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15: The Tale the Doctor Told

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Author Topic: 15: The Tale the Doctor Told  (Read 48 times)
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« on: April 11, 2023, 11:23:01 am »

THE General read the telegram again. He was, despite his erratic temperament, a shrewd and intelligent man.

“What does that mean?” he asked quietly for him. “Where is Gilbert? And where does he wire from?”

He picked up the telegram and inspected it. It was handed in at the General Post Office at London at 6.35 p.m.

The General’s hour for dining was consonant with his breakfast hour, and it was a quarter past nine when the dinner gong brought Edith Standerton down from her room.

She was worried; she could not understand the reference to the jewels. What had made Gilbert send this message? Had she known more of the circumstances of what had happened on the previous afternoon she would have wondered rather how he was able to send the message.

The General took the warning seriously, but not so seriously that he was prepared to remove his jewellery to any other receptacle. Indeed, the purchase of the safe had been made necessary by the fact that beyond the butler’s strong room, which was strong only in an etymological sense, there was no security for property of any value.

He had made an inspection of the jewels in the safe and had relocked the door, leaving a servant in the library, with strict instructions not to come out until he was instructed to leave by his master.

Edith came down to find that another guest had arrived, a guest who greeted her with a cheery and familiar smile.

“How do you do, Doctor?” she said. “It is not so long since I met you at mother’s. You remember me?”

“I remember you perfectly,” said Dr. Barclay-Seymour.

He was a tall, thin man with a straggling iron-grey beard and a high forehead.

A little absent in his manner, he conveyed the impression, never a very flattering one, that he had matters more weighty to think about than the conversation which was being addressed to him. He was, perhaps, the most noteworthy of the provincial doctors. He came out of his shell sufficiently to recognise her and to remember her mother. Mrs. Cathcart had been a great friend of Barclay’s. They had grown up together.

“Your mother is a very wonderful woman,” said Dr. Barclay-Seymour as he took the girl in to dinner, “a remarkable woman.”

Edith was seized with an almost overwhelming temptation to ask why. It would have been unpardonable of her had she done so, but never did a word so tremble upon a human being’s lips as that upon hers.

They ate through dinner, which was made a little uncomfortable by the fact that General Sir John Standerton was unquestionably nervous. Twice during the course of the meal he sent out one of the three footmen who waited at table to visit what he termed the outpost. Nothing untoward had happened on either occasion.

“I do not know what to do about this jewellery. I hope that Gilbert is not playing the fool,” he said.

He turned to Edith with a genial scowl.

“Has he developed any kittenish ways of late?”

She smiled.

“There is no word which less describes Gilbert than kittenish,” she said.

“Is it not remarkable that he sent that message?” the General went on testily. “I hardly know what to do. I could get a constable up, but the police here are the most awful and appalling idiots. I have a great mind to have my bed put in the library and sleep there myself.”

He brightened up at the thought.

He had reached the stage in life when sleeping in any other room than that to which he was accustomed represented a form of heroism. After the dinner was through they made their way to the drawing-room.

The General was fidgety, and though Edith played and sang a little French love song with no evidence of agitation, she was as nervous as the General.

“I tell you what we will do,” said Sir John suddenly, “we will all adjourn to the library. It is a jolly nice room if you do not mind our smoking.”

It was an excellent suggestion, and one that she accepted with pleasure. She was the only lady of the party, and remarked on the fact as she went upstairs with Sir John.

He glanced hurriedly round.

“I always regard a doctor as a fit chaperone for any lady,” he said with a chuckle---it amused him.

Later he found the complement of the joke, and discoursed loudly upon old women of all professions, a discourse which was arrested by the arrival of the Doctor and Jack Frankfort.

The library was a big room, and it was chiefly remarkable for the fact that it contained no more evidence of Sir John’s literary taste than a number of volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica and a shelf full of Ruff’s Guide to the Turf. It was, however, a delightful room, panelled in old oak with mullioned windows standing in deep recesses. These, explained Sir John, opened out on to a terrace---an excellent reason for his apprehension.

“Pull the curtain, William,” said Sir John to the waiting footman, “and then you can clear out. Have the coffee brought in here.”

The man pulled the heavy velvet curtains across the big recesses, placed a chair for the girl, and retired.

“Excuse me,” said Sir John.

He went across to the safe and opened it again. He inspected the case. Nothing had been disturbed.

“Ah,” he breathed---It was a sigh of infinite relief.

“This wire of Gilbert’s is getting on my nerves,” he excused himself irritably. “What the devil did he wire for? Is he the sort of man that sends telegrams to save himself the bother of licking down an envelope?”

Edith shook her head.

“I am as much in the dark as you,” she said, “but I assure you that Gilbert is not an alarmist.”

“How do you get on with him?” he asked her.

The girl flushed a little.

“I get on very well,” she said, and strove to turn the conversation. But it was a known fact that no human soul had ever turned Sir John from his set inquisitional course.

“Happy, and that sort of thing?” he asked.

Edith nodded, keeping her eyes on the wall behind the General’s head.

“I suppose you love him---hey?”

Edith was embarrassed, and no less so were the two men; but Sir John was not alone in imagining that doctors have little sense of decency and lawyers no idea of propriety. They were saved further discussion by the arrival of the coffee, and the girl was thankful.

“I am going to keep you here until Gilbert comes up for you,” said the old man suddenly. “I suppose you know, but probably you do not, that you are the first of your sex that I have ever tolerated in my house.”

She laughed.

“It is a fact,” he said seriously. “You know I do not get on with women. They do not realise that though I am an irritable old chap there is really no harm in me, and I am an irritable old chap,” he confessed. “It is not that they are impertinent or rude, but it is their long-suffering meekness that I cannot stand. If a lady tells me to go to the devil I know where I am. I want the plain, blunt truth without gaff. I prefer my medicine without sugar.”

The Doctor laughed.

“You are different from most people, Sir John. I know men who are rather sensitive about the brutal truth.”

“More fools they,” said Sir John.

“I do not know,” said the Doctor reflectively. “I sympathise with a man who does not want the whole bitterness of fact hurled at his head in the shape of an honest half a brick, although there is an advantage in knowing the truth sometimes, it saves a lot of needless unhappiness,” he added a little sadly. He seemed to have aroused some unpleasant train of thought. “I will give you an extraordinary instance,” he went on in his usual deliberate manner.

“What’s that?” asked the General suddenly.

“I think it was a noise in the hall,” said Edith.

“I thought it was a window,” growled the General, rather ashamed that he should have been detected in his jump.

“I see,” said Edith.

Her voice was hollow and sounded remote to her.

“What is that?” said the General, and jumped up.

This time there was no doubt. Jack Frankfort sprang to the curtain that covered the recess and pulled it aside. There stood Gilbert Standerton, white as a ghost, his eyes staring into vacancy, the hand at his mouth shaking.
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