The Day of Uniting/Chapter 8

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pp. 23–27

CHAPTER VIII.

Jimmy Blake had known sympathy in his life, but he had never appreciated nor experienced the beautiful quality of tenderness which a woman can give to the sorely hurt. Delia's understanding was shown in a score of ways, even her silences had a soothing value. She had the gift of changing the direction of a conversation so that it was turned before the participants realized in what unhappy direction it had been heading. She was cheerful, in her sweet, quizzical way, and Jimmy had found himself challenged to flippant retort—on the day he had buried Gerald van Roon! She could give the whole of one day that week, she told him, to the examination of Gerald's papers.

“Do you remember what was in the Schaffer letter? You said that poor Mr. van Roon had read a portion of it to you.”

“The portion he read was in German. Poor old boy, he was very absent-minded—he even forgot that he had burned it!” smiled Jimmy. 'But he did tell me that Schaffer said something about Maggerson bringing back a queer plant from New Mexico, or Mexico, I'm not sure which.”

“What kind of plant?”

“It was a plant which established the connection between something or other,” said Jimmy vaguely. “Oh, yes, I remember—between the organic and the inorganic.”

“That is rather important, isn't it?” she said, interested. “Science has never discovered the link.”

“That's it! I joked the old fellow about it. I called it the 'missing link,' and he was absolutely sick with me!”

She bit her lip thoughtfully.

“I wonder if that had anything to do with it,” she said, speaking to herself.

“To do with Jerry's murder?” asked Jimmy astonished. “What on earth could that have to do with it?”

“He spoke about Schaffer's letter. I'm sure he knew what he was saying,” said the girl. “He recognized you and remembered that he had shown you the letter in the morning.”

“That is true,” said Jimmy, impressed.

“Why don't you see Mr. Maggerson and ask him?” she suggested.

It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that he had seen Maggerson less than two hours before, but he stopped himself. He wanted to know something more about the Warden's Lodge, and he had already made up his mind to undertake a second vigil that night.

After Delia had gone to bed, he strolled out without telling Stephens where he was going, and took up his position near to the spot he had occupied the night before. This time he had brought a light waterproof sheet which he laid on the ground, for the grass had been wet the previous night. It was ten minutes after twelve when the first car appeared and the happenings of the previous night were repeated almost exactly. One man came after another, and Jimmy, lying full length on the ground, focused the night glasses he had brought with him upon each in turn without, however, discovering their identity. If only the moon would show!

At two o'clock he returned to the priory determined that the next night he would force a recognition. The plan that he roughly formed was that, as soon as a car appeared and he knew that the passenger was on his way to the lodge, he would walk to meet him, and on some excuse or other turn the beam of a hand lamp on his face. Know them he would, for it was impossible to avoid associating this unknown four with Van Roon's death.

But why had Jerry said nothing which would incriminate them? All his thoughts had been of Schaffer's letter. It was queer. As he was going to bed that night Jimmy had another idea, and the next morning drove the girl up to London and, dropping her in the city, went on to Whitehall.

Stope-Kendrick was not exactly a friend of his, but they had met at the prime minister's house and he did not think that the home secretary would refuse to see him. That worthy gentleman, however, had not arrived when Jimmy called, nor was he in his office until after midday when Jimmy presented his card for the third time and was ushered into a great and gloomy room where the little man sat behind a table which further dwarfed his stature.

He was looking very ill. There were deep shadows under his eyes and his face was a pasty white. His manner, however, was vigorous and almost cheerful.

“This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Blake. I was so sorry to hear of Van Roon's death. You don't know how sorry I am.” He shook his head and his voice trembled. “You don't know how sorry!”

Jimmy was surprised. He did not expect the minister, whose task it was to sign the death warrants which sent men to the gallows, to display such concern nor did he know that Stope-Kendrick was so close a friend of Gerald's. Stope-Kendrick secured control of his voice after a while.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“I've come partly about this terrible crime, sir, and partly to ask you whether you could put me in touch with Mr. Maggerson.”

“That I am afraid I cannot do,” said the home secretary. “Mr. Maggerson went away into the country after his collapse, and I do not think he is get-at-able. What do you want me to tell you about the crime?”

His steady, black eyes were fixed on his visitor, and there was a strange look in his face, and Jimmy, who was extraordinarily sensitive to atmosphere, was impressed by the tension of the minister's attitude.

“I can't understand, Mr. Kendrick, why the police are taking such little trouble to discover the murderer of my cousin,” he said.

“It appears to you that they are taking little trouble,” corrected Stope-Kendrick after a pause. “And I am afraid it always seems so to those who are interested in the solution of a mystery of this kind; but you will find that the authorities have been very active indeed. In a case like this, Mr. Blake, it is very difficult to get hold of any loose ends—there are absolutely no clews whatever.”

Jimmy was thinking rapidly. Should he tell the home secretary about the four visitors to the lodge? Should he describe what he had seen through his telescope? Again he decided to maintain silence. Until he had further evidence of the nature of these meetings and the character of the men who forgathered at Blackheath, he could not frame his suspicion.

Jimmy left the home office with a curious sense of uneasiness. He lunched at his club, and there met a man who had known Gerald and they talked of the dead man for the greater part of the afternoon. Jimmy hung on to town desperately. He had no desire to go back to Blackheath at present. He realized with a sense of comic dismay that Blake's priory had only one attraction for him now, and that of a transitory character.

“Oh, by the way,” he said at parting with the officer. “You fellows in the guards are generally well informed. Have there been issued any very extra special secret-and-confidential-don't-tell-anybody orders during the last two days?”

The officer laughed in his face.

“And if there had been, my son, do you imagine I should whisper them into your ear?” he demanded ironically.

“But have there?” demanded Jimmy.

“Not a day passes that we do not get secret and confidential orders,” said the diplomatic guardsman.

“Have you had any printed orders?”

The soldier looked at him sharply.

“I don't know quite what you mean,” he said, his tone altering.

“I mean this. You are second in command of a guards battalion and if there had been any very secret orders issued by the government expressly to the military, you would know all about them.”

“And just as assuredly, Jimmy, you would not,” said the other decidedly.

Jimmy knew, from having served in the army, that “secret and confidential” instructions are “secret and confidential” in name only. Real secret orders were issued at the rarest intervals and dealt only with national crises. He was quite certain from Major Barrington's manner that some such order had been issued. What could it be about? Was the country expecting an attack from its late enemy, and had Schaffer's letter contained some great state secret?

“Oh, damn!” said Jimmy giving up the problem for the moment.

He was always giving it up for the moment, and returning insensibly and unconsciously to its consideration. By the rarest piece of good luck he caught sight of Delia standing at the corner of the Haymarket waiting for a bus. This incident was the one bright spot of the day, and he carried her off under the cold and disapproving eyes of other ladies who were waiting and in his exhilaration almost brought his Rolls into collision with a street standard.

He did not expect to find Mr. Sennett at the house, but he was there. Jimmy had insisted upon the printer using his study and Joe rose from a welter of proofs as the young man came in.

“I'm just revising poor Mr. van Roon's last proofs,” he said. “I haven't had much time to give to the boy's books lately.”

“Mr. Sennett,” said Jimmy bluntly, “when did you see Maggerson last?”

Joe Sennett turned his eyes away.

“Oh, some time ago now,” he drawled.

“Did you see him yesterday?”

“It is possible,” said the other, and Jimmy knew he was evading the question. “Yes, I think he did call at the office.” Then suddenly he dropped his mask of indifference and turned on the astounded Jimmy. “I wish to God I knew what they were up to and what it was all about,” he said, his voice trembling with anger. “They're driving me mad with their orders to troops and their mysteries—they must have allowed this poor boy to be murdered!”

It was the outburst of a man whose nerve was going and Jimmy waited for more, but the old man recovered himself with a harsh laugh.

“I'm getting rattled,” he said. “That is because I'm old, I suppose. Didn't I hear Delia come back with you, sir?”

Jimmy nodded.

“She must not know that anything is wrong,” said Mr. Sennett.

“You may be sure I shall not tell her; but she'll guess,” said Jimmy quietly. “She's not the kind of girl who can be easily deceived. What is wrong, Sennett?”

The old man shrugged his shoulders.

“I don't know, Mr. Blake, and I've already said too much. I'm getting a bit frightened, that is all. So is Stope-Kendrick.”

“Stope-Kendrick?” said Jimmy in wide-eyed amazement “The home secretary?”

The other nodded.

“Have you seen him?” asked Jimmy incredulously.

“Yes, I've seen him.” Old Joe Sennett's tone did not encourage further inquiry. “It is killing him, whatever it is,” he went on. “He looks like a dead man.”

“I also saw him to-day,” nodded Jimmy, “and I agree with you. Is it an invasion they are scared about?”

Joe shook his head.

“I haven't the slightest idea. All I know is that certain members of the government are in terror about something.”

The Terror! Jimmy remembered Maggerson's words. But what shape was The Terror taking?

“I ought not to tell you, Mr. Blake,” Joe went on, “but those secret orders which I printed were to the military commanders ordering them to leave nothing undone to quell disturbances which may arise. It also gave them authority to shoot without the formality of reading the riot act. In fact, sir,” he said solemnly, “the country at this moment is under a secret form of martial law which has been proclaimed without the people knowing anything about it. And in my opinion——” He hesitated.

“Yes”

“In my opinion,” he said soberly. “Mr. Van Roon was the first victim of that law.”

Jimmy had plenty to think about that night. The girl was busy in Gerald's study working over his letters, and he was left alone to his thoughts. He had not shuttered or curtained the windows of his study. The French windows were open leading on to the garden for it was a glorious night. He sat reading for a while until he saw the girl crossing the lawn. She had evidently finished her work, and his first impulse was to rise and go after her. Then he felt that possibly she might wish to be alone, and so he waited, alternately deciding to go and reflecting that it was better to stay, until at last he could wait no longer.

He stepped through the door of the study on to the soft carpet of the lawn. The full moon was shining and the garden was a place of mystery and inviting shadows. The shadow of a big elm lay bluely across the tennis court, throwing a big blot of darkness on the wall. There was no sound except the querulous chirp of a sleepy bird disturbed by its restless partner and the breeze was little more than a lazy movement of air which did not so much as rustle a leaf.

He walked across the grass, stopping by the sundial to glance idly at the shadow which the stile cast upon the green plate. He stood for a while by the pedestal, his eyes ranging the grounds for some sign of Delia. Beyond the elms was a stretch of garden from whence the moonlight had drawn all color. Black, straight shadows of the hollyhocks barred the wall, and the place was fragrant with rare and delicate perfumes. Then he saw her. She was sitting on a big stone bench and he moved quicker toward her, marveling at her nerve. The air of tragedy which lay upon the house would have shaken most women. But she could go out alone and sit, strange as it was, on poor Gerald's favorite bench.

“It is very beautiful,” she said softly, as he came up to her.

Jimmy thought of the garden and the lavender moonlight only as settings for her own exquisite prettiness. In this ethereal light she was wonderful to him. There was something almost unearthly in the frail modeling of her face, half turned upward toward him and the moon.

“You aren't catching cold?” he asked huskily.

“No—won't you sit down?”

He sat and for the best part of ten minutes did not speak.

“Father may have to go to town,” she broke the silence at last and Jimmy started, for he had been dreaming the maddest, the most heart-racing dream. With difficulty he found his voice.

“Delia,” he said, “I'm being rather selfish asking you to stay at the priory. You're too young to be flung into this tragic business—and too dear.”

Apparently she did not notice the last, for she answered steadily.

“You forget that father likes being here. It was good of you to ask him.”

Another pause. How could he put his dream into coherent language, he wondered desperately?

“Do you like this place?” he asked.

“The house? Oh, yes, it is glorious.” She dropped her voice to little more than a whisper. “Lovely—lovely. I shall hate going back to Camberwell.”

Jimmy cleared his voice as well as he could.

“Why go back?” he asked so loudly that she turned her face toward him, startled. “Why not stay? I love you very truly, Delia.”

Every word seemed to be exactly the word he hadn't intended using. He was crude, he thought, in a perspiration of fear.

She did not reply. She turned away from him quickly, and he saw the hands on her lap clasp and the fingers twining one about the other.

“That is impossible, Mr. Blake.” She was not looking at him, but was talking in the opposite direction. “You—you are a little worried by—by poor Mr. van Roon's death, and” She turned her head as suddenly and faced him, and her big eyes stared at him somberly for a second, and then she laughed softly. “It is the moonlight,” she said, rising, and with a simple, unaffected gesture put out her hand to him. “'Moonlight was for fancy made,'” she quoted. “I'm going into the house, and I really think I am a little chilled.”

“One moment, Delia.” Jimmy had command of his voice and himself now. “I want to say I'm sorry if I offended you and more sorry if you think I am not sincere or that I am affected by the moon as other lunatics are.”

“They're not,” she said with a smile. “It is one of the popular fallacies which science has exploded. And the moon has nothing to do with the weather, either.”

“Blow science!” said Jimmy. “Listen to me, Delia. I would ask you to marry me in unromantic daylight or in a snowstorm.”

The smile left her face.

“And I should say 'no,'” she answered quietly, “though I am really touched and grateful to you, Mr. Blake.”

“You don't think you could love me?”

She shook her head.

“I think I do not love you now,” she said, “and I know that I have mapped out my life in my humble way so that it is filled, without—without——

“Me?”

“Without any man,” she said. “Do you think I'm not pleased—pleased and flattered, too?”

He was silent.

“Do you?” she persisted, shaking his arm gently. “I'm just full of gratification! I always thought women felt sorry for the man—when they said 'no,' or that they were uncomfortable in their minds. I think that can only be when there are two men who love them, and they want them both! But you're the one flower in my garden.”

“But why——” he began, bewildered.

“It's lovely to know that you're loved,” she said softly. “It's selfishly lovely—but it's lovely. And I like you—oh, ever so much.” She drew a long sigh, and then: “Come along—Jimmy,” she said, and his heart leaped at the word.

“I want you to like me,” she went on, pacing by his side toward the house, “that is better than—more emotional feeling, isn't it? It's rare between men and women. I almost think I would sacrifice all my pet plans and half my principles to keep your liking.”

Though the architecture of the priory was Georgian, there had been erected by some former owner a large porch supported by four slender Corinthian pillars. Here were two oaken seats on one of which Stephens, the butler, was wont to sit and smoke his evening pipe. Joe Sennett had discovered the comfort of this retreat and here they found him. The somewhat precipitate retreat of Stephens suggested that Joe had not lacked company.

“Hello, Delia,” growled the old man. “Isn't it time you were in bed?”

His growl was a pleasant growl, and the girl laughed.

“I'm not going to town to-morrow, daddy. I'm staying to fix Mr. van Roon's letters, and it's such a glorious night that I hate the idea of going to bed.”

She sat down on the settle by her father's side. It was very delightful for Jim, even though it meant that he must forgo for the night the plans he had made, on the night before, to confront one of the visitors to the Warden's Lodge, and discover his identity. That, however, could wait, he told himself, and possibly the four would not come on so bright a night as this.

Old Joe took out his pipe and was about to speak, when there came a terrifying diversion. It was a shriek—long and piercing and was repeated, and it came from the direction of the heath. The girl went white and gripped her father's arm.

“What was that?” she faltered.

Before he could reply the horrible cry sounded again, and it was coming nearer.

Jimmy tore up the drive, through the gates and out on to the deserted road. He saw a figure running toward him, its arms outflung. It was a man, and he was screaming pitifully like a frightened child. Jim went out to meet him, but as though at the sight of another of his kind, the runner turned and bolted away at a tangent, and all the time he shrieked and shrieked and shrieked. Jim raced after him, gaining with every stride. The man was heading for one of those deep depressions in the heath where formerly gravel had been excavated. Suddenly he stopped on the lip of the pit and faced his pursuer.

“Don't come near me!” he yelled. “Don't come near me!”

Jim thought he recognized the voice.

“Wait, wait,” he entreated, and he saw something glitter in the man's hand. There was a thunderous report, and the thing that had shrieked and fled, as from the wrath of God, crumpled up and fell.

With a cry Jim knelt by his side and turned him over. The shot must have passed through the neck, severing the spinal cord, for he was quite dead.

“My God!” breathed Jim, for he was looking at the face of John Stope-Kendrick, his majesty's home secretary.