MoboReader> Horror > The Brother of Daphne

   Chapter 13 A LUCID INTERVAL

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 21865

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"Ausgang verboten!" said the guard.

"Yes," said Berry. "You look it."

"Hush!" said Daphne.

"Hush yourself," replied her husband. "The man is ill. I would minister to him."

We got him away somehow and bore him towards a taxi. Before we could stop him, he had congratulated the driver in excellent French on his recovery from the accident "which had so painfully disfigured him," and had asked for the name and address of the man who had designed the body of his cab. This was too much for Daphne, and she and Jonah called another taxi, and said they would see us at the hotel. Satisfied that the conductor of the hotel omnibus was collecting our luggage, I followed Jill and Berry into the cab, and we drove out of the station.

When we reached the hotel, Berry told the porter that he need not uncover, as he was travelling incognito, and asked if Mrs. Pleydell had arrived. Receiving a negative answer, he gave the man five marks and asked him to be very careful as to the way he lifted the cat's basket out of his wife's cab. Then he suffered himself to be conducted to the sitting-room which I had engaged on the first floor.

Five minutes later Daphne burst into the room.

"What on earth's the matter with the people here?" she demanded. "Half the staff are feeling all over the inside of our cab, and the porter keeps asking me if I'm sure the cat was put in at the station. Is this some of your doing?"

"Possibly some idle banter-"

"I knew it," said Daphne. "If this is how you begin, we shan't get out of Munich alive."

Why we had chosen Munich is not very easy to tell. Of course, we ought to have gone to Biarritz and taken the car, but they wouldn't have that. Everybody had wanted to go to a different place. Berry's choice was Minsk, because, he said, he wanted to rub up his Hebrew. Such a suggestion is characteristic of Berry. Then Munich was mentioned, and as no one had seemed very keen, no one had taken the trouble to be very rude about it. Consequently, Munich won. A day or two after our arrival, one of Wagner's triumphs was to be given at the Opera House, and, amid a scene of great excitement, Berry secured four tickets. I say four because I mean four. I have never appreciated opera, and was all along reluctant to go. But when I found that the show began at half-past four, I put my foot down and reminded the others of the Daylight Saving Bill. With gusto they retorted that I had been to more matinees than they cared to remember. I replied that for a theatre to begin at half-past four was out of all order and convenience, and that, as an Englishman and a member of a conservative club, I was not prepared to subscribe to such an unnatural arrangement.

"Brother," said Berry, "I weep for you. Not now, but in the privacy of my chamber I often weep great tears."

"Friend," said I, "your plain but honest face belies your words. You don't want to see the opera any more than I do, and now you're jealous because to-morrow I shall sit down to dinner comfortably while you are trying to remember which of the sandwiches have mustard, and praying that the lights won't go up till your mouth's empty."

To the consternation of the assistants in the library, Berry covered his face with his hands.

"He thinks it decent to revile me," he said weakly. "Where is my wife, my helpmeet?"

But Daphne had already retired. As I left the shop, an American lady approached Berry and told him the way to the English chemist.

At five the next day it began to rain. I was in Maximilian Street at the time, admiring the proportions of the thoroughfare and ready for anything. The rain suggested to me that I should take a taxi to the Rumpelmayer's of Munich. A closed one was crawling by the kerb opposite to me, on the far side of the road. I put up my stick, and it slowed down. I crossed to it, spoke to the driver, who scowled at me, seemingly because I approached him from the road and not from the pavement-Munich is very particular-and got in. As I sat back in the dark corner, the opposite door opened. The light of the offside lamps showed me two big, brown eyes, a dear, puzzled face, half wondering, half wanting to laugh, and a row of white teeth catching a red upper lip that trembled in a smile. The next moment their owner stepped quickly in, the driver let in his clutch with a jerk, and my unwitting companion was projected heavily into the corner-not mine-she had been about to occupy.

She swore gently.

"That's right," said I.

She jumped properly.

"Good Heavens!"

"I'm so sorry, but I'm all right," said I, "I assure you. Young man of gentlemanly appearance. Harrow and Oxford, terms moderate, bathroom and domestic offices, possession early in June-"

"Get out of my cab at once."

"-will send photograph if required. Whose cab?"

"Well, I engaged it."

"So did I."

"When?"

"Just now."

"How awfully funny."

"Isn't it? I'm so glad. I'm English, too, you know. I can prove that by my German. And-"

"But you don't want to go where I do."

"But I do."

"Don't be silly! You know what I mean."

At this moment the off hind wheel of a big limousine, which was passing us, caught our near front wheel. The steering-wheel was knocked out of the cabman's hands, and we landed up against a lamp-post with a crash that flung my companion and myself on to the floor of the taxi. The girl cried out, put her small hand into my mouth, and sat up.

I spoke into her glove.

"Are you hurt?"

"No, but I think I'm going to cry."

"Don't, my dear. It's all right. All the same, it's an outrage and a casus belli. Where does the British Ambassador live?"

Here the door was opened. The girl released me to adjust her hat, and I rolled on to the step and sat looking at a tall footman, who raised his hat and said something in German. The next minute a lady appeared. She began to speak in German, then:

"Oh, you are English," she said. I rose and bowed stiffly.

"Yes, madame, I have that honour."

"I am so very sorry. I do hope you are not hurt."

"I am only shaken, thank you."

She looked into the cab. "My dear," she purred, "I am so terribly sorry. I hope you were not hurt either. I cannot say-"

"No, I'm all right, thank you. I'll get out."

Then she fainted. I caught her and carried her to the limousine. When I had set her on the deep seat, I turned to the lady.

"I do not know where she lives," I said. "We have only met casually."

"A physician?" she queried. "Had she better-"

"I don't think it is a case for a doctor. She has only fainted. Perhaps you-"

"I will attend to her, and when we get to the Opera House, my maid-"

She turned to the footman and seemed to tell him to stay behind and see to the cabman and the police, who had come up. Then she stepped into the car, and a moment later we were slipping silently up the street. By the lights in the car, I could see that our friend was a handsome woman of perhaps thirty-eight. She was almost entirely enveloped in a magnificent sable coat: her head was bare. The great thing about her was her exquisite voice. While her fingers were busy about the girl's hat and throat, the latter opened her eyes. Then she sat up and put her hand to her head.

"No, lean back, my dear," said our hostess. "I will spray you."

She sprayed her with eau-de-Cologne.

"That's lovely," said the girl, with closed eyes. "Thank you so much."

The other stopped for a moment to take off the jaunty little hat and lightly push the dark hair away from the white temples.

The girl thanked her with a smile. Then she started up again. "Oh, but where is-"

She saw me, and stopped, colouring.

"He is here, in the car."

She closed her eyes once more, and the colour had faded from her cheeks before she spoke again. "Where are we going?" she said.

"To the Opera House, dear. You see, I am singing there. I would take you home, but I am late now. My maid, she will make you comfortable. I have nice rooms at the theatre, quite an apartment." She turned to me.

"And you will come, too, please. There is plenty of room. Besides she is in your charge."

"Of course," said I. "Thank you very much."

As she had said, a regular little suite had been allotted to our hostess at the Opera House. As well as the dressingroom, there was a bathroom and a large sitting-room, with flowers everywhere, and beautifully furnished. Here I waited, wondering a little. The others had passed into the dressing-room.

Presently Yvonne, the French maid, entered the room.

"Mademoiselle recovers, monsieur," she said, with a smile. "Also she dines here, and monsieur with her. It is all arranged.

"If you please," said I. It seemed about the best thing to say.

Very swiftly she laid the table for two-a cold chicken, some salad, rolls, and a bottle of champagne. Thank you.

"It is not much," said Yvonne apologetically. "Now at Madame's house-"

"Yvonne!" came from the dressing-room.

"Pardon, monsieur."

Yvonne disappeared. Five minutes later a telephone bell rang. Then the dressing-room door opened, and Madame came forth robed, and the girl with her, looking as right as rain.

"That was my call," said our hostess. "I go to sing now. By the time you have finished, I shall be back, and then, later, if you would like to sit in a box for a little while, it will be quiet for you both. Come, Yvonne."

She swept out of the room. Yvonne closed the door behind her.

"I like her," said I.

"She's a dear," said my companion.

"I like you, too," said I.

She swept me a curtsey.

"It was silly of me to faint."

"You did it so sweetly."

"This'll teach you not to take other people's taxis."

"On the contrary-

"Would you like to give me some chicken?"

"I should like-"

"Yes?"

She looked at me straight in the eyes.

I walked to the table and took up the knife and fork.

"Yes?"

I looked at her, smiling gloriously now.

"Oh, I'd like Berry to see us now."

She came across and laid a hand on my shoulder.

"I like you, too," she said.

We had a great meal. She didn't want to drink any champagne, but I persuaded her to take a little.

"And who's Berry?" she said, pushing back her chair.

"A mistake," said I. "A great mistake. That's what he is."

She laughed.

"Who made him?"

"My sister. She married him, you see."

"Of course, I shall get confused in a moment."

"Well, things have got a move on in the last hour and a quarter, haven't they? I mean to say, at five o'clock you found a stranger in your taxi. Five minutes later you were smashed up. Now you're in a prima donna's room at the Opera House, eating a cold collation. Collation is good, isn't it?"

"Awfully? Where did you hear it?"

I frowned. "I came out top in dictation last term."

"Indeed? Genius and madness do go together, don't they? You are mad, aren't you?"

"Raving, my dea

r. I've been certified for two years come Ember. Out on licence under the new Cock and Bull Bill. You know, 'And your petitioners will ever Pray-'"

"I suppose you do have lucid intervals?"

"Only on third Tuesdays."

"Such as to-day."

"By Jove, so it is. I thought one was about due. Now I come to think of it, I nearly had one just now."

"When?"

"When you asked me what I should like."

In silence she traced a pattern upon the white cloth with a small pink finger. I watched it, and wondered whether her eyes were smiling. I couldn't see them, but her mouth looked as if it wanted to. Then:

"I think you'd better tell me when the interval's coming," she said quietly. "One usually goes out-"

"You're thinking of Plays," said I. "Between Acts II and III ten minutes and the safety curtain. But with Life and fools it's different. You don't go out in these intervals."

"No?"

"No," I said. "On the contrary, it's where you come in."

She looked up, smiling, at that. I addressed her eyes. "You see, in Life it's just the intervals that count-those rare hours when, though the band's not playing, there's music in the air; though the world's standing still, and no one's looking on, there's most afoot; though the-"

Here the door opened, and Madame came in, Yvonne at her heels.

"It is the interval," she explained. "Thank you."

Oh, but she was in fine fettle, was Madame.

"My voice is good to-night. It is you two that have helped me. You are so young and goodly. And I have a box, the Royal box-they are not using it, you see-if you would like to hear the rest of the opera. Yes? But you must come back and say 'Good night' to me afterwards."

Our murmured thanks she would have none of. Supper and a box was little enough. Had she not nearly killed us both an hour ago?

"But now I shall sing to you, and you will forgive me. I am in voice to-night. Is it not so, Yvonne?"

"But, Madame!"

The ecstasy of Yvonne was almost pathetic.

The ceremony with which we were installed in the Royal box was worthy of the Regent himself. But then Madame was a very great lady. The lights in the house did not go down for a minute, and I peered over the rim of the balcony to see if I could locate Berry and Co. Suddenly I saw Jill, and Berry next to her. He was staring straight at the Royal box, and his face was a study. He must have seen me come in. Then the lights died, and the curtain went up.

The singing of Madame I cannot describe. It was not of this world. And we knew her. We were her friends. She was our hostess. To the house she was the great artiste-a name to whisper, a figurehead to bow before. For us, we were listening to the song of a friend. As she had promised, she sang to us. There was no mistaking it. And the great charm of her welled out in that wonderful voice. All the spirit of melody danced in her notes. When she was singing, there seemed to be none but us in the theatre, and soon no theatre-only us in the world. We two only stepped by her side, walked with her, understood.

Actually the girl and I sat spellbound, smiling down as she

smiled up from the stage. We knew afterwards that we had been sitting hand-in-hand, as children do.

At the end of it all the house rose at her. Never was there such a scene. We rose, too, and stood smiling. Somehow we did not applaud. She just smiled back.

"Shall we go?" said I.

"Yes."

As I turned to the door, I caught sight of four faces looking earnestly up from the stalls. I bowed gravely. An attendant was waiting in the corridor, and we were escorted through the iron door the way we had come.

Madame sat in a deep arm-chair in the sitting-room, her hair all about her shoulders. She looked tired. Virtue had gone out of her.

"Ah, my dears," she said. My companion kneeled by her side and put her arms round her neck. Then she spoke and kissed her. I do not know what she said. The other held her very close for a moment, then looked at me and smiled. I raised her hand to my lips.

"I cannot say anything, Madame."

"It is all said. We have spoken together for the last half-hour. Is it not so?"

"It is so, Madame."

After a little, my companion said we must be going.

"He will see me to my hotel," she said.

"I do not like letting you go," said our hostess, "but I take long to dress. My car shall carry you home and return for me. Yvonne, see to that. Yes, there will be plenty of time. Besides, you have driven enough in taxis for to-day. What have you lost, my dear?"

The girl was looking about her.

"I think I must have left it in the box-my chain bag. How silly!"

"My dear, I leave everything everywhere"

"I will get it," said I. Yvonne had gone for the car. Besides, I wanted to go.

"Oh, thank you. It's quite a small gold-"

"I know it," said I, smiling.

"Can you find your way?" said Madame. "The house will be almost in darkness."

"Oh, yes, Madame."

A moment later I was in the corridor beyond the iron door. It was quite dark, but twenty paces away a faint suggestion of light showed where the door of the Royal box stood open. When I reached it, I saw that a solitary lamp was burning on the far side of the stalls. After glancing at it, the darkness of the box seemed more impenetrable. I felt for the little gold bag-on the balcony, on the chair, on the floor. It was nowhere. I stood up and peered into the great, dim auditorium, wondering whether I dared strike a match. Fearing that there might be a fireman somewhere in the darkness, I abandoned the idea. The sudden flash might be seen, and then people would come running, and there would have to be explanations. I went down on my hands and knees, and felt round her chair and then mine, and then all over the box. Just as I got up, my right hand encountered something hard and shiny. Clearly it wasn't what I was looking for, but out of curiosity I stooped to feel it again. I groped in vain for a moment; then I put my hand full on the buckle of a patent-leather shoe. As my fingers closed about a warm ankle:

"Pardon, monsieur!" came a quick whisper.

I let go. "Is that you, Yvonne?"

"Si, monsieur."

"I never heard you come in."

"I have come this moment, and did not see monsieur in the dark. Madame has sent me. Monsieur cannot find that little bag?"

"No. Do you think I might strike a match?"

"Ah, no, monsieur, not in the Opera House, They are so particular."

"I see-at least, I don't, and that's the trouble. However-"

I felt over the balcony again. No good.

"Where did mademoiselle sit, monsieur?"

"Where are you?"

I groped in the direction of the whisper and found an arm.

"In that chair there," I said, guiding her to it.

"Here, monsieur?"

"Yes, that's right."

I heard her hands groping about the chair and turned to try the floor on the other side again.

"I have it, monsieur."

"Well," said I, "I could have sworn I'd felt everywhere round that chair."

She chinked the bag by way of answer.

"Anyway, we've got it," said I. "Come on." And I made for the door. Then I stopped to take one more look at the great house. As I did so, a woman appeared on the far side of the stalls. She paused for a second to glance at herself in a mirror immediately under the solitary electric light. I recognized Yvonne. Then she passed on. Neither of us spoke for a moment. Then:

"Why did you say you were Yvonne?" said I.

"Yvonne is my name, too."

"Were you afraid I might have a lucid interval?"

"Perhaps."

"Your fears are realized. I have-I'm having one now."

"How awful!"

"Isn't it? And now we've found your bag, would you mind if I looked for something else?"

"Something of yours or mine?"

"Something of yours?"

"Can I help you?" she said slowly.

"Materially."

With a little half laugh, half sob, a warm arm slid round my neck.

"Here they are!" she whispered.

Madame would not let us go till Yvonne had returned from the manager's office with the offer of a box for Thursday.

"So it is not 'Good-bye' and you will come and see me again. I sing then for the last time in Munich. I fear you cannot have your own box, though. The Regent is coming that night. It is too bad."

We laughed and bade her farewell.

As the car slowed down at my companion's hotel, the footman slid off the front seat and opened the door. I got up and out of the car. As I turned, I saw the girl pick up her gloves and leave the precious bag on the seat.

"My dear, your bag-"

But, as she got out, the bag left the seat with her. By the lights in the car I saw that it was attached to a chain about her neck; and the chain lay beneath her dress. I handed her out thoughtfully.

"Till Thursday, then," she said.

"Till to-morrow morning," said I.

She laughed.

"I think there ought to be an interval."

"Isn't that just what I'm saying? What about a luncheon interval to-morrow?"

"Well, it mustn't be a lucid one"

"All right. I'll bring Jonah and Daphne."

"Mayn't I see the mistake?"

"If I can find him."

"Good-bye"

"Good-bye. I say-"

She turned, one small foot on the steps.

"I love your feet," I said.

"Anything else?"

"Yes. Do you always unfasten that chain and take off the bag when you go to the theatre?"

She looked down at the little foot in its shining shoe. Then:

"Only on third Tuesdays," she said.

When I reached my hotel, I passed quickly upstairs to the sitting-room.

"Here he is," said Daphne "Come along, darling, and have some supper, and tell us all about it."

"Supper!" said Berry. "Woman, you forget yourself. You are no longer on the joy-wheel. My lord has dined."

"As a matter of fact, I have," said I. "Madame gave me some dinner at the Opera House."

"Of course," said Berry.

"What did I say? We grovelling worms can gnaw our sandwiches the while he cracks bottles of-champagne, was it?"

I nodded.

Berry rose to his feet, and in a voice broken with emotion, called such shades of his ancestors "as are on night duty" to witness. "Hencefifth," he said, "I intend to lead a wicked life."

"Blackpool&msash;Conservative; no change," said Jonah.

Berry ignored the interruption. "Virtue may have its own cakes and ale. I dare say it has. What of it? I never see any of them. Vice is more generous. Its patrons actually wallow in champagne. For me, the most beastly sandwiches I ever ate, and an expensive stall. For him, dinner with the prima donna and the Royal box. By the way, who did the girl mistake you for? One of the attendants or the business manager?"

"Who was she?" said Jill.

"I don't know."

"Rot!" said Jonah.

"It's the truth."

"She looked rather a dear," said Daphne.

"She is. You'll meet her to-morrow. And Berry-she wants to meet Berry. She said so."

"There you are," said my brother-in-law. "Is my tie straight?"

I lighted a cigarette to conceal a smile.

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