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   Chapter 10 PRIDE GOETH BEFORE

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 23690

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"Who is Silvia? What is she?

That all her swains commend he.

Holy, fair, and wise is she;

The heaven such grace did lend her,

That she might admired be."

The song and its melody floated out into the night, away and over the sleeping countryside. In no way breaking the silence; rising up out of it, rather. It was as if Nature dreamed as she lay sleeping, a dream clear-cut, melodious. Over all the moon hung full, turning the world to silver. Never had music so fairy a setting.

"Then to Sylvia let us sing,

That Silvia is excelling,

She excels each mortal thing

Upon the dull earth dwelling

To her let us garlands bring."

Half-past eleven o'clock of a fine moonlit night, and I was alone with the car all among the Carinthian Alps. It was for Fladstadt that I was making. That was the Bairlings' nearest town. Their place, St. Martin, lay twenty odd miles from Fladstadt. But in the town people would show me the way. At St. Martin I should find Daphne and the others, newly come from Vienna this afternoon. Friends of Jonah's, the Bairlings. None of us others knew them.

At ten o'clock in the morning I had slid out of Trieste, reckoning to reach Fladstadt in twelve hours. And, till I lost my way, I had come well. I had lost it at half-past nine and only discovered that I had lost it an hour later. It was too late to turn back then. I tried to get on and across by by-roads-always a dangerous game. Just when I was getting desperate I had chanced on a signpost pointing to the town I sought. The next moment one of the tires had gone.

The puncture I did not mind, The car had detachable wheels, and one was all ready, waiting to be used. But when I found that I had no jack...Better men than I would have sworn. The imperturbable Jonah would have stamped about the road. As for Berry, with no one there to suffer his satire, suppressed enmity would have brought about a collapse. He would probably have lost his memory.

There was nothing for it, but to drive slowly forward on the flat tire. When I came to a village I could rouse an innkeeper, and if the place did not boast a jack, at least sturdy peasants should raise the car with a stout pole. Accordingly, I had gone on.

For the first five miles I had not lighted on so much as a barn. Then suddenly I had swung round a bend of the road to see a great white mansion right ahead of me. The house stood solitary by the roadside, dark woods rising steep behind. No light came from its windows. Turreted, white-walled, dark-roofed in the moonlight, it might have been the outpost of some fairy town. The building stood upon the left-hand side of the way, and, as I drew slowly alongside, wondering if I dared knock upon its gates for assistance, I found that house and road curled to the left together. Round the bend I had crept, close to the white facade. As I turned, I saw a light above me, shining out over a low balcony of stone. I had stopped the car and the engine, and stepped on tiptoe to the other side of the road. From there I could see the ceiling of a tall, first-floor room, whose wide, open windows led on to the balcony. I saw no figure, no shadow. For a minute or two I had heard no sound. Then, with no warning, had come an exquisite touching of keys and a girl's voice.

"To her let us garlands bring."

The melody faded and ceased. The refrain melted into the silence. For a moment I stood still, my eyes on the balcony above. Then I slipped noiselessly to the car, picked up a rug from the back seat and laid it, folded small, on the edge of the car's back. Half on the padded leather and half on the cape hood, strapped tight, I laid it. Standing upon this perilous perch, I was just able to lay my fingers upon the cold edge of the balcony's floor. With an effort I could grasp one of the stone balusters. An idea occurred to me, and I got carefully down. One of the luggage-carrier's straps was six feet long. I had it loose in a moment. A minute later and I had wheedled it round the baluster I could clutch. Buckled, it made a loop three feet in length that would have supported a bullock. I was about to soar, when I remembered the car. I jumped down once more, turned the key of the switch, and slipped it into my pocket. No one could steal her now. The next second I had my foot in the thong.

I sat on the coping, looking into the room. Broad and lofty it was, its walls hung with a fair blue paper. A handsome tapestry, looped up a little on one side, masked the tall double doors, and in the far corner stood a great tiled stove for burning wood. From the ceiling was hanging a basin of alabaster-an electric fitting, really. The powerful light of its hidden lamps spread, softened, all about the chamber. The blue walls bore a few reproductions of famous pictures. Meisonnier seemed in high favour, while Sir Joshua's Nellie O'Brien surveyed the salon with her quiet, steady gaze. A great bowl of fresh flowers stood on the grand piano.

The girl herself was sitting half on the edge of an old gate-table in the middle of the room. The toe of one rosy slipper touched the polished boards, and her other foot swung gently to and fro. One of her short sleeves she had pushed up to the shoulder and was looking critically at a scratch, which showed red, high up on her round, white arm. A simple evening frock of old-rose colour, dainty old gold slippers to keep her feet. Her skin was wonderfully white, her hair dark and brown. This was cut straight across her forehead in French fashion, and then brought down and away over the ears. Her face was towards me, as she examined her arm. I could see she was very pretty.

"Don't you think you ought to apologize?" she said suddenly.

Her words took me by surprise. For a moment I did not answer.

"Eh?" she said, looking up.

"Yes," I said, "I do. Fact is, I haven't any, and the gardens are all shut now."

"Any what?" she said, letting the sleeve slip back into its place.

"Garlands, Silvia."

She smiled for an instant. Then:

"How dare you come up like this?"

"I wanted to see what Silvia was like."

She stifled a little yawn.

"You heard me say she was holy, fair and wise."

"And excelling, I know. But the second verse asks,

"Is she kind as she is fair?"

"Well?"

"I came up to see if she was."

"And is she?"

"I don't think she is quite."

"Can you get down all right?"

"In fact, I'm sure she isn't," I said. "But then-"

"What?"

"She'd have to be most awfully kind to be that, Silvia. Good-bye."

"I say," said Silvia.

"Yes? I said, with one leg over the balustrade.

"As you're here, if you would like to come in and sit down for a little-I mean, I don't want to seem inhospitable."

"I knew it," said I. "I knew she was, really."

"Goodbye, Silvia. Thank you very, very much all the same. I've found out what I wanted to know."

I slipped over the coping and set my foot in the thong. There was a rustle of silk and a quick step on the balcony. Then two soft hands took hold of my wrists. I looked up at the big eyes, the face white in the moonlight, the dark, straight-cut hair.

"Wait!" she said. "Who are you and where do you come from?"

"My name's Valentine," said I. "I am a gentleman of Verona."

The small mouth twitched. "Be serious," she said. I told her my name and spoke of my run from Trieste, adding that I sought Fladstadt and St. Martin. She heard me in silence. Then:

"Are you tired?" she said quietly.

"A little."

"Then I tell you that you may come in and rest for a while. Yes, and talk to me. Presently you can go on. I will show you the way."

She let go my wrists and stood up, clasping her hands behind her head.

"You're very hospit-"

"It isn't a question of hospitality or anything else," she said slowly. "I just tell you that you may come in if you want to."

I gazed at the slim, straight figure, the bare bent arms, the soft white throat. Then I drew myself up and bestrode the coping.

"Of course," I said, "this is a dream. In reality I am fast asleep in the car. Possibly I have met with an accident and am still unconscious. Yet your hands felt warm..."

"And your wrists very cold, sir. Come along in and sit down. Even if you are dreaming I suppose you'll be able to drink some coffee if I give it you."

"If you give it me."

I drew up the thong and followed her into the room. She motioned me to sit in a deep chair and put cigarettes by my side. Then she lighted the lamps that were set beneath two little silver coffee-pots, standing on a tray on the gate-table. I watched her in silence. When the lamps were burning, she turned and seated herself on the table as I had seen her first. She regarded me curiously, swinging that little right leg.

"I shouldn't have liked you to think me unkind," she said, with a grave smile.

I rose to my feet.

"Silvia," I said.

"Sir"

"I do not know what to say. Yet I want to say something. I think you are very gentle, Silvia. If I were old, I think the sight of you would make me feel young again, and if Shakespeare had known you, I think he would have written more sonnets and fewer plays."

Silvia spread out deprecating white arms and bowed low.

"I doubt it," she said. "But I know he would have given me a cigarette."

"I beg your pardon," said I, handing her the box.

When I had given her a light, she turned again to the coffee.

"It ought to be hot enough now, I think. D'you mind using my cup? I don't take sugar."

"It will be a privilege, Silvia."

"Milk?"

"Please."

The hot cafe-au-lait was very grateful. Despite the season, my long drive through the mountain air had left me a little cold. I took my seat on an arm of the deep chair. Outside, somewhere close at hand, a clock struck twelve.

"The witching hour," said I. "How is it you're not in bed and asleep, Silvia?"

"Sleep! What with the noise of passing cars?"

"I forgot," said I. "The continuous roar of the traffic here must be very trying. The congestion between here and Villach is a disgrace. I met three carts in the last forty odd miles myself. Can't something be done about it?"

"-And the curiosity of cold-wristed burglars-By the way, I can't get over your climbing up like that, you know. It's all right, as it happens, and I'm rather glad you did, but this might have been a bedroom or-or anything."

"Or a bathroom. Of course it might. But then, you see, you very seldom find a piano in the bathroom nowadays, Silvia. Incidentally, what a sweet room this is."

"Do you like my pictures?"

"Awfully. Especially the one on the gate-table."

My lady blew smoke out of a faint smile. Then:

"If it comes to that, there's rather a good one on the arm of your chair," she said.

"Yes. By the same artist, too. But the one on the table knocks it. That'll be hung on the line year after year."

"What line?"

"At the Academy of Hearts. I beg your pardon, my dear. It slipped out."

Silvia threw back her dainty head and laughed merrily. Presently:

"But the one on the table's damaged," she said. "Didn't you see the scratch?"

"And the one on the chair wants cleaning badly. In its present state they wouldn't hang it anywhere except at Pentonville. But the scratch. How did you get it?"

"Ah! That was the Marquis. We were by the window, and when you slipped that strap round, he jumped like anything. He was in my arms, you see."

"I'm awfully sorry; but do you often embrace nobles, and how do you say good-bye to dukes? I mean to say, I haven't got my patent with me, and my coronet's in the store-I mean, strong room; but anyone who doesn't know me will tell you-Besides, I never scratch."

"The Marquis is a Blue Persian."

"These foreign titles," I murmured scornfully.

"Don't be patronizing," said Silvia. "Y

ou know where Pride goes. Besides, I've met some very nice counts."

I leaned forward. "I know. So've I. Barons, too. The last I struck's doing seven years now. But you're English, Silvia. English, d'you hear? I'll bet they're all over you out here. I know them. I'm a fool, but I don't like to think of your-I mean, I'd rather be an English-er-"

"Burglar?"

We both laughed, and I got up. "Silvia," I said, "tell me the best way to Fladstadt and turn me out while there is yet time."

"What do you mean?"

"This. I've already been in love with you for a quarter of an hour. In another ten minutes I shall be sitting at your feet. Half an hour later-"

"You will be just running into Fladstadt. It's straight on. You can't miss the way."

"And St. Martin? Have you ever heard of it?"

She puckered her brows.

"Isn't that where some English people have a place? People called-er-Waring, is it?"

"Bairling," said I.

"Bairling. That's it. Let's see. I'm afraid it's some miles from Fladstadt."

"Twenty, I'm told."

"About that."

"And this is how far?"

"From Fladstadt? About twenty-three."

I groaned. "Forty-three miles to go, and a flat tire," I said.

"Now far's the next village?"

"Why?"

"I want to get another wheel on."

"If you like to wait here a little longer, my brother'll be back with the car. He's on the way from Fladstadt now. That's why I'm sitting up. He'll give you a jack."

"You're awfully good, Silvia. But have you forgotten what I said?"

"About sitting at my feet? No, but I don't think you meant it. If I did, I should have rung long ago."

"Thank you," said I.

"Of course," she went on; "you're only a burglar, but you are-English."

"Yes, Silvia. I mightn't have been, though."

"You mean, I didn't know whether you were English or not, till after you'd climbed up? Nor I did. But one of the men's up, and there's a bell-push under the flap of the table."

She slipped a hand behind her. "I'm touching it now," she added.

"I wondered why you didn't sit in a chair," I said, with a slow smile. A deep flush stole over the girl's features. For a moment she looked at me with no laughter in her eyes. Then she slipped off the table and moved across the room to an open bureau. She seemed to look for something. Then she strolled back to the table and took her seat on its edge once more.

"Is that a car coming?" she said suddenly, her dark eyes on the floor.

I listened. "I don't think so," I said, and stepped out on to the balcony.

There was no sound at all. It was the dead of night indeed. I glanced over the balustrade at the car. Her headlights burned steadily, making the moonlit road ahead more bright.

"I can hear nothing," I said, coming back into the boudoir.

"Look," said Silvia, pointing over my shoulder.

As I turned, something struck me on the cheek. I stooped and picked it up. A piece of flexible cord about five inches long. I swung round and looked at the girl. On the table a pair of scissors lay by her side.

"Why have you done this?" I demanded.

She raised her eyebrows by way of answer and reached for a cigarette. As she lighted it, I saw that her hand was trembling.

"Silvia, dear, surely you don't think-"

"Must you go?"

"It was a poor joke of mine, I know; but-"

"It was. I don't think a count or a baron would have said such a rotten thing."

Her eyes flashed and she was trembling all over. From being pretty, she had become beautiful.

"Perhaps not," said I steadily. "But if they had, they would have meant it, Silvia."

"As you did."

I coiled the flexible cord about a finger, loosed it and thrust it into my pocket.

"I'll go now," I said, "as I came."

"Like a thief."

"Like a thief. You have been wonderfully kind, and I-I have spoiled everything. Let's try and forget this evening. For you, a car passed in the night, the hum of its engine swelling up, only to fade again into the silence. For me, I lingered to listen to the words of a song, and when it was done, sped on into the shadows. I wish you hadn't cut that bell, lass."

"Why?"

I walked out on to the balcony and swung myself over the coping.

"Because then I should have asked if I might kiss you."

When I had lowered myself on to the seat of the car, I unbuckled the strap and started to pull it down. But the buckle caught on the baluster, and I had to stand on my old perch to reach and loosen it. I did so, balancing myself with one hand on the balcony's door. As the strap slipped free, there was a burning pain in my fingers. With a cry I tore them away, lost my balance, and fell sideways into the car on to the back of the front seat. I stood up unsteadily. It hurt me to breathe rather, and there was a stabbing pain in my right side.

"Are you hurt?" said a quick voice above me. Dazedly I raised my head. Silvia was leaning over the balcony, one hand to her white throat. I could hear her quick-coming breath.

"No," I said slowly, "I'm not. But until you tell me that you know I did not mean what I said, I will not believe that you did not mean to stand upon my fingers."

"Are you hurt, lad?"

"No. Did you hear what I said?"

Silvia stood up, her hands before her on the coping.

"You know I didn't."

Without a word I stepped carefully out of the car. The pain was intense. It was as if my side was being seared with a hot iron. How I started the car I shall never know. The effort brought me to my knees. Somehow I crept into my seat, took out the clutch and put in the first speed. I was moving. Mechanically I changed into second, third, and top. We were going now, but the trees by the wayside seemed to be closing in on me. The road was really ridiculously narrow. I could see a corner coming. The pain was awful. My head began to swim, and I felt the near wheel rise on the bank. I wrenched the car round, took out the clutch and dragged the lever into neutral. As I jammed on the hand-brake, I seemed to see many lights. Then came the noise of a horn, cries, and the sound of tires tearing at the road. I fell forward and fainted.

I could smell Daphne. Somewhere at hand was my sister's faint perfume: I opened my eyes.

"Hullo, Boy!" said Jill, her small, cool hand on my forehead.

"Better, darling?" said Daphne, brushing my cheek with soft lips.

"I'm all right," I said, raising myself on my left elbow. Still the stabbing pain in my right side. "Where are we?"

"In the hall at St. Martin, dear. How did it all happen?"

"How did I get here?" I asked. "And you-I don't understand."

"We nearly ran you down, old chap." Berry's voice. "About a quarter of a mile from here, towards Fladstadt. But why were you driving away?"

I stared at him. "Driving away?" I said slowly. "Then-"

There were quick steps and the rustling of a dress.

Then Silvia spoke. "What is it, Bill? Tell me. Who's hurt?"

"It's all right, m'dear," said the man's voice. "Mrs. Pleydell's brother's met with an accident. We found him in the road. Don't make a noise. This is my sister, Mrs. Pleydell."

"How d'you do?" said Daphne. "My brother seems-"

"I'm all right," I said suddenly. "I'd lost my way, see? And one of the tires went, just as I was passing a big white house on the left. I stopped under a balcony, I think."

"That's right," said Bill Bairling. "Balcony of Silvia's room."

"I never knew it was St. Martin, though. I must have cut across country somehow. Still. Well, there was no jack on the car so I couldn't do anything. Just as I was getting in again, I heard a noise above me and turned. My foot slipped on the step, and I fell on my side. Couple of ribs gone, I think. I tried to get on to Fladstadt. Is the car all right?"

"And you said you weren't hurt," cried Silvia, sinking on her knees by Jill.

"Was it you who asked me?" I spoke steadily, looking her full in the eyes.

"Yes," said Silvia.

"I know I did. But then, you know, I don't always mean what I say." Then the pain surged up once more, and I fainted.

"Is she kind as she is fair?

For beauty lives with kindness.

Love doth to her eyes repair

To help him of his blindness,

And, being helped, inhabits there."

The singing was very gentle. Overnight the song had floated into the air, rich, full, vibrant; but now a tender note had crept into the rendering, giving the melody a rare sweetness. I listened pleasedly. My side was very sore and stiff. Also my head ached rather.

"Priceless voice that little girl's got," said Berry in a low voice.

"Isn't she a dear, too?" said Daphne. "Fancy giving up her own bedroom, so that we could have the salon next door."

"I know. But I wish she wouldn't keep on reproaching herself so. If a girl likes to step on to her own balcony, it's not her fault if some fellow underneath falls over himself and breaks a couple of ribs. However. When's the comic leech coming back?"

"This afternoon," said my sister. "But he'll wake before then. I don't expect he'll remember much about last night. I'm so thankful it's not more serious."

"How soon did he say he'd be up?"

"Inside a week. It's a clean fracture. Of course, he'll be strapped up for some time. Fancy his going on, though."

"Must have been temporarily deranged," said my brother-in-law airily. "Shock of the fall, I expect."

"Rubbish!" said his wife. "Just because you'd have lain there, giving directions about your funeral and saying you forgave people, you think anybody's mad for trying to get on. Boy has courage."

"Only that of his convictions," said Berry. "You forget I've got a clean sheet. My discharge from the Navy was marked 'Amazing'. The only stain upon my character is my marriage. As for my escutcheon, I've shaved in it for years."

"Fool!" said his wife.

"I shall turn my face to the wall if you're not careful."

"Don't," said Daphne. "Remember, it's not our house.

"There was a tap at the door. Then:

"May I come in?" said Silvia.

"Of course you may, dear. No. He's still asleep."

"It's nearly twelve," said Silvia. "Won't you go and rest a little, and let me stay here? You must be so tired. I'll call you the moment he wakes."

Daphne hesitated. "It's awfully good of you-"

"But it isn't. I'd love to."

"The truth is, she's afraid to trust you, Miss Bairling," said Berry. "She thinks you're going to steal his sock-suspenders."

"Will you leave the room?" said my sister.

"After you, beloved."

I could hear Silvia's gentle laughter. Then:

"I shall come back about one, dear, if you don't send for me before," said Daphne.

The next moment I heard the door close, and Silvia seated herself on my left by the side of the bed. I opened my off eye. I lay in a fair, grey-papered chamber, darkened, for the green shutters were drawn close about the open windows. Some of their slides were ajar, letting the bright sunshine slant into the room.

"There was once," I said, "a fool." A smothered exclamation close to my left ear. "A fool, who did everything wrong. He lost his way, his heart, his head, and, last of all, his balance. In that order. Yet he was proud. But then he was only a fool."

"But he was-English," she murmured.

"Yes," I said.

"And there was another fool," said Silvia. "A much bigger one, really, because, although she never lost her way or her head or her balance, she lost something much more precious. She lost her temper."

"But not her voice," said I. "And the fools went together to Scotland Yard, and there they found the way and the head and the balance and the temper. But not the heart, Silvia."

"Plural," said Silvia, softly. I opened my near eye and turned my head. The first thing I saw was a rosy arm, lying on the edge of my pillow. Within reach.

"I say," I whispered. "Is the bell in this room all right?"

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