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   Chapter 9 A POINT OF HONOUR

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 24086

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"The point is-" I began.

The girl looked up quickly.

"What?"

"This," said I. "Would you be alarmed or offended if I put my services-"

"Such as they are."

"Such as they are, thank you, at your disposal?"

"Is that an offer or a question?"

"Neither," said I. "It's a point."

She knitted her brows.

"What does one do with points?"

"One deals with them."

"M'm. Well, you can see what you can do, if you like. You mustn't be rough with the bag. It's sensitive, for all that it's made of pigskin."

"May I have the alleged key? Thank you. It is not by force, but by persuasion, that I-ahem-gain my points."

"I should think you're an only child."

"I am," I said. "That's why."

We were in a first-class compartment on the London South Western Railway, rushing away from London, down to Dorsetshire, with its heights and woodland and its grey stone walls. There had been some trouble at Waterloo, and it was only at the last moment that an 'engaged' label had been torn off our carriage window and we had been permitted to enter. The other occupant of the carriage-an aged member of the House of Lords-after regarding us with disapproval for ninety miles, had left the train at the last station. Then my lady had turned to her nice new dressing-bag and had sought to open it. In vain she had inserted a key. In vain she had attempted to insert other keys, obviously too large. Therein she had shown her feminism. I love to see a woman do a womanly thing. Finally she had sighed and pushed her dark hair back from her temples with a gesture of annoyance. The time seeming ripe, I had spoken.

Now I turned to the obstructive wards. All she had done was to double-lock it, and I had it open in a moment.

"Thank you so much."

"Not at all. I was brought up as a burglar. What a blessed thing the old earl's left us."

"I suppose it is."

"Thank you so much."

"Not at all."

"You see if I had offered my services-such as they are-in his presence, he would probably have challenged me, and stuck your glove in his hat."

She laughed.

"He looked rather like it, didn't he?"

"And, of course, according to his lights, you should still be endeavouring to pull the alarm cord."

"Instead of which-"

"You are going to put your feet up and smoke one of my cigarettes. It's not a smoking carriage so you'll be able to taste the tobacco."

"Is this another point?" she said, smiling.

"No," said I. "It's a certainty."

Her dark hair was smooth and shining and full of lights and set off her fresh complexion to perfection. This was not at all brown, but her eyes were. Great, big ones these, with a star in each of them for laughter. Her nose turned up ever so slightly, and she had a little way of tilting her dainty chin, as if to keep it company. Red lips. Presently she looked at me through the smoke.

"Are you going to Whinnerley?" she said.

"Yes, please."

"To the Hall?"

"Even as you are."

"How did you know?"

"The sensitive bag had a label."

"Oh, I believe you're one of Berry and Co."

"Look here," I said, "you mustn't judge me by my company. If my relatives and connections by marriage like to make themselves infamous, that is no fault of mine. They have made their beds. Let them lie on them. I will recline upon my humble, but separate couch."

"What have they done?"

"Notorious wrong. Only last week, for instance, they mocked me."

"No?"

"They did, indeed-during the savoury. As part-owner, I craved a seat in the car. They scorned my request. Who was I? To-day, they drive from Norfolk to Dorset. But for their swabhood they would have picked me up in London on the way."

"On the what?"

"I admit it would have necessitated a slight deviation, but against that you must set off the tone my presence lends- Forgive me, but there's a wasp on your left leg."

She sat up with a cry.

"Oh, take it off! Take it off!"

"Its taste-"

"Bother its taste. Take it off! Is it crawling-"

"Up? Yes. Don't move. Draw your dress tight."

Obediently, she drew her dress close about her, perhaps half an inch below a knee that Artemis might have been proud to display. I let the wasp reach the dark blue cloth. Then I seized him. As I put him out of the window, he naturally stung me. Before I had time to apologize for the expletive which escaped me, she had caught my hand.

"Which finger is it?"

"The second. South and by east of the nail."

"Here?"

"Yes."

"Shall I press the poison out?"

"You can amputate it and sear the stump if you like. Good heavens, your necklace is undone at the back."

"It isn't?"

"It is really."

"Well, do it up with your left hand. I'll attend to the sting."

It was at this interesting juncture that the door opened and a footman stood in the August afternoon sunshine, touching his cap and staring fixedly down the platform. On a station lamp was 'Whinnerley Bluff'.

How we got out of the train and into the car, neither of us ever knew. When I recovered my senses, she was sitting as far away as possible in an open landaulette, staring at my dressing-case and her bag, and moaning.

"Whatever must they think? Whatever must they think?"

"They can't think we've been married long," said I musingly. "They only do that sort of thing on the honeymoon."

She shivered.

"I wouldn't mind if they thought we were married, but they know we aren't."

"I suppose they do."

"Of course they do. Or they will."

Here some children cheered as we went by. She bowed abstractedly, and I raised my hat, as in a trance.

"What's this village?" I said.

"Oh, Whinnerley, I suppose. No, it isn't."

"Here. Where are we going?" said I.

As I spoke, we swung through lodge gates I had never seen before, while two gardeners and a smiling woman beamed delightedly upon us. We stared at them in return. It was all wrong. This wasn't the Hall, and it wasn't Whinnerley. There was some mistake. The car must have been sent to meet somebody else-somebody like us. And we-

I think we saw the streamer at the same moment. It was a large white one, slung across the curling drive from one tree to another. On it were the words: "Welcome to the Happy Pair."

As we left it behind, we turned and faced one another. It was all as clear as daylight. We were the wrong pair. The right pair had never come. We had travelled in their 'engaged' carriage. We had alighted at their station-Whinnerley Bluff-doubtless some new halt, built since my last visit. We were in their car. We had received cheers and smiles meant for them. We were being greeted by a banner for them set up. And we were on the point of arriving at the house lent to them for their honeymoon. Thank you.

Suddenly my companion's words flashed across my mind.

"I wouldn't mind if they thought we were married." I caught her arm.

"Do you see what has happened?" I said.

She nodded frightenedly.

"They think we're a married couple-married this morning."

She shivered again.

"Let them go on thinking it."

She stared at me.

"Play up," I cried. "You know what you said just now. Well, here's our chance. Only play up for an hour or two. The real ones can't arrive before seven. There isn't a train before then. We can slip away after tea. Whinnerley proper can't be far. Play up, my dear, play up. It's a chance in a lifetime."

A wonderful light came into her eyes.

"Shall we?" she whispered.

"Yes, yes. Say you will."

She looked away suddenly over the sunlit park. Then she spoke very slowly.

"I'm trusting you rather a lot, aren't I?" she said.

"Yes," I said quietly.

"But since you make such a point-"

I took her hand. As I raised it, she turned, and we looked each other full in the eyes.

Said I: "This point is a point of honour."

Then I kissed her small, gloved fingers.

A moment later the car swept out of the avenue, under an old gateway and into a fair courtyard, which I seemed to have seen before in the pages of Country Life. The house was beautiful. There it lay, in the hot sunshine, all grey and warm and peaceful-a perfect specimen of the Tudor period, and about its walls a tattered robe of wisteria. It seemed to be smiling in its sleep. As we drove up to the great stone steps, the studded door was opened and a manservant appeared. The car stopped.

"Oh, I'm afraid," whispered my companion.

"Play up," I whispered back. "It's all right."

"No, no. I'm afraid. I don't know what to say to them."

The footman opened the door, and I got out. As I handed her out, her hand was trembling terribly. Suddenly there was a scrambling noise, and a great black and white Newfoundland came bounding down the steps. When he saw us, he stopped.

"Oh, you darling." said my companion.

The dog looked at her for a moment uncertainly. Then he threw up his head and barked twice, wagging his tail. She put out her hand and stroked his head. The great fellow whined with pleasure. Then he took her hand in his mouth and turned up the steps once more.

"Oh, look!" she cried delightedly. "He's leading me in."

The situation was saved. I followed thankfully. As I entered the hall:

"He has taken to your ladyship," a gentle housekeeper was saying. "It's not many he welcomes like that."

The woman bowed to me, and turned towards the staircase. Mechanically I took the two letters from the salver the footman was holding out. Then I thought of something. I looked at the girl. She was half-way up the stairs.

"Er-darling," I said.

She swung round and stopped, flushing furiously. Then:

"Yes, dear?"

I went to where she was standing. The housekeeper was twenty paces away at the top of the stairs. I spoke as carelessly as I could, and in an undertone.

"They will want to unpack your things. Also they will soon know that there is no luggage. Ours, of course, went on to Whinnerley proper. Say your maid is coming on with it by the next train, and that she will unpack when she comes."

"All right."

I returned to the hall. Not to be outdone by the housekeeper, the footman was most solicitous. He led me to an oak-panelled lavatory, turned on the water, and held a towel ready while I washed. Then he brushed me all over, and flicked the dust from my shoes. With the slightest encouragement, I believe he would have shaved me. Then he led me to the 'reception rooms' in turn. When the tour was over, he brought me cigarettes and asked me if I would like tea served in the garden.

"By all means," I said.

"Tell her ladyship she will find me out of doors."

"Yes, sir."

I passed through the dining-room and on to a great lawn. The garden was in exquisite order. Everywhere there was a profusion of flowers, and on all sides beyond a sunk fence lay the great park. Far in a cool glade I saw some deer browsing. On the left, I could see the drive by which we had come. Lazily I traced its line curling away between the trees. Suddenly something red and moving caught my eye. For a moment the trees hid it from view. Then I saw it again-just a flash of red in the avenue-moving towards the house. I watched it curiously. It approached a small gap. The next second there appeared a telegraph boy upon a red bicycle. Thank you. Instinctively I started to head him off. I had to run to do it, but I prayed that no one was looking. We reached the gate house together.

"Telegram?" said I.

He dismounted and gave it to me like a lamb. It was addressed to Maulfry Tower, Winnerley Bluff, and it read: Missed train arrive 7.10 Tagel.

"No answer," said I. Then I remembered the cheering children, and gave him a shilling. He thanked me shyly and sped away to the lodge gates. I turned to see the girl approaching, and went to meet her.

"For him, ginger beer," said I; "for us, tea. For them, when they arrive, the wagonette. They will not send the car for your maid. But, never mind, they have a good time coming. Isn't it all beautiful!"

"Of course," said she, "after this I shall go into a convent

-that is, after I have served my term of imprisonment. I can never face the world again."

"Why again?" said I. "You see, my dear, we're not facing it now. If we were, it would be different. But now we're in a backwater. In an hour or two we shall be on the broad stream of Life once more. The current is very strong sometimes. But here there is no current, nor any time, nor action. Only the sun makes shining patches on the water, while now and again dragon-flies dart through the sleepy hum of insect life, like bright thoughts flashing across a reverie. Now, isn't that nice? I really don't know how I do it. But to resume. No one knew of our turning aside-no one will see us return. For us the universe is standing still. And there's the tea. Come, madam wife, sit by my side, and let the world slip; we shall ne'er be younger."

She looked at me critically, bending her brows. Then:

"I should never have married you," she said, "if I had known there was insanity in your family."

Tea was set out under the trees on the lawn, between the house and the drive. On three sides roses and honey-suckle screened the table from view. The fourth lay open to the sinking sun and the park and the distant hills. The footman had been joined by a butler, who bowed at our approach. In silence she poured out the tea. Then:

"Sugar?" she said, without thinking.

"Ahem! Not to-day, thanks, dear. I had mine in the champagne."

As the footman handed me the cucumber sandwiches, his hand shook a little. I went on ruthlessly:

"Talking of which, did you notice the detectives?"

"No," she said. "What about them?"

"Wall-eyed, my dear, all of them. Cost me two-and-six extra, but I thought it was worth it. Worries the thieves awfully, you know. They can't tell whether they're watching the fish-slice or the 'Longfellow'. And all the time they're really counting the marron glaces. It's called 'getting the wall-eye.'"

I stooped to straighten my spat. When I looked up, the servants had disappeared. I glanced through the leaves to see them pass into the dining-room.

"Gone?" said the girl. I nodded.

"Thank goodness! And now, who are you? I believe one is supposed to get to know one's husband on the honeymoon."

I took one of the letters the footman had given me out of my pocket.

"I am," said I, "Sir Peter Tagel. That's why you're 'my lady'.

"Is it really? And now, your alias?"

"I'll tell you when we separate. Meanwhile, I do hope I shall make you happy. When the time comes I shall win you bread. To do this I shall, of course, have to leave your side. But that's for after. Till then-but I fear my thoughtless reference to our parting has unnerved you. You are overwrought. Lean upon me. That's what I'm for. I am your man-your husband. Where's that come from?"

"Surrey, I should think."

I frowned at my cigarette. "I don't think you're honouring me enough," I said. "Of course, it's early days yet, but-good heavens! What about the ring?"

"What about it?"

"Well, they'll see you haven't-"

I stopped, for a smile was playing about her lips as she lay back, looking into the elm-tops. Then I caught her cool, left hand. From the third finger a plain gold ring winked at me. I stared at it. Till we arrived at the house, her hands had been gloved. I balanced her hand in my palm, and looked at her.

"There is," I said, "a question."

"Yes?"

"Yes. Are you married?"

"You've been telling me I am for the last half-hour."

"Yes, but are you really?"

"Peter, dear!" This in a tone of gentle rebuke.

I ground my teeth.

"And you're going to win me bread, you know-nice brown bread."

I rose, and stood in front of her. Still the faint smile on the red mouth.

"Look at me," I commanded.

"It wasn't an 'obey' marriage, was it?" This dreamily.

"Was that ring on that finger when we were in the train?"

Slowly she got up and faced me, her eyes six inches from mine, but still looking away over my head, up at the high elms. Then she put her hands on my shoulders.

"Oh, Saint Anthony," I whispered.

The smile deepened. Then:

"I'll tell you when we separate," she said.

For one dear, short half-hour we had wandered in the park. The sunshot glades hung out an invitation it would have been churlish to refuse. And so in and out of the tall bracken, under the spreading oaks, close to the gentle-eyed deer, we had roamed for a while at will, carelessly, letting the world slip. Sir Peter and his lady taking the air.

And now we were back in the gentle garden, facing the old grey house, watching the smoke rise from a tall chimney, a slight, straight wisp against the background of blue. And-the sun was low.

I sighed. Somehow it seemed such a pity. I glanced at my companion. She looked rather wistful.

"Why is everything all wrong?" I said suddenly.

She smiled a little.

"Is it?"

"Of course it is. Haven't we got to slink away and leave all this? My dear, it's all utterly wrong. The time is out of joint-dislocated."

"It isn't really, Peter."

I looked at her quickly. Her eyes were wide open now, and very bright.

"You're right, lass," said I. "If one goes up a backwater, I suppose one's got to come down again. Only-

"Only it's been a rather short backwater, hasn't it?"

"It has been very sunny, Peter."

A pause, then:

"It was sweet of you to say that," I said. "Thank you." But, as I spoke, I did not look at her. I dared not.

A clock chimed the three-quarters. A quarter to seven. Thank you. A moment later we were arranging our escape.

When retrieved, our impedimenta would consist of her parasol and dressing-bag, and my dressing-case. My stick and gloves were in the hall, and I decided to let them go. Her bag was in a fair bedroom-a little brass knocker upon the door-hard by the top of the staircase. She had heard them put my case in the room adjoining. Very well. She was to sit-loll, if she liked-in the arbour, where tea had been served, while I ventured indoors and secured the luggage. Once across the lawn, I was to drop it over the sunk fence close to the drive. Together we could then stroll towards the lodge gates. I should leave her half-way, come by the wood to the fence, take up our chattels, and join her again somewhere on the verge of the grounds close to the lodge gates. Then we could scramble over the oak palisade into the road.

As I strolled towards the dining-room, wheels crunched on the gravel-drive. I turned to see a wagonette swinging down the avenue.

There was a writing-table in the bedroom window, and before I crept out of the room I sat down and wrote a few lines:

"To THE HOUSEKEEPER-Lady Pan and I regret the unfortunate confusion for which a certain similarity of name and title has been responsible.

"(SIR PETER PAN.)

Then I took a five-pound note from my case and slipped it into the envelope. I addressed the latter, and put it with the two letters and the telegram on the dressing-table.

On my way indoors and upstairs I had encountered no one. Incidentally, I should not have minded if I had. But now it was a very different matter. Mentally and physically the luggage embarrassed me. My appearance proclaimed an exodus-suggested a flight. Of course, if I did meet a servant, I should try and bluff my way out; but-- There was no doubt about it this was one of the tighter places.

I lighted a cigarette. Then I put the parasol under my arm and opened the door. Not a sound. I picked up her bag and my case, and started.

I am sure there is not another edifice in England with so many creaking boards. They shrieked beneath me at every step. At the top of the stairs I put down the luggage and listened carefully. As yet there were no lights burning, and it was more than dusk in the hall below. I wiped the sweat off my forehead, and began the descent. At the bottom I ran into the footman. He was very nice about it, though I am certain the dressing-case bruised his shin. Then:

"Excuse me, sir," he said, and switched on the light.

And with the light came the brain-wave.

"I want the car at once," I said. "There's been some terrible mistake. This isn't our luggage. I don't know whose it is. The label on this bag says 'Whinnerley Hall', and that's not my dressing-case. I'm not even sure that this is her ladyship's parasol."

"Not-not yours, sir?"

"Certainly not. Beastly things." I flung them down in the hall.

"Never seen them before in my life. Order the car, man; order the car. I want to take them back to the station and find out what's become of our own."

The footman fled. When the housekeeper appeared, breathless, I was sitting on a table, swinging the parasol and smoking angrily.

"Is the car coming?" I demanded.

"Yes, indeed, sir. It'll be round in a moment. What a dreadful thing to have happened, sir. I can't understand-"

"Neither can I, except that they're both something like our things. But look at that label. This isn't Whinnerley Hall, is it?"

"No, indeed, sir."

"Well, have them put in the car. I'll go and find her ladyship. I'm afraid she'll be terribly upset."

I flung out of the house. Thirty seconds later I was explaining things to an open-mouthed girl in the arbour. As I finished, I heard the car coming round from the garage.

"Come along, dear." I glanced at my watch. "With any luck we shall just catch the seven-ten on to Whinnerley. Remember, you're terribly upset and simply frantic about your jewellery, especially the tiara Uncle George gave you. Do you think you could cry? I should have to kiss you then."

Again the faint smile. The next minute we were in the car, rushing down the avenue. There was the white banner, hanging very still now, for the faint breeze had died with the day. As we approached the lodge gates I leaned forward and looked across her-she was on my right-looked away over the park to where the sun had set. The sky was flaming.

"Sic transit," said I.

"Good-bye, backwater," said she.

Her voice was not unsteady, but there was that in her tone that made me look at her. Her lashes were wet.

As the car swung out of the gates, our hands touched. I took hers in mine and held it. Then I started. It was the left hand, but there was no ring upon its fingers. I tightened my hold. So we sat for two minutes or more. Then:

"Do you think they would see?" I said, glancing at the chauffeur and groom.

"I'm afraid they might. But-"

"But what, darling?"

"It wouldn't matter very much if they did, would it?"

We reached the station simultaneously with the seven ten. As the groom opened the door-

"Come along, dear." I handed her out. Turning to the servant, "Bring the bag and the dressing-case," I added. "Quick!"

"Yes, sir."

A small boy waved an implement and uttered a feeble protest about tickets, but we thrust past him on to the platform. There I looked round wildly.

"Where's Delphine?" I cried.

"I don't believe she's come," wailed my companion.

I turned to the groom.

"You'd better go back," I said. "Put those things down and go back to the car, in case we miss her ladyship's maid. Don't let her go off in the wagonette."

"Very good, sir."

He put the luggage on a seat and ran back to the exit. Exactly opposite to where we were standing was a first-class carriage. As the guard's whistle was blown:

"Have you got my bag, Peter?" said a plaintive voice.

"Yes, m'dear," and Sir Peter and Lady Tagel passed down the platform. We watched them greedily.

The train began to move.

"The last lap," said Berry. "Courage, my travel-stained comrades. Where was it we broke down? Oh, yes, Scrota Gruff. Such a sweet name, so full of promise, so-"

Then he took his head in and pulled up the window.

"Fancy you two being in the next carriage all the time," said Daphne. "I expect Boy's introduced himself, Julia dear. Yes, I thought so. Still for what it's worth, my brother-Lady Julia Lory."

Which is why she's 'my lady'. Though she always says it isn't.

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