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Chapter 10 - The Impetuous Mr. Abbershaw

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Author Topic: Chapter 10 - The Impetuous Mr. Abbershaw  (Read 17 times)
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« on: December 19, 2022, 10:43:41 am »

A hasty search revealed the fact that Mr Campion had indeed disappeared, and the discovery, coupled with Chris Kennedy’s experience of the morning, reduced the entire company to an unpleasant state of nerves. The terrified Anne Edgeware and the wounded rugby blue comforted each other in a corner by the fire. Prenderby’s little fiancée clung to his hand as a frightened child might have done. The others talked volubly, but every minute the general gloom deepened.

In the midst of this the lunch gong in the outer hall sounded, as if nothing untoward had happened. For some moments nobody moved. Then Wyatt got up. ‘Well, anyway,’ he said, ‘they seem to intend to feed us—let’s go in, shall we?’

They followed him dubiously into the other room, where a cold luncheon had been prepared at the long table. Two men-servants waited on them, silent and surly, and the meal was a quiet one. No one felt in the mood for trivialities, and Mr. Campion was not there to provide his usual harmless entertainment.

There was a certain amount of apprehension, also, lest Mr. Dawlish might reappear and the experience of breakfast be repeated. Everyone felt a little relieved, therefore, when the meal ended without a visitation. The explanation of this apparent neglect came ten minutes or so later, when Martin Watt, who had gone up to his room to replenish his cigarette-case, came dashing into the hall where they were all sitting, the lazy expression for once startled out of his grey eyes.

‘I say,’ he said, ‘the blighters have searched my room! Had a real old beano up there by the look of it. Clothes all over the place—half the floor boards up. I should say the Hun has done it himself—it looks as if an elephant had run amok there. If I were you people I’d trot up to your rooms and see if they’ve done the thing thoroughly.’

This announcement brought everybody to their feet. Wyatt, who still considered himself the host of the party, fumed impotently. Chris Kennedy swore lurid deeds of revenge under his breath, and Prenderby and Abbershaw exchanged glances. Abbershaw smiled grimly. ‘I think perhaps we had better take Watt’s suggestion,’ he said, and led the way out of the hall.

Once in his room he found that their fears had been justified. His belongings had been ransacked, his meticulously arranged suitcase lying open on its side, and his clothes strewn in all directions. The door of the big oak press with the carved front, which was built into the wall and took up all one end of the room, stood open, its contents all over the floor.

A wave of uncontrollable anger passed over him, and with that peculiarly precise tidiness which was one of his most marked characteristics he began methodically to put the room straight again.

Prisoners they might be, shots could be fired, and people could disappear apparently into thin air, none of these could shake him, but the sight of his belongings jumbled into this appalling confusion all but unnerved him completely.

He packed up everything he possessed very neatly, and stowed it in the press, then, slamming the heavy oaken door, he turned the key in the lock, and thrust it into his pocket.

It was at this precise moment that an extraordinary mental revolution took place in Abbershaw.

It happened as he put the cupboard key in his pocket; during the actual movement he suddenly saw himself from the outside. He was naturally a man of thought, not of action, and now for the first time in his life he was thrust into a position where quick decisions and impulsive actions were forced from him. So far, he realized suddenly, he had always been a little late in grasping the significance of each situation as it had arisen. This discovery horrified him, and in that moment of enlightenment Dr George Abbershaw, the sober, deliberate man of science, stepped into the background, and George Abbershaw the impulsive, energetic enthusiast came forward to meet the case.

He did not lose his head, however. He realized that at the present juncture infinite caution was vital. The next move must come from Dawlish. Until that came they must wait patiently, ready to grasp at the first chance of freedom. The present state of siege was only tenable for a very short time. For a week-end Black Dudley might be safe from visitors, tradespeople, and the like, but after Monday inquiries must inevitably be made. Dawlish would have to act soon.

There was the affair of Albert Campion. Wyatt had been peculiarly silent about him, and Abbershaw did not know what to make of it all. His impulse was to get the idiot back into their own circle at all costs, but there was no telling if he had been removed or if he had vanished of his own free will. No one knew anything about him.

Abbershaw went slowly out of the room and down the corridor to the staircase, and was just about to descend when he heard the unmistakable sound of a woman crying.

He paused to listen, and discovered that the noise came from behind a door on his left.

He hesitated.

Half an hour before, a fear of being intrusive would have prevented him from doing anything, but a very considerable change had taken place in him in that time, and he listened again.

The sound continued.

The thought dawned upon him that it was Meggie; he fancied that this was her room, and the idea of her alone and in distress banished his last vestige of timidity and caution. He knocked at the door.

Her voice answered him.

‘It’s George,’ he said, almost defiantly. ‘Anything the matter?’

She was some seconds opening the door, and when at last she came he saw that although she had hastily powdered her face the tear-stains were still visible upon it.

For one moment Abbershaw felt that he was going to have a relapse into his old staid self, but he overcame it and there was an expression of fiery determination in his chubby round face which astonished the girl so much that her surprise showed in her eyes. Abbershaw recognized it, and it annoyed him.

In a flash he saw himself as she must have seen him all along, a round, self-important little man, old for his years, inclined to be pompous, perhaps—terrible thought—even fussy. A horrible sense of humiliation swept over him and at the same time a growing desire to teach her she was wrong, to show her that she had been mistaken, to prove to her that he was a man to be reckoned with, a personality, a man of action, vigorous, resourceful, a he-man, a . . . !

He drew a deep breath.

‘I can’t have you crying like this,’ he said, and picked her up and kissed her.

Meggie could not have responded more gracefully. Whether it was relief, shock, or simply the last blow to her tortured nerves, he never knew, but she collapsed into his arms; at first he almost thought she had fainted.

He led her firmly down the long corridor to the wide window-seat at the far end. It was recessed, and hung with heavy curtains. He sat down and drew her beside him, her head on his shoulder.

‘Now,’ he said, still bristling with his newly discovered confidence, ‘you’re going to escape from here tomorrow certainly, if not tonight, and you’re going to marry me because I love you! I love you! I love you!’

He paused breathlessly and waited, his heart thumping against his side like a schoolboy’s.

Her face was hidden from him and she did not speak. For a moment the awful thought occurred to him that she might be angry with him, or even—laughing.

‘You—er—you will marry me?’ he said, a momentary anxiety creeping into his tone. ‘I’m sorry if I startled you,’ he went on, with a faint return of his old primness. ‘I didn’t mean to, but I—I’m an impetuous sort of fellow.’

Meggie stirred at his side, and as she lifted her face to him he saw that she was flushed with laughter, but there was more than mere amusement in her brown eyes. She put her arm round his neck and drew his head down.

‘George, you’re adorable,’ she said. ‘I love you ridiculously, my dear.’

A slow, warm glow spread all over Abbershaw. His heart lolloped in his side, and his eyes danced.

He kissed her again. She lay against his breast very quiet, very happy, but still a little scared.

He felt like a giant refreshed—after all, he reflected, his first essay in his new role had been an unparalleled success.

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