MoboReader> Horror > The Brother of Daphne

   Chapter 8 THE BUSY BEERS

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 27286

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

"They never sting some people," said Daphne.

"Perhaps," said I, "perhaps that is because they never get the chance. It doesn't offer, as they say."

"Oh, yes, they do. They simply don't sting them."

"'M. During Lent, I suppose?" I murmured drowsily. A May afternoon can be pleasantly hot.

"It's a sort of power they have," said Daphne mercilessly.

I opened my eyes. "The bees? It's a very offensive power."

"No, Boy, the people. They simply swarm all over some persons, and it's all right."

I shuddered.

"Perhaps," said Berry, looking at me, "perhaps you have that power. Who knows?"

"Who will ever know?" said I defiantly.

"We can easily find out," said Berry eagerly.

I sat up. "It is," I said, "just conceivable that I have that power. I do not recollect my immersion in the Styx, but it is, I suppose, not impossible that, although I am not actually invulnerable, my sterling qualities may yet be so apparent to the bee mind that, even were I so indiscreet as to lay hands upon their hive, they would not so far forget themselves as to assail me. At the same time, it is equally on the cards that the inmates of the hive I so foolishly approached would be a dull lot-shall we say, Boeotian bees? Or an impulsive lot, who sting first and look for qualities afterwards. In short, mistakes will occur, and, as an orphan and a useful member of society, I must refuse to gratify your curiosity."

"I think you might try," said Daphne. "We want them to swarm awfully, and they might actually swarm on you. You never know."

"Pardon me, I do know. I have no doubt that they would swarm on me. No doubt at all."

"Well, then-"

"Disobliging of me not to let them, isn't it? And we could have the funeral one day next week. What are you doing on Tuesday?"

"Well, we've got to move them from the skep into the new hive tonight somehow," said my sister, "and you've got to help."

"Oh, I'Il help right enough."

"What'll you do?"

"I'Il go up the road and send the traffic round by West Hanger. We don't want to be hauled up for manslaughter."

Daphne turned to Berry.

"He'd better hold the skep, I think," she said simply.

"Yes," said her husband. "Or keep the new hive steady while we shake the bees out of the skep into it. We've only got two veils, but he won't want one for that."

"Of course not," said I with a bitter laugh. "In fact, I think I'd better wear a zephyr and running shorts. I shall be able to move with more freedom."

"Ah, no," said Berry. "You must keep the trunk covered. The face and hands don't really matter, but the back and legs...That might be dangerous."

"Nonsense, nonsense," said I. "I'm not afraid of a bee or two. How many are there in the hive?"

"Twenty or twenty-five thousand," said Daphne. "Where are you going?"

"To set my house in order. Heaven forgive you, as I do. I have already forgiven Berry. I should like Jonah to have my stop-watch."

As I walked across the lawn, I heard the wretched girl reading from The Busy Bee-Keeper:

"Toads are among the bees' most deadly enemies. They will sit at the mouth of a hive and snap up bees as fast as they emerge..."

Till then I had always been rather against toads.

I well remember the day on which I learned of the purchase of the bees. It had been raining the night before and all day the clouds hung low and threatening. Misfortune was in the air. Their actual advent I do not recollect, for when I had heard that they were to arrive on Saturday night, I had made a point of going away for the week-end.

On my return I avoided the kitchen garden assiduously for several days, but after a while I began to get used to the presence of the bees, and their old straw home-I could see it from my bedroom-looked rather pretty and comfortable.

Then Daphne, who never will leave ill alone, had announced that they must be moved into a new hive.

In vain I characterized her project as impious, wanton, and indecent in turn.

A new hive, something resembling a Swiss chalet was ordered, and

with it came two pairs of gauntlets and some veils which looked like meat-safes. Oh yes, and a 'smoker'.

The 'smoker' was the real nut.

At a distance of five paces this useful invention might have been mistaken for a small cannon. As a matter of fact, it consisted of a pair of bellows, with the nozzle, which was very large, on the top instead of at the end. As touching the 'smoker' the method of procedure was as follows:-One lighted a roll of brown paper, blew It out again and placed it in the nozzle. Then, telling the gardener's boy to stand by with the salvolatile, one began to blow the bellows. Immediately the instrument belched forth clouds of singularly offensive smoke.

One might think that, if this were done in the vicinity of a hive, such a proceeding would tend to irritate the bees into a highly dangerous, if warrantable, frenzy, and that they would take immediate steps to abate the nuisance in their own simple way. But that, my brothers, is where we are wrong. Where bees are concerned, the 'smoker's' fumes are of a soporific and soothing nature. Indeed, before a puff of its smoke a bee's naughty malice and resentment disappear, and the bee itself sinks, gently humming, into the peaceful, contented slumber of a little che-ild.

At least, that was what the books said.

Seven o'clock that evening found us huddled apprehensively together outside the kitchen garden, talking nervously about the Budget. All was very quiet. A fragrant blue smoke stole up gently from the 'smoker,' which I held at arm's length. Berry and Daphne were arrayed in veils and gauntlets. They reminded me irresistibly of Tenniel's Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

"Mind you're ready with the 'smoker' when I want it," said Berry shortly.

"I-er-I thought you'd take it with you," I said uneasily.

"Nonsense," said Daphne. "We can't do everything. You must be ready to hand it to Berry if the bees get infuriated."

"Thank you."

"Look here," said I, "I'm sure I shall do something wrong. You'd much better have the gardener's boy."

"And have to pay him hundreds of pounds compensation. I don't think," said Berry.

At the mention of compensation I started violently and dropped the 'smoker'. When I had picked it up:

"Look here," I said, "I'll stand on the path and keep the beastly thing smoking and if-if they should get-er-- excited, well-er-there it'll be all ready for you."

"Where?" said Daphne suspiciously.

"On the path."

"And you?"

"I shall probably be just getting my second wind."

They looked at one another and sneered into their veils.

"It's murder," I said desperately, "sheer murder. You ask my death."

The stable clock chimed a quarter past seven.

We entered the kitchen garden in single file.

The hive was as silent as the tomb. It seemed almost wicked to-

All went well until Berry was on the point of lifting the skep. Suddenly something jumped in the wallflowers by Daphne, and she started against her husband with a little scream. It was a toad. I felt braver. We were not alone. But my pleasure was shortlived. Berry's hand had been upon the skep and the jolt had aroused the bees.

Uprose an angry murmur. I felt instinctively it was an angry one.

My brother-in-law had the 'smoker' in his hand. They told me afterwards that I had gone and given it him. That shows the state I was in. I was not responsible for my actions.

With all speed he applied the nozzle to the mouth of the skep. He was in time to stop the main body, but a few had already emerged.

I stood as if rooted to the spot.

Immediately seven bees alighted on Berry's left hand. I saw them black against the white of his gauntlet. Spellbound I watched him train the 'smoker' upon them one by one. Three rolled slowly off before as many puffs, intoxicated, doubtless, with delight and drunk with ecstasy. The fourth one he missed. The fifth moved as he was shooting and he missed again. Then he got nervous and tried to please two at once. The sixth began to buzz and four more arrived.

Berry lost his head and began to shoot wildly. One settled on Daphne's veil and she screamed. The hive began to hum again. With mistaken gallantry, Berry left the bees on his gauntlet and turned to the one on his wife's veil. The next moment she was reeling against the wall in a paroxysm of choking coughs. Some more of the twenty-five thousand began to emerge from the skep, and a moment later I was stung in the lobe of the right ear.

The pain, I may say, was acute, but it certainly broke the spell, and I turned and ran as I have never run before.

Across the garden, down the drive, out of the lodge gates, over a hedge, with eighteen inches to spare, and across country like a thoroughbred.

At last I plunged into a roadside wood almost on the top of a girl. She stared at me.

"Lie down," I gasped.


"Never mind why. Lie down for your life."

She lay down wonderingly beside me, as I sobbed and panted in the undergrowth.

At last, after cautioning her to keep quiet, I listened long and carefully. The result was satisfactory. My escape was complete.

I turned my attention to the girl. She was sitting up now regarding me with big eyes.

Her hair was almost hidden under a big-brimmed garden hat, but I could see her face properly. Her features were delicate and regular, and her mouth was small and red. Steady grey eyes. She was wearing a soft blue dress of linen, and her brown arms were bare to the elbow. In her hand she had a posy of wild flowers. Little shoes of blue, untanned leather, I think it is. She was slender and lithe to look at, and the flush of health glowed in her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," I said. "It all comes of beeing. If we hadn't been beeing-"

"And yet he doesn't look mad," she said musingly.

"I'm not mad," I said. "I admit that if I had on a bonnet, I should have several bees in it. Happily I lost it at the water jump. I'm a beer."

"A what?" she said, recoiling.

"A beer. At least I was one. Two other beers were with me-busy beers. Stay," I went on, "be of good beer-I mean cheer. I do not refer to the beverage of that name. By 'beer' I mean one actively interested in bees."

She looked more reassured.

"Why were you running?"

I spread out my hands.

"The beggars were at my heels."

"By which you mean-"

"That the inmates of the hive in which I was just now actively interesting myself, resented such active interest and endeavoured to fall upon me in great numbers."

"And you escaped unhurt?"

"Except that at the outset I was winged in the ear, I have baulked them of their prey. Selah!"

"I had an idea that the person of a beer was sacred."

"So it is, my dear. But these were impious bees, dead to all sense of right and wrong. They've done themselves in this time. Guilty of sacrilege and brawling, they may shortly expect a great plague of toads. It will undoubtedly come upon them. I shall curse them tomorrow morning directly after breakfast."

"Have you really been stung?"

"Every time."

"How exciting."

"Perhaps. But it's very overrated, believe me."

"Let me look."

I submitted readily. After a brief scrutiny my lady announced that she could see the sting. Her fingers dealt very gently with the injured lobe, and by dint of looking out of the far corners of my eyes, I just managed to command a prospect of one grey eye and half the red mouth. Her lips were parted and she was smiling a little.

"If I didn't love your mouth when you smile, I should be inclined to suggest that it was nothing to laugh about," I said reprovingly.

The grey eye met mine. Then she laid a small cool hand firmly on my chin and pushed it round and away.

"Otherwise I can't see properly," she explained. Then, "I believe I can dig it out," she said quietly.

I broke away at that and looked round. She was quite serious and began to unfasten a gold safety-pin.

"Look here," I said hurriedly. "You're awfully kind; but, you know, as it is in, don't you think perhaps it had better stay in? I mean, after all, a sting in the ear-"

She just waved my head round and began.

"Police," I said feebly. "Assault and wounding stalk in your midst. Police."

She really got it out very well...

"And so you live here?" she said, after a while.

"In the vicinity," said I. "About a mile and a half away as the crow flies or a beer runs-the terms are synonymous, you know. Large, grey, creepered residence, four reception, two bed, six bath, commands extensive views, ten minutes from workhouse, etc., etc."

"Is it 'White Ladies?'"

"It is. From which you now behold me an outcast-a wanderer upon the face of the earth. But how did you know?"

"They'll be quiet by now," she said, ignoring my question. "The bees, I mean."

"I'm not so sure."

She rose to her knees, but I laid a hand on her shoulder.

"What are you going to do, lass?"

"I shall be late for dinner."

"Your blood be upon your head. The bees certainly will."


"I have no doubt they are at this moment going about like raging lions seeking upon whom they may swarm."

"Must I pass your house?"

"To get to the village you must."

"Well I'm going, anyway."

I rose also. She stared at me and her glad smile settled it.

"One must die some time," said I, "and why not on a Wednesday?"

It was with no little misgiving that I stepped out into the road, and walked beside her towards the village. As we approached White Ladies, a solitary bee sang by us and startled me. My nerves were on edge. I br

eathed more freely when we had passed the lodge gates. All was very still. The village lay half a mile further on.

Suddenly she caught at my arm. Behind us came from a distance a faint, drowsy hum. Even as we listened, it grew louder.

The next second we were running down the straight white road, hand in hand and hell for leather.

She ran nobly, did the little girl. But all the time the hum was getting more and more distinct.

I wondered if the village would ever come. It seemed as if someone had moved it since the morning.

About the first house was the old Lamb Inn, with its large stable yard. There stood a lonely brougham, horseless with upturned shafts. The yard was deserted.

She slipped on the cobbles, as we turned in, and almost brought me down.

"Go on," she gasped. "I'll-"

I picked her up and ran to the brougham. The humming was very loud. To fling open the door and push her in was the work of a moment. Then I stumbled in after her and slammed the door. As I pulled up the window, several bees dashed themselves buzzing against it.

Neither of us spoke for a minute or two. We lay back against the cushions sobbing and gasping for breath, while more bees pattered against the windows.

Presently I stole a glance at my companion. She was leaning back in her comer, still breathing hard with her eyes shut. But she seemed to know I was looking at her, for the soft lips parted in a smile. But she did not open her eyes.

I laid a hand on her arm.

"How's the ankle?" I said. "You turned it, didn't you?"

"Yes, but it's not very bad, thanks. I think you saved my life."

"I'm afraid that's putting it rather high. But you might have been stung, so I'm thankful I was there. At the same time, I can't help feeling that it is to my company that you owe this-this unwarrantable assault. It's me they're after. They want to swarm on me. Or else they've recognized one of their enemies. They said, 'That's a beer, one of the beers. Let us slay him, and the intoxicants...' Exactly. Of course, Berry and Daphne are dead. It's really very tiresome. With Jill and Jonah both away, I don't know what on earth we shall do about tennis tomorrow."

"I wish we could have some air," said the girl.

I opened the near side window an inch and stood by to close it if necessary. But the bees kept to the other side, where they crawled venomously over the pane.

"What ever are we to do?" she said.

"Wait awhile," said I.

"Excuse me, but you don't happen to have such a thing as a toad on you, have you?"

"I hope not."

"That's a pity," I said thoughtfully.

"Sorry to disappoint you," she said. "Have you lost yours?"

"It's all right," said I. "Toads are with us. They simply hate bees. I'm going to get a pack of toads and hunt them. I shall advertise in the Exchange and Mart tomorrow. How's the ankle?"

"A little stiff."

"Let me rub it, please. It's the only thing."

"Oh, no, thanks."

"Don't be ungrateful," I said. "What about my ear?"

She set a small foot on the opposite seat. I took off the little shoe. At length:

"I say," she said suddenly, "what about dinner?"

"Dinner!" I exclaimed. "Oh, dinner's gone right out. Simply not done in the best circles. Dinner indeed. My dear, you surprise me!"

"Ah, but you see I don't move in the best circles. I'm only very common and vulgar and actually get hungry sometimes. Shocking, isn't it?"

"Never mind," I said encouragingly. "You are still young. If you begin to break off this indecent habit-"

"It seems I have begun. It's a quarter to nine. You know it is awful. If you had told me yesterday that to-night I should be sitting shut up in a horseless brougham at the back of an inn, alone with a strange man massaging my foot, I should have-"

"Of course you would. But there you are, lass, you never know your luck."

She looked at me darkly.

"Needs must when the devil drives," she said.

I looked at her.

"My skin may be thick," said I, "but it's not impenetrable. But you knew that."

With a light laugh she laid a hand on my arm.

"Don't be silly, lad, but put my shoe on again."

As I fitted it on, I heard footsteps in the yard outside. Instinctively we both shrank back into the brougham. It was quite dark now. Then a stable door grated and I heard a horse move.

"Who is it?" she whispered.

"Some ostler, I expect."

"What's he going to do?"

"I forget for the moment," said I. "I ought to know, too," I added reflectively. "Wait a minute, I will consult the oracle."

So saying I made a pass or two and gazed intently into the gloom.

"Idiot," she murmured.

"Hush," I said. "Do not speak to the man at the wheel, and, above all, refrain from disconcerting the beer-- I mean seer. What do I see? A man-let him pass for a man-in motion. He moves. Yes," I said excitedly, "yes, it is a stable. The man moves across the stable. Lo, he leads forth a horse. There now." I turned to her triumphantly. "The horse you fancy, madam, will also run, and the-ah-fee is one guinea. You don't fancy any horse, madam? Ah, but you will. Very soon too. Sooner, perhaps, than you-- But you can't help it, madam. The crystal cannot lie. Pleasant weather we're having, aren't we? No, I'm afraid I haven't change for a note, but I could send it on, madam. On. On Monday you for instance-"

"Stop, stop," she said, laughing and putting a little hand on my wrist. "Listen. Oh, I say."

A horse was undoubtedly led out of the stable. Breathlessly we heard it come across the yard, and the next moment we felt rather than saw it put between the shafts of our brougham.

My companion uttered a stifled cry and set a hand upon the door handle.

"Sit still, lass," I whispered; "for the love of Heaven, sit still. He's going to drive us away."

"Oh, lad."

"We are in luck."

"But where are we going?"

"Heaven knows. But away from the bees, any way."

The horse was harnessed at last. The lamps were lighted-the while we cowered in the depths of the brougham, the coachman mounted heavily upon the box and we rolled slowly out of the yard.

Round to the left we swung, away from White Ladies, slowly into the village and to the left again. I kept my companion informed as to our whereabouts.

"That's right," I said, "there's the butcher's. Splendid meat he sells-I beg his pardon-purveys. Wears wonderfully well. Always follows the hounds on one of his own saddles. And there's the tobacconist. You should see the plugs he keeps. I've got one I use as a paper-weight. We used to think it was a piece of the original Atlantic cable. I've had it years now, and it's still going strong-very strong. It makes rather a good paperweight, imparts a homely soupcon of farmyard life into one's correspondence, you know. The P.M. had to give up reading my letters-said they made him feel as if he'd gone to the country. Ah, we are now within a stone's throw of the church-a noble edifice, complete with one bell. Hullo! Stand by with that ankle, lass; we're going to the doctor's. You'll like him rather. Incompetent, but genial. Shouldn't wonder if he wants to paint your foot. He is a bit of an artist in his way. When I cut my head open last year, he painted the place all over with some of his stuff. It certainly healed all right, but the way the wasps followed me-I might have been a private view. Now for it. You stand on the steps quite naturally, and I'll manage the driver."

As we drew up to the porch, I opened the door of the vehicle and handed her out. Then I closed the door very carefully and looked at the coachman. His eyes were protruding from his head, and he recoiled as I laid a hand the box.

"How much?" I said carelessly.

A choking sound came from between his lips, and the the next moment he had flung off the opposite side and was peering into the depths of the brougham. When he had felt all over the cushions, he shut the door and came and looked at me over the back of the horse.

"Well, I'm drat-"

"Not yet," I said. "Don't anticipate. How much?"

"Six months' 'ard, I should say," he replied slowly, "and let down easy at that, gettin' into a private broom wiv yeller wheels an' frightenin' an honest man out of his blooming life. Look at the perspiration on my forehead."

He took off his hat, and bent his head toward the lamp, that my view might be the better.

"I had already noticed that you were rather hot," I said shortly, "but had in error attributed it to the clemency of the weather. But pray be covered. I would not have your blood also upon my soul. The air strikes cold."

"Go hon," he said with ponderous sarcasm. "Go hon. Hi am all ears."

"No, no," I said hastily, "not all. Do yourself justice, man."

"Justice," he said bitterly. "Justice. I wonder you 'ave the face to-"

"Be thankful that one of us has a face to have," I said shortly. "Among other maladies you suffer from irritation of the palm. Yes?"

He stared at me.

"Don't know about the palm in particular," he said, after a while, "but being so much with the 'orses it do tend to-"

"That'll do," I said hurriedly. "Lo, here is a crown, by the vulgar erroneously denominated a 'dollar'. Take it, and drink the lady's health before you go to bed."

He took the coins greedily, and touched his hat. Then he partially undressed, in the traditional fashion, and put them away, apparently in a wallet next to his skin.

I turned to the girl.

"We'll go in, shall we?" I said. "They'll give us some food, even if they do want to paint us. And we can ring up your people. I expect they'll be getting anxious."

"Oh, no. This morning they went up to town for the day, and they've only just about got back. And, as I was dining out, they won't expect me for another half-hour. But I think-"

"Dining out, lass? Good heavens, I'm afraid you'll have missed the soup, won't you?"

"I thought they'd given up dinner in the best circles."

"Ah, yes. Of course. But what about the auction halma?"

"That's what's worrying me. And so I was going to say if you'll be good enough to tell me where I am, I'll make my way home to where I'm staying."

Before I could reply, a voice that I recognized came through the drawing-room window.

"Ah, how do you do, Mrs. Fletcher. Sorry we've taken to up so much of your husband's time. But he's done us proud. I had fourteen. Just cast your eye-your critical eye-over this arm and take your pick. How do you like them? Penny plain, twopence coloured. Walk up. Damn. I beg your pardon. Has the ambulance arrived?"

The voice was the voice of Berry.

"The cab's here," said another voice. "I can see the horse's nose."

I suddenly realized that Jonah had got the car and was just wondering what was the matter with our own brougham, when:

"That's Daphne," said my companion. "Was it Berry who spoke first?"

I stared at her.

"Was it, lad?" she repeated.

"Yes, witch, it was. But how on earth?"

"I admit I'm only your second cousin and haven't seen Daphne for eighteen months, still, after being at school in France together for two years, we ought to have some dim recollection of each other's tones."

"Why," I said, "you're cousin Madrigal, who bit me on the nose, aged four, under the nursery table. Are you sorry, now?"

"I did it in self-defence, lad."

"What was I doing?"

"You tried to kiss me."

I glanced round. The coachman had begun to undress again, and it was very dark.

"That was a long time ago," I said wistfully.

"Once bitten, twice shy," she said.

As I kissed her, the light went up in the hall.

"Put not your faith in proverbs," said I.

Dr. Fletcher opened the door.

"Hullo," said the worthy leech.

"Bring forth your dead," said I.

He laughed heartily.

"Have you come for them?"

"We have. Complete with plague-cart. Allow me introduce my cousin. Dr. Fletcher-Miss Madrigal Stukely. How are the deceased?"

"Flourishing," replied the leech. "I took eleven out of your sister."

"And fourteen out of Berry-that's twenty-five. I say, there's no chance of their getting bee hydrophobia, is there? And stinging us, or anything?"

At this moment Daphne appeared, smelling like a consulting room.

"Why, Madrigal darling, so Boy brought you to fetch us back; did he? I'm so awfully sorry Berry and I weren't there for dinner. I hope Boy entertained you properly."

I gasped. Then:

"Madrigal, were you-?"

Daphne was staring at me. So our brougham had been sent to fetch...

Madrigal laid her band on my arm.

"It's all right, Daphne dear. As I was going home to dress about half-past seven, I met Boy-"

"Hurrying?" said Daphne.

"Now I come to think of it, he was walking rather-"

"A nice brisk pace," said I.

"Be quiet," said Daphne, "or I'Il sting you."

"Well," resumed Madrigal, "I met him and he explained-"

"About dinner?"

"About dinner. So we didn't either of us dress. In fact we didn't dine either; we were-er..."

"So anxious about you and Berry," I suggested.

My brother-in-law put his head round the door and looked at me.

"I remember," he said slowly, "I remember catching a fleeting glance-a very fleeting glance-of the anxious look upon your face as you cleared the second celery bed. At the time I thought-but never mind. I now realize that the solicitude there portrayed was on our account. Woman, I fear we judged your brother too hastily."

"I was going for assistance," I said.

"And lost your way," said Berry. He turned to his wife: "M'dear, I'm afraid he will always remain a worm. What a thought."

"Make it toads," said I. "It's safer."

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