Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
MOSTYN RAY EXPLAINS
I walked straight to the House, and locked up my papers in the great safe. I had hoped to escape without seeing either Ray or Lady Angela, but as I crossed the hall they issued from the billiard-room. Lady Angela turned towards me eagerly.
"Mr. Ducaine," she exclaimed, "have you seen anything of Lord Blenavon to-day?"
I shook my head.
"I have not seen him for several days, Lady Angela," I answered.
Ray said something to her which I could not hear. She nodded and left us together.
"It seems," he said, "that this amiable young gentleman is more or less in the clutches of our siren friend at Braster Grange. I think that you and I had better go and dig him out."
"Thank you," I answered, "but I had all I wanted of Braster Grange last night."
"Pooh!" he answered lightly, "you are not even scratched. They are clumsy conspirators there. I think that you and I are a match for them. Come along!"
"You must excuse me, Colonel Ray," I said, "but I have no desire to visit Braster Grange, even with you."
Lady Angela, whose crossing the hall had been noiseless, suddenly interposed.
"You are quite right, Mr. Ducaine," she said; "but this is no visit of courtesy, is it? I am sure that my brother would never stay there voluntarily. Something must have happened to him."
"We will go and see," Ray declared. "Come along, Ducaine."
I hesitated, but a glance from Lady Angela settled the matter. For another such I would have walked into hell. Ray and I started off together, and I was not long before I spoke of the things which were in my mind.
"Colonel Ray," I said, "when I saw you this morning you made two statements, both of which were false."
Ray brought out his pipe and began to fill it in leisurely fashion.
"Go on," he said. "What were they?"
"The first was that you had come down from London by the newspaper train this morning, and the second was that you had received your injuries in a hansom cab accident."
His pipe was started, and he puffed out dense volumes of smoke with an air of keen enjoyment.
"Worst of having a woman for your hostess," he remarked, "one can't smoke except a sickly cigarette or two. You should take to a pipe, Ducaine."
"Will you be good enough to explain those two misstatements, Colonel Ray?"
"Lies, both of them!" he answered, with grim cheerfulness. "Rotten lies, and I hate telling 'em. The hansom cab accident must have sounded a bit thin."
"It did," I assured him.
He removed his pipe from his teeth, and pushed down the tobacco with the end of his finger.
"I came down from town by the same train that you did," he said, "and as for my broken head and smashed arm, you did it yourself."
"I imagined so," I answered. "Perhaps you will admit that you owe me some explanation." He laughed, a deep bass laugh, and looked down at me with a gleam of humour in his black eyes.
"Come," he said, "I think that the boot is on the other leg. My head is exceedingly painful and my leg is very stiff. For a young man of your build you have a most surprising muscle."
"I am to understand, then, that it was you who committed an unprovoked assault upon me--who planned to have me waylaid in that dastardly fashion?"
"Do you think," Ray asked quietly, "that I should be such a damned fool?"
"What am I to think, then, what am I to believe?" I asked, with a sudden anger. "You found me starving, and you gave me employment, but ever since I started my work life has become a huge ugly riddle. Are you my friend or my enemy? I do not know. There is a drama being played out before my very eyes. The figures in it move about me continually, yet I alone am blindfolded. I am trusted to almost an incredible extent. Great issues are confided to me. I have been given such a post as a man might work for a lifetime to secure. Yet where a little confidence would give me zest for my work--would take away this horrible sense of moving always in the darkness--it is withheld from me."
Ray smoked on in silence for several moments.
"Well," he said, "I am not sure that you are altogether unreasonable. But, on the other hand, you must not forget that there is method, and a good deal of it, in the very things of which you complain. There are certain positions in which a man may find himself where a measure of ignorance is a blessed thing. Believe me, that if you understood, your difficulties would increase instead of diminish."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"But between you and me at least, Colonel Ray," I said, "there is a plain issue. You can explain the events of last night to me."
"I will do that," he answered, "since you have asked it. Briefly, then, I parted from you on the steps of my club at a few minutes past nine last night."
"I saw from the moment we appeared that you were being watched. I saw the man who was loitering on the pavement lean over to hear the address you gave to the cabman, and you were scarcely away before he was following you. But it was only just as he drove by, leaning a little forward in his hansom, that I saw his face. I recognized him for one of that woman's most dangerous confederates, and I knew then that some villainy was on foot. To cut a long story short, I came down unobserved in your train, followed you to Braster Grange, and was only a yard or two behind when this fellow, who acts as the woman's chauffeur, sprang out upon you. I was unfortunately a little two quick to the rescue, and received a smash on the head from your stick. Then you bolted, and I found myself engaged with a pair of them. On the whole I think that they got the worst of it."
"The other one--was Lord Blenavon!" I exclaimed.
"Then he is concerned in the plots which are going on against us," I continued. "I felt certain of it. What a blackguard!"
"For his sister's sake," Colonel Ray said softly, "I want to keep him out of it if I can. Therefore I hit him a little harder than was necessary. He should be hors de combat for some time."
"But why didn't you cry out to me?" I said. "I should not have run if I had known that I had an ally there."
"To run was exactly what I wanted you to do," Ray answered. "You had the dispatch-box, and I wanted to see you safe away."
I glanced at his bandaged head and arm.
"I suppose that I ought to apologize to you," I said.
"Under the circumstances," he declared, "we will cry quits."
Then as we walked together in the glittering spring sunshine, this big silent man and I, there came upon me a swift, poignant impulse, the keener perhaps because of the loneliness of my days, to implore him to unravel all the things which lay between us. I wanted the story of that night, of my concern in it, stripped bare. Already my lips were opened, when round the corner of the rough lane by which Braster Grange was approached on this side came a doctor's gig. Ray shaded his eyes and gazed at its occupant.
"Is this Bouriggs, Ducaine?" he asked, "the man who shot with us?"
"It is Dr. Bouriggs," I answered.
Ray stopped the gig and exchanged greetings with the big sandy-haired man, who held a rein in each hand as though he were driving a market wagon. They chatted for a moment or two, idly enough, as it seemed to me.
"Any one ill at the Grange, doctor?" Ray asked at length.
The doctor looked at him curiously.
"I have just come from there," he answered. "There is nothing very seriously wrong."
"Can you tell me if Lord Blenavon is there?" Ray asked.
The doctor hesitated.
"It was hinted to me, Colonel Ray," he said, "that my visit to the Grange was not to be spoken of. You will understand, of course, that the etiquette of our profession--"
"Quite right," Ray interrupted. "The fact is, Lady Angela is very anxious about her brother, who did not return to Rowchester last night, and she has sent us out as a search party. Of course, if you were able to help us she would be very gratified."
The doctor hesitated.
"The Duke and, in fact, all the family have always been exceedingly kind to me," he remarked, looking straight between his horse's ears. "Under the circumstances you mention, if you were to assert that Lord Blenavon was at Braster Grange I do not think that I should contradict you."
"Thank you, doctor," he said. "Good morning."
The doctor drove on, and we pursued our way.
"It was a very dark night," Ray said, half to himself, "but if Blenavon was the man I hit he ought to have a cracked skull."
After all, our interrogation of the doctor was quite unnecessary. We were admitted at once to the Grange by a neatly-dressed parlour-maid. Mrs. Smith-Lessing was at home, and the girl did not for a moment seem to doubt her mistress's willingness to receive us. As she busied herself poking the fire and opening wider the thick curtains, Ray asked her another question.
"Do you know if Lord Blenavon is here?"
"Yes, sir," the girl answered promptly. "He was brought in last night rather badly hurt, but he is much better this morning. I will let Mrs. Smith-Lessing know that you are here, sir."
She hurried out, with the rustle of stiff starch and the quick light-footedness of the well-trained servant. Ray and I exchanged glances.
"After all, this is not such a home of mystery as we expected," I remarked.
"Apparently not," he answered. "The little woman is playing a bold game."
Then Mrs. Smith-Lessing came in.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.