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   Chapter 6 (I) No.6

None Other Gods By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 20282

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


About the time that Frank was coming into the village where the priest lived, Jenny had just finished lunch with her father. She took a book, two cigarettes, a small silver matchbox and a Japanese fan, and went out into the garden. She had no duties this afternoon; she had played the organ admirably at the morning service, and would play it equally admirably at the evening service. The afternoon devotions in the little hot Sunday school-she had decided, in company with her father a year or two ago-and the management of the children, were far better left in the professional hands of the schoolmistress.

She went straight out of the drawing-room windows, set wide and shaded by awnings, and across the lawn to the seat below the ancient yews. There she disposed herself, with her feet up, lit a cigarette, buried the match and began to read.

* * *

She had not heard from Frank for nearly three weeks; his last communication had been a picture postcard of Selby Abbey, with the initial "F" neatly printed at the back. But she was not very greatly upset. She had written her letter as she had promised, and had heard from Jack Kirkby, to whose care she sent it, that he had no idea of Frank's whereabouts, and that he would send on the letter as soon as he knew more. She supposed that Frank would communicate with her again as soon as he thought proper.

Other circumstances to be noted were that Dick had gone back to town some while ago, but would return almost immediately now for the grouse-shooting; that Archie and Lord Talgarth were both up at the house-indeed, she had caught sight of them in the red-curtained chancel-pew this morning, and had exchanged five words with them both after the service-and that in all other respects other things were as they had been a month ago.

The Dean of Trinity had telegraphed in great dismay on the morning following his first communication that Frank had gone, and that no one had the slightest idea of his destination; he had asked whether he should put detectives on the track, and had been bidden, in return, politely but quite firmly, to mind his own business and leave Lord Talgarth's younger son to Lord Talgarth.

It was a sleepy afternoon, even up here among the hills, and Jenny had not read many pages before she became aware of it. The Rectory garden was an almost perfect place for a small doze; the yews about her made a grateful shade, and the limes behind them even further cooled the air, and, when the breeze awoke, as one talking in his sleep, the sound about her was as of gentle rain. The air was bright and dusty with insects; from the limes overhead, the geranium beds, and the orchard fifty yards away, came the steady murmur of bees and flies.

Jenny woke up twenty minutes later with a sudden start, and saw someone standing almost over her. She threw her feet down, still bewildered by the sudden change and the glare on which she opened her eyes, and perceived that it was Jack Kirkby, looking very dusty and hot.

"I am so sorry," said Jack apologetically, "but I was told you were out here."

She did not know Jack very well, though she had known him a long time. She looked upon him as a pleasant sort of boy whom she occasionally met at lawn-tennis parties and flower shows, and things like that, and she knew perfectly how to talk to young men.

"How nice of you to came over," she said. "Did you bicycle? Have something to drink?"

She made room for him on the seat and held out her second cigarette.

"It's your last," said Jack.

"I've lots more in the house."

She watched him as he lit it, and as the last shreds of sleep rolled away, put the obvious question.

"You've news of Frank?"

Jack threw away the match and drew two or three draughts of smoke before answering.

"Yes," he said.

"Where is he?"

"He gave an address at York, though he wasn't there when he wrote. I sent your letter on there yesterday."

"Oh I did he give any account of himself?"

Jack looked at her.

"Well, he did. I've come about that. It's not very pleasant."

"Is he ill?" asked Jenny sharply.

"Oh, no; not at all; at least, he didn't say so."

"What's the matter, then?"

Jack fumbled in his breast-pocket and drew out a letter, which he held a moment before unfolding.

"I think you'd better read what he says, Miss Launton. It isn't pleasant, but it's all over now. I thought I'd better tell you that first."

She held out her hand without speaking.

Jack gave it her, and addressed himself carefully to his cigarette. He didn't like this kind of thing at all, he wished Frank wouldn't give him unpleasant commissions. But, of course, it had to be done. He looked out at the lawn and the sleepy house, but was aware of nothing except the girl beside him in her white dress and the letter in her hands. When she had finished it, she turned back and read it again. Then she remained perfectly still, with the letter held on her knee.

"Poor, dear old boy!" she said suddenly and quietly.

An enormous wave of relief rolled up and enveloped Jack. He had been exceedingly uncomfortable this morning, ever since the letter had come. His first impulse had been to ride over instantly after breakfast; then he had postponed it till lunch; then he had eaten some cold beef about half-past twelve and come straight away. He told himself he must give her plenty of time to write by the late Sunday night post.

He had not exactly distrusted Jenny; Frank's confidence was too overwhelming and too infectious. But he had reflected that it was not a wholly pleasant errand to have to inform a girl that her lover had been in prison for a fortnight. But the tone in which she had just said those four words was so serene and so compassionate that he was completely reassured. This really was a fine creature, he said to himself.

"I'm extraordinarily glad you take it like that," he said.

Jenny looked at him out of her clear, direct eyes.

"You didn't suppose I should abuse him, did you?... How exactly like Frank! I suppose he did it to save some blackguard or other."

"I expect that was it," said Jack.

"Poor, dear old boy!" she said again.

There was a moment's silence. Then Jack began again:

"You see, I've got to go and tell Lord Talgarth. Miss Launton, I wish you'd come with me. Then we can both write by to-night's post."

Jenny said nothing for an instant. Then:

"I suppose that would be best," she said. "Shall we go up pretty soon? I expect we shall find him in the garden."

Jack winced a little. Jenny smiled at him openly.

"Best to get it over, Mr. Jack. I know it's like going to the dentist. But it can't be as bad as you think. It never is. Besides, you'll have somebody to hold your hand, so to speak."

"I hope I shan't scream out loud," observed Jack. "Yes, we'd better go-if you don't mind."

He stood up and waited. Jenny rose at once.

"I'll go and get a hat. Wait for me here, will you? I needn't tell father till this evening."

(II)

The park looked delicious as they walked slowly up the grass under the shade of the trees by the side of the drive. The great beeches and elms rose in towering masses, in clump after clump, into the distance, and beneath the nearest stood a great stag with half a dozen hinds about him, eyeing the walkers. The air was very still; only from over the hill came the sound of a single church bell, where some infatuated clergyman hoped to gather the lambs of his flock together for instruction in the Christian religion.

"That's a beauty," said Jack, waving a languid hand towards the stag. "Did you ever hear of the row Frank and I got into when we were boys?"

Jenny smiled. She had been quite silent since leaving the Rectory.

"I heard of a good many," she said. "Which was this?"

Jack recounted a story of Red Indians and ambuscades and a bow and arrows, ending in the flight of a frantic stag over the palings and among the garden beds; it was on a Sunday afternoon, too.

"Frank was caned by the butler, I remember; by Lord Talgarth's express orders. Certainly he richly deserved it. I was a guest, and got off clear."

"How old were you?"

"We were both about eleven, I think."

"Frank doesn't strike me as more than about twelve now," observed Jenny.

"There's something in that," admitted Jack.... "Oh! Lord! how hot it is!" He fanned himself with his hat.

* * *

There was no sign of life as they passed into the court and up to the pillared portico; and at last, when the butler appeared, the irregular state of his coat-collar showed plainly that he but that moment had put his coat on.

(This would be about the time that Frank left the village after his interview with the priest.)

Yes; it seemed that Lord Talgarth was probably in the garden; and, if so, almost certainly in the little square among the yews along the upper terrace. His lordship usually went there on hot days. Would Miss Launton and Mr. Kirkby kindly step this way?

No; he was not to trouble. They would find their own way. On the upper terrace?

"On the upper terrace, miss."

* * *

The upper terrace was the one part of the old Elizabethan garden left entirely unaltered. On either side rose up a giant wall of yew, shaped like a castle bastion, at least ten feet thick; and between the two ran a broad gravel path up to the sun-dial, bordered on either side by huge herbaceous beds, blazing with the color of late summer. In two or three places grass paths crossed these, leading by a few yards of turf to windows cut in the hedge to give a view of the long, dazzling lake below, and there was one gravel path, parallel to these, that led to the little yew-framed square built out on the slope of the hill.

Two very silent persons now came out from the house by the garden door on the south side, turned along the path, went up a dozen broad steps, passed up the yew walk and finally turned again down the short gravel way and stood abashed.

His lordship was indeed here!

A long wicker chair was set in one angle, facing them, in such a position that the movement of the sun would

not affect the delightful shade in which the chair stood. A small table stood beside it, with the Times newspaper tumbled on to it, a box of cigars, a spirit-bottle of iridescent glass, a syphon, and a tall tumbler in which a little ice lay crumbled at the bottom. And in the wicker chair, with his mouth wide open, slept Lord Talgarth.

"Good gracious!" whispered Jenny.

There was a silence, and then like far-off thunder a slow meditative snore. It was not an object of beauty or dignity that they looked upon.

"In one second I shall laugh," asserted Jenny, still in a cautious whisper.

"I think we'd better-" began Jack; and stopped petrified, to see one vindictive-looking eye opened and regarding him, it seemed, with an expression of extraordinary malignity. Then the other eye opened, the mouth abruptly closed and Lord Talgarth sat up.

"God bless my soul!"

He rolled his eyes about a moment while intelligence came back.

"You needn't be ashamed of it," said Jenny. "Mr. Jack Kirkby caught me at it, too, half an hour ago."

His lordship's senses had not even now quite returned. He still stared at them innocently like a child, cleared his throat once or twice, and finally stood up.

"Jack Kirkby, so it is! How do, Jack? And Jenny?

"That's who we are," said Jenny. "Are you sure you're quite recovered?"

"Recovered! Eh-!" (He emitted a short laugh.) "Sit down. There's chairs somewhere."

Jack hooked out a couple that were leaning folded against the low wall of yew beneath the window and set them down.

"Have a cigar, Jack?"

"No, thanks."

They were on good terms-these two. Jack shot really well, and was smart and deferential. Lord Talgarth asked no more than this from a young man.

"Well-what's the matter?"

Jack left it thoughtfully for Jenny to open the campaign. She did so very adroitly.

"Mr. Jack came over to see me," she said, "and I thought I couldn't entertain him better than by bringing him up to see you. You haven't such a thing as a cigarette, Lord Talgarth?"

He felt about in his pockets, drew out a case and pushed it across the table.

"Thanks," said Jenny; and then, without the faintest change of tone: "We've some news of Frank at last."

"Frank, eh? Have you? And what's the young cub at, now?"

"He's in trouble, as usual, poor boy!" remarked Jenny, genially. "He's very well, thank you, and sends you his love."

Lord Talgarth cast her a pregnant glance.

"Well, if he didn't, I'm sure he meant to," went on Jenny; "but I expect he forgot. You see, he's been in prison."

The old man jerked such a face at her, that even her nerve failed for an instant. Jack saw her put her cigarette up to her mouth with a hand that shook ever so slightly. And yet before the other could say one word she recovered herself.

"Please let me say it right out to the end first," she said. "No; please don't interrupt! Mr. Jack, give me the letter ... oh! I've got it." (She drew it out and began to unfold it, talking all the while with astonishing smoothness and self-command.) "And I'll read you all the important part. It's written to Mr. Kirkby. He got it this morning and very kindly brought it straight over here at once."

Jack was watching like a terrier. On the one side he saw emotions so furious and so conflicting that they could find no expression, and on the other a restraint and a personality so complete and so compelling that they simply held the field and permitted no outburst. Her voice was cool and high and natural. Then he noticed her flick a glance at himself, sideways, and yet perfectly intelligible. He stood up.

"Yes, do just take a stroll, Mr. Kirkby.... Come back in ten minutes."

And as he passed out again through the thick archway on to the terrace he heard, in an incredibly matter-of-fact voice, the letter begin.

"Dear Jack...."

Then he began to wonder what, as a matter of interest, Lord Talgarth's first utterance would be. But he felt he could trust Jenny to manage him. She was an astonishingly sane and sensible girl.

(III)

He was at the further end of the terrace, close beneath the stable wall, when the stable clock struck the quarter for the second time. That would make, he calculated, about seventeen minutes, and he turned reluctantly to keep his appointment. But he was still thirty yards away from the opening when a white figure in a huge white hat came quickly out. She beckoned to him with her head, and he followed her down the steps. She gave him one glance as if to reassure him as he caught her up, but said not a word, good or bad, till they had passed through the house again, and were well on their way down the drive.

"Well?" said Jack.

Jenny hesitated a moment.

"I suppose anyone else would have called him violent," she said. "Poor old dear! But it seems to me he behaved rather well on the whole-considering all things."

"What's he going to do?"

"If one took anything he said as containing any truth at all, it would mean that he was going to flog Frank with his own hands, kick him first up the steps of the house then down again, and finally drown him in the lake with a stone round his neck. I think that was the sort of programme."

"But-"

"Oh! we needn't be frightened," said Jenny. "But if you ask me what he will do, I haven't the faintest idea."

"Did you suggest anything?"

"He knows what my views are," said jenny.

"And those?"

"Well-make him a decent allowance and let him alone."

"He won't do that!" said Jack. "That's far too sensible."

"You think so?"

"That would solve the whole problem, of course," went on Jack, "marriage and everything. I suppose it would have to be about eight hundred a year. And Talgarth must have at least thirty thousand."

"Oh! he's more than that," said Jenny. "He gives Mr. Dick twelve hundred."

There was a pause. Jack did not know what to think. He was only quite certain that the thing would have been far worse if he had attempted to manage it himself.

"Well, what shall I say to Frank?" he asked. Jenny paused again.

"It seems to me the best thing for you to do is not to write. I'll write myself this evening, if you'll give me his address, and explain-"

"I can't do that," said Jack. "I'm awfully sorry, but-"

"You can't give me his address?"

"No, I'm afraid I mustn't. You see, Frank's very particular in his letter...."

"Then how can I write to him? Mr. Kirkby, you're really rather-"

"By George! I've got it!" cried Jack. "If you don't mind my waiting at the Rectory. Why shouldn't you write to him now, and let me take the letter away and post it? It'll go all the quicker, too, from Barham."

He glanced at her, wondering whether she were displeased. Her answer reassured him.

"That'll do perfectly," she said, "if you're sure you don't mind waiting."

The Rectory garden seemed more than ever a harbor from storm as they turned into it. The sun was a little lower now, and the whole lawn lay in shadow. As they came to the door she stopped.

"I think I'd better go and get it over," she said. "I can tell father all about it after you've gone. Will you go now and wait there?" She nodded towards the seat where they had sat together earlier.

* * *

But it was nearly an hour before she came out again, and a neat maid, in apron and cap, had come discreetly out with the tea-things, set them down and retired.

Jack had been thinking of a hundred things, which all centered round one-Frank. He had had a real shock this morning. It had been intolerable to think of Frank in prison, for even Jack could guess something of what that meant to him; and the tone of the letter had been so utterly unlike what he had been accustomed to from his friend. He would have expected a bubbling torrent of remarks-wise and foolish-full of personal descriptions and unkind little sketches. And, indeed, there had come this sober narration of facts and requests....

But in all this there was one deep relief-that it should be a girl like Jenny who was the heart of the situation. If she had been in the least little bit disturbed, who could tell what it would mean to Frank? For Frank, as he knew perfectly well, had a very deep heart indeed, and had enshrined Jenny in the middle of it. Any wavering or hesitation on her part would have meant misery to his friend. But now all was perfectly right, he reflected; and really, after all, it did not matter very much what Lord Talgarth said or did. Frank was a free agent; he was very capable and very lovable; it couldn't possibly be long before something turned up, and then, with Jenny's own money the two could manage very well. And Lord Talgarth could not live for ever; and Archie would do the right thing, even if his father didn't.

* * *

It was after half-past four before he looked up at a glint of white and saw Jenny standing at the drawing-room window. She stood there an instant with a letter in her hand; then she stepped over the low sill and came towards him across the grass, serene and dignified and graceful. Her head was bare again, and the great coils of her hair flashed suddenly as they caught a long horizontal ray from the west.

"Here it is," she said. "Will you direct it? I've told him everything."

Jack nodded.

"That's excellent!" he said. "It shall go to-night."

He glanced up at her and saw her looking at him with just the faintest wistfulness. He understood perfectly, he said to himself: she was still a little unhappy at not being allowed to send the letter herself. What a good girl she was!

"Have some tea before you go?" she said.

"Thanks. I'd better not. They'll be wondering what's happened to me."

As he shook hands he tried to put something of his sympathy into his look. He knew exactly how she was feeling, and he thought her splendidly brave. But she hardly met his eyes, and again he felt he knew why.

As he opened the garden gate beyond the house he turned once more to wave. But she was busy with the tea-things, and a black figure was advancing briskly upon her from the direction of the study end of the house.

* * *

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