The Day of Uniting/Chapter 14

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pp. 41–45.

CHAPTER XIV.

“Everybody's taking this 'Days of Uniting' frightfully seriously. Ive had a letter from my governor ordering me to report on the fifteenth inst.”

“Which is the day after to-morrow.”

“I looked up the calendar, and you're right, Jimmy. According to the governor, people think it's a very good idea.”

“Who wouldn't, with free railway traveling chucked in?” said Jimmy in disgust.

The girl came out on to the lawn at that minute with a newspaper in her hand.

“Mr. Blake, have you seen this?” she asked.

“What is it?” asked Jimmy. “Something about the 'Days of Uniting?'”

“No, it is an article in the Post-Herald, and Stephens says that the police are going round to all the newspaper shops confiscating the paper because of that paragraph.”

Jimmy almost snatched the newspaper from Delia's hand. She had marked the place with blue pencil, and he read:

MYSTERIOUS ARRESTS.

What is the New Government Scare?

Three days ago the police, acting on orders from Whitehall, made throughout the country a number of arrests, which can only be described as mysterious. The people who were taken into custody and immediately hurried off to some unknown prison or camp, since they have not been brought up before the magistrates of the districts in which they live, are quite inoffensive, and in some cases, eminent persons whose lives are chiefly distinguished by their absolute blamelessness.
Among the arrests are those of Professor Mortlake, of Durham University, Sir John Gilgin, the Vicar of Troyston, and scores of other gentlemen who have no strong political views and who certainly are not criminals. What makes this occurrence so extraordinary, is the news which has just come to hand, that the convicts in Dartmoor Prison have been all released on special license, apparently to make room for the people who have been arrested in this wholesale fashion.
The release of the Dartmoor convicts is understandable in view of the government's fantastic “Days of Uniting.” To be consistent they must extend the same opportunities for family reunion to the criminal classes, which they extend to those who are law-abiding citizens. The other arrests are beyond explanation.


“I don't know any of the people who have been taken,” said Jimmy, shaking his head. “It is rather a rum proceeding.”

The afternoon papers carried an authoritative statement issued by the government, that the arrests were made for political purposes, and that the prisoners would be released on the eve of the “Days of Uniting” and returned to their homes in time for the festival. Jimmy was not interested in this particular eccentricity of government; he was too concerned, too worried, by the insoluble mystery which his visit to the Warden's Lodge had set him.

He was in town most of the day, pursuing independent inquiries.

The girl did not know her father was living so close at hand, and he did not enlighten her upon the subject. No reply had come to his wire to Schaffer, and this puzzled him. A call on one of Gerald's old friends, however, assured him that he had sent the message to the right address.

“I am not quite sure,” said the gray-bearded biologist to whom he addressed his inquiry, “but I have a notion that Schaffer is in Switzerland. I read the report of a lecture he delivered there a week ago. He may still be there.”

But Jimmy's chief center of inquisitorial activities was in the House of Commons. Ordinarily he did not take a very great interest in the fluctuation of English politics, and the page in the newspapers containing the Parliamentary reports was one he never read in any circumstances. But that morning he had looked up a newspaper file to discover what other occupation the premier had than sweeping floors. The first thing that struck him was that the answers to questions which are supposed to be given by the ministers responsible for the various departments, had been dealt with by undersecretaries.

“The prime minister hasn't been in the House for over a week,” said a member. “We're rather sore about it, because not only he, but Harry Weltman has been absent, and they did not even turn up the other night to lead the debate on the new police bill. There is going to be a row, too, about these arrests, and the suppression of the Post-Herald.”

“Who were the people who were arrested?” asked Jimmy.

“Oh, small fry,” said the member indifferently. “Somebody was telling me they were mostly amateur scientists, but of that I have no information. The release of the criminals from prison is, of course, preposterous.”

“Does it extend to the county prisons?” asked Jimmy.

The member nodded.

“I don't know what the dickens is happening to this country,” he said irritably. “For some reason or other Chapelle has made himself a sort of dictator, and has introduced all kinds of regulations without the consent of Parliament. Do you know that foreign newspapers are not admitted into this country?”

Jimmy did not know.

“It is a fact. What is more, there's a tremendously severe censorship on newspaper telegrams. It is almost as though we were at war all over again.”

The censorship might have delayed Schaffer's answer, thought Jimmy, as he drove back to Blackheath. What was the meaning of it all? Had the prime minister gone mad? And what part was Maggerson playing? Maggerson, the unshaven, foul-looking Maggerson, whom he had seen huddled up over a table in the Warden's Lodge, writing for dear life. And who was the bearded man opposite to him? He was another factor, and the center of another mystery. He was not a member of the cabinet. Jimmy had taken the trouble to go to the office of an illustrated newspaper which, he remembered, had published some time before a portrait not only of the ministers, but of their undersecretaries.

The face of the bearded man was not there; and yet he had seen it somewhere. That he was a public man of some sort Jimmy was certain. He had a queer feeling that, if he could discover the identity of the bearded writer, the inexplicable would be made clear.

Delia and Ferdie were out when he got back, and he was unaccountably annoyed. For want of something better to do, he climbed again to the roof and took an observation of the house through the telescope, but this time without adding to his information. When he came down the two young people were in the hall. Ferdie was hanging up his golf clubs, and Delia was reading a post card which had come for her.

“Well, any luck, Jimmy?” asked Ferdie.

“None,” said Jimmy shortly.

They had rather a cheerless dinner that night. Jimmy was not very talkative, and his gloom affected his friend. Only the girl prevented the meal being got through in absolute silence.

Jimmy was folding his napkin preparatory to rising—he was rapidly acquiring a sense of order—when the door opened and he jumped to his feet. It was Joe Sennett, who stood in the doorway, but a different Joe from the man he had known. His face was puckered and lined, and he looked a very old man indeed.

“I want you, Delia,” he said gruffly. “And I'd like to see you, Mr. Blake, after I've seen my girl, or perhaps I'd better see you first.”

Delia had run across the room to him with a happy little cry; he took her in his arms, an action which was unlike Joe, who was an undemonstrative man, and she wondered.

“Daddy, you aren't ill?” she asked anxiously.

“No, my dear.” His voice was rough but tender. “I want to see you alone, darling. Can I come up to your room?”

“You can have my study or Mr. van Roon's study,” said Jimmy.

Joe thought for a moment.

“I'll have your study,” he said. “I can get on to the lawn and out of the house from there, can't I?”

Jimmy nodded. He wondered why the girl's father was anxious to leave the priory by that way.

“Can I see you now, Mr. Blake?”

It was Joe who led the way to the study, and, closing the door behind them and without preamble, he began:

“Mr. Blake, what did you see at the lodge last night?”

“What do you mean?” asked Jimmy steadily.

“What did you see when you were in the grounds of the lodge last night?”

Jimmy was silent.

“They don't know that it was you yet,” Joe went on, “but they'll find out. They sent the boots to London, and there are a dozen detectives looking for the owner.”

“I saw all there was to be seen,” said Jimmy. “What is the explanation, Sennett?”

“There is no explanation that I can give, sir,” said Joe Sennett, with a certain dignity. “Mr. Blake, will you take an old man's advice?”

“What is it, Joe?”

“Get away from Blackheath as quickly as you can.”

“Bolt?” suggested Jimmy quietly.

“I don't know whether you'd call it bolting, and I hardly think you'd benefit much if you did bolt. At any rate, you'd be——” He stopped himself. “Will you take my advice, Mr. Blake?”

Jimmy shook his head.

“I shall stay here,” he said, “and see it through, whatever 'it' may be.”

Joe nodded.

“I've done all I can for you,” he said, “and now I think I must see Delia.”

Jimmy saw his face twitch as though he was contemplating an unpleasant interview.

“One moment before you go, Sennett.” Jimmy barred the way to the door. “Is there a logical and reasonable explanation to all this mystery, or is Mr. Chapelle stark mad?”

“There is a very simple explanation, sir,” said Sennett, “but it is not one that I can give, as I told you before.”

Jimmy opened the door for him. “I won't press the question.”

“You won't go away, either, eh?” said Sennett.

“I shall stay here,” said Jimmy.

“Very good,” said the older man, and without another word walked out of the room, Jimmy following.

Jimmy heard the study door close on Delia and her father, and strolled into the garden. He was there half an hour. When he went back to the study it was empty. He met Mrs. Smith coming downstairs.

“The young lady has gone to her room with a bad headache,” she said, “and she did not wish to be disturbed.”

“Isn't she coming down again, to-night?” asked Jimmy, in dismay.

“I don't think so, sir,” said the housekeeper, and the young man cursed his luck under his breath. He went in search of Ferdie and repeated to him the warning which Sennett had given.

“You're in this, Ferdinando,” he said, “and I won't disguise from you that there is bad trouble coming to me and possibly to you. Sennett is not the kind of man who would ask us to bolt unless there was danger.”

“If there's danger to you, there's certainly danger to me,” said Ferdie thoughtfully, “and I'll do just as you suggest.”

“Well, I advise you to get away,” said Jimmy, and Ferdie guffawed loudly.

“Jimmy, you have everything but brains,” he said cruelly. “If I bolted, that would bring down suspicion on you. Either we both stay or we both go. And even if it didn't bring suspicion on you, the fact that I had disappeared before your arrest——

Jimmy made a little face.

“It doesn't sound pretty, does it? But it seems to me a very likely ending to this lark,” said Ferdie. “I was saying—if they came and pinched you and found I had gone, they'd be after me like a shot. Our only chance is to stick together.” He turned to go. “I say, you don't feel like another visit to the Warden's Lodge, to-night?” he suggested.

“No, thank you,” said Jimmy fervently. “I have no desire to monkey with a gang which includes a prime minister and a bishop, to say nothing of an eminent scientist.”

Ferdie turned back.

“A prime minister and a bishop?” he repeated slowly. “Was the prime minister there?”

The last thing in the world Jimmy intended was saying as much as he had. There was nothing to do now but to tell the story.

“I thought you were nutty when you talked about the bacon,” said Ferdie, after he had finished. “And I still think that you may have been seeing things. But what an unholy combination to butt into! Do you think that Chapelle has gone off his head?”

“No, and I don't think the bishop has, either,” said Jimmy. “I should say the Bishop of Fleet was too shrewd and tough a man to be led into an adventure of this kind by an obvious lunatic. Ferdie, you were boasting the other day that you had a couple of Mills bombs. Take your car and go up to your flat and get them like a good fellow.”

“Why?” asked the astonished Ferdie. “Are you thinking of bombing the old boy?”

“I did have some such idea,” said Jimmy dryly.

“When shall I go?”

“Go now.”

And Ferdie went off to get his noisy car.

An hour later the study bell rang and Stephens answered it.

“Bring Mrs. Smith here,” said Jimmy, looking up from his writing table. “I want you to witness my will.”

“Your will, sir?” said Stephens, startled.

“Hurry,” said Jimmy. “I have followed the example of Lord Harry and have left five years' salary to everybody in my employ, and if you don't stop looking like an asphyxiated codfish, you won't benefit.”

It was his will that he had written, a somewhat voluminous document, and his two servants fluttered and apprehensive, affixed their signatures as witnesses. Also Jimmy had destroyed all his private correspondence and made a rough survey of his financial position. He told himself that he was wasting time and acting like a scare cat, but he had realized that in the event of any sudden fatal accident to himself his property would go to the state, and just then he had a grudge against the state.

Neither Mrs. Smith nor Stephens read the provisions of the will, so they were not aware that the principal beneficiary was a girl who at that moment was sitting in her locked room, her hands clasped in her lap, staring out into the night with eyes that were big and tragic and hopeless. Jimmy had given up any hope of seeing Delia that night, when he heard the door of the study open and close again.

“I didn't ring for the coffee, but you can put it there,” he said without raising his eyes from the letter he was writing.

There was no response and no movement, and then he looked up. It was Delia. Her face, at any time, showed little color, but now it was a dead white and her eyes seemed to have grown darker so that by contrast with her pallor they looked black.

“Delia!”

He went toward her, his hands outstretched, and she took them in hers and all the time her eyes were fixed on his. He saw in them fear and appeal—The Terror had come to her and had frozen her stiff and speechless.

“Delia!” He whispered the word and, taking her by the arms, shook her gently. He saw her pale lips flutter and tremble as she tried to speak. “For God's sake, Delia—what is wrong?”

And then she spoke:

“Jimmy! Do you—do you love me?”

He nodded. He could not have spoken.

“You meant—all you said in the garden—that night?”

“Every word.” His voice seemed that of a stranger, it was so cracked and strained.

“Will you marry me—at once—to-morrow? Please, please!”

He put his arm about and drew her tighter and tighter to him and the fear in her eyes died and the old soft, woman look returned—the old, shining, Delia look, only more glorious by the love and faith and surrender in them.

Something wonderful had happened—how, why, he did not know nor care. He was shaking, his arms were weak and trembling and his knees were feeble—it seemed as if the strength of life had been sapped in this joy.

“You'll do it to-morrow—you can get a special license, can't you—you will please—please, Jimmy, dear!”

She was crying and laughing.

“I never thought I'd be happy again,” she breathed. “I know now that all my—fine plans—were stupid and unreal. But this is real, isn't it, Jimmy? It's the essence, the essence of life——

It was she who raised her face and kissed him, holding her lips to his, her arm clasped about his neck, her eyes, divinely beautiful and lit with a new fire, so close to his that he felt the flick of eyelashes against his.

“Delia! What magic has been working, darling? I never dreamed of this happiness.”

“It's the magic of—of——

For a second the wild terror he had seen before smoldered in her dark eyes and then she broke into a passion of weeping, and sank down on a near-by divan.

“To-morrow—to-morrow—please, please!” she sobbed, and Jimmy held her in his arms and comforted her. She smiled through tears, checked a sob, and murmured: “'As a mother comforteth her child, so will I comfort you.'”

And then she became suddenly quiet, and he thought she had swooned, but she was sleeping peacefully. He held her motionless, as the hours passed, and then his head began to nod and he, too, slept. It was Ferdinand Ponter who found them so. He came in at midnight, his coat pockets bulging, and stopped at the sight, then he stepped softly from the room and closed the door behind him.

“Well, I'm blowed!” said Ferdinand, and shook his head.