-park and deep, rolling woods. Ruins, too, we had heard. A roofless quire, a few grass-grown yards of cloister and the like. Only the Abbot's kitchen was at all preserved. There's irony for you. We were going to see them before we left. We were told that in summer at the house itself parties assembled. But the family was away now.

The round of golf proceeded. "How many is that?" said Berry, as he sliced into the sea.

"Seven," said I. "Not seven into the sea, you know. Seven strokes. You've only hit three into the sea altogether."

"Isn't he clever with his sums? Here, give me another ball. Where's Henry?"

I handed him the last-named-a favourite cleek. The caddie had gone to collect the flotsam.

"Now then. Ladies and gentlemen, with your kind permission I shall now proceed to beat the sphere into the sky."

It was a tremendous shot, and we could see that it must have reached the green; but when we came up and found the ball in the hole nobody was more surprised than Berry. Of course, he didn't show it. Berry doesn't give things away.

"Ah!" he said pleasantly. "That's better. I'm beginning to get used to playing with one eye. You know, all the time I-er-seem to see two balls."

"Nonsense," said Daphne.

"If you said you'd been seeing two holes all day, I could believe it," said Jonah. "Anyone might think so from the way you've been playing."

Berry smiled ecstatically. "My recent-er-chef d'oeuvre-(note the Parisian accent)-has ipso facto-(Latin of the Augustan Age)-placed me beyond the pricks of criticism. The venom, brother, which you would squirt upon me, bespatters but yourself. Boy, place me the globe upon yon pinnacle of sand. So. Now indicate to me the distant pin. Thank you. Do I see it? No. Natheless (obsolete, but pure), I say nameless it beckons me. And now give me-yes, give me Douglas."

The caddie handed him a brassie. He had caddied for Berry before.

"Don't breathe for a moment, anyone," said Daphne.

Her husband frowned and silently sliced into the sea.

"How many balls did you see that time?" said Jonah.

"Three," said I. "That's why he's going to pawn his clubs."

"The aftermath of gluttony." I spoke disgustedly. It was after luncheon, and Daphne was already asleep. Jill and Jonah drooped comfortably in huge chairs. Berry sprawled upon a sofa.

"I suppose we outrage what you call your sense of decency." murmured the latter.

"You do. Incidentally, you also irritate me, because I shall have to go round alone."

"Friend, your foul egoism leaves me unmoved. Go forth and harry your balls. I am about to slumber like a little child. Do you think I shall dream, brother?"

"Probably," said I. "About fried fish shops."

Jill shuddered in her chair, and Berry sat up.

"After that most offensive allusion," he said pompously, "I have no option but to ask you to withdraw. The touts' room is downstairs. Before leaving you may give me what cigarettes you have in your case."

I smiled grimly. Then: "I'm afraid I don't approve of-ah-children smoking," I said, moving towards the door. "Besides, a little exercise'll do you good. There is a box in my room-you know where that is?"

"Where?" snarled my brother-in-law.

I put my head round the door and looked at him. "Immediately above the touts'," said I.

The breeze of the morning had died away, and though the month was the month of April, it might have been a midsummer afternoon. I started on my solitary round, well enough pleased, really, to be alone. The weather was excellent company. My clubs I carried myself.

The fourth hole lies in a little valley, under the lee of a steep, rock-studded hill, whose other side falls sheer into the tumbling waves. On an idle impulse I left my clubs at the fifth tee and scrambled on up the green slope to gaze upon and over the sea below. I have a weakness for high places on the edges of England. I cannot match the dignity of them. Where yellow sands invite, these do not even stoop to challenge. They are superb, demigods, the Royalty of the coast.

As I breasted the summit, I heard a child's voice reading aloud.

"And the people told him of all the splendid things which were in the city, and about the King, and what a pretty Princess the King's daughter was."

'Where can one get to see her?' asked the soldier.

"'She is not to be seen at all,' said they, all together 'she lives in a great copper castle, with a great many walls and towers round about it; no one but the King may go in and out there, for it has been prophesied that she shall marry a common soldier, and the King can't bear that."'

"'I should like to see her,' thought the soldier..."

"The reading came from beyond and below me. I fell on my knees, crawled forward, and peered over the top of a slab of rock. On the warm grass, twenty paces from the edge of the cliff, sat a little boy, his brown knees propping a book. By his side, facing the sea, lay a girl of nineteen or twenty years, her hands clasped behind her head. Her eyes were closed. She seemed to be asleep. The reading continued.

"And all his friends knew him again, and cared very much for him indeed."

Once he thought to himself,' It is a very strange thing that one cannot get to see the Princess. They all say she is very beautiful; but what is the use of that, if she has always to sit in the great copper castle with the many towers? Can I not get to see her at all? Where is my tinder-box?' And so he struck a light, and whisk! came the dog with eyes as big as teacups.

"'It is midnight, certainly, said the soldier; 'but I should very much like to see the Princess, only for one little moment.'"

Here the child shaded his eyes and looked down at the sands of a creek, quarter of a mile away.

"There they are," he exclaimed, dropping the book and scrambling to his feet. He waved delightedly to two specks on the sands below. Then:

"Good-bye, Cousin Lallie," he cried. "I'll be home by six," and tore away down the green slope like a mad thing. But his cousin never waked. I watched her meditatively.

A skirt of grey-blue tweed, and the fresh white of a blouse beneath a smart coat to match. Her small grey hat lay on the grass by her side. Her slim legs were crossed comfortably, and the bright sun lighted a face at once strong and gentle, clear-cut under its thick black hair, which was parted in the middle and hung low over each temple. Her brows were straight, and on the red mouth was a faint smile.

I looked away over the glittering waves. Then I came quietly down, picked up "Hans Andersen," and took my seat by her side. I found the place and continued the story aloud:

"And the dog was outside the door directly, and, before the soldier thought it, came back with the Princess. She sat upon the dog's back and slept; and every one could see she was a real Princess, for she was so lovely. The soldier could not refrain from kissing her, for he was a thorough soldier.."

Here the girl stirred, opened her eyes, saw me, and sat up.

"Who on earth-" she began. "It's all right," said I. "It's only a fairy tale. Besides, I'm not a soldier, although I don't see-"

"How long has this been going on?"

"Only just begun," said I. "Listen.

"Then the dog ran back with the Princess. But when morning came-"

"Where's Roy?"

"He had to go and join his friends," said I. "Fortunately I happened to be here to take his place. He asked me to say he should be home not later than six. Where were we? Oh, I know.

"But when morning came-"

She raised a slim hand for me to stop. Then she clasped her knees and regarded me with her head on one side.

"A bad end," she said laconically.

"A good beginning, anyway," said I.

"I might be a sorceress."

"I believe you are."

"Or an adventuress, for all you know."

"Or a Princess," said I.

"What made you do this?"

"I'll tell you," said I. "Whilst you were asleep, a little smile was playing round your lips. And this smile told me that he had two twin sisters who dwelt In your eyes. And, like the soldier, I wanted to see them, Princess."

"Well, you have now, haven't you?"

I looked at her critically. "I'm afraid they must be out," said I. In spite of herself she laughed. "No, there they are. Besides-"

"What?"

"The little smile said he had a big brother living in your heart."

"Yes," she said softly.

"Yes. And that made me very brave, Princess. Otherwise I should never have dared. Honestly, it was all the little smile's fault, bless him. Isn't it glorious here?"

The bright eyes swept the horizon.

"Yes," she said slowly, "it is. In fact, every prospect pleases."

"And only golf is vile."

"Byron never said that."

"I know he didn't," said I. "Nor, in fact, did Heber. He said 'man.' All the same, I'm not vile. I'm rather nice, really. At least, so one of the smaller birds told me."

"Not really?"

"I mean it."

"Perhaps it was a skylark."

"As a matter of fact," I said stiffly, "it was an owl. A breed famous for its wisdom."

"Ah, but you shouldn't believe everything you're told."

"It isn't a question of what I believe, but of what other people believe," said I. "But if you don't believe it yourself, how can you expect-"

"I never said I didn't believe it myself. Besides, I don't want to argue. I want to watch the smiles playing 'Here we go round the mulberry bush.'"

The girl broke into peals of silvery laughter. "Is my nose as bad as all that?" she said presently.

"Your nose is the nose of dainty Columbine," said I. "Dream noses, they call them. And you know that mulberry bushes don't figure in that game any more than the bells of St. Clement Danes are ever used by children playing 'Oranges and lemons.'"

"Admit it was a floater on your part, and I'll let you play a round with me."

"I-er-confess, upon consideration, that the allusion-"

"That'll do," she said, laughing.

I rose. She put out a hand, and I drew her to her feet.

"My clubs are just by that rock there. Do you think you can manage Hans Andersen?"

"Every time," said I, picking up the book. I shouldered her clubs and together we scrambled over the rise and down towards the fifth tee.

"Oh, I told you I adored you, didn't I?" I said suddenly.

"I don't think so."

"Surely I did. Perhaps you were asleep."

"Asleep!" she said scornfully. "I was awake all the time. I nearly died when you began to read."

I stopped short and looked at her. "You are a deceitful witch." I said.

"A what witch?"

"The which to adore," said I.

After the fourth hole the course lies inland. For the next ten holes you play directly away from the sea. Then the fifteenth takes a sharp turn to the left, skirting the deer-park

of Mote Abbey, while the sixteenth bears to the left again, heading straight for the club-house and the coast once more.

My lady was a pretty player. I gave her two strokes a hole and led till the fourteenth, but on that green she holed a ten-foot putt which made us all square.

If she hadn't sliced her drive from the fifteenth tee, it would have been a beautiful shot. We watched it curl over the grey wall into the sunshot park.

"Out of bounds, I suppose," said I. "What a pity, pretty Princess."

"Not at all," she replied. "It was a lovely shot. You can't do better than follow that line."

"Into the deer-park?"

"Why not? It's much prettier."

"I'm sure it is," said I.

"But what of that? Unless somebody's moved it since this morning, the green's about a hundred and twenty yards away from the wall on this side. To say nothing of the fact that the park's private property, while there's a notice-board about three feet square, beginning 'Golfers are requested to remember,' at the one place where a giant might effect an entrance."

"Yes," she said quietly, "I got brother to put that board there. We tried to make it polite. The caddies used to frighten the deer so."

I just stood and looked at her. The three smiles blazed back at me. In silence I turned and teed up. Then I drove after her ball into the fair park.

When we reached the place where the board was posted, she touched my hand and pointed to her little brown shoe. For an instant she rested on my palm. The next moment she was on the top of the wall. She smiled her thanks before disappearing. I followed with the clubs. There was a ladder on the other side. She was awaiting my descent. In silence we walked forward together. Presently I touched her arm and stood still. She turned and looked at me, the sun making all manner of exquisite lights in her glorious hair.

"If I had a hat on," I said simply, "I should uncover."

The little bow she gave me would have launched another "thousand ships." In the slight action all the charm of her was voiced exquisitely. Grace, sweetness and dignity-all in a bow. So it was always. Helen's features would not have fired a sheepcote: the charm that lighted them blotted out a city. Cleopatra's form would not have spoiled a slave: the magnetism of her ruined Marc Antony. Elizabeth's speech would not have sunk a coracle: the personality behind it smashed an Armada.

We came to her ball first. As I handed her her brassie:

"Tell me one thing," said I. "If I had not been there, how would you have got over the wall?"

She looked at me mischievously. "I have a way," she said.

"I know," I said, patting her golf-bag. "These aren't really clubs at all."

"What are they, then?"

"Broomsticks."

It was the best part of a mile to the fair lawn, where we holed out underneath the cedars. I won with fourteen, which wasn't bad, considering I was bunkered in a bed of daffodils. She gave me tea in the old library, sweet with the fragrance of pot-pourri. Out of its latticed windows I could see the rolling woods, bright in their fresh green livery. For nearly an hour and a half we sat talking. I told her of Daphne and the others. She told me of her mother and sisters and how her brother had cared for the Abbey since her father's death. It was true that the family was away. She was alone there, save for her eldest sister's child-Roy. Next month she would go to London.

"Where I may come and see you?"

"I should be very hurt if you didn't. It's going to be rather nice."

"It is," I said with conviction.

"I meant the season. I'll enjoy it all. The dances and theatres, Ranelagh, Ascot, Lord's, the Horse Show and everything. But-"

"How glad and happy she'll be to get back to the Abbey with its deep woodland and its warm park, its gentle-eyed deer, its oaks and elms and cedars, its rose-garden and its old paved court. How grateful to lean out of her bedroom window into the cool, quiet, starlit nights. How pleased to watch the setting sun making the ragged clerestory more beautiful than did all its precious panes."

I stopped. She was sitting back in her chair by the window, chin in air, showing her soft, white throat, gazing with half-closed eyes up at the reddening sky.

"He understands," she murmured, "he understands."

For a little space we sat silent. Then I rose.

"Good-bye." I said. "You have been very kind. Perhaps I may come again."

She did not move. Only her eyes left the window and rested on mine. "Ring the bell," she said. "I am going to take you to see the ruins. They are at their best, as you said, at sundown."

"Thank you," I said, and stepped to the fireplace. A footman entered the room. "I want the key of the Abbot's kitchen," said my hostess.

"Some visitors have it, madam. A gentleman called to ask for it ten minutes ago."

"Oh, all right." She rose and turned to me. "Let's go, then. We'll probably meet them bringing it back."

The half-light lent the old quire's walls a rare beauty. A great peace hung over them. Perhaps it was of them. For a little we strolled, talking, upon the greensward. Then:

"Now you shall see the kitchen," she said.

"If you please, Princess."

The kitchen stood away from the ruins, in the middle of a fair meadow: a circular building of grey stone, very lofty and about sixty paces in circumference. Its great oak door was closed. I could see one tiny window-glassless, of course-some sixteen feet from the ground.

"Why!" said the girl, stopping suddenly, "the door's shut."

"Yes," said I; "but what of that?"

"Well, the people must have gone."

"Why?"

"Well, you can't see inside if you shut the door. Besides, if you do, you can't open it again. Not from within I mean. It's a spring lock."

"Perhaps they're locked in."

"They can't be."

"They might," said I. "Come on."

I was right. As we drew near, a confused murmur fell upon our ears. People talking excitedly. Then came the sound of blows upon the door.

"O-o-oh," said my companion. "So they are."

At that moment feminine tones were raised in a wail of expostulation.

"Yes, I shall! It's silly not to. Help! He-elp!"

Daphne's voice.

I fell on the green grass and writhed in silent laughter. When the girl recoiled in horror, I caught her by a warm ankle.

"Don't move!" I whispered. "Don't speak! Don't make a sound! Listen! It's my own party in there-Berry and Co. It's the most perfect thing that ever happened. Hush! We're going to have the time of our lives."

Again I rolled in an ecstasy of mirth. As the comedy of the situation dawned upon the girl, she began to laugh helplessly.

The knocking began again. I got up, and together we approached warily. As we reached the door:

"I'm glad I had four cups of tea," said Berry. "How many did you have?"

"Two," said Jill tearfully.

"Ah, I shall survive you, then. Very likely I shall be alive, if insane, when found. At any rate, with the aid of artificial respiration-"

"Rubbish!" said Daphne. "Some one must hear us soon."

"My dear, the noise we can make wouldn't flush a titlark at twenty paces. No, no!" he went on airily, "a lingering death awaits us. I only wish my caddie was here, too. Is anyone's tongue swelling? That's a sure sign. Directly you feel that, you know you're thirsty."

"Fool!" said his wife, "Besides, they'll miss the key soon."

"Where is the key?" said Jonah. "If we once lose that, we shall never find it again."

There was an awful silence. Then:

"Er-didn't I give it to you?" said Berry.

His words were the signal for a general uproar. The others fell upon Berry and rent him. As it died down, we heard him bitterly comparing them to wolves and curs about a lion at bay. Then a match was struck and there were groping sounds.

"When you've quite finished with my feet," said Daphne in a withering tone.

"Sorry, dearest. I thought it was a bag of meal," said her husband. "My thoughts run on food just now, you see." Here he gave a yell of agony. "Get off!" he screamed. "You're on my hand."

"That's more like it," said Jonah. "That ought to carry."

"Meal-bags don't hurt, do they?" said Daphne coolly. My sister is proud of her dainty feet.

"Vixen," replied her spouse.

I slipped my arm into that of the girl, who was leaning against the wall shaking with laughter. Tears were coursing down my cheeks. I drew her away from the door and whispered brokenly in her ear. She nodded and pulled herself together. Then she went to the door and knocked. Silence.

"Hullo," she said.

"Er-hullo," said Berry.

"I thought I heard somebody calling," said the girl.

"Er-did you?" said Berry.

"Yes, but I'm afraid I must have been mistaken. Perhaps it was some boys calling. Good-bye."

There was a perfect shriek of "Don't go" from Daphne and Jill. Then:

"You idiot!" said Daphne. "Let me." We heard her advance to the door.

"I say," she purred, "it's awfully sweet of you to have come. We did call. You see, it sounds awfully silly, but we're locked in."

"Oh, how dreadful for you," said the girl.

"Yes, isn't it? There's no key-hole this side."

"How awfully tiresome. Have you been there long?"

"Oh, no. Only a few moments. We just came to see the place."

"Well, do you think you can manage to throw the key out of the window? Then I could unlock the door for you, couldn't I?"

"Oh, thank you so very much. If you don't mind waiting a minute-er-it's so dark in here and so confusing that-"

"You don't mean to say you've lost the key?" said the girl.

"Oh, it's not lost," said Daphne. "It's just here somewhere. One of us laid it down for a moment and, really, in this darkness you can't see anything. If we only had some more matches-"

"I've got a box," I said. A long silence followed my words. Then:

"My dear lady," said Berry. "Are you still there?"

"Yes," said my companion, her voice shaking a little.

"Then I beseech you to have no dealing with the being whose vile accents I heard but a moment ago. A man of depraved instincts and profligate ways, he is no fit companion for a young and innocent girl. Moreover, viper-like, he bears malice towards us, who have shielded him for years."

"How awful," said the girl.

"Yes," said Berry, "for your own sake, dear lady, beware of him. And for ours, too, I beg you. On no account accept his proffered assistance-in the matter of the key, I mean. If he really has matches, tell him to throw them in. Adopt a hectoring tone and he will fear you. But, remember, he is as cunning as a serpent, Let but that key fall into his hands-"

"Wait till it's fallen into your own hands, old cock," said I.

"Dear lady," said Berry, "you hear his ribald-"

The rest of the sentence was drowned in the peals of laughter to which my companion at last gave vent. I joined her, and the meadow resounded with our merriment. When we had recovered a little:

"Will you have the matches?" said I, standing beneath the window, "or shall I send for the battering ram?"

"Throw them in, fathead," said my brother-in-law.

"Ask nicely, then."

"I'll see you-"

"Please, Boy, dear," cried Jill.

I laughed and pitched the box into the kitchen. The next second we heard a match struck, and the groping sounds recommenced. The girl and I strolled a little back from the window and stood, awaiting the key.

"So it's all come true," said I, looking at her.

"What has?"

"The fairy tale." I pointed to the kitchen. "There is the copper castle, and here"-with a bow-"the pretty Princess. The tinder-box I have just thrown to my companions."

"And I suppose you're the soldier," she said slowly.

"Yes," I said, "the common soldier."

"Common?"

"Yes, dear," I said, taking her hand. "Common, but thorough; thoroughly common, but uncommonly thorough. And now look at me, pretty Princess."

She turned a laughing face to mine. Suddenly, as I bent forward, the eyes flashed.

"I suppose this is the little smile's fault, too," she said quietly.

Instantly I released her hand and stood up, smiling.

"No," I said gently. "It would have been the soldier's."

For a moment she smiled back. Then she slipped an arm round my neck.

"Let's call it Hans Andersen's," she whispered.

A perfect Babel arose suddenly from the kitchen. In the midst of the turmoil I seemed to discern Berry's fat laugh. The next second a large key hurtled through the window.

I picked it up and strode to the door. When I had put it into the keyhole, I paused.

"Buck up, Boy!" said Berry.

"One question," said I. "Where was the key?"

"Where d'you think?" said Jonah bitterly.

"In his pocket all the time?" said I.

"Right," said Berry. "Now do your worst."

"I'm going to," said I. "I'm going to let you out."

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