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Title: Brat Farrar (1949)
Author: Tey, Josephine [Elizabeth MacKintosh] (1896-1952)
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Language:  English
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Title: Brat Farrar (1949)
Author: Tey, Josephine [Elizabeth MacKintosh] (1896-1952)




1


"Aunt Bee," said Jane, breathing heavily into her soup, "was Noah a
cleverer back-room boy than Ulysses, or was Ulysses a cleverer
back-room boy than Noah?"

"Don't eat out of the point of your spoon, Jane."

"I can't mobilise the strings out of the side."

"Ruth does."

Jane looked across at her twin, negotiating the vermicelli with smug
neatness.

"She has a stronger suck than I have."

"Aunt Bee has a face like a very expensive cat," Ruth said, eyeing her
aunt sideways.

Bee privately thought that this was a very good description, but wished
that Ruth would not be quaint.

"No, but which was the cleverest?" said Jane, who never departed from a
path once her feet were on it.

"Clever-_er_," said Ruth.

"Was it Noah or Ulysses? Simon, which was it, do you think?"

"Ulysses," said her brother, not looking up from his paper.

It was so like Simon, Bee thought, to be reading the list of runners at
Newmarket, peppering his soup, and listening to the conversation at one
and the same time.

"Why, Simon? Why Ulysses?"

"He hadn't Noah's good Met. service. Whereabouts was Firelight in the
Free Handicap, do you remember?"

"Oh, away down," Bee said.

"A coming-of-age is a little like a wedding, isn't it, Simon?" This was
Ruth.

"Better on the whole."

"Is it?"

"You can stay and dance at your own coming of age. Which you can't at
your wedding."

"I shall stay and dance at my wedding."

"I wouldn't put it past you."

Oh, dear, thought Bee, I suppose there are families that have
_conversation_ at meals, but I don't know how they manage it. Perhaps
I haven't been strict enough.

She looked down the table at the three bent heads, and Eleanor's still
vacant place, and wondered if she had done right by them. Would Bill
and Nora be pleased with what she had made of their children? If by
some miracle they could walk in now, young and fine-looking and gay as
they had gone to their deaths, would they say: "Ah, yes, that is just
how we pictured them; even to Jane's ragamuffin look."

Bee's eyes smiled as they rested on Jane.

The twins were nine-going-on-ten and identical. Identical, that is to
say, in the technical sense. In spite of their physical resemblance
there was never any doubt as to which was Jane and which was Ruth. They
had the same straight flaxen hair, the same small-boned face and pale
skin, the same direct gaze with a challenge in it; but there the
identity stopped. Jane was wearing rather grubby jodhpurs and a
shapeless jersey festooned with pulled ends of wool. Her hair was
pushed back without aid of mirror and held in the uncompromising clasp
of a kirby-grip so old that it had reverted to its original steel
colour, as old hairpins do. She was slightly astigmatic and, when in
the presence of Authority, was in the habit of wearing horn-rimmed
spectacles. Normally they lived in the hip pocket of her breeches, and
they had been lain-upon, leant-upon, and sat-upon so often that she
lived in a permanent state of bankruptcy: breakages over the yearly
allowance having to be paid for out of her money-box. She rode to and
fro to lessons at the Rectory on Fourposter, the old white pony; her
short legs sticking out on either side of him like straws. Fourposter
had long ago become a conveyance rather than a ride, so it did not
matter that his great barrel was as manageable as a feather-bed and
almost as wide.

Ruth, on the other hand, wore a pink cotton frock, as fresh as when she
had set off on her bicycle that morning for the Rectory. Her hands were
clean and the nails unbroken, and somewhere she had found a pink ribbon
and had tied the two side-pieces of her hair in a bow on the top of her
head.

Eight years, Bee was thinking. Eight years of contriving, conserving,
and planning. And in six weeks' time her stewardship would come to an
end. In little more than a month Simon would be twenty-one, and would
inherit his mother's fortune and the lean years would be over. The
Ashbys had never been rich but while her brother lived there was ample
to keep Latchetts--the house and the three farms on the estate--as it
should be kept. Only his sudden death had accounted for the
near-poverty of those eight years. And only Bee's own resolution
accounted for the fact that her sister-in-law's money would, next
month, come to her son intact. There had been no borrowing on the
strength of that future inheritance. Not even when Mr. Sandal, of
Cosset, Thring and Noble, had been prepared to countenance it.
Latchetts must pay its way, Bee had said. And Latchetts, after eight
years, was still self-supporting and solvent.

Beyond her nephew's fair head she could see, through the window, the
white rails of the south paddock, and the flick of old Regina's tail in
the sunlight. It was the horses that had saved them. The horses that
had been her brother's hobby had proved the salvation of his house.
Year after year, in spite of all the ills, accidents, and sheer
cussedness that afflict horseflesh, the horses had shown a profit. The
swings had always paid a little more than the roundabouts. When the
original small stud that had been her brother's delight seemed likely
to be a doubtful prop, Bee had added the small hardy children's ponies
to occupy the colder pastures half-way up the down. Eleanor had
schooled doubtful hacks into "safe rides for a lady," and had sold them
at a profit. And now that the manor was a boarding-school she was
teaching others to ride, at a very respectable price per hour.

"Eleanor is very late, isn't she?"

"Is she out with La Parslow?" Simon asked.

"The Parslow girl, yes."

"The unhappy horse has probably dropped dead."

Simon got up to take away the soup plates, and to help out the meat
course from the sideboard, and Bee watched him with critical approval.
At least she had managed not to spoil Simon; and that, given Simon's
selfish charm, was no small achievement. Simon had an air of appealing
dependence that was quite fallacious, but it had fooled all and sundry
since he was in the nursery. Bee had watched the fooling process with
amusement and something that was like a reluctant admiration; if she
herself had been gifted with Simon's particular brand of charm, she
felt, she would in all likelihood have made it work for her as Simon
did. But she had seen to it that it did not work with her.

"It would be nice if a coming-of-age had something like bridesmaids,"
Ruth observed, turning over her helping with a fastidious fork.

This fell on stony ground.

"The Rector says that Ulysses was probably a frightful nuisance round
the house," said the undeviating Jane.

"Oh!" said Bee, interested in this sidelight on the classics. "Why?"

"He said he was 'without doubt a--a gadget-contriver,' and that
Penelope was probably very glad to be rid of him for a bit. I wish
liver wasn't so _smooth_."

Eleanor came in and helped herself from the sideboard in her usual
silent fashion.

"Pah!" said Ruth. "What a smell of stables."

"You're late, Nell," Bee said, inquiring.

"She'll never ride," Eleanor said. "She can't even bump the saddle
yet."

"Perhaps loony people can't ride," Ruth suggested.

"Ruth," Bee said, with vigour. "The pupils at the Manor are not
lunatic. They are not even mentally deficient. They are just
'difficult.'"

"Ill-adjusted is the technical description," Simon said.

"Well, they _behave_ like lunatics. If you behave like a lunatic how is
anyone to tell that you're not one?"

Since no one had an answer to this, silence fell over the Ashby
luncheon table. Eleanor ate with the swift purposefulness of a hungry
schoolboy, not lifting her eyes from her plate. Simon took out a pencil
and reckoned odds on the margin of his paper. Ruth, who had stolen
three biscuits from the jar on the Rectory sideboard and eaten them in
the lavatory, made a castle of her food with a moat of gravy round it.
Jane consumed hers with industrious pleasure. And Bee sat with her eyes
on the view beyond the window.

Over that far ridge the land sloped in chequered miles to the sea and
the clustered roofs of Westover. But here, in this high valley, shut
off from the Channel gales and open to the sun, the trees stood up in
the bright air with a midland serenity: with an air, almost, of
enchantment. The scene had the bright perfection and stillness of an
apparition.

A fine inheritance; a fine rich inheritance. She hoped that Simon would
do well by it. There were times when she had--no, not been afraid.
Times perhaps when she had wondered. Simon had far too many sides to
him; a quicksilver quality that did not go with a yeoman inheritance.
Only Latchetts, of all the surrounding estates, still sheltered a local
family and Bee hoped that it would go on sheltering Ashbys for
centuries to come. Fair, small-boned, long-headed Ashbys like the ones
round the table.

"Jane, must you splash fruit juice round like that?"

"I don't like rhubarb in inches, Aunt Bee, I like it in mush."

"Well, mush it more carefully."

When she had been Jane's age she had mushed up her rhubarb too, and at
this same table. At this same table had eaten Ashbys who had died of
fever in India, of wounds in the Crimea, of starvation in Queensland,
of typhoid at the Cape, and of cirrhosis of the liver in the Straits
Settlements. But always there had been an Ashby at Latchetts; and they
had done well by the land. Here and there came a ne'er-do-well--like
her cousin Walter--but Providence had seen to it that the worthless
quality had been confined to younger sons, who could practise their
waywardness on subjects remote from Latchetts.

No queens had come to Latchetts to dine; no cavaliers to hide. For
three hundred years it had stood in its meadows very much as it stood
now; a yeoman's dwelling. And for nearly two of those three hundred
years Ashbys had lived in it.

"Simon, dear, see to the cona."

Perhaps its simplicity had saved it. It had pretended to nothing; had
aspired to nothing. Its goodness had been dug back into the earth; its
sap had returned to its roots. Across the valley the long white house
of Clare stood in its park, gracious as a vicereine, but there were no
Ledinghams there now. The Ledinghams had been prodigal of their talents
and their riches; using Clare as a background, as a purse, as a
decoration, as a refuge, but not as a home. For centuries they had
peacocked over the world: as pro-consuls, explorers, court jesters,
rakes, and revolutionaries; and Clare had supported their
extravagances. Now only their portraits remained. And the great house
in the park was a boarding-school for the unmanageable children of
parents with progressive ideas and large bank accounts.

But the Ashbys stayed at Latchetts.




2


As Bee poured the coffee the twins disappeared on ploys of their own,
this being their half-holiday; and Eleanor drank hers hastily and went
back to the stables.

"Do you want the car this afternoon?" Simon asked. "I half promised old
Gates that I would bring a calf out from Westover in one of our
trailers. His own has collapsed."

"No, I don't need it," Bee said, wondering what had prompted Simon to
so dull a chore. She hoped it was not the Gates daughter; who was very
pretty, very silly, and very commonplace. Gates was the tenant of
Wigsell, the smallest of the three farms; and Simon was not normally
tolerant of his opportunism.

"If you really want to know," Simon said as he got up, "I want to see
June Kaye's new picture. It's at the Empire."

The disarming frankness of this would have delighted anyone but
Beatrice Ashby, who knew very well her nephew's habit of throwing up
two balls to divert your attention from the third.

"Can I fetch you anything?"

"You might get one of the new bus timetables from the Westover and
District offices if you have time. Eleanor says they have a new Clare
service that goes round by Guessgate."

"Bee," said a voice in the hall. "Are you there, Bee?"

"Mrs. Peck," Simon said, going out to meet her.

"Come in, Nancy," Bee called. "Come and have coffee with me. The others
have finished."

And the Rector's wife came into the room, put her empty basket on the
sideboard, and sat down with a pleased sigh. "I could do with some,"
she said.

When people mentioned Mrs. Peck's name they still added: "Nancy
Ledingham that was, you know;" although it was a decade since she had
stunned the social world by marrying George Peck and burying herself in
a country rectory. Nancy Ledingham had been more than the "débutante of
her year;" she had been a national possession. The penny Press had done
for her what the penny postcard had done for Lily Langtry: her beauty
was common property. If the public did not stand on chairs to see her
pass they certainly stopped the traffic; her appearance as bridesmaid
at a wedding was enough to give the authorities palpitations for a week
beforehand. She had that serene unquestionable loveliness that defeats
even a willing detractor. Indeed the only question seemed to be whether
the ultimate coronet would have strawberry leaves or not. More than
once the popular Press had supplied her with a crown, but this was
generally considered mere wishful thinking; her public would settle for
strawberry leaves.

And then, quite suddenly--between a _Tatler_ and a _Tatler_, so to
speak--she had married George Peck. The shattered Press, doing the best
they could for a shattered public, had pulled out the _vox humana_ stop
and quavered about romance, but George had defeated them. He was a
tall, thin man with the face of a very intelligent and rather nice ape.
Besides, as the society editor of the _Clarion_ said: "A clergyman! I
ask you! I could get more romance out of a cement-mixer!"

So the public let her go, into her chosen oblivion. Her aunt, who had
been responsible for her coming-out, disinherited her. Her father died
in a welter of chagrin and debts. And her old home, the great white
house in the park, had become a school.

But after thirteen years of rectory life Nancy Peck was still serenely
and unquestionably beautiful; and people still said: "Nancy Ledingham
that was, you know."

"I've come for the eggs," she said, "but there's no hurry, is there?
It's wonderful to sit and do nothing."

Bee's eyes slid sideways at her in a smile.

"You have such a nice face, Bee."

"Thank you. Ruth says it is a face like a very expensive cat."

"Nonsense. At least--not the furry kind. Oh, I know what she means! The
long-necked, short-haired kind that show their small chins. Heraldic
cats. Yes, Bee, darling, you have a face like a heraldic cat.
Especially when you keep your head still and slide your eyes at
people." She put her cup down and sighed again with pleasure. "I can't
think how the Nonconformists have failed to discover coffee."

"Discover it?"

"Yes. As a snare. It does far more for one than drink. And yet no one
preaches about it, or signs pledges about it. Five mouthfuls and the
world looks rosy."

"Was it very grey before?"

"A sort of mud colour. I was so happy this week because it was the
first week this year that we hadn't needed sitting-room fires and I
had no fires to do and no fireplaces to clean. But nothing--I repeat,
nothing--will stop George from throwing his used matches into the
fireplace. And as he takes fifteen matches to light one pipe----! The
room swarms with waste-paper baskets and ash trays, but no, George must
use the fireplace. He doesn't even _aim_, blast him. A fine careless
flick of the wrist and the match lands anywhere from the fender to the
farthest coal. And they have all got to be picked out again."

"And he says: why don't you leave them."

"He does. However, now that I've had some Latchetts coffee I have
decided not to take a chopper to him after all."

"Poor Nan. These Christians."

"How are the coming-of-age preparations getting on?"

"The invitations are about to go to the printers; which is a nice
definite stage to have arrived at. A dinner for intimates, here; and a
dance for everyone in the barn. What is Alec's address, by the way?"

"I can't remember his latest one off-hand. I'll look it up for you. He
has a different one almost every time he writes. I think he gets heaved
out when he can't pay his rent. Not that I hear from him often, of
course. He has never forgiven me for not marrying well, so that I could
keep my only brother in the state to which he had been accustomed."

"Is he playing just now?"

"I don't know. He had a part in that silly comedy at the Savoy but it
ran only a few weeks. He is so much a type that his parts are
necessarily limited."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"No one could cast Alec as anything but Alec. You don't know how lucky
you are, Bee, to have Ashbys to deal with. The incidence of rakes in
the Ashby family is singularly low."

"There was Walter."

"A lone wolf crying in the wilderness. What became of Cousin Walter?"

"Oh, he died."

"In an odour of sanctity?"

"No. Carbolic. A workhouse ward, I think."

"Even Walter wasn't bad, you know. He just liked drink and hadn't the
head for it. But when a Ledingham is a rake he is plain bad."

They sat together in a comfortable silence, considering their
respective families. Bee was several years older than her friend:
almost a generation older. But neither could remember a time when the
other was not there; and the Ledingham children had gone in and out of
Latchetts as if it were their home, as familiar with it as the Ashbys
were with Clare.

"I have been thinking so often lately of Bill and Nora," Nancy said.
"This would have been such a happy time for them."

"Yes," Bee said, reflectively; her eyes on the window. It was at that
view she had been looking when it happened. On a day very like this and
at this time of the year. Standing in the sitting-room window, thinking
how lovely everything looked and if they would think that nothing they
had seen in Europe was half as lovely. Wondering if Nora would look
well again; she had been very pulled down after the twins' birth.
Hoping she had been a good deputy for them, and yet a little pleased to
be resuming her own life in London to-morrow.

The twins had been asleep, and the older children upstairs grooming
themselves for the welcome and for the dinner they were to be allowed
to stay up for. In half an hour or so the car would swing out from the
avenue of lime trees and come to rest at the door and there they would
be; in a flurry of laughter and embracing and present-giving and
well-being.

The turning on of the wireless had been so absent-minded a gesture that
she did not know that she had done it. "The two o'clock plane from
Paris to London," said the cool voice, "with nine passengers and a crew
of three crashed this afternoon just after crossing the Kent coast.
There were no survivors."

No. There had been no survivors.

"They were so wrapped up in the children," Nancy said. "They have been
so much in my mind lately, now that Simon is going to be twenty-one."

"And Patrick has been in mine."

"Patrick?" Nancy sounded at a loss. "Oh, yes, of course. Poor Pat."

Bee looked at her curiously. "You had almost forgotten, hadn't you?"

"Well, it is a long time ago, Bee. And--well, I suppose one's mind
tidies away the things it can't bear to remember. Bill and Nora--that
was frightful, but it _was_ something that happened to people. I mean,
it was part of the ordinary risks of life. But Pat--that was different."
She sat silent for a moment. "I have pushed it so far down in my mind
that I can't even remember what he looked like any more. Was he as like
Simon as Ruth is like Jane?"

"Oh, no. They weren't identical twins. Not much more alike than some
brothers are. Though oddly enough they were much more in each other's
pockets than Ruth and Jane are."

"Simon seems to have got over it. Do you think he remembers it often?"

"He must have remembered it very often lately."

"Yes. But it is a long way between thirteen and twenty-one. I expect
even a twin grows shadowy at that distance."

This gave Bee pause. How shadowy was he to her: the kind solemn little
boy who should have been coming into his inheritance next month? She
tried to call up his face in front of her but there was only a blur. He
had been small and immature for his age, but otherwise he was just an
Ashby. Less an individual than a family resemblance. All she really
remembered, now she thought about it, was that he was solemn and kind.

Kindness was not a common trait in small boys.

Simon had a careless generosity when it did not cost him inconvenience;
but Patrick had had that inner kindness that not only gives but gives
up.

"I still wonder," Bee said unhappily, "whether we should have allowed
the body that was found on the Castleton beach to be buried over there.
A pauper's burial, it was."

"But, Bee! It had been months in the water, hadn't it? They couldn't
even tell what sex it was; could they? And Castleton is miles away. And
they get all the corpses from the Atlantic founderings, anyhow. I mean,
the nearer ones. It is not sense to worry over--to identify it
with----" Her dismayed voice died into silence.

"No, of course it isn't!" Bee said briskly. "I am just being morbid.
Have some more coffee."

And as she poured the coffee she decided that when Nancy had gone she
would unlock the private drawer of her desk and burn that pitiful note
of Patrick's. It was morbid to keep it, even if she had not looked at
it for years. She had never had the heart to tear it up because it had
seemed part of Patrick. But of course that was absurd. It was no more
part of Patrick than was the despair that had filled him when he wrote:
"I'm sorry, but I can't bear it any longer. Don't be angry with me.
Patrick." She would take it out and burn it. Burning it would not blot
it from her mind, of course, but there was nothing she could do about
that. The round schoolboy letters were printed there for always. Round,
careful letters written with the stylograph that he had been so
attached to. It was so like Patrick to apologise for taking his own
life.

Nancy, watching her friend's face, proffered what she considered to be
consolation. "They say, you know, that when you throw yourself from a
high place you lose consciousness almost at once."

"I don't think he did it that way, Nan."

"No!" Nancy sounded staggered. "But that was where the note was found.
I mean, the coat with the note in the pocket. On the cliff-top."

"Yes, but by the path. By the path down the Gap to the shore."

"Then what do you----?"

"I think he swam out."

"Till he couldn't come back, you mean?"

"Yes. When I was in _loco parentis_ that time, when Bill and Nora
were on holiday, we went several times to the Gap, the children and I;
to swim and have a picnic. And once when we were there Patrick said
that the best way to die--I think he called it the lovely way--would be
to swim out until you were too tired to go any farther. He said it
quite matter-of-factly, of course. In those days it was--a mere
academic matter. When I pointed out that drowning would still be
drowning, he said: 'But you would be so tired, you see; you wouldn't
care any more. The water would just take you.' He loved the water."

She was silent for a little and then blurted out the thing that had
been her private nightmare for years.

"I've always been afraid that when it was too late to come back he may
have regretted."

"Oh, Bee, no!"

Bee's sidelong glance went to Nancy's beautiful, protesting face.

"Morbid. I know. Forget I said it."

"I don't know now how I _could_ have forgotten," Nancy said, wondering.
"The worst of pushing horrible things down into one's subconscious is
that when they pop up again they are as fresh as if they had been in a
refrigerator. You haven't allowed time to get at them to--to mould them
over a little."

"I think a great many people have almost forgotten that Simon had a
twin," Bee said, excusing. "Or that he has not always been the heir.
Certainly no one has mentioned Patrick to me since the coming-of-age
celebrations have been in the air."

"Why was Patrick so inconsolable about his parents' death?"

"I didn't know he was. None of us did. All the children were wild with
grief to begin with, of course. Sick with it. But none more than
another. Patrick seemed bewildered rather than inconsolable. 'You mean:
Latchetts belongs to me now?' I remember him saying, as if it were some
strange idea, difficult to understand. Simon was impatient with him, I
remember. Simon was always the brilliant one. I think that it was all
too much for Patrick; too strange. The adrift feeling of being suddenly
without his father and mother, and the weight of Latchetts on his
shoulders. It was too much for him and he was so unhappy that he--took
a way out."

"Poor Pat. Poor darling. It was wrong of me to forget him."

"Come; let us go and get those eggs. You won't forget to let me have
Alec's address, will you? A Ledingham must have an invitation."

"No, I'll look it up when I go back, and telephone it to you. Can your
latest moron take a telephone message?"

"Just."

"Well, I'll stick to basic. You won't forget that he is Alec Loding on
the stage, will you?" She picked up her basket from the sideboard. "I
wonder if he would come. It is a long time since he has been to Clare.
A country life is not Alec's idea of amusement. But an Ashby
coming-of-age is surely something that would interest him."




3


But Alec Loding's main interest in the Ashby coming-of-age was to blow
the celebrations sky-high. Indeed, he was at this moment actively
engaged in pulling strings to that end.

Or, rather, trying to pull strings. The strings weren't pulling very
well.

He was sitting in the back room at the Green Man, the remains of lunch
spread before him, and beside him sat a young man. A boy, one would
have said, but for something controlled and still that did not go with
adolescence. Loding poured coffee for himself and sugared it liberally;
casting a glance now and then at his companion, who was turning an
almost empty beer glass round and round on the table. The movement was
so deliberate that it hardly came under the heading of fidgeting.

"Well?" said Loding at last.

"No."

Loding took a mouthful of coffee.

"Squeamish?"

"I'm not an actor."

Something in the unaccented phrase seemed to sting Loding and he
flushed a little.

"You're not asked to be emotional, if that is what you mean. There is
no filial devotion to be simulated, you know. Only dutiful affection
for an aunt you haven't seen for nearly ten years--which one would
expect to be more dutiful than affectionate."

"No."

"You young idiot, I'm offering you a fortune."

"Half a fortune. And you're not offering me anything."

"If I'm not offering it to you, what am I doing?"

"Propositioning me," said the young man. He had not raised his eyes
from his slowly-turning beer.

"Very well, I'm propositioning you, to use your barbarous idiom. What
is wrong with the proposition?"

"It's crazy."

"What is crazy about it, given the initial advantage of your
existence?"

"No one could bring it off."

"It is not so long since a famous general whose face was a household
word--if you will forgive the metaphor--was impersonated quite
successfully by an actor in broad daylight and in full view of the
multitude."

"That is quite different."

"I agree. You aren't asked to impersonate anyone. Just to be yourself.
A much easier task."

"No," said the young man.

Loding kept his temper with a visible effort. He had a pink, collapsed
face that reminded one of the underside of fresh mushrooms. The flesh
hung away from his good Ledingham bones with a discouraged slackness,
and the incipient pouches under his eyes detracted from their undoubted
intelligence. Managers who had once cast him for gay young rakes now
offered him nothing but discredited roués.

"My God!" he said suddenly. "Your teeth!"

Even that did not startle the young man's face into any expression. He
lifted his eyes for the first time, resting them incuriously on Loding.
"What's the matter with my teeth?" he asked.

"It's how they identify people nowadays. A dentist keeps a record of
work, you know. I wonder where those kids went. Something would have to
be done about that. Are those front teeth your own?"

"The two middle ones are caps. They were kicked out."

"They went to someone here in town, I remember that much. There was a
London trip to see the dentist twice a year; once before Christmas and
once in the summer. They went to the dentist in the morning and to a
show in the afternoon: pantomime in the winter and the Tournament at
Olympia in the summer. These are the kind of things you would have to
know, by the way."

"Yes?"

The gentle monosyllable maddened Loding.

"Look, Farrar, what are you frightened of? A strawberry mark? I bathed
with that kid in the buff many a time and he hadn't as much as a mole
on him. He was so ordinary that you could order him by the dozen from
any prep. school in England. You are more like his brother at this
moment than that kid ever was, twins though they were. I tell you, I
thought for a moment that you were young Ashby. Isn't that good enough
for you? You come and live with me for a fortnight and by the end of it
there won't be anything you don't know about the village of Clare and
its inhabitants. Nor anything about Latchetts. I know every last pantry
in it. Nor anything about the Ashbys. Can you swim, by the way?"

The young man nodded. He had gone back to his glass of beer.

"Swim well?"

"Yes."

"Don't you ever qualify a statement?"

"Not unless it needs it."

"The kid could swim like an eel. There's the matter of ears, too. Yours
look ordinary enough, and his must have been ordinary too or I should
remember. Anyone who has worked in a life-class notices ears. But I
must see what photographs of him exist. Front ones wouldn't matter, but
a real close-up of an ear might be a give-away. I think I must take a
trip to Clare and do some prospecting."

"Don't bother on my account."

Loding was silent for a moment. Then he said, reasonably: "Tell me, do
you believe my story at all?"

"Your story?"

"Do you believe that I am who I say I am, and that I come from a
village called Clare, where there is someone who is practically your
double? Do you believe that? Or do you think that this is just a way of
getting you to come home with me?"

"No, I didn't think it was that. I believe your story."

"Well, thank heaven for that, at least," Loding said with a quirk of
his eyebrow. "I know that my looks are not what they were, but I should
be shattered to find that they suggested the predatory. Well, then.
That settled, do you believe that you are as like young Ashby as I
say?"

For a whole turn of the glass there was no answer. "I doubt it."

"Why?"

"On your own showing it is some time since you saw him."

"But you don't have to _be_ young Ashby. Just look like him. And
believe me you do! My God, how you do! It's something I wouldn't have
believed unless I saw it with my own eyes; something I have imagined
only happened in books. And it is worth a fortune to you. You have only
to put out your hand and take it."

"Oh, no, I haven't."

"Metaphorically speaking. Do you realise that except for the first year
or so your story would be truth? It would be your own story; able to
stand up to any amount of checking." His voice twisted into a comedy
note. "Or--would it?"

"Oh, yes, it would check."

"Well, then. You have only to stow away on the _Ira Jones_ out of
Westover instead of going for a day trip to Dieppe, et _voilà_!"

"How do you know there was a ship called the _Ira Jones_ at Westover
about then?"

"'About then'! You do me scant justice, _amigo_. There was a ship of
that repellent title at Westover the day the boy disappeared. I know
because I spent most of the day painting her. On canvas, not on her
plates, you understand. And the old scow went out before I had
finished; bound for the Channel Islands. All my ships go out before I
have finished painting them."

There was silence for a little.

"It's in your lap, Farrar."

"So is my table napkin."

"A fortune. A charming small estate. Security. A----"

"_Security_, did you say?"

"After the initial gamble, of course," Loding said smoothly.

The light eyes that looked at him for a moment held a faint amusement.

"Hadn't it occurred to you at all, Mr. Loding, that the gamble was
yours?"

"Mine?"

"You're offering me the sweetest chance for a double-cross that I ever
heard of. I take your coaching, pass the exam, and forget about you.
And you wouldn't be able to do a thing about it. How did you figure to
keep tabs on me?"

"I hadn't. No one with your Ashby looks could be a double-crosser. The
Ashbys are monsters of rectitude."

The boy pushed away the glass.

"Which must be why I don't take kindly to the idea of being a phoney.
Thank you for my lunch, Mr. Loding. If I had known what you had in mind
when you asked me to lunch with you, I wouldn't have----"

"All right, all right. Don't apologise. And don't run away; we'll go
together. You don't like my proposition: very good: so be it. But you,
on the other hand, fascinate me. I can hardly take my eyes off you, or
believe that anything so unique exists. And since you are sure that my
improper proposal to you has nothing of the personal in it, there is
nothing against our walking as far as the Underground together."

Loding paid for their lunch, and as they walked out of the Green Man he
said: "I won't ask where you are living in case you think I want to
hound you. But I shall give you my address in the hope that you will
come to see me. Oh, no; not about the proposition. If it isn't your cup
of tea then it isn't your cup of tea; and if you felt like that you
certainly wouldn't make a success of it. No, not about the proposition.
I have something in my rooms that I think would interest you."

He paused artistically while they negotiated a street crossing.

"When my old home, Clare, was sold--after my father's death--Nancy
bundled together all the personal things in my room and sent them to
me. A whole trunkful of rubbish, which I have never had the energy to
get rid of, and a large proportion of it consists of snapshots and
photographs of the companions of my youth. I think you would find it
very interesting."

He glanced sideways at the uncommunicative profile of his companion.

"Tell me," he said as they stopped at the entrance to the Underground,
"do you play cards?"

"Not with strangers," said the young man pleasantly.

"I just wondered. I had never met the perfect poker face until now, and
I should be sorry if it was being wasted on some nonconformist
abstainer. Ah, well. Here is my address. If by any chance I have fled
from there the _Spotlight_ will find me. I am truly sorry I couldn't
sell you the idea of being an Ashby. You would have made an excellent
master of Latchetts, I feel. Someone who was at home with horses, and
used to an outdoor life."

The young man, who had made a gesture of farewell and was in the act of
turning away, paused. "Horses?" he said.

"Yes," Loding said, vaguely surprised. "It's a stud, you know. Very
well thought of, I understand."

"Oh." He paused a moment longer, and then turned away.

Loding watched him as he went down the street. "I missed something," he
was thinking. "There was some bait he would have risen to, and I missed
it. Why should he have nibbled at the word horse? He must be sick of
them."

Ah, well; perhaps he would come to see what his double looked like.




4


The boy lay on his bed in the dark, fully dressed, and stared at the
ceiling.

There were no street lamps outside to illuminate this back room under
the slates; but the faint haze of light that hangs over London at
night, emanation from a million arcs and gas-lights and paraffin lamps,
shone ghost-like on the ceiling so that its cracks and stains showed
like a world map.

The boy was looking at a map of the world too, but it was not on the
ceiling. He was examining his odyssey; conducting a private inventory.
That meeting to-day had shaken him. Somewhere, it seemed, there was
another fellow so like him that for a moment they could be mistaken for
each other. To one who had been very much alone all his life that was
an amazing thought.

Indeed, it was the most surprising thing that had happened to him in
all his twenty-one years. In a way it was as if all those years that
had seemed so full and exciting at the time had been merely leading up
to that moment when the actor chap had caught himself short in the
street and said: "Hello, Simon."

"Oh! Sorry!" he had said at once. "Thought you were a friend of----"
And then he had stopped and stared.

"Can I do something for you?" the boy had asked at last, since the man
showed no sign of moving on.

"Yes. You could come and have lunch with me."

"Why?"

"It's lunch-time, and that's my favourite pub behind you."

"But why me?"

"Because you interest me. You are so like a friend of mine. My name is
Loding, by the way. Alec Loding. I act a bad part in a bad farce at
that very bad old theatre over there." He had nodded across the street.
"But Equity, God bless them, has ordained a minimum fee for my labours,
so the hire is considerably better than the part, I rejoice to say. Do
you mind telling me your name?"

"Farrar."

"Farrell?"

"No. Farrar."

"Oh." The amused, considering look was still in his eye. "Is it long
since you came back to England?"

"How did you know I had been out of it?"

"Your clothes, my boy. Clothes are my business. I have dressed too many
parts not to recognise American tailoring when I see it. Even the
admirably conservative tailoring that you so rightly wear."

"Then what makes you think I'm not American?"

At that the man had smiled quite broadly. "Ah, _that_," he said, "is
the eternal mystery of the English. You watch a procession of monks in
Italy and your eye singles out one and you say: 'Ha! An Englishman.'
You come across five hoboes wrapped in gunny sacks sheltering from the
rain in Wisconsin, and you notice the fifth and think: 'Dear goodness,
that chap's English.' You see ten men stripped to the buff for the
Foreign Legion doctor to pass judgement on, and you say---- But come to
lunch and we can explore the subject at leisure."

So he had gone to lunch, and the man had talked and been charming. But
always behind the lively puffy eyes there had been that quizzical,
amused, almost unbelieving look. That look was more eloquent than any
of his subsequent argument. Truly he, Brat Farrar, _must_ be like that
other fellow to bring that look of half-incredulous amusement into
someone's eyes.

He lay on the bed and thought about it. This sudden identification in
an unbelonging life. He had a great desire to see this twin of his;
this Ashby boy. Ashby. It was a nice name: a good English name. He
would like to see the place too: this Latchetts, where his twin had
grown up in belonging quiet while he had bucketed round the world, all
the way from the orphanage to that moment in a London street, belonging
nowhere.

The orphanage. It was no fault of the orphanage that he had not
belonged. It was a very good orphanage; a great deal happier than many
a home he had seen in passing since. The children had loved it. They
had wept when they left and had come back for visits; they had sent
contributions to the funds; they had invited the staff to their
marriages, and brought their subsequent children for the matron's
approval. There was never a day when some old girl or boy was not
cluttering up the front door. Then why had he not felt like that?

Because he was a foundling? Was that why? Because no visitors ever came
for him; no parcels or letters or invitations? But they had been very
wise about that; very determined to prop his self-esteem. If anything
he had been privileged beyond the other children by his foundling
status. His Christmas present from Matron, he remembered, had been
looked upon with envy by children whose only present came from an aunt
or uncle; a mere relation, as it were. It was Matron who had taken him
off the doorstep; and who saw to it that he heard how well-dressed and
cared-for he had been. (He heard about this at judicious intervals for
fifteen years but he had never been able to feel any satisfaction about
it.) It was Matron who had determined his name with the aid of a pin
and the telephone directory. The pin had come down on the word Farrell.
Which had pleased Matron considerably; her pin had once, long ago, come
down on the word Coffin, and she had had to cheat and try again.

There had never been any doubt about his first name, since he had
arrived on the doorstep on St. Bartholomew's day. He had been Bart from
the beginning. But the older children had changed that to Brat, and
presently even the staff used the more familiar name (another device of
Matron's to prevent his feeling "different"?) and the name had followed
him to the grammar school.

The grammar school. Why had he not "belonged" there, then?

Because his clothes were subtly different? Surely not. He had not been
thin-skinned as a child; merely detached. Because he was a scholarship
boy? Certainly not: half his form were scholarship boys. Then why had
he decided that the school was not for him? Decided with such
un-boylike finality that all Matron's arguments had died into ultimate
silence, and she had countenanced his going to work.

There was no mystery about his not liking the work, of course. The
office job had been fifty miles away, and since no ordinary lodgings
could be paid for out of his salary he had had to stay in the local
"boys' home." He had not known how good the orphanage was until he had
sampled the boys' home. He could have supported either the job or the
home, but not the two simultaneously. And of the two the office was by
far the worse. It was, as a job, comfortable, leisurely, and graced
with certain, if far-off, prospects; but to him it had been a prison.
He was continually aware of time running past him; time that he was
wasting. This was not what he wanted.

He had said good-bye to his office life almost accidentally; certainly
without premeditation. "DAY RETURN TO DIEPPE" a bill had said,
plastered against the glass of a newsagent's window; and the price, in
large red figures, was exactly the amount of his savings to the nearest
half-crown. Even so, he would have done nothing about it if it had not
been for old Mr. Hendren's funeral. Mr. Hendren was the "retired"
partner, and on the day of his funeral the office shut down "out of
respect." And so, with a week's pay in his pocket and a whole week-day
free, he had taken his savings and gone to see "abroad." He had had a
grand time in Dieppe, where his first-year French was no deterrent to
enjoyment, but it had not even crossed his mind to stay there until he
was on his way home. He had reached the harbour before the shocking
idea took hold of him.

Was it native honesty, he thought, staring at the Pimlico ceiling, or
his good orphanage training that had made his unpaid laundry bill bulk
so large in the subsequent mental struggle? A boy who had no money and
no bed for the night should hardly have been concerned with the ethics
of bilking a laundry of two-and-threepence.

The camion, rolling up from the harbour, had been his salvation. He had
held up his thumb, and the brown, sweaty brigand at the wheel had
grinned at this international gesture and slowed as he passed. He had
run at the moving cliff-face, snatched and clung, and been hauled
aboard. And all his old life was behind him.

He had planned to stay and work in France. Debated with himself during
the long run to Havre, when gesture had given out and the driver's
patois proved unintelligible, how best he might earn enough to eat. It
was his neighbour in the Havre _bistro_ who enlightened him. "My young
friend," the man had said, fixing him with melancholy spaniel's eyes,
"it is not sufficient to be a man in France in order to work. One has
also to have papers."

"And where," he had asked, "does one not have papers? I mean, in what
country? I can go anywhere." He was suddenly conscious of the world,
and that he was free of it.

"God knows," the man had said. "Mankind grows every day more like
sheep. Go to the harbour and take a ship."

"Which ship?"

"It is immaterial. Have you in English a game that----" He made
descriptive gestures.

"A counting-out game? Oh, yes. Eenie, meenie, minie, moe."

"Good. Go to the harbour and do 'Eenie, meenie, minie, moe'. And when
you go aboard 'moe' see that no one is looking. On ships they have a
passion for papers that amounts to a madness."

"Moe" was the _Barfleur_, and he had not needed papers after all. He
was the gift from heaven that the _Barfleur's_ cook had been looking
for for years.

Good old _Barfleur_; with her filthy pea-green galley smelling of
over-used olive oil, and the grey seas combing up mountains high, and
the continuous miracle of their harmless passing, and the cook's weekly
drunk that left him acting unpaid cook, and learning to play a
mouth-organ, and the odd literature in the fo'c'sle. Good old
_Barfleur_!

He had taken a lot away with him when he left her, but most important
of all he took a new name. When he had written his name for the
Captain, old Bourdet had taken the final double-L to be an R, and
copied the name Farrar. And he had kept it so. Farrell came out of a
telephone directory; and Farrar out of a tramp skipper's mistake. It
was all one.

And then what?

Tampico and the smell of tallow. And the tally-man who had said: "You
Englishman? You want shore job?"

He had gone to inspect the "job," expecting dish-washing.

Odd to think that he might still be living in that great quiet house
with the tiled patio, and the bright scentless flowers, and the bare
shadowed rooms with the beautiful furniture. Living in luxury, instead
of lying on a broken-down bedstead in Pimlico. The old man had liked
him, had wanted to adopt him; but he had not "belonged." He had enjoyed
reading the English newspaper to him twice a day, the old man following
with a slender yellow forefinger on his own copy; but it was not the
life he was looking for. ("If he doesn't understand English, what's the
good of reading English to him?" he had asked when the job was first
explained to him; and they had made him understand that the old man
knew "reading" English; having taught himself from a dictionary, but
did not know how to pronounce it. He wanted to listen to it spoken by
an Englishman.)

No, it had not been for him. It had been like living in a film set.

So he had gone as cook to a collection of botanists. And as he was
packing to go the butler had said consolingly: "Better you go, after
all. If you stay his mistress poison you."

It was the first he had heard of a mistress.

He had cooked his way steadily to the New Mexico border. That was the
easy way into the States: where there was no river to stop you. He
enjoyed this absurd, brilliant, angular country but, like the old
aristocrat's home near Tampico, it was not what he was looking for.

After that it had been a slow crescendo of satisfaction.

Assistant cook for that outfit at Las Cruces. Their intolerance of any
variation from the food they knew, and their delight in his accent.
("Say it again, Limey." And then their laughter and their delighted
"Whaddya know!")

Cook to the Snake River round-up. And his discovery of horses. And the
feeling it gave him of having come home.

Riding herd for the Santa Clara. And the discovery that "ornery" horses
were less ornery when ridden by the limey kid.

A spell with the shoesmith at the Wilson ranch. He had had his first
girl there, but it hadn't been half as exciting as seeing what he could
do with the "hopeless lot" in the corral. "Nothing but shooting for
them," the boss had said. And when he had suggested trying to do
something about them, the boss had said unenthusiastically: "Go ahead;
but don't expect me to pay hospital bills. You're hired as help to the
farrier."

It was from that lot that Smoky came: his beautiful Smoky. The boss
gave it him as a reward for what he had done with the hard cases. And
when he went to the Lazy Y he took Smoky with him.

Breaking horses for the Lazy Y. That had been happiness. That had been
happiness full up and running over. Nearly two years of it.

And then. That momentary slowness on his part; drowsy with heat or
dazzled by the sun. And seeing the writhing brown back turning over on
him. And hearing his thighbone crack.

The hospital at Edgemont. It had not been at all like the hospitals in
films. There were no pretty nurses and no handsome internes. The ward
had sage-green walls, the fittings were old and dingy, and the nurses
overworked. They alternately spoiled and ignored him.

The sudden stoppage of letters from the boys.

The sweat-making business of learning to walk again, and the slow
realisation that his leg had mended "short." That he was going to be
permanently lame.

The letter from the boss that put an end to the Lazy Y.

Oil. They had struck oil. The first derrick was already going up not
two hundred yards from the bunk house. The enclosed cheque would look
after Brat till he was well again. Meanwhile, what should be done with
Smoky?

What would a lame man do with a horse in an oil field?

He had cried about Smoky; lying in the dark of the ward. It was the
first time he had cried about anyone.

Well, he might be too slow to break horses any more, but he would be no
servant to oil. There were other ways of living with horseflesh.

The dude ranch. That had not been like the films either.

Ungainly women in unseemly clothes punishing the saddles of
broken-spirited horses until he wondered that they didn't break in two.

The woman who had wanted to marry him.

She had been not at all the kind of woman you'd imagine would want a
"kept man." Not fat or silly or amorous. She was thin, and
tired-looking, and rather nice; and she had owned the place up the hill
from the dude ranch. She would get his leg put right for him, she said.
That was the bait she had offered.

The one good thing about the dude ranch was that you made money at it.
He had never had so much money in his life as when he finished there.
He planned to go East and spend it. And then something had happened to
him. The smaller, greener country in the East, the smell of spring
gardens, woke in him a nostalgia for England that dismayed him. He had
no intention of going back to England for years yet.

For several restless weeks he fought the longing--it was a baby thing
to want to go back--and then quite suddenly gave in. After all, he had
never seen London. Going to see London was quite a legitimate reason
for going to England.

And so to the back room in Pimlico and that meeting in the street.




5


He got up and took his cigarettes from the pocket of the coat that was
hanging on the back of the door.

Why hadn't he been more shocked when Loding made his suggestion?

Because he had guessed that a proposition would be coming? Because the
man's face had been warning enough that his interests would be shady?
Because it quite simply had nothing to do with him, was not anything
that he was likely to touch?

He had not been indignant with the man; had not said: "You swine, to
think of cheating your friend out of his inheritance!" or words to that
effect. But then he had never been interested in other people's
concerns: their sins, their griefs, or their happiness. And anyhow, you
couldn't be righteous with a man whose food you were eating.

He moved over to the window and stood looking out at the dim frieze of
chimney-pots against the luminous haze. He was not broke yet but he had
got the length of prospecting for a job, and the prospects were
anything but encouraging. It seemed that there were far more people
interested in stable jobs in England than stables to accommodate them.
The horse world contracted as the horse lovers expanded. All those men
who had lost their main interest in living when the cavalry was put
down were still hale and active, and besieged stable entrances at the
mere whiff of a vacancy.

Besides, he didn't want just to "do his two a day." If road engineering
interested you you didn't pine to spend your days putting tar on the
surface.

He had tried a few contacts, but none of the good places was interested
in a lame stranger without references. Why should they be? They had
their pick of England's best. And when he had mentioned that his
experience of breaking had been in the States, that seemed to settle
it. "Oh, cattle horses!" they said. They said it quite kindly and
politely--he had forgotten until he came back how polite his countrymen
were--but they had inferred in one way or another that Western
kill-or-cure methods were not theirs. Since they never said so openly
he could not explain that they were not his either. And anyhow, it
wouldn't have been any good. They wanted to know something about you
before they took you to work with them in this country. In America,
where a man moved on every so often, it was different; but here a job
was for life, and what you were mattered almost as much as what you
could do.

The solution, of course, was to leave the country. But the real, the
insurmountable trouble was that he didn't want to go. Now that he was
back he realised that what he had thought of as free, purposeless
wandering had merely been a long way round on the way back to England.
He had come back, not via Dieppe, but via Las Cruces and points east;
that was all. He had found what he wanted when he found horses; but he
had no more sense of "belonging" in New Mexico than he had had at the
grammar school. He had liked New Mexico better, that was all.

And better still, now that he looked at it, he liked England. He wanted
to work with English horses in an English greenness on English turf.

In any case, it was much more difficult to get out of this country than
to get into it, if you were broke. He had shared a table at the
Coventry Street Lyons one day with a man who had been trying for
eighteen months to work his passage somewhere or other. "Cards!" the
little man had snarled. "That's all they ever say. Where is your card?
If you don't happen to belong to the Amalgamated Union of Table-napkin
Folders you can't as much as help a steward set a table. I'm just
waiting to see them let a ship sink under them because no one aboard
has the right card for manning a pump with."

He had looked at the Englishman's furious blue eyes and remembered the
man in the Havre _bistro_. "One has also to have papers." Yes, the
world was cluttered up with paper.

It was a pity that Loding's proposition was so very criminal.

Would he have listened to it with any more interest if Loding had
mentioned the horses earlier?

No, of course not; that was absurd. The thing was criminal and he
wouldn't touch it.

"It would be quite safe, you know," said a voice in him. "They wouldn't
prosecute you even if they found out, because of the scandal. Loding
said that."

"Shut up," he said. "The thing's criminal."

It might be amusing to go and see Loding act, one night. He had never
met an actor before. It would be a new sensation to sit and watch the
performance of someone you knew "off." How would Loding be as a
partner?

"A very clever partner, believe me," said the voice.

"A plain bad lot," he said. "I don't want any part of him."

"You don't need any part of any of it," said the voice. "You have only
to go to Latchetts and say: Take a look at me. Do I remind you of
anyone? I was left on a doorstep on such-and-such a date, and as from
to-day I want a job."

"Blackmail, 'm? And how much do you think I'd enjoy a job I'd
blackmailed out of anyone? Don't be silly."

"They owe you something, don't they?"

"No, they don't. Not a bean."

"Oh, come off it! You're an Ashby and you know it."

"I don't know it. There have been doubles before. Hitler had several.
_Lots_ of famous people have doubles. The papers are for ever printing
photographs of the humble doubles of great men. They all look like the
great men with the character sponged out."

"Bunk. You're an Ashby. Where did you get your way with horses?"

"Lots of people have a way with horses."

"There were sixty-two kids at that orphanage, and did any of them go
about spurning good jobs, and adoption by rich parents, so that they
could find their way to horses?"

"I didn't know I was looking for horses."

"Of course you didn't know. Your Ashby blood knew."

"Oh, shut up."

To-morrow he would go down to Lewes and have a go at that jumping
stable. He might be lame but he could still ride anything on four legs.
They might be interested in someone who could ride at ten stone and
didn't mind risking his neck.

"Risk your neck when you might be living in clover?"

"If it was clover I wanted I could have had it long ago."

"Ah, but not clover with horses in it."

"Shut up. You're wasting your time."

He began to undress, as if movement might put an end to the voice. Yes:
he would go down to Lewes. It was a little too near his calf country,
but no one would recognise him after those six years. It wouldn't
really matter, of course, if they did; but he didn't want to go
backwards.

"You could always say: Sorry, my name is Ashby," mocked the voice.

"Will you be quiet!"

As he hung his jacket over the back of the chair he thought about that
young Ashby who had bowed out. With everything in the world to live for
he had gone and thrown himself off a cliff. It didn't make sense. Did
parents matter all that much?

"No, he was a poor thing, and you'd make a much better job of Latchetts
in his place."

He poured cold water into the basin and washed vigorously; an orphanage
training being almost as lasting as a Regular Service one. And as he
towelled himself on the thin turkish--so old that it was limp-wet
before he was dry--he thought: "I wouldn't like it, anyhow. Butlers,
and things." His idea of English middle-class life being derived from
American films.

Anyhow, the thing was unthinkable.

And he'd better stop thinking about it.

Someone had said that if you thought about the unthinkable long enough
it became quite reasonable.

But he would go some time and see those photographs of Loding's. There
was no harm in that.

He must see what his "twin" looked like.

He didn't like Loding much, but just going to see him could do no harm,
and he did want to see photographs of Latchetts.

Yes, he would go to see Loding.

The day after to-morrow perhaps; after he had been to Lewes.

Or even to-morrow.




6


Mr. Sandal, of Cosset, Thring and Noble, was nearing the end of his
afternoon's work and his mind was beginning its daily debate as to
whether it should be the 4.55 or the 5.15 that should bear him home.
This was almost the only debate that ever exercised Mr. Sandal's mind.
The clients of Cosset, Thring and Noble were of two kinds only: those
who made up their own minds about a problem and told their solicitors
in firm tones what they wanted done, and those who had no problems. The
even pulse of the Georgian office in the shadow of the plane trees was
never quickened by unexpected news or untoward happenings. Even the
death of a client was not news: clients were expected to die; the
appropriate will would be in the appropriate deed-box and things would
go on as before.

Family solicitors; that is what Cosset, Thring and Noble were. Keepers
of wills and protectors of secrets; but not wrestlers with problems.
Which is why Mr. Sandal was by no means the best person to take what
was coming to him.

"Is that all, Mercer?" he said to his clerk, who had been showing a
visitor out.

"There's one client in the waiting-room, sir. Young Mr. Ashby."

"Ashby? Of Latchetts?"

"Yes, sir."

"Oh, good; good. Bring in a pot of tea, Mercer, will you?"

"Yes, sir." And to the client: "Will you come in, sir?"

The young man came in.

"Ah, Simon, my dear boy," Mr. Sandal said, shaking hands with him, "I
am delighted to see you. Are you up on business, or are you just----"

His voice died away uncertainly, and he stared, the gesture of his arm
towards a chair arrested mid-way.

"God bless my soul," he said, "you are not Simon."

"No. I am not Simon."

"But--but you _are_ an Ashby."

"If you think that, it makes things a whole lot easier for me."

"Yes? Do forgive me if I am a little confused. I didn't know that there
were Ashby cousins."

"There aren't, as far as I know."

"No? Then--forgive me--which Ashby are you?"

"Patrick."

Mr. Sandal's neat mouth opened and shut like a goldfish's.

He stopped being a green thought in a green shade and became a very
worried and staggered little lawyer.

For a long moment he looked into the light Ashby eyes so near his own
without finding any words that seemed adequate to the occasion.

"I think we had better both sit down," he said at last. He indicated
the visitors' chair, and subsided into his own with an air of being
glad of an anchorage in a world suddenly at sea.

"Now, let us clarify the situation," he said. "The only Patrick Ashby
died at the age of thirteen, some--let me see--eight years ago, it must
be."

"What makes you think he died?"

"He committed suicide, and left a farewell note."

"Did the note mention suicide?"

"I am afraid I cannot recall the wording."

"Nor can I, exactly. But I can give you the sense of it. It said: 'I
can't stand it any longer. Don't be angry with me.'"

"Yes. Yes, that was the tenor of the message."

"And where in that is the mention of suicide?"

"The suggestion surely is--One would naturally infer--The letter
was found on the cliff-top with the boy's coat."

"The cliff path is the short cut to the harbour."

"The harbour? You mean----"

"It was a running-away note; not a suicide one."

"But--but the coat?"

"You can't leave a note on the open down. The only way to leave it is
in the pocket of something."

"Are you seriously suggesting that--that--that you are Patrick Ashby,
and that you never committed suicide at all?"

The young man looked at him with those unrevealing eyes of his. "When I
came in," he said, "you took me for my brother."

"Yes. They were twins. Not identical twins, but of course very----" The
full implication of what he was saying came home to him. "God bless my
soul, so I did. So I did."

He sat for a moment or two staring in a helpless fashion. And while he
stared Mercer came in with the tea.

"Do you take tea?" Mr. Sandal asked, the question being merely a reflex
conditioned by the presence of the tea-tray.

"Thank you," said the young man. "No sugar."

"You do realise, don't you," Mr. Sandal said, half-appealingly, "that
such a very startling and--and serious claim must be investigated? One
cannot, you understand, merely accept your statement."

"I don't expect you to."

"Good. That is good. Very sensible of you. At some later date it may be
possible--the fatted calf--but just now we have to be sensible about
it. You do see that. Milk?"

"Thank you."

"For instance: you ran away, you say. Ran away to sea, I take it."

"Yes."

"On what ship?"

"The _Ira Jones_. She was lying in Westover harbour."

"You stowed away, of course."

"Yes."

"And where did the ship take you?" asked Mr. Sandal, making notes and
beginning to feel that he wasn't doing so badly after all. This was
quite the worst situation he had ever been in, and there was no
question of catching the 5.15 now.

"The Channel Islands. St. Helier."

"Were you discovered on board?"

"No."

"You disembarked at St. Helier, undiscovered."

"Yes."

"And there?"

"I got the boat to St. Malo."

"You stowed away again?"

"No, I paid my fare."

"You remember what the boat was called?"

"No; it was the regular ferry service."

"I see. And then?"

"I went bus-riding. Buses always seemed to me more exciting than that
old station wagon at Latchetts, but I never had a chance of riding in
them."

"The station wagon. Ah, yes," said Mr. Sandal; and wrote: "Remembers
car." "And then?"

"Let me see. I was garage-boy for a while at an hotel in a place called
Villedieu."

"You remember the name of the hotel, perhaps?"

"The Dauphin, I think. From there I went across country and fetched up
in Havre. In Havre I got a job as galley boy on a tramp steamer."

"The name? You remember it?"

"I'll never forget it! She was called the _Barfleur_. I joined her as
Farrar. F-a-r-r-a-r. I stayed with her until I left her in Tampico.
From there I worked my way north to the States. Would you like me to
write down for you the places I worked at in the States?"

"That would be very kind of you. Here is--ah, you have a pen. If you
would just write them here, in a list. Thank you. And you came back to
England----?"

"On the 2nd of last month. On the _Philadelphia_. As a passenger. I
took a room in London and have lived there ever since. I'll write the
address for you; you'll want to check that too."

"Yes. Thank you. Yes." Mr. Sandal had an odd feeling that it was this
young man--who after all was on trial, so to speak--who was dominating
the situation and not, as it certainly should be, himself. He pulled
himself together.

"Have you attempted to communicate with your---- I mean, with Miss
Ashby?"

"No, is it difficult?" said the young man gently.

"What I mean is----"

"I've done nothing about my family, if that is what you mean. I thought
this was the best way."

"Very wise. Very wise." There he was again, being forced into the
position of chorus. "I shall get in touch with Miss Ashby at once, and
inform her of your visit."

"Tell her that I'm alive, yes."

"Yes. Quite so." Was the young man making fun of him? Surely not.

"Meanwhile you will go on living at this address?"

"Yes, I shall be there." The young man got up, again taking the
initiative from him.

"If your credentials prove to be good," Mr. Sandal said with an attempt
at severity, "I shall be the first to welcome you back to England and
to your home. In spite of the fact that your desertion of it has caused
deep grief to all concerned. I find it inexplicable that you should not
have communicated with your people before now."

"Perhaps I liked being dead."

"Being dead!"

"Anyhow you never did find me very explicable, did you?"

"Didn't I?"

"You thought it was because I was afraid that I cried, that day at
Olympia, didn't you?"

"Olympia?"

"It wasn't you know. It was because the horses were so beautiful."

"Olympia! You mean.... But that was.... You remember, then----"

"I expect you'll let me know, Mr. Sandal, when you have checked my
statements."

"What? Oh, yes; yes, certainly." Good heavens, even he himself had
forgotten that children's party at the Tournament. Perhaps he had been
altogether too cautious. If this young man--the owner of
Latchetts--dear me! Perhaps he should not have been so----

"I hope you don't think----" he began.

But the young man was gone, letting himself out with cool decision and
a brief nod to Mercer.

Mr. Sandal sat down in the inner office and mopped his brow.

And Brat, walking down the street, was shocked to find himself
exhilarated. He had expected to be nervous and a little ashamed. And it
had not been in the least like that. It had been one of the most
exciting things he had ever done. A wonderful, tight-rope sort of
thing. He had sat there and lied and not even been conscious that he
was lying, it had been so thrilling. It was like riding a rogue; you
had the same wary, strung-up feeling; the same satisfaction in avoiding
an unexpected movement to destroy you. But nothing he had ever ridden
had given him the mental excitement, the subsequent glow of
achievement, that this had given him. He was drunk with it.

And greatly surprised.

So this, he thought, was what sent criminals back to their old Ways
when there was no material need. This breathless, step-picking
excitement; this subsequent intoxication of achievement.

He went to have tea, according to Loding's instructions; but he could
not eat. He felt as if he had already had food and drink. No previous
experience of his had had this oddly satisfying effect. Normally, after
the exciting things of life--riding, love-making, rescue, close
calls--he was ravenously hungry. But now he just sat and looked at the
food in front of him in a daze of content. The glow inside him left no
room for food.

No one had followed him into the restaurant, and no one seemed to be
taking any interest in him.

He paid his bill and went out. No one was loitering anywhere; the
pavement was one long stream of hurrying people. He went to a telephone
at Victoria.

"Well?" said Loding. "How did it go?"

"Wonderful."

"Have you been drinking?"

"No. Why?"

"That is the first time I have ever heard you use a superlative."

"I'm just pleased."

"My God, you must be. Does it show?"

"Show?"

"Is there any faint change in that poker face of yours?"

"How should I know? Don't you want to know about this afternoon?"

"I already know the most important thing."

"What is that?"

"You haven't been given in charge."

"Did you expect me to be?"

"There was always the chance. But I didn't really expect it. Not with
our combined intelligences."

"Thanks."

"Did the old boy fall on your neck?"

"No. He nearly fell over. He's being very correct."

"Everything to be verified."

"Yes."

"How did he receive you?"

"He took me for Simon."

He heard Loding's amused laughter.

"Did you manage to use his Tournament party?"

"Yes."

"Oh, my God, don't go monosyllabic on me. You didn't have to rake it
up, did you?"

"No. It fitted very neatly."

"Was he impressed?"

"It had him on the ropes."

"It didn't convince him, though?"

"I didn't wait to see. I was on my way out."

"You mean, that was your exit line? My boy, I take off my hat to you.
You're a perishing marvel. After living in your pocket for the last
fortnight I thought I was beginning to know you. But you're still
surprising me to death."

"I surprise myself, if it's any consolation to you."

"I don't detect any bitterness in that line, do I?"

"No. Just surprise. Neat."

"Ah, well; we shall not be meeting for some time to come. It has been a
privilege to know you, my boy. I shall never hear Kew Gardens mentioned
without thinking tenderly of you. And I look forward, of course, to
further privileges from knowing you in the future. Meanwhile, don't
ring me up unless there is absolutely no alternative. You are as well
briefed as I can make you. From now on you're on your own."

Loding was right: it had been a wonderful briefing. For a whole
fortnight, from early morning till seven in the evening, rain or shine,
they had sat in Kew Gardens and rehearsed the ways of Latchetts and
Clare, the histories of Ashbys and Ledinghams, the lie of a land he had
never seen. And that too had been exciting. He had always been what
they called "good at exams"; and had always come to an examination
paper with the same faint pleasure that an addict brings to a quiz
party. And those fourteen days in Kew Gardens had been one glorified
quiz party. Indeed, the last few days had had some of the tight-rope
excitement that had characterised this afternoon. "Which arm did you
bowl with?" "Go to the stables from the side door." "Did you sing?"
"Could you play the piano?" "Who lived in the lodge at Clare?" "What
colour was your mother's hair?" "How did your father make his money,
apart from the estate?" "What was the name of his firm?" "What was your
favourite food?" "The name of the tuck-shop owner in the village?"
"Where is the Ashby pew in the church?" "Go from the great drawing-room
to the butler's pantry in Clare." "What was the housekeeper's name?"
"Could you ride a bicycle?" "What do you see from the south window in
the attic?" Loding fired the questions at him through the long days,
and it had been first amusing and then exciting to avoid being stumped.

Kew had been Loding's idea. "Your life since you came to London must be
subject to the most searching scrutiny, if you will forgive the cliché.
So you can't come and live with me as I suggested. You can't even be
seen with me by anyone we know. Nor can I come to your Pimlico place.
You must go on being unvisited there as you have been up till now." So
the Kew scheme had been evolved. Kew Gardens, Loding said, had perfect
cover and a wonderful field of fire. There was nowhere in London where
you could see approaching figures at such a distance and still be
unnoticed yourself. Nowhere in London that offered the variety of
meeting-places, the undisturbed quiet, that Kew did.

So each morning they had arrived separately, by different gates; had
met at a new point and gone to a different region; and there for a
fortnight Loding had primed him with photographs, maps, plans,
drawings, and pencilled diagrams. He had begun with a one-inch Ordnance
Survey map of Clare and its surroundings, progressed to a larger size,
and thence to plans of the house; so that it was rather like coming
down from above in a plane. First the lie of the country, then the
details of fields and gardens, and then the close-up of the house so
that the thing was whole in his mind from the beginning, and the
details had merely to be pointed on a picture already etched. It was
methodical, careful teaching, and Brat appreciated it.

But the highlight, of course, was provided by the photographs. And it
was not, oddly enough, the photograph of his "twin" that held his
attention once he had seen them all. Simon, of course, was
extraordinarily like him; and it gave him a strange, almost
embarrassed, feeling to look at the pictured face so like his own. But
it was not Simon who held his interest; it was the child who had not
lived to grow up; the boy whose place he was going to take. He had an
odd feeling of identity with Patrick.

Even he himself noticed this, and found it strange. He should have been
filled with guilt when he considered Patrick. But his only emotion was
one of partisanship; almost of alliance.

Crossing the courtyard at Victoria after telephoning, he wondered what
had prompted him to say that about Patrick crying. Loding had told him
merely that Patrick had cried for no known reason (he was seven then)
and that old Sandal had been disgusted and had never taken the children
out again. Loding had left the story with him to be used as and when he
thought fit. What had prompted him to say that Patrick had cried
because the horses were so beautiful? Was that, perhaps, why Patrick
_had_ cried?

Well, there was no going back now, whether he wanted to or not. That
insistent voice that had talked to him in the dark of his room had
fought for its head and got it. All he could do was sit in the saddle
and hope for the best. But at least it would be a breath-taking ride; a
unique, heart-stopping ride. Danger to life and limb he was used to;
but far more exciting was this new mental danger, this pitting of wits.

This danger to his immortal soul, the orphanage would call it. But he
had never believed in his immortal soul.

He couldn't go to Latchetts as a blackmailer, he wouldn't go as a
suppliant, he would damn well go as an invader.




7


The telegraph wires swooped and the earth whirled round the carriage
window; and Bee's mind swooped and whirled with them.

"I would have come down to see you, of course," Mr. Sandal had said on
the telephone. "It is against all my principles to deal with such grave
matters by telephone. But I was afraid that my presence might suggest
to the children that there was something serious afoot. And it would be
a pity to upset them if there is a chance that--that the trouble is
temporary."

Poor dear old Sandal. He had been very kind; had asked her if she were
sitting down, before he broke the news; and had said: "You're not
feeling faint, are you, Miss Ashby?" when his shock had been
administered.

She had not fainted. She had sat for a long time letting her knees get
back their strength, and then she had gone to her room and looked for
photographs of Patrick. Except for a studio group taken when Simon and
Patrick were ten and Eleanor nine, she seemed to have nothing. She was
not a snapshot-keeper.

Nora had been a passionate collector of her children's photographs, but
she had spurned photograph albums, which she held to be "a great waste
of time and space." (Nora had never wasted anything; it had been as if
she was half conscious that her allotted time was short.) She had kept
them all in a tattered and bursting manila envelope with O.H.M.S. on
it, and the envelope went everywhere with her. It had gone to Europe on
that holiday with her, and had made part of that blaze on the Kent
coast.

Balked of photographs, Bee went up to the old nursery, as if there she
would get nearer to the child Patrick, although she knew very well that
nothing of Patrick's remained there. Simon had burned them all. It was
the only sign he had given that his twin's death was more than he could
well bear. Simon had gone away to school after Patrick's death, and
when he came back for the summer holidays he had behaved normally, if
one took it for granted that not mentioning Patrick was in the
circumstances normal enough. And then one day Bee had come on him
tending a bonfire where the children had made their "Red Indian" and
campfires, beyond the shrubbery, and on the fire were Patrick's toys
and other small belongings. Even exercise books, she noticed, had been
brought down to feed the flames. Books and childish paintings and the
silly horse that had hung at the end of his bed; Simon was burning them
all.

He had been furious when he saw her. He had moved between her and the
fire, standing at bay, as it were, and glared at her.

"I don't want them around," he had said, almost shouting.

"I understand, Simon," she had said, and had gone away.

So there was nothing of Patrick in the old nursery under the eaves; and
not very much of the other children, after all. When this had been
Bee's own nursery it had been ugly and individual and furnished largely
with rejections from the other parts of the house. It had patterned
linoleum, and a rag rug, and a cuckoo clock, and crazy basket chairs,
and a clothes-horse, and a deal table covered with a red rep tablecloth
trimmed with bobbles and marked with ink-stains; and coloured prints of
"Bubbles" and similar masterpieces hung against a cabbage-rose
wallpaper. But Nora had done it over, so that it became an illustration
from a homemaker magazine, in powder-blue and white, with a wallpaper
of nursery-rhyme characters. Only the cuckoo clock had stayed.

The children had been happy there, but had left no mark on it. Now that
it was empty and tidy, it looked just like something in a furniture
shop window.

She had gone back to her own room, baffled and sick at heart, and had
packed a small bag for her use in the morning. To-morrow she must go up
to town and face this new emergency in the history of the Ashbys.

"Do you believe, yourself, that it is Patrick?" she had asked.

But Mr. Sandal could give her no assurance.

"He has not the air of a pretender," he allowed. "And if he is not
Patrick, then who is he? The Ashby family resemblance has always been
abnormally strong. And there is no other son of this generation."

"But Patrick would have written," she said.

That is the thought she always went back to. Patrick would never have
left her in grief and doubt all those years. Patrick would have
written. It couldn't be Patrick.

Then if it wasn't Patrick, who _was_ it?

Round and round went her mind, swooping and whirling.

"You will be the best judge," Mr. Sandal had said. "Of those now living
you are the one who knew the boy best."

"There is Simon," she had said.

"But Simon was a boy at the time and boys forget, don't they? You were
grown up."

So the onus was being put upon her. But how was _she_ to know? She who
had loved Patrick but now could hardly remember what he looked like at
thirteen. What test would there be?

Or would she know at once when she saw him that he was Patrick? Or that
he--wasn't?

And if he wasn't and yet insisted that he was, what would happen? Would
he bring a claim? Make a court action of it? Drag them all through the
publicity of the daily Press?

And if he was Patrick, what of Simon? How would he take the resurrection
of a brother he had not seen for eight years? The loss of a fortune.
Would he be glad about it, fortune or no, or would he hate his brother?

The coming-of-age celebrations would have to be postponed, that was
clear. They were much too close now for anything to be decided by that
time. What excuse should they make?

But oh, if it _could_, by some miracle, be Patrick, she would be free
of that haunting horror, that thought of the boy who regretted too late
to come back.

Her mind was still swooping and swirling as she climbed the stairs to
the offices of Cosset, Thring and Noble.

"Ah, Miss Ashby," Mr. Sandal said. "This is a shocking dilemma. A most
unprecedented---- Do sit down. You must be exhausted. A dreadful ordeal
for you. Sit down, sit down. Mercer, some tea for Miss Ashby."

"Did he say why he didn't write, all those years?" she asked; this
being the all-important thing in her mind.

"He said something about 'perhaps preferring to be dead'."

"Oh."

"A psychological difficulty, no doubt," Mr. Sandal said, proffering
comfort.

"Then you believe it _is_ Patrick?"

"I mean, if it is Patrick, his 'preferring to be dead' would no doubt
arise from the same psychological difficulty as did his running away."

"Yes. I see. I suppose so. Only--it is so unlike Patrick. Not to write,
I mean."

"It was unlike Patrick to run away."

"Yes; there is that. He certainly wasn't a runner-away by nature. He
was a sensitive child but very brave. Something must have gone very
wrong." She sat silent for a moment. "And now he is back."

"We hope so; we hope so."

"Did he seem quite normal to you?"

"Excessively," said Mr. Sandal, with a hint of dryness in his tone.

"I looked for photographs of Patrick, but there is nothing later than
this." She produced the studio group. "The children had studio
portraits taken regularly every three years, from the time they were
babies. This was the last of them. The new one would have been taken in
the summer of the year that Bill and Nora were killed; the year
Patrick--disappeared. Patrick is ten there."

She watched while Mr. Sundal studied the small immature face.

"No," he said at last. "It is impossible to say anything from so early
a photograph. As I said before, the family likeness is very strong. At
that age they are just young Ashbys, aren't they? Without any great
individuality." He looked up from studying the photograph and went on:
"I am hoping that when you yourself see the boy--the young man--you
will have no doubt one way or another. After all, it is not entirely a
matter of likeness, this recognition, is it? There is an aura of--of
personality."

"But--but if I am not sure? What is to happen if I am not sure?"

"About that: I think I have found a way out. I dined last night with my
young friend Kevin Macdermott."

"The K.C.?"

"Yes. I was greatly distressed, of course, and told him of my
difficulty, and he comforted me greatly by assuring me that
identification would be a quite simple matter. It was merely an affair
of teeth."

"Teeth? But Patrick had quite ordinary teeth."

"Yes, yes. But he had no doubt been to a dentist, and dentists have
records. Indeed, most dentists have a sort of visual memory, I
understand, of mouths they have treated--a very grim thought--and would
almost recognise one at sight. But the record will certainly show----"
He caught the look on Bee's face and paused. "What is the matter?"

"The children went to Hammond."

"Hammond? Well? That is simple, isn't it? If you don't definitely
identify the boy as Patrick, we have only to----" He broke off.
"Hammond!" he said quietly. "Oh!"

"Yes," Bee said, agreeing with the tone of the monosyllable.

"Dear me, how unfortunate. How very unfortunate."

Into the subsequent silence Mr. Sandal said miserably: "I think I ought
to tell you that Kevin Macdermott thinks the boy is lying."

"What could Mr. Macdermott possibly know about it," said Bee angrily.
"He has not even seen him!" And as Mr. Sandal went on sitting in
miserable silence, "Well?"

"It was only Kevin's opinion on the hypothesis."

"I know, but why did he think that?"

"He said it was a--a 'phoney thing to come straight to a lawyer'."

"What nonsense! It was a very sensible thing to do."

"Yes. That was his point. It was too sensible. Too pat. Everything,
Kevin said, was too pat for his liking. He said a boy coming home after
years away would go home."

"Then he doesn't know Patrick. That is just what Patrick would have
done: broken it gently by going to the family lawyer first. He was
always the most thoughtful and unselfish of creatures. I don't think
much of the clever Mr. Macdermott's analysis."

"I felt it only right to tell you everything," Mr. Sandal said, still
miserably.

"Yes, of course," Bee said kindly, recovering her temper. "Did you tell
Mr. Macdermott that Patrick--that the boy had remembered crying at
Olympia? I mean, that he had volunteered the information."

"I did; yes."

"And he still thought the boy was lying?"

"That was part of the 'patness' he professed not to like."

Bee gave a small snort. "What a mind!" she said. "I suppose that is
what a court practice does."

"It is a detached mind, that is all. One not emotionally engaged in the
matter, as we are. It behooves us to keep our minds detached."

"Yes, of course," Bee said, sobered. "Well, now that poor old Hammond
is to be no help to us--they never found him, did you know? Everything
was just blown to dust."

"Yes. Yes, so I heard; poor fellow."

"Now that we have no physical evidence, I suppose we have to rely on
the boy's own story. I mean, on checking it. I suppose that can be
done."

"Oh, quite easily. It is all quite straightforward, with dates and
places. That is what Kevin found so---- Yes. Yes. Of course it can be
checked. And of course I am sure that it _will_ check. He would not
have offered us information which would be proved nonsense."

"So really there is nothing to wait for."

"No, I---- No."

Bee braced herself.

"Then how soon can you arrange for me to meet him?"

"Well--I have been thinking about it, and I don't think, you know, that
it should be arranged at all."

"What?"

"What I should like to do--with your permission and co-operation--would
be to, as it were, walk in on him. Go and see him unannounced. So that
you would see him as he is and not as he wants you to see him. If we
made an appointment here at the office, he would----"

"Yes, I see. I understand. I agree to that. Can we go now?"

"I don't see why not. I really don't see why not," Mr. Sandal said in
that regretful tone that lawyers use when they cannot see any reason
why not. "There is, of course, the chance that he may be out. But we
can at least go and see. Ah, here is your tea! Will you drink it while
Mercer asks Simspon to ask Willett to get us a taxi?"

"You haven't got anything stronger, have you?" Bee asked.

"I'm afraid not; I'm afraid not. I have never succumbed to the
transatlantic custom of the bottle in the office. But Willett will get
you anything you may----"

"Oh, no, thank you; it's all right. I'll drink the tea. They say the
effects are much more lasting, anyway."

Mr. Sandal looked as though he would like to pat her encouragingly on
the shoulder, but could not make up his mind to it. He was really a
very kind little man, she thought, but just--just not much of a _prop_.

"Did he explain why he chose the name Farrar?" she asked, when they
were seated in the taxi.

"He didn't explain anything," Mr. Sandal said, falling back on his dry
tone.

"Did you gather that he was badly off?"

"He did not mention money, but he seemed very well-dressed in a
slightly un-English fashion."

"There was no suggestion of a loan?"

"Oh, no. Oh, dear me, no."

"Then he hasn't come back just because he is broke," Bee said, and felt
somehow pleased. She sat back and relaxed a little. Perhaps everything
was going to be all right.

"I have never quite understood why Pimlico descended so rapidly in the
social scale," said Mr. Sandal, breaking the silence as they travelled
down the avenues of pretentious porches. "It has fine wide streets, and
little through-traffic, and no more smuts than its neighbours. Why
should the well-to-do have deserted it and yet stayed in Belgravia?
Very puzzling."

"There is a sort of suction about desertion," Bee said, trying to meet
him on the small-talk level. "The local Lady Almighty occasions the
draught by leaving, and the rest, in descending order of importance,
follow in her wake. And the poorer people flood in from either side to
fill the vacuum. Is this the place?"

Her dismay took possession of her again as she looked at the dismal
front of the house; at the peeling paint and the stained stucco, the
variety of drab curtains at the windows, the unswept doorway and the
rubbed-out house-number on the horrible pillar.

The front door was open and they walked in.

A different card on each door in the hallway proclaimed the fact that
the house was let out in single rooms.

"The address is 59K," Mr. Sandal said. "I take it that K is the number
of the room."

"They begin on the ground floor and work upwards," Bee said. "This is B
on my side." So they mounted.

"H," said Bee, peering at a first-floor door. "It's up the next
flight."

The second floor was also the top one. They stood together on the dark
landing listening to the silence. He is out, she thought, he is out,
and I shall have to go through all this again.

"Have you a match?" she said.

"I and J," she read, on the two front-room doors.

Then it was the back one.

They stood in the dark for a moment, staring at it. Then Mr. Sandal
moved purposively forward and knocked.

"Come in!" said a voice. It was a deep, boy's voice; quite unlike
Simon's light sophisticated tones.

Bee, being half a head taller than Mr. Sandal, could see over his
shoulder; and her first feeling was one of shock that he should be so
much more like Simon than Patrick ever was. Her mind had been filled
with images of Patrick: vague, blurred images that she strove to make
clear so that she could compare them with the adult reality. Her whole
being had been obsessed with Patrick for the last twenty-four hours.

And now here was someone just like Simon.

The boy got up from where he had been sitting on the edge of the bed,
and with no haste or embarrassment pulled from off his left hand the
sock he had been darning. She couldn't imagine Simon darning a sock.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning," said Mr. Sandal. "I hope you don't mind: I've brought
you a visitor." He moved aside to let Bee come in. "Do you know who
this is?"

Bee's heart hammered on her ribs as she met the boy's light calm gaze
and watched him identify her.

"You do your hair differently," he said.

Yes, of course; hairdressing had changed completely in those eight
years; of course he would see a difference.

"You recognise her, then?" Mr. Sandal said.

"Yes, of course. It's Aunt Bee."

She waited for him to come forward to greet her, but he made no move
to. After a moment's pause he turned to find a seat for her.

"I'm afraid there is only one chair. It is all right if you don't lean
back on it," he said, picking up one of those hard chairs with a black
curved back and a tan seat with small holes in it. Bee was glad to sit
down on it.

"Do you mind the bed?" he said to Mr. Sandal.

"I'll stand, thank you, I'll stand," Mr. Sandal said hastily.

The details of the face were not at all like Simon's, she thought;
watching the boy stick the needle carefully in the sock. It was the
general impression that was the same; once you really looked at him the
startling resemblance vanished, and only the family likeness remained.

"Miss Ashby could not wait for a meeting at my office, so I brought her
here," Mr. Sandal said. "You don't seem particularly----" He allowed
the sentence to speak for itself.

The boy looked at her in a friendly unsmiling way and said: "I'm not
very sure of my welcome."

It was a curiously immobile face. A face like a child's drawing, now
she came to think of it. Everything in the right place and with the
right proportions, but without animation. Even the mouth had the
straight uncompromising line that is a child's version of a mouth.

He moved over to lay the socks on the dressing-table, and she saw that
he was lame.

"Have you hurt your leg?" she asked.

"I broke it. Over in the States."

"But should you be walking about on it if it is still tender?"

"Oh, it doesn't hurt," he said. "It's just short."

"Short! You mean, permanently short?"

"It looks like it."

They were sensitive lips, she noticed, for all their thinness; they
gave him away when he said that.

"But something can be done about that," she said. "It just means that
it was mended badly. I expect you didn't have a very good surgeon."

"I don't remember a surgeon. Perhaps I passed out. They did all the
correct things: hung weights on the end of it, and all that."

"But Pat----" she began, and failed to finish his name.

Into the hiatus he said: "You don't have to call me anything until you
are sure."

"They do miracles in surgery nowadays," she said, covering her break.
"How long ago is it since it happened?"

"I'd have to think. About a couple of years now, I think."

Except for the flat American _a_, his speech was without peculiarity.

"Well, we must see what can be done about it. A horse, was it?"

"Yes. I wasn't quick enough. How did you know it was a horse?"

"You told Mr. Sandal that you had worked with horses. Did you enjoy
that?" Just like railway-carriage small-talk, she thought.

"It's the only life I do enjoy."

She forgot about small-talk. "Really?" she said, pleased. "Were they
good horses, those western ones?"

"Most of them were commoners, of course. Very good stuff for their
work--which, after all, is being a good horse, I suppose. But every now
and then you come across one with blood. Some of those are beauties.
More--more individual than I ever remember English horses being."

"Perhaps in England we 'manner' the individuality out of them. I hadn't
thought of it. Did you have a horse of your own at all?"

"Yes, I had one. Smoky."

She noticed the change in his voice when he said it. As audible as the
flat note in the cracked bell of a chime.

"A grey?"

"Yes, a dark grey with black points. Not that hard, iron colour, you
know. A soft, smoky colour. When he had a tantrum he was just a
whirling cloud of smoke."

A whirling cloud of smoke. She could see it. He must love horses to be
able to see them like that. He must particularly have loved his Smoky.

"What happened to Smoky?"

"I sold him."

No trespassers. Very well, she would not trespass. He had probably had
to sell the horse when he broke his leg.

She began to hope very strenuously that this was Patrick.

The thought recalled her to the situation which she had begun to lose
sight of. She looked doubtfully at Mr. Sandal.

Catching the appeal in her glance, Mr. Sandal said: "Miss Ashby is no
doubt prepared to vouch for you, but you will understand that the
matter needs more clarification. If it were a simple matter of a
prodigal's homecoming, your aunt's acceptance of you would no doubt be
sufficient to restore you to the bosom of your family. But in the
present instance it is a matter of property. Of the ultimate
destination of a fortune. And the law will require incontrovertible
evidence of your identity before you could be allowed to succeed to
anything that was Patrick Ashby's. I hope you understand our position."

"I understand perfectly. I shall, of course, stay here until you have
made your inquiries and are satisfied."

"But you can't stay _here_," Bee said, looking with loathing at the
room and the forest of chimney-pots beyond the window.

"I have stayed in a great many worse places."

"Perhaps. That is no reason for staying here. If you need money we can
give you some, you know."

"I'll stay here, thanks."

"Are you just being independent?"

"No. It's quiet here. And handy. And bung full of privacy. When you
have lived in bunk houses you put a high value on privacy."

"Very well, you stay here. Is there anything else we can--can stake you
to?"

"I could do with another suit."

"Very well. Mr. Sandal will advance whatever you need for that." She
suddenly remembered that if he went to the Ashby tailor there would be
a sensation. So she added: "And he will give you the address of his
tailor."

"Why not Walters?" said the boy.

For a moment she could not speak.

"Aren't they there any more?"

"Oh, yes; but there would be too many explanations if you went to
Walters." She must keep a hold on herself. Anyone could find out who
the Ashby tailor had been.

"Oh, yes. I see."

She fell back on small-talk and began to take her leave.

"We have not told the family about you," she said, as she prepared to
go. "We thought it better not to, until things are--are what Mr. Sandal
calls clarified."

A flash of amusement showed in his eyes at that. For a moment they were
allied in a secret laughter.

"I understand."

She turned at the door to say good-bye. He was standing in the middle
of the room watching her go, leaving Mr. Sandal to shepherd her out. He
looked remote and lonely. And she thought: "If this _is_ Patrick,
Patrick come home again, and I am leaving him like this, as if he were
a casual acquaintance----" It was more than she could bear, the thought
of the boy's loneliness.

She went back to him, took his face lightly in her gloved hand, and
kissed his cheek. "Welcome back, my dear," she said.




8


So Cosset, Thring and Noble began their investigations, and Bee went
back to Latchetts to deal with the problem of postponing the
coming-of-age celebrations.

Was she to tell the children now, before the thing was certain? And if
not, what excuse could she possibly put forward for not celebrating at
the proper time?

Mr. Sandal was against telling the children yet. The unknown Kevin's
verdict had left a mark on him, it seemed; and he was entirely prepared
to find a flaw in the so-complete dossier that had been handed to them.
It would be inadvisable, he thought, to bring the children into this
until the claim had been sifted through the finest mesh.

With that she agreed. If this thing passed--if that boy in the back
room in Pimlico was not Patrick--they need never know anything about
it. Simon would probably have to be told, so that he could be warned
against future attempts at fraud, but by that time it would be of no
more than academic interest; a quite impersonal affair. Her present
difficulty was how to reconcile the children's ignorance with the
postponing of the celebrations.

The person who rescued her from this dilemma was Great-uncle Charles,
who cabled to announce his (long overdue) retirement, and his hope to
be present at his great-nephew's coming-of-age party. He was on his way
home from the Far East, and, since he refused to fly, his homecoming
was likely to be a protracted one, but he hoped Simon would keep the
champagne corked till he came.

Great-uncles do not normally cut much ice in the families in which they
survive, but to the Ashbys Great-uncle Charles was much more than a
great-uncle: he was a household word. Every birthday had been made
iridescent and every Christmas a tingling expectation by the thought of
Great-uncle Charles's present. There were reasonable bounds to the
possible presents of parents; and Father Christmas's were merely the
answer to indents.

But neither reason nor bounds had any connection with presents from
Great-uncle Charles. Once he had sent a set of chopsticks, which upset
nursery discipline for a week. And once it had been the skin of a
snake; the glory of owning the skin of a snake had made Simon dizzy for
days. And Eleanor still ran to and from her bath in a pair of
odd-smelling leather slippers that had come on her twelfth birthday. At
least four times every year Great-uncle Charles became the most
important factor in the Ashby family; and when you have been of first
importance four times a year for twenty years your importance is pretty
considerable. Simon might grumble and the others protest a little, but
they would without doubt wait for Great-uncle Charles.

Besides, she had a shrewd idea that Simon would not be willing to
offend the last-surviving Ashby of his generation. Charles was not
rich--he had been far too liberal a giver all his life--but he was
comfortably off; and Simon, for all his careless good nature and easy
charm, was an exceedingly practical person.

So the postponement was taken by the family with resignation, and by
Clare with equanimity. It was held to be a very proper thing that the
Ashbys should wait until the old boy could be present. Bee spent her
after-dinner leisure altering the date on the invitation cards, and
thanking heaven for the mercifulness of chance.

Bee was at odds with herself these days. She wanted this boy to be
Patrick; but it would be so much better for all concerned, she felt, if
he proved not to be Patrick. Seven-eighths of her wanted Patrick back;
warm, and alive, and dear; wanted it passionately. The other eighth
shrank from the upheaval of the happy Ashby world that his return would
bring with it. When she caught this renegade eighth at its work she
reproved it and was suitably ashamed of herself; but she could not
destroy it. And so she was distrait and short-tempered, and Ruth,
commenting on it to Jane, said:

"Do you think she can have a Secret Sorrow?"

"I expect the books won't balance," Jane said. "She's a very bad
adder-up."

Mr. Sandal reported from time to time on the progress of the
investigations, and the reports were uniform and monotonous. Everything
seemed to confirm the boy's story.

"The most heartening thing, using the word in its sense of reassurance,"
Mr. Sandal said, "is that the young man seems to have no contacts
since he came to England. He has lived at that address since the
_Philadelphia's_ arrival, and he has had neither letters nor visitors.
The woman who owns the house occupies one of the front rooms on the
ground floor. She is one of those women who has nothing to do but sit
back and watch her neighbours. The lives of her tenants seem to be an
open book to the good lady. She is also accustomed to waiting for the
postman and collecting the letters he drops. Nothing escapes her. Her
description of myself was, I understand, hardly flattering but quite
touching in its fidelity. The young man could therefore have hardly had
visitors without her being aware of it. He was out all day, of course;
as any young man in London would be. But there is no trace of that
intimacy which would suggest connivance. He had no friends."

The young man came willingly to the office and answered questions
freely. With Bee's consent, Kevin Macdermott had "sat in" at one of
these office conferences, and even Kevin had been shaken. "What shakes
me," Kevin had said, "is not the fellow's knowledge of the subject--all
good con. men are glib--but the general cut of his jib. He's quite
frankly not what I expected. After a little while in my job you develop
a smell for a wrong 'un. This chap has me baffled. He doesn't smell
like a crook to me, and yet the set-up stinks."

So the day came when Mr. Sandal announced to Bee that Cosset, Thring
and Noble were now prepared to accept the claimant as Patrick Ashby,
the eldest son of William Ashby of Latchetts, and to hand over to him
everything that was due to him. There would be legal formalities, of
course, since the fact of his death eight years ago had been presumed;
but they would be automatic. As far as they, Cosset, Thring and Noble,
were concerned, Patrick Ashby was free to go home whenever he pleased.

So the moment had come, and Bee was faced with breaking the news to the
family.

Her instinct was to tell Simon first, privately; but she felt that
anything that set him apart from the others in this matter of welcoming
back his brother was to be avoided. It would be better to take for
granted that for Simon, as for the others, the news would be a matter
for unqualified happiness.

It was after lunch on a Sunday that she told them.

"I have something to tell you that will be rather a shock to you. But a
nice kind of shock," she said. And went on from there. Patrick had not
committed suicide, as they had thought. He had merely run away. And now
he had come back. He had been living for a little in London because, of
course, he had to prove to the lawyers that he was Patrick. But he had
had no difficulty in doing that. And now he was going to come home.

She had avoided looking at their faces as she talked; it was easier
just to talk into space, impersonally. But in the startled silence that
followed her story she looked across at Simon; and for a moment did not
recognise him. The shrunk white face with the blazing eyes had no
resemblance to the Simon she knew. She looked away hastily.

"Does it mean that this new brother will get all the money that is
Simon's?" asked Jane, with her usual lack of finesse.

"Well, I think it was a horrible thing to do," Eleanor said bluntly.

"What was?"

"Running away and leaving us all thinking he was dead."

"He didn't know that, of course. I mean: that we would take his note to
mean that he was going to kill himself."

"Even so. He left us all without a word for--for--how long is it? Seven
years? Nearly eight years. And then comes back one day without warning,
and expects us to welcome him."

"Is he nice?" asked Ruth.

"What do you mean by nice?" Bee asked, glad for once of Ruth's interest
in the personal.

"Is he nice to look at? And does he talk nicely or has he a frightful
accent?"

"He is exceedingly nice to look at, and he has no accent whatsoever."

"Where has he been all this time?" Eleanor asked.

"Mexico and the States, mostly."

"Mexico!" said Ruth. "How romantic! Does he wear a black sailor hat?"

"A what? No, of course he doesn't. He wears a hat like anyone else."

"How often have you seen him, Aunt Bee?" Eleanor asked.

"Just once. A few weeks ago."

"Why didn't you tell us about it then?"

"It seemed better to wait until the lawyers were finished with him and
he was ready to come home. You couldn't all go rushing up to London to
see him."

"No, I suppose not. But I expect Simon would have liked to go up and
see him, wouldn't you, Simon, and we wouldn't have minded? After all,
Patrick was his twin."

"I don't believe for one moment that it is Patrick," Simon said, in a
tight, careful voice that was worse than shouting.

"But, Simon!" Eleanor said.

Bee sat in a dismayed silence. This was worse than she had anticipated.

"But, Simon! Aunt Bee has seen him. She must know."

"Aunt Bee seems to have adopted him."

Much worse than she had anticipated.

"The people who _have_ adopted him, Simon, are Cosset, Thring and
Noble. A not very emotional firm, I think you'll agree. If there had
been the faintest doubt of his being Patrick, Cosset, Thring and Noble
would have discovered it during those weeks. They have left no part of
his life since he left England unaccounted for."

"Of _course_ whoever it is has had a life that can be checked! What did
they expect? But what possible reason can they have for believing that
he is Patrick?"

"Well, for one thing, he is your double."

This was clearly unexpected. "My double?" he said vaguely.

"Yes. He is even more like you than when he went away."

The colour had come back to Simon's face and the stuff on the bones had
begun to look like flesh again; but now he looked stupid, like a boxer
who is taking too much punishment.

"Believe me, Simon dear," she said, "it _is_ Patrick!"

"It isn't. I know it isn't. You are all being fooled!"

"But, Simon!" Eleanor said. "Why should you think that? I know it won't
be easy for you to have Patrick back--it won't be easy for any of
us--but there's no use making a fuss about it. The thing is there and
we just have to accept it. You are only making things worse by trying
to push it away."

"How did this--this creature who says he is Patrick, how did he get to
Mexico? How did he leave England? And when? And where?"

"He left from Westover in a ship called the _Ira Jones_."

"Westover! Who says so?"

"He does. And according to the harbourmaster, a ship of that name did
leave Westover on the night that Patrick went missing."

Since this seemed to leave Simon without speech, she went on: "And
everything he did from then on has been checked. The hotel he worked at
in Normandy is no longer there, but they have found the ship he sailed
from Havre in--it's a tramp, but it belongs to a firm in Brest--and
people have been shown photographs and identified him. And so on, all
the way back to England. Till the day he walked into Mr. Sandal's
office."

"Is that how he came back?" Eleanor asked. "Went to see old Mr.
Sandal?"

"Yes."

"Well, I should say that proves that he is Patrick, if anyone is in any
doubt about it. But I don't know why there should be doubt at all.
After all, it would be very easy to catch him out if he wasn't Patrick,
wouldn't it? All the family things he wouldn't know...."

"It _isn't_ Patrick."

"It is a shock for you, Simon, my dear," Bee said, "and, as Eleanor
says, it won't be easy for you. But I think it will be easier when you
see him. Easier to accept him, I mean. He is so undeniably an Ashby,
and so very like you."

"Patrick _wasn't_ very like me."

Eleanor saved Bee from having to reply to that. "He was, Simon. Of
course he was. He was your twin."

"If _I_ ran away for years and years, would you believe I was me,
Jane?" Ruth asked.

"You wouldn't stay away for years and years, anyhow," Jane said.

"What makes you think I wouldn't?"

"You'd come home in no time at all."

"Why would I come home?"

"To see how everyone was taking your running away."

"When is he coming, Aunt Bee?" Eleanor asked.

"On Tuesday. At least that is what we had arranged. But if you would
like to put it off a little--until you grow more used to the idea, I
mean...." She glanced at Simon, who was looking sick and baffled. In
her most apprehensive moments she had never pictured a reaction as
serious as this.

"If you flatter yourself that I shall grow used to the idea, you are
wrong," Simon said. "It makes no difference to me when the fellow
comes. As far as I'm concerned he is not Patrick and he never will be."

And he walked out of the room. Walking, Bee noticed, not very steadily,
as if he were drunk.

"I've never known Simon like that before," Eleanor said, puzzled.

"I should have broken it to him differently. I'm afraid it is my fault.
I just--didn't want to make him different from anyone else."

"But he loved Patrick, didn't he? Why shouldn't he be glad about it?
Even a _little_ glad!"

"I think it is horrid that someone can come and take Simon's place,
without warning, like that," Jane said. "Simply horrid. And I don't
wonder that Simon is angry."

"Aunt Bee," said Ruth, "can I wear my blue on Tuesday when Patrick
comes?"




9


Bee waited till Evensong would be over, and then walked across the
fields to the Rectory. Ostensibly, she was going to tell them the news;
actually she was going to pour out her troubles to George Peck. When
George could withdraw his mind sufficiently from the classic world to
focus it on the present one, he was a comfortable person to talk to.
Unemotional and unshockable. Bee supposed that an intimate acquaintance
with classic on-goings, topped-off with a cure of souls in a country
parish, had so conditioned him to shocks that he had long ago become
immune from further attack. Neither ancient iniquity nor modern English
back-sliding surprised him. So it was not to Nancy, her friend, that
she was taking her unquiet heart, but to the Rector. Nancy would wrap
her round with warm affection and sympathy, but it was not sympathy she
needed; it was support. Besides, if she was to find understanding it
would not be with Nancy, who had forgotten Patrick's very existence,
but with George Peck, who would most certainly remember the boy he had
taught.

So she walked in the sunlight over the fields, through the churchyard,
and into the Rectory garden through the little iron gate that had
caused that terrific row in 1723. Very peaceful it all was to-night,
and very peaceful were the rival smiths, sleeping within twelve feet of
each other over there in the corner in good Clare earth. Some day quite
soon, she thought, pausing with her hand on the delicate iron scroll,
my trouble too will be just an old song; one must try to keep things in
proportion. But it was her head talking to her heart, and her heart
would not listen.

She found the Rector where she knew he would be. Always after Evensong
it was his habit to go and stare at something in the garden; usually at
something at the farther end of the garden from which he could not be
too easily recalled to the trivialities of social obligation. This
evening he was staring at a purple lilac and polluting the fragrant air
with a pipe that smelt like a damp bonfire. "There should be a by-law
against pipes like George's," his wife had said, and the present sample
was no exception. It depressed Bee still further.

He glanced up as she came down the path and went back to staring at the
lilac. "Wonderful colour, isn't it," he said. "Odd to think that it is
just an optical illusion. What colour is a lilac when you are not
looking at it, I wonder?"

Bee remembered that the Rector had once broken it to the twins that a
clock does not tick if no one is in the room. She had found Ruth being
surreptitious in the hall, and Ruth, when asked what this noiseless
progress was occasioned by, had said that she was "trying to sneak up
on the drawing-room clock." She wanted to catch it not ticking.

Bee stood by the Rector in silence for a little, looking at the glory
and trying to arrange her thoughts. But they would not arrange.

"George," she said at length, "you remember Patrick, don't you?"

"Pat Ashby? Of course." He turned to look at her.

"Well, he didn't die at all. He just ran away. That is what the note
meant. And he is coming back. And Simon isn't pleased." A great round
shameless tear slipped out of her eye and ran down her cheek. She
brushed it off her chin and went on staring at the lilac.

George extended a bony forefinger and gently speared the front of her
shoulder with it.

"Sit down," he said.

She sat down on the seat behind her, under the arch of the young green
honeysuckle, and the Rector sat down beside her. "Now, tell me," he
said; and she told him. All the bewildering story, in the proper order
and with full detail; Mr. Sandal's telephone call, the journey to town,
the top-floor-back in Pimlico, the investigations of Cosset, Thring and
Noble, the rescue by Great-uncle Charles, the ultimate facing of the
facts and announcing them to the family, the family reaction.

"Eleanor is a little cold about it, but reasonable as she always is.
The thing is there and she is going to make the best of it. Jane, of
course, is partisan, and sorry for Simon, but she will get over that
when she meets her brother in the flesh. She is a friendly soul by
nature."

"And Ruth?"

"Ruth is planning her wardrobe for Tuesday," Bee said tartly.

The Rector smiled a little. "The happy ones of the earth, the Ruths."

"But Simon.... How can one account for Simon?"

"I don't think that that is very difficult, you know. Simon would have
had to be a saint to welcome back a brother who was going to supplant
him. A brother, moreover, who has been dead to him since the age of
thirteen."

"But, George, his twin! They were inseparable."

"I think that thirteen is further removed from twenty-one than almost
any other equidistant points in life. It is a whole lifetime away. An
association that ended at thirteen has little but sentimental value for
the boy of twenty-one. Latchetts has been Simon's for--what is
it?--eight years; he has known for eight years that he would come into
his mother's money at twenty-one: to be deprived of all that without
warning would upset a stronger character than Simon's."

"I expect I did it badly," Bee said. "The way I told them, I mean. I
should have told Simon first, privately. But I did so want to keep them
all on the same level. To pretend that they would all be equally glad.
Taking Simon apart and telling him before the others would have--would
have----"

"Anticipated the trouble."

"Yes. Something like that, I suppose. I suppose I had known quite well
that his reaction would be--different from the others. And I just
wanted to minimise the difference. I had never imagined for a moment,
you see, that his reaction would be so violent. That he would go to the
length of denying that Patrick was alive."

"That is only his method of pushing the unwelcome fact away from him."

"Unwelcome," Bee murmured.

"Yes, unwelcome. And very naturally unwelcome. You make things
difficult for yourself if you don't accept that fundamental fact.
_You_ remember Patrick with your adult mind, and are rejoiced that
he is still alive." He turned his head to look at her. "Or--are you?"

"Of _course_ I am!" she said, a shade too emphatically. But he let
it go.

"Simon doesn't remember him with an adult mind or adult emotions. To
Simon he is a remembered emotion; not a present one. He has no present
love to fight his present--hatred with."

"Oh, George."

"Yes; it is best to face it. It would take an almost divine love to
combat the resentment that Simon must be feeling now; and there has
never been anything in the least divine about Simon. Poor Simon. It is
a wretched thing to have happened to him."

"And at the very worst moment. When we were all ready for celebration."

"At least this is the answer to something that has puzzled me for eight
years."

"What is that?"

"The fact of Patrick's suicide. I could never reconcile it with the
Patrick I knew. Patrick was a sensitive child, but he had a tremendous
fund of good common sense; a balance. A far better equilibrium, for
instance, than the less sensitive but more brilliant Simon. He had
also, moreover, a great sense of obligation. If Latchetts was suddenly
and unaccountably his he might be overwhelmed to the point of running
away, but not unbalanced to the point of taking his life."

"Why did we all so unquestioningly accept the suicide theory?"

"The coat on the cliff-top. The note--which did read like a suicide
one, undoubtedly. The complete lack of anyone who had seen him after
old Abel met him between Tanbitches and the cliff. The persistence with
which suicides use that particular part of the coast for their
taking-off. It was the natural conclusion to come to. I don't remember
that we ever questioned it. But it had always stayed in my mind as an
unaccountable thing. Not the method, but the fact that Patrick should
have taken his own life. It was unlike everything I knew about Patrick.
And now we find that, after all, he did no such thing."

"I shut my eyes and the lilac is no colour; I open them and it is
purple," Bee was saying to herself; which was her way of keeping her
tears at bay. Just as she counted objects when in danger of crying at a
play.

"Tell me, are you pleased with this adult Patrick who has come back?"

"Yes. Yes, I am pleased. He is in some ways very like the Patrick who
went away. Very quiet. Self-contained. Very considerate. Do you
remember how Patrick used to turn and say: 'Are you all right?' before
he began whatever he was planning to do on his own? He still thinks of
the other person. Didn't try to--rush me, or take his welcome for
granted. And he still keeps his bad times to himself. Simon always came
flying to one with his griefs and grievances, but Patrick dealt with
his own. He seems still to be able to deal with his own."

"Has he had a bad time, then, do you think?"

"I gather it hasn't been a bed of roses. I forgot to tell you that he
is lame."

"Lame!"

"Yes. Just a little. Some accident with a horse. He is still mad about
horses."

"That will make you happy," George said. He said it a little wryly,
being no horseman.

"Yes," agreed Bee with a faint smile for the wryness. "It is good that
Latchetts should go to a real lover."

"You rate Simon as a poor lover?"

"Not poor. Indifferent, perhaps. To Simon horses are a means of
providing excitement. Of enhancing his prestige. A medium for trade;
for profitable dickering. I doubt if it goes further than that. For
horses as--people, if you know what I mean, he has little feeling.
Their sicknesses bore him. Eleanor will stay up for nights on end with
a horse that is ill, sharing the nursing fifty-fifty with Gregg. The
only time Simon loses sleep is when a horse he wants to ride, or jump,
or hunt, has a 'leg'."

"Poor Simon," the Rector said reflectively. "Not the temperament to
make a successful fight against jealousy. A very destructive emotion
indeed, jealousy."

Before Bee could answer, Nancy appeared.

"Bee! How nice," she said. "Were you at Evensong, and did you see the
latest contingent from our local school for scandalisers? Two
adolescents who are 'studying the prevalent English superstitions': to
wit, the Church of England. A boy, very hairy for fourteen, it seemed
to me; and a girl with eleven combs keeping up her not very abundant
wisps. What would you say a passion for combs was an indication of? A
sense of insecurity?"

"Beatrice has come with a very wonderful piece of news," the Rector
said.

"Don't tell me Simon has got himself engaged."

"No. It is not about Simon. It's about Patrick."

"Patrick?" Nancy said uncertainly.

"He is alive." And he told her how.

"Oh, Bee, my dear," Nancy said, putting her arms round her friend, "how
glorious for you. Now you won't have to wonder any more."

That Nancy's first reaction was to remember that private nightmare of
hers broke Bee down altogether.

"You need a drink," Nancy said, briskly. "Come along in and we'll
finish what's left in the sherry bottle."

"A deplorable reason for drinking sherry," the Rector said.

"What is?"

"That one 'needs a drink'."

"An even more deplorable reason is that if we don't drink it Mrs.
Godkin will. She has had most of the rest of the bottle. Come along."

So Bee drank the Rectory sherry and listened while George enlightened
Nancy on the details of Patrick Ashby's return. Now that her weight of
knowledge was shared with her own generation, the burden was suddenly
lighter. Whatever difficulties lay ahead, there Would be George and
Nancy to support and comfort her.

"When is Patrick coming?" Nancy asked; and the Rector turned to Bee.

"On Tuesday," Bee told them. "What I can't decide is the best way of
spreading the news in the district."

"That's easy," Nancy said. "Just tell Mrs. Gloom."

Mrs. Gloom kept the sweets-tobacco-and-newspaper shop in the village.
Her real name was Bloom, but her relish for disaster caused her to be
known, first by the Ledingham and Ashby children, and later by all and
sundry, as Mrs. Gloom.

"Or you could send yourself a postcard. The post office is almost as
good. That is what Jim Bowden did when he jilted the Heywood girl. Sent
his mother a telegram announcing his wedding. The fuss was all over
before he came back."

"I'm afraid we are going to be at the exact centre of the fuss until
the nine days' wonder is over," Bee said. "One must just put up with
it."

"Ah, well, my dear, it's a _nice_ sort of fuss," Nancy said, comforting.

"Yes. But the situation is so--so incalculable. It's like--like----"

"I know," Nancy said, agreeing. "Like walking on jelly."

"I was going to say picking one's way over a bog, but I think the jelly
is a better description."

"Or one of those uneven floors at fun fairs," the Rector said
unexpectedly, as Bee took her leave.

"How do you know about fun fairs, George?" his wife asked.

"They had one at the Westover Carnival a year or two ago, I seem to
remember. A most interesting study in masochism."

"You see now why I have stuck to George," Nancy said, as she walked
with Bee to the garden gate. "After thirteen years I am still finding
out things about him. I wouldn't have believed that he even knew what a
fun fair was. Can you picture George lost in contemplation of the Giant
Racer?"

But it was not of Nancy's George that she was thinking as she walked
away through the churchyard, but of the fun-fair floor that she was
doomed to walk in the days ahead. She turned in at the south porch of
the church and found the great oak door still unlocked. The light of
the sunset flooded the grey vault with warmth, and the whole building
held peace as a cup holds water. She sat down on a bench by the door
and listened to the silence. A companionable silence which she shared
with the figures on the tombs, the tattered banners, the names on the
wall, the Legion's garish Union Jack, and the slow ticking of a clock.
The tombs were all Ledingham ones: from the simple dignity of the
Crusader to the marble family that wept with ostentatious opulence over
the eighteenth-century politician. The Ashbys had no crusaders and no
opulence. Their memorials were tablets on the wall. Bee sat there and
read them for the thousandth time. "Of Latchetts" was the refrain. "Of
Latchetts in this parish." No field-marshals, no chancellors, no poets,
no reformers. Just the yeoman simplicity of Latchetts; the small-squire
sufficiency of Latchetts.

And now Latchetts belonged to this unknown boy from half a world away.

"A great sense of obligation," the Rector had said, speaking of the
Patrick he remembered. And that had been the Patrick that she, too,
remembered. And that Patrick would have written to them.

Always she came back to that in her mind. The Patrick they knew would
never have left them in grief and doubt for eight years.

"Some psychological difficulty," Mr. Sandal had said. And after all,
he _had_ run away. A sufficiently unlikely thing for Patrick to do.
Perhaps he had been overcome by shame when he came to himself.

And yet. And yet.

That kind child who so automatically asked: "Are you all right?"

That child with the "great sense of obligation"?




10


And while Bee sat and stared at the Ashby tablets in the church at
Clare, Brat Farrar was standing in the back room in Pimlico in a
brand-new suit and a state of panic.

How had he got himself into this? What could he have been thinking of?
He, Brat Farrar. How did he ever think that he could go through with
it? How had he ever in the first place consented to lend himself to
such a plan?

It was the suit that had shocked him into realisation. The suit was
wrong-doing made concrete and manifest. It was a wonderful suit. The
kind of suit that he had dreamed of possessing; so unremarkable, so
unmistakable once you had remarked it: English tailoring at its
unobtrusive best. But he stood looking at himself in the mirror in a
kind of horror.

He couldn't do it, that was all. He just couldn't do it.

He would duck, before it was too late.

He would send back the goddamned suit to the tailor, and send a letter
to that woman who had been so nice, and just duck out of sight.

"What!" said the voice. "And pass up the greatest adventure of your
life? The greatest adventure that has happened to any man within living
memory?"

"Adventure my foot. It's plain false pretences."

They wouldn't bother to look for him. They would be too relieved to
have him out of their hair. He could duck without leaving a ripple.

"And leave a fortune behind?" said the voice.

"_Yes_, and leave a fortune behind. Who wants a fortune, anyhow?"

They would have his letter to insure them against any further nuisance
from his side, and they would just let him go. He would write to that
woman who, because she was kind, had kissed him before she was sure,
and confess, and say he was sorry, and that would be that.

"And pass up the chance of owning a stud?"

"Who wants a stud? The world's lousy with horses."

"And you are going to own some, perhaps?"

"I may, some day. I may."

"Pigs may fly."

"Shut up."

He would write to Loding and tell him that he would be no party to his
criminal schemes.

"And waste all that knowledge? All that training?"

"I should never have started it."

"But you did start it. You finished it. You are primed to the gills
with knowledge worth a fortune. You can't waste it, surely!"

Loding would have to whistle for that fifty per cent. How could he ever
have thought of letting himself be an instrument in the hands of a
crook like Loding!

"A very amusing and intelligent crook. On the highest level of
crookery. Nothing to be ashamed of, believe me."

He would go to a travel agency to-morrow morning and get a berth out of
the country. Anywhere out of the country.

"I thought you wanted to stay in England?"

He would put the sea between him and temptation.

"Did you say temptation? Don't tell me that you're still wavering!"

He hadn't enough left for a fare to America, but he had enough to take
him quite a distance. The travel agency would offer him a choice of
places. The world was wide and there was a lot of fun left in it. By
Tuesday morning he would be out of England, and this time he would stay
out.

"And never see Latchetts at all?"

He would find some---- "What did you say?"

"I said: And never see Latchetts at all?"

He tried to think of an answer.

"Stumped you, haven't I!"

There must be an answer.

"Money, and horses, and fun, and adventure are common change. You can
have them anywhere in the world. But if you pass up Latchetts now you
pass it up for good. There won't be any going back."

"But what has Latchetts to do with me?"

"You ask that? You, with your Ashby face, and your Ashby bones, and
your Ashby tastes, and your Ashby colouring, and your Ashby blood."

"I haven't any evidence at all that----"

"And your Ashby blood, I said. Why, you poor little brute of a
foundling, Latchetts is your belonging-place, and you have the immortal
gall to pretend that you don't care a rap about it!"

"I didn't say I didn't care. Of course I care."

"But you'll walk out of this country to-morrow, and leave Latchetts
behind? For always? Because that is what it amounts to, my boy. That is
the choice before you. Take the road of high adventure and on Tuesday
morning you will see Latchetts. Duck, and you will never see it at
all."

"But I'm not a crook! I can't do something that is criminal."

"Can't you? You've been giving a pretty good imitation of it these last
few weeks. And enjoying it too. Remember how you enjoyed that
tight-rope business on that first visit to old Sandal? How you enjoyed
all the others? Even with a K.C. sitting across the table and doing a
sort of mental X-ray on you. You loved it. All that is wrong with you
just now is cold feet. Nerves. You want to see Latchetts as you have
never wanted anything before. You want to live at Latchetts as an
Ashby. You want horses. You want adventure. You want a life in England.
Go to Latchetts on Tuesday and they are all yours."

"But----"

"You came half across the world to that meeting with Loding. Was that
just chance? Of course not. It was all meant. Your destiny is at
Latchetts. Your destiny. What you were born for. Your destiny. At
Latchetts. You're an Ashby. Half across a world to a place you never
heard of. Destiny. You can't pass up destiny...."

Brat got slowly out of the brand-new suit, and hung it up with
orphanage neatness on its fine new hanger. Then he sat down on the edge
of his bed and buried his face in his hands.

He was still sitting there when the darkness came.




11


It was a beautiful day, the day that Brat Farrar came to Latchetts, but
a restless little wind kept turning the leaves over so that in spite of
the sunlight and the bright air the world was filled with a vague
unease and a promise of storm.

"Much too shiny!" thought Bee, looking at the landscape from her
bedroom window after breakfast. "'Tears before night,' as Nanny used to
say of too exuberant children. However. At least he will arrive in
sunshine."

She had been greatly exercised in her mind over that arrival. It was to
be as informal as possible; that was a thing that was agreed to by all
concerned. Someone would meet him at the station and bring him home,
and there would be luncheon with only the family present. The question
was: Who was to meet him? The twins had held that the whole family
should go to the station, but that, of course, was not to be thought
of. The prodigal could hardly be welcomed publicly on the platform at
Guessgate for the entertainment of the railway staff and casual
travellers between Westover and Bures. She herself could not go without
giving the returning Patrick an air of being her protégé; which was
something to be avoided at all costs. She had not forgotten Simon's
sneer about her "adoption" of Patrick. Simon--the obvious choice for
the role of welcomer--was not available; since her announcement on
Sunday he had slept at home but had not otherwise taken part in
Latchetts activities, and Bee's attempt to talk to him in his room late
on Monday night had been futile.

So she had been relieved when Eleanor offered to drive the four miles
to the station at Guessgate and bring Patrick back.

The present load on her mind was that family meal after his arrival. If
Simon did not turn up how was his absence to be explained? And if he
did turn up what was that lunch going to be like?

She turned to go down for one more rehearsal with the cook--their third
cook in the last twelve months--when she was waylaid by Lana, their
"help." Lana came from the village, and had gilt hair and varnished
fingernails and the local version of the current make-up. She "obliged"
only because her "boy-friend" worked in the stables. She would sweep
and dust, she explained when she first came, because that was "all
right," but she would not wait at table because that was "menial." Bee
had longed to tell her that no one with her hands, or her breath, or
her scent, or her manners, would ever be allowed to hand an Ashby a
plate; but she had learned to be politic. She explained that there was,
in any case, no question of waiting at table; the Ashbys always waited
on themselves.

Lana had come to say that the "vacuum was vomiting instead of
swallowing," and domestic worries closed once more over Bee's head and
swamped domestic drama. She came to the surface in time to see Eleanor
getting into her little two-seater.

"Aren't you taking the car?" she asked. "The car" was the family
vehicle, Eleanor's disreputable little conveyance being known as "the
bug."

"No. He'll have to take us as we are," Eleanor said.

Bee noticed that she had not bothered to change into a dress. She was
wearing the breeches and gaiters in which she had begun the morning.

"Oh, take me, take me!" Ruth said, precipitating herself down the steps
and on to the car, but taking good care, Bee noticed, to keep "her
blue" away from the bug's dusty metal.

"No," Eleanor said firmly.

"I'm sure he would like me to be there. One of my generation, I mean.
After all, he knows you. It won't be exciting for him to see you the
way it would be for him to see----"

"No. And keep off if you don't want that dazzling outfit of yours to be
mucked up."

"I do think it is selfish of Eleanor," Ruth said, dusting her palms as
she watched the car grow small between the lime trees. "She just wants
to keep the excitement to herself."

"Nonsense. It was arranged that you and Jane should wait here. Where is
Jane, by the way?"

"In the stables, I think. She isn't interested in Patrick."

"I hope she comes in in good time for lunch."

"Oh, she will. She may not be interested in Patrick, but she is always
ready for her meals. Is Simon going to be there, at lunch?"

"I hope so."

"What do you think he will say to Patrick?"

If the peace and happiness of Latchetts was going to break down into a
welter of discord the twins must go away to school. They would be going
to school in a year or two, anyhow; they had much better go now than
live in an atmosphere of strain and hatred.

"Do you think there will be a scene?" Ruth asked, hopefully.

"Of course not, Ruth. I wish you wouldn't dramatise things."

But she wished, too, that she could count on there being no scene. And
Eleanor, on her way to the station, was wishing the same thing. She was
a little nervous of meeting this new brother, and annoyed with herself
for being nervous. Her everyday clothes were her protest against her
own excitement: a pretence that nothing of real moment was about to
happen.

Guessgate, which served three villages but no town, was a small wayside
station with a fairly heavy goods business but little passenger
traffic, so that when Brat climbed down from his carriage there was no
one on the platform but a fat countrywoman, a sweating porter, the
ticket-collector, and Eleanor.

"Hullo," she said. "You are very like Simon." And she shook hands with
him. He noticed that she wore no make-up. A little powdering of
freckles went over the bridge of her nose.

"Eleanor," he said, identifying her.

"Yes. What about your luggage? I have just the small car but the dickey
holds quite a lot."

"I have just this," he said, indicating his "grip."

"Is the rest coming later?"

"No, this is all I possess."

"Oh." She smiled just a little. "No moss."

"No," he said, "no moss," and began to like her very much.

"The car is out in the yard. Through this way."

"Been away, Mr. Ashby?" the ticket-collector said, accepting his piece
of pasteboard.

"Yes, I've been away."

At the sound of his voice the ticket-collector looked up, puzzled.

"He took you for Simon," Eleanor said, as they got into the car; and
smiled properly. Her two front teeth crossed just a little; which gave
her face an endearing childishness. It was a cool, determined, small
face when she was serious. "You couldn't have come home at a better
time of the year," she said, as they scrunched over the gravel of the
station yard and fled away into the landscape.

"Home," he thought. Her hair was the colour of corn so ripe that it was
nearly white. Pale, silky stuff, very fine. It was brushed back into a
knot, as if she could not be bothered to do anything else with it.

"The blossom is just beginning. And the first foals are here."

The knees in their worn whipcord were just like a boy's. But the bare
arms protruding from the jacket she wore slung over her shoulders were
delicately round.

"Honey has a filly foal that is going to make history. Wait till you
see it. You won't know Honey, of course. She was after your time. Her
real name is Greek Honey. By Hymettus out of a mare called Money For
Jam. I hope you will be impressed with our horses."

"I expect to be," he said.

"Aunt Bee says that you're still interested in them. Horses, I mean."

"I haven't done much on the breeding side, of course. Just preparing
horses for work."

They came to the village.

So this was Clare. This warm, living, smiling entity was what those
little flat squares on the map had stood for. There was the White Hart;
there was the Bell. And up there behind, on its knoll, was the church
where the Ashby tablets hung.

"The village is looking nice, isn't it?" Eleanor said. "Not changed a
bit since I can remember. Not changed since the Flood, if it comes to
that. The names of the people in the houses come in the same order down
the street as they did in the time of Richard the Second. But of course
you know that! I keep thinking of you as a visitor."

Beyond the village, he knew, were the great gates of Clare Park. He
waited, mildly curious, to see the entrance to what had been Alec
Loding's home. It proved to be a sweeping curve of iron lace flanked by
two enormous pillars bearing on each a lion passant. Astride the
farther lion was a small boy clad in a leopard-skin rug with green
baize edging, a seaside pail worn helmet-wise, and nothing else that
was visible. A very long brass poker stood up lance-wise from its rest
on his bare foot.

"It's all right," Eleanor said. "You did see it."

"That comforts me quite a bit."

"Did you know that Clare was a school nowadays?"

He had nearly said yes, when he remembered that this was merely one of
the things Loding had told him, not one of the things that he was
supposed to know.

"What kind of school?"

"A school for dodgers."

"Dodgers?"

"Yes. Anyone who loathes hard work and has a parent with enough money
to pay the fees makes a bee-line for Clare. No one is forced to learn
anything at Clare. Not even the multiplication table. The theory is
that one day you'll feel the need of the multiplication table and be
seized with a mad desire to acquire the nine-times. Of course, it
doesn't work out like that at all."

"Doesn't it?"

"Of course not. No one who could get out of the nine-times would ever
dream of acquiring it voluntarily."

"And if they don't do lessons what do they do all day?"

"Express their personalities. They draw things; or make things; or
whitewash the coach-house; or dress up, like Antony Toselli. That was
Tony on the lion. I teach some of them to ride. They like that. Riding,
I mean. I think they are so bored with easy things that they find
something a little difficult simply fascinating. But of course it has
to be something out of the ordinary. The difficult thing, I mean. If it
was a difficulty that everyone was supposed to overcome they wouldn't
be interested. That would bring them down to the common level of you
and me. They wouldn't be 'different' any longer."

"Nice people."

"Very profitable to Latchetts, anyhow. And here _is_ Latchetts."

Brat's heart rose up into his throat. Eleanor turned slowly into the
white gateway between the limes.

It was just as well that she was going slowly, for she had no sooner
entered the green tunnel than something like a giant blue butterfly
shot out from the boles of the trees and danced wildly in front of the
car.

Eleanor braked and swore simultaneously.

"Hullo! Hullo!" shouted the butterfly, dancing to Brat's side of the
car.

"You little idiot," Eleanor said. "You deserve to be killed. Don't you
know that a driver doesn't see well coming into the avenue out of the
sunlight?"

"Hullo! Hullo, Patrick! It's me! Ruth. How d'you do. I came to ride up
with you. To the house, you know. Can I sit on your knee? There isn't
very much room in that awful old car of Eleanor's, and I don't want to
crush my dress. I hope you like my dress. It is put on specially for
your coming home. You're very good-looking, aren't you? Am I what you
expected?"

She waited for an answer to that, so Brat said that he hadn't really
thought about it.

"Oh," said Ruth, much dashed. "We thought about you," she said
reprovingly. "No one has talked about anything else for days."

"Ah well," Brat said, "when _you_ have run away for years and years
people will talk about _you_."

"I shouldn't dream of doing anything so _outré_," Ruth said, unforgiving.

"Where did you get that word?" Eleanor asked.

"It's a very good word. Mrs. Peck uses it."

Brat felt that he ought to paint in a little local colour by saying:
"How are the Pecks, by the way?" But he had no mind to spare for
artifice. He was waiting for the moment when the limes would thin out
and he would see Latchetts.

For the moment when he would be face to face with his "twin."

"Simon hasn't come back yet," he heard Ruth say; and saw her sideways
glance at Eleanor. The glance, even more than the information, shook
him.

So Simon wasn't waiting on the doorstep for him. Simon was "away"
somewhere and the family was uneasy about it.

Alec Loding had disabused him of the idea that a feudal staff reception
would await him at Latchetts; that there would be a line of servants,
headed by the butler and descending in strict order to the latest
tweeny, to welcome the Young Master to the ancestral home. That, Loding
had said, had gone out with bustles, and Latchetts had never had a
butler, anyhow. And he had known, too, that there would be no array of
relations. The children's father had been an only son with one sister,
Aunt Bee. The children's mother had been an only daughter with two
brothers: both of them killed by the Germans before they were twenty.
The only near Ashby relation was Great-uncle Charles, reported by
Loding to be now nearing Singapore.

But it had not occurred to him that all the available Ashbys might not
be there. That there might be dissenters. The ease of his meeting with
Eleanor had fooled him. Metaphorically speaking, he picked up the reins
that had been lying on his neck.

The car ran out of the thin spring green of the avenue into the wide
sweep in front of the house, and there in the too-bright gusty sunlight
stood Latchetts; very quiet, very friendly, very sure of itself. The
gabled front of the original building had been altered by some
eighteenth-century Ashby to conform with the times, so that only the
tiled roof showed its age and origin. Built in the last days of
Elizabeth, it was now blandly "Queen Anne." It stood there in its
grasslands, undecorated and sufficient; needing no garden for its
enhancement. The green of the small park flowered at its heart into the
house itself, and any other flowering would have been redundant.

As Eleanor swept round towards the house, Brat saw Beatrice Ashby come
out on to the doorstep, and a sudden panic seized him; a mad desire to
blurt out the truth to her and back out there and then; before he had
put foot over the doorstep; before he was definitely "on" in the scene.
It was going to be a damnably difficult and awkward scene and he had no
idea how to play it.

It was Ruth who saved him from the worst moment of awkwardness. Before
the car had come to a halt she was piping her triumph to the world, so
that Brat's arrival somehow took second place to her own achievement.

"I met him after all, Aunt Bee! I met him after all. I came up from the
gate with them. You don't mind, do you? I just strolled down as far as
the gate and when I got there I saw them coming, and they stopped and
gave me a lift and here we are and so I met him after all."

She linked her arm through Brat's and tumbled with him out of the car,
dragging him behind her as if he were a find of her own. So that it was
with a mutual shrug for this display of personality that Brat and Bee
greeted each other. They were united for the moment in a rueful
amusement, and by the time the amusement had passed so had the moment.

Before awkwardness could come flooding back, there was a second
distraction. Jane came riding round the corner of the house on
Fourposter on her way to the stables. The instant check of her hands on
the reins when she saw the group at the door made it obvious that she
had not planned on being one of that group. But it was too late now to
back out, even if backing out had been possible. It was never possible
to back away from anything that Fourposter might happen to be
interested in; he had no mouth and an insatiable curiosity. So forward
came the reluctant Jane on a highly interested pony. As Fourposter came
to a halt she slid politely to the ground and stood there shy and
defensive. When Bee introduced her she laid a small limp hand in Brat's
and after a moment withdrew it.

"What is your pony's name?" Brat asked, aware of her antagonism.

"That's Fourposter," Ruth said, appropriating Jane's mount. "The Rector
calls him the Equine Omnibus."

Brat put out his hand to the pony, who refused the advance by
withdrawing a pace and looking contemptuously down his Roman nose. As a
gesture it was pure burlesque; a Victorian gesture of repudiation from
a Victorian drama.

"A comedian," remarked Brat; and Bee, delighted with his perception,
laughed.

"He doesn't like people," Jane said, half-repressive, half-defending
her friend.

But Brat kept his hand out, and presently Fourposter's curiosity
overcame his stand-offishness and he dropped his head to the waiting
hand. Brat made much of him, till Fourposter capitulated entirely and
nuzzled him with elephantine playfulness.

"_Well!_" said Ruth, watching. "He never does that to _anyone_!"

Brat looked down into the small tight face by his elbow, at the small
grubby hands clutching the reins so tightly.

"I expect he does to Jane when no one is around," he said.

"Jane, it is time you were cleaned up for lunch," Bee said, and turned
to lead the way indoors.

And Brat followed her, over the threshold.




12


"I have put you in the old night nursery," Bee said. "I hope you don't
mind. Simon has the room that he used to share with--that you used to
share with him." Oh, dear, what a gaffe, she thought; shall I ever be
able to think of him as Patrick? "And to give you one of the spare
rooms was to treat you like a visitor."

Brat said that he would be glad to have the night nursery.

"Will you go up now, or will you have a drink first?"

"I'll go up now," Brat said, and turned to the stairway.

He knew that she had been waiting for this moment; waiting for the
moment when he must show knowledge of the house. So he turned from her
and led the way upstairs; up to the big first landing and down the
narrow corridor to the north wing, and to the children's rooms facing
west from it. He opened the third of the four doors and stood in the
room that Nora Ashby had arranged for her children when they were
small. One window looked west over the paddocks and the other north to
the rise of the down. It was on the quiet side of the house, away from
the stables and the approach from the road. He stood at the window
looking at the soft blue English distances, thinking of the brilliant
mountains beyond the whirling dust of the West, and very conscious of
Bee Ashby behind him.

There was something else that he must take the initiative about.

"Where is Simon?" he said, and turned to face her.

"He is like Jane," she said. "Late for lunch. But he'll be in at any
moment."

It was smoothly done, but he had seen her shy at his unheralded
question, as if he had flicked a whip. Simon had not come to meet him;
Simon had not been at Latchetts to greet him; Simon, it was to be
deduced, was being difficult.

Before he could pursue the subject she took the initiative from him.

"You can have the nursery bathroom all to yourself, but _do_ go slow on
the hot water, will you? Fuel is a dreadful problem. Now wash and come
down at once. The Pecks sent over some of the Rectory sherry."

"Aren't they coming to lunch?"

"No, they're coming to dinner to-night. Lunch is for family only."

She watched him turn to the fourth door, which he knew to be the
bathroom of the nursery wing, and went away looking comforted. He knew
why she was comforted: because he had known his way about the house.
And he felt guilty and ill at ease. Fooling Mr. Sandal--with a K.C.
sitting opposite you and gimletting holes in you with cynical Irish
eyes--had been one thing; fooling Mr. Sandal had been fun. But fooling
Bee Ashby was another thing altogether.

He washed absentmindedly, turning the soap in his hands with his eyes
on the line of the down. There was the turf he had wanted to ride on;
the turf he had sold his soul for. Presently he would get a horse and
go up there and ride in the quiet, away from human relationships and
this fantastic game of human poker, and up there it would once more
seem right and worth while.

He went back to his room and found a brassy blonde in tight flowered
rayon tweaking the wallflower in the bowl on the window-sill.

"Hullo," said the blonde. "Welcome home, and all that."

"Thanks," Brat said. Was this someone that he should know? Surely not!

"You're very like your brother, aren't you?"

"I suppose so." He took his brushes from his "grip" and put them on the
dressing-table; it was a symbolical taking-possession.

"You won't know me, of course. I'm Lana Adams from the village. Adams
the joiner was my father. I oblige because my boy-friend works in the
stables."

So that is what she was: the help. He looked at her and was sorry for
the boy-friend.

"You look a lot older than your brother, don't you? I suppose it's
knocking about the world that does it. Having to look out for yourself,
and all that. Not being spoilt like your brother. You'll excuse me
saying it but spoilt he is. That's why he's made all this to-do about
you coming back. Silly, I call it. You've only to look at you to know
that you're an Ashby. Not much point in saying you're not, I should
think. But you take my tip and stand up to him. He can't stand being
stood up to. Been humoured all his life, I should say. Don't let it get
you down."

As Brat went silently on with his unpacking, she paused; and before she
could resume Eleanor's cool voice said from the doorway:

"Have you everything you want?"

The blonde said hastily: "I was just welcoming Mr. Patrick back," and,
having flung Brat a radiant smile, made a hip-swing exit from the room.

Brat wondered how much Eleanor had heard.

"It's a nice room this," Eleanor said, "except that it doesn't get the
morning sun. That bed is from Clare Park. Aunt Bee sold the little ones
and bought that one at the Clare sale. It's nice, isn't it? It was the
one in Alec Ledingham's room. Except for that the room is just the
same."

"Yes; the old wallpaper, I notice."

"Robinson Crusoe and company. Yes. I had a great weakness for Hereward
the Wake. He had such an enchanting profile." She pointed to Hereward's
place in the pattern of fictional heroes that Nora had chosen for her
children's nightly entertainment.

"Is the nursery-rhyme paper still next door?"

"Yes, of course. Come and see."

He went with her, but while she rehearsed the pictured tales his mind
was busy with the village girl's revelation about Simon and with the
ironic fact that he was to sleep in Alec Loding's bed.

So Simon had refused to believe that he was Patrick. "Not much point in
saying you're not, I should think." That could only mean that Simon, in
the face of all the evidence, refused to accept him.

Why?

He followed Eleanor downstairs, still wondering.

Eleanor led him into a big sunny sitting-room where Bee was pouring
sherry, and Ruth was picking out a tune on a piano.

"Would you like to hear me play?" Ruth asked, inevitably.

"No," Eleanor said, "he wouldn't. We've been looking at the old
wallpapers," she said to Bee. "I'd forgotten how in love with Hereward
I used to be. It's just as well that I was removed from him in time or
he might have become a fixation or something."

"I never _liked_ that baby stuff on the walls," Ruth said.

"_You_ never _read_, so you couldn't know anything about them," Eleanor
said.

"We gave up using the nursery wing when the twins ceased to have a
Nanny," Bee said. "It was too far away from the rest of the house."

"It was a day's march to call the twins in the morning," Eleanor said,
"and as Ruth always needed calling several times we had to move them
into the normal family orbit."

"Delicate people need more sleep," Ruth said.

"Since when have you been delicate?" asked Eleanor.

"It's not that I'm delicate but that Jane's more robust, aren't you,
Jane?" she said, appealing to Jane, who sidled into the room, the hair
at her temples still damp from her hasty ablutions.

But Jane's eyes were on Bee.

"Simon is here," she said in a small voice; and crossed the room to
stand near Bee as if for reassurance.

There was an instant of complete silence. In the moment of suspended
animation only Ruth moved. Ruth sat up and sparkled with anticipation.

Then Bee's hand moved again and went on filling the glasses. "That is
very nice," she said. "We needn't keep luncheon back after all."

It was so beautifully done that Brat, knowing what he knew now, felt
like applauding.

"Where is Simon?" Eleanor asked casually.

"He was coming downstairs," Jane said; and her eyes went back to Bee.

The door opened and Simon Ashby came in.

He paused a moment, looking across at Brat, before closing the door
behind him. "So you've come," he said.

There was no emphasis on the words; no apparent emotion in the tone.

He walked slowly across the room until he was standing face to face
with Brat by the window. He had abnormally clear grey eyes with a
darker rim to the iris, but they had no expression in them. Nor had his
pale features any expression. He was so tightly strung, Brat thought,
that if you plucked him with a finger he would twang.

And then quite suddenly the tightness went.

He stood for a moment searching Brat's face; and his own was suddenly
slack with relief.

"They won't have told you?" he said, drawling a little, "but I was
prepared to deny with my last breath that you were Patrick. Now that
I've seen you I take all that back. Of course you are Patrick." He put
out his hand. "Welcome home."

The stillness behind them broke in a flurry of movement and competing
voices. There was a babble of mutual congratulation, of chinking
glasses and laughter. Even Ruth, it seemed, stifled her disappointment
at being done out of melodrama, and devoted her talents to wheedling a
little more sherry into her glass than the "sip" that was the twins'
allowance for health-drinking.

But Brat, drinking the golden liquid and thanking heaven that the
moment was over, was puzzled. Why _relief_? he was thinking.

What had Ashby expected? What had he been afraid of?

He had denied the possibility of Brat's being Patrick. Had that been
just a defence against hope; an insurance against ultimate
disappointment? Had he said to himself: I won't believe that Patrick is
alive, and so when it is proved that he isn't I won't have hoped for
nothing? And was that overwhelming relief a moment ago due merely to
the realisation that he was after all Patrick?

It didn't fit.

He watched Simon being the life of the party, and wondered about him. A
few moments ago Ashby had been steeled to face something, and now it
seemed he had been--let off. That was it. That was what that sudden
relief had been. The reaction of someone steeled to face the worst and
suddenly reprieved.

Why should he feel reprieved?

He took the small puzzle into luncheon with him, and it lay at the back
of his mind while he dealt with the problems of Ashby conversation and
answered their crowding questions.

"You're in!" gloated the voice inside him. "You're in! You're sitting
as of right at the Ashby table, and they're all tickled to death about
it."

Well, perhaps not all. Jane, loyal to Simon, was a small silent oasis
in the right talk. And it was not to be expected that Simon himself,
for all his capitulation, was tickled to any great extent. But Bee,
entirely uncritical of that capitulation, was radiant: and Eleanor
melted moment by moment from conversational politeness to a frank
interest.

"But a Comanche bridle is a kind of twitch, isn't it?"

"No; just a gag. The rope goes through the mouth the way a bit does.
It's best for a led horse. He'll follow to lessen the pull."

Ruth, having quite forgiven his lack of speculation about her looks,
paid assiduous court to him; and she was the only one who called him
Patrick.

This became more noticeable as the meal went on, and her continual
interjection of "Patrick!" as she claimed his attention contrasted with
the others' half-conscious avoidance of the name. Brat wished that his
sole "follower" had proved to be Jane and not Ruth. If he had ever had
a small sister he would have liked her to be just like Jane. It annoyed
him that he had difficulty in meeting Jane's eyes. It cost him the same
effort to meet her regard with equanimity as it did to meet the eyes of
the portrait behind her. The dining-room was positively papered with
portraits, and the one behind Jane was of William Ashby the Seventh,
wearing the uniform of the Westover Fencibles, in which he had proposed
to resist the invasion of Napoleon the First. Brat had learned those
portraits off by heart, sitting under the pagoda in Kew Gardens, and
every time he lifted his eyes to those of William Ashby the Seventh he
was plagued by the ridiculous notion that William knew all about the
pagoda.

One thing helped him enormously, however, in this first difficult
meeting with the Ashbys. The tale he had to tell, as Loding had pointed
out during that meal at the Green Man, was, except for its beginnings,
true; it was the tale of his own life. And since the whole family with
one accord avoided any reference to the events which had catapulted him
into that life, the conversational ground he moved on was firm. There
was need for neither side-stepping nor manoeuvre.

Nor was there any need for him to "mind his manners"; and for that too
Alec Loding had given loud thanks. It seemed that, short of a
first-class and very strict Nanny, there was no more rigorous training
in the civilised consumption of food than was to be had at a
first-class orphanage. "My God," Loding had said, "if I ever have any
change from a round of drinks I'll send it to that caravanserai of
yours, as a mark of my gratitude that you were not brought up in some
genteel suburb. Gentility is practically ineradicable, my boy. And
whatever Pat Ashby might conceivably do, it is quite inconceivable that
he should ever stick out his little finger when he drank."

So Brat had no social habits to unlearn. Indeed, his orthodoxy slightly
disappointed Ruth, always on the lookout for the flamboyant.

"You don't eat with your fork," she said; and when he looked puzzled,
added: "The way they do in American pictures; they cut things up with
their knives and forks and then they change the fork over to their
other hand and eat with it."

"I don't chew gum either," he pointed out.

"I wonder how that very elaborate method of dealing with their food
arose," Bee said.

"Perhaps knives were scarce in the early days," Eleanor suggested.

"Knives were far too useful to be scarce in a pioneer society," Simon
said. "It's much more likely that they lived so long on hash that when
they got things in slices their instinct was to make hash of it as soon
as possible."

Brat thought, listening to them, how very English it all was. Here he
was, back from the dead, and they were calmly discussing American table
manners. There was no backslapping, congratulatory insistence on the
situation as there would be in a transatlantic household. They avoided
the do-you-remember theme as determinedly as Americans would have
wallowed in it. Remembering his friends of the Lazy Y, he thought what
a fine exhibition of Limey snootiness this would be from the point of
view of Pete, and Hank, and Lefty.

But perhaps the happiness on Bee's face would have impressed even
Lefty.

"Do you smoke?" Bee asked, when she had poured the coffee; and she
pushed the cigarette box over to him. But Brat, who liked his own
brand, took out his case and offered the contents to her.

"I've given them up," Bee said. "I have a bank balance instead."

So Brat offered the case to Eleanor.

Eleanor paused with her fingers touching the cigarettes, and bent
forward to read something engraved on the inside of the case.

"Brat Farrar," she said. "Who is that?"

"Me," said Brat.

"You? Oh, yes; Farrar, of course. But why Brat?"

"I don't know."

"Did they call you that? Brat, I mean?"

"Yes."

"Why Brat?"

"I don't know. Because I was small, I guess."

"Brat!" Ruth said delighted. "Do you mind if I call you Brat? Do you?"

"No. I haven't been called anything else for a large part of my life."

The door opened and Lana appeared to say that a young man had called to
see Miss Ashby and she had put him in the library.

"Oh, what a nuisance," Bee said. "What does he want, do you know?"

"He says he's a reporter," Lana said, "but he doesn't look like a
reporter to me. Quite tidy and clean and polite." Lana's experience of
the Press, like Brat's knowledge of middle-class life, was derived
solely from films.

"Oh, _no_!" Bee said. "Not the Press. Not already."

"The _Westover Times_ he says he is."

"Did he say why he had come?"

"Come about Mr. Patrick, of course," Lana said, turning her thumb in
Patrick's direction.

"Oh, God," Simon groaned, "and the fatted calf not half-way down our
gullets. I suppose it had to come sooner or later!"

Bee drank the remains of her coffee. "Come on, Brat!" she said, putting
out her hand and pulling him to his feet. "We might as well go and get
it over. You too, Simon." She led Brat out of the room, laughing at
him, and still hand in hand with him. The warm friendliness of her
clasp sent a rush of emotion through him that he could not identify. It
was like nothing he had so far experienced in life. And he was too busy
with thoughts of the reporter to pause to analyse it.

The library was the dark room at the back of the house where Bee kept
her roll-top desk, her accounts, and her reference books. A small young
man in a neat blue suit was puzzling over a stud book. At their
entrance he dropped the book and said in a rich Glasgow accent: "Miss
Ashby? My name is Macallan. I'm working on the _Westover Times_. I'm
awfully sorry about barging in like this, but I thought you'd have
finished eating this long time."

"Well, we began late, and I'm afraid we lingered over things," Bee
said.

"Uh-huh," said Mr. Macallan understandingly. "A very special occasion.
I've no right to be spoiling it for you, but 'the first with the
latest' is my motto, and just this minute you're the latest."

"I suppose you mean my nephew's homecoming."

"Just that."

"And how did you find out about it so soon, Mr. Macallan?"

"One of my contacts heard about it in one of the Clare pubs."

"A deplorable word," said Bee.

"Pub?" Mr. Macallan said, puzzled.

"No. Contact."

"Och, well, one of my stooges, if you like that better," Mr. Macallan
said agreeably. "Which of these young gentlemen is the returned
prodigal, may I ask?"

Bee introduced Brat and Simon. Some of the cold tightness had come back
to Simon's face; but Brat, who had been around when Nat Zucco had cut
his throat in the kitchen of his ex-wife's eating-house and had
witnessed the activities of the American Press on that occasion, was
entranced by this glimpse of news-gathering in Britain. He answered the
obvious questions put to him by Mr. Macallan and wondered if there
would be any suggestion of a photograph. If so, he must get out of it
somehow.

But it was Bee who saved him from that. No photograph, said Bee. No;
positively _no_ photograph. All the information he liked to ask for,
but no photograph.

Mr. Macallan accepted this, but reluctantly. "The story of the missing
twin won't be half so good without a photograph," he complained.

"You're not going to call it 'The Missing Twin,' are you?" Bee said.

"No; he's going to call it 'Back From The Dead'," Simon said, speaking
for the first time. His cool drawl fell on the room like a shadow.

Mr. Macallan's pale blue eyes went to him, rested a moment on him
consideringly, and then came back to Bee. "I _had_ thought of
'Sensation at Clare'," he said, "but I doubt the _Westover Times_
won't stand for it. A very conservative organ. But I expect the
_Daily Clarion_ will do better."

"The _Clarion_!" Bee said. "A London paper! But--but I hope there is
no question of that. This is an entirely local--an entirely family
matter."

"So was that affair in Hilldrop Crescent," Mr. Macallan said.

"What affair?"

"Crippen was the name. The world's Press is composed of family affairs,
Miss Ashby."

"But this is of no possible interest to anyone but ourselves. When my
nephew--disappeared, eight years ago, the _Westover Times_ reported it
quite--quite incidentally."

"Ay, I know. I looked it up. A small paragraph at the bottom of page
three."

"I fail to see why my nephew's return should be of any more interest
than his disappearance."

"It's the man-bites-dog affair over again. People go to their deaths
every day, but the amount of people who come back from the dead is very
small indeed, Miss Ashby. Coming back from the dead, in spite of the
advances of modern science, is still a sensation. And that's why the
_Daily Clarion_ is going to be interested."

"But how should they hear about it?"

"Hear about it!" Mr. Macallan said, genuinely horrified. "Miss Ashby,
this is my own _scoop_, don't you see."

"You mean you are going to send the story to the _Clarion_?"

"Assuredly."

"Mr. Macallan, you mustn't; you really must not."

"Listen, Miss Ashby," Mr. Macallan said patiently, "I agreed about the
no-photographs prohibition, and I respect the agreement--I won't go
sneaking around the countryside trying to snap the young gentlemen
unawares, or anything like that--but you can't ask me to give up a
scoop like this. Not a scoop of 'London daily' dimensions." And as Bee,
caught in the toils of her natural desire to be fair, hesitated, he
added: "Even if I didn't send them the story, there's nothing to hinder
a sub-editor lifting the story from the _Westover Times_ and making it
front-page news. You wouldn't be a scrap better off and I'd have lost
my chance of doing a bit of good for myself."

"Oh, dear," Bee said, tacitly acknowledging that he was right, "I
suppose that means swarms of newspaper men from London."

"Och, no. Only the _Clarion_. If it's the _Clarion's_ story none of the
rest will bother. And whoever they send down you don't have to worry.
They're all Balliol men, I understand."

With which flip at the English Press, Mr. Macallan looked round for his
hat and made motions of departure.

"I'm very grateful to you, and to you, Mr. Ashby, for being so
accommodating in the matter of information. I won't keep you any
longer. May I offer you my congratulations on your happiness"--for a
second the pale blue eyes rested in mild benevolence on Simon--"and my
thanks for your kindness."

"You're a long way from home, aren't you, Mr. Macallan?" Bee said
conversationally as she went to the front door with him.

"Home?"

"Scotland."

"Oh, I see. How did you know I was Scots? Oh, my name, of course. Ay,
it's a far cry to Glasgow; but this is just the long way round to
London, so to speak. If I'm going to work on an English paper it's as
well to know something of the--the----"

"Aborigines?" suggested Bee.

"Local conditions, I _was_ going to say," Mr. Macallan said solemnly.

"Haven't you a car?" Bee said, looking at the empty sweep in front of
the door.

"I left it parked at the end of your drive there. I've never got used
to sweeping up to strange houses as if I owned them."

With which startling exhibition of modesty the little man bowed, put on
his hat, and walked away.




13


In the library, as the voices of Bee and Mr. Macallan faded down the
hall and into the out-of-doors, there was silence. Brat, uncertain of
the quality of that silence, turned to the shelves and began to
consider the books.

"Well," said Simon, lounging in the window, "another hazard safely
negotiated."

Brat waited, trying to analyse the sound of the words while they still
hung in the air.

"Hazard?" he said at length.

"The snags and bunkers in the difficult business of coming back. It
must have taken some nerve, all things considered. What moved you to
it, Brat--homesickness?"

This was the first frank question he had been asked, and he suddenly
liked Ashby the better for it.

"Not exactly. A realisation that my place was here, after all." He felt
that that had a self-righteous sound, and added: "I mean, that my place
in the world was here."

This was succeeded by another silence. Brat went on looking at books
and hoped that he was not going to like young Ashby. That would be an
unforeseen complication. It was bad enough not to be able to face the
person he was supplanting, now that he was left alone in a room with
him; but to find himself liking that person would make the situation
intolerable.

It was Bee who broke the silence.

"I think we should have offered the poor little man a drink," she said,
coming in. "However, it's too late now. He can get one from his
'contact' at the White Hart."

"The Bell, I suspect," Simon said.

"Why the Bell?"

"Our Lana frequents that in preference to the White Hart."

"Ah, well. The sooner everyone knows the sooner the fuss will be over."
She smiled at Brat to take any sting from the words. "Let's go and look
at the horses, shall we? Have you any riding clothes with you, Brat?"

"Not any that Latchetts would recognise as riding clothes," Brat said,
noticing how thankfully she seized on the excuse not to call him
Patrick.

"Come up with me," Simon said, "and I'll find you something."

"Good," said Bee, looking pleased with him. "I'll collect Eleanor."

"Did you like being given the old night nursery?" Simon asked,
preceding Brat upstairs.

"Very much."

"Same old paper, I suppose you noticed."

"Yes."

"Do you remember the night we had an Ivanhoe-Hereward battle?"

"No; I don't remember that."

"No. Of course you wouldn't."

Again the words hung on the silence, teasing Brat's ear with an echo of
their tone.

He followed young Ashby into the room he had shared with his brother,
and noticed that there was no suggestion in the room that it had ever
been shared by another person. It was, on the contrary, very much
Simon's own room; being furnished with his possessions to an extent
that made it as much a sitting-room as a bedroom. Shelves of books,
rows of silver cups, framed sketches of horses on the walls, easy
chairs, and a small desk with a telephone extension on it.

Brat moved over to the window while Simon rummaged among his clothes
for appropriate garments. The window, as he knew, looked over the
stables, but a green hedge of lilac and laburnum trees hid the
buildings from view. Above them, in the middle distance, rose the tower
of Clare church. On Sunday, he supposed, he would be taken to service
there. Another hazard. Hazard had been an odd word for young Ashby to
choose, surely?

Simon emerged from the cupboard with breeches and a tweed coat.

"I think these ought to do," he said, throwing them on the bed. "I'll
find you a shirt." He opened a drawer of the chest which held his
dressing mirror and toilet things. The chest stood by the window, and
Brat, still uneasy in Ashby's vicinity, moved over to the fireplace
and began to look at the silver cups on the mantelpiece. All of them
were prizes for horsemanship, and they ranged from a hurdle race at the
local point-to-point to Olympia. All of them except one were of a date
too late to have concerned Patrick Ashby; the exception being a small
and humble chalice that had been awarded to Simon Ashby on "Patience"
for being the winner of the juvenile jumping class at the Bures
Agricultural Show in the year before Patrick Ashby committed suicide.

Simon, looking round and seeing the small cup in Brat's hand, smiled
and said: "I took that from you, if you remember."

"From me?" Brat said, unprepared.

"You would have won on Old Harry if I hadn't done you out of it by
doing a perfect second round."

"Oh, yes," Brat said. And to lay a new scent: "You seem to have done
well for yourself since."

"Not badly," Simon said, his attention going back to his shirt drawer.
"But I'm going to do a lot better. Ballsbridge and all stops to
Olympia." It was said absentmindedly, but with confidence; as if the
money to buy good horseflesh would automatically be available. Brat
wondered a little, but felt that this was no moment for discussing the
financial future.

"Do you remember the object that used to hang at the end of your bed?"
Simon asked casually, pushing the shirt drawer shut.

"The little horse?" Brat said. "Yes, of course. Travesty," he added,
giving its name and mock breeding. "By Irish Peasant out of Bog Oak."

He turned from the exhibits on the mantelpiece, meaning to collect the
clothes that Ashby had looked out for him; but as he turned he saw
Ashby's face in the mirror, and the naked shock on that face stopped
him in his tracks. Simon had been in the act of pushing the drawer
shut, but the action was arrested half-way. It was, thought Brat,
exactly the reaction of someone who has heard a telephone ring; the
involuntary pause and then the resumed movement.

Simon turned to face him, slowly, the shirt hanging over his left
forearm. "I think you'll find that all right," he said, taking the
shirt in his right hand and holding it out to Brat but keeping his eyes
on Brat's face. His expression was no longer shocked; he merely looked
blank, as if his mind were elsewhere. As if, Brat thought, he were
doing sums in his head.

Brat took the shirt, collected the rest of the clothes, expressed his
thanks, and made for the door.

"Come down when you're ready," Simon said, still staring at him in that
blank way. "We'll be waiting for you."

And Brat, making his way round the landing to his own room in the
opposite wing, was shocked in his turn. Ashby hadn't expected him to
know that. Ashby had been so certain, indeed, that he would not know
about the toy horse that he had been rocked back on his heels when it
was clear that he did know about it.

And that meant?

It could mean only one thing.

It meant that young Ashby had not believed for a moment that he was
Patrick.

Brat shut the door of the peaceful old night nursery behind him and
stood leaning against it, the clothes cascading slowly to the ground
from his slackened arm.

Simon had not been fooled. That touching little scene over the sherry
glasses had been only an act.

It was a staggering thought.

Why had Simon bothered to pretend?

Why had he not said at once, "You are not Patrick and nothing will make
me believe that you are!"?

That had been his original line, if Lana's report and the family
atmosphere meant anything. Up to the last moment they had been unsure
of his reaction to Brat's arrival; and he had gratified them all by a
frank and charming capitulation.

Why the gratuitous capitulation?

Was it--was it a trap of some sort? Were the welcome and the charm
merely the grass and green leaves laid over a pit he had prepared?

But he could not have known until the actual face-to-face meeting that
he, Brat, was not Patrick. And he had apparently known instantly that
the person he was facing was not his brother. Why then should he....

Brat stooped to pick up the clothes from the floor and straightened
himself abruptly. He had remembered something. He had remembered that
odd relaxing on Simon's part the moment he had had a good look at
himself. That suggestion of relief. Of being "let off."

So that was it!

Simon had been afraid that it _was_ Patrick.

When he found that he was faced with a mere impostor he must have had
difficulty in refraining from embracing him.

But that still did not explain the capitulation.

Perhaps it was a mere postponement; a setting to partners. It might
be that he planned a more dramatic _dénouement_; a more public
discrediting.

If that were so, Brat thought, there were a few surprises in store for
young Mr. Ashby. The more he thought about the surprises the better he
began to feel about things. As he changed into riding clothes he
recalled with something like pleasure that shocked face in the mirror.
Simon had been unaware that he, Brat, had passed any "family" tests. He
had not been present when Brat passed the searching test of knowing his
way about the house; and he had not had any chance of being told about
it. All that he knew was that Brat had satisfied the lawyers of his
identity. Having been faced with, to him, an obvious impostor he must
have looked forward with a delighted malice to baiting the pretender.

Yes; all ready to pull the wings off flies was young Mr. Ashby.

The first tentative pull had been about the Ivanhoe-Hereward battle.
Something that only Patrick would know about. But something, too, that
he might easily have forgotten.

The little wooden horse was something that only Patrick would know
about and something that Patrick could in no circumstances have
forgotten.

And Brat had known about it.

Not much wonder that Ashby had been shocked. Shocked and at sea. Not
much wonder that he looked as if he were doing sums in his head.

Brat spared a kind thought for that master tutor, Alec Loding. Loding
had missed his vocation; as a coach he was superb. Sometime, somewhere,
something was going to turn up that Alec Loding had either forgotten to
tell him about or had not himself known; and the moment was going to be
a very sticky one; but so far he had known his lines. So far he was
word perfect.

Even to the point of Travesty.

A little object of black bog oak, it had been. "Rudimentary and
surrealist," Loding had said, "but recognisable as a horse." It had
originally been yoked to a jaunting car, the whole turn-out being one
of those bog-oak souvenirs that tourists brought back from Ireland in
the days before it was more advisable to bring home the bacon. The
small car, being made of bits and pieces, soon went the way of all
nursery objects; but the little horse, chunky and solid, had survived
and had become Patrick's halidom and fetish. It was Alec Loding who had
been responsible for its naming; one winter evening over nursery tea.
He and Nancy had looked in at Latchetts on their way home from some
pony races, hoping for a drink; but finding no one at home except Nora,
who was having tea upstairs with her children, they had joined the
nursery party. And there, while they made toast, they had sought a name
for Patrick's talisman. Patrick, who always referred to the object as
"my little Irish horse," and was conscious of no need for a more
particular description, rejected all suggestions.

"What would you call it, Alec?" his mother asked Loding, who had been
too busy consuming buttered toast to care what a toy was called.

"Travesty," Alec had said, eyeing the thing. "By Irish Peasant out of
Bog Oak."

The grown-ups had laughed, but Patrick, who was too young to know the
meaning of the word, thought that Travesty was a fine, proud-sounding
name. A name filled with the tramplings and prancings and curvettings
of war horses, and worthy therefore of the little black object of his
love.

"He kept it in a pocket," Loding had said in Queen Adelaide's
sitting-room (it was raining that morning) "but when he grew too big
for that it hung on a frayed Stewart tartan ribbon off a box of
Edinburgh rock at the end of his bed."

Yes: not much wonder that Simon had been shaken to the core. No
stranger to the Ashby family could have known about Travesty.

Brat, buttoning himself into Ashby garments and noticing how a well-cut
article adapts itself even to an alien figure, wondered what Simon was
making of the problem. He had no doubt learned by now that the
"impostor" not only knew about the existence of Travesty but had walked
about the house with the confidence of long acquaintance. A faint flare
of excitement woke in Brat. The same excitement that had made those
interviews with old Mr. Sandal so enjoyable. For the last couple of
hours--ever since his arrival at Guessgate station--he had been
received with kindness and welcome, and the result had been a faint
queasiness, a sort of spiritual indigestion. What had been a dice game
for dangerous stakes had become a mere taking candy from a baby. Now
that Simon was his opponent, the thing was once more a contest.

Not dice, thought Brat, considering himself in the mirror. Chequers
rather. A matter of cautious moves, of anticipating attack, of blocking
an unforeseen thrust. Yes; chequers.

Brat went downstairs buoyed up with a new anticipation. He would not
any more have to stand with his back to young Ashby because he was
unable to face him. The pieces were laid out on the board and they
faced each other across it.

Through the wide-open door of the hall he could see the Ashbys grouped
in the sunlight on the steps and went forward to join them. Ruth, with
her chronically roving eye, was the first to see him.

"Oh, doesn't he look nice," said Ruth, still paying court.

Brat was aware that he looked "nice" but wished that Ruth had not
called attention to his borrowed finery. He wondered if anyone had ever
smacked Ruth Ashby.

"You must get some riding clothes from Walters as soon as may be," Bee
said. "These are almost a good enough fit to do as a pattern. Which
would save you having to go to town for measurements only."

"Those breeches aren't Walters'," Simon said, eyeing the clothes
lazily. "They're Gore and Bowen's. Walters never made a good pair of
breeches in his life."

He was draped against the wall by the doorway, relaxed and apparently
at peace with the world. His eyes travelled slowly up from Brat's boots
to his shirt, and came to rest, with the same detached interest on his
face.

"Well," he said amiably, pushing himself off the wall, "let's go and
look at some horses."

Not chequers, thought Brat. No, not chequers. Poker.

"We'll show you the stables this afternoon," Bee said, "and leave the
mares until after tea."

She ran an arm through Brat's and gathered Simon in with her other one,
so that they went towards the stables arm-in-arm like old friends;
Eleanor and the twins tailing along behind.

"Gregg is all agog to see you," she said. "Not that you'll notice any
agogness, of course. His face doesn't permit anything like that. You'll
just have to believe me that he is excited inside."

"What happened to old Malpas?" Brat asked, although he had heard all
about old Malpas one afternoon outside the Orangery.

"He became very astigmatic," Bee said. "Figuratively speaking. We could
never see eye to eye. He didn't really like taking orders from a woman.
So he retired about eighteen months after I took over, and we've had
Gregg ever since. He's a misanthropist, and a misogynist, and he has
his perks, of course; but he doesn't let any of them interfere with the
running of the stables. There was a noted drop in the fodder bills
after old Malpas left. And the local people like Gregg better because
he buys his hay direct from the farmers and not through a contractor.
And I think on the whole he's a better horsemaster than Malpas was.
Cleverer at getting a poor horse into condition. And a genius at
doctoring a sick one."

Why doesn't he relax? she was thinking, feeling the boy's arm rigid
under her fingers. The ordeal is over now, surely. Why doesn't he
relax?

And Brat for his part was conscious of her fingers clasping his forearm
as he had never been conscious before of a woman's hand. He was
experiencing again that surge of an unrecognised emotion that had
filled him when Bee had taken his hand to lead him to the interview
with Mr. Macallan.

But his first sight of the stables distracted his attention from both
emotional and ethical problems.

His reaction to the stable yard at Latchetts was very much the reaction
of a merchant seaman to his first acquaintance with one of His
Majesty's ships. A sort of contemptuous but kindly amusement. A wonder
that the thing wasn't finished off with ribbons. Only the fact that
several horses' heads protruded inquisitively from the loose boxes
convinced him that the place was seriously used as a stable at all. It
was like nothing so much as one of the toy models he had seen in
expensive toy shops. He had always imagined that those gay little
affairs with their bright paint and their flowers in tubs had been
manufactured to a child's taste. But apparently they had been authentic
copies of an actual article. He was looking at one of the articles at
this moment, and being very much surprised.

Not even the dude ranch had prepared him for this. There was paint
galore at the dude ranch, but there was also a tradition of toughness.
The dude ranch would never have thought of mowing the bit of grass in
the middle until it looked like a square of green baize, so neat-edged
and trim that it looked as if you could roll it up and take it away. At
the dude ranch there was still a suggestion of the mud, dung, sweat,
and flies which are inseparable from a life alongside horseflesh.

The little building on the left of the yard entrance was the saddle
room, and in the saddle-room door was the stud-groom, Gregg. Gregg had
in the highest degree that disillusioned air common to those who make
their living out of horses. He had also the horseman's quality of
agelessness. He was probably fifty, but it would not be surprising to
be told that he was thirty-five.

He took two paces forward and waited for them to come up to him. The
two paces were his concession to good manners, and the waiting
emphasised the fact that he was receiving them on his own ground. His
clear blue eyes ran over Brat as Bee introduced them, but his
expression remained polite and inscrutable. He gave Brat a conventional
welcome and a crushing hand-clasp.

"I hear you've been riding horses in America," he said.

"Only western ones," Brat said. "Working horses."

"Oh, these work," Gregg said, inclining his head towards the boxes.
Don't be in any doubt about it, the tone said. It was as if he had
understood Brat's distrust of the spit and polish. His eyes went past
Brat to Eleanor standing behind and he said: "Have you seen what's in
the saddle room, Miss Eleanor?"

From the gloom of the saddle room there materialised as if in answer to
his question the figure of a small boy. He materialised rather
reluctantly as if uncertain of his welcome. In spite of a change of
costume Brat recognised him as the rider of the stone lion at the gates
of Clare. His present apparel, though less startling, was hardly more
orthodox than his leopard-skin outfit. He was wearing a striped
football jersey that clung to his tadpole body, a pair of jodhpurs so
large that they hung in a fold above each skinny knee, a
steeple-chasing jockey cap with the crash-lining showing at the back,
and a pair of grubby red moccasins.

"Tony!" said Eleanor. "Tony, what are you doing here?"

"I've come for my ride," said Tony, his eyes darting to and fro among
the group like lizards.

"But this isn't the day for your ride."

"Isn't it, Eleanor? I thought it was."

"You know quite well that you don't ride on a Tuesday."

"I thought this was Wednesday."

"You're a dreadful little liar, Tony," Eleanor said dispassionately.
"You knew quite well this wasn't Wednesday. You just saw me in a car
with a stranger and so you came along to find out who the stranger
was."

"Eleanor," murmured Bee, deprecating.

"You don't know him," Eleanor said, as if the subject of discussion was
not present. "His curiosity amounts to a mania. It's almost his only
human attribute."

"If you take him to-day you won't have to take him to-morrow," Simon
said, eyeing the Toselli child with distaste.

"He can't come and expect to ride just when he feels like it!" Eleanor
said. "Besides, I said I wouldn't take him out again in these things. I
told you to get a pair of boots, Tony."

The black eyes stopped being lizards and became two brimming pools of
grief. "My father can't afford boots for me," said Tony with a catch in
his alto, guaranteed to draw blood from a stone.

"Your father has £12,000 a year free of income tax," Eleanor said
briskly.

"If you took him to-day, Nell," Bee said, "you'd be free to help me
to-morrow when half the countryside comes dropping in to have a look at
Brat." And, as Eleanor hesitated: "You might as well get it over now
that he's here."

"And he'll still be wearing moccasins to-morrow," Simon drawled.

"Indian riders wear moccasins," Tony observed mildly, "and they are
very good riders."

"I don't think your destitute father would be very pleased if you
turned up with moccasins in the Row. You get a pair of boots. And if I
take you this afternoon, Tony, you are not to think that you can make a
habit of this."

"Oh, no, Eleanor."

"If you come on the wrong day again you'll just have to go away without
a ride."

"Yes, Eleanor." The eyes were lizards again, darting and sliding.

"All right. Go and ask Arthur to saddle Spuds for you."

"Yes, Eleanor."

"No thanks, you'll observe," Eleanor said, watching him go.

"What is the crash helmet for?" Simon asked.

"His skull is as thin as cellophane, he says, and must be protected. I
don't know how he got one that size. Out of a circus, I should imagine.
What with his Indian longings I suppose I should be thankful that he
doesn't turn up in a headband and a single feather."

"He will one day, when it occurs to him," Simon said.

"Oh, well, I suppose I'd better go and saddle Buster. I'm sorry, Brat,"
she said, smiling a little at him, "but it is really one of those
blessings in disguise. The pony he rides will be a lot less fresh with
him to-day than he would be to-morrow, after a day in the stable. And
you don't really need three people to show you round. I'll go round the
paddocks with you after tea."




14


Brat's tendency to be patronising about spit and polish died painlessly
and permanently somewhere between the fourth and fifth boxes. The
pampered darlings that he had been prepared to find in these boxes did
not exist. Thoroughbred, half-bred, cob, or pony, the shine on their
coats came from condition and grooming and not from coddling in warm
stables; Brat had lived long enough with horses to recognise that. The
only ribbons that had ever been tied on these animals were rosettes of
red or blue or yellow; and the rosettes were quite properly in the
saddle room.

Bee did the honours, with Gregg as assistant; but since it is not
possible for four horsemen to consider any given horse without entering
into a discussion, the occasion soon lost the slight formality of its
beginnings and degenerated into a friendly free-for-all. And presently
Brat, always a little detached from his surroundings, noticed that Bee
was leaving the discussion more and more to Simon. That it was Simon
instead of Bee who said: "This is a throwout from a racing stable that
Eleanor is schooling into a hack," or, "Do you remember old Thora? This
is a son of hers by Cold Steel." That Bee was quite deliberately edging
herself out.

The twins had soon grown tired and evaporated; Ruth because horses
bored her, and Jane because she knew all that was to be known about the
horses and did not like the thought that they belonged to a person she
did not know. And Gregg, congenitally taciturn, fell more and more into
the background with Bee. So that in no time at all it was Simon's
occasion; Simon's and Brat's.

Simon behaved as if he had not a care in the world. As if this were
just another afternoon and Brat just another visitor. A rather
privileged and knowledgeable visitor; unquestionably welcome. Brat,
coming to the surface every now and then from his beguilement with the
horses, would listen to the light drawl discussing pedigree,
conformation, character, or prospects; would watch the cool untroubled
profile, and wonder. "A bit light in front," the cool voice would be
saying, and the untroubled eyes would be running over the animal as if
no more important matter clouded the sun. "Nice, though, don't you
think?" or "This one should really be turned out: he's been hunted all
the winter; but I'm going pot-hunting on him this summer. And anyhow
Bee's awfully stingy with her pasture."

And Bee would put in her tuppenceworth and fade out again.

It was Bee who "ran" Latchetts, but the various interests involved were
divided between the three Ashbys. Eleanor's chief concerns were the
hacks and hunters, Simon's were hunters and show jumpers, and Bee's
were the mares and the Shetland ponies. During Bill Ashby's lifetime,
when Latchetts was purely a breeding establishment, the hacks and
hunters in the stables had been there for family use and amusement.
Occasionally, when there happened to be an extra-good horse in the
stable, Bee, who was a better horsewoman than her brother, would come
down from London for a week or two to school it and afterwards show it
for him. It was good advertisement for Latchetts; not because Latchetts
ever dealt in made horses but because the simple repetition of a name
is of value in the commercial world, as the writers of advertisements
have discovered. Nowadays the younger Ashbys, under Bee's supervision,
had turned the stables into a profitable rival to the brood mares.

"Mr. Gates is asking if he can speak to you, sir," said the stable-man
to Gregg. And Gregg excused himself and went back to the saddle room.

Fourposter came to the door of his box, stared coldly at Brat for a
moment, and then nudged him jocosely with his Roman nose.

"Has he always been Jane's?" Brat asked.

"No," Bee said, "he was bought for Simon's fourteenth birthday. But
Simon grew so fast that in a year or so he had outgrown him, and Jane
at four was already clamouring to ride a 'real' horse instead of a
Shetland. So she fell heir to him. If he ever had any manners he has
forgotten them, but he and Jane seem to understand each other."

Gregg came back to say that it was Miss Ashby that Gates wanted to see.
It was about the fencing.

"All right, I'll come," Bee said. And as Gregg went away: "What he
really wants to see is Brat, but he'll just wait till to-morrow like
the rest of the countryside. It's so like Gates to try to steal a
march. Opportunism is his middle name. If you two go trying out any of
the horses, do be back for tea. I want to go round the paddocks with
Brat before it gets dark."

"Do you remember Gates?" Simon asked, opening the door of another box.

"No, I don't think so."

"He's the tenant of Wigsell."

"What became of Vidler, then?"

"He died. This man was married to his daughter and had a small farm the
other side of Bures."

Well, Simon had dealt him the cards he needed that time. He looked at
Simon to see how he had taken it, but Simon's whole interest seemed to
be in the horse he was leading out of the box.

"These last three boxes are all new acquisitions, bought with an eye on
the show ring. But this is the pick of the bunch. He's a four-year-old
by High Wood out of a mare called Shout Aloud. His name is Timber."

Timber was a black without a brown hair in him. He had a rudimentary
white star, and a ring of white on each coronet; and he was quite the
handsomest thing in horseflesh that Brat had ever been at close
quarters with. He came out of his box with an air of benevolent
condescension, as if aware of his good looks and pleased that they
should be the subject of tribute. There was something oddly demure
about him, Brat thought, watching him. Perhaps it was just the way he
was standing, with his forefeet close together. Whatever it was it
didn't go with the self-confident, considering eye.

"Difficult to fault, isn't he?" Simon said.

Brat, lost in admiration of his physical conformation, was still
puzzled by what he thought of as the butter-wouldn't-melt air.

"He has one of the best-looking heads I've ever seen on a horse," Simon
said. "And just look at the bone." He led the horse round. "And a sweet
mover, too," he said.

Brat went on looking in silence, admiring and puzzled.

"Well?" Simon said, waiting for Brat's comment.

"Isn't he _conceited_!" said Brat.

Simon laughed.

"Yes, I suppose he is. But not without cause."

"No. He's a good-looker all right."

"He is more than that. He's a lovely ride. And he can jump anything you
can see the sky over."

Brat moved forward to the horse and made friendly overtures. Timber
accepted the gesture without responding. He looked gratified but
faintly bored.

"He should have been a tenor," Brat said.

"A tenor?" Simon said. "Oh, I see. The conceit." He considered the
horse afresh. "I suppose he is rather pleased with himself. I hadn't
thought about it before. Would you like to try him out, by the way?"

"I certainly would."

"He ought to have some exercise to-day and he hasn't had it so far." He
hailed a stable-man. "Arthur, bring a saddle for Timber."

"Yes, sir. A double bridle, sir?"

"No; a snaffle." And, as the man went, to Brat: "He has a mouth like a
glove."

Brat wondered if he was merely reluctant to submit that tender mouth to
the ham hands of a Westerner with a curb rein at his disposal.

While Timber was being saddled they inspected the two remaining
"acquisitions." They were a long-backed bay mare with a good head and
quarters ("Two good ends make up for a middle," as Simon said) who was
called Scapa; and Chevron, a bright chestnut of great quality with a
nervous eye.

"What are you riding?" Brat asked, as Simon led Chevron back to his
box.

Simon bolted the half-door and turned to face him.

"I thought you might like to have a look round by yourself," he said.
And as Brat, surprised by this piece of luck, was momentarily wordless:
"Don't let him get lit-up too much, will you, or he'll break out again
when he has been dried."

"No, I'll bring him back cool," Brat said; and flung his leg across his
first English horse.

He took one of the two whips that Arthur was holding out for his
choosing, and turned the horse to the inner end of the yard.

"Where are you going?" Simon asked, as if surprised.

"Up to the down, I think," Brat said, as if Simon's question had
applied to his choice of a place to ride in.

If that gate at the north-west corner of the yard didn't still lead to
the short-cut to the downs, then Simon would have to tell him. If it
still did lead there, Simon would have one more item to worry about.

"You haven't chosen a very good whip for shutting gates with," Simon
said smoothly. "Or are you going to jump everything you come to?" You
rodeo artist, the tone said.

"I'll shut the gates," Brat said equably.

He began to walk Timber to the corner of the yard.

"He has his tricks, so look out for him," Simon said, as an
afterthought.

"I'll look out for him," Brat said, and rode away to the inner gate
which Arthur was waiting to open for him.

Arthur grinned at him in a friendly fashion and said admiringly: "He's
a fly one, that, sir."

As he turned to his right into the little lane he considered the
implication of that very English adjective. It was a long time since he
had heard anything called fly. "Fly" was "cute"--in the English sense,
not in the American. Fly was something on the side. A fly cup.
Something sly with a hint of cleverness in it.

A fly one, Timber was.

The fly one walked composedly up the track between the green banks
netted with violets, his ears erect in anticipation of the turf ahead
of them. As they came in sight of the gate at the far end he danced a
little. "No," said Brat's hands, and he desisted at once. Someone had
left the gate open, but since there was a notice saying PLEASE SHUT THE
GAT neatly painted in the middle of it, Brat manoeuvred Timber into the
appropriate position for closing it. Timber seemed as well acquainted
with gates and their uses as a cow pony was with a rope, but never
before had Brat had so delicate and so well-oiled a mechanism under
him. Timber obeyed the slightest indication of hand or heel with a lack
of questioning and a confidence that was new in Brat's experience.
Surprised and delighted, Brat experimented with this new adaptability.
And Timber, even with the turf in front of him, with the turf
practically under his feet, moved sweetly and obediently under his
hands.

"You wonder!" said Brat softly.

The ears flicked at him.

"You perishing marvel," he said, and closed his knees as he turned to
face the down. Timber broke into a slow canter, headed for the clumps
of gorse and juniper bushes that marked the skyline.

So this was what riding a good English horse was like, he thought. This
communion, this being one half of a whole. This effortlessness. This
magic.

The close, fine turf slipped by under them, and it was odd to see no
little spurt of dust coming up as the shoes struck. England, England,
England, said the shoes as they struck. A soft drum on the English
turf.

I don't care, he thought, I don't care. I'm a criminal, and a heel, but
I've got what I wanted, and it's worth it. By God, it's worth it. If I
died to-morrow, it's worth it.

They came to the level top of the down and faced the double row of
bushes that made a rough natural avenue, about fifty yards wide, along
the crest. This was something that Alec Loding had forgotten to tell
him about, and something that had not appeared on a map. Even the
Ordnance Survey can hardly take note of juniper growths. He pulled up
to consider it. But Timber was in no considering mood. Timber knew all
about that level stretch of down between the rows of bushes.

"All right," said Brat, "let's see what you can do," and let him go.

Brat had ridden flyers before. Dozens of them. He had ridden sprinters
and won money with them. He had been bolted with at the speed of jet
propulsion. Mere speed no longer surprised him. What surprised him was
the smoothness of the progress. It was like being carried through the
air on a horse suspended to a merry-go-round.

The soft air parted round his face and tickled his ears and fled away
behind them, smelling of grass with the sun on it and leather and
gorse. Who cares, who cares, who cares! said the galloping feet. Who
cares, who cares, who cares! said the blood in Brat's veins.

If he died to-morrow it was all the same to him.

As they came to the end of the stretch Timber began to pull up of his
own accord, but it was against Brat's instincts to let a horse make the
decisions, so he kept him going, turned him round the south end of the
green corridor, and cantered him gently to a walk, and Timber responded
without question.

"Brother," said Brat, running his fingers up the dark crest, "are there
more like you in England, or do you rate special?"

Timber bent his head to the caress, still with the air of one receiving
his due.

But as they walked back on the south side of the irregular green hedge
Brat's attention and interest went to the countryside spread below
them. Except that he was looking at it upside down, as it were--from
the north, instead of from the south as one looks normally at a
map--this was Clare as he had first become acquainted with it. All laid
out below his eye in Ordnance Survey clarity and precision.

Down below him, a little to his left, were the crimson roofs of
Latchetts, set in the neat squares of paddock. Farther to the left was
the church, on its own small rise; and left of it again, the village of
Clare, a huddle of roofs in pale green trees. Where the land sloped up
from the village to make the south side of the small valley stood Clare
Park, a long white house sheltered from the south-west Channel gales by
the slope behind it.

Directly opposite him that slope rose into a smaller and tamer version
of the down he was sitting on; a low green hill called Tanbitches. It
was an open stretch of grazing, marked half-way up with the green scar
of an old quarry, and crowned by the beeches that had given it its
name. There were only seven beeches now instead of ten, but the clump
made a decorative and satisfying climax to the southern side of the
valley.

The other side of the Tanbitches hill, as he knew from the maps, ran
away in a gentle slope for a mile and a half to the cliffs. To the
cliffs where Patrick Ashby had put an end to his life. Behind the lower
rise of the valley, on the reverse slope of Clare Park, were farms that
merged imperceptibly in a mile or two into the suburbs of Westover. In
the slight hollow that marked the Clare Park slope from Tanbitches hill
was a path that led to the coast. The path that Patrick Ashby had taken
on that day eight years ago.

It was suddenly more real to him than it had ever been so far: this
tragedy which he was using to his advantage. More real even than it had
been in the rooms that Patrick had lived in. In the house there had
been other associations besides Patrick: associations more present and
alive. There had been the distractions of human intercourse and of his
own need to be constantly wary. Out here in the open and alone it had a
reality that it had never had before. Up that straggling path on the
other side of the valley a boy had gone, so loaded with misery that
this neat green English world had meant nothing to him. He had had
horses like Timber, and friends and family, and a belonging-place, and
it had all meant nothing to him.

For the first time in his detached existence Brat was personally aware
of another's tragedy. When Loding had first told him the story, in that
London pub, he had had nothing but contempt for the boy who had had so
much and could not do without that little extra. A poor thing, he had
thought. Then Loding had brought those photographs to Kew, and had
shown him Patrick, and he had had that odd feeling of identification,
of partisanship.

"That is Pat Ashby. He was about eleven there," Loding had said, his
feet propped comfortably on the railings of the park, and had passed
him the piece of paper. It was a snapshot taken with a Brownie 2A, and
Brat had accepted it with a curiosity that was active but not urgent.

But Pat Ashby had not been the anonymous "poor thing" that he had so
far held in his mind. He had been a real person. A likeable real
person. A person who would have been, Brat felt, very much his cup of
tea. From being vaguely anti-Patrick he had become Patrick's champion.

It was not, however, until this moment of quiet above Latchetts that he
had been moved to sorrow for him.

Clink--clink! came the faint sound from the valley; and Brat's eyes
travelled down from Tanbitches to the cottage at its foot. The
blacksmith's, that was. A quarter of a mile west of the village. A tiny
black square by the roadside it had been on the map; now it was a small
building with a black chimney and an occupant who made musical sounds
with a hammer.

The whole scene was very like the picture from which he had acquired
his first-year French. _Voilà le forgeron._ It needed only a curé
coming from the church. And a postman on a bicycle between the forge
and the village.

Brat slid from Timber's back, from long habit loosened the girths as if
he saddled up hours ago, and sat down with his back to the gorse and
juniper to feast his eyes on this primer of the English countryside.




15


The great clouds sailed up and past, the sunlight flickered and ran,
the uncertain soft wind edged in and out of the junipers and made soft
scufflings in the grass. Timber made small sounds with his bit, and
cropped turf in a tentative and superior fashion. Brat sank into a daze
of pleasure and ceased altogether from conscious thought.

He was roused by the swift fling-up of Timber's head, and almost at the
same moment a female voice behind him said, as if it were a chant and
rhymed:

    "Don't look,
    Don't move,
    Shut your eyes
    And guess who."

It was a slightly Cockney voice, and it dripped with archness.

Like anyone else in the circumstances Brat disobeyed the injunction
automatically. He looked round into the face of a girl of sixteen or
so. She was a large, plumpish girl, with bright auburn hair and
prominent blue eyes. The eyes were remarkable in that they managed to
be at once avid and sleepy. As they met Brat's they almost popped out
altogether.

"Oh!" said the girl, in a half-shriek. "I thought you were Simon.
You're not!"

"No," agreed Brat, beginning to get to his feet.

But before he could move she had dropped to the grass beside him.

"My, you gave me a shock. I bet I know who you are. You're the
long-lost brother, aren't you? You must be; you're so like Simon.
That's who you are, isn't it?"

Brat said that it was.

"You even wear the same kind of clothes."

Brat said that they were Simon's clothes. "You know Simon?"

"Of course I know Simon. I'm Sheila Parslow. I'm a boarder at Clare
Park."

"Oh." The school for dodgers, Eleanor had called it. The place where no
one had to learn the nine-times.

"I'm doing my best to have an _affaire_ with Simon, but it's uphill
work."

Brat did not know the correct rejoinder to this, but she did not need
conversational encouragement.

"I have to do something to put some pep into life at Clare Park. You
can't imagine the screaming boredom of it. You simply can't imagine.
There is nothing, but I mean _nothing_, that you are forbidden to do. I
once got so desperate I took off all my clothes and walked into
Cedric's office--Cedric is our Leader, he doesn't like being called the
Head, but that's what he is, of course--I walked in with nothing on,
not a stitch, and all he said was: 'Have you ever thought of going on a
diet, Sheila dear?' Just took a look at me and said: 'Have you ever
thought of going on a diet?' and then went on with looking up _Who's
Who_. He's always looking up _Who's Who_. You don't really stand much
of a chance of fetching up at Clare Park unless your father is in
_Who's Who_. Or your mother, of course. My father's not in it, but he
has millions, my father, and that makes a very good substitute.
Millions are a very good introduction, aren't they?"

Brat said that he supposed they were.

"I flapped Father's millions in front of Simon; Simon has a great
respect for a good investment and I hoped it would weight my charms, so
to speak; but he's a frightful snob, Simon, isn't he?"

"Is he?"

"Don't you _know_?"

"I've only met him to-day."

"Oh, of course. You've just come back. How exciting for you. I can
understand Simon not being overjoyed, of course, but it must be
exciting for you to put his nose out of joint."

Brat wondered if she, too, pulled the wings off flies.

"I may have more chance with Simon now that you've taken his fortune
from him. I'll have to waylay him somewhere and see. I thought I was
waylaying him now, when I saw Timber. He often comes up here because
it's his favourite place for exercising the horses. He hates
Tanbitches." She jerked her chin at the opposite side of the valley.
"And this is a good place for getting him alone. So I came up here on
spec, and then I saw that black brute, and I thought I had him cold.
But it was only you."

"I'm sorry," Brat said meekly.

She considered him.

"I suppose it's no good my trying to seduce you instead?" she said.

"I'm afraid not."

"Is it that I'm not your type, or is it not your line?"

"Not much in my line, I'm afraid."

"No, I suppose not," she said, agreeing with him. "You have a face like
a monk. Funny you should look so like Simon and yet look so different.
Simon's no monk; as that Gates girl over at Wigsell could tell you. I
make images of that Gates girl and stick pins in them, but it doesn't
do any good. She goes on blooming like a blasted peony and fascinating
him like fly-paper."

She was rather like a well-blown peony herself, he thought, looking at
her wet red mouth and the buttons straining the cloth across her ample
bust. A rather drooping and disappointed peony at the moment.

"Does Simon know that you are fond of him?" Brat asked.

"Fond of him? I'm not fond of him. I don't think I like him at all. I
just want to have an _affaire_ with him to brighten up the term a bit.
Until I can leave this boring place."

"If you can do anything you like, why can't you leave now?" Brat asked
reasonably.

"Well, I don't want to look too much of a fool, you know. I went to
school at Ling Abbey, you see, and I made the place a hell so that my
people would take me away and send me here. I thought I was going to
have the time of my life here, with no lessons and no timetable and no
rules or anything. I had no idea it would be so boring. I could weep
with boredom."

"Isn't there anyone at Clare Park you could substitute for Simon? I
mean, someone who would be more--accommodating?"

"No, I had a look at them first. Skinny and hairy and intellectual.
Have you ever noticed how the intellect runs to hair? Some people get a
kick out of disgust, but not me. I like them good-looking. And you have
to admit Simon is very good-looking. There was an under-gardener at
Ling Abbey that was almost as handsome, but he hadn't that lovely
God-damn-you look that Simon has."

"Didn't the under-gardener keep you at the Abbey place?"

"Oh, no, they sacked him. It was easier than expelling me and having a
scandal. But they had to expel me in any case, so they might as well
have kept poor Albert. He was much better with his lobelias than he was
with girls. But of course they couldn't be expected to know that. I
suppose you wouldn't put in a good word for me with Simon? It would be
such a pity to waste all the agony I've gone through trying to interest
him."

"Agony?"

"You don't suppose I endure hours on those horrible quadrupeds just for
_fun_, do you? With that cold stick of a sister of his looking down her
nose at me. Oh, I forgot: she's your sister too, isn't she? But perhaps
you've been away so long that you don't think of her the way a boy
thinks of his sister."

"I certainly don't," Brat said; but she was not listening.

"I suppose you've ridden horses since you could crawl, so you have no
idea what it is like to be bumped about on a great shapeless mountain
of a thing that's far too high from the ground and has nothing to hold
on to. It looks so easy when Simon does it. The horse looks so nice and
_narrow_ when you're standing on the ground. You think you could ride
it the way you ride a bicycle. It's only when you get up you find that
its back is simply acres across and you can make no impression on it at
all. You just sit there and are bumped about, and your legs slip
backwards and forwards instead of staying still like Simon's, and you
get large blisters and can't sit down in the bath for weeks. You don't
look quite so like a monk when you smile a bit."

Brat suggested that surely there were better ways of attracting
favourable notice than being a tyro at something that the object of
one's pursuit already did to perfection.

"Oh, I didn't think that I'd attract him that way. It just gave me an
excuse for being round the stables. That sister of--your sister doesn't
stand any hanging round if you haven't got business."

"Your sister," he thought, and liked the sound of it.

He had three sisters now, and at least two of them were the kind he
would have indented for. Presently he must go down and make their
further acquaintance.

"I'm afraid I must go," he said, getting up and putting the reins over
Timber's head.

"I wish you didn't have to," she said, watching him tighten the girth.
"You are quite the nicest person I have talked to since I came to
Clare. It's a pity you aren't interested in women. You might cut Simon
out with the Gates girl, and then I'd have more chance. Do you know the
Gates girl?"

"No," Brat said, getting up on Timber.

"Well, have a look at her. She's very pretty."

"I'll do that," Brat said.

"Now that you're home, I'll be running across you in the stables, I
suppose."

"I expect so."

"You wouldn't like to give me one of my lessons instead of your sister,
would you?"

"I'm afraid that's not my department."

"Oh, well." She sounded resigned. "You look very nice on that brute. I
suppose _his_ back is acres across too. They all are. It's a conspiracy."

"Good-bye," said Brat.

"Do you know, I don't know your name. Someone told me, of course, but I
forget. What is it?"

"Patrick."

And as he said the word his mind went back to the path across the
valley, and he forgot Miss Parslow almost instantly. He cantered back
along the top of the down until he came level with Latchetts, and then
began to walk Timber down. Below him, a green ride led through the
paddocks to the west of the house and so to the sweep of gravel in
front of it. It was by that way that Jane had come this morning, when
she had become mixed up with his reception at the front door. The gate
to the ride stood open, the gate lying flat against the stout paddock
rails that bordered the ride. Brat rode down until the steepness of the
down gave way to a gentle slope and then pressed Timber into a canter.
The green tunnel of the ride with its soft floor was open before them,
and he was not going to spoil it by stopping to shut another gate that
someone else had left open.

It was due to no good riding on Brat's part that his left leg was still
whole five seconds later. It was due entirely to the years of
rough-riding that had made his physical reactions quicker than
conscious thought. The swerve was so sudden and so wholehearted that
the white rail was scraping along the saddle where his leg should have
been before he realised that his leg was not there. That he had taken
it away before he had had time to think about it.

As Timber came away from the rails he settled back into the saddle and
pulled the horse to a stop. Timber stopped obediently.

"Whew!" said Brat, expelling his pent breath. He looked down at Timber
standing innocent and demure in the exact centre of the ride.

"You ornery thing, you," he said, amused.

Timber went on looking demure but the ears listened to him. A trifle
apprehensively, Brat thought.

"I know men who'd beat the bejasus out of you for that," Brat said, and
turned the horse's nose to the down again. Timber retraced his steps
obediently, but was obviously not easy in his mind. When he was far
enough away from the gate Brat took him into a canter once more and
down to the opening. He had neither spurs nor curb but he was curious
to see what Timber would do this time. Timber, as he had expected,
swept good-manneredly into the ride, bisecting the distance from either
rail with mathematical precision.

"What, me!" he seemed to be saying. "Do a thing like that on purpose?
Me, with my perfect manners? Of course not. I just lost my balance for
a moment, coming into the ride there. It can happen to the best of us."

"Well, well," thought Brat, pulling him to a walk. "Think you're smart,
don't you," he said aloud, walking him down the ride. "Far smarter
horses than you have tried to brush me off, take it from me. I've been
brushed off horses that would make you look like five-cents worth of
candy."

The black ears flickered, listening to him, analysing the sound of his
voice, its tone; puzzled.

The mares came to the rails to watch them pass, pleased with this small
event in their placid lives; and the foals ran round and round in a
self-induced excitement. But Timber took no notice of them. He had lost
any active interest in mares at a very early age, and just now his
whole interest seemed to be in the fact that he had been outwitted, and
that the outwitting one made sounds which he did not understand. His
ears, which should have been pricked at the thought of his nearing
stable, were restless and enquiring.

Brat rode round the front of the house, as Jane had that morning, but
he saw no one. He went on to the stables and found Eleanor just riding
in with a led horse, having given Tony his lesson and left him at Clare
Park.

"Hullo!" she said, "have you been out on Timber?" She sounded a little
surprised. "I hope Simon warned you about him."

"Yes, thank you, he warned me."

"One of my bad buys," she said ruefully, eyeing Timber as they rode
side by side towards the yard.

"Yours?" he said.

"Yes. Didn't Simon tell you about that?"

"No."

"That was nice of him. I expect he didn't want you to find out too soon
what a fool of a sister you have." She smiled a little at him, as if
she were glad to be his sister. "I bought him at the Lerridge Hunt
sale. It was Timber who killed old Felix. Old Felix Hunstanton, the
Master, you know. Did Simon tell you?"

"No. No, he just told me about his tricks."

"Old Felix had some good horses, and when they were being sold I went
over to see what I could pick up. None of the Lerridge Hunt regulars
was bidding for Timber, but I thought it was because of sentiment,
perhaps. I thought they probably didn't want to own the horse the
Master was killed on. As if there was ever any sentiment about
horse-dealing! I oughtn't to be let out alone. Even so, I ought to have
wondered why I was getting him so cheap; with his looks and his
breeding and his performance. It was only afterwards that we found that
he had done the same thing to the huntsman a few days later, only the
branches were small and broke, instead of braining him or sweeping him
off."

"I see," said Brat, who was beginning to.

"Not that anyone needed convincing, apparently. No one who was there
when Felix was killed believed it was an accident. It was a Lerridge
Castle meet, and they had found in one of the Lerridge woods and gone
away over the park. Good open galloping country with the trees
isolated. And yet Timber took Felix under an oak, going an awful bat,
and he was dead before he hit the ground. But of course we heard about
all that later. All I knew when I was bidding for him was that Felix
had hit his head on a branch during the hunt. Which is something that
has been happening to people ever since William Rufus."

"Did anyone actually see it happen?"

"No, I don't think so. Everyone just knew that with the whole park to
choose from Felix wouldn't have ridden under the oak. And when he tried
the same thing on Samms, the huntsman, there was no doubt. So he is put
into the sale with the rest of the lot and all the Lerridge regulars
sit around in silence and watch Eleanor Ashby from over Clare way
buying a pup."

"He's a very elegant pup, there's no denying," Brat said, rubbing
Timber's neck.

"He's beautiful," Eleanor said. "And a faultless jumper. Did you jump
him at all to-day? No? You must next time. He is safest jumping because
his mind is distracted. He hasn't time to think up mischief. It's odd,
isn't it; he doesn't _look_ untrustworthy," she added, still eyeing her
bad bargain with a puzzled eye.

"No."

She caught the tone and said: "You don't sound too sure."

"Well, I must allow he is the most conceited animal I've ever met."

This seemed to be as new an idea to Eleanor as it had been to Simon.

"Vain, is he? Yes, I suppose he is. I expect _I'd_ be conceited if I
were a horse and I had been clever enough to kill a man. Did he try any
tricks to-day?"

"He swerved at the entrance to the ride, but that was all." He did not
say: He took advantage of the first good stout piece of timber to mash
my leg against. That was something between the horse and himself. He
and Timber had a long acquaintanceship in front of them, and a lot to
say to each other.

"He behaves like an angel most of the time," Eleanor said. "That is
what is so lethal about him. We have all ridden him; Simon and Gregg
and Arthur and me, and he has only twice played up. Once with Simon and
once with Arthur. But of course," she added with a grin, "we have
always given trees a wide berth."

"He'd be a great success in the desert. Not a rail or a limb in a day's
journey."

Eleanor looked sadly at the black horse as Brat drew up to let her
precede him into the yard. "He'd think up something else, I expect."

And Brat, thinking it over, agreed with her. Timber was that rare thing
in horses: a deliberate and intelligent rogue. Balked of his normal
fun, he would think up something new. There was nothing small-time
about Timber.

Nor was Simon exactly small-time. Simon had sent him out on a notorious
rogue, with a light remark about the horse "having its tricks." As neat
a piece of vicarious manslaughter as anyone ever thought up.




16


Beatrice Ashby looked down the dining-table at her nephew Patrick and
thought how well he was doing it. The occasion must be an
extraordinarily difficult one for him, but he was carrying it off
beautifully. He was neither awkward nor exuberant. He brought to the
situation the same quiet detachment that he had shown on their first
meeting in that Pimlico room. It was a very adult quality, and a little
surprising in a boy not yet twenty-one. He had great dignity this
Patrick Ashby, she thought, watching him dealing with the Rector.
Surely never before can anyone have been so silent by habit without
appearing either stiff or stupid.

It was she who had brought Simon up, and she was pleased with the
result. But this boy had brought himself up, and the result was even
better, it seemed. Perhaps it was a case of "giving the first seven
years" and the rest followed automatically. Or perhaps it was that the
goodness in Patrick had been so innate that he had needed no other
guidance. He had followed his own lights, and the result was this
quiet, adult young man with the still face.

It was a mask of a face; a sad mask, on the whole. It was such a
contrast to the similar set of features in Simon's mobile countenance
that they reminded one of those reversible comedy-tragedy masks that
are used to decorate the title-pages of plays.

Simon was being particularly gay to-night, and Bee's heart ached for
him. He too was doing it well, and to-night she loved him almost
without reservation. Simon was abdicating, and doing it with a grace
and spontaneity that she would not have believed possible. She felt a
little guilty that she had underrated him. She had not credited the
selfish, acquisitive Simon with such a power of renunciation.

They were choosing a name for Honey's filly foal, and the conversation
was growing ribald. Nancy was insisting that "honey" was an endearment,
and should be translated as "poppet," and Eleanor said that no
thoroughbred as good as Honey's present foal should be damned by a name
like Poppet. If Eleanor had refused to dress especially for Patrick's
arrival, she had now made up for it. It was a long time since Bee had
seen her looking so well or so pretty. Eleanor belonged to a type which
did not glow easily.

"Brat is in love with Honey," Eleanor said.

"I suppose Bee dragged you round the paddocks before you were well over
the doorstep," said Nancy. "Were you impressed, Brat?"

She too had adopted the nickname. Only the Rector called him Patrick.

"I'm in love with the whole bunch," Brat said. "And I found an old
friend."

"Oh? Who was that?"

"Regina."

"Oh, yes, of course. Poor old Regina. She must be about twenty!" Nancy
said.

"Not so much of the 'poor'," said Simon. "Regina has kept us shod and
clothed for a whole generation. We ought to pay her a dividend."

"She takes her dividends out in pasture," Eleanor said. "She was always
a greedy eater."

"When you drop foals like Regina year after year without a break,
you're entitled to an appetite," Simon said.

Simon was drinking a great deal more than usual, but it seemed to be
having little effect on him. Bee thought that the Rector looked at him
now and then with pity in his eyes.

And Brat, too, at the other end of the table, was watching Simon, but
without pity. Pity was not an emotion that Brat indulged in very often:
like everyone who despises self-pity he did not readily pity others;
but it was not because of his native disinclination to pity that he
withheld sympathy from Simon Ashby. It was not even because Simon was
his declared enemy; he had admired enemies before now. It was because
there was something about Simon Ashby that repelled him. There was
something unaccountable about Simon. There he sat, being light-hearted
and charming, and there sat his relations and friends silently
applauding his nobility and his courage. They were applauding an "act,"
but they would all be staggered to know what an act Simon was really
putting on for their benefit.

Watching him as he displayed his graces, Brat felt that Simon reminded
him of someone that he had met quite lately. Someone who had just that
air of breeding, and excellent good manners, and good looks, and
that--unaccountability. Who could that have been?

He was maddened by that tip-of-the-tongue feeling. In one more second
he would remember. Loding? No. Someone on the ship coming over? Not
very likely. That lawyer chap: the K.C. chap, Macdermott? No. Then who
could it----

"Don't you think so, Patrick?"

It was the Rector again. He must be careful with the old boy. He had
been more afraid of meeting George Peck than of anyone but Simon. After
a twin brother there is no one who is liable to remember so much about
you or to remember that much so well as the man who taught you. There
would be a score of small things that George Peck would know about
Patrick Ashby that not even Patrick Ashby's mother would know. But the
meeting had gone off very well. Nancy Peck had kissed him on both
cheeks and said: "Oh, dear, you've got very grown-up and serious,
haven't you!"

"Patrick always was," the Rector had said, and had shaken hands.

He had looked consideringly at Brat, but no more consideringly than was
normal in a man examining an old pupil met after a decade of absence.
And Brat, who had no love for the Cloth, found himself liking the
Rector. He was still wary of him, but the wariness was due not to the
Rector's calling but to his knowledge of Pat Ashby, and to the
intelligence and penetration of the eyes in his simian face.

Considering that intelligence, Brat was glad that he was particularly
well primed in the matter of Pat Ashby's schooling. The Rector was Alec
Loding's brother-in-law, and Loding had had what he called a
front-stall view of the Ashby twins' education.

As for Alec Loding's sister, she was the most beautiful woman that Brat
had ever seen. He had never heard of the famous Nancy Ledingham, but
her brother had been eloquent about her. "Could have had anyone in the
world; any man would have been delighted to keep her just to look at;
but she had to choose George Peck." He had been shown Nancy in every
kind of garment, from a swimming suit to her court presentation gown,
but none of the photographs had done justice to her serene beauty, her
gaiety, her general niceness. He felt that George Peck must be all
right if Nancy had married him.

"Was that the Toselli child you had out with you?" she was saying to
Eleanor. "That object I met you with this afternoon?"

"That was Tony," Eleanor said.

"How he brought back the days of my youth!"

"Tony did? How?"

"You won't remember it, but there used to be things called cavalry
regiments. And every regiment had a trick-riding team. And every
trick-riding team had a "comedy" member. And every "comedy" member of a
trick-riding team looked just like Tony."

"So they did!" Bee said, delighted. "That was what he reminded me of
this afternoon and I couldn't think of it at the time. That masterly
irrelevance. The completely unrelated garments."

"You may wonder why I took him out at all," Eleanor remarked. "But
after Sheila Parslow he's a positive holiday. He'll ride quite well
some day, Tony."

"To the prospective horseman all things are forgiven, are they?" the
Rector said, mocking mildly.

"Doesn't La Parslow get any better?" Simon asked.

"She will never get any better. She skates about in the saddle like a
block of ice on a plate. I could weep for the horse all the time we are
out. Luckily Cherrypicker has an indestructible frame and practically
no feelings."

The move from the dining-room to the living-room produced an
anti-climax. The talk ceased to flow and ran into aimless trickles.
Brat was suddenly so tired that he could hardly stand up. He hoped that
no one would spring anything on him now; his normally hard head was
muzzy with unaccustomed wine, and his thoughts fumbled and stuck. The
twins said good night and went upstairs. Bee poured the coffee which
had been placed in readiness for them on a low table by the fire, and
it was not as hot as it should have been. Bee made despairing grimaces
at Nancy.

"Our Lana, is it?" Nancy asked, sympathetic.

"Yes. I suppose she had to meet our Arthur and couldn't wait another
ten minutes."

Simon, too, fell silent, as if the effort he had been making seemed
suddenly not worth while. Only Eleanor seemed to have brought from the
dining-room the warmth and happiness that had made dinner a success. In
the moments of silence between the slow spurts of talk the rain fell
against the tall windows with a soft shush.

"You were right about the weather, Aunt Bee," Eleanor said. "She said
this morning that it was that too-bright kind that would bring rain
before night."

"Bee is perennially right," the Rector said, giving her a look that was
half a smile, half a benediction.

"It sounds loathsome," Bee said.

Nancy waited until they had lingered properly over their coffee and
then said: "It has been a very full day for Brat, Bee; and I expect you
are all tired. We won't stay now, but you'll come over and see us when
you can crawl out from under the crush, won't you, Brat?"

Simon fetched her wraps and they all went out to the doorstep to see
their guests off. On the doorstep Nancy took off her evening shoes,
tucked them under her arm, and stepped into a pair of Wellingtons that
she had left behind the door. Then she tucked her other arm under her
husband's, huddled close to him under their single umbrella, and walked
away with him into the night.

"Good old Nancy," Simon said. "You can't keep a Ledingham down." He
sounded just a little drunk.

"Dear Nan," Bee said softly. She moved into the living-room and
surveyed it in an absent fashion.

"I think Nan is right," she said. "It is time we all went to bed. It
has been an exciting day for all of us."

"We don't want it to end so soon, do we?" Eleanor said.

"You have La Parslow at nine-thirty to-morrow," Simon reminded her. "I
saw it in the book."

"What were _you_ doing with the riding book?"

"I like to see that you're not cheating on your income tax."

"Oh, yes, let's go to bed," Eleanor said, with a wide happy yawn. "It's
been a wonderful day."

She turned to Brat to say good night, became suddenly shy, gave him her
hand and said: "Good night then, Brat. Sleep well," and went away
upstairs.

Brat turned to Bee, but she said: "I shall come in to see you on my way
up." So he turned back to face Simon.

"Good night, Simon." He met the clear cold eyes levelly.

"Good night to you--Patrick," Simon said, looking faintly amused. He
had managed to make the name sound like a provocation.

"Are you coming up now?" Brat heard Bee ask him as he climbed the
stairs.

"Not quite yet."

"Will you see that the lights are out, then? And make sure of the
locks?"

"Yes, of course I'll do that. Good night, Bee darling."

As Brat turned on to the landing he saw Bee's arms go round Simon. And
he was stabbed by a hot despairing jealousy that shocked him. What had
it to do with him?

Bee followed him into the old night nursery in a few moments. She
looked with a practised eye at the bed and said: "That moron promised
to put in a hot-water bottle and she has forgotten to do it."

"Don't worry," Brat said. "I'd only have put it out again. I don't use
the things."

"You must think us a crowd of soft-livers," she said.

"I think you're a nice crowd," he said.

She looked at him and smiled.

"Tired?"

"Yes."

"Too tired for breakfast at eight-thirty?"

"That sounds luxuriously late to me."

"Did you enjoy it, that hard life--Brat?"

"Sure."

"I think you're nice too," she said, and kissed him lightly. "I wish
you hadn't stayed away from us so long, but we are glad to have you
back. Good night, my dear." And as she went out: "It's no use ringing a
bell, of course, because no one will answer. But if you have a mad
desire for fried shrimps, or iced water, or a copy of the _Pilgrim's
Progress_ or something, come along to my room. It is still the
right-hand one in front."

"Good night," he said.

She stood for a moment outside his room, the door-knob still in her
hand, and then moved away to Eleanor's door. She knocked and went in.
For the last year or so Eleanor had been a great comfort to her. She
had been so long alone in her need for judgment and resolution that it
was refreshing to have the companionship of her own kind; to have
Eleanor's unemotional good sense on tap when she wanted it.

"Hullo, Bee," Eleanor said, looking up through the hair she was
brushing. She was beginning to drop the "aunt," as Simon did.

Bee sank into a chair and said: "Well, that's over."

"It turned out to be quite a success, didn't it," Eleanor said. "Simon
behaved beautifully. Poor Simon."

"Yes. Poor Simon."

"Perhaps Brat--Patrick--will offer him some kind of partnership. Do you
think? After all, Simon helped to make the stable. It wouldn't be fair
to walk in and grab the lot after taking no interest for years and
years."

"No. I don't know. I hope so."

"You sound tired."

"Aren't we all?"

"D'you know, Bee, I must confess I have the greatest difficulty in
connecting the two."

"The two? Simon and Patrick?"

"No. Patrick and Brat."

There was a moment's silence, filled with the soft sound of the rain
and the strokes of Eleanor's brush.

"You mean you--don't think he is Patrick?"

Eleanor stopped brushing and looked up, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Of course he's Patrick," she said, astonished. "Who else would he be?"
She put down the brush and began to tie up her hair in a blue ribbon.
"It's just that I have no feeling of ever having met him before. Odd,
isn't it? When we spent nearly twelve years of our lives together. I
like him; don't you?"

"Yes," Bee said. "I like him." She, too, had no feeling of ever having
met him before, and she too did not see "who else he could be."

"Did Patrick not smile very often?"

"No; he was a serious child."

"When Brat smiles I want to cry."

"Good heavens, Eleanor."

"You can 'good heavens' all you like, but I expect you know what I
mean."

Bee thought that she did.

"Did he tell you why he didn't write to us all those years?"

"No. There wasn't much opportunity for confidences."

"I thought you might have asked him when you were going round the
paddocks with him this evening."

"No. He was too interested in the horses."

"Why do _you_ think he didn't take any interest in us after he left?"

"Perhaps he took what old Nannie used to call a 'scunner' to us. It's
not so surprising, in a way, as the fact that he ran away in the first
place. The urge to put Latchetts behind him must have been
overwhelming."

"Yes. I suppose so. But he was such a kind person: Pat. And so fond of
us all. He mightn't have wanted to come back, but you would have
thought he'd want to let us know that he was safe."

Since this was her own private stumbling-block, Bee had no help to
offer.

"It must have been difficult to come back," Eleanor said, running the
comb through her brush. "He looked so tired to-night that he looked
like a _dead_ man. It's not a very lively face at the best of times, is
it? If you chopped it off behind the ears and hung it on a wall, no one
would know the difference."

Bee knew Eleanor well enough, and agreed with her sufficiently, to
translate this successfully.

"You don't think he'll want to sheer off again once the excitement of
coming home has worn off?"

"Oh, no, I'm quite sure he won't."

"You think he is here for keeps?"

"Of course I do."

But Brat, standing in the dark before the open window of his room and
looking at the curve of the down in the wet starlight, was wondering
about that very matter. The thing had succeeded beyond Loding's most
extravagant promises, and now?

Where did he go from here? How long would it be before Simon had him
cold? And if Simon failed, how long could he go on living a life where
at any moment someone might spring a mine?

That is what he had set out to do, of course. But somehow he had not
really looked beyond the first stages. In his heart he had been unable
to believe that he would succeed. Now that success was his he felt
rather like someone who has climbed a pinnacle and can't get down
again. Elated but misgiving.

He turned from the window and switched the lamp on. His landlady in
Pimlico used to say that she "was so tired that she felt as if she'd
been through a mangle"; he knew now how good a description that had
been. That was exactly how he felt. Wrung out and empty. So limp that
it was an effort to lift a hand to undress. He pulled off his nice new
suit--the suit that had made him feel so guilty in that other life way
back in London--and made himself hang it up. He peeled off his
underclothes and stumbled into his faded old pyjamas. He wondered for a
moment whether they would mind if the rain came in and marked the
carpet, but decided to risk it. So he left the window wide open and got
into bed.

He lay for a long time listening to the quiet sound of the rain and
looking at the room. Now was the time for Pat Ashby's ghost to come and
chill that room. He waited for the ghost but it did not come. The room
was warm and welcoming. The figures on the wallpaper, the figures that
those children had grown up with, looked friendly and alive. He turned
his head to look at the groups by the bedside. To look for the one
Eleanor had been in love with. The chap with the profile. He wondered
if she was in love with anyone now.

His eyes went on to the wood of the bedstead, and he remembered that
this was Alec Loding's bed, and was pleased once more by the irony of
it all. It was fantastically right that he should come to Latchetts
only to sleep in Alec Loding's bed. He must tell him one day. It was
the kind of thing that Loding would appreciate.

He wondered whether it was Eleanor or Bee who had put the flowers in
the bowl. Flowers to welcome him--home.

Latchetts, he said to himself, looking at the room. This is Latchetts.
I'm here. This is Latchetts.

The sound of the word was a soporific; like the swing of a hammock. He
put out his hand and switched off the light. In the dark the rain
suddenly sounded louder.

This morning he had got up and dressed in that back room under the
slates, with the crowding chimney-pots beyond the window. And here he
was, going to sleep in Latchetts, with the sweet cold smell of the down
blowing in on the damp air from the window.

As sleep drew him under he had an odd feeling of reassurance. A feeling
that Pat Ashby didn't mind his being there; that he was on the contrary
pleased about it all.

The unlikeliness of this roused him a little, and his thoughts, running
on approval and disapproval, went to Bee. What was it that he had felt
when Bee took his hand to lead him to the interview this afternoon?
What was different from any other of the thousand handclasps he had
experienced in his time? Why the surge of warmth under his heart, and
what kind of emotion was it anyway? He had suffered the same obscure
gratification when Bee had thrust her arm through his on the way to the
stables. What was so remarkable about a woman putting her hand on your
arm? A woman, moreover, that you were not in love with, and were never
likely to be in love with.

It _was_ because she was a woman, of course, but the thing that made it
remarkable was something else again. It had something to do with being
taken for granted by her. No one else had taken his hand in just that
way. Casual but--no, not possessive. Quite a few had been possessive
with him, and he had not been gratified in the least. Casual but--what?
Belonging. It had something to do with belonging. The hand had taken
him for granted because he belonged. It was the unthinking friendliness
of a woman to one of her family. Was it because he had never "belonged"
before, that made that commonplace gesture into a benediction?

He went on thinking of Bee as he fell asleep. Her sidelong glance when
she was considering something; her courage; the way she had braced
herself to meet him that day in the back room in Pimlico; the way she
had kissed him before she was sure, just in case he was Patrick; the
way she had dealt with the suspense of Simon's absence when he arrived
to-day.

She was a lovely woman, Beatrice Ashby, and he loved her.

He had reached the toppling-over place of sleep when he was yanked of a
sudden wide awake.

He had remembered something.

He knew now who it was that Simon Ashby reminded him of.

It was Timber.




17


On Wednesday morning Bee took him to call on the tenants of the three
farms: Frenchland, Upacres, and Wigsell. "Gates last; just to larn
him," Bee said. Gates was last also in importance, since Wigsell was
the smallest of the three farms. It had originally been the home farm
of Latchetts and lay just beyond the Rectory, on the slope north of the
village. It was almost too small a farm to be self-supporting, but
Gates also ran the butcher's shop in the village (open twice a week)
and was not dependent on what he made from Wigsell.

"Do you drive, Brat?" Bee asked, as they prepared to get into the car.

"Yes, but I'd rather you did. You know the"--"road" he had almost
said--"the car better."

"Nice of you to call it a car. I expect you're used to a left-hand
drive."

"Yes."

"I'm sorry it had to be the bug. It isn't often the car goes wrong on
us. Jameson has all its inside out on the garage floor, and is
conducting a post-mortem in a silent fury."

"I like the bug. I came from the station in it yesterday."

"So you did. What a very long time ago that seems. Does it seem like
that to you?"

"Yes." It seemed years away to him.

"Have you heard that we've been saved from the _Clarion_?" she asked,
as they sped down the avenue to the accompaniment of the bug's
sewing-machine song.

"No?"

"Are you not a consumer of the Press at breakfast?" asked Bee, who had
breakfasted at eight o'clock.

"I never lived where we had papers to read at breakfast. We just
switched on the radio."

"Oh, lord, yes. I forget that your generation doesn't have to read."

"How have we been saved?"

"We have been rescued by three people we never heard of, and are never
likely to meet. The fourth wife of a Manchester dentist, the husband of
a principal boy, and the owner of a black leather trunk." She pressed
the horn and turned slowly to the right out of the avenue. "The owner
of the trunk left it at Charing Cross with someone's arms and legs in
it. Or, of course, it may be the owner's arms and legs. That is a
question which will occupy the _Clarion_ for some time to come, I
expect. The husband of the principal boy is suing for alienation of
affection, and none of the three people concerned has ever been
bothered with an inhibition, which is very nice for the _Clarion_.
Since the reports of divorce cases have been pruned the _Clarion_ has
been suffering from frustration, and a suit for alienation of affection
is a gift from heaven. Especially when it is Tattie Thacker's
affections." She looked with pleasure at the morning. "I do like a
morning after rain."

"You've still one to come?"

"What?"

"The fourth wife of the Manchester dentist."

"Oh. Yes. She, poor wretch, has just been exhumed from a very expensive
and elaborate tomb and found to be loaded with arsenic. Her husband is
found to be missing."

"And you think that the _Clarion_ will be too busy to bother
about--us?"

"I'm sure of it. They haven't room as it is for all they want to do
with Tattie. She had a whole page to herself this morning. If they ever
bothered about the Ashbys they would print the report in a tiny
paragraph at the bottom of a page, and five million people would read
it and not be able to tell you two minutes later what was in it. I
think we are quite safe. The _Westover Times_ will have one of their
usual discreet paragraphs this morning, and that will be the end of the
matter."

Well, that was another snag out of the way. In the meantime he must
keep his wits alive for the visits to Frenchland and Upacres. He was
supposed to know these people.

Frenchland was farmed by a tall rosy old man and his tall sallow
sister. "Everyone was terrified of Miss Hassell," Loding had said. "She
had a face like a witch, and a tongue that took the skin off you. She
didn't talk; just made one remark and you found that you were raw."

"Well, this is an honour," old Mr. Hassell said, coming to the garden
gate and seeing whom Bee had with her. "Mr. Patrick, I'm glad to see
you. I'm tarnation glad to see you." He took Brat's hand in his gnarled
old fist and closed on it with his other one. There was no doubt that
he was glad to see Patrick Ashby again.

It was difficult to know whether Miss Hassell was glad or not. She eyed
Brat while she shook hands with him and said: "This is an unexpected
pleasure." Her dry use of the conventional phrase and its wicked
appropriateness amused Brat.

"Foreign parts don't seem to have changed you much," she said, as she
set out glasses in the crowded little parlour.

"I've changed in one way," Brat said.

"You have?" She wasn't going to gratify him by asking in what way.

"I'm not frightened of you any more."

Old Mr. Hassell laughed.

"You beat me there, son. She still puts the fear of God in me. If I'm
half an hour late getting home from market I creep up the lane with my
tail down like I was a sheep-stealer."

Miss Hassell said nothing, but Brat thought there was a new interest in
her glance; almost as if she were pleased with him. And she went away
and fetched some shortbread from the kitchen which she had obviously
had no intention of producing before.

They drank a liquid called White Port Wine Type, and discussed Rhode
Island Reds.

At Upacres there was only plump Mrs. Docket, and she was busy making
butter in the dairy at the back.

"Come in, whoever you are!" she called, and they went down the cool
tiled passage from the open front door, and turned into the chill of
the dairy.

"I can't stop this," she said, looking round at them. "The butter is
just---- Oh, goodness, I didn't know! I just thought it was someone
passing. The children are all at school and Carrie is out in the barn
and---- Goodness! To think of it!"

Bee automatically took her place at the churn while she shook hands
with Brat.

"Well, well," said kind plump Mrs. Docket, "a fine, good-looking Ashby
you are. You're more like Mr. Simon than ever you were."

Brat thought that Bee looked up with interest when she said that.

"It's a happy day for us all, Miss Ashby, isn't it? I could hardly
believe it. I just said to Joe, I don't believe it, I said. It's the
kind of thing that happens in books. And in pictures and plays. Not the
kind of thing that would happen to quiet folk like us in a quiet place
like Clare, I said. And yet here you are and it's really happened. My,
Mr. Patrick, it's nice to see you again, and looking so well and
bonny."

"Can I have a shot at that?" Brat asked, indicating the churn. "I've
never handled one of those things."

"But of course you have!" Mrs. Docket said, looking taken aback. "You
used to come in special on Saturday mornings to have a go at it."

Brat's heart missed a beat. "Did I?" he said. "I've forgotten that."

Always say quite frankly that you don't remember, Loding had advised.
No one can deny that you don't remember, but they will certainly jump
on you if you try to make-believe about anything.

"I thought you did this by electricity now," he heard Bee say as she
made way for him at the churn.

"Oh, we do everything else by electricity, of course," Mrs. Docket
said. "But I can't believe it makes good butter. No more home-made
taste to it than you'd get at the International in Westover. Sometimes
when I'm rushed I switch on the electricity, but I'm always sorry
afterwards. Awful _mechanical_, it is. No artfulness about it."

They drank hot black tea and ate light floury scones and discussed the
children's schooling.

"She's a darling, Mrs. Docket," Bee said as they drove away. "I think
she is still of the opinion in her heart of hearts that electricity is
an invention of the devil."

But Brat was thoughtful. He must stop himself from volunteering
remarks. It was not important about the churn, but it quite easily
might have been something vital. He must be less forthcoming.

"About Friday, Brat," Bee said, as they made their way back to Clare
and to Wigsell.

"What is on Friday?" said Brat, out of his absorption.

Bee looked round and smiled at him. "Your birthday," she said.

Of course. He was now the possessor of a birthday.

"Had you forgotten that you are going to be twenty-one on Friday?" she
asked.

"I had, almost." He caught her sidelong look at him. After a pause she
said: "You came of age a long time ago, didn't you." She said it
without smiling and it was not a question.

"About Friday," she went on. "I thought that since we have postponed
the celebrations for Uncle Charles's benefit, we wouldn't have a party
on Friday. Mr. Sandal will be coming down with the papers he wants you
to sign, so we shall have him to lunch, and make it just a quiet family
party."

Papers to sign. Yes, he had known that there would be papers to sign
sooner or later. He had even learned to make his capital letters the
way Patrick did, thanks to an old exercise book that Loding had
unearthed and filched from the Rectory. And, after all, signing a paper
didn't make him any more of a heel than he was being at this moment. It
just put him more surely in the Law's reverence, made the thing
irrevocable.

"Is that how you would like it?"

"What? Oh, the birthday. Yes, of course. I don't want a party. I don't
want a celebration, if it comes to that. Can't we just take this
coming-of-age for granted?"

"I don't think the neighbourhood would be very pleased if we did. They
are all looking forward to some kind of party. I think we shall have to
give them one. Even the invitation cards are all ready. I altered the
date to a fortnight after Charles's arrival. He is due in about
twenty-three days. So you'll have to 'thole' it, as old Nannie used to
say."

Yes, he would have to thole it. Anyhow, he could sit back now and relax
for a little. He was not supposed to know the Gates family.

They were coming back to the village now; the white rails of the south
paddocks on their left. It was a washed and shining morning, but it had
an uneasy glitter. The sky was metallic, and the light had a silver
edge to it.

As they passed the entrance to the Rectory Bee said: "Alec Loding came
down for the week-end not long ago."

"Oh? What is he doing now?"

"Still playing roué parts in dreadful little comedies and farces. You
know: four characters, five doors, and one bed. I didn't see him, but
Nancy said he had improved."

"In what way?"

"Oh, more interested in other people. Kindlier. He even made efforts to
get on with George. Nancy thought age was beginning to tell. He was
quite happy to sit for hours with a book in George's study when George
was out. And when George was in they would yarn quite happily. Nancy
was delighted. She has always been fond of Alec, but she used to dread
his visits. The country bored him and George bored him even more, and
he never bothered to hide it. So it was a pleasant change."

Half-way through the village they turned into the lane that led to
Wigsell.

"You don't remember Emmy Vidler, do you?" she asked Brat. "She was
brought up at Wigsell, and married Gates when he had a farm the other
side of Bures. When her father died, Gates put a bailiff into his farm
and took over Wigsell. And, of course, the butcher's shop. So they are
very comfortably off. The boy couldn't stand his father, and got
himself a job in the Midlands somewhere; engineering. But the girl
lives at home, and is the apple of her father's eye. She went to an
expensive boarding school, where I understand she was known as Margot.
Her name is Peggy."

They swung into the farm entrance and came to rest on the small old
cobbles of the yard. Two dogs rushed at them in wild self-importance,
yelling their arrival to the world.

"I do wish Gates would train his dogs," said Bee, whose dogs were as
well-trained as her horses.

The clamour brought Mrs. Gates to the front door. She was a faded and
subdued little woman who must once have been very pretty.

"Glen! Joy! Be quiet!" she called, ineffectually, and came forward to
greet them. But before she reached them Gates came round the corner of
the house, and in a few strides had anticipated her. His pompous
welcome drowned her more genuine pleasure, and she stood smiling gently
at Brat while her husband trumpeted forth their satisfaction in seeing
Patrick Ashby on their doorstep again.

Gates was a large, coarse individual, but Brat supposed that once he
had had the youthful vigour and assurance that appealed to pretty,
fragile little women like Emmy Vidler.

"They tell me that you've been making money in horses over there," he
said to Brat.

"I've earned my living from them," Brat said.

"You come and see what I've got in _my_ stable." He began to lead the
way to the back of the house.

"But Harry, they must come in and sit down for a little," his wife
protested.

"They'll sit down presently. They'd much rather look at a piece of good
horseflesh than at your gewgaws. Come along, Mr. Patrick. Come along,
Miss Ashby. Alfred!" he bellowed as they went down the yard. "Turn out
that new horse for Miss Ashby to see."

Mrs. Gates, tailing along behind, found herself side by side with Brat.
"I am so happy about this," she said quietly. "So happy about your
coming back. I remember you when you were little; when I lived here in
my father's day. Except for my own son I've never been so fond of a
small boy as I was of you."

"Now then, Mr. Patrick, have a look at this here, have a look at this!
Tell me if that doesn't fill the eye for you."

Gates swept his great limb of an arm at the stable door where Alfred
was leading out a brown horse that looked oddly out of place in the
small farmyard, even in a region where every small farmer kept a mount
that would carry him across country in the winter. There was no denying
it, the brown horse was something exceptional.

"There! what do you think of that, eh? What do you think of that?"

Bee, having looked, said: "But that, surely, is the horse that Dick
Pope won the jumping on at the Bath Show last year."

"That's the horse," Gates said complacently. "And not only the jumping.
The cup for the best riding horse in the show. Cost me a pretty penny,
that did, but I can afford it and nothing's too good for my girl. Oh
ah! It's for Peggy I bought it. That wouldn't carry me, that wouldn't."
He gave an abrupt shout of laughter; at least Brat supposed it was
laughter. "But my girl, now, she's a feather in the saddle. I don't
have to tell you, Miss Ashby; you've seen her. There's no one in the
county deserves a good horse better than my Peggy, and I don't grudge
the money for it."

"You've certainly got a good horse, Mr. Gates," Bee said, with an
enthusiasm in her voice that surprised Brat. He looked across at her
and wondered why she was looking so pleased. After all, this brown
horse was a potential rival to Timber, and all the other Latchetts'
animals.

"Got a vet's certificate with it, I need hardly say. I don't buy pigs
in pokes."

"Is Peggy going to show it this year?"

"Of course she is, of course she is. What did I buy it for but for her
to show?"

Bee's face was positively blissful. "How nice!" she said, and she
sounded rapturous.

"Do you like it, Miss Ashby?" Peggy Gates said, appearing at Brat's
side.

Peggy was a very pretty creature. Pink and white and gold. Brat thought
that if it were possible to cross Miss Parslow and Eleanor the result
would probably be Peggy Gates. She accepted her introduction to Brat
with composure, but managed to convey the impression that it was
personally delightful to her to have Patrick home again. Her small hand
lay in his with a soft pressure that was intimate rather than friendly.
Brat shook it heartily and resisted a temptation to wipe his palm down
his hip.

She accepted Bee's congratulations on her possession of the horse,
allowed a decent interval for further contemplation of it, and then
with an admirable display of social dexterity, lifted the whole family
from the yard into the drawing-room of the house. It was called the
drawing-room, and was furnished as such, but Bee, who remembered it as
old Mrs. Vidler's parlour, thought the water-colours and wistaria
wallpaper a poor exchange for the lustre jugs and framed engravings of
Mrs. Vidler's day.

They drank very good madeira and talked about the Bures Agricultural
Show.

And they drove home with Bee still looking as if someone had left her a
fortune. She caught Brat's considering look at her and said: "Well?"

"You look like a cat that has been given cream," he said.

She gave him her sideways, amused glance. "Cream and fish and liver,"
she said; but did not tell him the translation.

"When all the fuss of Friday is over, Brat," she said, "you must go up
to town and get yourself a wardrobe. Walters will take weeks to make
your evening things, and you'll need them for the celebration when
Uncle Charles comes home."

"What shall I get?" he asked, at a loss for the first time.

"I should leave it to Walters, if I were you."

"Outfit for a young English gentleman," Brat said.

And she looked sideways again, surprised by the twist in his voice.




18


Eleanor came into the sitting-room as Bee was opening the midday post,
and said: "She bumped!"

Bee looked up hazily, her mind still on the contents of her mail.

"She bumped, I tell you. For a whole fifty yards she bumped like a good
'un."

"The Parslow girl? Oh, congratulations, Nell, dear."

"I never thought I'd live to see this day. Is no one having sherry?"

"Brat and I have drunk sufficient strange liquids this morning to last
us for the rest of the week."

"How did it go, Brat?" Eleanor asked, pouring herself some sherry.

"Not as badly as I'd been prepared for," Brat said, watching her thin
capable hand manipulating the glasses. That hand wouldn't lie soft and
confidential and insinuating in one's own.

"Did Docket tell you how he got his wound?"

"Docket was at market," Bee said. "But we had hot buttered scones from
Mrs. Docket."

"Dear Mrs. Docket. What did Miss Hassell give you?"

"Shortbread. She wasn't going to give us that, but she succumbed to
Brat's charms." So Bee had noticed that.

"I'm not surprised," Eleanor said, looking at Brat over her glass. "And
Wigsell?"

"Do you remember that brown horse of Dick Pope's? The one he swept the
board with at Bath last year?"

"Certainly."

"Gates has bought it for Peggy."

Eleanor stopped sipping sherry and thought about this in silence for a
moment or two.

"For Peggy to show."

"Yes."

"Well, well!" said Eleanor slowly: and she looked amused and
thoughtful. She looked at Bee, met Bee's glance, and looked away again.
"Well, well!" she said again, and went on sipping sherry. After an
interval broken only by the rip of paper as Bee opened envelopes, she
said: "I don't know that that was such a very good move."

"No," said Bee, not looking up.

"I'm going to wash. What is for lunch?"

"Goulash."

"As made by our Mrs. Betts, that is just stew."

The twins came in from lessons at the Rectory, and Simon from the
stables, and they went in to lunch.

Simon had come down so late to breakfast that Brat's only intercourse
with him to-day had been to wish him good morning. He seemed amiable
and relaxed, and inquired with what appeared to be genuine interest
about the success of the morning. Bee provided an account, with
periodic confirmation from Brat. When she came to Wigsell, Eleanor
interrupted her to say:

"Did you know that Gates has bought Peggy a new horse?"

"No," Simon said, looking up with mild interest.

"He has bought her that brown horse of Dick Pope's."

"_Riding Light?_"

"Yes. Riding Light. She is going to show it this year."

For the first time since he had met him Brat saw Simon Ashby flush. He
paused for a moment, and then went on with his lunch. The flush slowly
died, and the cool pale profile resumed its normal calm. Both Eleanor
and Bee had avoided looking at him while he absorbed the news, but Ruth
studied him with interest.

And Brat, eating Mrs. Betts's goulash, studied him with his mind. Simon
Ashby was reputedly crazy about the Gates girl. But was he glad that
the girl had been given a good horse? No. He was furious. And what was
more, his womenfolk had known that he would be furious. They had known
beforehand that he would find Peggy's entry as a rival unforgivable.
They had, understandably, not wanted the Gates affair to last or to
become serious; and they had recognised instantly, both of them, that
Peggy's possession of Riding Light had saved them. What kind of
creature was this Simon Ashby, who could not bear to be beaten by the
girl he was in love with?

He remembered Bee's inordinate pleasure in the brown horse. He saw
again Eleanor's slow amusement at the news. They had known at once that
that was the end of the Peggy affair. Gates had bought that horse to be
"upsides" with Latchetts; to give his daughter a mount as good as any
owned by the man he hoped she would marry. And all he had done was to
destroy any chance that Peggy ever had of being mistress of Latchetts.

Well, Simon was no longer master of Latchetts, so it would not matter
to the Gates family that Simon resented Peggy's possession of the
horse. But what kind of heel was Simon that he could not love a rival?

"What is Brat going to ride at the Bures Show," he heard Eleanor say,
and brought his attention back to the lunch table.

"All of them," Simon said. And as Eleanor looked her question: "They
are his horses."

This was the kind of thing that the English did not say. Simon must be
very angry to desert the habit of a lifetime.

"I'm not going to 'show' any horses, if that is what you mean," Brat
said. "That requires technique, and I haven't got it."

"But you used to be very good," Bee said.

"Did I? Oh, well, that is a long time ago. I certainly don't want to
show any horses in the ring at Bures."

"The show isn't for nearly three weeks yet," Eleanor said. "Bee could
coach you for a day or two, and you'd be as good as ever."

But Brat was not to be moved. It would have been fun to see what he
could do against English horsemen; fun especially to jump the Latchetts
horses and perhaps win with them; but he was not going to make any
public appearance as Patrick Ashby of Latchetts if he could help it.

"Brat could ride in the races," Ruth said. "The races they end up with.
He could beat everyone on Timber, couldn't he?"

"Timber is not going to be knocked about in any country bumpkins' race
if I still have any say in the matter," Simon said, speaking into his
plate. "He is going to Olympia, which is his proper place."

"I agree," Brat said. And the atmosphere ceased to be tense. Jane
wanted to know why fractions were vulgar, and Ruth wanted a new bicycle
tire, and the conversation became the normal family conversation of any
meal-time in any home.

Before lunch was over the first of the visitors arrived; and the steady
stream went on, from after-luncheon coffee, through tea, to six o'clock
drinks. They had all come to inspect Brat, but he noticed that those
who had known Patrick Ashby came with a genuine pleasure in welcoming
him back. Each of them had some small memory of him to recount, and all
of them had kept the memory green because they had liked Pat Ashby and
grieved for him. And Brat caught himself being gratified in an absurd
and proprietorial way, as if some protégé of his own was being praised.
The light that had been shed on Simon this morning made him more than
ever Patrick's champion. It was all wrong that Latchetts should have
been Simon's all those years. It was Patrick's inheritance and it was
all wrong that Patrick should not be here to inherit it. Patrick was
all right. Patrick would not have gone sick with rage because his best
girl had a better horse than he had. Patrick was all right.

So he accepted the small verbal gifts on Patrick's behalf and was
pleased and gratified.

About the time when tea-cups were being mixed up with cocktail glasses
the local doctor appeared, and Brat ceased to be gratified, and became
interested in Eleanor's reactions to the doctor. Eleanor seemed to like
the doctor very much, and Brat, knowing nothing whatever about him, was
straightway convinced that he was not good enough for her. The only
guests left now were Colonel Smollett, the Chief Constable for the
county; the two Misses Byrne, who occupied the Jacobean house at the
far end of the village and, according to Bee, had their walls hung with
"plates and warming-pans, and other kitchen utensils"; and Dr. Spence.
Dr. Spence was young and red-haired and bony, and he had freckles and a
friendly manner. He was the successor of the old country doctor who had
brought the whole Ashby family up, and he was, so Bee confided in an
interval of tea-pouring, "much too brilliant to stay in a country
practice." Brat wondered if he stayed for Eleanor's sake; he seemed to
like Eleanor very much.

"You caused us a lot of trouble, young man," Colonel Smollett had said,
greeting him; and Brat, after the polite evasions he had experienced so
far, was glad of his frankness. Just as his notions of English
middle-class had been derived from American films, so his idea of a
colonel had been derived from the English Press, and was equally
erroneous. Colonel Smollett was a small, thin man with a beaked nose
and a self-effacing manner. What one noticed about him was his
extraordinary neatness and his gay blue eyes.

The Colonel gave the Misses Byrne a lift in his car, but the doctor
lingered, and it was only when Bee asked him to stay for dinner that he
pulled himself together and went.

"Poor Dr. Spence," Bee said at dinner. "I'm sorry he wouldn't stay. I'm
sure that landlady of his starves him."

"Nonsense," said Simon, who had recovered his good temper and had been
very bright all the afternoon; "that lean, red-haired type always look
underfed. Besides, he wouldn't have eaten, anyhow. All he wants is to
sit and look at Eleanor."

Which confirmed Brat's worst fears.

But all Eleanor said was: "Don't be absurd"; and she said it without
heat and without interest.

They were all tired by dinner-time, and it was a quiet meal. The
excitement of having Brat there had died into acceptance, and they no
longer treated him as a newcomer. Even the unforthcoming Jane had
stopped accusing him with her eyes. He was part of the landscape. It
was wonderfully restful to be part of the landscape again. For the
first time since he came to Latchetts he was hungry.

But as he got ready for bed he puzzled over the problem of Simon.
Simon, who was quite sure that he was not Patrick, but had no intention
of saying so. (Why? Because he would not be believed, and his protest
would be put down to resentment at his brother's return? Because he had
plans for a dramatic unveiling? Because he had some better way of
dealing with an impostor who would not be unveiled?) Simon, who was so
good a dissembler that he could fool his own family about his inmost
feelings. Simon, who was so self-centred, so vain, that to come between
him and the sun was to insult him. Simon, who had charm enough for ten
men, and an appealing air of vulnerability. Simon, who was like Timber.

He stood again at the open window in the dark, looking at the curve of
the down against the sky. Perhaps because he was less tired to-night he
was no longer so afraid; but the incalculable factor in this life that
he was due to lead was still Simon.

If Simon so resented Peggy Gates's owning a better horse than his,
what, wondered Brat, could have been his reaction to Patrick's sudden
succession to Latchetts?

He considered this a long time, staring into the dark.

And as he turned at last to put the light on, a voice in his mind said:
I wonder where Simon was when Patrick went over the cliff.

But he noticed the heinousness of this at once, of course. What was he
suggesting? Murder? In Latchetts? In Clare? By a boy of thirteen? He
was letting his antipathy to Simon run away with his common sense.

The suicide of Patrick Ashby had been a police affair. An affair of
inquest and evidence. The thing had been investigated, and the police
had been satisfied that it was in truth suicide.

Satisfied? Or just without a case?

Where would that coroner's report be now? In the police records he
supposed. And it was not easy for a civilian to persuade the police to
satisfy an idle curiosity; they were busy people.

But the thing must have been reported in the local Press. It must have
been a local sensation. Somewhere in the files there would be an
account of that inquest, and he, Brat Farrar, would unearth it at the
first opportunity.

Antipathy or no antipathy, common sense or no common sense, he wanted
to know where Simon Ashby was when his twin went over the Westover
cliffs.




19


Mr. Sandal was to come on Thursday night and stay over till after
luncheon on Friday.

On Thursday morning Bee said that she was going into Westover to do
some special shopping for Mr. Sandal's meals, and what would Brat like
to do with his day?

Brat said that he would like to come with her and see Westover again,
and Bee looked pleased.

"We can stop on the way through the village," she said, "and let Mrs.
Gloom run her eye over you. It will be one less for you to meet after
church on Sunday."

So they stopped at the newsagent's, and Brat was exhibited, and Mrs.
Gloom sucked the last ounce of satisfaction out of the drama of his
return, and they laughed together about her as they sped away to the
sea.

"People who can't sing are horribly frustrated," Bee said, after a
little.

Brat considered this _non sequitur_. "The highest mountain in Britain
is Ben Nevis," he said, proffering one in his turn.

Bee laughed at that and said: "No, I just meant that I should like to
sing at the top of my voice, but I can only croak. Can you sing?"

"No. I croak too. We could croak together."

"I doubt if it is legal to croak in a built-up area. One never knows
nowadays. And anyhow, there is that." She waved her hand at a large
sign which read:

            MOTORISTS. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM USING YOUR HORN.
                          THIS IS A HOSPITAL.

Brat glanced up at the building, set on the slope above the town, and
remarked that it was uncommonly pretty for a hospital.

"Yes; much less terrifying than the normal place. It is a great pity
that that was allowed to happen." She jerked her chin at the row of
cheap shops on the opposite side of the road; some of them not much
better than shacks. Dingy cafés, a cobbler's, a bicycle "depot," a
seller of wreaths and crosses, a rival seller of flowers, a
greengrocer's, and anonymous businesses with windows painted half-way
up and odd bills tacked in the window.

They were running down the slope into the town, and this miscellaneous
strip of roadside commerce was the last petering-out of the poorer
suburbs. Beyond was Westover proper: clean and neat and shining in the
reflected light from the sea.

As Bee turned into the car park she said: "You don't want to tail round
looking at 'sea-food' for Mr. Sandal's consumption. Go away and amuse
yourself, and we'll meet for lunch at the Angel about a quarter to
one."

He was some distance away when she called him back. "I forgot to ask if
you were short of money. I can lend you some if you----"

"Oh, no, thanks; I still have some of what Cosset, Thring and
what-you-may-call-'em advanced me."

He went first to the harbour to see the place that he was supposed to
have set out from eight years ago. It was filled with coastwise
shipping and fishing boats, very gay in the dancing light. He leaned
against the warm stones of the breakwater and contemplated it. It was
here that Alec Loding had sat painting his "old scow" on the last day
of Pat Ashby's life. It was over those cliffs away to the right that
Pat Ashby had fallen to his death.

He pushed himself off the breakwater and went to look for the office
of the _Westover Times_. It took him some time to find it because,
although every citizen of Westover read the local paper, very few of
them had occasion to seek it out in its home. Its home was a
stone's-throw from the harbour, in a small old house in a small old
street which still had its original cobbles. The entrance was so low
that Brat instinctively ducked his head as he went in. Beyond, after
the bright sunlight outside, there was blackness. But out of the
blackness the unmistakable adolescent voice of an office boy said:
"Yes?"

Brat said that he would like to see Mr. Macallan.

The voice said that Mr. Macallan was out.

"I suppose you couldn't tell me where I could find him?"

"The fourth table on the left upstairs at the Blue Bird."

"That's explicit."

"Can't help it; that's where he is. That's where he always is, this
time of day."

The Blue Bird, it seemed, was a coffee-shop round the corner on the
harbour front. And Mr. Macallan was indeed sitting at the fourth table
on the left upstairs, which was the one by the far window. Mr. Macallan
was sitting with a half-drunk cup of coffee in front of him, glowering
down on the bright front. He greeted Brat amiably, however, as one old
friend to another, and pulled out a chair for him.

"I'm afraid I haven't been much good to you," Brat said.

"The only way I'll ever get myself on to the front page of the
_Clarion_ is in a trunk," Mr. Macallan said.

"A trunk?"

"In sections. And I can't help feeling that would be a wee bit
drastic." He spread out that morning's _Clarion_ so that the shrieking
black print screamed up from the table. The trunk murder was still
front-page news after three days, it having been discovered that the
legs in the case belonged to two different persons; a complication
which put the present case _hors concurs_ in the trunk-murder class.

"What's horrible about murder," Mr. Macallan said reflectively, "is not
that it happens, but that it happens to your Aunt Agnes, if you follow
me. Hi! _Miss!_ A cup of coffee for my friend here. Brother Johnny goes
to the war and gets killed and it is all very sad, but no one is
shocked--civilisation being what it is. But if someone bumps Aunt Agnes
off on her way home one night that _is_ a shock. That sort of thing
just doesn't happen to people you know."

"It must be worse when someone you know bumps off someone's Aunt
Agnes."

"Ay," said Mr. Macallan, shooting an extra spoonful of sugar into his
half-cold coffee and stirring it vigorously. "I've seen some of that.
Families, you know. It's always the same: they just can't believe it.
_Their_ Johnny. That is the horror in murder. The domesticity of it."
He took out his cigarette case and offered it. "And how do you like
being Clare's white-headed boy? Are you glad to be back?"

"You can't imagine how glad."

"After that fine free life in Arizona or Texas or wherever it was? You
mean you actually prefer this?" Mr. Macallan jerked his head at the
Westover front filled with placid shoppers. And, as Brat nodded:
"Mercy-be-here! I can hardly credit it."

"Why? Don't you like the place?"

Mr. Macallan looked down at the southern English walking about in their
southern English sunshine, and metaphorically spat. "They're so
satisfied with themselves I can't take my eyes off them," he said.

"Satisfied with their lot, you mean? Why not?"

"Nothing in this world came out of satisfaction."

"Except the human race," said Brat.

Mr. Macallan grinned. "I'll allow you that." But he went on glowering
down at the bright harbour scene. "I look at them and think: 'These
people kept Scotland fighting for four hundred years,' and I can't find
the answer."

"The answer, of course, is that they didn't."

"No? Let me tell you that my country----"

"They've been much too busy for the last thousand years keeping the
shores of England. But for them your Scotland would be part of Spain
to-day."

This was apparently a new idea to Mr. Macallan. He decided to let it
ride.

"You weren't looking for me, were you? When you came to the Blue Bird?"

"Yes. I went to the office first and they told me you would be here.
There's something I want and I thought that you might help me to it."

"Not publicity, I take it," Mr. Macallan said dryly.

"No, I want to read my obituary."

"Man, who doesn't! You're a privileged person, Mr. Ashby, a very
privileged person."

"I suppose the _Westover Times_ keeps back numbers."

"Och, yes, back to June the 18th, 1827. Or is it June the 28th? I
forget. So you want to look at the files. Well, there's not very much,
but you'll find it very interesting of course. One's own death must be
a fascinating subject to read about."

"You've read about it, then?"

"Och, yes. Before I went out to Latchetts on Tuesday, I naturally
looked you up."

So it was that, when they stumbled down the dark stairs to the cellar
of the _Westover Times_ offices, Mr. Macallan was able to put his hand
on the required copy without delay and without raising the dust of a
hundred and fifty years about their ears.

"I'll leave you to it," Mr. Macallan said, spreading the volume open
under the naked light above the old-fashioned sloping desk. "Have a
good time. If there is anything else I can do for you, just let me
know. And drop in when you feel like it."

He trotted up the stone stairs, and the scuffling sound of his shoes
faded upwards into the world of men, and Brat was left alone with the
past.

The _Westover Times_ appeared twice a week: on Wednesdays and
Saturdays. Patrick Ashby's death had occurred on a Saturday, so that a
single Wednesday issue carried both the announcement of his death and
the report of the inquest. As well as the usual announcement inserted
by the family in the list of deaths, there was a short news item on the
middle page. The _Westover Times_ had been owned and run by a Westover
family since its founding, and it still kept the stateliness, the good
manners, and the reticence of an early Edwardian doctor's brougham
plying between Harley Street and Knightsbridge. The paper announced the
sad occurrence and offered its sympathy to the family in this great
trial which had come to them so soon after the tragic deaths of Mr. and
Mrs. Ashby in a flying accident. It offered no information beyond the
fact that on Saturday afternoon or evening Patrick Ashby had met his
death by falling over the cliffs to the west of the town. An account of
the inquest would be found on page five.

On page five there was a whole column on the inquest. A column was not
enough, of course, to do justice to the inquest in detail, but all the
salient facts were there, and now and then a piece of evidence was
reported verbatim.

Saturday afternoon was a holiday for the Ashby children and they were
accustomed in the summer to take a "piece" with them and pursue their
various interests in the countryside until it was time to come home to
their evening meal. No alarm had been raised about Patrick's
non-appearance in the evening until he had been missing for several
hours. It was taken for granted that he had gone farther than he had
intended in his latest hobby of bird-watching, and that he was merely
late. When darkness closed down and he still had not come home,
telephoned inquiries were sent all round the countryside in an effort
to find someone who had seen him, so that if an accident had overtaken
him rescue might be directed to the proper locality. When these
inquiries proved barren, a search-party was organised to beat all the
likely places for the missing boy. The search was conducted both on
horse and on foot, and along the roads by car, without success.

In the first light of early morning the boy's jacket was found by a
coastguard patrolling along the cliffs. Albert Potticary, the
coastguard in question, gave evidence that the coat was lying about
fifty yards from the cliff-edge, just where the path from Tanbitches
began to descend through the gap to the harbour at Westover. It was
lying a few yards off the path on the side nearer the cliff, and was
weighted in its place by a stone. It was wet with dew when he picked it
up, and the pockets were empty except for a note written in thin ink.
The note was the one now shown him. He telephoned the news to the
police and at once instituted a search for a body on the beach. No body
was found. High tide the previous night had been at seven-twenty-nine,
and if the boy had fallen into the water, or if he had fallen before
high-water so that his body was taken out by the tide, it would not be
washed up again at Westover. No one drowned in the Westover district
had ever been washed up nearer than Castleton, away to the west; and
most of them farther west than that. He was therefore not hopeful of
finding any body when he instituted the search. It was merely routine.

The last person to see Patrick Ashby turned out to be Abel Tusk, the
shepherd. He had met the boy in the early afternoon, about half-way
between Tanbitches and the cliff.

Q. What was he doing?

A. He was lying on his belly in the grass.

Q. Doing what?

A. Waiting for a lark.

Q. What kind of lark?

A. An English lark.

Q. Ah, you mean he was bird-watching. Did he appear his normal self?

Yes, Abel said, as far as he could judge Pat Ashby had looked much as
usual. Never very "gabby" at any time. A quiet boy? Yes, a nice quiet
boy. They discussed birds for a little and then parted. He, Abel Tusk,
was on his way into Westover by the cliff path, it being also his own
half-holiday. He did not get back until late at night and did not hear
about the search for the boy until Sunday morning.

Asked if many people used that cliff path he said no. There were buses
from the village that got you into Westover in a tenth of the time, but
he didn't care for buses. It was rough walking, the cliff part of the
path, and not suitable for the kind of shoes that people going to town
would be wearing. So no one but someone like himself who was already on
the sea side of Tanbitches hill would think of going to Westover that
way.

Bee gave evidence that his parents' deaths had been a great shock to
the boy, but that he had taken it well and had seemed to be recovering.
She had no reason to think that he contemplated taking his own life.
The children separated on Saturday afternoons because their interests
were different, so that it was not unusual for Patrick to be alone.

Q. His twin did not accompany him?

A. No. Patrick was fascinated by birds, but Simon's tastes are
mechanical.

Q. You have seen the note found in the boy's coat, and you recognise it
as the handwriting of your nephew Patrick?

A. Oh, yes. Patrick had a very individual way of making his capital
letters. And he was the only person I know who wrote with a stylograph.

She explained the nature of a stylograph. The one Patrick owned had
been black vulcanite with a thin yellow spiral down the barrel. Yes, it
was missing. He carried it always with him; it was one of his pet
possessions.

Q. Can you think of any reason why this sudden desire to take his own
life should overcome him, when he seemed to his friend, the shepherd,
to be normally happy in the afternoon?

A. I can only suggest that he _was_ normally happy during the
afternoon, but that when it was time to turn homeward the thought of
going back to a house empty of so much that had made life fine for him
was suddenly too much, and that he was overcome by an impulse born of a
moment's despair.

And that was the verdict of the court, too. That the boy had succumbed
to a passing impulse at a moment when the balance of his mind had been
disturbed.

That was the end of the column and that was the end of Patrick Ashby.
Brat turned over the pages of the next issue, filled with the small
importances of summer-time Westover: shows, bowling competitions,
tennis tournaments, council meetings, trade outings; but there was no
mention of Pat Ashby. Pat Ashby already belonged to the past.

Brat sat back in the dead quiet of the cellar and thought about it all.
The boy lying in the summer grass waiting for his beloved larks to drop
out of the sky. And the night coming. And no boy coming home across
Tanbitches hill.

Mechanical interests, Bee had said, describing Simon's way of spending
his half-holiday. That meant the internal combustion engine, he
supposed. It was about the age of thirteen that one did begin to be
interested in cars. Simon had probably been innocently tinkering in the
garage at Latchetts. Certainly there was no suggestion at the inquest,
as reported in the Press, that his whereabouts had been a matter for
question.

When he joined Bee for lunch at the Angel he longed to ask her bluntly
where Simon had been that afternoon. But of course one could not say:
"Where was Simon the afternoon I ran away from home?" It was an utterly
pointless question. He must think up some other way of bringing the
subject into the conversation. He was distracted by the old head-waiter
at the Angel, who had known all the Ashby children and was shaken to
the core, apparently, by Patrick's unexpected return. His old hands
trembled as they laid the various dishes in front of him, and each dish
was accompanied by a quavered "Mr. Patrick, sir," as if he was glad to
use the name. But the climax came with the sweet course. The sweet was
fruit tart, and he had already served both Bee and Brat, but he
returned immediately and with great empressment laid a large meringue
on a silver dish in front of Brat's place. Brat gazed at it in surprise
and then looked up to find the old man waiting for his comment with a
proud smile and tears in his eyes. His mind was so full of Simon that
he was not quick enough, and it was Bee who saved the situation.

"How wonderful of Daniel to remember that you always had that!" she
said, and Brat followed her lead and the old man went away pleased and
moved, mopping his eyes on a dazzling white handkerchief that looked as
large as a sheet.

"Thanks," Brat said to Bee. "I hadn't remembered that."

"Dear old Daniel. I think it is almost like seeing his own son coming
back. He had three, you know. They all died in one war, and his
grandsons all died in the following one. He was very fond of you
children, so I expect it is very wonderful for him to see anyone he has
loved come back from the dead. What have you been doing with your
morning?"

"Reading my obituary."

"How morbid of you. Or, no, of course, it isn't. It is what we all want
to do. Did you see little Mr. Macallan?"

"_I_ did. He sent his best respects to you. Aunt Bee----"

"You are too old to begin calling me aunt."

"Bee, what were Simon's 'mechanical interests'?"

"Simon never had any mechanical interests as far as I know."

"You said at the inquest that he had."

"I did? I can't imagine what they could have been. What was it apropos
of?"

"To explain why we didn't do things together on a Saturday afternoon.
What did Simon do when I went bird-watching?" He tried to make it sound
like someone trying to remember an old way of life.

"Pottered about, I expect. Simon was always a potterer. His hobbies
never lasted longer than a fortnight at the outside."

"So you don't remember what Simon was using for a hobby the day I ran
away?"

"It's absurd of me, my dear, but I don't. I don't even remember where
he was that day. When something dreadful happens, you know, you push it
down in your mind and never bring it up again if you can help it. I do
remember that he spent all night out on his pony looking frantically
for you. Poor Simon. You did him a bad turn, Brat. I don't know if you
realise it. Simon changed after you went. I don't know whether it was
the shock of your going or the lack of your sober companionship, but he
was a different person afterwards."

Since Brat had no answer to this he ate in silence, and presently she
said: "And you did me a bad turn in never writing to me. Why didn't
you, Brat?"

This was the weak spot in the whole structure, as Loding had
continually pointed out.

"I don't _know_," he said. "Honestly, I don't _know_!"

The exasperation and desperation of his tone had an appropriateness
that he had not foreseen.

"All right," she said. "I won't worry you, my dear. I didn't mean to.
It is just something that has puzzled me. I was so very fond of you
when you were small, and we were such very good friends. It was not
like you to live a life of your own without once glancing back."

He raked up an offering from the depths of his own experience. "It's
easier than you'd think to drop the past behind you when you are
fourteen. If you are continually meeting fresh experience, I mean. The
past has no greater reality than something you saw in a cinema. No
personal reality, I mean."

"I must try running away one day," she said lightly. "There is a lot of
the past I should like to drop behind me."

And Daniel came with the cheese, and they talked about other things.




20


Brat had not been prepared to find birthday presents by his plate on
Friday morning. He had not, in fact, reckoned with a birthday at all.
"All celebration has been postponed until Mr. Charles Ashby comes back
to this country," Mr. Sandal had said to him in London, and it was not
until Bee had drawn his attention to it that he had remembered that,
celebration apart, there would inevitably be a day on which he would
become twenty-one. He had had so little experience of birthdays that he
had taken it for granted that a postponement of celebration meant a
simple verbal congratulation from each member of the family, and he was
dismayed by the pile of parcels by his breakfast plate. He quailed at
the thought of having to open them in public.

The sardonic light in Simon's eye braced him to the task. He had a
suspicion that Simon's punctuality at breakfast this morning was due
less to the presence of Mr. Sandal than to the prospect of enjoying his
embarrassment over those presents.

"Happy birthday, Brat!" they said, as they came in. "Happy birthday,
Brat!" One after another. So that the light benedictions fell round him
like confetti.

He wished he didn't feel so bad about it. He wished that they were
really his family, and that these were his presents by his plate, and
that it was his birthday. It was a very nice thing, a family birthday.

"Are you an opener-before-breakfast or an opener-after, Brat?" Eleanor
asked.

"After," he said promptly, and won a breathing-space.

After several cups of strong coffee he might feel braver.

Simon had, as well as presents, a pile of telegrams from the still
large numbers of his acquaintances who had not heard of his twin's
return, and he opened them as he ate and shared the contents. Having
read each message aloud he added a postscript of comment.

"An exact shilling, the cheeseparing adding-machine! And I gave her a
wonderful lunch last time I was in town.... What do you imagine Bobby
is doing in Skye? He loathes mountains and is a martyr to midges....
Gore and Bowen. I suppose that's to remind me to pay my bill.... I'm
sure I don't know anyone called Bert Burt. Do you think he can be a
bookie?"

When eventually Brat could no longer postpone the opening of his
parcels, his task was made easier by the fact that his presents were
for the most part replicas of those Simon was pulling out of his own
pile. Mr. Sandal's Georgian sugar-sifter, Bee's silver flask, Eleanor's
whip, and the twins' pocket-book, were all duplicated. Only the present
from the Rectory was individual. It was a small wooden box that played
a tune when the lid was opened. Brat had never seen or heard of such a
thing before, and was so delighted with it that he forgot to be
self-conscious and became absorbed in it.

"That came from Clare Park," Bee said.

And at that reminder of Loding he came back to reality and shut down
the lid on the sweet frail melody.

This morning he was going to sign his soul away. It was no time for
tinkling little tunes.

This signing-away was also the subject of surprise. He had imagined in
his innocence that various papers would be put in front of him and he
would sign them, and that would be that. A matter of twenty minutes at
the most. But it proved to be a matter of hours. He and Mr. Sandal sat
side by side at the big table in the library, and the whole economic
history of Latchetts was laid open for his inspection. Cosset, Thring
and Noble were accounting to their young client for the years of his
minority.

Brat, a little bewildered but interested, toiled after Mr. Sandal in
his progress through the years, and admired the way the old man handled
this legal and mathematical exploration.

"Your dear mother's fortune is not what it was in the prosperous days
when she inherited it, of course; but it will be sufficient to ensure
that you may live at Latchetts in the future without anxiety. As you
have observed, the margin of safety has often been very small during
the years of your minority, but it was Miss Ashby's wish that there
should be no borrowing on the strength of your inheritance from your
mother. She was determined that that should come to you intact when you
were twenty-one."

He went on laying statements in front of Brat, and for the first time
Brat was aware of the struggle and the insecurity that lay behind the
assured contentment that Latchetts presented to the eye.

"What happened that year?" he asked, putting his finger on a
particularly black record.

Mr. Sandal flipped over some papers. "Ah, yes. I remember. That was a
bad year. A very bad year. One of the mares died and two were barren,
and a very fine foal broke a leg. A heart-breaking year. It is a
precarious way of making a living. That year, for instance," his thin
dry finger pointed out another unsatisfactory report, "everything went
swimmingly at Latchetts but it happened to be a year when no one was
buying and none of the yearlings made their reserve price at the sales.
A matter of luck. Merely luck. You will observe that some of the years
were exceedingly lucky ones, so that the losses were overtaken."

He left the stables and went on to the farms: the conditions of lease,
the improvements, the standing of the tenants, the nature of the crops.
Eventually he came to the matter of personal income.

"Your father made a very good income in his profession of consulting
engineer, and there seemed, of course, nothing to prevent him making
that large yearly sum for a lifetime to come. He therefore spent
generously on Latchetts and on the horses that were his hobby. Bought
expensive and finely-bred mares, and so on, so that when he died his
investments were not very extensive, and death duties had of course to
be paid, so the investments had to go."

He slipped another sheet in front of Brat's eye, showing how the duty
had been paid without mortgaging Latchetts.

"Miss Ashby has her own income and has never taken an allowance from
the Latchetts estate. Except a house-keeping one, that is. The two
elder children have had increasing allowances as they grew up. With the
exception of some personal possessions--the children's ponies, for
instance--the horses in the stable belong to the estate. When the
children went to sales to buy for re-selling they were given money by
Miss Ashby, and any profit on the improved horses went towards the
expenses of Latchetts. I understand, however, that Simon has lately
bought one or two with the result of profitable bets, and Eleanor with
the result of her efforts as an instructress in the art of riding. Miss
Ashby will no doubt tell you which these are. They do not appear in the
relevant papers. The Shetland ponies were Miss Ashby's own venture, and
are her own property. I hope that is all clear?"

Brat said that it was.

"Now about the future. It is the Bank's advice that the money left you
by your mother should stay invested as it is now. Have you any
objection to that?"

"I don't want any lump sum," Loding had said. "I should only blue it,
in the first place. And in the second place, it would cause a shocking
amount of heart-searching at the bank. We don't want any heart-searching
once you're in the saddle. All I want is a cosy little weekly allowance
for the rest of my life, so that I can thumb my nose at Equity, and
managements, and producers who say that I'm always late for rehearsals.
_And_ landladies. Riches, my boy, don't consist in having things, but
in not having to do something you don't want to do. And don't you
forget it. Riches is being able to thumb your nose."

"What income would that bring me, as it is?" Brat asked Mr. Sandal, and
Mr. Sandal told him.

That was all right. He could peel Loding's cut off that and still have
enough to meet his obligations at Latchetts.

"These are the children's present allowances. The twins, of course,
will be going away to school presently, and that will be a charge on
the estate for a few years."

He was surprised by the smallness of the allowances. Why, he thought, I
made more than that in three months at the dude ranch. It subtly
altered his attitude to Simon that Simon in the matter of spending
money should have been so much his inferior.

"They're not very big, are they?" he said to Mr. Sandal, and the old
man looked taken aback.

"They are in accordance with the size of the estate," he said dryly.

"Well, I think they ought to be stepped up a bit now."

"Yes; that would be quite in order. But you cannot expect to carry two
adults as passengers on the estate. It would not be just to the estate.
They are both capable of earning their own living."

"What do you suggest, then?"

"I would suggest that Eleanor be given a slightly increased allowance
while she lives at Latchetts, or until she marries."

"Is she thinking of getting married?"

"My dear boy, all young ladies think of getting married, especially
when they are as pleasant to look upon as your sister. I am not aware,
however, that she has so far exhibited any specific interest in the
matter."

"Oh. And Simon?"

"Simon's case is difficult. Until a few weeks ago he looked upon
Latchetts as his. He is not likely to remain long at Latchetts now, but
the slightly increased allowance you suggest could be paid to him while
he gives you his services here."

"I don't think that is good enough," said Brat, who was surprised by
Mr. Sandal's assumption that Simon would go. Simon showed no signs of
going. "I think a bit of the estate is owing to him."

"Morally owing, you mean?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"No doubt you are right, but it is a dangerous assumption which you
cannot expect me to countenance. One cannot hand out bits of a
financial estate and still keep the said estate in good heart. An
allowance is one thing: it comes out of income. But the giving away of
the fabric of the thing is to damage its whole structure."

"Well, I suggest that if Simon wants to go away and begin somewhere on
his own that the money to start should be lent to him out of the estate
at a nominal rate of interest. I suppose if I say without interest
you'll jump down my throat."

The old man smiled on him, quite kindly. "I think there is nothing
against that. I am looking forward to a period of great prosperity for
Latchetts now that the lean years are over. I don't suppose a loan to
Simon would greatly incommode the estate. There would be the saving of
the allowance to balance it. Now, about the increase in the present
allowances----"

They settled the amounts of that.

"Lastly," said Mr. Sandal, "the pensioners."

"Pensioners?"

"Yes. The various dependents of the family who have become too old to
work."

For the fourth time that morning Brat was surprised. He looked at the
long list and wondered if all established English families had this
drain on their income. Mr. Sandal seemed to take it as a matter of
course; as much a commonplace of honourable practice as paying one's
income tax. Mr. Sandal had frowned on any extravagance where the family
was concerned: able-bodied Ashbys must earn their own living. The
obligation to support the aged and infirm retainers of the family he
took for granted. There was Nannie, who was now ninety-two and lived in
a place called New Deer in Scotland; there was an old groom of
eighty-nine who lived in the village, and another at Guessgate; there
was a cook who had cooked for them until she was sixty-eight and now
lived with a daughter of sixty-nine in Horsham; and so on.

He thought of the brassy blonde in the flowered rayon who had bade him
welcome to Latchetts. Who would pension her? The country, he supposed.
For long and honourable service?

Brat agreed to the continuance of the pensions, and then Simon was
called in to do his share of signing. It pleased Brat, who had found it
a depressing morning, to notice the sudden widening of Simon's eye as
it lighted on his own signature. It was nearly a decade since Simon had
set eyes on those capital letters of Patrick's, and here they were
blandly confronting him on the library table. That would "larn" him to
be sardonic over Brat's efforts to carry off a birthday that was not
his.

Then Bee came in, and Mr. Sandal explained the increased provisions in
the matter of allowances and the plan for providing for Simon's future.
When Simon heard of the plan he eyed Brat thoughtfully; and Brat could
read quite plainly what the look said. "Bribery, is that it? Well, it
won't work. I'm damned well staying here and you will damned well pay
me that allowance." Whatever plans Simon had, they centred round
Latchetts.

Bee seemed pleased, however. She put her arm through his to lead him to
lunch, and squeezed it. "Dear Brat!" she said.

"I congratulated you both and gave you my good wishes at breakfast,"
Mr. Sandal said, picking up his glass of claret, "but I should like now
to drink a toast." He lifted his glass to Brat. "To Patrick, who has
not only succeeded to his inheritance but has accepted its
obligations."

"To Patrick!" they said. "To Patrick!"

"To Patrick!" said Jane, last.

He looked at her and found that she was smiling at him.




21


Simon took Mr. Sandal to the station in the afternoon, and when they
had gone Bee said: "If you want to avoid the social life this afternoon
I'll hold the fort for you. I have the books to do, anyhow. Perhaps you
would like to take out one of the horses with Eleanor. She has gone
back to the stables, I think."

There were few things in life that Brat would have liked so much as to
go riding with Eleanor, but there was one thing that he wanted to do
more. He wanted, on this day when Pat Ashby should have come into his
inheritance, to walk over Tanbitches hill by the path that Pat had
taken on the last day of his life.

"I want to go with Brat," Ruth said; and he noticed that Jane lingered
to hear the result of this proposition, as if she too might have come.
But Bee quashed the suggestion. Brat had had enough of his family for a
little, she said.

"But he is going with Eleanor!" protested Ruth.

But Brat said no. He was going walking by himself.

He avoided the avenue, in case that he might meet visitors bound for
the house, and went down through the paddocks to the road. In one of
the paddocks that bordered the avenue Eleanor was lunging a bay colt.
He stood under the trees and watched her; her unruffled patience, her
mastery of the puzzled and resentful youngster; the way she managed,
even at the end of a long rein, to reassure him. He wondered if that
doctor fellow knew anything about horses.

The turf on Tanbitches delighted him. He had not had turf like that
underfoot since he was a child. He walked slowly upward, smelling the
grassy smell and watching the great cloud shadows flying before the
wind. He bore away from the path towards the crown of beeches on the
hill-top. If he went up there he would be able to see the whole slope
of the countryside to the cliff edge; the countryside that Pat Ashby
had shared with the larks.

As he came level with the green clump of bushes and young trees that
marked the old quarry, he found an old man sitting in its shelter
eating solid slabs of bread and jam, and gave him a greeting as he
passed.

"Proud, a'nt yu!" said the old man tartly.

Brat swung on his heel and stared.

"Wonderful dentical and Frenchy furrin parts makes folks, surely."

He took another large bite and surveyed Brat from under the battered
felt of his hat.

"Dunnamany nests you'd never seen but fur me."

"Abel!" said Brat.

"Well, that's summat," said the old man grudgingly.

"Abel!" said Brat, and sat down beside him. "Am I glad to see you!"

"Adone do!" Abel said to his dog, who came out from under the spread of
his coat to sniff at the newcomer.

"Abel!" He could hardly believe that yesterday's occupant of a
newspaper morgue was here in the flesh.

Abel began to exhibit signs of gratification at this undoubted
enthusiasm for his society, and allowed that he had recognised him afar
off. "Lame, are yu?"

"Just a bit."

"Bruck?"

"Yes."

"Weren't never one to make a pucker," Abel said, approving his laconic
acceptance of bad luck.

Brat propped his back against the stout wooden fencing that kept the
sheep from the quarry face, took out his cigarette case, and settled
down for the afternoon.

In the hour that followed he learned a great deal about Pat Ashby, but
nothing that helped to explain his suicide. Like everyone else, old
Abel had been shocked and surprised by the boy's death, and now felt
that his disbelief in a suicidal Patrick had been vindicated.

Patrick "weren't never one to make a pucker," no matter how "tedious
bad" things were.

The old shepherd walked with him to the beeches, and Brat stayed there
and watched man and dog grow small in the distance. Long after they
were indistinguishable he stayed there, soothed by the loneliness and
the great "hush" of the wind in the beech trees. Then he followed them
down into the green plain until he came to the path, and let it lead
him back over the hill to Clare.

As he came down the north slope to the road, a familiar "clink-clink"
came up to him on the wind. For a moment he was back on the Wilson
ranch, with the forge glowing in the thin mountain air and--what was
her name?--Cora waiting for him beyond the barn when he was tidied up
after supper. Then he remembered where the forge was: in that cottage
at the foot of the hill. It was early yet. He would go and see what an
English smithy looked like.

It looked very like the Wilson one, when at last he stood in the
doorway, except that the roof was a good deal lower. The smith was
alone, his mate being no doubt an employee and subject to a rationing
of labour, and he was fashioning horse-shoes. He looked up as Brat
darkened the doorway, and gave him a greeting without pausing in his
work. Brat watched him for a little in a companionable quiet, and then
moved over to work the bellows for him. The man looked up and smiled.
He finished what he was doing at the moment and then said: "I didn't
know you against the light. I'm unaccountable glad to see you in my
place again, Mr. Patrick."

"Thanks, Mr. Pilbeam."

"You're a deal handier with that thing than you used to be."

"I've earned my living at it since I saw you last."

"You have? Well, I'll be----!" He took a half-made shoe red-hot from
the furnace and was about to resume work when he changed his mind and
held it out with a grin to Brat. Brat accepted the challenge and made a
good job of it, Mr. Pilbeam acting as mate with critical approval.

"Funny," he said, as Brat plunged the shoe into the water, "if any
Ashby was to earn his living at this job it ought to have been your
brother."

"Why?"

"You never showed much interest."

"And did Simon?"

"There was a time when I couldn't keep him out of this place. There
wasn't anything he wasn't going to make, from a candlestick to gates
for the avenue at Latchetts. Far as I remember, all he ever made was a
sheep-crook, and that not over-well. But he was always round the place.
It was a craze of his for the whole of a summer."

"Which summer was that?"

"Summer you left us, it was. I'd misremember about it, only he was here
seeing us put an iron on a cartwheel the day you ran away. I had to
shoo him home for his supper."

Brat considered the shoe he had made, while Mr. Pilbeam made ready to
call it a day.

"I ought to hang that up," Mr. Pilbeam said, nodding at Brat's
handiwork, "and label it: Made by Patrick Ashby of Latchetts. And I
couldn't make a better one myself," he added handsomely.

"Give it to old Abel to nail on his door."

"Bless you, old Abel wouldn't have cold iron on his threshold. Keep his
visitors away."

"Oh. Friendly with 'them,' is he?"

"Do all his washing up and keep his house clean, if you'd believe all
you hear."

"I wouldn't put it past him," Brat said. And set out for Latchetts.

So Simon had an alibi. Simon had been nowhere near the cliffs that
afternoon. He had never been out of the Clare valley.

And so that was that.

On his way home up the ride between the paddocks he met Jane. Jane had
every appearance of "hanging around," and he wondered if it was to
intercept him that she lingered there. She was talking to Honey and her
foal, and made no effort to efface herself as she had done hitherto at
his approach.

"Hullo, Jane," he said, and joined in the intercourse with Honey to
give her time. Her small pale face had flushed, and she was evidently
struggling with a quite unusual emotion.

"It's about time we were going home to wash up," he suggested at last,
as she seemed no nearer speech.

She dropped her hand from Honey's head and turned to face him, braced
for effort.

"I wanted to say something to you. Do you mind?"

"Something you want me to do for you?"

"Oh, no. Nothing like that. It's just that I wasn't very nice to you
when you came home from America, and I want to apologise."

"Oh, Jane," he said, wanting to take the small brave figure in his
arms.

"It wasn't because I _wanted_ to be horrid to you," she said, anxious
that he should understand. "It was because--it was because----"

"I know why it was."

"Do you?"

"Yes, of course. It was a very natural thing to feel."

"Was it?"

"In fact, all things considered, it does you credit."

"Then you'll accept my apology?"

"I accept your apology," Brat said gravely, and they shook hands.

She did not immediately put her arm through his as Ruth would have
done. She walked beside him in a grown-up fashion, talking politely
about the chances of Honey's foal in the market, and what it should be
called. The matter of the name was such an absorbing and exciting one
that presently she forgot her self-consciousness, so that by the time
they reached the house she was chattering unreservedly.

As they crossed the wide gravel sweep, Bee came to the door and stood
there watching them come.

"You are going to be late for dinner, you two," she said.




22


So Brat took possession of Latchetts and of everyone in it, with the
exception of Simon.

He went to church on Sunday and submitted to being stared at for an
hour and a half with time off for prayers. The only people not in Clare
Church that morning were the Nonconformists and three children who had
measles. Indeed, there were, as Bee pointed out, several members of the
congregation whose normal place of Sunday worship was the blue brick
barn at the other end of the village, and who had decided to put up
with ritual and prelacy this once in order to share in the sensation of
his appearance. As for the orthodox flock, there were individuals
there, Bee said, who had not entered a church since their last child
was christened. There was even Lana Adams who, as far as anyone knew,
had not been in any church since her own baptism in the blue brick barn
some twenty years ago.

Brat sat between Bee and Eleanor, and Simon on the other side of Bee.
The twins were beyond Eleanor; Ruth wallowing in the drama and singing
hymns loudly with a rapt expression, and Jane looking at the
congregation with stony disapproval. Brat read the Ashby tablets over
and over again, and listened to the Rector's unemphatic voice providing
the inhabitants of Clare with their weekly ration of the abstract. The
Rector did not preach, in the accepted meaning of the term. He sounded
as if he were arguing the matter out for himself; so that, if you shut
your eyes, you could be in a chair at the other side of the Rectory
fireplace listening to him talk. Brat thought of the fine variety of
preachers who had come to take Sunday service at the orphanage: the
shouters, the between-you-and-me-ers, the drama merchants who varied
their tones and dropped their voices like amateur reciters, the
hearties, the mincing aesthetes; and he thought that George Peck came
very well out of the comparison. George Peck really did look as if he
were not thinking about himself at all; as if he might conceivably have
become a clergyman even if there had been no such inducement as public
appearances in a pulpit.

After service Brat went to Sunday lunch at the Rectory, but not until
he had run the gamut of village good wishes. Bee had come out of church
at his side ready to pilot him through the ordeal, but she was accosted
by Mrs. Gloom, and he was left defenceless. He looked in panic at the
first of these unknowns bearing down on him: a big apple-cheeked woman
with pink roses in a crinoline hat. How was he going to pretend to
remember her? Or all the others who were obviously lingering?

"You remember Sarah Godwin, who used to come on washing days," a voice
said, and there was Eleanor at his elbow. She moved him on from one
group to another as expertly as a social secretary, briefing him
quickly in a muttered phrase as each new face loomed up. "Harry Watts.
Used to mend our bicycles." "Miss Marchant. Village school." "Mrs.
Stapley. Midwife." "Tommy Fitt. Used to be the gardener's boy." "Mrs.
Stack. Rural industries."

She saw him safely to the little iron gate that led into the Rectory
garden, opened it, pushed him through, and said: "Now you're safe.
That's 'coolee'."

"That's what?"

"Don't tell me you have forgotten that. In our hide-and-seek games a
safe hide was always a 'coolee'."

Some day, Brat Farrar, he thought as he walked down the path to the
Rectory, you are going to be faced with something that you _couldn't
possibly_ have forgotten.

At luncheon he and his host sat in relaxed silence while Nancy
entertained them, and afterwards he walked in the garden with the
Rector and answered his questions about the life he had been leading
these last eight years. One of George Peck's charms was that he
listened to what was said to him.

On Monday he went to London and sat in a chair while rolls of cloth
were exhibited several yards away from him, and were then brought
forward to touching distance so that he might gauge the weight,
texture, and wearing qualities of the cloth. He was fitted by Gore and
Bowen, and measured by Walters, and assured by both that in record time
he would have an outfit that no Englishman would blush to own. It was a
revelation to him that shirts were made to measure. He had been pleased
that he could present himself to the Ashby tailors in a suit as
respect-worthy as that made for him by Mr. Sandal's tailor, and it was
a shock to him to be sympathised with about the nice clean blue
American shirt that he was wearing under it. However, when in Rome....
So he was measured for shirts too.

He lunched with Mr. Sandal, who took him to meet the manager of his
bank. He cashed a cheque at the bank, bought a registered envelope, and
sent a fat wad of notes to Alec Loding. That had been the arrangement;
"notes and no note," Loding had said. No telephones either. There must
never be any communication between them again beyond the anonymous
notes in the registered envelope.

This first payment to his partner in crime left a taste in his mouth
that was not entirely due to the gum on the envelope that he had
licked. He went and had a beer to wash it away, but it was still there.
So he got on a 24 bus and went to have a look at his late lodgings in
Pimlico, and immediately felt better.

He caught the 4.10 down, and Eleanor was waiting in the bug at
Guessgate to meet him. His heart was no longer in his mouth, and
Eleanor was no longer an abstraction and an enemy.

"It seemed a shame to let you wait for the bus when I was free to come
to meet you," she said, and he got in beside her and she drove him
home.

"Now you won't have to go away again for a long time," she said.

"No. Except for a fitting, and to the dentist."

"Yes; just up for the day. And perhaps Uncle Charles will expect
someone to go up to meet him. But until then we can settle down and be
quiet."

So he settled down.

He exercised the horses in the mornings, or schooled them over the
jumps in the paddock. He rode out with Eleanor and the children from
Clare Park; and so satisfied Antony Toselli's romantic soul that he
arrived for his lesson one morning in a complete "child's riding
outfit," to obtain which he had sent telegrams of a length and fluency
that made history in the life of the Clare post office. He lunged the
yearling for Eleanor, and watched while she taught a young thoroughbred
from a racing stable to walk collected and carry his head like a
gentleman. Nearly all his days were spent with Eleanor, and when they
came in in the evenings it was to plan for to-morrow's task.

Bee watched this companionship with pleasure, but wished that Simon had
more share in it. Simon found more and more excuses to be away from
home from breakfast to dinner. He would school Timber or Scapa in the
morning, and then find some excuse for going into Westover for lunch.
Occasionally when he came home for dinner after being out all day Bee
wondered whether he was quite sober. But except for the fact that he
now took two drinks where once he would have taken one, he drank little
at home, and so she decided that she must be mistaken. His alternate
fits of moodiness and gaiety were nothing new: Simon had always been
mercurial. She took it that his absence was his way of reducing the
strain of a difficult situation, and hoped that presently he would make
a third in the partnership that was blossoming so happily between
Eleanor and Patrick.

"You'll have to do _something_ at the Bures Show," Eleanor said one day
as they came in tired from the stables. "Otherwise people will think it
very odd."

"I could ride in a race, as Ruth suggested."

"But that is just fun. I mean, no one takes that seriously. You ought
to show one of the horses. Your own riding things will be here in time,
so there's no reason why you shouldn't."

"No."

"I'm getting to know that monosyllable of yours."

"It's no monopoly of mine."

"No. Just your speciality."

"What could I ride in the races?"

"Well, after Timber, Chevron is the fastest we have."

"But Chevron is Simon's."

"Oh, no. Chevron was bought by Bee with stable money. Have you ridden
races at all?"

"Oh, yes. Often. Local ones, of course. For small stakes."

"Well, I think Bee plans to show Chevron as a hack, but that's no
reason she shouldn't be entered for the races at the end of the day.
She's very nervous and excitable, but she jumps clean and she's very
fast."

They put the proposition to Bee at dinner, and Bee agreed to it. "What
do you ride at, Brat?"

"Nine stone thirteen."

Bee looked at him reflectively as he ate his dinner. He was too
fine-drawn. None of the Ashbys of the last two generations had run to
weight, but there was a used-up look about the boy; especially at the
end of the day. Presently, when the business of the celebration was all
over, they must do something about his leg. Perhaps that accounted for
the strung look that marked his spareness. Both physically and
psychologically it must be a drag on him. She must ask Peter Spence
about a good surgeon to consult.

Bee had been delighted to find that Brat had what Simon so
conspicuously lacked: an interest in the genus horse in the abstract.
Simon was knowledgeable about breeding in so far as it concerned his
own particular interests, but his theoretical study of the matter was
confined to _Racing Up to Date_. Brat, on the other hand, took to stud
books as some people take to detection. She had gone in one evening to
turn off a light that someone had evidently left on in the library, and
found Brat poring over a stud book. He was trying to work back on
Honey's pedigree, he said.

"You've got the wrong book," she said, and provided him with the right
one. She was busy with some W.R.I. matter and so she left him to it and
forgot him. But nearly two hours later she noticed the light still
there and went in to find Brat surrounded by tomes of all kinds and so
dead to the world that he did not hear her come in.

"It's fascinating, Bee," he said. He was mooning over a photograph of
Bend Or, and had propped various other volumes open at photographs that
gave him particular pleasure, so that the big table looked like some
second-hand bookstall with the plates exhibited to entice the
purchaser.

"You haven't got my favourite in your collection," she said, having
examined his choice, and brought another tome from the shelves. And
then, finding that he was totally ignorant, she took him back to the
beginning and showed him the foundations--Arab, Barb, and Turk--of the
finished product. By midnight there were more books on the floor than
there were on the shelves but they had both had a marvellous time.

After that if Brat was missing from the normal orbit, one could always
find him in the library, either working out something in a stud book or
going slowly through the photographs of remarkable horses.

He sat openly at Gregg's feet, with the result that in a week Gregg was
according him a respect that he had never paid to Simon. Bee noticed
that where he addressed Simon as "Mr. Simon," Brat was "Mr. Patrick,
sir." There was never any trace of the defensive attitude of a
stud-groom faced with a newcomer who was also his master. Gregg
recognised an enthusiast who did not think that he already knew it all,
and so Brat was "Mr. Patrick, sir." Bee would smile as she passed the
saddle room and heard the long monotone of Gregg's speech punctuated by
Brat's monosyllables.

"Shoot him, I said, I'll do nothing of the kind, that horse'll walk out
of here like a Christian inside a month, your blasted hounds can
starve, I said, before they get their jaws on as good a piece of
horseflesh as ever looked through a bridle, so what do you think I
did?"

"What?"

Bee was humbly grateful to fate not only for her nephew's return but
for the form in which he had returned. Rehearsing in her mind all the
shapes that Patrick might have reappeared in, she was filled with
wonder that the actual one should be so cut-to-measure, so according to
her own prescription. Brat was what she would have indented for if she
could have chosen. He was too silent, of course; too reticent. One felt
at peace in his company without having any feeling of knowing him. But
his unchanging front was surely easier to deal with than Simon's
fluidity.

She wrote a long letter to Uncle Charles, to meet him at Marseilles,
describing this new nephew to him, and saying all that could not be
said in the initial cables. It would not impress Charles, of course,
that Brat was useful with horses, since Charles loathed horses; which
he held to be animals of an invincible stupidity, uncontrolled
imagination, and faulty deduction. Indeed, Charles claimed that a
three-months-old child not actually suffering from encephalitis or
other congenital incapacity was more capable of drawing a correct
deduction than the most intelligent and most impeccably bred
thoroughbred. Charles liked cats; and if ever against his better
judgement he was lured within smell of a stable, he made friends with
the stable cat and retired with it to some quiet corner until the
process of horse exhibition was finished. He was rather like a cat
himself; a large soft man with a soft round face that creased only
sufficiently to hold an eyeglass; in either eye, according to which
hand Charles had free at the moment. And although he was over six feet
tall, he padded as lightly on his large feet as though he were partly
filled with air.

Charles was devoted to his old home and to his family, but was fond of
declaring himself a throw-back to a more virile age when a horse was
simply a means of transport, capable of carrying a respectable weight,
and it was not necessary for a man to develop bones that would disgrace
a chicken so that brittle thoroughbreds should be induced to surmount
unnecessary and unwarrantable obstacles.

A half-starved cat could out-jump any horse anyhow; and no one had to
teach it to, either.

But his brother's grandchildren were the apple of his eye, and he loved
every brittle bone of them. And it was to this Charles that Bee
commended his new nephew.

"In the short two weeks that he has been here, he has passed from being
a complete stranger to being so much part of Latchetts that one doesn't
notice him. He has a peculiar trick of being part of the landscape, of
course, but it is not just that he is self-effacing. It is that he has
dropped into place. I notice that even the country people, to whom he
ought still to be strange and a matter for sideways-looking, treat him
as if he had been here all along. He is very silent, and rarely
volunteers a remark, but his mind is extraordinarily alive, and his
comment when he makes one would be blistering sometimes if it were not
uttered so gently. He speaks very correct American--which, dear Uncle
Charles, is very correct English with a flat A--and drawls a little. It
is quite a different drawl from Simon's. I mean, from the drawl Simon
uses when he drawls. It is not a comment; just a method of production.

"His greatest conquest was Jane, who resented his coming bitterly, on
Simon's behalf. She made a wide sweep round him for days, and then
capitulated. Ruth made a tremendous fuss of him, but got little
encouragement--I think he felt her disloyalty to Simon--and she is now
a little 'off' him.

"George Peck seems pleased with him, but I think finds it hard to
forgive his silence all those years. I do too, of course. I find it
inexplicable. One can only try to understand the immensity of the
upheaval that sent him away from us.

"Simon has been beyond praise. He has taken his relegation to second
place with a fortitude and a grace that is touching. I think he is very
unhappy, and finds it difficult to join up this new Patrick with the
old one. The greatest wrong Pat did in keeping silence was the wrong to
Simon. I can only suppose that he intended never to come back at all. I
have tried to sound him about it, but he is not an easy person to talk
to. He was a reserved child and he is even more reserved to-day.
Perhaps he will talk to you when you come.

"We are busy preparing for the Bures Show--which, you will be glad to
hear, occurs at least three days before you are even due to arrive in
England--and have hopes of a little successful publicity for Latchetts.
We have three new horses that are well above average, and we are hoping
that at least two of them are of Olympia standard. We shall see what
their ring manners are like when we take them to Bures. Patrick has
refused to take any part in this year's showings, leaving all the kudos
to Simon and Eleanor--to whom, of course, it belongs. I think that,
more than anything, describes this Patrick who has come home to us."




23


Because it was Simon who would show Timber and jump him, Brat left his
schooling entirely to him, and shared his attentions between the other
horses. But there were days, especially now that Simon absented himself
more and more, when someone else had to exercise Timber, and Brat
looked forward to those days more than he acknowledged even to himself.
He liked most of the Latchetts horses, despised a few, and had an
affection for the lively Chevron, the kind, sensible Scapa, and
Eleanor's aged hack, Buster: a disillusioned but lovable old gentleman.
But Timber was something else again. Timber was challenge, and
excitement, and satisfaction; Timber was question and glory.

He planned to cure Timber of brushing people off his back, but he would
do nothing yet a while. It was important, if he was going to be jumped
at Bures, that nothing should be done to damage his self-confidence.
Some day, if Brat had anything to do with it, Timber was going to feel
very small indeed, but meanwhile let Simon have at his command every
jot of that lordly assurance. So Brat exercised him mildly, and as he
rode round the countryside kept his eyes open for a likely curing-place
for Timber when the time came. The beeches on Tanbitches had no
branches low enough for his purpose, and there was no room on that
hill-top to get up the necessary speed. He wanted some open country
with isolated or bunched trees with their lowest branches the right
height from the ground to tempt Timber to his undoing. He remembered
that Timber's most spectacular exploit had been in Lerridge Park and
over there was Clare Park, with its surrounding stretch of turf and
trees.

"Do the Clare Park people mind if we ride through the park?" he asked
Eleanor one day when there was still seven days before the Bures Show.

Eleanor said no, provided they kept away from the playing fields. "They
don't play anything because organised games are dreadful unless they
are organised by Russians in Russia, but they keep the playing fields
because they look well in the prospectus."

So Brat took Timber to the other side of the valley, and cantered him
gently on the centuries-old turf of Clare Park, keeping well away from
the trees. Then he walked him round the various clumps, gauging the
height of the lowest limbs from the ground. The manoeuvre was received
by Timber with a puzzled but passionate interest. One could almost see
him trying to work it out. What was this for? What did the man come and
look at large trees for? With a horse's abnormal memory, he was well
aware that large trees were associated with private delights of his
own, but, being a horse, he was also incapable of drawing any
reasonable deduction from his rider's interest in the same kind of
trees.

He walked up to each clump with a mannerly grace, until they approached
the large oak which had been for five hundred years the pride of Clare
Park. As they came within its flung shadow Timber propped himself
suddenly on his forelegs and snorted with fright. Brat was puzzled. What
did he remember about the oak that would cause a reaction as strong as
that? He looked at the ears that were sticking up as stiff as horns.
Perhaps it wasn't a memory. Perhaps there was something in the grass.

"Do you always sneak up on girls under trees?" said a voice from the
shadows, and from the grass there emerged the seal-like form of Miss
Parslow. She propped herself on an elbow and surveyed the pair. Brat
was a little surprised that she was alone. "Don't you ever ride
anything but that black brute?"

Brat said that he did, quite often.

"I suppose it would be too much to expect that you were looking for me
when you came over to the park to ride?"

Brat said that he was looking for a place to teach Timber manners.

"What's the matter with his manners?"

"He has a habit of diving suddenly under a tree so that he scrapes his
rider off."

Miss Parslow propped herself a little farther up and looked with new
interest at the horse. "You don't say! I never thought the brutes had
that much sense. How are you going to stop him?"

"I'm going to make riding under trees a painful experience for him."

"You mean you'll beat him when he tries to do it?"

"Oh, no. That wouldn't do much good."

"After he has actually done it, then?"

"No. He mightn't associate the beating with a tree at all." He rubbed
his whip up Timber's dark crest, and Timber bowed. "You'd be surprised
at the odd things they associate."

"Nothing would surprise me to any extent about horses. How are you
going to do it then?"

"Let him go full bat near a nice tempting tree, and when he swerves
under it give him a cut on the belly that he'll remember all his life."

"Oh, no, that's too bad. The poor brute."

"It will be just too bad if I don't time my slip sideways on the saddle
properly," Brat said dryly.

"And will that cure him?"

"I hope so. Next time he sees a likely tree he'll remember that it hurt
like the blazes last time he tried it."

"But he'll hate you."

Brat smiled. "I'd be very surprised if he associated me with the
business at all. I'd be surprised if he even associated it with the
whip. Horses don't think like humans."

"What will he think hurt him, then?"

"The tree, more than likely."

"I always _thought_ they were awfully silly animals."

It occurred to Brat that she had not made one of those riding parties
on which he had accompanied Eleanor. Nor had he seen her about the
stables lately. He asked how her riding was getting on.

"I've given it up."

"Altogether?"

"Uh-huh."

"But you were getting on well, weren't you? Eleanor said you had
learned to bump."

"It was a very slithery bump, and it hurt me far more than it hurt the
horse." She pulled a long grass and began to chew it, eyeing him with a
sly amusement. "I don't have to hang around the stables any more. If I
want to see Simon I know where to find him nowadays."

"Where?" said Brat before he could stop himself.

"The upstairs bar at the Angel."

"In Westover? But are you allowed to go to Westover when you like?"

"I'm attending a Westover dentist." She giggled. "Or rather, I was. The
school made the first appointment for me, of course, but after that I
just told them when I had to go next. I've reckoned that I have about
thirty teeth, which should last me till the end of term quite nicely."
She opened her red mouth wide and laughed. They were excellent teeth.
"That's what I'm doing at the moment. Putting off time till the
Westover bus is due. I could have gone with the earlier one but there
is a very good-looking conductor on this one. He's got the length of
asking me to the pictures one night next week. If Simon was going on
the way he has been all those months, not knowing I'm alive, I'd maybe
have done something about the conductor boy--he has lashes about an
inch long--but now that Simon has stopped looking down his nose I think
I'll give the conductor boy a miss." She chewed the stalk
provocatively. "Got quite matey, Simon has."

"Oh."

"Have you been seducing the Gates girl from him, like I suggested?"

"I have not."

"That's funny. He's distinctly off her. And he's not awfully enamoured
of you, if it comes to that. So I thought you'd been cutting him out
with that Peggy woman. But I suppose it's just that you cut him out of
Latchetts."

"You're going to miss your bus, aren't you?"

"You can be just as squashing as Simon, in your own way."

"I was only pointing out that the bus is almost at the smithy. It will
be at the Park gates in----"

"What!" she shrieked, exploding to her feet in one enormous convulsion,
so that Timber whirled in alarm from the wild eruption. "Oh, great
heavens! Oh, for the love of...! Oh! Oh!"

She fled down the park to the avenue gates, screaming her distress as
she went. Brat watched the green bus skim along the road past the white
gates of Latchetts and slow down as it came to the gates of Clare Park.
She was going to catch it after all, and her day would not be wasted.
She would find Simon. At the Angel. In the upstairs bar.

That Simon should spend his time in Westover in the Angel bar was
distressing but not, in the circumstances, surprising. What was
surprising was the emergence of a Simon who was "matey" with Sheila
Parslow. In Simon's eyes the Parslow girl had always been something
beneath contempt; a lower form of life. He dismissed her with a gibe
when her name was mentioned and in her presence was, as she had said
herself, unaware that she was alive. What had happened to Simon that he
was not only resigned to her companionship, but was "matey"? The girl
was not lying about it. If her glowing self-satisfaction was not
sufficient evidence, there was the obvious fact that Simon could avoid
her by changing his drinking place. There was no lack of pubs in
Westover; most of them more exclusively masculine haunts than the very
social and female-ridden Angel.

Brat tried to imagine Simon with Sheila Parslow and failed.

What had come over Simon--the fastidious, critical Simon--that he found
it possible to endure her? To spend hours in her company?

Was it a sort of "laming" his family for the disappointment he had been
caused? A sort of you-don't-like-me-therefore-I'll-take-up-with-Sheila-Parslow?
A sorry-when-I'm-dead reaction? There was a very childish side to Simon.

There was also, Brat thought from all he had heard, a very practical
side and Sheila Parslow had money, and Simon needed it. But somehow
Brat could not believe that Simon, even in his most deplorable moments,
would ever consider pawning his life to a nymphomaniacal moron.

As he walked Timber home he considered yet once more the general oddity
of Simon, but as usual came to no conclusion.

He handed Timber over to Arthur to be rubbed down, and went down with
Eleanor to inspect Regina's new foal.

"She's an old marvel, isn't she," Eleanor said, watching the new
arrival stagger about on its out-of-proportion legs. "It's another good
one. Not much wonder that she looks complacent. People have been coming
to admire her foals for practically a lifetime, the old duchess. I
think foals to her are just a means of achieving this annual homage.
She doesn't care a rap about the foal."

"It's not any better than Honey's," Brat said, looking at the foal
without enthusiasm.

"You and your Honey!"

"And you wait and see what Honey will produce next year with this new
mating. A foal that will make history."

"Your enthusiasm for Honey borders on the indecent."

"You heard Bee say that."

"How do you know?"

"I heard her too."

They laughed a little, and she said: "It's so nice to have you here,
Brat." He noticed that she did not say: It is so nice to have you back,
Patrick; but he realised that she herself was unaware of any oddity in
the form she used.

"Is that doctor chap going over to Bures for the show?"

"I shouldn't think so. He's much too busy. What made you think of him?"

Brat did not know.

They pottered round the paddocks for so long that they came in for tea
very late, and had it by themselves. Jane was pounding her way through
a Chopin valse with conscientious accuracy, and stopped with
undisguised relief when they came in.

"Could I say twenty-five minutes was half an hour, Eleanor?" she asked.
"It's twenty-five-and-a-half minutes, really."

"You can say anything you like as long as we don't have to listen to
that valse while we eat."

So Jane slid off the piano-stool, removed the glasses that gave her
such an owl-like look, pushed them into her breeches pocket, and
disappeared thankfully into the out-of-doors.

"Ruth puts in all the tiddley bits and the expression and doesn't mind
how many wrong notes she strikes, but with Jane it is accuracy or
nothing. I don't know which Chopin would have hated more," Eleanor
said, folding bread and butter into a thickness that would match her
appetite.

Brat watched her pour the tea with a delight in her clean unhurried
movements. Some day the foundation of the life he was living here would
give way; Simon would achieve the plan he was devising to undo him, or
some incautious word of his own would bring the whole structure
crashing down; and then there would be no more Eleanor.

It was not the least of his fears for the future.

They ate in a friendly silence, dropping unrelated remarks into the
quiet as they happened to occur to them.

Presently Eleanor said: "Did you ask Bee about colours for the race
next week?"

Brat said that he had forgotten.

"Let's go and look them out now. They are in that locker in the saddle
room."

So they went back to the stables. The saddle room was empty; Gregg had
gone home to his supper; but Eleanor knew where the key was.

"They are practically in ribbons, they are so old," she said as she
spread the colours on the table. "They were actually made for Father,
and then they were taken in a bit for Simon to wear at point-to-points
when he was narrower than he is now. And then let out again when he
grew. So they are just hanging together. Perhaps now we'll be able to
afford----" She pulled herself up.

"Yes. We'll have a new set."

"I think violet and primrose are nice colours, don't you; but they do
fade an unattractive shade. Simon goes blue with cold in the winter,
and he says the colours were designed to tone with his face."

They rummaged in the chest, turning up souvenirs of old races. They
moved round the saddle room studying the long row of ribbon rosettes,
each with its tab under it telling where and how it had been won.

At last Eleanor shut the chest, saying: "It is time we got ready for
dinner." She locked the chest and hung up the key. "We'll take the
colours with us. I expect they'll fit you all right, since Simon was
the last to wear them. But they'll have to be pressed."

She took the colours in her arms, and together they walked out of the
saddle-room door and came face to face with Simon.

"Oh, you're back, Simon," Eleanor was beginning, when she caught sight
of his face.

"_Who had Timber out?_" he said, furious.

"I had," Brat said.

"Timber is my business and you have no right to have him out when my
back is turned."

"Someone had to exercise him to-day," Brat said mildly.

"_No one_ exercises Timber but me. _No one._ If I'm going to be
responsible for jumping him, then I say when he is to be exercised, and
_I_ do the exercising."

"But, Simon," Eleanor said, "that is absurd. There are----"

"Shut up!" he said, through his teeth.

"I will _not_ shut up! The horses are Brat's, and if anyone says who
does what, and when, then it is----"

"Shut up, I tell you. I won't have a ham-handed lout from the backwoods
ruining a good piece of horseflesh like Timber."

"Simon! _Really!_"

"Coming from nowhere and interfering in the stables as if he had lived
here all his life!"

"You must be drunk, Simon, to talk like that about your own brother."

"My brother! _That!_ Why, you poor little fool, he isn't even an Ashby.
God knows what he is. Somebody's groom, I have no doubt. And that is
what he should be doing. Sweeping out stables. Not lording it round the
countryside on my best horses. After this, you damned little upstart,
you leave the horses I intend to ride in their stable unless I say they
are to be taken out, and if I say they are to be taken out it is not
you who will ride them. We have plenty of other stablemen."

His chin was sticking out about two feet from Brat's face, and Brat
could have brought one from the ground that would have lifted him half
over the saddle room. He longed to do it, but not with Eleanor there.
And not now, perhaps. Better not do anything that he could not foresee
the consequences of.

"Well? Did you hear me?" shouted Simon, maddened by his silence.

"I heard you," Brat said.

"Well, see that you remember what I said. Timber is my business, and
you don't put a leg across him again until I say so."

And he flung away from them towards the house.

Eleanor looked stricken.

"Oh, Brat, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. He had that mad notion about your
not being Patrick before he ever saw you, and now that he has been
drinking I suppose it came from the back of his mind and he said it
because he was angry. He always did say a lot of things he didn't mean
when he was in a temper, you know."

It was Brat's experience that, on the contrary, it was only when a
person was in a temper that they said exactly what they did mean. But
he refrained from telling Eleanor that.

"He _has_ been drinking, you know," she went on. "I know he doesn't
look as if he has, but I can tell from his eyes. And he would never
have behaved like that when he was sober, even in a temper. I do
apologise for him."

Brat said that everyone made a fool of themselves some time or other
when they had "drink taken," and she was not to bother about it.

They followed Simon to the house soberly, the happiness of their long
afternoon together vanished as if it had not been.

As he changed into what he still thought of as "his good suit" Brat
thought that if the cracks that were showing in Simon widened
sufficiently he might one day show his hand, and he would find out what
Simon's plans for him were. He wondered if Simon would be sober enough
to behave normally at dinner.

But there was no Simon at dinner, and when Eleanor asked where he was,
Bee said that he had gone over to the pub at Guessgate to meet a friend
who was staying there. Someone had telephoned just before dinner, it
appeared.

Bee looked equable, and Brat decided that Simon had seemed normal to
her and that she had believed his story of the friend staying the night
at the Guessgate inn.

And in the morning Simon came down to breakfast his usual sunny self.

"I'm afraid I was tight last night," he said. "And very objectionable,
I'm afraid. I apologise unreservedly."

He regarded Brat and Eleanor, the only other people at the table, with
friendly confidence. "I ought never to drink gin," he said. "It
obscures the judgement and destroys the soul."

"You were quite horrible," Eleanor said coldly.

But the atmosphere cleared, and the day was just another day. Bee came
in from out-of-doors for her second cup of coffee; Jane arrived
clutching to her stomach the bowl of porridge which she had fetched
from the kitchen for herself, according to Latchetts routine; Ruth came
flying in very late with a "diamond" clasp in her hair and was sent
back to take the thing off.

"Where did she get that loathsome object," Bee said, when Ruth had
disappeared with wild cries that Bee was going to make her late for
lessons.

"She bought it at Woolworth's last time we were in Westover," Jane
said. "They're not real diamonds, you know, but it seemed a bargain for
one-and-sixpence."

"Why didn't you buy one then, Jane?" Bee asked, looking at the aged
kirby-grip that kept Jane's hair off her face.

"Oh, I don't think I'm the diamond type," Jane said.

So the Ashby household settled back to its normal placidity, and to its
preparations for that day at Bures that was to alter all their lives.




24


Bures was a little market town, set north of Westover and almost in the
middle of the county. It was like almost every other little market town
in the south of England, except perhaps that it stood in slightly
richer and more unspoiled country than most. For which reason the Bures
Agricultural Show, although a small country affair, had a standing and
reputation considerably greater than its size alone would warrant.
Every year animals would appear at the Bures Show on their way to more
mature triumphs elsewhere, and it was common for someone, watching an
exhibit at one of the great shows, to say: "I remember that when it was
a novice at Bures three years ago."

It was a pleasant, civilised little town, with a minister, some fine
old inns, a High Street both broad and gay, and no self-consciousness
whatsoever. The farmers who brought their wares to its markets would
have annoyed Mr. Macallan exceedingly by their content with their lot,
and their evident unawareness that there were other worlds to conquer.
An air of well-being came off the Bures pavements like reflected
sunlight. Bad years there might be, for both tradespeople and farmers,
but that was a risk that was incidental in a life that was satisfying
and good.

The annual show, in the early summer, was a social reunion as well as a
business affair, and the day ended with a "ball" in the assembly room
of the Chequers, at which farmers' wives who hadn't seen each other
since New Year swopped gossip, and young blades who had not met since
the Combined Hunts Ball swopped horses. The combined hunts, between
them, embraced the town; the Lerridge to the south and the Kenley Vale
to the north; and did much to ensure that the horses exhibited at Bures
should be worth more than a passing glance. And since almost every
farmer well enough off to own both a horse and a tractor belonged to
one or other of the hunts, there was never any lack of competition.

In the early days of the show, when transport was still by horse and
slow, it was the custom to stay overnight at Bures; and the Chequers,
the Rose and Crown, the Wellington, and the Kenley Arms packed them in
three to a bed. But with the coming of the motor all that changed. It
was more fun to go home nine-to-a-car in the summer dawn than to sleep
three-to-a-bed in the Wellington. It was not always a successful method
of getting home, of course, and more than one young farmer had spent
his summer months in hospital after the Bures Show, but to the younger
generation it was inconceivable that they should sleep in an inn when
their home was less than forty miles away. So only the older
exhibitors, who clung to tradition, or those who lived at an
inconvenient distance from Bures, or could not, owing to difficult
communications, get their animals away on the evening of the show,
still stayed overnight at Bures. And of these most stayed at the
Chequers.

The Ashbys had had the same bedrooms at the Chequers for the night of
the Bures Show since the days of William Ashby the Seventh: he who had
joined the Westover Fencibles to resist the expected invasion of
Napoleon the First. They were not the best bedrooms, because in those
days the best bedrooms went to the Ledinghams of Clare, who also, of
course, had a yearly reservation for the night of the show. What the
Ledinghams left went to the Shirleys of Penbury and the Hallands of
Hallands House. The Hallands, on whose lands on the outskirts of the
town the show was held, had used the bedrooms only for their overflow
of guests, but a Hallands guest rated a great deal higher, of course,
than any Ashby in the flesh.

Penbury was now the possession of the nation in the shape of the
National Trust; a shillingsworth of uplift for coachloads who didn't
know Gibbons from Adam and wanted their tea. Hallands House was also
the possession of the nation, in the shape of a Government department.
No one quite knew what this alien community did. Mrs. Thrale, who ran
the Singing Kettle tea-rooms out on the Westover road, once boldly
asked a young Government employee who was drinking her coffee what her
task was at the moment, and was told that it was "arranging the
translation of _Tom Jones_ into Turkish"; but this was held to be
merely a misunderstanding on Mrs. Thrale's part, and no one had the
heart to question the aliens further. They kept themselves to
themselves very determinedly, and it was no longer possible for the
people of Bures to walk through Hallands Park.

It would have been possible long ago for the Ashbys on their annual
visit to have some of the finer bedrooms at the Chequers, but no such
idea ever crossed an Ashby mind. The difference between Number 3 and
Number 17 was not that one was a fine room with a pleasant outlook and
good furniture and the other a back room looking on to the roof of the
assembly room, but that one wasn't "their" room and the other was. So
they still had the three little rooms in the older wing, which, since
the bathroom had been added at the end of the passage, made it
practically an Ashby apartment.

Gregg took the horses over to Bures on Tuesday evening. Arthur followed
on Wednesday morning with the ponies and Eleanor's hack, Buster, who
hated any box but his own, and was liable to kick a strange stable to
pieces. Simon and the twins went in the car with Bee; and Brat shared
the bug with Eleanor and Tony Toselli, who had insisted on being
allowed to compete in the Best Child Rider class. ("My father will
commit suicide if I am not allowed to try.")

Brat wished that this tadpole creature was not sitting between himself
and Eleanor. The feeling that his time with Eleanor was short was
constantly with him, making each indifferent moment a matter of
consequence. But Eleanor seemed happy enough to feel charitable even to
Tony Toselli.

"It's going to be perfect weather," she said, looking at the high arch
of the sky with no cloud in it. "I can remember only one real soaker at
Bures and that's years ago. They've always been awfully lucky. Did I
put my string gloves in the locker?"

"Yes."

"What are you going to do all the morning? Look at Mrs. Godwin's jam
exhibit?"

"I'm going to walk the course."

"Canny Brat," she said, approving. "How right you are."

"The other fellows probably know every inch of it."

"Oh, yes. For most of them it is an annual. In fact, if you started the
horses off they'd probably go round by themselves, they are so used to
it. Did Bee remember to give you your stand ticket?"

"Yes."

"And have you got it with you?"

"I have."

"I sound a fusser this morning, don't I? You are a nice reassuring
person to be with. Do you never get excited, Brat?"

"Oh, yes."

"Inside-churning excited?"

"Inside turning over and over."

"That's interesting. It just doesn't show, I suppose."

"I suppose not."

"It's an extraordinarily useful sort of face to have. Mine goes a dull
unhealthy pink, as you can see."

He thought the warm childish flush on her normally cool features
touching and endearing.

"I hear that Peggy Gates has a new outfit for the occasion. Have you
ever seen her on a horse? I can't remember."

"No."

"She looks nice," Eleanor said approvingly. "She rides very well. I
think she will do justice to that horse of Dick Pope's."

It was typical of Eleanor that her judgement was independent of her
emotions.

The High Street of Bures glittered in the low morning sunlight. Large
Motoring Association signs encouraged the traveller, and fluttering
advertisements cajoled him. "Carr's Meal for Calves," said a banner.
"Saffo, the Safe Disinfectant!" screamed a chimney-to-chimney pendant.
"Pett's Dip," said a placard quietly, taking it for granted that the
Dip was sufficiently famous to explain itself.

In the dim hall of the Chequers Bee was waiting for them. Simon had
gone round to the stables, she said.

"The rooms are Numbers 17, 18, and 19, Brat. You are sharing 17 with
Simon, Nell and I have 18, and the twins are in the connecting one,
19."

Sharing a room with Simon was something he had not reckoned with, but
there was nothing he could do about it. He picked up Eleanor's bag and
his own and went upstairs with them, since the hall was a flurry of
arriving guests. Eleanor came with him and showed him where the rooms
were.

"The first time I came here and was allowed to stay the night I thought
life had nothing left to offer," she said. "Put it down there, Brat,
thank you, and I'll unpack it at once or my frock will be ruined."

In Number 17 Simon's things were already strewn all over the room,
including the second bed. It was odd how these inanimate belongings of
Simon's had, even in his absence, a kind of arrogance.

Brat cleared his own bed and unpacked, hanging his new evening things
carefully in the still empty wardrobe. To-night for the first time in
his life he would wear evening clothes.

"In case you get lost, Brat," Bee said to him when he came down, "lunch
is at twelve-thirty in the luncheon tent. The last table to your left
as you come in. What do you plan to do this morning? Poke the pigs?"

"No, he is going to walk the course," Eleanor said.

"All right. Don't stray off it into any Government holy-of-holies and
get yourself arrested, will you?"

Tony was handed over to Mrs. Stack, who, being interested solely in
rural industries, represented a Fixed Point in the flux of an
agricultural show.

"If he tells you that his father is dying and he is urgently wanted at
home, don't believe him," Eleanor said.

"Is his father ill, then?"

"No, but Tony may grow bored before half-past twelve. I'll come and
fetch him for lunch."

Brat walked into the High Street of Bures with a feeling of escape. For
the first time for nearly a month he was his own master, free to be
himself. He had forgotten what it was like to walk about without care.
For nearly three hours he could go where he liked, ask what he wanted,
and answer without a curb on his tongue.

"Hallands Park," said the direction sign on a bus, so he got on the bus
and went there. He had never been to a country show before, and he went
round the exhibits with an interest that was at once fresh and
critical, comparing all he saw with similar things seen elsewhere.
Homespuns in Arizona, farm implements in Normandy, rams in Zacatecas,
Herefords after American air, pottery in New Mexico. Occasionally
someone looked at him curiously, and more than one hand was half lifted
in salutation only to fall again. He was too like an Ashby ever to be
completely free in Bures. But, speaking generally, people were too
absorbed in the exhibits and in their own cares at that hour of the
morning to take much interest in the passer-by.

Having exhausted the exhibition, he walked out into the park, where the
red flags marked out the temporary race-course. It was a straight,
fast-galloping course over hurdles for the first half-mile through the
park, then it went out into the country in a wide curve of a mile or
more, came back to the park about half a mile from the stands, and from
then on was another series of hurdles up to the finish in front of the
stands. Except for the sharp turns and a few very blind fences in the
country, it was not a difficult course. The hurdles in the park
stretches were regulation racing ones, and the turf was wonderful.
Brat's heart lifted.

It was very peaceful out there in the country, and he came back to the
show with a sense of reluctance. But he was surprised to find how glad
he was to see the familiar faces round the table in the luncheon tent
when he got there; how glad he was to sink into the place kept for him,
and be part of this family again.

People came up to their table to welcome him back to Bures Show, to
England. People who had known Bill and Nora Ashby, and Bill's father
before him. None of them expected him to remember them, and he had
merely to be polite.




25


"I think I'm going to be sick," Ruth said, when she and Brat were left
alone in the stand.

"I don't wonder," said Brat.

"Why?" she was surprised into saying, this being not at all the
reaction she expected.

"Three ices on top of dressed crab."

"It is not anything I _ate_," she said, repressive. "It's that I have a
delicate nervous system. Excitement makes me feel ill. I get sick with
it."

"I should go and get it over," Brat advised.

"Be sick, you mean!"

"Yes. It's a wonderful feeling."

"If I sit very still I may feel better," Ruth said, giving up.

Ruth was feeling her lack of importance to-day. She avoided horses too
consistently for the rest of the year to claim any right to exhibit any
on this one day at Bures, so she sat in the stand in her neat grey
flannel and looked on. It was to her credit that she did not grudge her
twin her well-earned place in the sun, and was passionately anxious
that Jane should come first in her class.

"There's Roger Clint with Eleanor."

Brat looked for the couple and found them.

"Who is Roger Clint?"

"He has a big farm near here."

Roger Clint was a black-browed young man, and he was being old-friendly
with Eleanor.

"He's in love with Eleanor," said Ruth, having failed with one try for
drama.

"A very good person to be in love with," Brat said, but his heart
contracted.

"It would be a very good thing if she married him. He has lots of money
and a lovely big house and simply scads of horses."

Against his will Brat asked if Eleanor were thinking of it.

Ruth considered the pros and cons or this as they fitted into her
dramatic framework.

"She is making him serve his seven years for her. You know: like Jacob.
He is simply frantic about it, poor Roger, but she is La Belle Dame
Sans Merci."

La Belle Dame Sans Merci bade Mr. Clint a temporary farewell and came
up to join them in the stands as the Novices under Ten filed into the
ring.

"Do you know that Tony scraped into this by the skin of his teeth," she
said, sitting down by Brat. "He is going to be ten the day after
to-morrow."

There were eleven novices, the youngest being a fat child of four in a
black velvet jockey cap, who bounced about on a solid pony of which she
had no control whatever.

"Well, at least Tony never looked as awful as that, even in his bad
days," Eleanor said.

"Tony looks wonderful," Ruth said, and Tony did indeed look wonderful.
As Eleanor had said on an earlier occasion, Tony had the root of the
matter in him.

The novices walked, and trotted, and cantered, under the lenient eye of
the judges, and presently the seeding began. Even from the stand the
fanatic determination in Tony's snail-black eyes was plain to see. He
was going to be in the money or die in the attempt. From being six
possibles they were narrowed down to four, but these four kept the
judges puzzled. Again and again they were sent out to canter and
brought back for inspection, and sent out to canter again. There were
only three prizes and one must go.

It was at this stage that Tony played what he evidently considered his
ace. As he cantered along in front of the stand he got to his knees in
the saddle and with a slight scramble stood up in it, straight and
proud.

"Oh, God," said Eleanor reverently and with feeling.

A ripple of laughter went through the stand. But Tony had another shot
in his locker. He slipped to his knees, grabbed the front edge of the
saddle, and stood on his head, his thin spider-legs waving rather
uncertainly in the air.

At that a gale of laughter and applause broke out, and Tony, much
gratified, resumed his seat and urged his astonished pony, who had
slowed to a trot, into a canter again.

That of course settled the matter very nicely for the judges, and Tony
had the mortification of seeing the three rosettes handed to his
rivals. But his mortification was nothing to the mortification he had
already inflicted on his preceptress.

"I hope I don't see that child until I cool off," she said, "or I am
liable to take an axe to him."

But Tony, having handed his pony over to Arthur, came blithely to the
stands to find her.

"Tony, you little _idiot_," she said, "what made you do a thing like
that?"

"I wanted to show how I could ride, Eleanor."

"And where did you learn to do those circus tricks?"

"I practised on the pony that mows the lawn. At school, you know. He
has a much broader back than Muffet, and that's why I wasn't so steady
to-day. I don't think these people appreciate good riding," he added,
nodding his head at the offending judges.

Eleanor was speechless.

Brat presented him with a coin and told him to go and buy himself an
ice.

"If I didn't want to see Jane ride," Eleanor said, "I would go and bury
my shame in the ladies' room. I'm _curdled_ with humiliation."

Jane, on Rajah, in her best riding things, was a pleasant sight. Brat
had never seen her in anything but the shabby jodhpurs and shapeless
jersey that she wore at home, and was surprised by this trim little
figure.

"Jane has the best seat of all the Ashbys," Eleanor said
affectionately, watching the serious and efficient Jane making Rajah
change his leg to order. "That is her only rival: that tall girl on the
grey."

The tall girl was fifteen and the grey very handsome, but the judges
preferred Jane and Rajah. Jane might have lost for all the emotion she
showed, but Ruth was rapturous.

"Good old Jane," Simon said, appearing beside them. "A veteran at
nine."

"Oh, Simon, did you _see_!" Eleanor said, in agony again as she
remembered.

"Cheer up, Nell," he said, dropping a commiserating hand on her
shoulder. "It might have been worse."

"How _could_ it be worse?"

"He didn't yodel," Simon said.

At that she began to laugh, and went on laughing. "Oh, I suppose it is
very funny," she said, wiping her eyes, "and I expect I shall laugh
over it for years, but at the moment I just wish I could be in
Australia for the rest of the afternoon."

"Come on, Nell," he said. "It's time to collect the horses," and they
went away together as Jane came to sit in the stand.

"This is the exciting class coming now. It isn't very much to win a
Fifteen and Under," was her answer to Brat's congratulations. "Some day
I'll be down there with _them_. With Aunt Bee, and Eleanor, and Simon,
and Peggy, and Roger Clint, and all of them."

Yes, there was Roger Clint. Eleanor was riding the long-backed bay mare
Scapa, and Roger Clint was standing next to her on a chestnut with four
of the longest and whitest stockings Brat had ever seen. While the
judges walked down the row he and Eleanor talked quietly together.

"Who do you think will be first?" Jane asked.

Brat took his eyes from Eleanor and Clint and forced himself to
consider the entry. The judge had sent Bee out to canter Chevron, the
chestnut he was going to race this afternoon, and she was coming down
in front of the stands now. He had never seen Bee in formal riding
clothes, and was surprised again, as he had been with Jane. It was a
new, serious, rather intimidating Bee.

"Who do you think, Brat?" Jane said again.

"Timber, of course."

"Not Peggy's horse? The one Dick Pope had?"

"Riding Light? No. He may win the jumping, but not this."

And he was right. This was the judges' first sight of Timber and they
were too much impressed to be seduced even by the looks and reputation
of Riding Light.

And it was a popular verdict. As Simon cantered Timber down in front of
the stands after accepting the rosette the applause broke into
cheering.

"Isn't that the brute that killed old Felix?" a voice behind said.
"They ought to shoot it instead of giving it prizes."

Second was Peggy on Riding Light, looking flushed and pleased; her
father's extravagance had been justified. Third, rather unexpectedly,
was Bee on Chevron.

"The Ashbys cleaning up as usual," the voice said, and was instantly
shushed, and the proximity of the Ashbys presumably indicated.

It was when the Open Jumping Class began that the real excitement of
the day was reached, and Bee came to sit in the stand and share it with
them.

"Number One, please," said the loud-speaker, and Eleanor came into the
ring on Scapa. Scapa was a careful and unemotional jumper, but could
never be persuaded into standing away from her fences. By dint of
patient schooling with a guard rail, Eleanor hoped that she had now
persuaded her into better ways. And for half a round it worked, until
Scapa noticed that there was no plaguey obstruction to beware of at the
foot of these jumps, and began to go close in again, with the
inevitable result. Nothing Eleanor could do would make her take off in
time. She jumped "fit to hit the moon," but came down in the wrong
place, and the little battens of white-painted wood came down with her.

"Poor Nell," said Bee. "After all her schooling."

Number Two and Number Three did not appear to have been schooled at
all.

"Number Four, please," said the loud-speaker, and Riding Light
appeared. Peggy's "new outfit" consisted of a dark snuff-coloured coat
a little too tight in the waist, and a pair of buff breeches a little
too pale in the buff, but she looked well on the brown horse and
handled him beautifully. Or rather, she sat still and let Riding Light
do his stuff. He was a finished jumper who took the obstacles in his
stride, propelling himself into the air in a long effortless curve and
tucking his hind feet after him like a cat. He went out having done a
perfect round.

"Number Five, please," said the loud-speaker.

Number Five was Roger Clint's mount with the long white stockings. "Do
you know what he calls it?" Bee said. "Operation Stockings."

"It's very ugly," Brat said. "Looks as if he had walked through a
trough of whitewash."

"He can jump, though."

He could certainly jump, but he had phobia about water.

"Poor Roger," laughed Bee, watching Stockings refuse the water. "He has
been jumping him backwards and forwards across the duck pond at home in
the hope of curing him, and now he does this!"

Stockings continued to refuse, and Clint had to take him out, in a
burst of sympathetic applause.

Numbers Six and Seven had one fault each.

Number Eight was Simon on Timber.

The black horse came into the ring exactly as he had come out of his
box on the day Brat first saw him, pleased with himself and ready for
homage. His excited, flickering ears pricked into attention as he
caught sight of the jumps. Simon took him into a canter and moved down
to the first one. Even from where he was sitting, Brat could feel the
smoothness of that action. The smoothness that had astonished him that
first day at Latchetts when he had ridden on the top of the down.
Smoothly the black horse rose into the air and came down on the far
side of the jump, and a murmur of admiration came from the crowd at the
almost feline beauty of it. Brat, with the most wholehearted respect,
watched Simon's body swing with the black horse's rise and fall as
though he were part of it. It was right that Simon should ride it. He
would never attain that perfection if he lived to be a hundred. A great
silence settled on the crowd as one by one the jumps fled away behind
Timber. It would be monstrous if this beauty were to fail or be
faulted. It was so quiet when he faced the water jump that the voice of
a paper-seller far away at the main gate was the only sound to be
heard. And when he landed smoothly and neatly on the far bank, a great
sigh went up from them. They had seen a perfect thing. They had not
been cheated of it after all.

So moved were they that Simon was almost out of the ring before the
applause broke out.

The last three entries had been scratched, and Simon was the final
performer, so the second round began as soon as he had left.

Eleanor came back on Scapa, and by dint of voice and spur managed to
make the unwilling mare take off at the proper place, and so did
something to retrieve her self-respect. The crowd, appreciating what
had been wrong in the first place and what she had now succeeded in
doing, gave her credit for it.

Number Two did a wild but lucky round, and Number Three a wild and
unlucky one; and then came Peggy again, still flushed from the pleasure
of her perfect round.

Again she had the sense to sit still while Riding Light heaved her into
the air with the thrust of his tremendous quarters, sailed over the
jump, and made for the next one with his ears erect and confident. It
seemed that there was nothing to hinder the brown horse doing this all
day. There was an air of routine about the business that somehow
detracted from his performance; he made it look too easy. There seemed
little doubt that he would do another perfect round. His judgement of
distance was faultless. He never had to stop and put in a short one to
bring him to the proper taking-off point; he arrived at the taking-off
point by some computing of his own, taking the jumps in his stride as
if they were hurdles. He was coming up to the wall now, and they waited
to see if he would treat that, too, like a hurdle.

"Thump! Thump! Thump!" said the drum of the Bures Silver Band, as the
preliminary to _Colonel Bogey_ and their entry into the front gate of
the show for their afternoon performance. Riding Light's ears flickered
in question, in doubt. His mind was distracted from that rapidly
nearing wall. His ears shot forward again in alarm as he saw it almost
upon him. He shortened his stride, trying to fit it into the remaining
space, but he had misjudged it. He rose at it with determination and
landed on the other side, flinging his quarters upwards in a successful
effort to avoid hitting the fence that was now too close under him. But
the shoe of his near fore had touched the wall as he rose to it, and a
billet slid out of place, wavered a moment on the edge, and then
dropped to the ground.

"A-a-ah!" said the crowd in quick sympathy, and Peggy looked back to
see what had happened. She saw the little gap in the top of the wall,
but it did not rattle her. She collected Riding Light, patted him
encouragingly on the neck, and headed him for the next.

"Good girl, Peggy!" murmured Bee.

The distant band was now playing _Colonel Bogey_, and Riding Light took
no further notice of it; he knew all about bands. Bands had been the
accompaniment to some of his best performances. He settled down again
to his routine, and finished by taking the water jump with a margin
that made the crowd gasp.

"Simon will never beat that," Bee said. "That perfect round of Timber's
was a miracle in the first place."

The four long stockings of Roger Clint's mount flashed round the ring
in a brisk and willing fashion until they came to the water. Faced with
the long distance to the last jump, Stockings stopped and pondered.
Clint argued amiably with him, but Stockings would have none of it. "I
know what is behind that hedge quite well, and I _don't like_ it!" he
seemed to be saying. And then, with that perennial unreasonableness of
horses, he decided to have a go at it. Of his own accord he turned
towards the jump and began to canter. Roger sat down and drove him at
it, and Stockings went flying down to it with purpose in every line of
him. In the last half-second he changed his mind just as suddenly as he
had made it up, stuck both toes in hard, and skidded to a stop up
against the fence.

The crowd laughed, and so did Roger Clint. He hauled himself back into
the saddle from his position round his mount's neck. He took Stockings
round to the other side of the fence and showed him the water. He took
him up to it and let him inspect it at close quarters. He walked him
round it and let him look at the other edge. And then he took him back
to the far end of the ring and turned him to the jump. With an air of
"Oh, well, let's get this thing over with" Stockings jumped off his
haunches, tore down the ring, and fled over the water with a yard or
two to spare.

The crowd laughed delightedly, and the white teeth showed in Clint's
brown face. He lifted his hat to the applause without looking at them,
as a cricketer lifts his cap, and rode out of the ring, well satisfied
to have ignored the judge's disqualifying eye long enough to have
induced Stockings to cross the hated obstacle.

Number Six had two faults. Number Seven two-and-a-half.

"Number Eight, please," said the loud-speaker, and Jane shivered and
put her hand in Bee's. For once Ruth did not have to manufacture drama
to suit her; her mouth was open with suspense and she was entirely
oblivious of Ruth Ashby.

Timber had neither the experience nor the machine-like power of Riding
Light. He had to be ridden. It rested as much on Simon's judgement as
on Timber's powers whether they could beat the almost faultless
performance of Peggy Gates's horse. Brat thought that Simon looked very
white about the mouth. There was more in this for Simon than winning a
cup at a small country show. He had to take that prize from the girl
who had tried to be upsides with him by introducing a made winner to
beat his own untried horses.

Timber came in looking puzzled. It was as if he said: "I've _done_
this." His ears pricked at the sight of the jumps and then flickered in
question. There was no eagerness to go at them as there had been when
it was a new experience. But he went good-manneredly down to the first
and cleared it in his effortless fluid fashion. Brat thought that he
could hear the Ashby hearts thumping alongside him. He could certainly
hear his own; it was making a noise like the Bures Silver Band's drum.
Simon was half-way round. Ruth had shut her mouth and her eyes and
looked as if she were praying. She opened her eyes in time to see
Timber clear the gate; a smooth river of black pouring over the white
barrier. "Oh, thank you, God," said Ruth. There was only the wall and
the water left.

As Timber turned at the far end of the ring to come back to the wall a
gust of wind lifted Simon's hat from his head and sent it bowling along
the ground behind him. Brat was of the opinion that Simon was not even
aware of it. Not even Tony Toselli had shown a concentration like
Simon's. For Simon there quite patently existed nothing in this world
but himself, the black horse, and the jumps. No one, _no one_, was
going to come between Simon Ashby and the sun and get away with it.

Everything that Simon knew of riding, everything he had learned since
he first sat on a pony at the age of two, was devoted to getting Timber
safely over the wall. Timber did not like hard bare obstacles.

He had started his canter to the wall when a shrieking white terrier
shot out from the stand in pursuit of the distant hat, streaking across
in front of the advancing Timber like a hard-kicked ball, and yelling
its excitement as only a terrier can.

Timber swerved from this terror and broke into a sweat.

Ruth shut her eyes again and resorted to further prayer. Simon soothed
Timber patiently, cantering him round and making much of him while
someone retrieved the dog and brought it back to its owner. (Who said:
"Poor darling Scottie, he might have been killed!") Patiently, while
the unforgiving seconds ticked on, Simon worked to reassure Timber. He
must know that time was running out, that the dog incident was now
officially over and each additional second's delay piling up against
him.

Brat had marvelled often at Simon's powers of self-control, but he had
never seen a more remarkable sample of it. The temptation to take
Timber to the jump as he was must be enormous. But Simon was taking no
chances with Timber. He was pawning time to gain a little better odds
for Timber.

And then, having apparently calculated his time to the nearest possible
margin, he brought Timber, still sweating but collected, to the wall
again. Just before he came to the fence Timber hesitated a little.

And Simon sat still.

If it had been possible for Brat to like Simon Ashby he would have
liked him at that moment.

The horse, undistracted from the task in front of him, gathered himself
together and catapulted himself over the hated obstacle. And then,
relieved to have it behind him, he raced on delightedly to the water
and rocketed across it like a blackbird.

Simon had done it.

Jane took her hand out of Bee's, and wiped her palms on a screwed-up
ball of handkerchief.

Bee slipped her arm through Brat's and squeezed it.

The great burst of cheering made speech inaudible.

In the quiet that succeeded it Ruth said, as one remembering an awkward
engagement: "Oh, dear! I've pawned my month's allowance."

"To whom?" asked her aunt.

"God," said Ruth.




26


Brat surveyed himself in the small cracked mirror of the Gent's
Temporary Dressing-room and decided that primrose and violet did not
become him any better than they became Simon. It would take Roger
Clint's dark face to do justice to those springtime glories. Roger
Clint would probably look dashing in them. He was in no mood to look
favourably on Roger Clint. Whenever he had caught sight of Eleanor this
afternoon it seemed that she was in the company of Mr. Clint, and what
is more, seemed to be enjoying the company.

Brat tugged the yellow visor a little farther over his eyes. A sick
misery burned in him; a spiritual heartburn.

"What's it got to do with you?" said a voice in him. "You're her
brother: remember?"

"Shut up!"

"Can't have your cake and eat it, you know."

"_Shut up!_"

He walked out of the almost deserted dressing-room and went to find
Chevron. The serious business of the day was over and there was an air
of relaxation. In the shade of the trees competitors who had taken part
in the sober events were now walking ponies and coffeehousing while
they waited for the bending race. Alone for the moment, on a solid dun
pony, was Peggy Gates, her eyes roving over the crowd in search of
someone. She looked tired and discouraged. As Brat came level with her
he paused and said:

"That was very bad luck."

"Oh, hullo, Mr. Ashby! What was?"

"The big drum."

"Oh, that!" she said, and smiled at him. "Oh, that was just one of
those things."

She sounded quite philosophical about it, and yet Brat could have sworn
that when he came up she had tears in her eyes.

"Good luck to the race," she said.

Brat thanked her and was moving away when she said: "Mr. Ashby, have I
done anything to offend Simon, do you know?"

Brat said no, not that he knew.

"Oh. It's just that he seems to be avoiding me lately, and I'm not
aware of having done anything--anything that he wouldn't----"

There were undoubted tears in her eyes now.

"Oh, you _know_," she said, tried a smile, didn't manage it very well,
and moved away with a wave of her hand.

So it had not been a desire to be mistress of Latchetts that had moved
pretty Peggy; it was devotion to Simon. Poor Peggy. Simon would never
forgive her for Riding Light.

Eleanor was waiting under the trees on Buster, but stirrup to stirrup
with her was Roger Clint, who had also found a pony for the bending
race. Roger was pouring out a long story and Eleanor was nodding
sympathetically; Brat gave them a wide berth and betook himself to the
stables. In the stables he found Bee and Gregg. Gregg saw him weighed
out and saddled Chevron, who was nervous and unhappy.

"It's the sound of the crowd that worries her," Gregg said. "Something
she hears and can't understand. If I were you, Mr. Patrick, sir, I'd
take her out and walk her. Take her out and show her the crowds and
she'll be so interested she'll forget her nerves."

So Brat took the dithering chestnut out into the park, and she became
gradually quieter, as Gregg had known she would. Presently Simon found
him and suggested that it was time to be going down to the start.

"Did you remember to sign the book?" he asked.

"Book?" said Brat. "Sign for what?"

"To show that you consent to your horse running."

"I never heard of anyone signing a book. The horse was entered, wasn't
it?"

"Yes, but in previous years they had trouble with gate-crashers. Some
bright sparks who took out horses that didn't belong to them, when
their owners didn't intend to run them. Had a free jaunt on them, and
in at least one case broke the already tired horse down."

"All right. Where is the book?"

"In the weighing-room place. I'll look after Chevron till you come
back. No need to take her into that mêlée."

In the little office, sitting behind the desk, was Colonel Smollett.

"Well, young Ashby, your family has been doing very well to-day, eh?
Three firsts, no less. Are you going to add a fourth? Book? What book?
Oh, the paper. Yes, yes. Here it is."

Brat, signing the single sheet of paper that was presented to him, said
that he had never heard of this procedure.

"Probably not. Never heard of it myself. But it does insure the show
against loss to a certain extent. That fellow whose horse was ridden
unbeknownst to him last year, he sued the Show for damages. Very nearly
got them, too. So your brother suggested this method of insurance."

"My brother? Simon suggested it?"

"Yes. Got a head on him, Simon. Now no one can say that his horse was
pulled out without his permission."

"I see."

He went back and retrieved Chevron from Arthur's custody.

"Mr. Simon said he couldn't wait, Mr. Patrick, but he said to wish you
luck. He's gone back to the stands with the rest of the family to watch
the finish."

"All right, Arthur; thanks."

"Would you like me to come to the start with you, sir?"

"Oh, no, thanks."

"In that case, I'll go and see about getting myself a place to see
from. Good luck, sir. We're betting on you."

And he hurried off through the crowd.

Brat put the reins over Chevron's head and was just about to mount when
he thought that he would take one more look at the girth. He had
already tightened it, but perhaps he had made it too tight.

But someone had loosened the girth.

Brat stood holding up the flap with his hand and stared. Someone had
loosened it since he left the mare with Simon. He put his hand under
the girth and tested its degree of slackness. He reckoned that it would
have got him out of the park into the country and would have lasted
perhaps another two fences. After that, the saddle would have slipped
round on the highly excitable Chevron and she would have gone crazy.

Arthur? No, not Arthur. Simon almost certainly.

He tightened the girth and made for the start. As he arrived he was
overtaken by Roger Clint in white and scarlet on Operation Stockings.

"You're Patrick Ashby, aren't you?" he said. "My name is Roger Clint."
He leaned over and shook hands. "Very nice to have you at Bures again."

"Who won the bending race?" Brat asked.

"I did. By a short head from Nell."

"Nell" indeed!

"She won it last year on Buster, so it is just as well that the thing
should go round. And I wanted a silver cup, anyway."

Brat had no time to ask why he had this longing for a silver cup. They
were lining up, and he was Number Five, and Roger Clint was away on the
outside. There were fourteen runners and a considerable amount of
jostling. There was no gate, of course, the start being by flag.

Brat was in no hurry at the start. He let the others lead him so that
he could gauge the opposition. At least five, he decided, were horses
that had been ridden so much to-day that they were of no consequence
and were merely cluttering up the course and spoiling things for their
betters. Three more he had seen jumped in a junior competition, and had
no belief that they would ever get round the course. That left five
possibles, and of these three were dangerous: a bay charger ridden by
his officer owner; a great raking brown youngster ridden by a young
farmer; and Roger Clint's mount.

They took the hurdles at a tearing pace, and two of the overworked lot,
fighting for position, struck into each other and rolled into a third.
One of the "junior" jumpers came a frightful purler over the first
fence going into the country, and brought down the other two over-tired
animals. Which cleared the field very happily.

Chevron liked seeing her horses in front of her, and was patently
enjoying herself. She loved jumping and was taking her fences with an
off-handed confidence. One could almost hear her humming. She watched
the other two "junior" jumpers fail to get over a blind fence and
flicked her heels in their faces.

The field was thinning out very nicely.

Brat began to move up.

He passed the fifth of the possibles without effort. The fourth was
making a noise like a pipe band but seemed good for a little yet. In
front of him at the farthest point of the course were the soldier on
the bay charger, the farmer on the big young brown horse, and Roger
Clint on the chestnut with the white stockings. Apart from his own
Chevron, Clint's was probably the best quality horse in the race, but
like the soldier was riding like a veteran, and the farmer like someone
who has no respect for his neck.

It was a right-handed course, and the farmer's young horse jumped
consistently to the right, so that no one could with any safety come up
on the inside of him as long as he hugged the turns tightly. And since
no one wanted to go wider than they need at the turns they dallied a
little behind the big brown until they could come into the straight and
pass him without disadvantage. It was going to be a race when they came
back to that last half-mile of park.

Gradually the pipe band that had been so long at his left ear faded
backwards into the distance, and when they came back to the park there
were only four of them in it: the soldier, the farmer, Clint, and
himself. He didn't mind about the other two, but he wanted very much to
beat Roger Clint.

Clint had a look round as they left the country behind, and flashed a
friendly smile to him. After that there was no time for courtesies. The
pace was turned on with the suddenness of a tap, and the four of them
pounded down the green avenue between the fluttering red flags as if
classic honours were waiting for them at the other end. The big young
brown horse began to sprawl; and the charger, though steady as a rock
and apparently tireless, seemed to have no turn of speed to finish
with. Brat decided to keep Chevron's nose level with the chestnut's
quarters and see what transpired. Together they forged ahead of the bay
and the brown. The farmer was using his whip and his horse sprawled
more at every lift of it. The soldier was sitting still on the bay and
evidently hoping that stamina would tell in the end.

Brat had a good look at Stockings and decided that he was tiring
rapidly and that Clint, from the careful way he was riding him, knew
it. There were two hurdles to go. He had no idea how much speed or
stamina Chevron might have left, so he decided that the safest method
was to try to trick Clint out of it. He shook Chevron up and took her
up level with Stockings as if he were making his effort. Clint
increased his speed to match, and together they crossed the last two
obstacles, Brat still by his own choice a little in the rear, and
therefore out of Clint's vision. Then Brat eased the pressure
momentarily, and Clint, taking it for granted that a falling back so
near the post argued failing stamina, was glad that he would not have
to ask his mount for the last ounce and relaxed a little. Brat gathered
Chevron together with all his strength and came like a rocket from
behind him. Clint looked, startled, and set Stockings alight again, but
it was too late. They were far too near the post for that, as Brat had
reckoned. He had stolen the race.

"Of all the 'old soldier' tricks to fall for!" laughed Clint, as they
walked their horses together to the weighing-room. "I ought to have my
head examined."

And Brat felt that whether Eleanor was going to marry him or not he
really did like Roger Clint quite a lot.




27


Brat had expected that Simon's success would have shored up his
disintegrating spiritual structure and that the cracks would have
disappeared. But it seemed that the very opposite had happened. The
strain of the afternoon followed by the triumph of having beaten a
performer like Riding Light had eaten away a little more of the
foundation and shaken his equilibrium still further.

"I've never seen Simon so cock-a-hoop," Eleanor said, watching Simon
over Brat's shoulder as they danced together that night. She said it as
one making an apology. "He is usually so off-hand about his triumphs."

Brat said that it was probably the champagne, and turned her away from
her view of Simon.

He had looked forward all day to dancing with Eleanor, but it was with
Bee that he had danced first. Just as he had given up his first chance
of a ride with Eleanor to walk on Tanbitches with the ghost of Pat
Ashby, so when faced with the moment of his first dance with Eleanor he
had found something else that he wanted more. He had crossed the room
to Bee and said: "Will you dance with me?" They had danced together in
a happy quiet, her only remark being: "Who taught you to cheat someone
out of a race like that?"

"I didn't have to be taught. It's original sin."

She laughed a little and patted him with the hand that was lying on his
shoulder. She was a lovely woman, Bee Ashby, and he loved her. The only
other person he had ever loved was a horse called Smoky.

"I haven't seen much of you this afternoon since that awful exhibition
of Tony's," Eleanor said.

Brat said that he had wanted to talk to her before the race but that
she was in deep conversation with Roger Clint.

"Oh, yes. I remember. His uncle wants him to give up the farm and go
and live in Ulster. His uncle is Tim Connell, you know, who has the
Kilbarty stud. Tim wants to retire, and would lease the place to Roger,
but Roger doesn't want to leave England."

Understandably, Brat thought. England and Eleanor together was heaven
enough. "I don't see him here to-night?"

"No, he didn't stay for the dance. He just came to get a silver cup to
take home to his wife."

"His _wife_!"

"Yes, she had their first baby last week, and she sent him to the show
to get a christening mug for it. What is the matter?" she asked.

"Remind me sometime to break Ruth's neck," he said, beginning to dance
again.

She looked amused and said: "Has Ruth been romancing?"

"She said he wanted to marry you."

"Oh, well, he did have an idea like that but it's a long time ago. And
of course he wasn't married last year, so Ruth probably didn't know
about it. Are you going to be all patriarchal and supervise my marriage
plans?"

"Have you any?"

"None at all."

As the night wore on and he danced more and more with Eleanor, she
said: "You really must dance with someone else, Brat."

"I have."

"Only with Peggy Gates."

"So you've been keeping track of me. Am I keeping you from dancing with
someone you want to dance with?"

"No. I love dancing with you."

"All right, then."

This was perhaps the first and the last night he would ever dance with
Eleanor. A little before midnight they went up together to the buffet,
filled their plates, and took them to one of the little tables in the
balcony. The buffet was part of the actual hotel building, and the
balcony, a piece of Regency ironwork, looked down on the little garden
at the side of the hotel. Chinese lanterns hung in the garden and above
the tables in the balcony.

"I'm too happy to eat," Eleanor said, and drank her champagne in a
dreamy silence. "You look very nice in your evening things, Brat."

"Thank you."

"Do you like my frock?"

"It's the most beautiful frock I ever saw."

"I did hope you would like it."

"Have you had supper already to-night?"

"No. Only some drinks and a sandwich."

"Better eat, then."

She ate in an uninterested fashion that was new in Eleanor.

"It has been an Ashby occasion, hasn't it, the Seventy-fourth Annual
Show of the Bures Agricultural.... Stay still for a moment, you have a
gnat crawling down your collar."

She leant over and struck the back of his neck lightly. "Oh, it's going
down!" In a rough sisterly fashion she bent his head aside with one
hand while she retrieved the insect with the other.

"Got it?" he said.

But she was silent, and he looked up at her.

"You're _not_ my brother!" she said. "I couldn't feel the way I----"
She stopped, horrified.

In the silence the beat of the distant drums came up from the assembly
room.

"Oh, Brat, I'm sorry! I didn't mean that! I think I must have drunk too
much." She began to sob. "Oh, Brat, I'm sorry!" She gathered up her bag
from the table and stumbled from the dim balcony into the buffet room.
"I'll go and lie down and get sober."

Brat let her go and sought counsel in the bar. There was some sort of
stunt in the assembly room at midnight, and the bar was deserted except
for Simon, all by himself with a bottle of champagne at a table in the
far corner.

"Ah! My big brother," said Simon. "Are you not interested in the
lottery drawing? Have a drink."

"Thanks. I'll buy my own."

He bought a drink at the bar and carried it down the long room to
Simon's table.

"I suppose lottery odds are too long for you," Simon said. "You want
the table rigged before you bet."

Brat ignored that. "I haven't had a chance of congratulating you on
your win with Timber."

"I don't need praise from you."

Simon was certainly drunk.

"That was very rude of me, wasn't it?" he said like a pleased child.
"But I enjoy being rude. I'm behaving very badly to-night, aren't I? I
seem to be slipping. Have a drink."

"I've got one."

"You don't like me, do you?" He looked pleased by Brat's dislike.

"Not much."

"Why not?"

"I suppose because you are the only one who doesn't believe that I am
Patrick."

"You mean, don't you, that I'm the only one who _knows_ you're not?"

There was a long silence while Brat searched the shining eyes with
their odd dark rim.

"You killed him," he said, suddenly sure of it.

"Of course I did." He leaned forward and looked delightedly at Brat.
"But you'll never be able to say so, will you? Because of course
Patrick isn't dead at all. He's alive, and I'm talking to him."

"How did you do it?"

"You'd like to know, wouldn't you? Well, I'll tell you. It's very
simple." He leaned still closer and said in a mock-confidential
undertone: "You see, I'm a witch. I can be in two places at once."

He sat back and enjoyed Brat's discomfiture.

"You must think that I'm a lot drunker than I am, my friend," he said.
"I've told you about Patrick, because you are my posthumous accomplice.
A wonderful epithet, that, and I managed it very well. But if you think
that I am going to make you free of the details, you are mistaken."

"Then, why did you do it?"

"He was a very stupid little boy," he said in his airy "Simon" tone,
"and not worthy of Latchetts." Then he added, without façade: "I hated
him, if you want to know."

He poured himself another glass of the Ayala, and drank it. He laughed
under his breath, and said: "It's a wonderful spiritual twinship, isn't
it? I can't tell about you and you can't tell about me!"

"You have the advantage of me, though."

"I have? How?"

"You have no scruples."

"Yes; I suppose it is an advantage."

"I have to put up with you, but you have no intention of putting up
with me, have you? You did your best to kill me this afternoon."

"Not my best."

"You'll improve on it, I take it?"

"I'll improve."

"I expect you will. A person who can be in two places at once can do
better than a loosened girth."

"Oh, much better. But one has to accept the means to hand."

"I see."

"I suppose you wouldn't like, in return for my confidences, to tell
_me_ something?"

"Tell you what?"

"Who you are?"

Brat sat looking at him for a long time.

"Don't you recognise me?" he said.

"No. Who are you?"

"Retribution," said Brat, and finished his drink.

He walked out of the bar and hung for a little over the banisters until
his inside settled down and his breath came more easily. He tried to
think of some place where he could be alone to think this thing out.
There was nowhere in the hotel; even in his bedroom Simon might join
him at any moment; he would have to go out.

He went to get his coat from Number 17, and on the way back again he
met Bee.

"Has everyone gone crazy?" Bee said angrily. "Eleanor is upstairs
crying, Simon is getting drunk in the bar, and now you look as if you
had seen a ghost. What is the matter with everyone? Have you had a
quarrel?"

"A quarrel? No. Eleanor and Simon have had a wearing day, I expect."

"And what makes _you_ so white about the gills?"

"Ballroom air. I'm from the wide open spaces: remember?"

"I've always understood that the wide open spaces were just seething
with dance halls."

"Do you mind if I take the car, Bee?"

"Take it where?"

"I want to see the sun rise over Kenley Vale."

"Alone?"

"Definitely alone."

"Put on your coat," she said. "It's cold out."

At the top of the rise looking over Kenley Vale he stopped the car and
shut off the engine. It was still dark and would be dark for some time
yet. He got out and stood on the grass verge, leaning against the
bonnet, and listened to the silence. The earth and grass smelt strong
in the cool damp after the sun of yesterday. The air was motionless.
Far away across the Vale a train whistled.

He had a cigarette, and his stomach felt better. But the turmoil had
merely moved up. The turmoil was now in his head.

He had been right about Simon. He had been right in seeing the
resemblance to Timber: the well-bred creature with the beautiful
manners who was also a rogue. Simon had told the truth, back there in
the bar. He had been glad to tell him the truth. They said all killers
wanted to boast about their killings; Simon must have longed often to
tell someone how clever he had been. But he could never tell until now;
when he had a "safe" listener.

He, Brat Farrar, was the "safe" listener.

He, Brat Farrar, owned Latchetts, and Simon took it for granted that he
would keep what he had taken. That he would keep it as Simon's
accessory.

But that, of course, was not possible. The unholy alliance with Loding
was one thing; but the alliance that Simon took so mockingly for
granted was not possible. It was monstrous. Unthinkable.

And that being that, what was he going to do about it?

Go to the police and say: Look, I'm not Patrick Ashby at all. Patrick
Ashby was killed by his brother eight years ago. I know, because he
told me so when he was a little drunk.

And then they would point out that in the course of their investigation
into the death of Patrick Ashby it was proved that Simon Ashby had
spent the relevant hours in the smith's company in Clare.

He could tell them the truth about himself, but nothing would be
changed except his own life. Patrick Ashby would remain a suicide.

How had Simon done it?

"One has to accept the means at hand," he had said, about his
slackening of the girth.

What "means at hand" had there been that day eight years ago?

The slackening of the girth had been a combination of planning and
improvisation. The "signing the book" suggestion had been a long shot.
If it worked successfully to get him out of the way, then Simon was
free to complete the rest of his plan. If it did not work, then no harm
was done. The set-up was innocent to the observer's eye.

That was the way Simon's mind had worked about the girth, and that was
the way it had worked eight years ago, undoubtedly. The set-up that was
innocent and unquestionable. The using of the means at hand.

How, eight years ago, had Simon used an innocent set of circumstances
to provide him with the chance he wanted?

Brat's mind was still toiling round and round the problem when the
first sigh of the stirring air told him that the dawn was coming.
Presently the wind came again, lifting the leaves this time and
ruffling the grass, and the east was grey. He watched the light come.
The first bird notes dropped into the quiet.

He had been there for hours and he was no nearer a solution of the
problem that faced him.

A policeman came along at leisure, pushing a bicycle, and paused to ask
if he were in trouble. Brat said that he was getting some fresh air
after a dance.

The policeman looked at his starched linen and accepted his explanation
without remark. He looked at the interior of the car and said: "First
time I ever saw a young gentleman getting fresh air alone after a
dance. You haven't made away with her, by any chance, have you, sir?"

Brat wondered what he would say if he said: "No, but I'm accessory
after the fact to another murder."

"She turned me down," he said.

"Ah. I see. Nursing your grief. Take it from me, sir, a week from now
you'll be so thankful you'll feel like dancing in the street."

And he pushed his bicycle away along the ridge.

Brat began to shiver.

He got into the car and headed after the policeman. Where could he get
something hot, he asked?

There was an all-night café at the main crossroads two miles ahead, the
policeman said.

At the café, warm and bright and mundane after the grey spaces of the
dawn, he drank scalding coffee. A buxom woman was frying sausages for
two lorry-drivers, and a third was trying his luck at a
penny-in-the-slot game in the corner. They glanced incuriously at his
dance clothes, but beyond exchanging greetings with him they left him
alone.

He came back to Bures at breakfast time, and put the car in the garage.
The Chequers vestibule had a littered look; it was still only half-past
seven, and show people notoriously made a night of it. He went up to
Number 17 and found Simon fast asleep, with all his clothes in one
single heap on the floor just as he had peeled them off. He changed
into his day clothes, quietly at first and then less carefully as he
realised that only long shaking would awaken Simon in his present
condition. He looked down at Simon and marvelled. He slept quietly,
like a child. Had he grown so used to the thing after eight years that
it no longer troubled him, or was it that it never had been a monstrous
thing in his estimation?

It was a charming face, except perhaps for the pettish mouth. A
delightful face; delicately made and proportioned. There was no more
suggestion of wrong-doing about it than there was in the beauty that
was Timber.

He went downstairs and washed, wishing that he had thought in time of
having a bath. He had been too obsessed by the desire to change clothes
without having to talk to Simon.

When he came into the dining-room he found Bee and the twins having
breakfast, and joined them.

"Nell and Simon are still asleep," Bee said. "You'd better come back
with me and the twins in the car, and let Eleanor take Simon when they
waken."

"What about Tony?"

"Oh, he went back yesterday with Mrs. Stack."

It was a relief to know that he could go back to Latchetts with Bee in
peace.

The twins began to talk about Tony's exploit, which was patently going
to be part of Latchetts history, and he did not have to make
conversation. Bee asked if the dawn had come up to expectation, and
remarked that he was looking the better of it.

Through the green early-morning countryside they drove home to Clare,
and Brat caught himself looking at it with the emotions of someone who
has only a short time to live. He looked at things with a
that-will-still-be-there attitude.

He would never come to Bures. He might never even drive with Bee again.

Whatever else Simon's confession meant, it meant the end of his life at
Latchetts.




28


It was Thursday morning and on Sunday Charles Ashby would come sailing
up Southampton Water, and nothing would stop the subsequent
celebrations. He followed Bee into the hall at Latchetts feeling
desperate.

"Do you mind if I desert you and go into Westover?" he asked Bee.

"No, I think you are due a little rest from the family. Simon is for
ever running away."

So he took the bus into Westover and waited until it was time for Mr.
Macallan to be having his mid-morning coffee. He went, to the _Westover
Times_ office and asked to see the files. The office boy, who showed no
sign of ever having seen him before, took him to the cellar and showed
him where they were. Brat read the report of the inquest all over
again, but could find no help there.

Perhaps in the full report there would be something?

He went out and looked up Colonel Smollett in the telephone book.
Where, he asked the Colonel, would the report of the inquest on himself
be now? With the police? Well, would he make it easy for him to see it?

The Colonel would, but he considered it a most morbid and undesirable
ambition, and implored young Ashby to think again.

So armed with the Colonel's telephoned introduction, he went to see a
highly amused police force, who sat him down in a leather armchair and
offered him cigarettes, and set before him the coroner's report of
eight years ago with the empressment of a conjurer who has produced the
rabbit from the hat.

He read it all through several times. It was merely the _Westover
Times'_ report in greater detail.

He thanked the police, offered them cigarettes in his turn, and went
away as empty of suggestion as he had come. He went down to the harbour
and hung over the wall, staring westward at the cliffs.

He had a fixed point, anyhow. A fixed point that could not be altered.
Simon Ashby was in Clare that day. That was held to by a man who had no
reason for lying, and no suspicion that the fact was of any importance.
Simon had never been long enough away from Mr. Pilbeam's vicinity to
make his absence felt.

Pat Ashby must have been killed between the time that old Abel met him
in the early afternoon and the moment when Mr. Pilbeam had to chase
Simon home for six o'clock supper.

Well, there was that old saying about Mahomet and the mountain.

He thought the Mahomet theory over, but was stumped by the coat on the
cliff-top. It was Simon who had written that note, but Simon was never
out of Clare.

It was two o'clock when he came to himself, and he went to have lunch
at a small pub in the harbour. They had nothing much left, but it did
not matter because he sat staring at his plate until they put the bill
in front of him.

He went back to Latchetts and without going to the house went to the
stables and took out one of the horses that had not been at Bures.
There was no one about but Arthur, who reported that all the horses
were safely back and all well except that Buster had an overreach.

"Taking him out like that, sir?" Arthur asked, nodding at Brat's tweed
suit. And Brat said that he was.

He turned up to the down as he had that first morning when he took out
Timber, and did again what he had done on Timber's back. But all the
glory was gone. The whole world looked sick. Life itself tasted bad.

He dismounted and sat down where he had sat that morning a month ago,
looking out over the small green valley. It had seemed paradise to him
then. Even that silly girl who had come and talked to him had not
sufficed to spoil it for him. He remembered how her eyes had popped
when she found he was not Simon. She had come there sure of seeing
Simon because it was his favourite place for exercising the horses.
Because he....

The horse by his side threw up his head as Brat's sudden movement
jerked the bit in his mouth.

Because he...?

He listened to the girl's voice in his mind. Then he got slowly to his
feet and stood a long time staring across the valley.

He knew now how Simon had done it. And he also knew the answer to
something that had puzzled him. He knew why Simon had been afraid that,
by some miracle, it was the real Patrick who had come back.

He got on the horse and went back to the stables. The great clouds were
racing up from the south-west and it was beginning to rain. In the
saddle room he took a sheet of writing paper from the desk and wrote on
it: "Out for dinner. Leave the front door on the latch for me, and
don't worry if I am late." He put it in an envelope, addressed it to
Bee, and asked Arthur to hand it in at the house when he was passing.
He took his burberry from the back of the saddle-room door, and went
out into the rain, away from Latchetts. He had the knowledge now. What
was he going to do with it?

He walked without conscious purpose, unaware of anything but the
dreadful question to be answered. He came to the smithy where Mr.
Pilbeam was still working, and greeted him, and exchanged opinions on
the work in hand and on the weather to come, without having for a
moment ceased to battle with the thing in his mind.

He walked up the path to Tanbitches and up the hill over the wet grass
to the crown of beeches, and walked there to and fro among the great
boles of the trees, distracted and stricken.

How could he bring this thing on Bee?

On Eleanor? On Latchetts?

Had he not already done Latchetts sufficient harm?

Would it matter so much if Simon were left in possession as he had been
for eight years?

Who had been harmed by that? Only one person: Patrick.

If Simon was to be brought to justice for Patrick's death, it would
mean horror beyond horror for Bee and the rest.

He didn't have to do it at all. He could go away; stage a suicide.
After all, Simon had staged Patrick's suicide, and it had passed a
police investigation. If a boy of thirteen could do that he could do
it. He could just drop out, and things would be as they were a month
ago.

And--Pat Ashby?

But Pat, if he could choose, would not want justice on Simon at the
cost of his family's ruin. Not Pat, who had been kind and always
thought first of others.

And Simon?

Was he to make good Simon's monstrous supposition that he would do
nothing? Was Simon to spend a long life as the owner of Latchetts? Were
Simon's children to inherit Latchetts?

But they would still be Ashbys. If Simon were brought to justice there
would be no more Ashbys at Latchetts.

And how would it advantage Latchetts to have its inheritance made safe
by the condoning of murder?

Was it not, perhaps, to uncover that murder that he had come by such
strange ways to Latchetts?

He had come half across a world to that meeting with Loding in the
street, and he had said to himself that so strange a chance must be
destiny. But he had not imagined it to be an important destiny. Now, it
would seem, it was an all-important one.

What was he to do? Who could advise him? Decide for him? It was not
fair that this should be put on his shoulders. He had not the wisdom,
the experience, to deal with a thing of this magnitude.

"I am retribution," he had said to Simon, and meant it. But that was
before he had the weapon of retribution in his hand.

What was he to do?

Go to the police to-night? To-morrow?

Do nothing, and let the celebrations begin when Charles Ashby came
home?

What was he to do?

It was late that night that George Peck, sitting in his study and
conscious every now and then even from his distant vantage point in
Thebes of the lashing rain on the window of the Rectory in Clare, heard
a tapping at that window, and came back from Thebes and went to the
front door. It was by no means the first time that people had tapped on
that window late at night.

In the light from the hall he saw one of the Ashbys, he could not tell
which because the soaked hat almost obscured the face.

"Rector, may I come in and talk to you?"

"Of course, Patrick. Come in."

Brat stood on the step, the rain sluicing from his coat.

"I'm afraid I'm very wet," he said vaguely.

The Rector looked down and saw that the grey tweed of his trousers was
black, and his shoes an oozing pulp. His eyes went sharply to the boy's
face. Brat had taken off his limp hat and the rain-water from his
soaked hair was running down his face.

"Take off your coat and leave it here," the Rector said. "I'll give you
another one when you are ready to go." He went to the hall cloakroom
and came back with a towel. "Rub your head with that."

Brat did as he was told, with the obedient air and fumbling movements
of a child. The Rector went through to the empty kitchen and brought a
kettle of water.

"Come in," he said. "Just drop the towel where your wet coat is." He
led the way into his study and put the kettle on an electric ring.
"That will be hot in no time. I often make tea for myself when I sit up
late. What was it you wanted to talk to me about?"

"A pit in Dothan."

"What?"

"I'm sorry. My mind has stopped working. Have you a drink of any kind?"

The Rector had meant to put the whisky in the tea, as a toddy, but he
poured a stiff one now and Brat drank it.

"Thank you. I am sorry to come and worry you like this, but I had to
talk to you. I hope you don't mind."

"I am here to be talked to. Some more whisky?"

"No, thanks."

"Then let me give you some dry shoes."

"Oh, no, thank you. I'm used to being wet, you know. Rector, I want
your advice about something very important, but can I talk to you as
if--as if it were confessional? I mean, without your feeling that you
must do something about it."

"Whatever you say I shall treat as confession, certainly."

"Well, first I have to tell you something. I am not Patrick Ashby."

"No," agreed the Rector. And Brat stared.

"You mean--you mean, you _knew_ I wasn't Patrick?"

"I rather thought that you weren't."

"Why?"

"There is more to any person than a physical presence; there is an
aura, a personality, a being. And I was almost sure the first time I
met you that I had never met you before. There was nothing in you that
I recognised, although you have many things in common with Patrick as
well as your appearance."

"And you did nothing about it!"

"What do you suggest that I should have done? Your lawyer, your family,
and your friends had all accepted and welcomed you. I had no evidence
to show that you were not Patrick. Nothing but my own belief that you
weren't. What good would it have done to express my disbelief? It did
not seem to me that it would be long before the situation resolved
itself without my interference."

"You mean: that I should be found out."

"No. I mean that you did not seem to me someone who would be happy in
the life you had chosen. Judging by your visit to-night, I was right."

"But I didn't come here to-night just to confess to not being Patrick."

"No?"

"No, that is only--I had to tell you that because it was the only way
you could understand what has--I wish my mind was clearer. I've been
walking about trying to get things straight."

"Perhaps if you told me first how you came to Latchetts at all, it
would at least clear _my_ mind."

"I--I met someone in America who had lived in Clare. They--she thought
I looked like an Ashby, and suggested that I should pretend to be
Patrick."

"And you were to pay her a share of the proceeds of the deception."

"Yes."

"I can only say that she earned her percentage whatever it was. As a
tutor she must be remarkable. I have never seen a better piece of
coaching. Are you American, then?"

"No," said Brat, and the Rector smiled faintly at the emphasis. "I was
brought up in an orphanage. I was left on its doorstep."

And he sketched for the Rector the story of his life.

"I have heard of your orphanage," the Rector said, when he had
finished. "It explains one thing that puzzled me: your good
upbringing." He poured tea, and added whisky. "Would you like something
more substantial than biscuits, by the way? No? Then have the oatmeal
ones; they are very filling."

"I had to tell you all this because of something I found out. Patrick
didn't commit suicide. He was murdered."

The Rector set down the cup he was holding. For the first time he
looked startled.

"Murdered? By whom?"

"His brother."

"_Simon?_"

"Yes."

"But, Patrick! That---- What is your name, by the way?"

"You forget. I haven't got one. I've always been called Brat. It was a
corruption of Bartholomew."

"But my dear fellow, that is absurd. What evidence have you of anything
so incredible?"

"I have Simon's word for it."

"_Simon_ told you?"

"He boasted about it. He said that I could never do anything about it
because it would mean giving myself away. He knew as soon as he saw me
that I wasn't Patrick, you see."

"When did this extraordinary conversation take place?"

"Last night, at the Bures ball. It wasn't as sudden as it sounds. I
began to wonder about Simon long before that, and I challenged him
about it because of something he said about knowing I wasn't Patrick,
and he laughed and boasted about it."

"I think that the setting of this scene does a lot to explain it."

"You mean you think we were drunk?"

"Not exactly. Elated, shall we say. And you challenged Simon on the
subject, and Simon with his perverted sense of mischief provided you
with what you expected from him."

"Do you really believe I have as little intelligence as that?" Brat
asked quietly.

"It surprises me, I must admit. I have always considered you to be
highly intelligent."

"Then believe me, I am not here because of a piece of fooling on
Simon's part. Patrick didn't commit suicide. Simon killed him.
Deliberately. And what is more, I know how he did it."

And he told him.

"But Brat, you have no evidence even now. That is theory, what you have
just told me. An ingenious and likely theory, I admit. It has the merit
of simplicity. But you have no evidence whatsoever."

"We can get the evidence, if the police once know the truth. But that
isn't what I want to know. What I want advice about is--well, whether
to let sleeping dogs lie."

And he explained his dilemma.

But the Rector, rather surprisingly in view of his silence about his
doubts of Brat's identity, had no doubts on the subject at all. If
murder had been done, then the law must be invoked. Anything else was
anarchy.

His point was that Brat had no case against Simon. His mind had run on
murder, he had taunted Simon with it, Simon had one of his well-known
impish moments and confessed, and Brat after long thought had found a
theory to fit the alleged confession.

"And you think that I've been walking about in the rain since four
o'clock because of a little joke of Simon's? You think that I came here
to-night and confessed to not being Patrick because of a little joke of
Simon's?" The Rector was silent. "Tell me, Rector, were you surprised
when Pat committed suicide?"

"Exceedingly."

"Do you know anyone who wasn't surprised?"

"No. But suicide is a surprising thing."

"I give up," Brat said.

In the contemplative silence that followed, the Rector said: "I see
what you meant by the pit in Dothan. That was an excellent upbringing
at the orphanage."

"It was a very thoroughly Biblical one, if that is what you mean. Simon
knows that story, too, by the way."

"I expect so, but how do you happen to know?"

"When he heard that Patrick had come back he couldn't help, in spite of
his denials, a fear that it might be true. There had been that other
case, you see. That time the victim had survived by a miracle. He was
afraid that by some miracle Patrick had survived. I know, because he
came into that room, the first day I was there, strung up to face
something dreadful. And his relief when he saw me was almost funny."

He drank down the rest of his tea and looked quizzically at the Rector.
In spite of himself he was beginning to feel better.

"Another of Simon's little jokes was to send me out that first day on
Timber, without telling me he was a rogue. But I suppose that was just
his 'perverted sense of mischief.' And still another of his little
jokes was to loosen my girth yesterday before I started a race on
Chevron. But I suppose that was just one of his 'well-known impish
moments'."

The Rector's deep eyes considered Brat.

"I am not defending Simon--he has never been an admirable
character--but tricks played on an interloper, a pretender--even
dangerous tricks, are one thing, and the murder of a well-loved brother
is quite another. Why, by the way, did Simon not denounce you at once
if he did not believe you were his brother?"

"For the same reason that you didn't."

"I see. He would merely be held to be--difficult."

"And of course, having got rid of one Patrick with impunity, he looked
forward with confidence to getting rid of another."

"Brat, I wish I could convince you that this is a figment of your
imagination."

"You must have a great respect for my imaginative powers."

"If you look back, critically and honestly, you must see how the thing
grew in your mind from quite small beginnings. An edifice of your own
making."

And that, when Brat took his leave towards two o'clock in the morning,
was still the Rector's opinion.

He offered Brat a bed, but Brat compromised on the loan of a waterproof
and a torch, and found his way back to Latchetts by the soaking
field-path with the rain still pouring hopelessly down.

"Come and see me again before you decide anything," the Rector had
said; but he had at least been helpful in one direction. He had
answered Brat's main question. If it was a choice between love and
justice, the choice had to be justice.

He found the front door of Latchetts unlocked, a note from Bee on the
hall table, saying: "Soup on the ring in the pantry," and a silver cup
on an ebony stand bearing a card in Eleanor's writing which said: "You
forgot this, you blasé rodeo hound!"

He put out the lights and crept up through the silent house to his bed
in the old night nursery. Someone had put a hot-water bottle in his
bed. He was asleep almost before his head touched the pillow.




29


On Friday morning Simon came bright and cheerful to breakfast and
greeted Brat with pleasure. He commented on the process of the "trunk"
murder investigations, the character of Tattie Thacker (whose value had
been estimated by the court at one half-penny) and the iniquity of
poisoning as a means of ridding oneself of a human encumbrance. Except
for an occasional gleam in his eye he showed no awareness of their
changed relationship. He was taking their "spiritual twinship" for
granted.

Eleanor too seemed to be back on the old footing, although she seemed
shy, like someone who has made a social gaffe. She suggested that in
the afternoon they should take the four silver cups into Westover and
give instructions for their engraving.

"It will be nice to have 'Patrick Ashby' on a cup again," she said.

"Yes, won't it!" Simon said.

Simon evidently looked forward to years of baiting his spiritual twin.
But when Brat said, in answer to Bee, that he had talked late with the
Rector, Simon's head came up as if he had heard a warning. And after
that Brat caught Simon's glance at him every now and then.

When Eleanor and Brat were setting off for Westover in the afternoon,
he appeared and insisted on making a third in the bug's scanty space.
One of the cups was his own unaided work, he said, and he had a right
to say what was to go on it, and whether it should be in Roman, Arabic,
Hebrew, Greek or Cyrillic script, or mere shorthand.

So powerful was Simon's indifferent charm that even Brat found himself
on the verge of wondering whether the Rector had been right and he had
built his story out of whole cloth. But he remembered the horse that
Farmer Gates had bought for his daughter Peggy, and concluded that that
was a more reliable guide to Simon than anything Simon himself might
provide.

When they had decided on the lettering for the names on the cups, Simon
and Eleanor went to tea, but Brat said that he had some shopping to do.
Brat had decided what he had to do in the present impasse. He could not
go to the police with his story in its present form with any more hope
of being believed than he had been by the Rector. If the Rector, who
knew Simon's weaknesses, refused to believe without concrete evidence,
how much more would the police refuse to believe, when Simon to them
was not a wayward boy but Mr. Ashby of Latchetts?

Brat therefore proposed to provide them with the evidence.

He went down to the harbour and sought a chandler's, and there, after
some consultation and a deal of choosing, bought two hundred feet of
rope. The rope was so thin that it was not much thicker than stout
string, but its breaking-point under tension was very much that of
steel. He asked them to pack it in a cardboard box and deliver it to
the Angel garage, where the bug was. He received it at the garage and
packed it away in the luggage compartment.

When the others arrived to go home he was waiting innocently in the car
with an evening paper.

They had packed themselves into the bug and were preparing to go when
Simon said: "Whoa! We've forgotten to leave that old tire with them,"
and he got out and opened the rear compartment to get the tire.

"What is in the box, Nell?"

"I didn't put any box there," Eleanor said, not moving. "It can't be
for us."

"It's mine," Brat said.

"What is it?"

"Secret."

"James Fryer and Son, Ship Chandlers," said Simon's voice.

Oh, God! There was a label on the box that he had not noticed.

Simon shut the luggage compartment with a bang and came back to his
seat. "What have you been buying, Brat? One of those ships in a bottle?
No, it is a little too large for that. One of those ships not in a
bottle. One of those full-sailed galleons that sit on suburban
sideboards to delight the heart of our Island Race and comfort it for
being sick on the trip to Margate."

"Don't be a fool, Simon. What is it, Brat? Is it really a secret?"

If Simon wanted to find out what was in the box he most certainly
would, by one method or another. And to make a mystery of it was to
call attention to it. Far better to be apparently frank about it.

"If you must know, I'm afraid I'll lose the knack of spinning a rope,
so I've bought some to practise on."

Eleanor was delighted. Brat must show them some spinning that very
evening.

"No. Not till I've tried it out in camera first."

"You'll teach me how, won't you?"

Yes, he would teach her how to throw a rope. She was going to hate him
one day soon, if that rope did what it was bought for.

When they arrived back at Latchetts he took the rope out and left it
openly in the hall. Bee asked about it, and accepted the explanation of
its presence, and no one took any more notice of it. He wished that his
last short time at Latchetts did not have to be spent in lying. It was
odd that, having spent his whole time at Latchetts lying like a
Levantine, he should mind so much about this smaller deception.

There was still time to do nothing about it. To leave the rope there,
and not ask it to answer any question. It was the wrong kind of rope
for throwing, but he could change it for the right kind.

But when night came, and he was alone in his room, he knew that he had
no choice. This was what he had come half across a world to do, and he
was going to do it.

The household went early to bed, still tired from their excitements at
Bures, and he gave them till half-past twelve, and then prospected.
There seemed to be no light anywhere. There was certainly no sound. He
went downstairs and took the rope from its corner. He unlatched the
dining-room window, stepped over the sill into the night, and drew it
gently down again behind him. He waited for any reaction, but there was
none.

He made his way softly over the gravel to the grass, sat down in the
shelter of the first paddock trees, out of the range of the windows,
and without need of any light, deftly knotted footholds at intervals
down the length of rope. It was a pleasant reassuring thing to feel the
familiar touch of rope after so long. It was a well-bred rope and
answered sweetly to his demands. He felt grateful to James Fryer and
Son.

He wound the rope and put the coil of it over his shoulder. In half an
hour the moon would be up. It was a young moon, and not much of a lamp,
but he had two good torches in his pocket and he did not very much
desire a full moon's frankness to-night.

Every five minutes he stopped and waited to see if he had been
followed. But nothing at all moved in the night. Not even a cat.

The grey light of the coming moon greeted him as he came towards the
foot of Tanbitches, and he found the path to Westover without having to
flick a torch. He followed it up a little and then, when he could see
the beech-crown of the hill against the sky, he struck off it until he
reached the thicket on the upper side of the old quarry. There he sat
down and waited. But again there was no sound in all the sleeping
countryside except the sudden cry of a sheep on the hill. He tied the
rope round the bole of the largest of the young beeches that had seeded
themselves there, and let it uncoil itself until it fell over the edge
of the quarry into the green thickness below. This was the steep side
of the quarry. The lower side had had a narrow entrance, but it had
long ago fallen together and become overgrown with an impenetrable
denseness of briars. Old Abel had told him all about it the day they
had sat there and talked of Patrick. Abel knew all about the quarry
because he had once rescued a sheep from it. It was much easier to go
down the sheer face, Abel said, than in at the lower side. In fact, to
go in at the lower side, or any other side, was plumb impossible. No,
there was no water in it; at least there wasn't any twenty years ago,
which was when last he went down after a sheep; the water all drained
away under the hill to the sea.

Brat tested the rope several times, and felt for it fraying. But the
bole of the tree was smooth, and where it went over the lip of the
quarry he had padded it. He slid over the edge and felt for his first
toe-hold. Now that he was level with the ground he was more aware of
the brightness of the sky. He could see the dark shape of the low
thicket against it, and the larger darkness of the tree above him.

He had found his first foothold in the rope now, but his hands were
still on the rope where it lay taut on the turf.

"I should hate," said Simon's voice in its most "Simon" drawl, "to let
you go without an appropriate farewell. I mean, I could just cut the
rope and let you think, if you had time to think at all, that it had
broken. But that wouldn't be any fun, would it?"

Brat could see his bulk against the sky. From the shape of it, he was
half-kneeling on the edge, by the rope. Brat could touch him by putting
out a hand.

Fool that he had been to underrate Simon. Simon had taken no chances.
He hadn't even taken the chance of following him. He had come first and
waited.

"Cutting the rope won't do much good," he said. "I'll only land in the
branches of some tree farther down, and yell my head off until someone
comes."

"I know better than that. A personal acquaintance of mine, this quarry
is. Almost a relation, one might say." He expelled his breath in a
whispered laugh. "A sheer drop to the ground, half a hillside away."

Brat wondered if he had time to slide down the rope in one swift rush
before Simon cut it. The footholds had been for coming up again. He
could just ignore them and slide. Would he be near enough the bottom
before Simon realised what he had done?

Or would it be better----? Yes. His hand tightened on the rope and he
pressed on his toe-hold and lifted himself until he had almost got one
knee on the turf again. But Simon must have his hand on the rope
somewhere. He had felt the movement.

"Oh, no, you don't!" he said, and brought his heel down on Brat's hand.
Brat grabbed the foot with his other hand and hung on, his fingers in
the opening of the shoe. Simon brought his knife down on Brat's wrist
and Brat yelled, but continued to hang on. He dragged his right hand
from under Simon's shoe and caught him round the back of the ankle. He
was covering with his body the rope in front of Simon and as long as he
held on Simon could not turn to cut the rope behind him. It is very
upsetting to have one's foot grasped from below when one is standing on
the very edge of a precipice.

"Let go!" said Simon, stabbing frantically.

"If you don't stop that," panted Brat, "I'll drag you over with me."

"Let go! Let go!" Simon said, hitting wildly in blind panic and not
listening.

Brat removed the hand that was holding on to the edge of the shoe and
caught the knife-hand as it came down. He now had his right hand round
Simon's left ankle, and his left hand was clutching Simon's right
wrist.

Simon screamed and pulled away, but Brat hung his weight on the wrist.
He had the confidence of a toe-hold, but Simon had nothing to brace
himself against. Simon tore at the hand that was hanging on to his
knife-wrist, and Brat, with a great heave, took his right hand from
Simon's foot and caught Simon's left hand with it. He had now got Simon
by both wrists, and Simon was bent over like a bow above him.

"Drop that knife!" he said.

As he said it he felt the turf at the quarry edge settle a little and
slide forward. It made no difference to him, except to press him out a
little from the face of the cliff. But to Simon, already bent over by
the weight of Brat's arms and body, it was fatal.

Horrified, Brat saw the dark mass come forward on top of him. It struck
him from his toe-hold, and he fell down with it into darkness.

A great light exploded in his head, and he ceased to know anything.




30


Bee sat in the dingy café with a cup of slopped coffee in front of her
and read the sign on the other side of the road for the hundredth time
in the last forty-eight hours. The sign said: MOTORISTS. PLEASE REFRAIN
FROM USING YOUR HORN. THIS IS A HOSPITAL. It was only seven o'clock in
the morning, but the café opened at six, and there was always at least
one other customer having a meal as she sat there. She did not notice
them. She just sat with a cup of coffee in front of her and stared at
the hospital wall opposite. She was an old inhabitant of the café by
now. "Better go out and have a meal," they would say kindly, and she
would cross the road and sit for a little with a cup of coffee in front
of her and then go back again.

Her life had narrowed down to this pendulum existence between the
hospital and café. She found it difficult to remember a past, and quite
impossible to visualise a future. There was only the "now," a dreary
half-world of grey misery. Last night they had given her a cot in one
of the sisters' rooms, and the night before that she had spent in the
hospital waiting-room. There were two phrases that they used to her,
and they were as sickeningly familiar as the sign on their wall: "No,
no change," they would say, or, "Better go out and get a meal."

The slatternly girl came and pushed a fresh cup of coffee in front of
her and took away the one she had. "That one's cold," said the
slatternly girl, "and you haven't even touched it." The fresh cup was
slopped over, too. She was grateful to the slatternly girl but felt
outraged by her sympathy. She was enjoying the vicarious drama of her
presence in the café, and its implications.

MOTORISTS. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM USING---- She must stop reading that
thing. Must look at something else. The blue checked pattern of the
plastic tablecloth, perhaps. One, two, three, four, five, six---- Oh,
no. Not counting things.

The door opened and Dr. Spence came in, his red hair tumbled and his
chin unshaved. He said "Coffee!" to the girl, and slid into the seat
beside her.

"Well?" she said.

"Still alive."

"Conscious?"

"No. But there are better indications. I mean, of a chance of his
regaining consciousness, not necessarily of--his living."

"I see."

"We know about the skull fracture, but there are no means of telling
what other injuries there may be."

"No."

"You oughtn't to be living on cups of coffee. That's all you've been
having, isn't it?"

"She hasn't been having that," said the slatternly girl, putting down
his full cup. "She just sits and looks at them."

A wave of weary anger rose in her at the slatternly girl's
appropriation of her concerns.

"Better let me take you downtown and give you a meal."

"No. No, thank you."

"The Angel is only a mile away, and you can rest properly there
and----"

"No. No, I can't go as far away as that. I'll drink this cup. It's nice
and hot."

Spence gulped down his coffee and paid for it. He hesitated a moment as
if reluctant to leave her. "I have to go back to Clare now. You know I
shouldn't leave him if he wasn't in good hands, don't you? They'll do
more for him than I ever could."

"You've done wonders for all of us," she said. "I shall never forget
it."

Now that she had begun drinking the coffee she went on drinking it, and
did not look up when the door opened again. It would not be another
message from the hospital already, and nothing had any importance for
her that was not a message from the hospital. She was surprised when
George Peck sat down beside her.

"Spence told me I should find you here."

"George!" she said. "What are you doing in Westover at this hour of the
morning?"

"I have come to bring you comfort that Simon is dead."

"Comfort?"

"Yes."

He took something from an envelope and laid it in front of her on the
table. It was weatherworn but recognisable. It was a slender black
stylograph with a decoration consisting of a thin yellow spiral.

She looked at it a long time without touching it, then looked up at the
Rector.

"Then they have found--it?"

"Yes. It was there. Do you want to talk about it here? Wouldn't you
prefer to go back to the hospital?"

"What difference does it make? They are both just places where one
waits."

"Coffee?" said the slatternly girl, appearing at George's shoulder.

"No; no, thank you."

"Righteeo!"

"What--what is there? I mean, what--what is left? What did they find?"

"Just bones, my dear. A skeleton. Under three feet of leaf mould. And
some shreds of cloth."

"And his pen?"

"That was separate," he said carefully.

"You mean, it--had been--that it had been thrown down after?"

"Not necessarily, but--probably."

"I see."

"I don't know whether you will find it comforting or not--I think it
is--but the police surgeon is of the opinion that he was not alive--or
perhaps it would be more accurate to say not conscious--when he----"

"When he was thrown over," Bee said for him.

"Yes. The nature of the skull injury, I understand, leads him to that
conclusion."

"Yes. Yes, I am glad, of course. He probably knew nothing about it.
Just ended quite happy on a summer afternoon."

"There were some small objects in the cloth. Things that he probably
had in his trousers pockets. But the police have kept these. Colonel
Smollett gave me this," he picked up the stylograph and put it back in
its envelope, "and asked me to show it you so that you might identify
it. What news from the hospital? Spence was driving away when I saw
him."

"None. He is not conscious."

"I blame myself greatly for that, you know," the Rector said. "If I had
listened with understanding he would not have been driven to this _sub
rosa_ proceeding, to that crazy night-time search."

"George, we must do something to find out who he is."

"But I understand that the orphanage----"

"Oh, I know. They made the usual inquiries. But I don't suppose they
were very persistent ones. We could do much better, surely."

"Starting from the pre-supposition that he has Ashby blood in him?"

"Yes. I can't believe that a resemblance like that could exist without
it. The coincidence would be too great."

"Very well, my dear. Do you want it put in hand--now?"

"Yes. Especially now. Time may be precious."

"I'll speak to Colonel Smollett about it. He'll know how to go about
it. I talked to him about the inquest, and he thinks it may be possible
to manage without your appearing. Nancy told me to ask you if you would
like her to come in to Westover to be with you, or if it would only
worry you to have someone around."

"Dear Nan. Say it is easier alone, will you? But thank her. Tell her to
stand by Eleanor, rather. It must he dreadful for Nell, having to toil
with unimportant things in the stables."

"I think it must be a soothing thing to have to devote oneself to the
routine demands of the animal world."

"Did you break the news to her, as you promised? The news that Brat was
not Patrick?"

"Yes. I dreaded it, Bee, I confess frankly. You had given me one of the
hardest tasks of my life. She was still fresh from the shock of knowing
that Simon had been killed. I dreaded it. But the event was
surprising."

"What did she do?"

"She kissed me."

The door opened, and a probationer, flushed and young and pretty, and
looking in her lilac print and spreading white linen like a visitor
from another world, stood in the dim opening. She saw Bee and came over
to her.

"Are you Miss Ashby, please?"

"Yes?" said Bee, half rising.

"Miss _Beatrice_ Ashby? Oh, that's nice. Your nephew is conscious now,
but he doesn't recognise anyone or where he is; he just keeps talking
about someone called Bee, and we thought it might be you. So Sister
sent me across to see if I could find you. I'm sorry to interrupt you,
and you haven't finished your coffee, have you, but you see----"

"Yes, yes," said Bee, already at the door.

"He may be quieter, you see, if you are there," the probationer said,
following her out. "They often are, when someone they know is there,
even if they don't actually recognise them. It's funny. It's as if they
could see them through their skin. I've noticed it often. They'll say,
Eileen?--or whoever it is. And Eileen says, Yes. And then they're quiet
for a bit. But if anyone else says yes, nine times out of ten they're
not fooled at all, and get restless and fractious. It's very strange."

What really was strange was to hear that steady stream of words from
the lips of the normally silent Brat. For a day and a night and a day
again she sat by his bed and listened to that restless torrent of talk.
"Bee?" he would say, just as the little probationer had recounted to
her. And she would say: "Yes, I'm here," and he would go back reassured
to whatever world he was wandering in.

His most constant belief was that this was the time he had broken his
leg, and this the same hospital; and he was torn with anxiety about it.
"I'll be able to ride again, won't I? There's nothing really wrong with
my leg, is there? They won't take it off, will they?"

"No," she would say, "everything is all right."

And once, when he was quieter: "Are you very angry with me, Bee?"

"No, I'm not angry with you. Go to sleep."

The world went on outside the hospital; ships arrived in Southampton
Water, inquests were held, bodies were consigned to the earth, but for
Bee the world had narrowed to the room where Brat was and her cot in
the Sister's room.

On Wednesday morning Charles Ashby arrived at the hospital, padding
lightly down the polished corridors on his large noiseless feet. Bee
went down to receive him and took him up to Brat's room. He had hugged
her as he used to when she was a little girl, and she felt warm and
comforted.

"Dear Uncle Charles. I'm so glad you were fifteen years younger than
Father, or you wouldn't be here to be a comfort to us all."

"The great point in being fifteen years younger than your brother is
that you don't have to wear his cast-offs," Charles said.

"He's asleep just now," she said, pausing outside Brat's room, "so
you'll be very quiet, won't you?"

Charles took one look at the young face with the slack jaw, the blue
shadows under the closed eyes, and the grey haze of stubble, and said:
"Walter."

"His name is Brat."

"I know. I wasn't addressing him. I was merely pointing out the
resemblance to Walter. That is exactly what Walter used to look like,
at his age, when he had a hangover."

Bee came nearer and looked. "_Walter's_ son?"

"Undoubtedly."

"I don't see any resemblance, somehow. He doesn't look like anyone but
himself, now."

"You never saw Walter sleeping it off." He looked at the boy a little
longer. "A better face than Walter's, though. A good face." He followed
her into the corridor. "I hear you all liked him."

"We loved him," she said.

"Well, it's all very sad, very sad. Who was his accomplice, do you
know?"

"Someone in America."

"Yes, so George Peck told me. But who would that be? Who went to
America from Clare?"

"The Willett family went to Canada. And they had daughters. It was a
woman, you know. Perhaps they finished up in the States."

"If it was a woman I'll eat my hat."

"I feel that way too."

"Do you? Good girl. You're an admirably intelligent woman, Bee.
Nice-looking, too. What are we going to do about the boy? For the
future, I mean."

"We don't know yet if he has a future," she said.




31


Only the Rector, Bee, Charles, Eleanor, and the firm of Cosset, Thring
and Noble knew, so far, that Brat was not Patrick Ashby.

And the police.

The police, that is, at what is known as "the highest level."

The police had been told everything, and they were now engaged in their
own admirable fashion in smoothing out the mess to the best of their
ability without breaking any of the laws which they were engaged to
uphold. Simon Ashby was dead. It was to no one's advantage to uncover
the story of his crime. By a process of not saying too much, the ritual
of the Law might be complied with, leaving unwanted truths still
buried; a harrow dragging over earth that held below its surface
unexploded bombs.

The coroner sat on the poor bones found in the quarry, and adjourned
the inquest _sine die_. No one in the neighbourhood had ever been
reported missing. Tanbitches, on the other hand, was a favourite
camping ground for gipsies, who were not given to reporting accidents
to the police. Nothing remained of the clothing but a few scraps of
unrecognisable cloth. The objects found in the vicinity of the bones
were unidentifiable; they consisted of a corroded piece of metal that
might once have been a whistle, another corroded piece still
recognisable as a knife, and several coins of small denominations.

"George!" said Bee. "What became of the pen?"

"The stylograph? I lost it."

"_George!_"

"Someone had to lose it, my dear. Colonel Smollett couldn't; he's a
soldier, with a soldier's sense of duty. The police couldn't; they have
their self-respect and their duty to the public to consider. But my
conscience is between me and my God. I think they were touchingly
grateful to me in their tacit way."

The adjourned inquest on Simon Ashby came later, since it had been
postponed until Brat was capable of being interviewed in hospital. The
policeman who had interviewed him reported that Mr. Ashby could
remember nothing about the accident, or why he should have gone there
with his brother at that hour to climb down into the quarry. He had an
idea that it was the result of a bet. Something about whether there was
water in the old quarry or not, he thought; but could not take his oath
on it since his recollection was vague. He had serious head injuries
and was still very ill. He did know, however, that he had found out
from Abel Tusk that there was no water there; and Simon probably had
said that that was highly unlikely, and so the contest may have arisen.

Abel Tusk corroborated the fact that Patrick Ashby had asked him about
water in the quarry, and that it was an unusual thing to find the floor
of an old quarry dry. It was Abel Tusk who had given the first alarm of
the accident. He had been out on the hill with his sheep and had heard
what he took to be cries for help from the direction of the quarry, and
had gone there as fast as he could and found the undamaged rope, and
had gone down to the blacksmith's and used his telephone to call the
police.

Bee, replying to the coroner, agreed that she would most certainly have
taken steps to put an end to any such plan had she heard about it. And
the coroner expressed his opinion that it was for that reason that the
thing had been done _sub rosa_.

The verdict was death by misadventure, and the coroner expressed his
sympathy with the family on the loss of this high-spirited young man.

So the problem of Simon was settled. Simon who, before he was fourteen,
had killed his brother, calmly written a note on that brother's behalf,
tossed the pen into the abyss after his brother's body, and gone home
calmly to six o'clock supper when he was chased out of the smithy. Who
had joined the night search for his brother on his pony, and some time
during that long night had taken his brother's coat to the cliff-top
and left it there with the note in the pocket. Who was now to be
mourned by the countryside as a high-spirited young man of memorable
charm.

The problem of Brat remained.

Not the problem of who he was, but of the problem of his future. The
doctors had decided that, having against all probability lived so long,
he was likely to go on living. He would need long care, however, and a
peaceful life if he was to recover properly.

"Uncle Charles came to see you one day when you were ill," Bee said to
him when he was well enough to keep his attention on a subject. "He was
astonished by your resemblance to Walter Ashby. My cousin."

"Yes?" said Brat. He was not interested. What did it matter now?

"We began inquiries about you."

"The police did that," he said wearily. "Years ago."

"Yes, but they had very little to come and go on. Only that a young
girl had arrived by train with a baby, and gone away by train without
one. The train had come from the crowded Birmingham district with all
its ramifications. We started at the other end. Walter's end. We went
back to where Walter was, somewhere about twenty-two years ago, and
began from there. Walter was a rolling stone, so it wasn't easy, but we
did find out that, among his other jobs, he was in charge of a stable
in Gloucestershire for a couple of months while the owner was away
having an operation. The household was a housekeeper and a young girl
who cooked. She was a very good cook, but her real ambition was to be a
hospital nurse. The housekeeper liked her and so did the owner, and
when they found she was going to have a baby they let her stay on, and
she had her baby in the local maternity home. The housekeeper always
believed that it was Walter's child, but the girl would not say. She
did not want to get married; she wanted to be a nurse. She said that
she was taking the baby home for the christening--she came from Evesham
way--and she didn't come back. But the housekeeper had a letter from
her long afterwards, thanking her for her goodness and telling her that
the girl had realised her ambition and was a nurse. No one knows about
my baby," she said, "but I have seen that he is well looked after."

She glanced at Brat. He was lying with his eyes on the ceiling, but he
appeared to be listening.

"Her name was Mary Woodward. She was an even better nurse than she was
a cook. She was killed during the war, taking patients out of a ward to
safety in a shelter."

There was a long silence.

"I seem to have inherited my cooking talents too," he said; and she
could not tell whether the words were bitter or not.

"I was very fond of Walter. He was a dear; very kind. He had only one
fault; he had no head for drink, and he liked drink very much. I don't
believe for a moment that Walter knew about the girl. He was the kind
who would have rushed to marry her. I think she didn't want him to
know."

She had another look at Brat. Perhaps she had told him all this too
soon; before he was strong enough to be interested. But she had hoped
that it would give him an interest in life.

"I'm afraid that is as near as we can get, Brat. But none of us have
any doubt about it. Charles took one look at you and said, 'Walter.'
And I think myself you look a little like your mother. That is Mary
Woodward. It was taken in her second year at St. Luke's."

She gave him the photograph, and left it with him.

A week or two later she said to Eleanor: "Nell, I'm going to leave you.
I've taken a lease of Tim Connell's stud at Kilbarty."

"Oh, Bee!"

"Not immediately, but when Brat is able to travel."

"You're taking Brat there? Oh, yes, of course you must go! Oh, that is
a wonderful idea, Bee. It solves such a lot of problems, doesn't it?
But can you afford it? Shall I lend you money for it?"

"No, Uncle Charles is doing that. Lovely to think of Charles supporting
horses, isn't it? You'll need all you have to pay death duty, my dear.
Mr. Sandal has broken it to the Bank that the place belonged to Simon
all the time."

"What shall we do about letting people know about Brat? I mean, about
his not being Patrick."

"I don't think we'll have to do anything about it. The facts will
inevitably _ooze_. They always do. I think we just do nothing to
prevent the leak. The fact that we are making him part of the family
instead of starting prosecutions and things will take a lot of the fun
out of it for the scandal-mongers. We'll survive, Nell. And so will
he."

"Of course we will. And the first time someone mentions it boldly to
me, I shall say: 'My cousin? Yes, he did pretend to be my brother.
He _is_ very like Patrick, isn't he? As if we were discussing
cream-cakes.'" She paused a moment and then added: "But I should like
the news to get round before I'm too old to marry him."

"Are you thinking of it?" Bee said, taken aback.

"I'm set on it."

Bee hesitated; and then decided to let the future take care of itself.

"Don't worry. It will get round," she said.

"Now that Uncle Charles is here, and is going to settle down at
Latchetts," she said later to Brat, "I can go back to having a life of
my own somewhere else."

His eyes came away from the ceiling, and watched her.

"There's a place in Ulster I have my eye on. Tim Connell's place at
Kilbarty."

She saw his fingers begin to play with the sheet, unhappily.

"Are you going away to Ulster, then?" he asked.

"Only if you will come with me, and run the stable for me."

The easy tears of the newly-convalescent rose in his eyes and ran down
his cheek.

"Oh, Bee!" he said.

"I take it that means that my offer is accepted," she said.



THE END




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