MoboReader> Horror > The Brother of Daphne

   Chapter 14 A PRIVATE VIEW

The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 25483

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


When I had adjusted the cushions, I sank into the chair and sighed.

"What's that for?" said Daphne

"Sin," said I.

"Whose?"

"That of him who packed for me at the Blahs this morning. A sin of omission rather than commission, though he did put my sponge-bag into my collarcase," I added musingly. "They're both round, you see. Still, I pass that by."

"But what do you really complain of?" said Jill. "He's left my dressing-gown out."

"I expect he thought it was a loose cover," said Jonah. "It'll be sent on all right," said Daphne "That's nothing. What about my fan? You're not a bit sorry for me about that."

"I have already been sorry about it. I was sorry for you on Friday just by the sideboard. I remember it perfectly. All the same, if you will waste Berry's substance at places of entertainment in the West End, and then fling a priceless heirloom down in the hall of the theatre, you mustn't be surprised if some flat-footed seeker after pleasure treads on it."

"He was a very nice man, and his feet weren't a bit flat."

"I believe you did it on purpose to get into conversation with him. Where's Berry?"

At that moment the gentleman in question walked across the lawn towards us.

"Thank Heaven!" he said when he saw me. "I'm so glad you're back. I've run out of your cigarettes."

I handed him my case in silence.

"It's curious," he said, "how used one can get to inferior tobacco."

Tea appeared in serial form. After depositing the three-storied cake dish holder-or whatever the thing is called-with a to-be-completed air, the footman disappeared, to return a moment later with the teapot and hot water. As he turned to go:

"Bring me the tray that's on the billiard-table," said Berry. "Carry it carefully."

"Yes, sir.

"Without moving, we all observed one another, the eyes looking sideways. You see, the tray bore a jig-saw. When I had left on the previous Saturday for a week-end visit, we had done the top right-hand corner and half what looked as if it must be the left side. Most of this we had done on Friday evening; but artificial light is inclined to militate against the labourer, and at eleven o'clock Berry had sworn twice, shown us which pieces were missing, and related the true history of poor Agatha Glynde, who spent more than a fortnight over 'David Copperfield' before she found out that the pieces had been mixed up with those of Constable's 'Hay Wain.' This upset us so much that Jonah said he should try and get a question asked in the House about it, and we decided to send the thing back the next day and demand the return of the money."

On the way up to bed, Daphne had asked me if I thought we could get "damages, or compensation, or something," and I had replied that, if we could prove malice, they had undoubtedly brought themselves within the pale of the criminal law.

The next morning Jill had done nearly two more square inches before breakfast, and I missed the midday train to town.

"Hullo, you have got on!" I said, as the man set the tray and its precious burden gingerly on the grass in our midst.

"Aha, my friend," said Berry, "I thought you'd sit up! Yes, sir, the tract already developed represents no less an area than thirty-six square inches-coldly calculated by me this afternoon during that fair hour which succeeds the sleep of repletion and the just-but the vast possibilities which lie hidden beneath the surface of the undeveloped expanse of picture are almost frightening. A land rich in minerals, teeming with virgin soil-a very Canaan of to-day. Does it not call you, brother?"

"It does," said I. "I wish it didn't, because it's wicked waste of time, but it does."

I kneeled down that I might the better appreciate their industry. The jig-saw was called 'A Young Diana' and was alleged to be a reproduction of the picture of that name which had appeared in the Academy the year before. I hardly remembered it. I gazed admiringly at the two clouds drifting alone at the top right-hand corner, the solitary hoof planted upon a slice of green sward, the ragged suggestion of forest land in the distance, and a ladder of enormous length, which appeared to possess something of that spirit of independence which distinguished Mahomet's coffin. In other words, it was self-supporting. After a careful scrutiny, I rose to my feet, took a pace or two backwards, and put my head on one side. Then:

"I like it," I said. "I like it. Some people might say it looked a little crude or unfinished; but, to my mind, that but preserves, as it were, the spirit of barbarism which the title suggests."

"Suggestion as opposed to realization," said Berry, "is the rule by which we work. To the jaded appet-imagination the hoof suggests a horse. It is up to you to imagine the horse. We have, as it were, with an effort set in motion the long unused machinery of your brain. It is for you, brother, to carry on the good work. Please pass out quietly. There will be collection plates at both doors."

"You're not to touch it yet," said Daphne. "I want to talk about abroad first. If we're really going, we must settle things."

"Of course we're going," said Berry. "I ordered a yachting cap yesterday."

"What's that for?" said Jill.

"Well, we're not going to fly across the Channel, are we? Besides that, supposing we go to Lucerne part of the time?"

"What about taking the car?" said Daphne.

"It's expensive," said Berry moodily, "but I don't see how else we can satisfactorily sustain the flow of bloated plutocracy which at present oozes from us."

We all agreed that the car must come. Then arose the burning question of where to go. In a rash moment Jill murmured something about Montenegro.

"Montenegro?" said Berry, with a carelessness that should have put her on her guard.

"Yes," said Jill. "I heard someone talking about it when I was dining with the Bedells. It sounded priceless. I had a sort of idea it was quite small, and had a prince, but it's really quite big, and it's got a king over it, and they all wear the old picturesque dress, and the scenery's gorgeous. And, if it was wet, we could go to the-the-"

"Kursaal," said Berry. "No, not Kursaal. It's like that, though."

"Casino?"

"That's it-Casino. And then we could go on to Nice and Cannes, and-"

"You're going too fast, aren't you? Servia comes before Cannes, doesn't it?"

"Well, Servia, too."

"All right," said Berry. "I was going to suggest that we joined the Danube at Limoges, went up as far as Milan, where the falls are, and then struck off to Toledo, taking Warsaw on the way, but-"

"That'd be rather a long way round, wouldn't it?" said Jill, all seriousness in her grey eyes.

"Ah, I mean the Spanish Toledo, not the one in the States."

"Oh, I see-"

She checked herself suddenly and looked round. "He's laughing at me," she said. "What have I said wrong?"

"If anyone asked me where we should be without our Jill," said Berry, "I couldn't tell them."

When we began to discuss the tour in good earnest, the argument proper began. I had suggested that we should make for Frankfort, to start with, and Daphne and Jonah rather favoured Germany. Berry, however, wanted to go to Austria. It was after a casual enough remark of Jonah's that the roads in Germany were very good that Berry really got going.

"The roads good?" he said. "That settles it-say no more. The survey, which is, after all, the object of our holiday (sic), will be able to be made with success. If we start at once, we shall be able to get the book published by Christmas: 'Road Surfaces in Germany,' by a Hog."

"The old German towns are fascinating," said Daphne.

"Nothing like them," said Berry. "I can smell some of them now. Can you not hear the cheerful din of the iron tires upon the cobbled streets? Can you not see the grateful smile spreading over the beer-sodden features of the cathedral verger, as he pockets the money we pay for the privilege of following an objectionable rabble round an edifice, which we shall remember more for the biting chill of its atmosphere than anything else? And then the musty quiet of the museums, and the miles we shall cover in the picture galleries, halting now and then to do a brief gloat in front of one of Van Stunk's masterpieces..."

"My heart leaps up when I behold a Van Stunk on the wall. Wordsworth knew his Englishman, didn't he?"

"Oh, well, if you're so dead against it-"

"Against it, dear. How can I be against it? Why, we may even be arrested as spies! There"-he looked round triumphantly-"who shall say that the age of romance is dead? Let us go forth and languish in a German gaol. Think of the notices we shall get in the papers! We'll give our photographs to The Daily Glass before we start. I expect we shall see one another in the chapel on Sundays, and I shall write to you in blood every day, darling, on a piece of my mattress. The letters will always be in the top left-hand corner of the steak pudding. Don't say I didn't tell you where to look."

"We shall be able to talk," said I-"by rapping on the wall, I mean."

"Certainly. Once for the letter A, twice for the chambermaid, three times for the boots. In the meantime, Jonah and you will each have removed a large stone from the floor of your cells by means of a nail which he found in his soup. Say you work sixteen hours out of the twenty-four you ought to have burrowed outside the gates in about five years."

Jill shuddered. "Austria would be rather nice, just now, wouldn't it?" she ventured.

"We could go high up if it got hot, of course," said Daphne slowly, "and the air's nice-"

"I'll find out what we do about shipping the car on Friday," said Berry.

I must have been tired, for I never heard the tea-things taken away. When I opened my eyes, Berry and Co. had gone. I looked at the jig-saw and began to wonder what had waked me.

"First of all," said a quiet voice, "I take five and three-quarters. Do you think you can remember that?"

"I'll try. Long ones, of course."

"Yes, please. Not the ordinary white kid: I like the fawn suede ones."

"With pleasure."

"And now, please, can I be shown over the house?"

I turned and regarded her. Sitting easily in a chair to my right, and a little behind me, she was holding out to me a slip of paper. I took it mechanically but I did not look at it.

"Don't move for a minute or two," I said. "You look absolutely splendid like that."

She smiled. I rather think her frock was of linen-at any rate, it was blue. Her large straw hat was blue, too, and so were her smart French gloves and her dainty shoes; her ankles were very pretty, but her complexion was the thing: She had one of the clearest skins I have ever seen, and the delicate bloom of her cheeks was a wonder in itself. I could not well see her eyes, for she was sitting with her head thrown back-her gloved right hand behind it holding down the brim of her hat-and as she was looking at me and not up into the sky, they were almost hidden by their lids. Her left arm lay carelessly along the arm of the chair, and, her sleeve being loose and open, I could see half a dozen inches of warm pink arm. I just looked at her.

"Done?" she said.

"Not quite." I have said before, and I say again, that girls of this type ought not to be allowed to raise their eyebrows and smile faintly at the same moment. It amounts to a technical assault. I fancy she saw me set my teeth, for the next moment she put up her left hand and bent the broad blue rim over her face.

"Early closing day," she said. I contemplated her ankles in silence. After a minute:

"Well?" said my companion from behind the brim.

"I hate it when the blinds are down," said I, "but-"

"But what?"

"Happily, they are only short blinds. In other words, just as the ostrich, when pursued, is said to thrust its head into the sand, believing-"

"And now please can I be shown over the house?"

I glanced at the order-to-view which she had handed me. It referred to The Grange, which stood in its own grounds about half a mile away. Its lodge gates were rather like ours. The same mistake had been made before.

"The agent at Bettshanger gave me that to-day, and I motored over this afternoon. The car's outside. I was walking up the drive-how pretty it all is!-when I saw you asleep here. I suppose I ought to have gone up to the house really, but it looked so nice and cool here that I came and sat down instead and waited for you to wake."

"I'm so glad you did."

"Why?"

"Well, you see, they're rather a queer lot up there at the house-might have said you couldn't see over, or something."

She opened her big eyes.

"But I've got an order.

"

"That's the worst of it. They'll take orders from no one. Once they'd caught sight of it, you would have been blindfolded and led back to the village by a circuitous route."

"Nonsense!"

"It's a fact. But I'll show you round, all right. Anything I can tell you about the place before we move?"

She regarded me suspiciously. Then:

"Is there a billiard-room?" she said.

"Certainly. And a table complete with three balls, one of latest models-slate bed, pneumatic cushions. Be careful of the top one; it bust the other day. The butler had pumped it up too tight."

"Servants' hall?"

"Every time. All the domestic offices are noble."

"Telephone?"

"Of course. In case of fire, call 'Fire Brigade.' No number required. Speak direct to fire-station. Give address of fire."

"That's useful."

"Rather! You'll have them up under the hour, if they can get the horses."

"All the same, I don't think we shall come here. You see, I didn't know it was an asylum."

"It's very cheap," said I. "I can do it at ten guineas a week-without the inspection-pit, that is."

She leaned forward and laughed. "Oh dear!" she said, "what a thing it is to be really silly sometimes!"

She got up and smoothed down her dress.

"And now, please, can I be shown over the house?"

"With pleasure," I said, getting up. "That is, unless you'd rather see The Grange first."

She stared at me for a moment, then she snatched the order out of my hand. "What's this place?" she demanded.

"White Ladies."

"Are you trying to let it?"

"Well, we haven't thought-"

"And you've let me sit here all this time making a fool of myself, when you knew perfectly well-"

"Five and three-quarters, was it?"

She stamped her foot.

"Dear pretty Girl Blue, don't be angry."

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"

"I know, but I'm so busy just now that it's done for me. My sister is ashamed of me every evening at eight-fifteen. Matinees on Wednesdays at two. Could you come one day?"

She laughed in spite of herself. Then:

"And now where is this Grange place?"

"Next but one on the right, but it looks rotten in the evening."

"It's only just five."

"Besides, they had measles there last May-stacks of them."

"Stacks of what?"

"Measles. One of them escaped one day and was brought back by the village corner-boy. He said he'd have kept it, only he hadn't got a dog licence."

"But The Grange has got a ghost, hasn't it? And I love ghosts."

"The Grey Lady? My dear, she's gone. Always used to walk the back stairs on third Fridays, and one night the servants left the lights on. She gave notice the next day. Wanted a change, I think. You see, she'd been in one place nearly two hundred years. Besides, the stairs were bad."

"It's a nice house, isn't it?"

"Pretty well. But it hasn't got a priest's hole."

"What does that matter?"

"Well, where are you going to keep the gorgonzolas?"

She leaned on the back of a chair and began to laugh helplessly. Presently:

"You wretched man!" she said. "I'm really awfully angry with you."

"I knew it."

"Be quiet. You've wasted my time here until it's too late for me to see The Grange, and what on earth I shall tell father I don't know."

"He's not outside?"

"In the car? You don't think I should still be here if he was? No, I came over alone."

"That's all right. Now you'll be able to help me with this jig-saw."

She gave rather a good gasp at that.

"Girl Blue, please. You've heaps of time, because, if you'd gone to The Grange, you wouldn't have got away yet. And it's a nice jig-saw, quite one of the family."

"Eats out of your hand, I suppose?"

"Rather. And sits up and barks for Baldwin and all the rest of it. 'A Young Diana' it's called. Appeared in last year's Academy, and-"

But she was down on her knees on the lawn, staring at the tray by now. I joined her, wondering a little.

"That's a bit of Merrylegs," she said, picking up one of the pieces, "and there's another. That's a bit of her dear nose, and there's her white stocking. Look here, we'll do her first."

I sat down on the turf and looked at her. "Either," I said slowly-"either you're a witch, and that isn't allowed, or else you've had to learn this picture some time as a punishment."

She laughed. "I sat for it," she explained. "That's all."

It was my turn to gasp.

"It's hanging in the dining-room at home now. Come along. There's a bit of my habit. Keep it with Merrylegs. I'll fit them together in a minute."

I took off my coat, kneeled down beside her, and began to receive Merrylegs piecemeal. When she had picked out all of the mare, she cleared a little space, and began fitting the bits together at a rate that was astonishing. Then she turned her attention to the background. Laid upon its side, the mysterious ladder became a distant fence, and little by little a landscape grew into being under her small fingers. Suddenly she caught my arm.

"Somebody's coming!" she whispered.

I heard footsteps crunch on a path's gravel, then all was silent again. Whoever it was, was coming towards us over the lawn. A clump of rhododendrons hid us from them, and them from us.

"Behind there!" I whispered, pointing to three tall elms at our back, which grew so close together that they formed a giant screen. She was out of sight in a second, and I had just time to throw my coat over the jig-saw and sit down upon the glove she had dropped before Berry appeared.

"Hullo!" he said.

"Hullo!" said I.

"What are you doing?"

"Doing?"

"Yes, you know-executing, performing, carrying out?"

"Go away!" I said. "You are trespassing upon a private reverie. Didn't you see the notice?"

He shook his head. "You have, as it were, burst rudely open the door of the brown study in which I am communing with Nature and one or two of my imagination's friends. Kindly apologize and withdraw, closing the door as you go."

"All right, Omar. Where's your Thou?"

"You frightened her away."

Berry grinned. "Heard the pattering of my little feet, I suppose!"

"Yes. She wouldn't believe it was only footsteps, but let that pass. If she were to hear the same noise-forgive me-retreating, she would probably return."

"Really think so?"

"That is my steadfast conviction."

"Well, you go indoors, and we'll see. If I don't follow you in five minutes, you'll know you're right."

"Friend," said I, "the indecency of your suggestion is almost grotesque. To impose upon a timid, trusting Thou is either base or dastardly-I forget which. I am glad none of the others were here to hear what I feel sure to have been but a thoughtless, idle word. I shan't say anything about it, so no one, except you and me, will ever know; and even if I cannot ever forget, I shall come to forgive it in years to come."

"Time will heal the wound, brother. Till then, where's the jig-saw?"

"An evil beast hath devoured it. It is, without doubt, rent in pieces."

"In which case I shall prefer a bill of indictment against you as accessory for mutilation next autumn assize. I warn you."

"Thanks! I shall see you at dinner, shan't I? Not that I want to, but I just shall."

Berry sighed. "From your manner, more than from what you say, anyone would think you wanted me to go, old chap. Of course, I know you, so it doesn't matter; but you ought to be more careful. No, I've not taken offence, because I know none was meant; but I'm going to go just to teach you a lesson. Yes, I am. Give my love to Thou, won't you?"

"Certainly not! She's had one shock already this afternoon."

"Oh, was to-day the first time she'd seen you?"

He strolled back to the house. When I heard his footsteps on the gravel again, I got up and peered through the rhododendrons. I watched him go indoors, and turned to see the girl once more on her knees by the jig-saw. I kneeled opposite her and watched her at work. After a moment she glanced up and met my eyes.

"You'll see the picture better from this side," she said.

"Which picture?"

"Round you come!"

I crawled to her side with a sigh. On she went at a wonderful

pace. Old elms rose up in the background, a splash of red and brown resolved itself into a sunny farm, and four pieces which Berry had recognized as water went to make up a sheltered haystack. When it was nearly finished, she leaned across me and looked at my wrist-watch.

"I'll just have time," she whispered half to herself.

"Only just?"

"Only just. Did you speak?"

"Yes, I did. I said 'Damn!' And I'll say it again."

She leaned on my shoulder and laughed for a second. Then:

"I'm sure you wouldn't find that in the Rubaiyat."

"Perhaps Thou didn't have to be back in time for dinner."

She fell to work again, but I could see she was smiling. The loose pieces left were very few now. A tuft of grass fell into place, a wisp of smoke stole out of the farmhouse chimney, a quick-set hedge sprang up in the distance, landscape and sky merged on the horizon, and the thing was done.

She sat back on her heels and regarded it for a moment. Then she slipped sideways on to the lawn, smoothed down her frock, and looked at me.

"Not bad, is it?" she said.

"It's sweet!"

"You ought to see the original."

"I have. That's why I love it. I shall have it framed and keep it in memory of this private view."

"Sentiment, with a vengeance."

"What if it is, Girl Blue?"

For answer, she began to pull on her gloves. I watched her in

silence. When they were both on, she rose, and so did I.

"I'll go as I came," she said. "Don't come with me to the gate."

I bowed. She put out her hand. I bent over it.

"Good-bye," I said.

"Good-bye, and-and thanks for-"

"For what, Girl Blue?"

"For not asking any questions."

I smiled and turned away. Then I kneeled down suddenly and kissed the face that looked up out of the picture, the face that would have meant nothing two hours before, the face that looked out into the clear breeze and over the open country, the face that-

"As this is quite a private view," said the original, speaking very slowly, "and as to-morrow you won't be able to-"

I didn't hear the rest of the sentence.

Before I had finished my second cigarette, Berry, Daphne, and Jill came round the bank of rhododendrons.

"Why, Boy," said Jill, "have you been here all the time?"

A cry from Daphne interrupted her.

The next moment they were all down on their knees poring over my late companion's handiwork. A moment later, as with one consent, they all looked up and stared at me. I looked away and smoked with careless deliberation.

"How on earth have you done it?" gasped Daphne.

"Done what?" said I. "Oh, that? Oh, it wasn't very hard!"

"You must be better at them than you were on Saturday," said Jill. "Have you been practising at the Blahs?"

I felt Berry was looking at me, and waited.

"Then it was a glove you were sitting on," he said slowly. Berry's a nut-every time.

It was the first week in October, and we were back in town. They were all out but me. Sunday afternoon it was, and I was alone in the library finishing a little work. I do work sometimes. Suddenly the telephone went. I picked up the receiver.

"Is that the garage?" said Girl Blue.

"No, dear. It's me. How are you?"

"Why, it's you!"

"I know. I said so just now. You're looking splendid. Oh, I am glad! I've waited such a long time!"

"You must thank the Exchange, not me."

"Don't rub it in!"

"Well, good-bye."

"I don't think you're very kind, Girl Blue."

"No?"

"No, I don't! I've got the gloves, by the way."

"Thank you."

"I'll send them to you, care of Charing Cross Post Office, if you like, unless you'd rather I buried them six paces due east of the fourteenth lamp-post on the west side of Edgware Road."

"I think," she said slowly, "I think I may as well take them with me."

"Certainly, madam. Sign, please! But when, dear?"

"Well, I shall be at the Albert Hall next Friday."

"Girl Blue!"

"I don't suppose you're going, but perhaps you could send them by someone who-"

"Under what symbol shall I meet her?"

"Wait a moment! You shall have the seventh waltz-"

"Only seven? Where is he? What is his name?"

"You heard what I said. And we'll meet under-oh, under-"

"Mistletoe," said I. "Good-bye!"

"Good-bye! Oh, Girl Blue, I forgot to say-"

"Number, please!" said Exchange.

"You've cut me off!" I roared.

"Sorry."

A pause. Then:

"Here you are."

"Hullo, dear!" I said.

"Is that the cab rank?" said a man's fat voice.

"No, it isn't," said I. "And you've got an ugly face and flat feet, and I hate you!"

Then I rang off.

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