The Summons (novel)/IX
Goodwood in the year nineteen hundred and fourteen! There were some, throwers of stones, searchers after a new thing on which to build a reputation, who have been preaching these many years past that the temper of England had changed, its solidity all dissolved into froth, and that a new race of neurotics was born on Mafeking night. Just ninety-nine years before this Goodwood meeting, when Napoleon and the veterans of the Imperial Guard were knocking at the gates of Brussels, a famous ball was given. Goodwood of the year nineteen-fourteen, mutatis mutandis, did but repeat that scene, the same phlegmatic enjoyment of the festival, the same light-heartedness and sure confidence under the great shadow, and the same ending.
The whispered word went round so that there should be no panic or alarm, and of a sudden every officer was gone. Goodwood of nineteen fourteen and a July so perfect with sunlight and summer that it seemed some bird at last must break the silence of the famed beech-grove! All the world went to it. The motor-cars and the coaches streamed up over Duncton Hill and wound down the Midhurst Road to pleasant Charlton, with its cottages and gardens of flowers. Martin Hillyard went too.
As he walked away from Captain Graham's eyrie he met Sir Chichester Splay in Pall Mall.
"Where have you been these eight months?" inquired Sir Chichester. "'The Dark Tower' is still running, I see. A good play, Mr. Hillyard."
"But not a great play, of course," said Martin, his lips twitching to a smile.
"I have been looking for you everywhere," remarked Sir Chichester. "You must stay with us for Goodwood. My wife will never forgive me if I don't secure you."
Hillyard gladly consented. It would be his first visit to the high racecourse on the downs—and—and he might find Stella Croyle among the company. It would be a little easier for him and for her too, if they met this second time in a house of many visitors. He had no comfortable news to give to her, and he had shrunk from seeking her out in the Bayswater Road. Wrap the truth in words however careful, he could not but wound her. Yet sooner or later she must hear of his return, and avoidance of her would but tell the story more cruelly than his lips.
"Yes, I will gladly come," he said, "if I may come down on the first day."
He was delayed in London until midday, and so motored after luncheon through Guildford and Chiddingfold and Petworth to Rackham Park. The park ran down to the Midhurst Road, and when Hillyard was shown into the drawing-room he walked across to the window and looked out over a valley of fields and hedges and low, dark ridges to the downs lying blue in the sunlight and the black forests on their slopes.
From an embrasure a girl rose with a book in her hand.
"Let me introduce myself, Mr. Hillyard. I am Joan Whitworth, and make my home here with my aunt. They are all at Goodwood, of course, but they should be back at any moment."
She rang the bell and ordered tea. Somewhere Hillyard realised he had seen the girl before. She was about eighteen years old, he guessed, very pretty, with a wealth of fair hair deepening into brown, dark blue eyes shaded with long dark lashes and a colour of health abloom in her cheeks.
"You have been in Egypt, uncle tells me."
"In the Sudan," Hillyard corrected. "I have been shooting for eight months."
Joan Whitworth's eyes were turned on him in frank disappointment. "The author of 'The Dark Tower'—shooting!"
There was more than disappointment in her voice. There was a hint of disdain.
Hillyard did not pursue the argument.
"I knew that I had seen you before. I remember where now. You were with Sir Chichester at the first performance of 'The Dark Tower.' I peeped out behind the curtain of my box and saw you."
Joan's face relaxed.
"Oh, yes, I was there."
"But——" Hillyard began, and caught himself up. He had been on the point of saying that she had a very different aspect in the stalls of the Rubicon Theatre. But he looked her up and down and held his peace. Yet what he did substitute left him in no better case.
"So you have not gone to the races," he said, and once more her lip curled in disdain. She drew herself up to her full height—she was not naturally small, but a good honest piece of English maidenhood.
"Do I look as if I were likely to go to the races?" she asked superbly.
She was dressed in a sort of shapeless flowing gown, saffron in colour, and of a material which, to Hillyard's inexperienced eye, seemed canvas. It spread about her on the ground, and it was high at the throat. A broad starched white collar, like an Eton boy's, surmounted it, and a little black tie was fastened in a bow, and scarves floated untidily around her.
"No, upon my word you do not," cried Hillyard, nettled at last by her haughtiness, and with such a fervour of agreement, that suddenly all her youth rose into Joan Whitworth's face and got the better of her pose. She laughed aloud, frankly, deliciously. And her laugh was still rippling about the room when motor-horns hooted upon the drive.
At once the laughter vanished.
"We shall be amongst horses in a minute," she observed with a sigh. "I can smell the stables already," and she retired to her book in the embrasure of the window.
A joyous and noisy company burst into the room. Sir Chichester, with larger mother-of-pearl buttons on his fawn-coloured overcoat than ever decorated even a welshing bookmaker on Brighton Downs, led Hillyard up to Lady Splay.
"My wife. Millie, Mr. Hillyard."
Hints of Lady Splay's passion for the last new person had prepared Hillyard for a lady at once gushing and talkative. He was surprised to find himself shaking hands with a pleasant, unassuming woman of distinct good looks. Hillyard was presented to Dennis and Miranda Brown, a young couple two years married, and to Mr. Harold Jupp, a man of Hillyard's age. Harold Jupp was a queer-looking person with a long, thin, brown face, and a straight, wide mouth too close to a small pointed chin. Harold Jupp carried about with him a very aura of horses. Horses were his only analogy; he thought in terms of horses; and perhaps, as a consequence, although he could give no reasons for his judgments upon people, those judgments as a rule were conspicuously sound. Jupp shook hands with Hillyard, and turned to the student at the window.
"Well, Joan, how have you lived without us? Aren't you bored with your large, beautiful self?"
Joan looked at him with an annihilating glance, and crossed the room to Millie Splay.
"Bored! How could I be? When I have so many priceless wasted hours to make up for!"
"Yes, yes, my dear," said Millie Splay soothingly. "Come and have some tea."
"That's it, Joan," cried Jupp, unrepressed by the girl's contempt. "Come and have tea with the barbarians."
Joan addressed herself to Dennis Brown, as one condescending from Olympus.
"I hope you had a good day."
"Awful," Dennis Brown admitted. "We ought to have had five nice wins on form. But they weren't trying, Joan. The way Camomile was pulled. I expected to see his neck shut up like a concertina."
"Never mind, boys," said Sir Chichester. "You'll get it back before Friday."
Harold Jupp shook his head doubtfully.
"Never sure about flat-racing. Jumping's the only thing for the poor and honest backer."
Joan Wentworth looked about her regretfully.
"I understand now why you have all come back so early."
Miranda Brown ran impulsively to her. She was as pretty as a picture, and spoke as a rule in a series of charming explosions. At this moment she was deeply wronged.
"Yes, Joan," she cried. "They would go! And I know that I have backed the winner for the last race."
Dennis Brown contemplated his wife with amazement.
"Miranda, you are crazy," he cried. "He can't win."
Harold Jupp agreed regretfully.
"He's a Plater. That's the truth. A harmless, unnecessary Plater. I sit at the feet of Miranda Brown, Joan, but as regards horses, she doesn't know salt from sugar."
Miranda looked calmly at her watch.
"He has already won."
Tea was brought in and consumed. At the end of it Dennis Brown observed to Harold Jupp:
"We ought to arrange what we are going to do to-morrow."
Both men rose, and each drew from one pocket a programme of the next day's events, and from the other a little paper-covered volume called "Form at a Glance." Armed with their paraphernalia, they retired to a table in a window.
"Come and live the higher life with us, Joan," cried Harold Jupp. "What are you reading?"
"Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society," Joan returned icily. But pride burned through the ice, and was audible.
"He sounds just like a Plater," replied Harold Jupp.
Meanwhile Dennis Brown was immersed in his programme.
"The first race is too easy," he announced.
"Yes," said Jupp. "It's sticking out a foot. Peppercorn."
Dennis Brown stared at his friend.
"Don't be silly! Simon Jackson will romp home."
Harold Jupp consulted his little brown book.
"Peppercorn ran second to Petronella at Newbury, giving her nine pounds. Petronella met Simon Jackson at even weights at Newcastle, and Simon Jackson was left in the country. Peppercorn must win."
"Let us hear the names of the others," interrupted Miranda, running up to the table.
Harold Jupp read out the names.
"Smoky Boy, Paper Crown, House on Fire, Jemima Puddleduck——" and Miranda clapped her hands.
"Jemima Puddleduck's going to win."
Both the young men stared at her, then both plunged their noses into their books.
"Jemima Puddleduck," Dennis Brown read, "out of Side Springs, by the Quack."
"Oh, what a pedigree!" cried Miranda. "She must win."
Jupp wrinkled his forehead.
"But she's done nothing. Why must she win?" asked Dennis.
Miranda shrugged her shoulders at the ineffable stupidity of the young man with whom she was linked.
"Listen to her name! Jemima Puddleduck! She can't lose!"
Both the young men dropped their books and gazed at one another hopelessly. Here was the whole scientific business of spotting winners, through research into pedigrees, weights, records, the favourite distances and race courses of this or that runner, so completely disregarded that racing might really be a matter of chance.
"I'll tell you, Miranda," said Harold Jupp. "Jemima Puddleduck's a Plater."
The awful condemnation had no sooner been pronounced than the butler, with his attendant footman, appeared to remove the tea.
"We have just heard over the telephone, sir," he said to Sir Chichester, "the winner of the last race."
"Oh!" cried Miranda breathlessly. "Which was it?"
Miranda swept round to her husband, radiant. "There, what did I tell you? Chewing Gum. What were the odds, Harper?" She turned again to the butler. "Oh, you do know, don't you?"
"Yes, madam, twelve to one. They say he rolled home."
Miranda Brown jumped in the air.
"Oh, I have won a hundred and twenty pounds."
Harold Jupp was sympathetic and consolatory.
"Of course it's a mistake, Miranda. I am awfully sorry! Chewing Gum ran nowhere to Earthly Paradise in the Newberry Stakes this year, and Earthly Paradise, all out to win, was beaten a month ago by seven lengths at Warwick, by Rollicking Lady. And Rollicking Lady was in this race too. So you see it's impossible. Chewing Gum's a Plater."
Miranda wrung her hands.
"But, Harold, he did win; didn't he, Harper?"
"There's no doubt about it, madam," replied the butler with dignity. "I 'av verified the hinformation from other sources."
He left the two experts blinking. Dennis was the first to recover from the blow.
"What on earth made you back him, Miranda?"
Miranda sailed to the side of Joan Whitworth.
"You are both of you so very unpleasant that I am seriously inclined not to tell you. But I always back horses with the names of things to eat."
The two scientists were dumb. They stared open-mouthed. Somewhere, it seemed, a religion tottered upon its foundations. Sacrilege itself could hardly have gone further than Miranda Brown had gone.
"But—but," Harold Jupp stammered feebly, "you don't eat chewing gum."
Miranda flattened him out with a question.
"What becomes of it, then?" and there was no answer. But Miranda was not content with her triumph. She must needs carry the war unwisely into the enemy's camp.
"After all, what in the world can have possessed you, Dennis, to back a silly old mare like Barmaid?"
Dennis Brown saw his opportunity.
"I always back horses with the names of things to kiss," he declared.
Jupp laughed aloud; Sir Chichester chuckled; Miranda looked as haughty as good-humour and a dainty personality enabled her to do.
"Vulgar, don't you think?" she asked of Joan. "But racing men are vulgar. Oh, Joan! have you thought out your book to-day? Can you now begin to write it? Will you write it in the window, with the South Downs in front of your eyes? Oh, it'll be wonderful!"
"What ho!" cried Mr. Jupp. "Miranda has joined the highbrows."
Dennis Brown was too seriously occupied to waste his time upon Miranda's enthusiasms.
"It's a pity we can't get the evening papers," he said gloomily. "I should dearly like to see the London forecasts for to-morrow."
"I brought some evening papers down with me," said Hillyard, and "Did you?" cried Sir Chichester, and his eyes flashed with interest. But Harold Jupp was already out of the room. He came back from the hall with a bundle of newspapers in his hands, pink and white and yellow and green. He carried them all relentlessly past Sir Chichester to the table in the window. Sir Chichester to a newspaper, was a needle to a magnet; and while Dennis Brown read out the selections for the morrow's races of "The Man of Iron" in the Evening Patriot, and "Hitchy Koo" in The Lamppost, Sir Chichester edged nearer and nearer.
Lady Splay invited Hillyard to play croquet with her in the garden; and half-way through the game Hillyard approached the question which troubled him.
"I was wondering whether I should meet Mrs. Croyle here."
Millicent Splay drove her ball before she answered, and missed her hoop.
"What a bore!" she cried. "Now I shall have to come back again. I didn't know that you had met Stella."
"I met her only once. I liked her."
Millie Splay nodded.
"I am glad. There's always a room here for Stella. I told her so immediately after I met her, and she took me at my word, as I meant her to do. But she avoids Goodwood week and festivals generally, and she is wise. For though I would take her anywhere myself, you know what long memories people have for other people's sins. There might be humiliations."
"I understand that," said Hillyard, and he added, "I gathered from Mrs. Croyle that you had remained a very staunch friend."
Millie Splay shrugged her shoulders.
"I am a middle-aged woman with a middle-aged woman's comprehension. There are heaps of things I loathe more and more each day, meanness, for instance, and an evil tongue. But, for the other sins, more and more I see the case for compassion. Stella was hungry of heart, and she let the hunger take her. She had her blind, wild hour or two; she was a fool; she was—well, everything the moralists choose to call her. But she has been paying for her hour ever since, and will go on paying. Now, if I can only hit your yellow ball from here, I shall have rather a good game on."
Lady Splay succeeded and, carrying the four croquet balls with her, went round the rest of the hoops and pegged out.
"I must go in and change," she said, and suddenly, in a voice of melancholy, she cried, "Oh, I do wish——" and stopped.
"Oh, it doesn't matter," she answered. But her eyes were upon the window, where Joan Whitworth stood in full view in all her disfiguring panoply. Lady Splay wrung her hands helplessly. "Oh, dear, dear, if she weren't so thorough!" she moaned.
When they returned into the drawing-room, Sir Chichester was still standing near to Harold Jupp and Dennis Brown, shifting from one foot to another, and making little inarticulate sounds in his throat.
"Haven't you two finished yet?" asked Millicent Splay.
"Just," said Dennis Brown, rubbing his hands together with a laugh, "and we ought to have four nice wins to-morrow."
"Good!" said Sir Chichester. "Then might I have a newspaper?"
"But of course," said Dennis Brown, and he handed one over the table to him. "You haven't been waiting for it all this time, Sir Chichester?"
"Oh no, no, no," exclaimed Sir Chichester, quickly. He glanced with a swift and experienced eye down the columns, and tossed the paper aside.
"Might I have another?"
"But of course, sir."
The second paper was disposed of as rapidly as the first, and the others followed in their turn.
"Nothing in them," said Sir Chichester with a resigned air. "Nothing in them at all."
Millie Splay laughed.
"All that my husband means is that his name is not to be found in any one of them."
"The occurrence seems so rare that he has no great reason to complain," said Hillyard; and, in order to assuage any disappointment which might still be rankling in the baronet's bosom, Hillyard related at the dinner-table, with the necessary discretions, his election to the mess at Senga.
Sir Chichester was elated. "So far away my name is known! Really, that is very pleasant hearing!"
There was no offence to him in the reason of his honorary membership of the Senga mess, which, however carefully Hillyard sought to hide it, could not but peep out. Sir Chichester neither harboured illusions himself as to his importance nor sought to foster them in others. There was none of the "How do these things get into the papers?" about him.
"I am not a public character. So I have to take trouble to keep myself in print. And I do—a deuce of a lot of trouble."
"Now, why?" asked Harold Jupp, who possessed an inquiring mind and was never satisfied by anything but the most definite statements.
"Because I like it," replied Sir Chichester. "I am used to it, and I like it. Unless I see my name in real print every morning, I have all day the uncomfortable sensation that I am not properly dressed."
Millie Splay and the others round the table, with the exception of one person, laughed. To that one person, Sir Chichester here turned good-humouredly:
"All right, you can turn your nose up, Joan. It seems extraordinary to you that I should like to see my name in print. I can tell you something more extraordinary than that. The public likes it too. Just because I am not a public character, every reference to me must be of an exclusively personal kind. And that's just the sort of reference which the public eats. It is much more thrilled by the simple announcement that a Sir Chichester Splay, of whom it has never heard, has bought a new pair of purple socks with white stripes than it would be by a full account of a Cabinet crisis."
Once more the company laughed at Sir Chichester's apology for his foible.
Lady Splay turned to Hillyard.
"And who is the ingenious man who discovered this way of keeping the peace at Senga?"
Hillyard suddenly hesitated.
"A great friend of mine," he answered with his eyes on Millie Splay's face. "He was with me at Oxford. A Captain Luttrell."
But it was clear almost at once that the name had no associations in Lady Splay's mind. She preferred to entertain her friends in the country than to live in town. She knew little of what gossip might run the streets of London; and since Luttrell was, as yet, like Sir Chichester, in that he was not a public character, there had been no wide-run gossip about Stella Croyle or himself which Millicent Splay was likely to meet.
Hillyard thought at first, that with a woman's self-control she turned a blank face to him of a set purpose. But one little movement of hers reassured him. Her eyes turned towards Joan Whitworth, as though asking whether this Harry Luttrell was a match for her, and she said:
"You must bring your friend down to see us, when he comes back to England. We are almost acquainted as it is."
No! Millicent Splay did not connect Harry Luttrell with Stella Croyle. It would have been better if Hillyard, that very night, had enlightened her. But he was neither a gossip nor a meddler. It was not possible that he should.