The Summons (novel)/I
Sir Charles Hardiman stood in the corridor of his steam yacht and bawled the name through a closed door. But no answer was returned from the other side of the door. He turned the handle and went in. The night was falling, but the cabin windows looked towards the north and the room was full of light and of a low and pleasant music. For the tide tinkled and chattered against the ship's planks and, in the gardens of the town across the harbour, bands were playing. The town was Stockholm in the year nineteen hundred and twelve, and on this afternoon, the Olympic games, that unfortunate effort to promote goodwill amongst the nations, which did little but increase rancours and disclose hatreds, had ended, never, it is to be hoped, to be resumed.
"Luttrell," cried Hardiman again, but this time with perplexity in his voice. For Luttrell was there in the cabin in front of him, but sunk in so deep a contemplation of memories and prospects that the cabin might just as well have been empty. Sir Charles Hardiman touched him on the shoulder.
"Wake up, old man!"
"That's what I am doing—waking up," said Luttrell, turning without any start. He was seated in front of the writing-desk, a young man, as the world went before the war, a few months short of twenty-eight.
"The launch is waiting and everybody's on deck," continued Hardiman. "We shall lose our table at Hasselbacken if we don't get off."
Then he caught sight of a telegram lying upon the writing-table.
"Oh!" and the impatience died out of his voice. "Is anything the matter?"
Luttrell pushed the telegram towards his host.
"Read it! I have got to make up my mind—and now—before we start."
Hardiman read the telegram. It was addressed to Captain Harry Luttrell, Yacht The Dragonfly, Stockholm, and it was sent from Cairo by the Adjutant-General of the Egyptian Army.
- "I can make room for you, but you must apply immediately to be transferred."
Hardiman sat down in a chair by the side of the table against the wall, with his eyes on Luttrell's face. He was a big, softish, overfed man of forty-five, and the moment he began to relax from the upright position, his body went with a run; he collapsed rather than sat. The little veins were beginning to show like tiny scarlet threads across his nose and on the fullness of his cheeks; his face was the colour of wine; and the pupils of his pale eyes were ringed with so pronounced an arcus senilis that they commanded the attention like a disfigurement. But the eyes were shrewd and kindly enough as they dwelt upon the troubled face of his guest.
"You have not answered this?" he asked.
"No. But I must send an answer to-night."
"You are in doubt?"
"Yes. I was quite sure when I cabled to Cairo on the second day of the games. I was quite sure, whilst I waited for the reply. Now that the reply has come—I don't know."
"Let me hear," said the older man. "The launch must wait, the table at the Hasselbacken restaurant must be assigned, if need be, to other customers." Hardiman had not swamped all his kindliness in good living. Luttrell was face to face with one of the few grave decisions which each man has in the course of his life to make; and Hardiman understood his need better than he understood it himself. His need was to formulate aloud the case for and against, to another person, not so much that he might receive advice as, that he might see for himself with truer eyes.
"The one side is clear enough," said Luttrell with a trace of bitterness. "There was a Major I once heard of at Dover. He trained his company in night-marches by daylight. The men held a rope to guide them and were ordered to shut their eyes. The Major, you see, hated stirring out at night. He liked his bridge and his bottle of port. Well, give me another year and that's the kind of soldier I shall become—the worst kind—the slovenly soldier. I mean slovenly in mind, in intention. Even now I come, already bored, to the barrack square and watch the time to see if I can't catch an earlier train from Gravesend to London."
"And when you do?" asked Hardiman.
"When I do," he agreed, "I get no thrill out of my escape, I assure you. I hate myself a little more—that's all."
"Yes," said Hardiman. He was too wise a man to ask questions. He just sat and waited, inviting Luttrell to spread out his troubles by his very quietude.
"Then there are these games," Luttrell cried in a swift exasperation, "—these damned games! From the first day when the Finns marched out with their national flag and the Russians threatened to withdraw if they did it again——" he broke off suddenly. "Of course you know soldiers have believed that trouble's coming. I used to doubt, but by God I am sure of it now. Just a froth of fine words at the opening and afterwards—honest rivalry and let the best man win? Not a bit of it! Team-running—a vile business—the nations parked together in different sections of the Stadium like enemies—and ill-will running here and there like an infection! Oh, there's trouble coming, and if I don't go I shan't be fit for it. There, that's the truth."
"The whole truth and nothing but the truth?" Hardiman asked with a smile. He leaned across the table and drew towards him a case of telegraph forms. But whilst he was drawing them towards him, Luttrell spoke again.
"Nothing but the truth—yes," he said. He was speaking shyly, uncomfortably, and he stopped abruptly.
"The whole truth—no." Hardiman added slowly, and gently. He wanted the complete story from preface to conclusion, but he was not to get it. He received no answer of any kind for a considerable number of moments and Luttrell only broke the silence in the end, to declare definitely,
"That, at all events, is all I have to say."
Sir Charles nodded and drew the case of forms close to him. There was something more then. There always is something more, which isn't told, he reflected, and the worst of it is, the something more which isn't told is always the real reason. Men go to the confessional with a reservation; the secret chamber where they keep their sacred vessels, their real truths and inspirations, as also their most scarlet sins—that shall be opened to no one after early youth is past unless it be—rarely—to one woman. There was another reason at work in Harry Luttrell, but Sir Charles Hardiman was never to know it. With a shrug of his shoulders he took a pencil from his pocket, filled up one of the forms and handed it to Luttrell.
"That's what I should reply."
He had written:
- "I am travelling to London to-morrow to apply for transfer.—Luttrell."
Luttrell read the telegram with surprise. It was not the answer which he had expected from the victim of the flesh-pots in front of him.
"You advise that?" he exclaimed.
"Yes. My dear Luttrell, as you know, you are a guest very welcome to me. But you don't belong. We—Maud Carstairs, Tony Marsh and the rest of us—even Mario Escobar—we are the Come-to-nothings. We are the people of the stage door, we grow fat in restaurants. From three to seven, you may find us in the card-rooms of our clubs—we are jolly fine fellows—and no good. You don't belong, and should get out while you can."
Luttrell moved uncomfortably in his chair.
"That's all very well. But there's another side to the question," he said, and from the deck above a woman's voice called clearly down the stairway.
"Aren't you two coming?"
Both men looked towards the door.
"That side," said Hardiman.
Hardiman nodded his head.
"Stella Croyle doesn't belong either," he said. "But she kicked over the traces. She flung out of the rank and file. Oh, I know Croyle was a selfish, dull beast and her footprints in her flight from him were littered with excuses. I am not considering the injustice of the world. I am looking at the cruel facts, right in the face of them, as you have got to do, my young friend. Here Stella Croyle is—with us—and she can't get away. You can."
Luttrell was not satisfied. His grey eyes and thin, clean features were troubled like those of a man in physical pain.
"You don't know the strange, queer tie between Stella Croyle and me," he said. "And I can't tell you it."
Hardiman grew anxious. Luttrell had the look of a man overtrained, and it was worry which had overtrained him. His face was a trifle too delicate, perhaps, to go with those remorseless sharp decisions which must be made by the men who win careers.
"I know that you can't go through the world without hurting people," cried Hardiman. "Neither you nor any one else, except the limpets. And you won't escape hurting Stella Croyle, by abandoning your chances. Your love-affair will end—all of that kind do. And yours will end in a bitter, irretrievable quarrel after you have ruined yourself, and because you have ruined yourself. You are already on the rack—make no doubt about it. Oh, I have seen you twitch and jump with irritation—how many times on this yacht!—for trumpery, little, unimportant things she has said and done, which you would never have noticed six months ago; or only noticed to smile at with a pleased indulgence."
Luttrell's face coloured. "Why, that's true enough," he said. He was remembering the afternoon a week ago, when the yacht steamed between the green islands with their bathing stations and chalets, over a tranquil, sunlit sea of the deepest blue. Rounding a wooded corner towards sunset she came suddenly upon the bridges and the palace and the gardens of Stockholm. The women of the party were in the saloon. A rush was made towards it. They were summoned to this first wonderful view of the city of beauty. Would they come? No! Stella Croyle was in the middle of a game of Russian patience. She could play that game any day, every day, all day. This exquisite vision was vouchsafed to her but the once, and she had neglected it with the others. She had not troubled, even to move so far as the saloon door. For she had not finished her game.
Luttrell recalled his feeling of scorn; the scorn had grown into indignation; in the end he had made a grievance of her indifference to this first view of the city of Stockholm; a foolish, exasperating grievance, which would rankle, which would not be buried, which sprang to fresh life at each fresh sight of her. Yes, of a certainty, sooner or later Stella Croyle and he would quarrel, so bitterly that all the king's horses and all the king's men could never bring them again together; and over some utterly unimportant matter like the first view of Stockholm.
"Youth has many privileges over age," continued Hardiman, "but none greater than the vision, the half-interpreted recurring vision of wider spaces and greater things, towards which you sail on the wind of a great emotion. Sooner or later, a man loses that vision and then only knows his loss. Stay here, and you'll lose it before your time."
Luttrell looked curiously at his companion, wondering what manner of man he had been in his twenties. Hardiman answered the look with a laugh. "Oh, I, too, had my ambitions once."
Luttrell folded the cablegram which Hardiman had written out and placed it in the breast pocket of his dinner-jacket.
"I will talk to Stella to-night at dinner. Then, if I decide to send it, I can send it from the hotel over there at the landing-steps before we return to the yacht."
Sir Charles Hardiman rose cumbrously with a shrug of his shoulders. He had done his best, but since Luttrell would talk the question over with Stella Croyle, shoulder to shoulder with her amongst the lights and music, the perfume of her hair in his nostrils and the pleading of her eyes within his sight—he, Charles Hardiman, might as well have held his tongue.
So very likely it would have been. But when great matters are ripe for decisions one way or the other, the little accident as often as not decides. There was a hurrying of light feet in the corridor outside, a swift, peremptory knocking upon the door. The same woman's voice called in rather a shrill note through the panels! "Harry! Why don't you come? We are waiting for you."
And in the sound of the voice there was not merely impatience, but a note of ownership—very clear and definite; and hearing it Luttrell hardened. He stood up straight. He had the aspect of a man in revolt.