Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey

22

So Brat took possession of Latchetts and of everyone in it, with the exception of Simon.

He went to church on Sunday and submitted to being stared at for an hour and a half with time off for prayers. The only people not in Clare Church that morning were the Nonconformists and three children who had measles. Indeed, there were, as Bee pointed out, several members of the congregation whose normal place of Sunday worship was the blue brick barn at the other end of the village, and who had decided to put up with ritual and prelacy this once in order to share in the sensation of his appearance. As for the orthodox flock, there were individuals there, Bee said, who had not entered a church since their last child was christened. There was even Lana Adams who, as far as anyone knew, had not been in any church since her own baptism in the blue brick barn some twenty years ago.

Brat sat between Bee and Eleanor, and Simon on the other side of Bee. The twins were beyond Eleanor; Ruth wallowing in the drama and singing hymns loudly with a rapt expression, and Jane looking at the congregation with stony disapproval. Brat read the Ashby tablets over and over again, and listened to the Rector’s unemphatic voice providing the inhabitants of Clare with their weekly ration of the abstract. The Rector did not preach, in the accepted meaning of the term. He sounded as if he were arguing the matter out for himself; so that, if you shut your eyes, you could be in a chair at the other side of the Rectory fireplace listening to him talk. Brat thought of the fine variety of preachers who had come to take Sunday service at the orphanage: the shouters, the between-you-and-me-ers, the drama merchants who varied their tones and dropped their voices like amateur reciters, the hearties, the mincing aesthetes; and he thought that George Peck came very well out of the comparison. George Peck really did look as if he were not thinking about himself at all; as if he might conceivably have become a clergyman even if there had been no such inducement as public appearances in a pulpit.

After service Brat went to Sunday lunch at the Rectory, but not until he had run the gamut of village good wishes. Bee had come out of church at his side ready to pilot him through the ordeal, but she was accosted by Mrs. Gloom, and he was left defenceless. He looked in panic at the first of these unknowns bearing down on him: a big apple-cheeked woman with pink roses in a crinoline hat. How was he going to pretend to remember her? Or all the others who were obviously lingering?

“You remember Sarah Godwin, who used to come on washing days,” a voice said, and there was Eleanor at his elbow. She moved him on from one group to another as expertly as a social secretary, briefing him quickly in a muttered phrase as each new face loomed up. “Harry Watts. Used to mend our bicycles.” “Miss Marchant. Village school.” “Mrs. Stapley. Midwife.” “Tommy Fitt. Used to be the gardener’s boy.” “Mrs. Stack. Rural industries.”

She saw him safely to the little iron gate that led into the Rectory garden, opened it, pushed him through, and said: “Now you’re safe. That’s ‘coolee’.”

“That’s what?”

“Don’t tell me you have forgotten that. In our hide-and-seek games a safe hide was always a ‘coolee’.”

Some day, Brat Farrar, he thought as he walked down the path to the Rectory, you are going to be faced with something that you couldn’t possibly have forgotten.

At luncheon he and his host sat in relaxed silence while Nancy entertained them, and afterwards he walked in the garden with the Rector and answered his questions about the life he had been leading these last eight years. One of George Peck’s charms was that he listened to what was said to him.

On Monday he went to London and sat in a chair while rolls of cloth were exhibited several yards away from him, and were then brought forward to touching distance so that he might gauge the weight, texture, and wearing qualities of the cloth. He was fitted by Gore and Bowen, and measured by Walters, and assured by both that in record time he would have an outfit that no Englishman would blush to own. It was a revelation to him that shirts were made to measure. He had been pleased that he could present himself to the Ashby tailors in a suit as respect-worthy as that made for him by Mr. Sandal’s tailor, and it was a shock to him to be sympathised with about the nice clean blue American shirt that he was wearing under it. However, when in Rome. . . . So he was measured for shirts too.

He lunched with Mr. Sandal, who took him to meet the manager of his bank. He cashed a cheque at the bank, bought a registered envelope, and sent a fat wad of notes to Alec Loding. That had been the arrangement; “notes and no note,” Loding had said. No telephones either. There must never be any communication between them again beyond the anonymous notes in the registered envelope.

This first payment to his partner in crime left a taste in his mouth that was not entirely due to the gum on the envelope that he had licked. He went and had a beer to wash it away, but it was still there. So he got on a 24 bus and went to have a look at his late lodgings in Pimlico, and immediately felt better.

He caught the 4.10 down, and Eleanor was waiting in the bug at Guessgate to meet him. His heart was no longer in his mouth, and Eleanor was no longer an abstraction and an enemy.

“It seemed a shame to let you wait for the bus when I was free to come to meet you,” she said, and he got in beside her and she drove him home.

“Now you won’t have to go away again for a long time,” she said.

“No. Except for a fitting, and to the dentist.”

“Yes; just up for the day. And perhaps Uncle Charles will expect someone to go up to meet him. But until then we can settle down and be quiet.”

So he settled down.

He exercised the horses in the mornings, or schooled them over the jumps in the paddock. He rode out with Eleanor and the children from Clare Park; and so satisfied Antony Toselli’s romantic soul that he arrived for his lesson one morning in a complete “child’s riding outfit,” to obtain which he had sent telegrams of a length and fluency that made history in the life of the Clare post office. He lunged the yearling for Eleanor, and watched while she taught a young thoroughbred from a racing stable to walk collected and carry his head like a gentleman. Nearly all his days were spent with Eleanor, and when they came in in the evenings it was to plan for to-morrow’s task.

Bee watched this companionship with pleasure, but wished that Simon had more share in it. Simon found more and more excuses to be away from home from breakfast to dinner. He would school Timber or Scapa in the morning, and then find some excuse for going into Westover for lunch. Occasionally when he came home for dinner after being out all day Bee wondered whether he was quite sober. But except for the fact that he now took two drinks where once he would have taken one, he drank little at home, and so she decided that she must be mistaken. His alternate fits of moodiness and gaiety were nothing new: Simon had always been mercurial. She took it that his absence was his way of reducing the strain of a difficult situation, and hoped that presently he would make a third in the partnership that was blossoming so happily between Eleanor and Patrick.

“You’ll have to do something at the Bures Show,” Eleanor said one day as they came in tired from the stables. “Otherwise people will think it very odd.”

“I could ride in a race, as Ruth suggested.”

“But that is just fun. I mean, no one takes that seriously. You ought to show one of the horses. Your own riding things will be here in time, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.”

“No.”

“I’m getting to know that monosyllable of yours.”

“It’s no monopoly of mine.”

“No. Just your speciality.”

“What could I ride in the races?”

“Well, after Timber, Chevron is the fastest we have.”

“But Chevron is Simon’s.”

“Oh, no. Chevron was bought by Bee with stable money. Have you ridden races at all?”

“Oh, yes. Often. Local ones, of course. For small stakes.”

“Well, I think Bee plans to show Chevron as a hack, but that’s no reason she shouldn’t be entered for the races at the end of the day. She’s very nervous and excitable, but she jumps clean and she’s very fast.”

They put the proposition to Bee at dinner, and Bee agreed to it. “What do you ride at, Brat?”

“Nine stone thirteen.”

Bee looked at him reflectively as he ate his dinner. He was too fine-drawn. None of the Ashbys of the last two generations had run to weight, but there was a used-up look about the boy; especially at the end of the day. Presently, when the business of the celebration was all over, they must do something about his leg. Perhaps that accounted for the strung look that marked his spareness. Both physically and psychologically it must be a drag on him. She must ask Peter Spence about a good surgeon to consult.

Bee had been delighted to find that Brat had what Simon so conspicuously lacked: an interest in the genus horse in the abstract. Simon was knowledgeable about breeding in so far as it concerned his own particular interests, but his theoretical study of the matter was confined to Racing Up to Date. Brat, on the other hand, took to stud books as some people take to detection. She had gone in one evening to turn off a light that someone had evidently left on in the library, and found Brat poring over a stud book. He was trying to work back on Honey’s pedigree, he said.

“You’ve got the wrong book,” she said, and provided him with the right one. She was busy with some W.R.I. matter and so she left him to it and forgot him. But nearly two hours later she noticed the light still there and went in to find Brat surrounded by tomes of all kinds and so dead to the world that he did not hear her come in.

“It’s fascinating, Bee,” he said. He was mooning over a photograph of Bend Or, and had propped various other volumes open at photographs that gave him particular pleasure, so that the big table looked like some second-hand bookstall with the plates exhibited to entice the purchaser.

“You haven’t got my favourite in your collection,” she said, having examined his choice, and brought another tome from the shelves. And then, finding that he was totally ignorant, she took him back to the beginning and showed him the foundations — Arab, Barb, and Turk — of the finished product. By midnight there were more books on the floor than there were on the shelves but they had both had a marvellous time.

After that if Brat was missing from the normal orbit, one could always find him in the library, either working out something in a stud book or going slowly through the photographs of remarkable horses.

He sat openly at Gregg’s feet, with the result that in a week Gregg was according him a respect that he had never paid to Simon. Bee noticed that where he addressed Simon as “Mr. Simon,” Brat was “Mr. Patrick, sir.” There was never any trace of the defensive attitude of a stud-groom faced with a newcomer who was also his master. Gregg recognised an enthusiast who did not think that he already knew it all, and so Brat was “Mr. Patrick, sir.” Bee would smile as she passed the saddle room and heard the long monotone of Gregg’s speech punctuated by Brat’s monosyllables.

“Shoot him, I said, I’ll do nothing of the kind, that horse’ll walk out of here like a Christian inside a month, your blasted hounds can starve, I said, before they get their jaws on as good a piece of horseflesh as ever looked through a bridle, so what do you think I did?”

“What?”

Bee was humbly grateful to fate not only for her nephew’s return but for the form in which he had returned. Rehearsing in her mind all the shapes that Patrick might have reappeared in, she was filled with wonder that the actual one should be so cut-to-measure, so according to her own prescription. Brat was what she would have indented for if she could have chosen. He was too silent, of course; too reticent. One felt at peace in his company without having any feeling of knowing him. But his unchanging front was surely easier to deal with than Simon’s fluidity.

She wrote a long letter to Uncle Charles, to meet him at Marseilles, describing this new nephew to him, and saying all that could not be said in the initial cables. It would not impress Charles, of course, that Brat was useful with horses, since Charles loathed horses; which he held to be animals of an invincible stupidity, uncontrolled imagination, and faulty deduction. Indeed, Charles claimed that a three-months-old child not actually suffering from encephalitis or other congenital incapacity was more capable of drawing a correct deduction than the most intelligent and most impeccably bred thoroughbred. Charles liked cats; and if ever against his better judgement he was lured within smell of a stable, he made friends with the stable cat and retired with it to some quiet corner until the process of horse exhibition was finished. He was rather like a cat himself; a large soft man with a soft round face that creased only sufficiently to hold an eyeglass; in either eye, according to which hand Charles had free at the moment. And although he was over six feet tall, he padded as lightly on his large feet as though he were partly filled with air.

Charles was devoted to his old home and to his family, but was fond of declaring himself a throw-back to a more virile age when a horse was simply a means of transport, capable of carrying a respectable weight, and it was not necessary for a man to develop bones that would disgrace a chicken so that brittle thoroughbreds should be induced to surmount unnecessary and unwarrantable obstacles.

A half-starved cat could out-jump any horse anyhow; and no one had to teach it to, either.

But his brother’s grandchildren were the apple of his eye, and he loved every brittle bone of them. And it was to this Charles that Bee commended his new nephew.

“In the short two weeks that he has been here, he has passed from being a complete stranger to being so much part of Latchetts that one doesn’t notice him. He has a peculiar trick of being part of the landscape, of course, but it is not just that he is self-effacing. It is that he has dropped into place. I notice that even the country people, to whom he ought still to be strange and a matter for sideways-looking, treat him as if he had been here all along. He is very silent, and rarely volunteers a remark, but his mind is extraordinarily alive, and his comment when he makes one would be blistering sometimes if it were not uttered so gently. He speaks very correct American — which, dear Uncle Charles, is very correct English with a flat A— and drawls a little. It is quite a different drawl from Simon’s. I mean, from the drawl Simon uses when he drawls. It is not a comment; just a method of production.

“His greatest conquest was Jane, who resented his coming bitterly, on Simon’s behalf. She made a wide sweep round him for days, and then capitulated. Ruth made a tremendous fuss of him, but got little encouragement — I think he felt her disloyalty to Simon — and she is now a little ‘off’ him.

“George Peck seems pleased with him, but I think finds it hard to forgive his silence all those years. I do too, of course. I find it inexplicable. One can only try to understand the immensity of the upheaval that sent him away from us.

“Simon has been beyond praise. He has taken his relegation to second place with a fortitude and a grace that is touching. I think he is very unhappy, and finds it difficult to join up this new Patrick with the old one. The greatest wrong Pat did in keeping silence was the wrong to Simon. I can only suppose that he intended never to come back at all. I have tried to sound him about it, but he is not an easy person to talk to. He was a reserved child and he is even more reserved to-day. Perhaps he will talk to you when you come.

“We are busy preparing for the Bures Show — which, you will be glad to hear, occurs at least three days before you are even due to arrive in England — and have hopes of a little successful publicity for Latchetts. We have three new horses that are well above average, and we are hoping that at least two of them are of Olympia standard. We shall see what their ring manners are like when we take them to Bures. Patrick has refused to take any part in this year’s showings, leaving all the kudos to Simon and Eleanor — to whom, of course, it belongs. I think that, more than anything, describes this Patrick who has come home to us.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04