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   Chapter 8 LIEUTENANT SUTCH IS TEMPTED TO LIE

The Four Feathers By A. E. W. Mason Characters: 12778

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Durrance reached London one morning in June, and on that afternoon took the first walk of the exile, into Hyde Park, where he sat beneath the trees marvelling at the grace of his countrywomen and the delicacy of their apparel, a solitary figure, sunburnt and stamped already with that indefinable expression of the eyes and face which marks the men set apart in the distant corners of the world. Amongst the people who strolled past him, one, however, smiled, and, as he rose from his chair, Mrs. Adair came to his side. She looked him over from head to foot with a quick and almost furtive glance which might have told even Durrance something of the place which he held in her thoughts. She was comparing him with the picture which she had of him now three years old. She was looking for the small marks of change which those three years might have brought about, and with eyes of apprehension. But Durrance only noticed that she was dressed in black. She understood the question in his mind and answered it.

"My husband died eighteen months ago," she explained in a quiet voice. "He was thrown from his horse during a run with the Pytchley. He was killed at once."

"I had not heard," Durrance answered awkwardly. "I am very sorry."

Mrs. Adair took a chair beside him and did not reply. She was a woman of perplexing silences; and her pale and placid face, with its cold correct outline, gave no clue to the thoughts with which she occupied them. She sat without stirring. Durrance was embarrassed. He remembered Mr. Adair as a good-humoured man, whose one chief quality was his evident affection for his wife, but with what eyes the wife had looked upon him he had never up till now considered. Mr. Adair indeed had been at the best a shadowy figure in that small household, and Durrance found it difficult even to draw upon his recollections for any full expression of regret. He gave up the attempt and asked:-

"Are Harry Feversham and his wife in town?"

Mrs. Adair was slow to reply.

"Not yet," she said, after a pause, but immediately she corrected herself, and said a little hurriedly, "I mean-the marriage never took place."

Durrance was not a man easily startled, and even when he was, his surprise was not expressed in exclamations.

"I don't think that I understand. Why did it never take place?" he asked. Mrs. Adair looked sharply at him, as though inquiring for the reason of his deliberate tones.

"I don't know why," she said. "Ethne can keep a secret if she wishes," and Durrance nodded his assent. "The marriage was broken off on the night of a dance at Lennon House."

Durrance turned at once to her.

"Just before I left England three years ago?"

"Yes. Then you knew?"

"No. Only you have explained to me something which occurred on the very night that I left Dover. What has become of Harry?"

Mrs. Adair shrugged her shoulders.

"I do not know. I have met no one who does know. I do not think that I have met any one who has even seen him since that time. He must have left England."

Durrance pondered on this mysterious disappearance. It was Harry Feversham, then, whom he had seen upon the pier as the Channel boat cast off. The man with the troubled and despairing face was, after all, his friend.

"And Miss Eustace?" he asked after a pause, with a queer timidity. "She has married since?"

Again Mrs. Adair took her time to reply.

"No," said she.

"Then she is still at Ramelton?"

Mrs. Adair shook her head.

"There was a fire at Lennon House a year ago. Did you ever hear of a constable called Bastable?"

"Indeed, I did. He was the means of introducing me to Miss Eustace and her father. I was travelling from Londonderry to Letterkenny. I received a letter from Mr. Eustace, whom I did not know, but who knew from my friends at Letterkenny that I was coming past his house. He asked me to stay the night with him. Naturally enough I declined, with the result that Bastable arrested me on a magistrate's warrant as soon as I landed from the ferry."

"That is the man," said Mrs. Adair, and she told Durrance the history of the fire. It appeared that Bastable's claim to Dermod's friendship rested upon his skill in preparing a particular brew of toddy, which needed a single oyster simmering in the saucepan to give it its perfection of flavour. About two o'clock of a June morning the spirit lamp on which the saucepan stewed had been overset; neither of the two confederates in drink had their wits about them at the moment, and the house was half burnt and the rest of it ruined by water before the fire could be got under.

"There were consequences still more distressing than the destruction of the house," she continued. "The fire was a beacon warning to Dermod's creditors for one thing, and Dermod, already overpowered with debts, fell in a day upon complete ruin. He was drenched by the water hoses besides, and took a chill which nearly killed him, from the effects of which he has never recovered. You will find him a broken man. The estates are let, and Ethne is now living with her father in a little mountain village in Donegal."

Mrs. Adair had not looked at Durrance while she spoke. She kept her eyes fixed steadily in front of her, and indeed she spoke without feeling on one side or the other, but rather like a person constraining herself to speech because speech was a necessity. Nor did she turn to look at Durrance when she had done.

"So she has lost everything?" said Durrance.

"She still has a home in Donegal," returned Mrs. Adair.

"And that means a great deal to her," said Durrance, slowly. "Yes, I think you are right."

"It means," said Mrs. Adair, "that Ethne with all her ill-luck has reason to be envied by many other women."

Durrance did not answer that suggestion directly. He watched the carriages drive past, he listened to the chatter and the laughter of the people about him, his eyes were refreshed by the women in their light-coloured frocks; and all the time his slow mind was working toward the lame expression of his philosophy. Mrs. Adair turned to him with a slight impatience in the end.

"Of what are you thinking?" she asked.

"That women suffer much more than men when the world goes wrong with them," he answered, and the answer was rather a question than a definite assertion. "I know very little, of course. I can only guess.

But I think women gather up into themselves what they have been through much more than we do. To them what is past becomes a real part of them, as much a part of them as a limb; to us it's always something external, at the best the rung of a ladder, at the worst a weight on the heel. Don't you think so, too? I phrase the thought badly. But put it this way: Women look backwards, we look ahead; so misfortune hits them harder, eh?"

Mrs. Adair answered in her own way. She did not expressly agree. But a certain humility became audible in her voice.

"The mountain village at which Ethne is living," she said in a low voice, "is called Glenalla. A track strikes up towards it from the road halfway between Rathmullen and Ramelton." She rose as she finished the sentence and held out her hand. "Shall I see you?"

"You are still in Hill Street?" said Durrance. "I shall be for a time in London."

Mrs. Adair raised her eyebrows. She looked always by nature for the intricate and concealed motive, so that conduct which sprang from a reason, obvious and simple, was likely to baffle her. She was baffled now by Durrance's resolve to remain in town. Why did he not travel at once to Donegal, she asked herself, since thither his thoughts undoubtedly preceded him. She heard of his continual presence at his Service Club, and could not understand. She did not even have a suspicion of his motive when he himself informed her that he had travelled into Surrey and had spent a day with General Feversham.

It had been an ineffectual day for Durrance. The general kept him steadily to the history of the campaign from which he had just returned. Only once was he able to approach the topic of Harry Feversham's disappearance, and at the mere mention of his son's name the old general's face set like plaster. It became void of expression and inattentive as a mask.

"We will talk of something else, if you please," said he; and Durrance returned to London not an inch nearer to Donegal.

Thereafter he sat under the great tree in the inner courtyard of his club, talking to this man and to that, and still unsatisfied with the conversation. All through that June the afternoons and evenings found him at his post. Never a friend of Feversham's passed by the tree but Durrance had a word for him, and the word led always to a question. But the question elicited no answer except a shrug of the shoulders, and a "Hanged if I know!"

Harry Feversham's place knew him no more; he had dropped even out of the speculations of his friends.

Toward the end of June, however, an old retired naval officer limped into the courtyard, saw Durrance, hesitated, and began with a remarkable alacrity to move away.

Durrance sprang up from his seat.

"Mr. Sutch," said he. "You have forgotten me?"

"Colonel Durrance, to be sure," said the embarrassed lieutenant. "It is some while since we met, but I remember you very well now. I think we met-let me see-where was it? An old man's memory, Colonel Durrance, is like a leaky ship. It comes to harbour with its cargo of recollections swamped."

Neither the lieutenant's present embarrassment nor his previous hesitation escaped Durrance's notice.

"We met at Broad Place," said he. "I wish you to give me news of my friend Feversham. Why was his engagement with Miss Eustace broken off? Where is he now?"

The lieutenant's eyes gleamed for a moment with satisfaction. He had always been doubtful whether Durrance was aware of Harry's fall into disgrace. Durrance plainly did not know.

"There is only one person in the world, I believe," said Sutch, "who can answer both your questions."

Durrance was in no way disconcerted.

"Yes. I have waited here a month for you," he replied.

Lieutenant Sutch pushed his fingers through his beard, and stared down at his companion.

"Well, it is true," he admitted. "I can answer your questions, but I will not."

"Harry Feversham is my friend."

"General Feversham is his father, yet he knows only half the truth. Miss Eustace was betrothed to him, and she knows no more. I pledged my word to Harry that I would keep silence."

"It is not curiosity which makes me ask."

"I am sure that, on the contrary, it is friendship," said the lieutenant, cordially.

"Nor that entirely. There is another aspect of the matter. I will not ask you to answer my questions, but I will put a third one to you. It is one harder for me to ask than for you to answer. Would a friend of Harry Feversham be at all disloyal to that friendship, if"-and Durrance flushed beneath his sunburn-"if he tried his luck with Miss Eustace?"

The question startled Lieutenant Sutch.

"You?" he exclaimed, and he stood considering Durrance, remembering the rapidity of his promotion, speculating upon his likelihood to take a woman's fancy. Here was an aspect of the case, indeed, to which he had not given a thought, and he was no less troubled than startled. For there had grown up within him a jealousy on behalf of Harry Feversham as strong as a mother's for a favourite second son. He had nursed with a most pleasurable anticipation a hope that, in the end, Harry would come back to all that he once had owned, like a rethroned king. He stared at Durrance and saw the hope stricken. Durrance looked the man of courage which his record proved him to be, and Lieutenant Sutch had his theory of women. "Brute courage-they make a god of it."

"Well?" asked Durrance.

Lieutenant Sutch was aware that he must answer. He was sorely tempted to lie. For he knew enough of the man who questioned him to be certain that the lie would have its effect. Durrance would go back to the Soudan, and leave his suit unpressed.

"Well?"

Sutch looked up at the sky and down upon the flags. Harry had foreseen that this complication was likely to occur, he had not wished that Ethne should wait. Sutch imagined him at this very moment, lost somewhere under the burning sun, and compared that picture with the one before his eyes-the successful soldier taking his ease at his club. He felt inclined to break his promise, to tell the whole truth, to answer both the questions which Durrance had first asked. And again the pitiless monosyllable demanded his reply.

"Well?"

"No," said Sutch, regretfully. "There would be no disloyalty."

And on that evening Durrance took the train for Holyhead.

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