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Chapter Seventeen

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« on: July 23, 2023, 04:59:43 am »

MRS. Deverell, pausing on the threshold, at the very first glance appeared to take in that she had been summoned for a special purpose. She was nervous, though Uncle Stephen both looked and spoke very kindly to her when he said, ‘Sit down Mrs. Deverell.’

Tom watched her take a chair close to the wall and sit there stiffly. He saw that her thin, veined hands trembled before she folded them in her lap; she looked so frail and frightened indeed that he would have escaped from the sight of her distress had not Uncle Stephen motioned to him to remain where he was.

‘Master Tom has been to see your son this morning, Mrs. Deverell,’ he began.

Mrs. Deverell tried to reply, but what she said was inaudible.

‘I don’t suppose you know all the particulars of this unfortunate affair, but your son told Master Tom about it, and also that he would like to get out of the country before further developments take place. I’ve no doubt myself that if this can be done it will be the best thing---for you at any rate. For a long time, I’m afraid, you’ve had more anxiety than comfort from keeping him at home.’

‘Oh no, sir, it’s not that: I----’

‘Master Tom proposes to help him by giving him fifty pounds,’ Uncle Stephen continued.

‘I’m sure, sir, he’ll pay it back when----’

Uncle Stephen made a slight gesture with his hand, and Mrs. Deverell did not complete her speech.

‘Master Tom does not expect to be paid back and does not want to be paid back. He has asked me to advance him the money and I intend to do so, but that is my whole share in the matter: the idea is Master Tom’s and the money is his. That, I think, is all.’

Mrs. Deverell burst into tears.

Tom turned his back. He had known what would happen, and why couldn’t Uncle Stephen have let him clear out before it did happen? He caught sight of the open window and scrambled across the sill before anybody could prevent him.

He did not go far, however, but waited where he had a view of the room, and no sooner had Mrs. Deverell left it than he returned. Uncle Stephen was unlocking his desk, from which he took a cheque book.

‘You’d better tell them to give you a pound in silver and the rest in Treasury Notes,’ he said quietly, as he wrote out the cheque and dried it on the blotting pad. He handed it to Tom who put it away in the inside pocket of his jacket.

‘Thank you, Uncle Stephen.’

‘You know what you’re doing, Tom? If it comes out that we’ve been assisting a criminal to escape it won’t help our case. . . . Well, don’t look so guilty about it: you’ve nothing to be ashamed of. I suppose all your time now will be spent in avoiding Mrs. Deverell. It won’t be the slightest use, and you’d have done much better to have let her thank you and get it over. Are you going to the bank at once or are you going to wait till after dinner? It must be dinner-time now.’

‘I think I’d like to go at once, Uncle Stephen, and I’d rather you didn’t wait for me.’

‘Very well. I suppose you won’t be happy till the matter is settled.’

Tom departed on his errand, but on reaching the bend of the avenue he glanced back at the house and caught sight of Mrs. Deverell watching him from an upper window. ‘I hope she’s not going home,’ he thought. ‘And I bet she is. He won’t like it---especially when she wouldn’t take the message he asked her to. And he’ll hate taking the money before her. Really you’d think she might have sense enough to wait till after I’d been.’

So Tom scolded poor Mrs. Deverell for an act she merely looked like committing, but once out on the open road he ceased to think of her and began to run. He could not run all the way, but he ran at least half of it, and arrived at the bank in a moist, breathless, and excited state. He fumbled for his cheque and pushed it across the counter, forgetful of the rule of precedence, so that a lady, waiting to have her own cheque cashed, told him he was an ill-mannered boy, and the cashier stared at him coldly and asked him if he didn’t know that he had to take his turn. Abashed, apologetic, blushing, but at the same time hating both the cashier and the lady, Tom took up his proper position.

The lady received five single notes and counted them correctly three times. Then, apparently having forgiven Tom, she bestowed a smile on him and withdrew.

‘A pound of silver, please, and the rest in Treasury Notes.’

The cashier again looked at him coldly, but after examining both sides of Uncle Stephen’s cheque, as if he hoped to find a flaw in it, handed Tom the money.

‘Count it and see that it’s right,’ he said sharply, as Tom was stuffing the notes into his pocket.

So he had to take them out again and count them---count them twice, because two of the notes got stuck together the first time.

‘Wet your fingers,’ said the cashier, obviously a person of the baser sort.

Tom took no notice.

‘Don’t be losing it now,’ the cashier went on, in tones indicating that this was what he expected to happen. ‘I suppose you’re going straight back to Mr. Collet?’

‘Then you suppose wrong,’ replied Tom, who felt there had been enough ordering about.

Out on the road again, he proceeded at a more rational pace. The first act was successfully accomplished; the rest was up to Deverell.

There was nobody in sight when he reached the field path and climbed the stile, but Deverell was waiting for him, and appeared from behind the cottage the moment Tom drew level with it.

‘This way, Mr. Tom; the back door’s open.’

‘Was your mother here?’ Tom asked, when he was once more in the now familiar kitchen.

‘Yes; she’s gone about five minutes.’

‘I’ve got what you want: at least I hope it’s enough,’ said Tom, emptying his pockets. ‘There’s forty-nine pounds in notes, and a pound in silver.’

Deverell stared at the money on the table. A deep, painful flush had risen in his swarthy face and his head hung awkwardly. A change seemed to have come over him: he looked ashamed, he looked shy, and this altered attitude immediately produced its reaction on the impressionable Tom.

‘Mr. Tom,’ Deverell stammered, ‘you won’t think too hardly of me?’

‘No, of course not,’ said Tom hurriedly. ‘Why should I think hardly of you?’

He felt now very shy himself, and was thankful that Deverell said nothing more, but began to busy himself with the kettle and a tea-pot.

‘You’ll take a cup of tea with me, Mr. Tom?’

There was something in this rather wistful question, a kind of rough gentleness, that made Tom more uncomfortable than ever. He began to feel miserable and knew from past experience that it would take very little more to bring him to the point of blubbing.

‘Yes,’ he said.

They sat down at the table, Deverell eating steadily and methodically, Tom nibbling at a slice of bread and butter.

Deverell’s chair suddenly grated on the floor as he pushed it back. His hands, brown and rough and powerful, the nails uncleaned, the fingers stained with nicotine, rested on his knees. ‘Mr. Tom, I wished I’d known you five years ago.’

Tom smiled faintly. ‘You wouldn’t have wanted to know me five years ago. I was only a kid.’

‘Yes,’ said Deverell slowly, ‘I suppose so. It’s queer, isn’t it, how things is always like that?’

As he looked at the dark unhappy eyes that were turned on him, Tom too had a feeling that human affairs were hopelessly ill-arranged.

Deverell rose and began to clear away the tea-things. Tom helped him. When at last everything was tidied up the young poacher turned to the boy. He laid his hands heavily on Tom’s shoulders. From this position they moved round till they clasped the back of his head. And Tom remained absolutely still, his face curiously grave.

‘Wish me luck, Mr. Tom,’ Deverell said at last.

‘Yes, I wish you good luck.’

Deverell’s hand passed awkwardly over his hair.

‘You can kiss me if you like,’ said Tom simply.

Deverell bent down.

+++

‘You’d better go now, Mr. Tom. I must go soon myself.’

Tom without another word went out into the sunshine, nor as he walked away from the cottage did he once look back.

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