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Our Library => Patricia Wentworth - Fool Errant (1929) => Topic started by: Admin on June 13, 2023, 11:13:44 am



Title: Chapter Thirty-Five
Post by: Admin on June 13, 2023, 11:13:44 am
HE stood and looked at the door for a little while. He had plenty to think about. He wanted to sort his thinking and get it clear. Now that the thing had come, he felt quite quiet and cool. Nothing really mattered except the plans. Had they got them, or had they not got them? And then . . . when he said “they,” which of them did he mean? There was Hélène de Lara---and there were Minstrel and Hacker. Hélène had had the flute---and the plans were in the flute---and the plans were gone. Hélène therefore had had the plans. But had she handed them on to Minstrel and Hacker, or had she got them still? Was she, in fact, playing Minstrel’s game, or was she playing a game of her own---a game in which she beckoned Hugo as a partner? She had looked at him as she went from the room---a quick backward look unseen by the others; her eyes had said something---had promised and implored. Was it just play acting---an effective exit? Or was he in fact being beckoned to take a hand in Mme. de Lara’s game? He didn’t know.

After a minute he turned from the door and began to walk slowly up and down. It was when he turned for the third time that he saw the brooch. He was looking down, and as he moved, a point of light flashed at him from the floor with just the tiny rainbow flash that you get from a point of dew.

The brooch lay under the table where the Ming dogs grinned fiercely over his flute. He stooped and picked it up, a basket of silver tracery heaped with tiny jewelled flowers---Loveday’s brooch.

Hugo stood with the brooch in his hand. He had seen it on the front of Loveday’s pink dress yesterday evening; he knew it at once---a silver basket heaped with little pink roses and green jewelled leaves. It brought back the picture of Loveday standing here, under the lamp. That is what he thought of first---just Loveday, and how she had taken his breath away because it was the first time he had seen her properly.

He wondered how she had dropped the brooch, and whether she had gone back to Ledlington. He hoped she had gone back, because he didn’t like her being in the sort of house where Miller and Hacker could come and go as they chose. He hoped she had gone back to safe, dull Emily Brown.

He turned the brooch over to look at the catch. The catch was all right, but the pin was so much bent that it fixed his attention. What on earth had she done with the pin to bend it like that? She couldn’t have worn the brooch in that condition—the pin was all wrenched to one side and wouldn’t meet the catch. What had she been doing to wrench it like that? And why had it dropped just here by the table where his flute was lying?

He looked from the table to the brooch, and back again to the table. Then he bent forward and picked up a tiny shred of paper from the carpet just at his feet. It was a scrap of tracing paper. He stared at the bit of paper, and then at the two halves of his flute. The brooch---the flute---the scrap of paper---Loveday. He had wedged the plans pretty hard into the flute. Someone must have had a job to get them out. They might have been prized out with a longish pin; but the pin would get badly bent, and the paper might be torn. An empty flute, a bent pin, a torn scrap of paper, and---Loveday. Hugo very nearly shouted her name aloud, because all at once he was joyfully, unreasoningly sure that it was Loveday who had taken the plans.

He put her brooch in his pocket and examined the table closely. There were one or two more shreds of paper. He picked up the flute and held the open ends to the light. And the open ends were scratched---they were most blessedly and indubitably scratched.

The relief was so immense that it set Hugo’s spirits bubbling crazily. He flung the flute back on the table, caught up one of Mme. de Lara’s violet cushions, whirled round the room with it in an abandoned dance, and finally kicked it from the hearth to the window. He wanted to laugh, and he wanted to shout. Nothing mattered if it was Loveday who had the plans.

But he must get away from here and go to her. The plans must be safe in the hands of Mr. Green of the Air Ministry before Miller discovered that he had been done. He hadn’t the faintest idea how he was to get away; but neither had he the faintest doubt that he would be able to do so. He thought the adventure was going extremely well, and the only thing that bothered him was that he couldn’t hug Loveday and tell her how clever she was.

A soft, undefined sound made him turn towards the hearth. On either side of the white marble mantelpiece there were hangings of old Spanish embroidery; they covered the wall with straight, pale folds, and showed tints of lemon, straw, dead rose, and ashen blue, wonderfully worked by the patient fingers of half-cloistered ladies.

The sound came again. The right-hand curtain moved, slid back, and discovered a door which Mme. de Lara was closing behind her. In a flash Hugo thought of the evening before, when he and Loveday had been left alone together, and he wondered whether it was Hacker or Hélène de Lara who had stood watching and listening behind those hangings there.

Hélène let the curtains fall and came forward with a finger at her lips. With her other hand she caught at his sleeve.

“Ssh!” And then, “Oh, Hugo!”

“What is it?”

“I want to help you---Hugo.”

She breathed quickly, and she was pale; the hand on his arm trembled.

“How can you?”

She whispered close to his ear.

“I can help you to get away.”

He drew back half a pace.

“And suppose I don’t want to go?”

“You must---you must!”

“W-will you tell me why?”

“Because you must go.”

This was what Hugo had said himself; but he felt curious to know why Mme. de Lara should say it. He didn’t trust her the hundredth part of an inch, and he said,

“Why should I run away from a p-perfectly m-monstrous accusation?”

She was holding his arm now with both her hands.

“Hugo---I must make you see---I must make you understand. You’re ruined if you stay. You are absolutely ruined, because they have such proofs.” She shook him in what appeared to be an access of terror. “There’s that letter offering you money. And Leonard says he saw you talking to a stranger in the lane one day, and he says he heard the man say you could fix your own price. And James Hacker says the girl at your rooms told him what friends you and Miller were, and that she’d heard Miller offering you any price you liked. No, Hugo---listen! You must listen. It---it’s breaking my heart. I’m not blaming you---I only want to help you. I only want you to see what proofs they’ve got. There are other things too---James told you he knew about the telegram. Oh, can’t you see that you haven’t got a chance? And Ambrose is so vindictive. He’s cruel---cruel. He hasn’t any human feelings at all. He only cares for his inventions---and if one of them is touched, he hasn’t any mercy. He will send you to prison. I tell you he and James don’t know what pity means. Ambrose only cares for his inventions, and James is jealous because he thinks I care what becomes of you. And they’ve got the proofs. They’ll send you to prison.” It was a flurry of soft shaken words and soft trembling breath very close to him, while her hands implored him. “Hugo---I’ll let you out. They don’t know I’ve come. I can help you to get away. You must go abroad where they can’t touch you---I have a friend who will help you. You’re not safe in England---Ambrose means to send you to prison.”

It wasn’t very easy to think in the midst of all this; but something quite clear and definite came to Hugo even as a hot, bright tear fell on his sleeve and glistened there. It made him think of Loveday’s brooch, and the way the little flashing stone had caught the light. And quick on that came the clear and definite conclusion. Mme. de Lara was lying when she said that Minstrel and Hacker didn’t know that she was here. He felt quite sure that they knew, and he felt quite sure that she was here because they wanted him out of the way. Hélène was there to scare him, to get him to bolt. That was the plan---a much cleverer plan than he had guessed. They wouldn’t risk a prosecution. They wouldn’t need to risk anything if they could induce Hugo to give himself away by bolting. Hugo in the dock might be dangerous; but Hugo a fugitive in France would be the very convenient scapegoat which they needed. The whole thing stood out as sharp and clear as if a bright light had been turned on it.

Mme. de Lara’s voice went on:

“Hugo---speak---say something! I’m not blaming you---I want to help you. And we must be quick---oh, we must be quick. There’s no time to be lost.”

This, at least, was true. He must get away, and get away quickly. And yet---if Loveday hadn’t got the plans, he would be damning himself past hope. Not for the first time, the only thing to do was the thing that would damn him deepest if it didn’t come off. It was hit or miss, but he had to chance it.

“Hugo---say something,” said Hélène de Lara.

Hugo found himself stammering. “W-what do you w-w-want me to s-say?”

“Oh, so many things---only there is not time now. But one day we will meet, and you shall tell me all---all that is in your heart.”

Hugo wondered if she would like it if he did. He imagined not. He said,

“W-what c-can I do?”

“Oh, you must go at once---it is your only chance. Have you any money?”

“Yes,” said Hugo.

This was horrible. He wanted to be gone. The room was stiflingly hot. Hélène de Lara did not move him now. He came near to hating her. He stepped back and said,

“How c-can I go?”

And in a moment she was at the shuttered door unlocking it.

“This way---you must go this way---down the terrace steps and along the path.” Her breath caught. “Oh---the little path! Do you remember? We came along it together. Oh, you must go!”

He asked no better. But she had not played her scene to the finish yet. As he opened the door and stepped out on to the gravel, she was beside him.

“Oh, why cannot I come too?” she breathed.

P-please go in.”

But when he had crossed the terrace she was still there, a faint grey ghost in the light which came from the open window.

“Hugo---wait! I have things---to say.”

“G-good-bye!”

“No, not good-bye---not like that!” She pushed something down into his pocket. “There is the address I told you of---the friend who will help. You will need a passport, and you must get across quickly. He will help you if you show him what is in the packet. Oh, you must go!”

The last sentence did shake him a little; it had such a heart-broken sound. Was it all acting? He hoped with all his heart that it was---but he wasn’t sure.

He had descended a couple of steps, when she called his name in an anguished whisper:

“Hugo---don’t go!”

“I m-must.”

He turned to say it, and felt her arms about his neck. She kissed him twice. Her face was wet. With a gasp she pushed him away.

“Oh, go---go!” she said; and without a word Hugo went.

He had never been so glad to say good-bye to anyone before.