Bobby Jones teed up his ball, gave a short preliminary waggle, took the club back slowly, then brought it down and through with the rapidity of lightning.
Did the ball fly down the fairway straight and true, rising as it went, and soaring over the bunker to land within an easy mashie shot of the fourteenth green?
No, it did not. Badly topped, it scudded along the ground and embedded itself firmly in the bunker!
There were no eager crowds to groan with dismay. The solitary witness of the shot manifested no surprise. And that is easily explained- for it was not the American-born master of the game who had played the shot but merely the fourth son of the Vicar of Marchbolt, a small seaside town on the coast of Wales.
Bobby uttered a decidedly profane ejaculation. He was an amiable-looking young man of about eight-and-twenty. His best friend could not have said that he was handsome, but his face was an eminently likable one, and his eyes had the honest brown friendliness of a dog's. "I get worse every day," he muttered dejectedly.
"You press," said his companion. Dr. Thomas was a middle-aged man with gray hair and a red, cheerful face. He himself never took a full swing. He played short, straight shots down the middle and usually beat more brilliant but more erratic players.
Bobby attacked his ball fiercely with a niblick. The third time was successful. The ball lay a short distance from the green which Dr. Thomas had reached with two creditable iron shots.
"Your hole," said Bobby.
They proceeded to the next tee. The doctor drove first - a nice straight shot, but with no great distance about it. Bobby sighed, teed his ball, reteed it, waggled his club a long time, took back stiffly, shut his eyes, raised his head, depressed his right shoulder, did everything he ought not to have done - and hit a screamer down the middle of the course!
He drew a deep breath of satisfaction. The well-known golfer's gloom passed from his eloquent face to be succeeded by the equally well-known golfer's exultation"
"I know now what I've been doing," said Bobby-quite untruthfully.
A perfect iron shot, a little chip with a mashie, and Bobby lay dead. He achieved a birdie four, and Dr. Thomas was reduced to one up.
Full of confidence, Bobby stepped onto the sixteenth tee. He again did everything he should not have done, and this time no miracle occurred. A terrific, a magnificent an almost superhuman slice happened! The ball went round at right angles.
'If that had been straight - whew!" said Dr. Thomas.
"If-" said Bobby bitterly. "Hullo, I thought I heard a shout! Hope the ball didn't hit anyone."
He peered out to the right. It was a difficult light. The sun was on the point of setting, and, looking straight into it, it was hard to see anything distinctly. Also there was a slight mist rising from the sea. The edge of the cliff was a few hundred yards away.
'The footpath runs along there," said Bobby. "But the ball can't possibly have traveled as far as that. All the same, I did think I heard a cry. Did you?"
But the doctor had heard nothing.
Bobby went after his ball. He had some difficulty in finding it, but ran it to earth at last. It was practically unplayable - embedded in a furze bush. He had a couple of hacks at it, then picked it up and called out to his companion that he gave up the hole. .
The doctor came over toward him since the next tee was right con the edge of the cliff. The seventeenth was Bobby's particular bugbear. At it you had to drive over a chasm. The distance was not actually so great, but the attraction of the depths below was overpowering.
They had crossed the footpath, which now ran inland to their left skirting the very edge of the cliff. The doctor took an iron and just landed on the other side.
Bobby took a deep breath and drove. The ball scudded forward and disappeared over the lip of the abyss.
"Every single dashed time," said Bobby bitterly, "I do the same dashed idiotic thing!" He skirted the chasm, peering over.
Far below the sea sparkled, but not every ball was lost in its depth. The drop was sheer at the top, but below it shelved gradually.
Bobby walked slowly along. There was, he knew, one place where one could scramble down fairly easily. Caddies did so, hurling themselves over the edge and reappearing triumphant and panting with the missing ball.
Suddenly Bobby stiffened and called to his companion. "I say, Doctor, come here. What do you make of that?"
Some forty feet below was a dark heap of something that looked like old clothes.
The doctor caught his breath. "By Jove!" he said. "Somebody’s fallen over the cliff. We must get down to him."
Side by side the two men scrambled down the rock, the more athletic Bobby helping the other. At last they reached the ominous dark bundle. It was a man of about forty-and he was still breathing, though unconscious.
The doctor examined him, touching his limbs, feeling his pulse, drawing down the lids of his eyes. He knelt down beside him and completed his examination. Then he looked up at Bobby, who was standing there feeling rather sick, and slowly shook his head.
"Nothing to be done," he said. "His number's up, poor fellow. His back's broken. Well, well. I suppose he wasn't familiar with the path and when the mist came up he walked over the edge I've told the council more than once there ought to be a railing just here." He stood up again. "I'll go off and get help," he said. "Make arrangements to have the body got up. It'll be dark before we know where we are. Will you stay here?"
Bobby nodded. "There's nothing to be done for him, I suppose?" he asked.
The doctor shook his head. "Nothing. It. won't be long - the pulse is weakening fast. He'll last another twenty minutes at most. Just possible he may recover: consciousness before the end - but very likely he won't. Still - "
"Rather," said Bobby quickly. "I'll stay. You get along. If he does come to, there's no drug or anything?" He hesitated.
The doctor shook his head. 'There'll be no pain," he said. "No pain at all."
Turning away he began rapidly to climb up the cliff again. Bobby watched him till he disappeared over the top with a wave of the hand.
Bobby moved a step or two along the narrow ledge, sat down on a projection in the rock and lit a cigarette. The business had shaken him. Up to now he had never come in contact with illness or death.
What rotten luck there was in the world! A swirl of mist on a fine evening, a false step — and life came to an end. Fine, healthy-looking fellow, too — probably never known a day's illness in his life. The pallor of approaching death couldn't disguise the deep tan of the skin. A man who had lived an out-of-door life — abroad perhaps. Bobby studied him more closely — the crisp curling chestnut hair just touched with gray; at the templet, the big nose, the strong jaw, the white teeth just showing through the parted lips. Then the broad shoulders and the fine sinewy hands. The legs were twisted at a curious angle. Bobby shuddered and brought his eyes up again to the face. An attractive face, humorous, determined, resourceful. The eyes, he thought, were probably blue -
And just as he reached that point in his thoughts, the eyes suddenly opened. They were blue, a clear deep blue. They looked straight at Bobby. There was nothing uncertain or hazy about them. They seemed completely conscious. They were watchful and at the same time they seemed to be asking a question.
Bobby got up quickly and came toward the man. Before he got there the other spoke. His voice was not weak - it came out clear and resonant.
"Why didn't they ask Evans?" he said.
And then a queer little shudder passed over him, the eyelids dropped, the jaw fell. The man was dead.
Chapter Two: concerning fathers
Bobby knelt down beside him, but there was no doubt. The man was dead. A last moment of consciousness, that sudden question, and then — the end.
Rather apologetically Bobby put his hand into the dead man's pocket and drawing out a silk handkerchief he spread it reverently over the dead face. There was nothing more he could do.
Then he noticed that in his action he had jerked something else out of the pocket. It was a photograph, and in the act of replacing it he glanced at the pictured face.
It was a woman's face, strangely haunting in quality. A fair woman with wide-apart eyes. She seemed little more than a girl, certainly under thirty, but it was the arresting quality of her beauty rather than the beauty itself that seized upon the boy's imagination was the kind of face, he, thought, not easy to forget.
Gently and reverently, he replaced the photograph in the pocket from which it had come. Then he sat down again to wait for the doctor's return.
The time passed very slowly — or at least so it seemed to the waiting boy. Also he had just remembered something. He had promised his father to play the organ at the evening service at six o'clock, and it was now ten minutes to six. Naturally his father would understand the circumstances, but all the same he wished that he had remembered to send a message by the doctor. The Rev. Thomas Jones was a man of extremely nervous temperament. He was par excellence a fusser, and when he fussed, his digestive apparatus collapsed and he suffered agonizing pain. Bobby, though he considered his father a pitiful old ass, was nevertheless extremely fond of him. The Rev. Thomas, on the other hand, considered his fourth son a pitiful young ass, and with less tolerance than Bobby, sought to effect improvement in the young man.
The poor old gov'nor, thought Bobby. He'll be ramping up and down. He won't know whether to start the service or not. He'll work himself up till he gets that pain in the tummy, and then he won't be able to eat his supper. He won't have the sense to realize that I wouldn't let him down unless it were quite unavoidable. And anyhow, what does it matter? But he'll never see it that way. Nobody over fifty has got any sense —they worry themselves to death about tuppenny-ha'penny things that don't matter. They've been brought up all wrong, I suppose, and now they can't help themselves. Poor old Dad, he's got less sense than a chicken!
He sat there thinking of his father with mingled affection and exasperation. His life at home seemed to him to be one long sacrifice to his father's peculiar ideas. To Mr. Jones, the same life seemed to be one long sacrifice on his part, ill understood or appreciated by the younger generation. So may ideas on the same subject differ.
What an age the doctor was! Surely he might have been back by this time!
Bobby got up and stamped his feet moodily. At that moment he heard something above him and looked up, thankful that help was at hand and that his own services were no longer needed.
But it was not the doctor. It was a man in plus fours whom Bobby did not know.
"I say," said the newcomer. 'Is anything the matter? Has there been an accident? Can I help in any way?" He was a tall man with a pleasant tenor voice.
Bobby could not see him very clearly, for it was now fast growing dusk. He explained what had happened, while the stranger made shocked comments.
'There's nothing I can do?" he asked. "Get help or anything?"
Bobby explained that help was on the way and asked if the other could see any signs of its arriving.
'There's nothing at present."
"You see," went on Bobby, "I've got an appointment at six."
"And you don't like to leave —"
"No, I don't quite," said Bobby. "I mean, the poor chap's dead and all that, and, of course, one can't do anything, but all the same-" He paused, finding it, as usual, difficult to put confused emotions into words.
The other, however, seemed to understand.
"I know," he said. "Look here, I'll come down - that is, if I can see my way - and I'll stay till these fellows arrive."
"Oh, would you?" said Bobby gratefully. "You see, it's my father. He's not a bad sort really, and things upset him. Can you see your way? A bit more to the left - now to the right - that's it. It's not really difficult."
He encouraged the other with directions until the two men were face to face on the narrow plateau. The newcomer was a man of about thirty-five. He had a rather indecisive face which seemed to be calling for monocle and a little mustache.
"I'm a stranger down here," he explained. "My name's Bassington-ffrench, by the way. Came down to see about a house. I say, what a beastly thing to happen! Did he walk over the edge?"
Bobby nodded. "Bit of mist got up," he explained. "It's a dangerous bit of path. Well, so long. Thanks very much. I've got to hurry. It's awfully good of you."
"Not at all," the other protested. "Anybody would do the same. Can't leave the poor chap lying — well, I mean, it wouldn't be decent somehow."
Bobby was scrambling up the precipitous path. At the top he waved his hand to the other, then set off at a brisk run across country. To save time he vaulted the churchyard wall instead of going round to the gate on the road - a proceeding observed by the Vicar from the vestry window and deeply disapproved of by him.
It was five minutes past six, but the bell was still tolling. Explanations and recriminations were postponed until after the service. Breathless, Bobby sank into his seat and manipulated the stops of the ancient organ. Association of ideas led his fingers into Chopin's funeral march.
Afterward, more in sorrow than in anger, as he expressly pointed out, the Vicar took his son to task.
"If you cannot do a thing properly, my dear Bobby," he said, "it is better not to do it at all. I know that you and all your young friends seem to have no idea of time, but there is One whom we should not keep waiting. You offered to play the organ of your own accord. I did not coerce you. Instead, faint-hearted, you preferred playing a game — "
Bobby thought he had better interrupt before his father got too well away. "Sorry, Dad," he said, speaking cheerfully and breezily as was his habit no matter what the subject. "Not my fault this time. I was keeping guard over a corpse."
"You were what?'
"Keeping guard over a blighter who stepped over the cliff. You know-the place where the chasm is, by the seventeenth tee. There was a bit of mist just then, and he must have gone straight on and over."
"Good heavens," cried the Vicar. 'What a tragedy! Was the man killed outright?"
"No. He was unconscious. He died just after Doctor Thomas had gone off. But, of course, I felt I had to squat there - couldn't just push off and leave him. And then another fellow came along, so I passed the job of chief mourner on to him and legged it here as fast as I could."
The Vicar sighed. "Oh, my dear Bobby!" he said. "Will nothing shake your deplorable callousness? It grieves me more than I can say. Here you have been brought face to face with deaths- with sudden death. And you can joke about it! It leaves you unmoved. Everything — everything, however solemn, however sacred, is merely a joke to your generation."
Bobby shuffled his feet. If his father couldn't see that, of course, you joked about a thing because you had felt badly about it - well, he couldn't see it! It wasn't the sort of thing you could explain. With death and tragedy about, you had to keep a stiff upper lip. But what could you expect? Nobody over fifty understood anything at all. They had the most extraordinary ideas.
I expect it was the War,* thought Bobby loyally. It upset them and they never got straight again.
"Sorry, Dad," he said with a clear-eyed realization that explanation was impossible.
The Vicar felt sorry for his son — he looked so abashed; but he also felt ashamed of him. The boy had no conception of the seriousness of life. Even his apology was cheery and impenitent.
They moved toward the Vicarage, each making enormous efforts to find excuses for the other.
The Vicar thought, I wonder when Bobby will find something to do.
Bobby thought, Wonder how much longer I can stick it down here.
Yet they were both extremely fond of each other.
Chapter Three: A railway journey
Bobby did not see the immediate sequel of his adventure. On the following morning he went up to town, there to meet a friend who was thinking of starting a garage and who fancied that Bobby's cooperation might be valuable.
After settling things to everybody's satisfaction, Bobby caught the 11:30 train home two days later. He caught it, true, but only by a very narrow margin. He arrived at Paddington when the clock announced the time to be 11:28, dashed down the subway, emerged on No. 3 platform just as the train was moving, and hurled himself at the first carriage he saw, heedless of indignant ticket collectors and porters in his immediate rear.
Wrenching open the door, he fell in on hands and knees, picked himself up, the door was shut with a slam by an agile porter, and Bobby found himself looking at the sole other occupant of the compartment.
It was a first-class carriage and in the corner facing the engine sat a dark girl smoking a cigarette. She had on a red skirt, a short green jacket, and a brilliant blue beret, and despite a certain resemblance to an organ-grinder's monkey- she had long, sorrowful, dark eyes and a puckered-up face - she was distinctly attractive.
In the midst of an apology, Bobby broke off. "Why, it's you, Frankie!" he said. "I haven't seen you for ages."
'Well, I haven't seen you. Sit down and talk."
Bobby grinned. "My ticket's the wrong colour."
'That doesn't matter," said Frankie kindly. I'll pay the difference for you."
"My manly indignation rises at the thought," said Bobby. "How could I let a lady pay for me?"
"It's about all we seem to be good for these days," said Frankie.
"I will pay the difference myself," said Bobby heroically as a burly figure in blue appeared at the door from the corridor.
"Leave it to me," said Frankie. She smiled graciously at the ticket collector, who touched his hat as he took the piece of white cardboard from her and punched it.
"Mr. Jones has just come in to talk to me for a bit," she said. 'That won't matter, will it?"
'That's all right, your ladyship. The gentleman won't be staying long, I expect." He coughed tactfully. "I shan't be round again till after Bristol," he added significantly.
"What can be done with a smile!" said Bobby as the official withdrew.
Lady Frances Derwent shook her head thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure it's the smile," she said. "I rather think it's Father's habit of tipping everybody five shillings whenever he travels that does it."
"I thought you'd given up Wales for good, Frankie."
Frances sighed. "My dear, you know what it is. You know how moldy parents can be. What with that, and the bathrooms in the state they are, and nothing to do and nobody to see - and people simply won't come to the country to stay nowadays! They say they're economizing and they can't go so far. Well, I mean, what's a girl to do?"
Bobby shook his head, sadly recognizing the problem.
"However," went on Frankie, "after the party I went to last night, I thought even home couldn't be worse."
"What was wrong with the party?"
"Nothing at all. It was just like any other party, only more so. It was to start at the Savoy at half past eight. Some of us rolled up about a quarter past nine, and, of course, we got entangled with other people, but we got sorted out about ten. And we had dinner and then after a bit we went on to the Marionette - there was a rumour it was going to be raided. But nothing happened — it was just moribund. And we drank a bit, and then we went on to the Bullring — and that was even deader. And then we went to a coffee stall, and then we went to a fried-fish place, and then we thought we'd go and breakfast with Angela's uncle and see if he'd be shocked - but he wasn't — only bored. And then we sort of fizzled home. Honestly, Bobby, it isn't good enough."
"I suppose not," said Bobby, stifling a pang of envy. Never in his wildest moments did he dream of being able to be a member of the Marionette or the Bullring.
His relationship with Frankie was a peculiar one. As children he and his brothers had played with the children at the Castle. Now that they were all grown up, they seldom came across each other. When they did, they still used Christian names. On the rare occasions when Frankie was at home, Bobby and his brothers would go up and play tennis. But Frankie and her two brothers were not asked to the Vicarage. It seemed to be tacitly recognized that it would not be amusing for them. On the other hand extra men were always wanted for tennis. There may have been a trace of constraint in spite of the Christian names. The Derwents were perhaps a shade more friendly than they need have been, as though to show that there was no difference. The Joneses, on their side, were a shade formal, as though determined not to claim more friendship than was offered them. The two families had now nothing in common save certain childish memories. Yet Bobby was very fond of Frankie and was always pleased on the rare occasions when Fate threw them together.
"I'm so tired of everything," said Frankie in a weary voice. "Aren't you?"
Bobby considered. "No, I don't think I am."
"My dear, how wonderful!" said Frankie.
"I don't mean I'm hearty," said Bobby, anxious not to create a painful impression. "I just can't stand people who are hearty."
Frankie shuddered at the mere mention of the word. "I know," she murmured. 'They're dreadful."
They looked at each other sympathetically.
"By the way," said Frankie suddenly, "what's all this about a man falling over the cliffs?"
"Doctor Thomas and I found him," said Bobby. "How did you know about it, Frankie?"
"Saw it in the paper. Look." She indicated with her finger a small paragraph headed Fatal Accident in Sea Mist.
The victim of the tragedy at Marchbolt was identified late last night by means of a photograph which he was carrying. The photograph proved to be that of Mrs. Leo Cayman. Mrs. Cayman was communicated with and journeyed at once to Marchbolt, where she identified the deceased as her brother, Alex Pritchard. Mr. Pritchard had recently returned from Stam. He had been out of England for ten years and was just starting upon a walking-tour. The inquest will be held at Marchbolt tomorrow.
Bobby's thoughts flew back to the strangely haunting face of the photograph. "I believe I shall have to give evidence at the inquest," he said
"How thrilling! I shall come and hear you."
"I don't suppose there will be anything thrilling about it," said Bobby. "We just found him, you know."
"Was he dead?"
"No - not then. He died about a quarter of an hour later. I was alone with him." He paused.
"Rather grim," said Frankie with that immediate understanding that Bobby's father had lacked.
"Of course, he didn't feel anything - "
"But all the same - well - you see, he looked awfully alive-that sort of person. Rather a rotten way to finish-just stepping off a cliff in a silly little bit of mist."
"I get you, Steve," said Frankie and again the queer phrase represented sympathy and understanding. "Did you see the sister?" she asked presently.
"No. I've been up in town two days. Had to see a friend of mine about a garage business we're going in for. You remember him. Badger Beadon."
"Of course you do. You must remember good old Badger. He squints."
Frankie wrinkled her brows.
"He's got an awfully silly kind of laugh -haw, haw, haw - like that," continued Bobby helpfully.
Still Frankie wrinkled her brows.
"Fell off his pony when we were kids," continued Bobby. "Stuck in the mud head-down, and we had to pull him out by the legs."
"Oh!" said Frankie in a flood of recollection. 'I know now. He stammered."
"He still does," said Bobby proudly.
"Didn't he run a chicken farm and it went bust?" inquired Frankie.
"And then he went into a stockbroker's office and they fired him after a month?"
"And then they sent him to Australia and he came back?"
"Bobby," said Frankie, "you're not putting any money into this business venture, I hope?"
"I haven't got any money to put," said Bobby.
'That's just as well" said Frankie.
"Naturally," went on Bobby, "Badger has tried to get hold of someone with a little capital to invest. But it isn't so easy as you'd think."
"When you look round you," said Frankie, "you wouldn't believe people had any sense at all, but they have."
The point of these remarks seemed at last to strike Bobby. "Look here, Frankie," he said. "Badger's one of the best - one of the very best."
'They always are," said Frankie.
"The ones who go to Australia and come back again. How did he get hold of the money to start this business?"
"An aunt or something died and left him a garage for six cars, with three rooms over, and his people stumped up a hundred pounds to buy secondhand cars with. You'd be surprised what bargains there are to be had in secondhand cars."
"I bought one once," said Frankie. "It's a painful subject. Don't let's talk of it. What did you want to leave the Navy for? They didn't ax you, did they? Not at your age."
Bobby flushed. "Eyes," he said gruffly.
"You always had trouble with your eyes, I remember."
"I know. But I just managed to scrape through. Then foreign service - the strong light, you know - that rather did for them. So - well, I had to get out."
"Grim," murmured Frankie, looking out of the window.
There was an eloquent pause.
"All the same, it's a shame," burst out Bobby. "My eyes aren't really bad - they won't get any worse, they say. I could have carried on perfectly."
'They look all right," said Frankie. She looked straight into their honest brown depths.
"So you see," said Bobby, 'I'm going in with Badger."
An attendant opened the door and said, "First luncheon."
"Shall we?" said Frankie.
They passed along to the dining-car.
Bobby made a short strategic retreat during the time when the ticket collector might be expected. "We don't want him to strain his conscience too much," he said.
But Frankie said she didn't expect ticket collectors had any consciences.
It was just after five o'clock when they reached Sileham, which was the station for Marichbolt.
'The car's meeting me," said Frankie. "I'll give you a lift."
'Thanks. That will save me carrying this beastly thing for two miles." He kicked his suitcase disparagingly.
'Three miles, not two," said Frankie.
'Two miles if you go by the footpath over the links."
'The one where -"
"Yes — where that fellow went over."
"I suppose nobody pushed him over, did they?" asked Frankie as she handed her dressing-case to her maid.
"Pushed him over? Good Lord, no. Why?"
"Well, it would make it much more exciting, wouldn't it?" said Frankie idly.
Chapter Four: the inquest
The inquest on the body of Alex Pritchard was held on the following day. Dr. Thomas gave evidence as to the finding of the body.
"Life was not then extinct?" asked the coroner.
"No, deceased was still breathing. 'There was, however, no hope of recovery. The - "
Here the doctor became highly technical.
The coroner came to the rescue of the jury. "In ordinary, everyday language, the man's back was broken?"
"If you like to put it that way," said Dr. Thomas sadly.
He described now he had gone off to get help, leaving the dying man in Bobby's charge.
"Now as to the cause of this disaster, what is your opinion, Doctor Thomas?"
"I should say that in all probability, failing any evidence as to his state of mind, that is to say, the deceased stepped inadvertently over the edge of the cliff. There was a mist rising from the sea, and at that particular point the path turns abruptly inland. Owing to the mist the deceased may not have noticed the danger and walked straight on — in which case two steps would take him over the edge."
'There were no signs of violence? Such as might have been administered by a third party?"
"I can only say that all the injuries present are fully explained by the body's striking the rocks fifty or sixty feet below."
'There remains the question of suicide?"
"That is, of course, perfectly possible. Whether the deceased walked over the edge or threw himself over is a matter on which I can say nothing."
Robert Jones was called next. Bobby explained that he had been playing golf with the doctor and had sliced his ball toward the sea. A mist was rising at the time and it was difficult to see. He thought he heard a cry, and for a moment wondered if his ball could have hit anybody coming along the footpath. He had decided, however, that it could not possibly have travelled so far.
"Did you find the ball?"
"Yes, it was about a hundred yards short of the footpath."
He then described how they had driven from the next tee and how he himself had driven into the chasm.
Here the coroner stopped him, since his evidence would have been a repetition of the doctor's. He questioned him closely, however, as to the cry he had heard or thought he heard.
"It was just a cry."
"A cry for help?"
"Oh, no. Just a sort of shout, you know. In fact, I wasn't quite sure I heard it."
"A startled kind of cry?"
'That's more like it," said Bobby gratefully. "Sort of noise a fellow might let out if a ball hit him unexpectedly."
"Or if he took a step into nothingness when he thought he was on a path?"
"Yes." Then, having explained that the man actually died about fifteen minutes after the doctor left to get help, Bobby's ordeal came to an end.
The coroner was by now anxious to get on with a perfectly straightforward business. Mrs. Leo Cayman was called.
Bobby gave a gasp of acute disappointment. Where was the face of the photograph that had tumbled from the dead man's pocket? Photographers, thought Bobby disgustedly, were the worst kind of liars. The photograph obviously must have been taken some years ago, but even then it was hard to believe that that charming wide-eyed beauty could have become this brazen-looking woman with plucked eyebrows and obviously dyed hair.
Time, thought Bobby suddenly, was a very frightening thing. What would Frankie, for instance, look like in twenty years' time? He gave a little shaver.
Meanwhile, Amelia Cayman of 17 St. Leonard's Gardens, Paddington, was giving evidence. Deceased was her only brother, Alexander Pritchard. She had last seen him the day before the tragedy, when he had announced his intention of going for a walking-tour in Wales. He had recently returned from the East. "Did he seem in a happy and normal state of mind?" "Oh, quite! Alex was always cheerful." "So far as you know he had nothing on his mind?" "Oh, I'm sure he hadn't. He was looking forward to his trip." "There have been no money troubles, or other troubles of any kind, in his life recently?"
"Well, really, I couldn't say as to that," said Mrs. Cayman. "You see, he'd only just come back, and before that I hadn't seen him for ten years, and he was never one much for writing. But he took me out to theatres and lunches in London and gave me one or two presents, so I don't think he could have been short of money, and he was in such good spirits that I don't think there could have been anything else."
"What was your brother's profession, Mrs. Cayman?"
The lady seemed slightly embarrassed. "Well, I can't say I rightly know. Prospecting-that's what he called it. He was seldom in England."
"You know of no reason which might cause him to take his own life?"
....."Oh, no, and I can't believe that he did such a thing. It must have been an accident."
"How do you explain the fact that your brother had no luggage with him — not even a knapsack?"
"He didn't like carrying a knapsack. He meant to post parcels alternate days. He posted one the day before he left with his night things and a pair of socks - only he addressed it to Derbyshire instead of Denbighshire, so it only got here today." "Ah, that clear up a somewhat curious point."
Mrs. Cayman went on to explain how she had been communicated with through the photographer whose name was on the photograph her brother had carried. She had come down with her husband to Marchbolt and had at once recognized the body as that of her brother. As she said the last words she sniffed audibly and began to cry.
The coroner said a few soothing words and dismissed her. Then he addressed the jury. Their task was to state how this man came by his death. Fortunately the matter appeared to be quite simple. There was no suggestion that Mr. Pritchard had been worried or depressed or in a state of mind where he would be likely to take his own life. On the contrary he had been in good health and spirits and had been looking forward to his holiday. It was unfortunately the case that when a sea mist was rising, the path along the cliff was a dangerous one, and possibly they might agree with him that it was time something was done about it.
The jury's verdict was prompt.
"We find that the deceased came to his death by misadventure, and we wish to add a rider that in our opinion the Town Council should immediately take steps to put a fence or rail on the sea side of the path where it skirts the chasm."
The coroner nodded approval. The inquest was over.
Chapter Five: mr. and mrs. cayman
On arriving back at the Vicarage about half an hour later, Bobby found that his connection with the death of Alex Pritchard was not yet quite over. He was informed that Mr. and Mrs. Cayman had called to see him and were in the study with his father. Bobby made his way there and found his father gravely making suitable conversation without, apparently, much enjoying his task.
"Ah!" he said with some slight relief. "Here is Bobby."
Mr. Cayman rose and advanced toward the young man with outstretched hand. Mr. Cayman was a big florid man with a would-be hearty manner and a cold and somewhat shifty eye that rather belied the manner. As for Mrs. Cayman, though she might be considered attractive in a bold, coarse fashion, she had little now in common with that early photograph of herself and no trace of that wistful expression remained. In fact, Bobby reflected, if she had not recognized her own photograph it seemed doubtful if anyone else would have done so.
'I came down with the wife," said Mr. Cayman, enclosing Bobby's hand in a firm and painful grip. "Had to stand by, you know. Amelia's naturally upset."
Mrs. Cayman sniffed.
"We came round to see you," continued Mr. Cayman. "You see, my poor wife's brother died, practically speaking, in your arms. Naturally, she wanted to know all you could tell her of his last moments."
"Absolutely," said Bobby unhappily. "Oh, absolutely." He grinned nervously and was immediately aware, of his father's sigh - a sigh of Christian resignation.
"Poor Alex!" said Mrs. Cayman, dabbing her eyes. "Poor, poor Alex!"
"I know," said Bobby. "Absolutely grim." He wriggled uncomfortably.
"You see," said Mrs. Cayman, looking hopefully at Bobby, "if he left any last words or messages — naturally I want to know."
"Oh, rather," said Bobby. "But as a matter of fact he didn't."
"Nothing at all?" Mrs. Cayman looked disappointed and incredulous.
Bobby felt apologetic. "No - well - as a matter of fact, nothing at all."
'It was best so," said Mr. Cayman solemnly. 'To pass away unconscious, without pain - why, you must think of it as a mercy, Amelia."
"I suppose I must," said Mrs. Cayman. "You don't think he felt any pain?"
I'm sure he didn't," said Bobby.
Mrs. Cayman sighed deeply. "Well, that's something to be thankful for. Perhaps I did hope he'd left a last message, but I can see that it's best as it is. Poor Alex. Such a fine out-of-door man."
"Yes, wasn't he?" said Bobby. He recalled the bronze face, the deep-blue eyes. An attractive personality, that of Alex Pritchard, attractive even so near death. Strange that he should be the brother of Mrs. Cayman and the brother-in-law of Mr. Cayman! He had been worthy, Bobby felt, of better things.
"Well, we're very much indebted to you, I'm sure," said Mrs. Cayman.
"Oh, that's all right," said Bobby. "I mean - well, I couldn't do anything else -I mean - " He floundered hopelessly.
"We shan't forget it," said Mr. Cayman. Bobby suffered once more that painful grip. He received a flabby hand from Mrs. Cayman. His father made further adieus. Bobby accompanied the Caymans to the front door.
"And what do you do with yourself, young man?" inquired Cayman. "Home on leave - something of that kind?"
"I spend most of my time looking for a job," said Bobby. He paused. "I was in the Navy."
"Hard times — hard times nowadays," said Mr. Cayman, shaking his head. "Well, I wish you luck, I'm sure."
'Thank you very much," said Bobby politely.
He watched them down the weed-grown drive. Standing there, he fell into a brown study. Various ideas flashed chaotically through his mind, confused reflections - the "photograph - that girl's face with the wide-apart eyes and the misty hair — and ten or fifteen years later Mrs. Cayman with her heavy make-up, her plucked eyebrows, those wide-apart eyes sunk in between folds of flesh till they looked like pig's eyes, and her violent henna-tinted hair. All traces of youth and innocence had vanished. The pity of things! It all came perhaps of marrying a hearty bounder like Mr. Cayman. If she had married someone eke she might possibly have grown older gracefully. A touch of gray in her hair, eyes still wide apart looking out from a smooth pale face. But perhaps anyway-
Bobby sighed and shook his head. "That's the worst of marriage," he said gloomily.
"What did you say?"
Bobby awoke from meditation to become aware of Frankie, whose approach he had not heard.
"Hullo," he said.
"Hullo. Why marriage? And whose?"
"I was making a reflection of a general nature," said Bobby.
"On the devastating effects of marriage."
"Who is devastated?"
Bobby explained. He found Frankie unsympathetic.
"Nonsense. The woman's exactly like her photograph."
"When did you see her? Were you at the inquest, Frankie?"
"Of course I was at the inquest. What do you think? There's little enough to do down here. An inquest is a perfect godsend. I'd never been to one before. I was thrilled to the teeth. Of course, it would have been better if it had been a mysterious poisoning case with analysts' reports and all that sort of thing - but one mustn't be too exacting when these simple pleasures come one's way. I hoped up to the end for a suspicion of foul play, but it all seemed most regrettably straightforward."
"What bloodthirsty instincts you have, Frankie."
"I know. It's probably atavism — however do you pronounce it?-I've never been sure. Don't you think so? I'm sure I'm atavistic. My nickname at school was Monkey Face."
"Do monkeys like murder?" queried Bobby.
"You sound like a correspondence in a Sunday paper," said Frankie. "'Our correspondents' views on this subject are solicited.'"
"You know," said Bobby, reverting to the original topic, "I don't agree with you about the female Cayman. Her photograph was lovely."
'Touched up, that's all," interrupted Frankie.
"Well, then, it was so much touched up that you wouldn't have known them for the same person."
"You're blind," said Frankie. 'The photographer had done all that the art of photography could do, but it was still a nasty bit of work."
"I absolutely disagree with you," said Bobby coldly. "Anyway, where did you see it?"
'In the local Evening Echo." 'It probably reproduced badly."
"It seems to me you're absolutely batty," said Frankie crossly. "Over a painted-up raddled bitch - yes, I said bitch - like the Cayman."
"Frankie," said Bobby, "I'm surprised at you. In the Vicarage drive, too. Semi-holy ground, so to speak."
"Well, you shouldn't have been so ridiculous."
There was a pause, then Frankle's sudden fit of temper abated.
"What is ridiculous," she said, "is to quarrel about the damned woman. I came to suggest a round of golf. What about it?"
"Okay, Chief," said Bobby happily.
They set off amicably together, and their conversation was of such things as slicing and pulling and how to perfect a chip shot onto the green. The recent tragedy passed quite out of mind until Bobby, holing a long putt at the eleventh to halve the hole, suddenly gave an exclamation.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. I've just remembered something."
"Well, these people, the Caymans-they came round and asked if the fellow had said anything before he died — and I told them he hadn't."
"And now I've just remembered that he did."
"Not one of your brightest mornings, in fact."
"Well, you see, it wasn't the sort of thing they meant. That's why, I suppose, I didn't think of it."
"What did he say?" asked Frankie curiously.
"He said, 'Why didn't they ask Evans?'"
"What a funny thing to say. Nothing else?"
"No. He just opened his eyes and said that —quite suddenly — and then died, poor chap."
"Oh, well," said Frankie, turning it over in her mind, "I don't see that you need worry. It wasn't important."
"No, of course not. Still I wish I'd just mentioned it. You see, I said he'd said nothing at all."
"Well, it amounts to the same thing," said Frankie. "I mean it isn't like 'Tell Gladys I always loved her,' or 'The will is in the walnut bureau,' or any of the proper romantic Last Words there are in books."
"You don't think it's worth while writing about it to them?"
"I shouldn't bother. It couldn't be important."
"I expect you're right," said Bobby and turned his attention with renewed vigor to the game.
But the matter did not really dismiss itself from his mind. It was a small point but it fretted him. He felt very faintly uncomfortable about it. Frankie's point of view was, he felt sure, the right and sensible one. The thing was of no importance — let it go. But his conscience continued to reproach him faintly. He had said that the dead man had said nothing. That wasn't true. It was all very trivial and silly, but he couldn't feel quite comfortable about it.
Finally that evening on an impulse he sat down and wrote to Mr. Cayman:
Dear Mr. Cayman:
I have just remembered that your brother-in-law did actually say something before he died. I think the exact words were, "Why didn't they ask Evans?" I apologize for not mentioning this this morning, but I attached no importance to the words at the time and so, I suppose, they slipped my memory.
Yours truly, Robert Jones
On the next day but one he received a reply: Dear Mr. Jones:
Your letter of the 6th instant to hand. Many thanks for repeating my poor brother-in-law's last words so punctiliously in spite of their trivial character. What my wife hoped was that her brother might have left her some last message. Still, thank you for being so conscientious.
Yours faithfully, Leo Cayman
Bobby felt snubbed.
Chapter Six: END OF a picnic
On the following day Bobby received a letter of quite a different nature:
It's all fixed, old boy [wrote Badger in an illiterate scrawl which reflected no credit on the expensive public school which had educated him]. Actually got five cars yesterday for fifteen pounds the lot-an Austin, two Morrises, and a couple of Rovers. At the moment they won't exactly go, but we can tinker them up sufficiently, I think. Dash it all, a car's a car, after all. So long as it takes the purchaser home without breaking down, that's all he can expect. I thought of opening up Monday week and am relying on you. So don't let me down, will you, old boy? I must say old Aunt Carrie was a sport. I once broke the window of an old boy next door to her who'd been rude to her about her cats, and she never got over it. Sent me a fiver every Christmas, and now this.
We're bound to succeed. The thing's a dead cert. I mean, a car's a car after all. You can pick 'em up for nothing. Put a lick of paint on, and that's all the ordinary fool notices. The thing will go with a Bang. Now don't forget. Monday week.
I'm relying on you.
Bobby informed his father that he would be going up to town on Monday week to take up a job. The description of the job did not rouse the Vicar to anything like enthusiasm. He had, it may be pointed out, come across Badger Beadon in the past. He merely treated Bobby to a long lecture on the advisability of not making himself Liable for Anything. Since he was not an authority on financial or business matters, his advice was technically vague, but its meaning was unmistakable.
On the Wednesday of that week Bobby received another letter. It was addressed in, a foreign, slanting handwriting. Its contents were somewhat surprising to the young man. It was from the firm of Henriquez & Dallo in Buenos Aires and, to put it concisely, it offered Bobby a job in the firm with a salary of a thousand a year.
For the first minute or two the young man thought he must be dreaming. A thousand a year. He reread the letter more carefully. There was mention of an ex-Naval man's being preferred, a suggestion that Bobby's name had been put forward by someone (not named). Acceptance must be immediate, and Bobby must be prepared to start for Buenos Aires within a week.
"Well, I'm damned," said Bobby, giving vent to his feelings in a somewhat unfortunate manner.
"Sorry, Dad. Forgot you were there."
Mr. Jones cleared his throat. "I should like to point out to you-"
Bobby felt that this process - usually a long one - must at all costs be avoided. He achieved this by a simple statement.
"Someone's offered me a thousand a year."
The Vicar remained open-mouthed, unable for the moment to make any comment.
That's put him off his drive all right thought Bobby with satisfaction.
"My dear Bobby, did I understand you to say that someone has offered you a thousand a year? A thousand?"
"Holed it in one, Dad," said Bobby.
"It's impossible," said the Vicar.
Bobby was not hurt by this frank incredulity. His estimate of his own monetary value differed little from that of his father. They must be complete mutts," he agreed heartily.
"Who - er - are these people?"
Bobby handed him the letter. The Vicar, fumbling for his pince-nez, peered at it suspiciously. Finally he read it twice.
"Most remarkable," he said at last. "Most remarkable."
"Lunatics," said Bobby.
"Ah, my boy," said the Vicar, "it is, after all, a great thing to be an Englishman. Honesty. That's what we stand for. The Navy has carried that ideal all over the world. An Englishman's word! This South American firm realizes the value of a young man whose integrity will be unshaken and of whose fidelity his employers will be assured. You can always depend on an Englishman to play the game — "
"And keep a straight bat," said Bobby.
The Vicar looked at his son doubtfully. The phrase, an excellent one, had actually been on the top of his tongue, but there was something in Bobby's tone that struck him as not quite sincere.
The young man, however, appeared to be perfectly serious.
"All the same, Dad," he said, "why me?"
"What do you mean — why you?"
'There are a lot of Englishmen in England," said Bobby. "Hearty fellows, full of cricketing qualities. Why pick on me?"
"Probably your late commanding officer may have recommended you."
"Yes, I suppose that's true," said Bobby doubtfully. "It doesn't matter, anyway, since I can't take the job."
"Can't take it? My dear boy, what do you mean?"
"Well, I'm fixed up, you see. With Badger."
"Badger? Badger Beadon? Nonsense, my dear Bobby. This is serious."
"It's a bit hard, I own," said Bobby with a sigh.
"Any childish arrangement you have made with young Beadon cannot count for a moment."
"It counts with me."
"Young Beadon is completely irresponsible. He has already, I understand, been a source of considerable trouble and expense to his parents."
"He's not had much luck. Badger's so infernally trusting."
"Luck-luck! I should say that young man had never done a hand's turn in his life."
"Nonsense, Dad. Why, he used to get up at five in the morning to feed those beastly chickens. It wasn't his fault they all got the roup or the croup or whatever it was."
"I have never approved of this garage project. Mere folly. You must give it up."
"Can't, sir. I've promised. I can't let old Badger down. He's counting on me."
"The discussion proceeded, The Vicar, biased by his views on the subject of Badger, was quite unable to regard any promise made to that young man as binding. He looked on Bobby as obstinate and determined at all costs to lead an idle life in company with one of the worst of possible companions. Bobby, on the other hand, stolidly repeated without originality that he "couldn't let old Badger down."
The Vicar finally left the room in anger, and Bobby then and there sat down to write to the firm of Henriquez & Datlo refusing their offer.
He sighed as he did so. He was letting a chance go here which was never likely to occur again. But he saw no alternative.
Later, on the links, he put the problem to Frankie. She listened attentively.
"You'd have had to go to South America?"
"Would you have liked that?"
"Yes, why not?"
Frankie sighed. "Anyway," she said with decision, "I think you did quite right."
"About Badger, you mean?"
"I couldn't let the old bird down, could I?"
"No, but be careful that the old bird, as you call him, doesn't let you in."
"Oh! I shall be careful. Anyway I shall be all right. I haven't got any assets."
'That must be rather fun," said Frankie.
"I don't know why. It just sounded rather nice and free and irresponsible. I suppose, though, when I come to think of it, that I haven't got many assets either. I mean, Father gives me an allowance, and I've got lots of houses to live in and clothes an maids and some hideous family jewels and a good deal of credit at shops — but that's all the family, really. It's not me."
"No, but all the same - " Bobby paused.
"Oh, it's quite different, I know."
"Yes," said Bobby. "It's quite different." He felt suddenly very depressed.
They walked in silence to the next tee.
'I'm going up to town tomorrow," said Frankie as Bobby teed up his ball.
'Tomorrow. Oh - and I was going to suggest you should come for a picnic."
"I'd have liked to. However, it's arranged. You see, Father's got the gout again."
"You ought to stay and minister to him," said Bobby.
"He doesn't like being ministered to. It annoys him frightfully. He likes the second footman best. He's sympathetic and doesn't mind having things thrown at him and being called a damned fool."
Bobby topped his drive and it trickled into the bunker. "Hard lines," said Frankie and drove a nice straight ball that sailed over it.
"By the way," she remarked, "we might do something together in London. You'll be up soon?"
"On Monday. But - well - it's no good, is it?"
"What do you mean — no good?"
'Well, I mean I shall be working as a mechanic most of the time. I mean—"
"Even then," said Frankie, "I suppose you're just as capable of coming to a cocktail party and getting tight as any other of my friends."
Bobby merely shook his head.
'I’ll give a beer-and-sausage party if you prefer it," said Frankie encouragingly.
"Oh, look here, Frankie, what's the good? I mean, you can't mix your crowds. Your crowd's a different crowd from mine."
"I assure you," said Frankie, "that my crowd is a very mixed one."
"You're pretending not to understand."
"You can bring Badger if you like. There's friendship for you."
"You've got some sort of prejudice against Badger."
"I dare say it's his stammer. People who stammer always make me stammer, too."
"Look here, Frankie, it's no good and you know it isn't. It's all right down here. There's not much to do and I suppose I'm better than nothing. I mean, you're always awfully decent to me and all that, and I'm grateful. But I know I'm just nobody - I mean - "
'When you've quite finished expressing your inferiority-complex," said Frankie coldly, "perhaps you'll try getting out of the bunker with a niblick instead of a putter."
"Have I-oh, damn!" He replaced the putter in his bag and took out the niblick. Frankie watched with malicious satisfaction as he hacked at the ball five times in succession. Clouds of sand rose round them.
"Your hole," said Bobby, picking up the ball.
"I think it is," said Frankie. "And that gives me the match."
"Shall we play the bye?"
"No. I don't think so. I've got a lot to do."
"Of course. I suppose you have."
They walked together in silence to the clubhouse.
"Well," said Frankie, holding out her hand. "Good-by, my dear. It's been too marvelous to have you to make use of while I've been down here. See something of you again, perhaps, when I've nothing better to do."
"Look here, Frankie — "
"Perhaps you'll condescend to come to my coster party. I believe you can get pearl buttons quite cheaply at Woolworth's."
His words were drowned in the noise of the Bentley's engine which Frankie had just started. She drove away with an airy wave of her hand.
"Damn!" said Bobby in a heartfelt tone.
Frankie, he considered, had behaved outrageously. Perhaps he hadn't put things very tactfully, but dash it all, what he had said was true enough. Perhaps, though, he shouldn't have put it into words.
The next three days seemed interminably long. The Vicar had a sore throat which necessitated his speaking in a whisper when he spoke at all. He spoke very little and was obviously bearing his fourth son's presence as a Christian should. Once or twice he quoted Shakespeare on how sharper than a serpent's tooth, etc.
On Saturday Bobby felt that he could bear the strain of home life no longer. He got Mrs. Roberts, who with her husband "ran" the Vicarage, to give him a packet of sandwiches, and supplementing this with a bottle of beer which he bought in Marchbolt, he set off for a solitary picnic.
He had missed Frankie abominably these last few days. These older people were the limit. They harped on things so.
Bobby stretched himself out on a brackeny bank and debated with himself whether he should eat his lunch first and go to sleep afterward, or sleep first and eat afterward. While he was cogitating, the matter was settled for him by his falling asleep without noticing it.
When he awoke it was half past three! Bobby grinned as he thought how his father would disapprove of this way of spending a day. A good walk across country - twelve miles or so-that was the kind of thing that a healthy young man should do. It led inevitably to that famous remark, "And now, I think, I've earned my lunch."
Idiotic, thought Bobby. Why earn lunch by doing a lot of walking you don't particularly want to do? What's the merit in it? If you enjoy it, then it's pure self-indulgence, and if you don't enjoy it you're a fool to do it.
Whereupon he fell to upon his unearned lunch and ate it with gusto. With a sigh of satisfaction he unscrewed the bottle of beer. Unusually bitter beer, but decidedly refreshing.
He lay back again, having tossed the empty beer bottle into a clump of heather.
He felt rather godlike lounging there. The world was at his feet. A phrase, but a good phrase. He could do anything-anything if he tried! Plans of great splendor and daring initiative flashed through his mind.
Then he grew sleepy again. Lethargy stole over him. He slept— Heavy, numbing sleep—
Chapter Seven: an escape from death
Driving her large green Bentley, Frankie drew up to the curb outside a large old-fashioned house over the doorway of which was inscribed St. Asaph's.
Frankie jumped out and, turning, extracted a large bunch of lilies. Then she rang the bell. A woman in nurse's dress answered the door.
"Can I see Mr. Jones?" inquired Frankie.
The nurse's eyes took in the Bentley, the lilies, and Frankie with intense interest.
"What name shall I say?"
"Lady Frances Derwent."
The nurse was thrilled, and her patient went up in her estimation. She guided Frankie upstairs into a room on the first floor.
"You've a visitor to see you, Mr. Jones. Now who do you think it is? Such a nice surprise for you."
All this in the "bright" manner usual to nursing homes.
"Gosh!" said Bobby, very much surprised. "If it isn't Frankie!"
"Hullo, Bobby. I've brought the usual flowers. Rather a graveyard suggestion about them, but the choice was limited."
"Ooh, Lady Frances," said the nurse, "they're lovely. I'll put them into water." She left the room.
Frankie sat down in an obvious "visitor's" chair. "Well, Bobby," she said. "What's all this?"
"You may well ask," said Bobby. "I'm the complete sensation of this place. Eight grains of morphia, no less. They're going to write about me in the Lancet and the BMJ"
"What's the BMJ" interrupted Frankie.
"The British Medical Journal."
"All right. Go ahead. Rattle off some more initials."
"Do you know, my girl, that half a grain is a fatal dose? I ought to be dead about sixteen times over. It's true that recovery has been known after sixteen grains - still, eight is pretty good, don't you think? I'm the hero of this place. They've never had a case like me before."
"How nice for them!"
"Isn't it? Gives them something to talk about to all the other patients."